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Star Trek star Zachary Quinto announces he’s gay

Zachary Quinto

Zachary Quinto, best known for starring on the TV series “Heroes” and as Spock in the most recent “Star Trek” movie, has come out as gay in an interview with New York magazine.

Quinto, who recently wrapped an eight-month stint in an Off Broadway restaging of Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer prize winning play “Angels in America,” discussed one of the play’s main topics, the AIDS epidemic n the 1980s, and how he feels lucky to not have witnessed it firsthand.

“As a gay man, [the play] made me feel like there’s still so much work to be done, and there’s still so many things that need to be looked at and addressed,” Quinto said in the interview.

Though Quinto, 34, has never formally addressed his sexuality in the press, there has been much speculation across the Internet since he rose to fame as the villainous Sylar on “Heroes” and in 2009′s “Star Trek” reboot.

Though his filmography lists a diverse array of roles, he has portrayed several gay characters on television shows like Tori Spelling’s short-lived “So NoTORIous” and on the new FX series “American Horror Story.”

In the interview Quinto discusses how he feels living in a word where in the same summer New York State can pass a law legalizing gay marriage and 14-year-old gay high school student Jamey Rodemeyer is bullied to death.

“Again, as a gay man I look at that and say there’s a hopelessness that surrounds it, but as a human being I look at it and say ‘Why? Where’s this disparity coming from, and why can’t we as a culture and society dig deeper to examine that?’ We’re terrified of facing ourselves,” Quinto said.

After the story hit the Internet, Quinto posted on his website a message discussing Rodemeyer and his decision to publicly acknowledge his sexuality:

‘In light of Jamey’s death — it became clear to me in an instant that living a gay life without publicly acknowledging it — is simply not enough to make any significant contribution to the immense work that lies ahead on the road to complete equality.”


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Ban on city contractor donations proves cumbersome to San Francisco mayoral hopefuls

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee
Special to The Chronicle Photo By Sarah Rice

John Coté
Chronicle Staff Writer
The San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee received five apparently illegal campaign contributions from parties with city contracts he approved, including four subcontractors on a $150 million contract to an engineering design firm working on some of the city’s biggest infrastructure projects, campaign finance records show.

He’s not the only one.

At least eight candidates vying to be elected mayor on Nov. 8 have received donations that appear to violate the city’s restrictions on contributions by contractors, a Chronicle analysis of campaign finance records shows.

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Critics of Occupy Movement attempt to neutralize by painting it anti-Semtic

Some far-right conservatives are labelling the Occupy Wall Street protesters as ‘anti-Semitic’
based on an anti-Semitic assumption that Jews run Wall Street and the global banking system

By MJ Rosenberg
Al Jazeera

An ugly old tradition is back: Exploiting anti-Semitism to break the backs of popular movements that threaten the power of the wealthiest one per cent of our population. It is being used to undermine the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has conservatives in a state of near panic.

I don’t know the first time the tactic was used, although it dates back almost to the beginning of the Jewish diaspora.

Perhaps its most famous use was by the viciously anti-Semitic Czar Nicholas, whose supporters concocted the Protocols of the Elders of Zion at the start of the 20th century to prevent Russians from joining socialist movements and other reform efforts that were fighting to get the czar to cede some power to an elected parliament.

The Protocols were a forged document purporting to show that a cabal of Jews met regularly to solidify their supposed control of the entire world. According to the Protocols, Jews were behind socialist and liberal movements but also ran the banks and Wall Street (A modern version of this ridiculous theme was a staple on Glenn Beck’s television programme that ran on Fox News until being cancelled this summer).

The Protocols have had a long life, used by the czar, the Nazis, and even today by extremist and fringe Muslim groups opposed to the existence of Israel.

Dangerous goals

But they were primarily used not so much against the Jews as against reform and revolution. Linking a progressive movement to the Jews would destroy progressive movements and preserve the power of those in control.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a bizarre variant of this phenomenon is now being deployed against Occupy Wall Street.

Because utilising anti-Semitism directly would not succeed in this country today, the reactionary defenders of the economic status quo are using the flip side of the coin: The fear of being labeled anti-Semitic. They are accusing Occupy Wall Street of anti-Semitism, relying on the old myth that Wall Street is Jewish and hence that opposition to Wall Street’s agenda is just opposition to Jews.

Not surprisingly, the first right-wing commentator to use this formulation in the Obama era was Rush Limbaugh. In 2010, Limbaugh told his radio audience that Jews might be having “buyer’s remorse” about having voted for President Barack Obama because “[h]e’s assaulting bankers. He’s assaulting money people. And a lot of those people on Wall Street are Jewish.”

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) condemned those remarks, labelling them a “new low” for Limbaugh. ADL National Director Abe Foxman explained that Limbaugh’s references to “Jews and money” were “offensive and inappropriate”.

Foxman continued: “While the age-old stereotype about Jews and money has a long and sordid history, it also remains one of the main pillars of anti-Semitism and is widely accepted by many Americans.”

Age-old stereotypes

And now the “age-old stereotype” is back, flipped on its head by right-wingers who seek to discredit Occupy Wall Street by accusing it of anti-Semitism, an accusation based on the idea, as Foxman said, “widely accepted by many Americans”, that Wall Street is Jewish.

One of the first conservatives after Limbaugh to use this tactic was the usually quite proper Ivy League conservative, New York Times columnist David Brooks. In an October 10 column dismissing the Wall Street protests as “trivial sideshows”, Brooks wrote:

“Take the Occupy Wall Street movement. This uprising was sparked by the magazine Adbusters, previously best known for the 2004 essay, ‘Why Won’t Anyone Say They Are Jewish?’ – an investigative report that identified some of the most influential Jews in America and their nefarious grip on policy.”

Interesting. Brooks essentially is charging that a magazine few have heard of “sparked” the movement and, even worse, smearing the movement as anti-Semitic by bringing up an article that magazine published seven years ago about the Jewish “grip” on policy. Quite a reach.

And then yesterday the Emergency Committee For Israel, a far-right Republican group run by Bill Kristol, issued a video flat-out accusing Occupy Wall Street of anti-Semitism, with side swipes at leading Democrats (what a coincidence!) like President Obama and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who have sympathised with the movement and are therefore, by implication, probably anti-Semitic themselves.

The Emergency Committee’s evidence is presented in the video above, which shows three anti-Semites and two anti-Semitic signs among the protesters. That’s it, out of a crowd of thousands. (Far be it from me to guess at the number of anti-Semites who might be at a Tea Party event, but they don’t define that movement either. Mass movements attract all kinds of people, some invariably unsavoury.)

In any case, the Emergency Committee for Israel is not concerned about anti-Semitism or Israel. It is, rather, dedicated to defeating Democrats and promoting its billionaire donors’ economic interests. During the 2010 congressional campaigns, it produced videos almost as deceitful as the Wall Street video that lied about Democratic candidates. It used Israel and Jews as devices to direct money and votes toward the Republicans.

In attacking Occupy Wall Street, the Emergency Committee’s goal is simply to smear Democrats. If, in the process, it reinforces the stereotype that Jews and Wall Street are interchangeable, so what? How different is that from its usual practice of suggesting strongly that American Jews should vote only based on Israel’s supposed interests, not America’s? To put it not-so-mildly, the Emergency Committee for Israel does not care about fuelling anti-Semitism in America.

Because that last video of a couple of anti-Semites may have left a bad taste in your mouth, here’s another one. It was shot at the Wall Street demonstration on Yom Kippur Eve and it features not a few anti-Semites but thousands of Jews celebrating the holiest day of the Jewish year, a day dedicated to the same ideals as Occupy Wall Street: Repentance for putting our desires before the needs of the poor, the homeless, and the exploited.

In this video, Occupy Wall Street is repenting for greed. Wall Street itself is silent.

MJ Rosenberg is a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow at the Media Matters Action Network.

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California diminished by tax revolt of 1978 shows how U.S. invites decline


By Christopher Palmeri

California voters approved Proposition 13 to rein in property taxes that had doubled in 10 years. More than three decades later, that rebellion has mortgaged the state’s future, saddling it with the nation’s highest debt and lowest credit rating.

The measure led to reductions that dropped per-student school spending from seventh to 29th nationally, prompted cities to pursue sprawling retail development to compensate for lost revenue, and pushed the state into budget gridlock, including a $705 million revenue shortfall announced Oct. 10, by requiring two-thirds approval for any tax increase.

“Proposition 13 set up an unfair and dysfunctional two- tiered system of property taxes,” said Kevin Starr, a history professor at the University of Southern California and the author of a series of books on the state. “It choked off a source of revenue, and the lack of that revenue has brought California to the edge.”

The measure, approved in 1978, was the inspiration for an antitax movement that has taken hold of the public discourse in Washington and in state legislatures throughout the country. It caps real estate levies at 1 percent of a property’s most-recent sale price. Before it passed, local governments could raise revenue as they saw fit.

Spread to Washington

In July, antitax fervor fed by the Tea Party movement led Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives to dig in against any increase in the nation’s debt ceiling that included raising taxes. The compromise that resulted threatens automatic spending cuts across the government if a congressional supercommittee can’t agree on ways to cut the federal deficit by more than $1 trillion.

In his 1990 autobiography, “An American Life,” former President Ronald Reagan called Proposition 13 “a prairie fire” sweeping the nation. In just the past two years, New York and New Jersey enacted laws inspired by it. At least 20 states now have some sort of property-tax cap, according to the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, foundation that researches property issues.

In California, where Proposition 13’s tax ceiling has long shaped public policy, the effect of that movement is clear.

Universities Cut

In addition to the effect on elementary schools, the most- populous state cut support for its public universities by 18 percent to $4.5 billion this year, according to the California finance department. The world’s ninth-largest economy’s general- fund backed debt has risen to $82.6 billion from $2.25 billion in 1978, state figures show. California carries more debt than any other state and ranks eighth on a per-capita basis, with $2,542 for each resident, Moody’s Investors Service has said.

Proposition 13 created disparities in tax payments that amaze Larry Stone, the assessor in Santa Clara County, home to Silicon Valley and companies such as Apple Inc. (AAPL) and Intel Corp. (INTC) Stone’s new neighbor in Sunnyvale will pay almost $18,000 in annual taxes and special assessments compared with the $3,000 Stone pays for the house he bought in 1975.

“You couldn’t invent a crazier system,” Stone said in a telephone interview.

The measure also created loopholes that businesses exploit to avoid paying their fair share, says San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a 69-year-old Democrat who has sponsored legislation to tighten rules on business-property transfers.

Dell’s Deal

For instance, billionaire Michael Dell structured the 2006 purchase of an ocean-view hotel in Santa Monica, a Los Angeles suburb, to avoid the automatic tax increase that comes with acquisition of more than a 50 percent interest in any property, Los Angeles County officials said in a statement filed in court.

The founder of Texas computer maker Dell Inc. (DELL) and his wife, Susan, bought shares in Ocean Avenue LLC, the corporation that owns the 302-room Fairmont Miramar hotel. They did it through a partnership, a limited liability corporation and a trust, none of which bought more than half of the hotel’s stock.

“This is emblematic of the cavalier way people try to skirt the law,” Ammiano said. “If you’re looking at a school that has to lay off teachers, if you care about elder care, money like this could make a real difference.”

The Los Angeles County Assessment Appeals Board ruled last year that the hotel had changed hands and the property’s value could rise to its $200 million purchase price from the previous assessed value of $85 million — that corresponds to an annual tax increase of about $1.3 million. Ocean Avenue is suing in state court to reverse the decision, while paying higher taxes as it pursues the matter. Todd Fogarty, a spokesman for Dell’s private investment firm, MSD Capital LP, declined to comment on the entrepreneur’s behalf.

Ballot Action

Proposition 13’s success had another effect as well: It inspired an explosion of ballot measures, from carving out part of the budget for schools to legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes. Since 1978, the state has amended its constitution through initiatives 69 times, compared with 47 times in the previous 65 years, according to the Secretary of State.

That trend spread to other states such as Colorado, where voters in November will decide whether they want to raise income and sales taxes to fund schools where per-pupil funding ranked 39th in the U.S. in 2009, according to Census Bureau figures.

“It’s had a profound impact on multiple levels,” said Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project, a nonpartisan research group in Sacramento. “The one that’s underestimated is the shift in decision-making from the local level to the state. All of our public systems have been affected by our seemingly perpetual budget crises.”

Demands for Change

In the years since antitax crusader Howard Jarvis led the Proposition 13 campaign, demands for changes to the law have become more vocal, if not more likely to succeed.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, 58, like Assemblyman Ammiano, advocates creation of a “split roll” that lets levies on commercial properties rise more quickly than those for residences, so that business owners pay more.

“Prop. 13 has had the unintended effect of favoring commercial property owners at the expense of homeowners,” Villaraigosa said Aug. 16 at the Sacramento Press Club. “Let’s apply Prop. 13’s protections to homeowners and homeowners alone.”

Yet the measure remains popular for both businesses and homeowners. In a Sept. 23 Field Poll, 63 percent of California voters said they would support the measure if it were up for a vote again now. As for the split roll idea, Democrats endorsed it 53 percent to 37 percent, while Republicans opposed it 70 percent to 23 percent.

Businesses Benefit

It’s one of the initiative’s ironies that business people, who opposed the measure in 1978, have become its biggest beneficiaries. In Los Angeles County, where a quarter of the state’s $4.38 trillion in assessed property value is located, commercial and apartment buildings represented 60 percent of the tax rolls in 1975, while single-family homes accounted for 40 percent. Today that ratio is almost reversed.

In the late 1970s, tax-strapped homeowners were the driving force behind Proposition 13. Jarvis led five attempts to gather enough signatures to put the measure on the statewide ballot and finally succeeded, over the objections of Democrat Jerry Brown, 73, the governor then and now.

In the year after the measure passed, property-levy collections dropped 52 percent to $4.9 billion from $10.3 billion, according to the Board of Equalization, the state’s tax administrator.

Shifting Tax Base

Proposition 13 “effectively shifted the financing of portions of local government services and education from the property-tax base to the more volatile income- and sales-tax bases,” Standard & Poor’s said in a Sept. 8 report.

California has the 12th-highest sales tax rate in the country, with a combined state and local levy of 8.13 percent, according to the Tax Foundation, a non-partisan Washington-based research group. Its income tax collections placed it fifth in the nation in 2008, at $1,531 per capita.

Without the ability to boost local levies, Vallejo, a city of 116,000 in the San Francisco Bay area, in 2008 had to declare bankruptcy, the city’s former finance director, Robert Stout, told attendees at the Bond Buyer’s California Public Finance conference on Sept. 15. The process cost $12 million in legal bills and forced a one-third reduction in police staffing.

“I’ve worked for cities in Florida, New York and Connecticut,” Stout told the group. “We were always able to raise taxes.”

‘A Nightmare’

At the San Bernardino City Unified School District, the eighth-largest in the state with more than 50,600 students, revenue has fallen by $54 million, or more than 10 percent, in the past four years, as the state reduced funding. The district east of Los Angeles fired 68 educators, eliminated summer school and increased class sizes by a third, to average 30 students for each teacher.

“This is a nightmare,” said Mohammad Islam, San Bernardino’s assistant superintendent who has worked in school finance for 22 years. “It’s impossible what the state is doing to us.”

Lacking the ability to raise taxes locally, cities, counties and school districts have been forced to cut jobs, adding to California’s second-worst-in-the-nation 12.1 percent unemployment rate, according to John Husing, an economist specializing in the so-called Inland Empire east of Los Angeles.

Local governments in that area fired 12,600 employees, including teachers and firefighters, in August as nongovernment employers added 6,300 jobs, he said.

‘Government-Created Recession’

“What we now have is a government-created recession,” Husing said in a telephone interview. “It’s mostly school and local-government workers. It’s been a goddamn disaster for local governments to be put under the thumb of the Legislature.”

With property taxes capped, city officials have tried to find ways to keep as much as they can of what’s left locally, typically through redevelopment agencies, a 1945 creation designed to help cities improve blighted areas. The agencies advance city funds to developers, often from bond sales, which are paid back from the increased property assessments their projects generate.

Redevelopment agencies receive 12 percent of property taxes statewide, up from 4 percent in 1983, according to California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office. A March audit of 18 of the agencies by State Controller John Chiang found no consensus in how they defined a blighted area or in how they tracked job creation.

Fixed Shares

A formula worked out after Proposition 13 was passed also fixed cities’ share of revenue collections at their 1970s levels. That means the San Francisco Bay area city of Hercules, which had a low rate, collects only five cents of every dollar in property taxes paid while neighboring cities get as much as 25 percent, according to Liz Warmerdam, the former interim city manager. That encouraged the previous city manager to pursue development projects, particularly retail ones, to increase the city’s base, Warmerdam said in a telephone interview.

The city of 25,000 now has $130 million in debt, much of it spent on failed projects such as Sycamore North, a half-built shopping and residential center, and Big League Dreams, a softball stadium, Warmerdam said. Hercules sued its former city manager, Nelson Oliva, in August claiming he sent more than $3 million of city funds to a consulting firm his family owned. His attorney, Richard Ewaniszyk, said the city was aware of the relationship and that the family divested its stake.

Faced with a $6 million budget deficit this year, partly from $1.8 million in payments to the redevelopment agency, Hercules cut 40 people, or 30 percent of its workforce, and closed City Hall on Fridays.

Budget Logjam

Because Proposition 13 also requires a two-thirds majority in the state Assembly and Senate to pass any tax increase, legislators find themselves at constant loggerheads during budget negotiations.

Last October, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a budget 100 days late. This year, Republicans blocked Brown’s efforts to extend previously enacted tax increases to help close a $25.4 billion projected deficit. Democrats, who control just under the two-thirds threshold in both legislative chambers, passed a budget on the last day of the fiscal year in June only by adjusting their revenue estimate upwards by $4 billion.

“The dysfunctional element here is that the minority party is in complete charge of all matters revenue-related,” state Senator Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat who leads the budget committee, said by telephone. “That is not democracy.”

Last Day

The battle over taxes continued until the last day of the legislative session in September. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, a conservative group that carries on its founder’s tax-cutting mission, helped convince legislators to vote against a Brown proposal to raise $1 billion in taxes from businesses, mostly out-of-state companies, and redirect the money to local job-creation efforts.

The group released two statements objecting to the legislation and used its full-time lobbyist in Sacramento to buttonhole legislators. The association’s executive director, Jon Coupal, met one-on-one with Brown to voice his displeasure.

“He was trying to move a complicated tax-reform proposal forward and we were not in position to support it,” Coupal said in a telephone interview. The measure died in the Legislature.

Meanwhile, disparities in property taxes linger. Take the case of Roy Sakioka, a former sharecropper who spent time in a World War II internment camp before becoming one of the largest landowners in Southern California. He left a fortune estimated at $325 million when he died in 1995. Among his purchases: a three-story office building in Beverly Hills assessed for taxes at $1.5 million and worth as much as 17-fold more today.

Tax Disparities

The building’s owner, Sakioka Farms, pays $17,000 a year in taxes, according to Los Angeles County assessors’ records. A building behind it with a third of the square footage and half the land is assessed at $7 million and pays $72,000 in taxes annually. That’s because the Sakioka building was purchased decades ago, while the one behind it changed hands in 2009, so the smaller structure has a more recent valuation.

Harvey Englander, a Los Angeles political consultant who worked with Jarvis for two years after Proposition 13 passed, said the man who led one of the nation’s most famous tax revolts would support changing the terms today.

“H.J.’s goal was property-tax relief for homeowners or renters,” Englander, a Democrat, said in an interview. “He didn’t love big corporations. He said, ‘Someday Prop. 13 will need to be updated.’”

Raising Business Rate

Englander suggests raising the rate business pay, to 1.5 percent, from one percent. “What people want is certainty,” he said. “They want to know exactly how much they are going to pay.”

The Board of Equalization estimates that another approach, raising assessments on commercial property to current market value, would generate $2.5 billion more a year in taxes statewide, according to Anita Gore, a spokeswoman for the board.

All those changes are a nonstarter for Coupal, the Jarvis association director. Raising property taxes will only drive more businesses from the state, he said by telephone.

“The anti-Prop. 13 jihad hasn’t thought this out well,” he said.

Proposition 13’s supporters may not have much to worry about, as no statewide leaders are pressing for a major change.

‘Doesn’t Poll’

“It doesn’t poll well,” said Controller Chiang, a Democrat who had to hand out IOUs to creditors three years earlier, when legislators couldn’t agree on a budget.

What about just changing it for businesses, he was asked? Chiang shook his head no.

Brown also seems unlikely to take up Villaraigosa’s call to action on Proposition 13. When asked at a Sept. 1 event if he had any ideas for changing the measure, the governor said he didn’t.

“Nor have I found anyone else that has a plausible pathway,” he said.

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Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal means new challenges – Their partners still denied benefits

Charlie Morgan attends the OutServe Armed Forces Leadership summit in Las Vegas,
October 15, 2011
Photo By Isaac Brekken

By Phil Willon
The Los Angeles Times

LAS VEGAS — The New Hampshire Army National Guard is holding a yellow ribbon seminar this week for soldiers returning from the Middle East to help them and their families adjust to life back home, but Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan’s partner of 11 years isn’t welcome.

Morgan, a lesbian who returned from a deployment in Kuwait in August, said her partner is barred from the family support services, healthcare coverage and housing provided to non-gay spouses of service members. She can’t even shop at the base commissary.

That did not change with the historic repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy Sept. 20. Such lingering inequities helped motivate Morgan and more than 150 other gay and lesbian active service members to descend on Las Vegas last weekend for the first national summit on military life in the post-”don’t ask, don’t tell”-era.

“I was so elated, so happy, when the repeal happened, but we still have a long ways to go,” said Morgan, 47, a personnel officer who has served in the military for 16 years.

The summit was hosted by Outserve, an association of gay and lesbian service members that until recently was an underground support organization born from a secret Facebook group. Started just over a year ago, Outserve has 48 chapters worldwide, has a membership of 4,500 and publishes a bimonthly magazine distributed on bases in the U.S. and abroad.

During the three-day event, officers debated the benefits and pitfalls of coming out to those under their command; the rank and file peppered mental health experts about the unique, unacknowledged stress that gay men and lesbians face on the front lines; and civil rights advocates offered a bleak outlook on ending the significant legal and political barriers that remain for married same-sex couples.

Merely having the conference, held in the convention hall at the bustling New York New York Casino and covered extensively by the national media, was a milestone. Navy captains attended alongside cadets from the Air Force Academy and soldiers just back from Iraq and Afghanistan, openly discussing their lives as gay men and lesbians in the military — conversations that only a year ago would have led to being discharged.

Outserve co-director Lt. Josh Seefried said the organization’s mission now is to erase remnants of discrimination and inequality and to accelerate the military’s acceptance of those dedicated to serving, no matter their sexual orientation.

“The problem in the military right now is that there is visible inequality being introduced,” Seefried said. “Under ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ that inequality was invisible. You just had to kick someone out and you could ignore the problem.”

Straight and gay service members work side by side in Iraq, Afghanistan and all other military installations across the globe. Yet only straight service members receive a boost in pay if they’re married, and only they can request shared deployments if married to another service member.

“That’s a problem for unit cohesion in general,” said Seefried, a finance officer based in New Jersey. “When you treat people differently, that’s when the mission goes awry.”

In the first few weeks since the repeal, Outserve’s leadership said the response within the military had been overwhelmingly positive. Many at the conference spoke of taking their partners to military dinners for the first time, being greeted warmly by their commanders and colleagues when revealing their sexuality, and the simple pleasure of displaying framed pictures of partners.

Still, others who spoke at the conference, including veterans discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell,” urged officers and enlisted personnel to make their presence known.

“Now’s the time for role models and leaders … to show that we wear the same uniform, we bleed the same color — red — we salute the same flag and we’re really no different from our counterparts,” said Michael Almy, an Air Force major discharged after another service member, without permission, searched his private email and reported him to the commander.

Michelle Benecke, co-founder of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, also took a not-so-subtle jab at Republican presidential candidates — who will arrive in Las Vegas for a debate Tuesday — vowing to reinstate “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

“If you can come out in the military, you can come out anywhere. The right wing’s worst fear are the people in this room,” Benecke, a former Army artillery officer, told conference members.

Under “don’t ask, don’t tell,” as long as gay men and lesbians kept their sexual orientation secret, they were allowed to serve. More than 14,000 service members were discharged during the 18 years the policy was enforced. Congress voted to rescind the policy last December; the change took effect last month.

Along with cultural challenges, significant legal issues remain for gay men and lesbians in the armed services. The federal Defense of Marriage Act prohibits the Pentagon from providing benefits to same-sex couples, further cemented by a separate federal law that defines a spouse as a “husband” or “wife” in a heterosexual marriage.

The absence of any official support for partners only compounds the stress gay and lesbian service members face when in combat or deployed away from home. Family and relationship problems on the home front are a greater cause of post-traumatic stress disorder — a catalyst for increased alcohol and drug abuse, suicide and other personal ills — than exposure to combat, said Capt. Scott Johnston, head of the Naval Center Combat and Operational Stress Control unit in San Diego.

“We’re asking these people to put their lives on the line, and we not going provide their partners with support? That doesn’t make sense,” said Johnston, one of many presenters at the conference.

Johnston is optimistic that the military will find a way to address the inequity, just as it did when African Americans and women were integrated into the ranks. In the meantime, he said, the partners of gay men and lesbians in the military must rely on private or community resources for counseling and other mental health needs.

Along with a brisk change in military culture, the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” has created an uneasy new reality for service members who had formed tight, secretive social bonds with other gay men and lesbians in the service.

They had turned to one another at times of heartache, such as the death of a partner, as well as for acceptance and intimacy. Fraternization among officers and enlisted personnel — a violation of the military code of conduct — was common, and rarely reported.

“A lot of the things that we did in order to survive, in order to find meaningful relationships, we compromised,” said John Fiorentine, a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Coast Guard based in Washington. “There was no greater sin in our community than a gay betraying the trust of the family. Just over a month ago, that dynamic changed. We have to rethink the whole scenario now of how we’ll handle that.”

Allowing gay men and lesbians to openly serve is also bringing about personal change. Steve, a captain based at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, is still in the closet but since the repeal has been telling his friends and fellow officers one by one. Next up, his parents.

“They’ll be coming out for a visit in a few weeks,” said Steve, who asked that his last name be withheld. “It’s time.”

See Related: Marriage Equality Archive

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Gaza, West Bank prepare to Welcome Prisoners – Palestine Sings for Joy

Shahinaz, a sister of Palestinian female prisoner Fotnah Abo Aleish, holds a photo of Fotnah
as she celebrates the prisoner swap deal between Hamas and Israel, in her home
at the Askar refugee camp near the West Bank city of Nablus
Reuters Photo By Abed Omar Qusini

By Nidal al-Mughrabi
Ma’an News Agency

GAZA CITY — The last time Asma al-Kurd saw her father, she was 18 months old. That was 20 years ago, before he was sentenced to eight terms of life imprisonment for attacks that killed Israelis.

Baseem al-Kurd, now 43, is slated to be one of 477 Palestinians due to be exchanged on Tuesday for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in a deal with Hamas, an Islamist group dedicated to Israel’s destruction.

“We have imagined many things we were deprived of doing and we will do with him when he is freed,” said the Hamas member’s 21-year-old daughter, dressed in traditional Islamic garb, her face covered by a veil.

Workers were putting the finishing touches to repairs of Kurd’s home, damaged in a recent Israeli air strike on a sports center belonging to the Islamic Jihad group after it fired rockets into Israel.

In Israel, the deal taking in dozens of Palestinians convicted of deadly attacks has been met with mixed emotions — joy at the end of Shalit’s five years of captivity and angst over the price paid for his release.

Kurd’s mother, Dalal, 65, watched as new lamps were installed in her son’s home in the Gaza Strip and its walls covered with a fresh coat of paint.

“We are preparing his house for him. We hope we can compensate him for all the deprivation he suffered,” she said.

“Prisoner and son”

Outside the dwelling, activists from Hamas’ Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades painted slogans welcoming home its “prisoner and son”. Other graffiti praising Hamas sprouted on Gaza’s streets.

“Hamas had promised and it fulfilled its promise,” said one slogan near the site where a public rally is planned for the 295 prisoners due to be released to the Gaza Strip.

Hamas and Palestinian flags flutter from electrical poles.

Exile tempers celebrations

Happiness over news of the imminent mass release has been tempered in some families by news that their relatives were being sent into exile as part of the deal, and would not be allowed an emotional homecoming.

That means some of the West Bank detainees will be sent either to another Middle East country or to the Gaza Strip, a small Palestinian coastal enclave that is sealed off by Israeli forces and very hard to visit for outsiders.

Mousa Waswas, 29, who was sentenced to eight life terms for his part in the killing of eight Israelis, is one such Palestinian facing deportation.

His family comes from the West Bank city of Hebron and they have decorated the exterior walls of their home to celebrate his freedom, even if he won’t see them with his own eyes.

“If he goes to Turkey, Gaza or Egypt I will crawl to see him,” his mother, Khawla Waswas, told Reuters Television.

In a second stage of the Egyptian- and German-brokered swap, Israel is to free another 550 jailed Palestinians. No date has been announced for their release.

Shalit was captured in June 2006 by Palestinian militants who had tunneled into Israel from the Gaza Strip. He has been held in the Hamas -ruled territory ever since.



See Related: San Francisco gathers to witness the release and homecoming of Gilad Shalit October 19 8:00 AM

See Related: Coundown to Gilad Shalit Release – Operation Beit HaShoevash begins Tuesday Morning – Complete Day’s Schedule

See Related: Gilad Shalit Agreement Archive

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Coundown to Gilad Shalit Release – Operation Beit HaShoevash begins Tuesday Morning – Complete Day’s Schedule

Countdown to IDF officials will make initial contact with Gilad Shalit, and give green light for the immediate release of hundreds of prisoners.
Surrounding vicinity to be declared closed military area.


By Yoav Zitun

The IDF, Prison Service and police are completing last minute preparations ahead of the prisoner exchange deal that will see the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit in return for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.

According to the plan, Gilad’s first encounter with Israeli officials will take place in the Sinai Peninsula, after the kidnapped soldier will be transferred there from the Gaza Strip.

Operation Beit HaShoevah, named after the special celebration held during the intermediate days of Sukkot, will begin immediately after IDF officials make initial contact with Shalit in Sinai.

At that moment, Prison Service employees will release hundreds of prisoners, which will be divided in two main groups – some 100 prisoners will leave on Red Cross buses toward Ramallah, while a second, larger group, will be transferred to Gaza or deported abroad.

According to the plan, Shalit will be transferred from Sinai to a military base in the south, where he will undergo initial medical examinations. From there, an Air Force helicopter will take him to Tel Nof airbase in central Israel, where he will first reunite with his family.

In fact, the most critical moments of the operation are expected during the transfer of Shalit from Sinai to Israel via land. Only after his medical condition is verified, the IDF will make an official announcement regarding Shalit’s return to Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to hold short reception

Following a short reception attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, the family will deliver a statement to the press at a media tent erected at the entrance to the base.

From there Shalit will be flown to his home in Mitzpe Hila, where he will continue to be accompanied by military professionals.

The IDF Spokesperson’s office will take the first footage of Shalit in Tel Nof base and will hand it to media outlets in an orderly fashion. The IDF however is not ruling out the possibility that Shalit will be photographed by Hamas prior to his release on Tuesday morning.

During the operation, the surrounding vicinities will be declared a closed military area, and will be closed to the public. The operation will be commanded by Head of the IDF Operations Division Brigadier-General Kobi Barak, under the supervision of Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.


Phase 1: Shalit is released and met either by a representative of the International Red Cross or an Egyptian official on Tuesday morning.

Phase 2: Israel frees 27 Arab female prisoners on confirmation of Shalit’s release.

Phase 3: Hamas transfers Shalit to Egypt via the Rafah crossing. Shalit will spend a very short period of time in Egypt, possibly under 15 minutes, before overland transfer to Israel.

Phase 4: Israel releases the first wave of Palestinian prisoners to Gaza and the West Bank upon confirmation of the transfer.

Phase 5: Shalit is transferred to an Israel Defense Forces near Israel’s borders with Egypt and Gaza. He will be given his old cell phone in order to telephone his mother.

Phase 6: Shalit is expected to undergo initial medical check-ups conducted by IDF Chief Medical Officer Brigadier – General Itzik Kreis.

Phase 7: Shalit is transferred to Israel Air Force base at Tel Nof.

Phase 8: Shalit undergoes further medical examination on arrival at Tel Nof.

Phase 9: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz meet Shalit at Tel Nof.

Phase 10: Shalit is accompanied by Netanyahu, Barak and Gantz to be reunited with his family.

Phase 11: If Shalit is well and healthy, the IDF flies Shalit and his family to their home Mitzpe Hila in north Israel by helicopter.

The entire transfer is expected to be completed by Tuesday afternoon.



See Related: San Francisco gathers to witness the release and homecoming of Gilad Shalit October 19 8:00 AM

See Related: Gaza, West Bank prepare to Welcome Prisoners – Palestine Sings for Joy

See Related: Gilad Shalit Agreement Archive

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Tens of Thousands emerge for dedication of Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

File Photo

Thousands of people spanning all ages and races honored the legacy of the nation’s foremost civil rights leader during Sunday’s formal dedication of the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington.

Aretha Franklin, poet Nikki Giovanni and President Barack Obama were among those who attended the more than four-hour ceremony. King’s children and other leaders spoke before the president, invoking his “I Have a Dream” speech and calling upon a new generation to help fully realize that dream.

Some in the crowd arrived as early as 5 a.m., and the crowd eventually overflowed beyond the park gates. Some women wore large Sunday hats for the occasion.

The president arrived late morning with his wife and two daughters, which drew loud cheers from those watching his entrance on large screens.

Cherry Hawkins traveled from Houston with her cousins and arrived at 6 a.m. to be part of the dedication. They postponed earlier plans to attend the August dedication, which was postponed because of Hurricane Irene.

“I wanted to do this for my kids and grandkids,” Hawkins said. She expects the memorial will be in their history books someday. “They can say, ‘Oh, my granny did that.’”

Hawkins, her cousin DeAndrea Cooper and Cooper’s daughter Brittani Jones, 23, visited the King Memorial on Saturday after joining a march with the Rev. Al Sharpton to urge Congress to pass a jobs bill.

“You see his face in the memorial, and it’s kind of an emotional moment,” Cooper said. “It’s beautiful. They did a wonderful job.”

A stage for speakers and thousands of folding chairs were set up on a field near the memorial along with large TV screens. Most of the 10,000 chairs set out appeared to be full. Many other people were standing.

The August ceremony had been expected to draw 250,000, though organizers anticipated about 50,000 for Sunday’s event.

Actress Cicely Tyson said her contemporaries are passing the torch to a new generation and passed the microphone to 12-year-old Amandla Stenberg. The girl recalled learning about the civil rights movement in school and named four young girls killed in a 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Ala.

“As Dr. King said at their funeral, ‘They didn’t live long lives, but they lived meaningful lives,’” Amandla said. “I plan to live a meaningful life, too.”

About 1.5 million people are estimated to have visited the 30-foot-tall statue of King and the granite walls where 14 of his quotations are carved in stone. The memorial is the first on the National Mall honoring a black leader.

The sculpture of King with his arms crossed appears to emerge from a stone extracted from a mountain. It was carved by Chinese artist Lei Yixin. The design was inspired by a line from the famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963: “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

King’s “Dream” speech during the March on Washington galvanized the civil rights movement.

King’s older sister, Christine King Farris, said she witnessed a baby become “a great hero to humanity.” She said the memorial will ensure her brother’s legacy will provide a source of inspiration worldwide for generations.

To young people in the crowd, she said King’s message is that “Great dreams can come true and America is the place where you can make it happen.”

Bernice King and her brother Martin Luther King III said their father’s dream is not yet realized. Martin Luther King III said the nation has “lost its soul” when it tolerates vast economic disparities, teen bullying, and having more people of color in prison than in college.

He said the memorial should serve as a catalyst to renew his father’s fight for social and economic justice.

“The problem is the American dream of 50 years ago … has turned into a nightmare for millions of people” who have lost their jobs and homes, King said.

The choir from King’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta was scheduled to sing.

The nation’s first black president, who was just 6 years old when King was assassinated in April 1968 in Memphis, Tenn., will speak about the man he has said “gave his life serving others.”

Giovanni read her poem “In the Spirit of Martin,” and Franklin was to sing.

Early in the ceremony, during a rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the crowd cheered when images on screen showed Obama on the night he won the 2008 presidential election.

Obama, who credits King with paving his way to the White House, left a copy of his inaugural speech in a time capsule at the monument site. He said King was a man who “stirred our conscience” and made the Union “more perfect.”

But the Rev. Al Sharpton said the dedication was not about Obama but the ongoing fight for justice. He called for people from around the world to walk through the stone of hope and emerge to see “the face that brought us from the back of the bus to the White House.”

See Related: Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial joins an evolving National Mall

See Related: My meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr. an inspiration for LGBT Jews

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Hamas Official Osama Hamadan: Prisoner swap is a remarkable deal – Release of East Jerusalem residents and Israeli Arabs

Most prisoners due for release will return to their homes in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip
Reuters Photo


Palestinian terrorists due to be deported overseas as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap deal will no doubt find their way back to Palestinian land, a top Hamas official said in an interview on Sunday.

In details released concerning a Israel-Hamas prisoner exchange agreement that would secure the release of the abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier, about half of prisoners released in the first stage of the deal, 203, will not be allowed to return to their homes. 40 will be deported abroad, with the rest transferred to the Gaza Strip.

An Egyptian official linked to talks geared at securing the release of the abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier told Haaretz that “Israel in fact agreed to release 40 of the 70 prisoners that it had adamantly refused to let go, after Hamas submitted an extensive list of heavyweight prisoners from which Israel would choose. And Hamas, for its part, agreed that those prisoners would be deported.”

However, speaking with Sir David Frost on Al-Jazeera later Sunday, top Hamas official and member of the group’s politburo Osama Hamdan indicated that those deported would not necessarily stay away from the region for ever.

Asked by Frost where the deported inmates would go, Hamdan said: “It’s their choice, and what had happened was, with the complete contact with them, I think they will live for a while outside Palestine, but that does not mean that they will not be in contact with their families, with their people.”

“We have to realize that hundreds of Palestinians were deported during the last four decades and at the end of the story was that every time they were back home,” the Hamas official said.

Hamdan also commented on the Shalit deal, which he considered to a Hamas achievement, saying: “It is a remarkable deal.”

“Part of that [are] the numbers,” the Hamas official said, adding that there were other “important points. There were people from Jerusalem who were released, which was not accepted by the Israelis for decades. There were [Israeli] Arabs who were released, which is something Israel tried prevent that; there were people you committed militant operations against the Israelis directly and they were also released.”

Hamdan was also asked about the possible changes Hamas had to make in its stance toward Israel, saying: “The Israelis must change, not the Palestinians.”

“The struggle for six decades [is] to implement Palestinian rights, to take back Palestinian land from the occupiers, which does not appear clear to the Israelis yet,” Hamdan said.

The comments by the Hamas strongman came after Hamas rejected the Palestinian Authority’s accusations earlier on Sunday that the deal to free Gilad Shalit in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners is insufficient since it does not include the release of many Fatah members.

Top Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar told Army Radio on Sunday that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “negotiated with Israel for a million years and hasn’t achieved a deal like this one.”

Earlier on Sunday, Zahar told Al-Hayat newspaper that “throughout the negotiations, the Palestinian President offered that we release Shalit only in return for lifting the siege on Gaza and without releasing any [Palestinian] prisoners.” According to Zahar, Hamas vehemently objected to this idea, “and so the Palestinian Authority has no right to voice criticism about who is released and how.”

See Related: Gilad Shalit Agreement Archive

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Join Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today in phone banking for Chris Cunnie


SAN FRANCISCO – Today California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris will call San Francisco voters to urge them to vote for her choice for San Francisco Sheriff – Chris Cunnie.

The Attorney General will join other Cunnie volunteers today from 4:30 – 5:30 p.m. at 4308 Geary Street.

Pease join her and all our dedicated volunteers by signing up for a shift today to phone bank! People are already voting so it’s urgent that we let every voter know why Chris is the best candidate. Bring your friends and family with you!

SIGN UP: To sign up, contact Zach Chiapellone at or (415) 306-6841

DATE: Today, Sunday, 10/16


11:00AM – 2:00PM
2:00PM – 5:00PM
5:00PM – 8:00PM

With Election Day just three weeks away, volunteers for Chris Cunnie have been working the phones all weekend to reach out to San Francisco voters to tell them why the office of sheriff matters and why Chris Cunnie is the best candidate. Many San Franciscans are already voting through absentee ballots.

Attorney General Harris said:

“Chris Cunnie is the former undersheriff of San Francisco. He is the only candidate with extensive experience in both law enforcement AND treatment and education programs that help keep people out of the criminal justice system.

“Cunnie was a San Francisco police officer twice decorated for valor, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, Chief of investigations in the DA’s office and chairman of Walden House, one of the nation’s best treatment centers. Cunnie will bring all these experiences together to keep San Francisco safe.”

The weekend’s robust phone banking operations build upon the momentum of the Cunnie campaign. He has recently received the sole endorsement of the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner and Sing Tao Daily.

To learn more about Chris Cunnie and view a complete list of supporters, please visit

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Is a winter of discontent on the way? – Banks protests go global, Middle East unrest stirs again

banks oct 16 2
A demonstrator holds a banner during a protest
at the Portuguese parliament as part of the
United for Global Change movement in Lisbon
October 15, 2011
Reuters Photo By Rafael Marchante

By Peter Apps
Political Risk Correspondent

LONDON – With the “Occupy Wall Street” movement going global and Middle East unrest stirring again, an autumn and winter of discontent looks increasingly likely.

In the corridors of Whitehall, Washington, think tanks and even investment banks, there are dark murmurs that the events of the year so far may only be the beginning.

banks oct 16 1
Occupy Boston protestors join an anti-war march
through Boston, Massachusetts October 15, 2011
Reuters Photo By Brian Snyder

Some fear the world faces a systemic rise in anger, protest and political volatility that could last years or even decades.

In many countries, a young social media-connected generation is losing faith in traditional structures of government and business, arguing it has been betrayed and denied opportunity.

In the developed world, the wider middle class fears its prosperity has evaporated, demanding someone be held accountable and the global elite find a way of delivering growth once more.

“This could be with us for a long time,” said Jack Goldstone, professor of public policy at George Mason University in Washington D.C. and an expert in demographics.

“You have a generation who are fed up being told what to do by rich western countries or rich western people. In Egypt, they took down one government but they may not like what replaces it and they may take that down too. It’s going to be a difficult period.”

In the Western world, the crisis initially produced rather less physical protest than many expected. But it now seems on the rise. Greece, Spain, Italy and Britain have all seen some of their worst unrest in decades.

On Saturday, the U.S. protests against the global financial system that began in a New York Park in mid-September spilled overseas to dozens of countries as sometimes hundreds, sometimes tens of thousands took to the streets.

Many were peaceful, but in Rome cars were torched and police fought running battles with “black bloc” activists. In London and several other cities, protesters in tents stayed on.


“Even a small number of protesters to start with can inspire many more to come along and join in,” said Tim Hardy, founder of left-wing blog “Beyond Clicktivism” and a regular attendee at London protests. “If they manage to establish a base camp, I expect numbers will swell.”

On Friday the Milan office of U.S. bank Goldman Sachs was attacked by an angry mob. Most protest has been peaceful, but is likely ramp up political pressure on the financial industry. Already, policymakers talk of tighter regulation and targeted tax rises and media attention is increasingly turning to the activities of tax havens and secretive banks.

“One word: accountability,” said Hayat Alvi, a professor teaching Middle Eastern and national security studies at the United States Naval War College.

“This is the season of demanding accountability and the application of the rule of law, especially targeting the ruling political elites and the economic elites as well.”

Britain’s August riots showed post-crisis unrest might not always be overtly political, with tough inner-city youths using social media platforms to co-ordinate looting and arson. With so much of the world in flux, some expect that kind of nihilistic violence to also rise.

As the summer heat eases in the Middle East, the region seems braced for more trouble.

Egyptian protesters who ousted Hosni Mubarak in February increasingly complain the military still rules, is effectively rigging coming elections and that little has genuinely changed.

Last week saw the worst clashes since Mubarak’s fall, primarily between the military and Coptic Christians. Many in Tunisia, the first state to oust its leader, make similar complaints.

Conflict and confrontation in Syria look to be worsening, with sporadic reports of defecting troops and others taking up arms against Bashar al-Assad. In Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and other countries, analysts see a risk of new protests in coming months.


A host of other dissident movements are showing increasing confidence. In Israel, India, Chile, China and elsewhere, online or street protesters have often managed to win concessions.

Some believe the current anger against autocrats, bankers and elites is a symptom of fundamental shifts in the structure of global populations.

In the Middle East and North Africa, one of the key drivers has been a large bulge in the youthful population struggling to find work. An educated, westernized group using social media tools to coordinate got protests started, quickly joined by broader masses angry at rising food prices.

In western states, there are strains caused by an aging population that is driving up government costs, reducing growth and blocking jobs from younger people.

At worst, some experts warn that could produce an economic malaise that lasts for decades.

“It is these demographic issues that are driving much of what we are seeing at the moment,” said George Mason University’s Goldstone.

“It makes politics very unpredictable. You can get paralysis, but you can also see dramatic shifts in policy to left or right. You can see the rise of ideologues as we saw in the 1930s. We are very much at the beginning of this.”

See Related: American Distrust of Banks Archive

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Israel begins prisoner transfer as part of deal to free Gilad Shalit

Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners including militants serving multiple life sentences moved to two jails in first phase
of exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit


By Harriet Sherwood
The Guardian

Israel began to transfer hundreds of Palestinian prisoners to two jails on Sunday before their release in the coming days as part of the deal struck with Hamas in exchange for the freeing of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Palestinian prisoners transferred
ahead of the Gilad Shalit swap deal,
Oct. 16, 2011
Photo By Alon Ron

The names of 450 male prisoners and 27 female prisoners scheduled for release were published by the Israeli prison service on Saturday night. Among them are militants serving multiple life sentences for attacks in which Israeli civilians were killed and maimed. The oldest prisoner, Mohamed Hemad, was arrested 35 years ago.

Israelis who want to challenge the release of individuals have until the end of Monday to lodge objections at the high court of justice. However, the court is not expected to intervene following the approval of the deal by a large majority in the cabinet and its widespread public support.

Shalit was captured in June 2006 by Palestinian militants who tunnelled into Israel from the Gaza Strip. He has been held in the Hamas-ruled territory ever since. His family’s tireless campaign to get him released has turned him into a national cause celebre.

Although there was jubilation in Israel at the news of the deal, that has been tempered by some people warning that the price of Shalit’s release is too high.

The first phase of the prisoner swap involves 450 men and 27 women. Another 550 will be released in about two months, according to officials familiar with the Egyptian-mediated deal. Some prisoners originally from the West Bank will be sent to the Gaza Strip and other prisoners will be exiled abroad.

One Israeli group opposed to the deal, the Almagor Terror Victims’ Association, said the release would lead to further violence and abduction attempts and robbed victims of the right to live in peace.

Among the more prominent names on the list is Ahlam Tamimi, who worked as a reporter with a local television station before joining the Hamas armed wing. She received 16 life sentences for helping choose places for suicide attacks and was accused of taking bombers to some of the locations, including a Jerusalem pizzeria in 2001, where 15 people were killed.

Also to be released is Mohammed Al-Sharatha, a leader of the Hamas special elite fighting unit “101″ which kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in 1989. The two soldiers were killed. Sharatha was arrested in 1989 and sentenced to three life terms and a separate 30-year-term.

Absent from the list is Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences for murder. A popular, respected and influential figure in the Fatah political faction, there has long been speculation that he could succeed Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas if he was released from prison.

Shalit’s parents, Noam and Aviva, returned to their home in Mitzpe Hila in the Galilee region last week to prepare for their son’s return. They are expected to be reunited with him at a military base in central Israel on Tuesday, where the soldier will also be greeted by prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Shalit will undergo intensive medical examinations, both physiological and psychological, on his release. He is also likely to face a long period of debriefing by intelligence officers.

See Related: Gilad Shalit Agreement Archive

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A very San Francisco protester – OccupySF

OccupySF protest outside San Francisco City Hall, October 15 2011

See Related: American Distrust of Banks Archive

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The grim reality of life under Alabama’s brutal immigration law

Fear of detention, families torn apart – Hispanics in Alabama are trapped in a unique half-life under punishing new immigrant laws

Alabama immigration law: anyone failing to carry immigraton papers
is now deemed to be committing a criminal act
Photo By Gary Tramontina

By Ed Pilkington
The Guardian

Isobel Gomez’s apartment on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama, has the hunkered-down quality of a wartime bunker. There are boxes of bottled water, rice, beans and tortillas stacked against the living room wall – sufficient to last her family of five several days. The curtains are drawn and the lights on, even though it is early afternoon.

For the past two weeks, this small space has been Gomez’s prison cell. She has been cooped up here, shut off from natural light and almost all contact with the outside world since 28 September, the day a judge upheld the new law that has given Alabama the distinction of having the most draconian immigration powers in America.

Gomez (the name is not her real one, at her request) used to be a gregarious person, taking her daughters to school, visiting her mother nearby, shopping every day. Now she leaves the apartment only once a week, to stock up on those boxes of essentials at the local Walmart.

The day after the new law was upheld, Gomez saw three police cars driving around her housing complex, which is almost entirely Hispanic in occupancy. Word went around that the police asked men standing on the street to go inside their homes or face arrest.

She took the mandate literally, and from that moment has barely set foot outside. She no longer drives, her car sitting unused by the kerbside. Under the new law, police have to check the immigration papers of anyone “suspicious” they stop for a routine traffic violation – a missing brake light, perhaps, or parking on the wrong spot.

“If they see me they will think I’m suspicious and then they will detain me indefinitely,” Gomez says.

Why would the police think she was suspicious? “They will see the colour of my skin.”

Gomez’s is one of thousands of Hispanic families in Alabama trapped in a sort of half-life while they wait to see what will happen in the courts to the new law, HB56. Both the US department of justice and a coalition of local groups are challenging the clampdown at the 11th circuit appeals court in Atlanta, Georgia. The court must decide whether to allow the new law to stand or to block it pending higher judgment by the US supreme court; its ruling is expected by the end of this week.

Tough provisions

While the judges deliberate, Alabama’s uniquely tough new provisions remain in effect. In addition to the police check of “suspicious” people, anyone failing to carry immigration papers is now deemed to be committing a criminal act.

Undocumented immigrants are also forbidden from entering into a transaction with the state, which has already led some town halls to demand residents produce their papers or risk losing water supply. Schools have been instructed to check the immigration status of new pupils as young as four.

Even families legally entitled to be in the country are being caught. Cineo Gonzalez was shocked a few weeks ago when his six-year-old daughter came home from school carrying a printout. It gave details of HB56 and its implications, under the heading: “Frequent questions about the immigration law.”

Gonzalez is a US permanent resident, having come from Mexico more than 20 years ago. His daughter is an American citizen, having been born in Alabama. Both are entirely legal. Yet she was one of only two children in her class – both Hispanic in appearance – who were given the printout.

Why was she singled out, Gonzalez asked the deputy head teacher. “Because we gave the printout to children we thought were not from here,” came the reply.

Gonzalez is a taxi driver. Soon after the law came into effect, he began getting calls from Hispanic families. “People started asking me for prices. How much would it cost to go to Indiana? How much to New York? Or Atlanta, or Texas, or Ohio, or North Carolina?”

At about 2am one night, he was woken up by a woman who asked him to come and pick her and her family up immediately and drive them to North Carolina.

He went drove to their apartment where he found the two parents, three children and a small number of bags waiting for him. “Can you hurry up, we’re very scared,” the woman said. “The police followed my husband on his way back from work and that’s why we’re leaving.”

It took eight hours to get to North Carolina. The children slept the whole journey; the father sat in silence; the mother cried all the way.

“That was devastating,” Gonzalez says. “I knew things were bad, but this really showed me something was happening. Families are being destroyed.”

‘They see us as servants’

Outside the offices of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, HICA, about 30 people – including several small children – are sitting waiting for legal advice. An overflow room has been set up at the back of the building to accommodate families who arrive throughout the day.

In a consulting room, a case manager is drawing up a power of attorney letter for a couple who fear they could be rounded up and deported at any time. The legal document – one of hundreds taken out by parents in the state – sets out what should happen to their eight-year-old daughter should they both suddenly disappear.

In this case, it gives one of the couple’s friends, a US citizen, the power to make decisions for the girl on anything from medical procedures to schooling. “This is very cruel, very extreme,” the mother says, asking to remain anonymous. “We have never done harm to anyone. We’ve only worked hard. Now they’re trying to split us from our child.”

Why does she think they – the Alabama authorities – are doing this? “We ask ourselves that too. Why are they doing this? They say it’s because we are taking jobs from local people, but I don’t think it can be about that. It’s about racism.”

Her husband chimes in: “They see us as servants. As people they can keep at the bottom. Not as people who want a better future for ourselves and for our children.”

Most of the 100 or so families who are now coming to HICA for help every day are doing so to have powers of attorney drawn up for their kids. Others want advice about what to do when teachers enquire about their children’s status. Increasingly, people are coming in having been fired by their employers for lack of immigration papers.

‘We do the jobs nobody wants to do’

Efren Cruz has lived in Alabama for 23 years having come here when he was 14 from Mexico. He speaks fluent English with a rich southern drawl. Since HB56 came into effect he has been sacked by four different steel and paper mills where he has worked on and off for years. Now he’s jobless.

But he’s not taking it supinely. He laughs at the suggestion that the new law is designed to stop illegal Mexicans taking jobs away from worthy and needy local Alabamans. “We aren’t taking anybody’s jobs because, let’s face it, they don’t want to work. We do the jobs that nobody else wants to do.”

Despite the fact that he is undocumented, and thus liable to be detained under the new law, he is among a small group of protesters outside the federal court in Birmingham. His fellow demonstrators include a seven-year-old boy carrying a placard that says: “I just look illegal”, and Cruz’s niece Angela, a US citizen aged two, whose sign says: “They can’t deport us ALL”.

Cruz had hoped that many more people would have joined the protest. Over the past week they have been petitioning members of their local church to attend, and about 400 promised to come along. Only about 25 turned up. “That’s how scared people are,” Cruz says.

Other sporadic and tentative protests are cropping up across the state. A nearby Mexican restaurant, Gordos Market (which translates as “Fat people’s market”), is closed for three days. A sign on the front door explains that it is shuttered out of “Apoya por una buena causa” – support for a good cause.

Across the state this week, poultry and meat processing plants, including the giant Tyson, have been closed or put on limited production schedules because of an unofficial walkout by Hispanic workers. In the north of the state, the pungent smell of rotting tomatoes hangs in the air across huge tranches of land that has been virtually abandoned by workers who, through fear or anger, are no longer turning up to gather the harvest.

Just how long this standoff will continue, and what happens to the thousands of families caught in limbo, will depend largely on what the 11th circuit appeals court rules, and ultimately on the final say of the US supreme court.

In the meantime, though, Isobel Gomez remains trapped inside her prison cell apartment. The only thing keeping her here, she says, is her daughters, who want to stay and make a life for themselves in America as countless millions of immigrant Americans have done before them.

“Every day I ask myself the question: how much longer can I survive this? How much longer can I bear sitting at home, unable to leave the house? How much longer can I stand the humiliation of knowing that I’m seen by others as a bad person, as a criminal? If it were down to me, I’d have had enough already.”

See Related: Social Archive

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California Medical Association calls for legalization of marijuana

The doctor group questions the medical value of pot and acknowledges some health risk from its use but urges it be regulated like alcohol.
A law enforcement official harshly criticizes the new stance.

An employee sorts merchandise at a Southern California medical marijuana dispensary

By Anthony York
The Los Angeles Times

SACRAMENTO — The state’s largest doctor group is calling for legalization of marijuana, even as it pronounces cannabis to be of questionable medical value.

Trustees of the California Medical Assn., which represents more than 35,000 physicians statewide, adopted the position at their annual meeting in Anaheim late Friday. It is the first major medical association in the nation to urge legalization of the drug, according to a group spokeswoman, who said the larger membership was notified Saturday.

Dr. Donald Lyman, the Sacramento physician who wrote the group’s new policy, attributed the shift to growing frustration over California’s medical marijuana law, which permits cannabis use with a doctor’s recommendation. That, he said, has created an untenable situation for physicians: deciding whether to give patients a substance that is illegal under federal law.

“It’s an uncomfortable position for doctors,” he said. “It is an open question whether cannabis is useful or not. That question can only be answered once it is legalized and more research is done. Then, and only then, can we know what it is useful for.”

The CMA’s new stance appears to have as much to do with politics as science. The group has rejected one of the main arguments of medical marijuana advocates, declaring that the substance has few proven health benefits and comparing it to a “folk remedy.”

The group acknowledges some health risk associated with marijuana use and proposes that it be regulated along the lines of alcohol and tobacco. But it says the consequences of criminalization outweigh the hazards.

Lyman says current laws have “proven to be a failed public health policy.” He cited increased prison costs, the effect on families when marijuana users are imprisoned and racial inequalities in drug-sentencing cases.

The organization’s announcement provoked some angry response.

“I wonder what they’re smoking,” said John Lovell, spokesman for the California Police Chiefs Assn. “Given everything that we know about the physiological impacts of marijuana — how it affects young brains, the number of accidents associated with driving under the influence — it’s just an unbelievably irresponsible position.”

The CMA’s view is also controversial in the medical community.

Dr. Robert DuPont, an M.D. and professor of psychiatry at Georgetown Medical School, said the association’s call for legalization showed “a reckless disregard of the public health. I think it’s going to lead to more use, and that, to me, is a public health concern. I’m not sure they’ve thought through what the implications of legalization would be.”

Dr. Igor Grant, head of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis at UC San Diego, defended the drug’s therapeutic use.

“There’s good evidence that it has medicinal value,” he said. “Can you say it’s 100% bulletproof? No. But the research we’ve done at the center shows it’s helpful with certain types of pain.”

The federal government views cannabis as a substance with no medical use, on a par with heroin and LSD. The CMA wants the Obama administration to reclassify it to help promote further research on its medical potential.

But Washington appears to be moving in the other direction. As recently as July, the federal government turned down a request to reclassify marijuana. That decision is being appealed in federal court by legalization advocates.

In recent weeks, the Obama administration has begun cracking down on California’s medical marijuana industry, threatening to prosecute landlords who rent buildings to pot dispensaries.

California’s marijuana laws have eased over the last 15 years. State voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996, decriminalizing it for medicinal purposes. Federal law still prohibits the sale or possession of the drug for any reason.

The CMA opposed Proposition 215, and it argues that doctors have been placed unwillingly in the center of the feud over the drug.

“When the proposition passed, we as an organized medical community got thrown into the middle of this issue, because the posture of the proposition and its proponents found that cannabis is a medicinal product that is useful for a long list of specific ailments,” Lyman said.

The state has since softened its laws on even recreational use of the drug. In 2010, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill that reclassified possession of less than an ounce from a misdemeanor to an infraction.

At the same time, the number of marijuana dispensaries was skyrocketing, to between 1,000 and 2,000 statewide, according to estimates by law enforcement officials. In January, the Los Angeles City Council set strict limits on pot outlets, ordering the closure of hundreds of them.

Opinion polls show that state voters continue to be in favor of medical marijuana but are divided on the question of total legalization. A recent survey by the Public Policy Institute of California found 51% opposed to complete legalization and 46% in favor.

Last November, California voters rejected Proposition 19, which would have legalized the possession and cultivation of limited amounts of cannabis and permitted local governments to regulate it and tax sales. The CMA took no public position on the measure, its leaders said.

Across the country, physicians have called for more cannabis-related research. The CMA’s parent organization, the American Medical Assn., has said the federal government should consider easing research restrictions.

Meanwhile, Lyman said, “there is considerable harm being done.”

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Social media give banks protests a global reach

By Jennifer Preston
The New York Times

With cell phones and social media tools, protesters provided live updates, photos and videos from the dozens of demonstrations held around the world on Saturday as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

From capturing Julian Assange’s remarks to protesters in London, to the violence that broke out during a large rally in Rome, people participating in the demonstrations shared in real time what was happening in their cities for all the world to see.

Posting links on Twitter and Facebook, they uploaded photos and videos to YouTube and image sharing sites like Bambuser and yFrog, where these photos of the demonstration in Madrid were posted by Ricardo Cana and linked to his Twitter account, @rcana..

In Spain, they also uploaded live video from Madrid on Ustream, a video sharing site.

Organizers in New York City also used their Global Revolution channel on Livestream to deliver live video feeds of the protests in New York. A stream of comments about the global protests from users around the world could be found on this channel, along with links to videos and livestreams of protests.

The online conversation about the Occupied Wall Street movement has been steadily growing on social media platforms in recent weeks and increased among global users in the last week as the planned day for demonstrations around the world approached on Saturday.

According to Trendrr, a social media analytics firm, the number of posts about Occupy Wall Street on Twitter outside the United States grew to more than 25 percent on Friday, up from 15 percent during the same time period a week before.

On Facebook, the overall audience has grown to more than 1.2 million in the last two weeks as hundreds of Facebook pages have been created around the country and now around the world. There are dozens of global Facebook pages now, including Occupy Brazil, Occupy Berlin, Occupy Sidney and Occupy Tokyo.

Users also turned to and FourSquare, a geolocation service, to help find each other and organize protests.

The Occupy the London Stock Exchange Facebook page has more than 16,000 likes and became a platform on Saturday for people attending the demonstration in London to share real-time updates, photos and videos from the march.

One person complained about the delayed police response during the riots in the United Kingdom last August but pointed out that police were equipped with riot gear at the protest on Saturday.

On the Facebook page, Occupy Together, which now has more than 117,000 people who belong to it, an update about the global planned demonstrations, prompted almost 500 people to share it and more than 200 people to comment from around the world.

“South Africa stands in Unity with all the people on this planet who have said: “Enough is Enough,” wrote Lendyll Naicker, who lives in Cape Town “We have woken up in our masses and realized that we are being controlled by corruption and greed, and that something is wrong with this picture. The 1% of people who own and control everything and who are trying to keep the masses enslaved and asleep will now know that we see through their game. The Global Revolution begins NOW!”

On Twitter, the protesters used hashtags, like #OccupyLondon, #OccupyTokyo, #OccupySidney, to help organize the overwhelming stream of posts on Twitter coming from around the world. Links to photos and cell phone videos flowed into the night, but some users found themselves with one of the problems that technology has not yet solved: the dying battery.

“Dusk over London now. Crowds still outside St Pauls, but getting chilly. They’re wrapped up warm though. #occupylsx #OccupyLondon, ” Prad Patel posted on Twitter, from London.

Then a few postings later, he wrote this.

See Related: American Distrust of Banks Archive

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Occupation at the corner of Wall Street and Rothschild

As in the Israeli demand for “social justice”
the Occupy Wall Street movement appears to be hitting a very raw nerve in American society,
one that some politicians appear to be keenly unaware

Israel Social Justice Protest
File Photo

By Chemi Shalev

Anarchists. Socialists. Crackheads. Sex Fiends. This is just a small sampling of choice terms that have been used in recent days by ideological opponents to describe the ringleaders of the “Occupy Wall Street” group.

And they are almost a carbon copy of the labels that were attached to the organizers of this summer’s social protest in Israel, when they first started out, before they turned their little tent-city sleep-in in Tel Aviv into a mass movement, the likes of which Israel had never seen.


So, even though the very attempt to compare the social and economic situations in Israel and America may seem ludicrous at first, some of the parallel story lines developing in lower Manhattan’s Financial District, where the OWS is encamped, and around Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard, where Israel’s J14 movement was born, are as eerily similar as to beggar belief.

The anti-capitalist movement has no clear-cut leaders or goals? Neither did Israel’s social agitators, at least in their early days, until they got their act together and had concentration thrust upon them.

George Soros is funding Occupy Wall Street, as Rush Limbaugh asserts? In Israel, Soros was also mentioned, along with Slim-Fast billionaire and peace activist Danny Abraham, and inevitably, the “sinister” New Israel Fund.

The “Tea Party” is miffed that someone else is taking center stage? So too were the Jewish settlers, perplexed by those hitherto-lethargic secularists who were suddenly shouting up Saturday nights in Tel Aviv.

The Occupy Wall Street leaders are anti-Semites, as some conservative pundits claim? In Israel they were the closest current equivalent –leftists, dear god – or even worse, anti-Zionists. The evidence? A flag here, a quote there, an article published long ago.

And – it almost goes without saying – in both cases the “liberal media” were exaggerating the extent of the protests in an effort to undermine the country and reinstate Trotskyite socialism, as is their wont.

Of course, it may very well be that some of the people who have been sleeping in tents for days on end are indeed anarchic addicts of debauchery – and a cursory glance at some of the residents of Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park on Saturday definitely yielded some likely contenders – but that’s not really the point, is it?. As in the Israeli demand for “social justice”, the Occupy Wall Street movement appears to be hitting a very raw nerve in American society, one that some politicians appear to be keenly unaware of. As a poll in this week’s Time Magazine revealed, most Americans view the OWS movement favorably, and, more importantly, an overwhelming majority agree with its stated aims.

In both countries, the über-free market – dubbed in Israel “swinish capitalism” – appears to many people to have run amok. In both countries, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the middle classes are getting crushed in between. In Israel, four or five tycoons along with ten or twenty rich and powerful families control the entire economy, while in America, so the protestors claim, the rich get bailed out while the majority gets sold out.

In Israel, much of the protest was directed against the government in general and against Prime Minister Netanyahu in particular, for his role – much lauded at the time – in freeing the country from stifling regulation. It was also Netanyahu who was able to deftly defuse the protest movement by appointing respected professor Manuel Trajtenberg to head a committee proposing reform.

But in America the political and the financial situations are much more complex, of course. Nonetheless, it has been the “opposition” Republican Party and its supporters in the media that have been the most vocally vehement in their denunciation of the protestors (“mobs”, as Jewish Congressman Eric Cantor dubbed them), while the Administration has been keeping its distance, awaiting more information on the direction of the wind.

Because beyond the natural ideological aversion to such “anti-capitalist” agitation, the Republicans might also fear a more immediate danger lurking ahead: should the OWS protests truly catch fire and sweep the despondent American middle class, the current deep dissatisfaction with the Obama Administration might suddenly be tunneled towards the party that continues to describe any proposal to tax even the hideously rich as “class warfare” and “socialism in disguise”. At the start of the home stretch of an election year, that’s the last thing the Republicans need.


See Related: Occupy protests grip 82 cities – Violence in Rome injures 30 protesters and 40 police officers

See Related: Israel Housing Crisis Archive

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Governor Brown declares October 16 Steve Jobs Day


SACRAMENTO – Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today issued a proclamation declaring October 16, 2011, as Steve Jobs Day in the State of California.

The text of the proclamation is below:

In his life and work, Steve Jobs embodied the California dream. To call him influential would be an understatement. His innovations transformed an industry, and the products he conceived and shepherded to market have changed the way the entire world communicates. Most importantly, his vision helped put powerful technologies, once the exclusive domain of big business and government, in the hands of ordinary consumers. We have only just begun to see the outpouring of creativity and invention that this democratization of technology has made possible.

It is fitting that we mark this day to honor his life and achievements as a uniquely Californian visionary. He epitomized the spirit of a state that an eager world watches to see what will come next.

See Related: Steve Jobs talks about death – Stanford address 2005

See Related: The Jewish View: Remembering Steve Jobs

See Related: Steve Jobs passes at 56

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Israel divided over price of freedom for Gilad Shalit

More than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners are to be released in exchange for one serviceman

Noam Shalit stands near cardboard cut-outs of his son Gilad in Jerusalem
Reuters Photo By Ronen Zvulun

By Phoebe Greenwood
The Guardian

Fresh lilies are regularly laid at a monument by the Tel Aviv Dolphinarium bearing witness to an evening in 2001 when 21 Israeli teenagers were killed while queuing outside a nightclub. Another 132 were injured in the attack by Saeed Hotari, a young Palestinian suicide bomber affiliated with Hamas.

But last week flowers arrived more in protest than in sorrow. Husam Badran, the former head of Hamas’s military wing in the West Bank and instigator of the Dolphinarium attack, is expected to be among 477 Palestinian prisoners released on Tuesday in a deal to free Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. A further 550 will be freed within two months.

“It’s surreal. It’s beyond belief,” said one young mother angrily as she looked at the monument. “I may be the only one against it, but no good deal sees the release of 1,000 killers. People say Netanyahu showed courage in agreeing to set them free, but I say he has given in to terrorism.”

Over the past five years, the parents of captive soldier Gilad Shalit have won the Israeli public with their tireless campaign to free their son, demanding the Israeli government do whatever it takes to rescue him from his captors in the Gaza Strip. Israel celebrated last week when they finally succeeded. But the nation’s joy is tempered with grave misgivings.

To Palestinians, the 1,027 prisoners exchanged for Shalit are freedom fighters. To Israelis, they are terrorists responsible for some of the country’s bloodiest atrocities. Israel wants Shalit free but is struggling to stomach the cost of his freedom.

Gustav Specht, 47, who runs a restaurant close to the Dolphinarium on Tel Aviv Beach, shares the broad public reaction as described in the Israeli media: “I think it’s the least bad result. Everyone I know is happy Gilad will be free.”

But his colleague Alon Reuvney, 28, thinks differently. His friend lost his father in a suicide attack in Jerusalem several years ago: “He heard about the release of his father’s killer on the news. No one thought to tell his family. He is very angry.”

The official list of prisoners agreed for release has not been published, but several leaked versions have appeared on Arabic news websites. Israelis recognised some of the region’s most notorious terrorists. There was Muhammad Duglas, implicated in a suicide bombing at the Sbarro pizza restaurant in Jerusalem in which 15 people were killed. Abdel Hadi Ghanem of Islamic Jihad, responsible for the 1989 attack on a public bus in which 16 Israelis died. And hundreds more like them. Others were convicted of lesser offences.

Few doubt that securing Shalit’s return has boosted prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s popularity but Jerusalem Post columnist Jonathan Spyer warns he has taken a gamble for public affection. “Within six months time, we will see terrorist attacks linked to these men who are being released. And at that point Bibi [Netanyahu] will pay a very serious price,” Spyer said. “In all of this, the Shalit family and Hamas are the winners; the Israeli public will be the loser.” Israeli terror expert Boaz Ganor agrees the release of these political prisoners has provided Hamas with legitimacy but predicts they will not pose an immediate threat to Israeli security.

Hamas, listed by the US and the UK as a terror organisation, has proved itself a pragmatic negotiating partner. By insisting on the release of prisoners from all factions, it has regained popular support across Gaza and the West Bank, undermining the Palestinian Authority midway through its UN bid for statehood. It would not serve Hamas’s interests, Ganor says, to let the situation deteriorate by allowing released prisoners to wage a campaign of terror. “But I’m not ruling out further kidnappings. This has proved so strategically effective in the past, I believe they [Hamas] would try to kidnap more Israeli soldiers and civilians to gather more power in their hands.” Boaz also said it was the prisoner swap negotiated in 1985 by Shimon Peres — 1,150 Palestinian prisoners for three Israeli soldiers captured in the Lebanon war — that ignited the first intifada.

Despite a history of militants freed in swaps killing again, Israel has always negotiated to free its soldiers. Nimrod Kahn, 33, who runs a cookery school in Tel Aviv, says, however unpalatable the deal, Israelis expect their state to make this compromise. It is a guarantee for every high-school graduate expected to devote three years to military service.

“I don’t object to the releasing of these prisoners in principle; they would be released in a peace deal sooner or later. I object to this deal because it opens the gate for blackmail,” Kahn said. “But it’s expected our state will take responsibility for its soldiers. In Israel, the soldier is the holy cow – it cannot be slaughtered under any circumstances.”

See Related: Gilad Shalit Agreement Archive

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Israeli president begins pardoning Palestinian prisoners

JERUSALEM — Israel’s president on Saturday began the process of formally pardoning hundreds of Palestinian prisoners who are to be exchanged for an Israeli soldier held by Gaza militants for five years.

A spokeswoman for President Shimon Peres said he received the files of hundreds of prisoners set for release in the first phase of the deal and has 48 hours to sign the pardons. The swap will likely happen Tuesday.


Under the deal, 1,027 Palestinians — include some behind attacks on Israelis — will released in two stages in return for Sgt. Gilad Schalit, who was captured by Hamas-backed militants in a 2006 cross-border raid.

Israel has agreed to uneven prisoner exchange deals for decades. This swap, however, is the most lopsided to date. Critics say it encourages more abductions, is unjust to families of those killed and also poses the risk that freed militants will return to violence.

The list of prisoners included in the deal is to be released publicly, and in a mostly symbolic gesture, Israelis will be able to raise appeals.

Among the Palestinian prisoners to be freed are many involved in plotting suicide bombings inside cafes and buses as well as shooting attacks that killed hundreds of Israelis and injured many more.

Israeli TV Channel 2 aired a prison interview with female prisoner, Ahlam Tamimi, who is expected to be released. In 2001, she transported a suicide bomber to a Sbarro restaurant in downtown Jerusalem, where he killed 15 people. Asked if she felt remorse, Tamimi said, “No, why should I?”

Little is known of the captured Israeli soldier’s condition. Hamas banned the Red Cross from visiting him and only released a short audio and video statement not long after his capture, confirming that he was alive.

In the West Bank and Gaza, families waited in anticipation for the return of their loved ones. The prisoners are highly regarded in Palestinian society.

Hamas officials were in talks with Egyptian intelligence officers in Cairo to work out the intricate mechanics of how to safely transfer Schalit.

Hamas is eager to keep secret the location in Gaza where they have held Schalit, no easy feat in a tiny sliver of territory crammed with 1.6 million people.

Some militants involved in hiding Schalit also said they feared Israeli forces might seize the soldier if they knew of his location before he was spirited out, a senior Hamas official said. They were also on guard for the slim possibility that other militants along the transfer route might try to harm the soldier.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters. He would not say what strategy was agreed on, only that “different scenarios” were under consideration.

The general plan is to transfer Schalit from Hamas custody to Egypt. Cairo would then hand the soldier over to Israel.

The official would not say when Schalit would be transferred to Egyptian custody or from where. He said the Israeli would not be handed over to Egyptian officials at Rafah, the only border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.

The spokesman for a smaller Palestinian militant faction also involved in Schalit’s capture said the handover would involve several steps.

First, the identities of released Palestinian prisoners would be checked, said Mohammed al-Barem of the Popular Resistance Committees. Once confirmed, they would be transferred in buses to the Egyptian Sinai desert.

Once they reach the Sinai, the procedures to release Schalit would begin, he said.

“They will hand over the captive soldier simultaneously, without announcement and in secret, with strong security procedures by the factions holding (Schalit),” al-Barem said.

Once that is accomplished, the Palestinian prisoners meant to be released into Gaza would be taken to the Rafah crossing.

From there, Palestinian officials will escort them to Gaza City for a huge celebration.

Israel is expected to release around 450 Palestinian prisoners on the same day that Schalit is freed and about 550 more two months later.

Prisoners headed to the West Bank are typically left at Israeli checkpoints scattered throughout the territory. Waiting Palestinian buses ferry them back home.

Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, and Diaa Hadid in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

See Related: Gilad Shalit Agreement Archive

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Last minute Hamas demands could imperil Gilad Shalit deal

Terror entity discovers 8 more female terrorist prisoners it wants freed, demands bodies of Shalit abductors


By Gil Ronen

Hamas has made additional last minute demands of Israel in return for freeing abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. Analysts say the demands could imperil the deal or postpone its implementation.

While Hamas kingpin Khaled Mashaal has boasted that all Palestinian Authority (PA) female terrorist prisoners will be freed, his organization appears to have discovered at week’s end that there are more such prisoners that it thought. The number of female PA terrorists in Israel’s jails is 35, not 27 as Hamas apparently believed until now.

Jacqueline Alfaraja, a lawyer for the PA’s Prisoners’ Club, told the PA based Ma’an news agency that there are 35 female prisoners in Israel’s jails. While 27 have been sentenced, five are in remand awaiting sentencing and three are under administrative detention.
Hamas now says that the “mistake” must be “rectified” and claims that Israel agreed to release all female prisoners without determining their exact number.

In addition, Hamas demands that Israel hand over the bodies of terrorists including those who participated in the abduction of Shalit. The demands have been delivered to Egyptian authorities, which have reportedly promised to “take care of them.”

See Related: Gilad Shalit Agreement Archive

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Israelis join Occupy protests

Protests take place across world on global ‘day of rage’; rioters in Rome set fire to cars, smash windows of stores and banks and trash offices of the defense ministry

By Asaf Shtull-Trauring

Hundreds of Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and Kiryat Shmona on Saturday, in solidarity with economic demonstrations being held around the world.

The events in Israel included discussion circles and activities for children.

Protesters face police in Rome,
Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011

“We saw what is going on around the world, we saw the October 15th events, and we decided to initiate local events to connect Israel with the world,” said Dor Nahman, the spokesman for October 15th events in Israel.

Demonstrators rallied on Saturday across the world to accuse bankers and politicians of wrecking economies, but only in Rome did the global “day of rage” erupt into violence.

Galvanized by the Occupy Wall Street movement, the protests began in New Zealand, rippled east to Europe and were expected to return to their starting point in New York. Demonstrations touched most European capitals and other cities.

They coincided with the Group of 20 meeting in Paris, where finance ministers and central bankers from the major economies were holding crisis talks.

While most rallies were small and barely held up traffic, the Rome event drew tens of thousands of people and snaked through the city center for kilometers.

Some protesters in masks and helmets set fire to cars, smashed the windows of stores and banks and trashed offices of the defense ministry. Police fired water cannon at demonstrators who were hurling rocks, bottles and fireworks.

Smoke bombs set off by the protesters cast a pall over a sea of red flags and banners bearing slogans attacking economic policies the protesters say are hurting the poor most. The violence sent many demonstrators running into hotels for safety.

Peaceful rallies

In contrast, small and peaceful rallies got the ball rolling across the Asia-Pacific region on Saturday. In Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city, 3,000 people chanted and banged drums, denouncing corporate greed.

About 200 gathered in the capital Wellington and 50 in a park in the earthquake-hit southern city of Christchurch.

In Sydney, about 2,000 people, including representatives of Aboriginal groups, communists and trade unionists, protested outside the central Reserve Bank of Australia.

Hundreds marched in Tokyo, including anti-nuclear protesters. In Manila a few dozen marched on the U.S. embassy waving banners reading: “Down with U.S. imperialism” and “Philippines not for sale”.

More than 100 people gathered at the Taipei stock exchange, chanting “we are Taiwan’s 99 percent”, and saying economic growth had only benefited companies while middle-class salaries barely covered soaring housing, education and health care costs.

They found support from a top businessman, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp (TSMC) Chairman Morris Chang.

“I’ve been against the gap between rich and poor,” Chang said in the northern city of Hsinchu. “The wealth of the top one percent has increased very fast in the past 20 or 30 years. ‘Occupy Wall Street’ is a reaction to that.”

In Paris protests coincided with the G20 finance chiefs’ meeting there. In the working class neighbourhood of Belleville, drummers, trumpeters and a tuba revved up a crowd of a few
hundred that began to march to the city hall.

“This is potentially the start of a strong movement,” said Olivier Milleron, a doctor whose group of trumpeters played the classic American folk song “This land is your land”.

Waitress Tiodhilde Fernagu, 26, took a day off work to attend. “For the first time in France there is a uniquely citizens’ movement” outside party politics, she said.

“The indignant ones”

The Rome protesters, who called themselves “the indignant ones”, included unemployed, students and pensioners.

“I am here to show support for those don’t have enough money to make it to the next paycheque while the ECB (European Central Bank) keeps feeding the banks and killing workers and families,” said Danila Cucunia, a 43-year-old teacher from northern Italy.

“At the global level, we can’t carry on any more with public debt that wasn’t created by us but by thieving governments, corrupt banks and speculators who don’t give a damn about us,” said Nicla Crippa, 49.

“They caused this international crisis and are still profiting from it. They should pay for it.”

In imitation of the occupation of Zuccotti Park near Wall Street in Manhattan, protesters have been camped out across the street from the headquarters of the Bank of Italy for days.

The worldwide protests were a response in part to calls by the New York demonstrators for more people to join them. Their example has prompted calls for similar occupations in dozens of U.S. cities from Saturday.

In Madrid, seven marches were planned to merge in Cibeles square at 1600 GMT and then head to the central Puerta de Sol.

In Germany, where sympathy for southern Europe’s debt troubles is not widespread, thousands gathered in Berlin, Hamburg, Leipzig and outside the ECB in Frankfurt, called by the Real Democracy Now movement.

Demonstrators gathered peacefully in Paradeplatz, the main square in the Swiss financial center of Zurich.

In London, several hundred people assembled outside London’s St Paul’s Cathedral for a protest dubbed “Occupy the London Stock Exchange”. Several hundred people protested in Vienna, Sweden and Helsinki.

Greek protesters called an anti-austerity rally for Saturday in Athens’ Syntagma Square.

“What is happening (debt-driven financial meltdown) in Greece now is the nightmare awaiting other countries in the future. Solidarity is the people’s weapon,” the Real Democracy group said.

See Related: Occupy protests grip 82 cities – Violence in Rome

See Related: American Distrust of Banks Archive

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Occupy protests grip 82 cities – Violence in Rome injures 30 protesters and 40 police officers

Demonstrators attempt to break through the entrance of a bank branch
during a demonstration in Rome on Saturday

By David Willey

Clashes erupted at the biggest rally, in Rome, when riot police intervened after a small group of masked militants attacked property.

Police used tear gas, water cannon and baton-charges, making several arrests. Officials confirmed 70 people were injured, 40 of them police officers.

No arrest numbers were available late Saturday.

occupy 15
A car is set on fire as protesters clash with police in Rome, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011

Inspired by the Occupy Wall St movement and Spain’s “Indignants”, demonstrators turned out from Asia to Europe, but numbers were generally small.

Organisers expect rallies in 82 countries, with the protests due to come full circle when they reach New York.

Organisers said on their website that the aim was to “initiate the global change we want”.

occupy 13
A protester carrying a banner reading “Unhappy slave” takes part in “Occupy Bucharest” protests
in the Romanian capital

“United in one voice, we will let politicians, and the financial elites they serve, know it is up to us, the people, to decide our future,” it said.

Masked militants

Tens of thousands of people had turned out to demonstrate peacefully in Rome, the BBC’s David Willey reports.

occupy 12
The “Occupy Central” rally in Stockholm, Sweden, as protesters worldwide demonstrated against bankers
and politicians they accuse of ruining global economies through greed

Television pictures from the city showed streets packed with protesters waving banners, close to the Colosseum.

occupy 11
Participants during demonstration at Brandenburg Gate to support the Occupy Wall Street
in Berlin, Germany

However militants dressed in black infiltrated the crowd and began attacking property. Offices belonging to the Italian defence ministry were set on fire, three cars were burnt and there were attacks on cash dispensers and bank and shop windows.

Police moved in after bottles were reportedly thrown at them.

occupy 10
Protesters with banners gather in front of the Euro sculpture at the European Central Bank headquarters
in Frankfurt, Germany, during demonstration to support Occupy Wall Street and rail against corruption
and austerity measures

The militants were also challenged by other protesters, our correspondent says. “No to violence!” they shouted and tried to restrain them.

At least one person was injured during the protests.

occupy 8
Men with placards walk behind police as protesters gather in front of the Reserve Bank
of Australia in Sydney, Australia

There was a message of support for the global day of protest from the chief of the Bank of Italy, Mario Draghi, who is set to take over as head of the European Central Bank (ECB) next month.

“Young people are right to be indignant,” he was quoted by Italian media as saying in informal comments at the G20 summit in Paris.

occupy 7
Protesters display streamers en route to the US embassy in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street
in Manila, Philippines

“They’re angry against the world of finance. I understand them… We adults are angry about the crisis. Can you imagine people who are in their twenties or thirties?”

Outside the ECB itself in Frankfurt, Germany, thousands of people gathered to protest on Saturday.

A 27-year-old schoolteacher who gave his name only as Tobias told AFP news agency: “I see the global capitalist system as a time bomb for humans but also for the planet.

occupy 5
A protester with fake US bank notes stuck on his mask takes part in an “Occupy Hong Kong” rally
outside the Hong Kong Exchange Square

“Our well-being is financed to the detriment of other countries, [and] the ECB represents this unjust and murderous system.”

Evening rally

At least 1,000 people demonstrated in London’s financial district but were prevented by police from reaching the Stock Exchange.

In Dublin, about 400 people marched to a hotel where an EU/IMF/ECB delegation involved in the country’s ongoing financial bailout is staying, the Irish Times reports.

Crowds have started to gather in central Madrid, waiting for eight separate columns to converge from all over the city, the BBC’s Sarah Rainsford reports from the Spanish capital.

People of all ages, from pensioners to children, and many of the young unemployed, have gathered for the evening rally on Puerta del Sol Square, where the “Indignant” movement was launched in May.

Most of Saturday’s other rallies have been small, with traffic barely disrupted.

occupy 4
South Koreans wearing Guy Fawkes and “Scream” masks hold up banners during the “Occupy Seoul” rally as part
of worldwide protest inspired by Occupy Wall Street – called for in 951 cities and 82 countries

Hundreds of people marched in New Zealand cities while in Sydney, Australia, some 2,000 people – including representatives of Aboriginal groups, communists and trade unionists – rallied outside the central Reserve Bank of Australia.

“Occupy” protests were also been held in South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

It remains to be seen if any of the demonstrations turn into protest camps, such as Occupy Wall Street, which began with a small group of activists in New York’s financial district a couple of months ago and has now grown to include several thousand people at times, from many walks of life.

Observers say that, while the original protesters in Spain had concrete demands such as seeking a cut in working hours to tackle unemployment, many “Occupy” protesters are vague in their demands.


See Related: American Distrust of Banks Archive

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Banks protests move to London

Thousands join online group as demonstrators vow to ‘Occupy the London Stock Exchange’ today


By Kevin Rawlinson
The Independent

Police will take “any steps necessary” to keep order in the City today as demonstrators planning to occupy London’s financial district vowed to hold out for as long as they could in a protest against corporate greed.

More than 13,700 people had last night expressed their support on Facebook for the the protest, called Occupy the London Stock Exchange. It is inspired by similar demonstrations in New York.

The Occupy LSX website claimed that 5,000 people had confirmed they would attend the event. But one leading member said yesterday they could not be sure how many would turn out and were hoping for about 1,000.

The demonstration is supported and partly organised by UK Uncut, which protested against Arcadia boss Philip Green’s businesses, the Fortnum & Mason store in Picadilly and health reforms on Westminster Bridge last Sunday. “We are prepared for the police, arrests will not deter us, but rather will galvanise us,” one protester said. He said he hoped the numbers could be boosted by spreading the word on social-networking sites. The action was planned “in support of other occupations” going on across the world, he said. Organisers described it as a “global movement for real democracy”.

One protester planning to attend said the demonstrators were trying to keep their tactics under wraps but were likely to protest “outside selected corporations’ headquarters as well as demonstrating in front of shops; everything is on the table”.

Singer Billy Bragg showed his support yesterday, posting a message on Twitter saying: “The time has come… Occupy the London Stock Exchange… I’ll be there.”

Occupy LSX issued a statement: “After huge bailouts and in the face of unemployment, privatisation and austerity, we still see profits for the rich on the increase.” The group called for “equality and justice for all” and added: “We will occupy the Stock Exchange, reclaiming space in the face of the financial system and using it to voice ideas for how we can work towards a better future. A future free from austerity, growing inequality, unemployment, tax injustice and a political élite who ignores its citizens.”

A Met police spokesman said there was a “flexible plan in place to police the event” and added that none of its tactics were being ruled out – including the controversial kettling of protesters, when officers encircle and detain groups of people they believe are involved in, or are about to be involved in, violent disorder.

But he insisted the police response would be “proportionate”. He said: “We will be looking at a range of options and will fit our approach to the situation on the ground.”

The protest is due to begin at midday when demonstrators gather at St Paul’s Cathedral and prepare to march east into the Square Mile. Organisers asked those planning to attend to “bring plenty of food and water, wrap up warm. Tents, sleeping bags and torches are also a good idea”.

See Related: American Distrust of Banks Archive

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Report: Shalit Transferred to Egypt

Egyptian officials tell daily Gilad Shalit has been transferred to Egypt by Hamas pursuant to his exchange for 1,027 terrorists

By Gavriel Queenann

Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Youm reported late Wednesday that Hamas moved captive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit into Egypt pursuant to the deal brokered with Israel for his release.

Egyptian officials reportedly told the newspaper Shalit was transferred to Egypt through the Rafiah crossing.


According to eyewitnesses, Shalit was driven through the Rafah crossing in a black car that has not undergone any inspection – a common procedure used when moving senior Hamas officials.

Shalit, who was kidnapped by Hamas six years ago, has been held in captivity as a bargaining chip for the release of terrorists from Israeli jails. He expected to be handed over to Israel as soon as the prisoner exchange begins on Teusday.

His alleged transfer comes on the heels of the government of Binyamin Netanyahu agreeing to release 1,027 prisoners – including some 450 terrorists – from Israeli prisons. Among those to be released are terrorists with soldiers’ blood on their hands and the Sbarro murderess.

Hamas has hailed the deal as a victory over Israel and proof kidnapping is a working tactic for the organization – promising more kidnappings and that the freed terrorists would return to haunt Israel in the future.

While Shalit’s release has been met with jubilant celebrations from his family and the mainstream Israeli media, the terms have drawn sharp criticism from a broad spectrum including the families of terror victims, soldiers involved in counter-terror operations, nationalist politicians, and security officials who predict the move will result in spilled Israeli blood.

Earlier this week Shin Bet Security chief Yoram Cohen described the deal as “tough and difficult,” noting 28 confirmed murderers were among the terrorists being released.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe Yaalon – one of only three ministers to vote against the deal – said the deal was a “capitulation to terror” which would result in “tens if not hundreds” of murdered Israelis in the years to come.

Hamas proudly summarized the deal saying Israel had promised peace, while they had promised terrorism.

See Related: Gilad Shalit Agreement Archive

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