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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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“THE BAD SEED” – Patty McCormack On-Stage Saturday Night at the Castro Theatre

Producer Marc Huestis lets the lightning strike on one of the most popular camp films of all time

Sean Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

— THE BAD SEED, 1956 —
“Claude was dead. He wouldn’t know if he had the medal pinned on him or not.”
Patty McCormack as “Rhoda” and Nancy Kelly as “Christine”

There’ll be baskets of kisses as Marc Huestis presents THE BAD SEED with Patty McCormack Live!, Saturday, October 15th, 7:30 pm at the legendary Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street in San Francisco. Oscar nominated star Patty McCormack as “Rhoda Penmark” tap, tap, taps her way onto the Castro stage to revile us with true tales of her life in shoe-bizness and the making of the all-time perverse thriller. This event comes hot on the heels of the recent release of The Bad Seed in Blu Ray format.

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This magnificently dated camp classic asks the perennial question -“Is evil nurture or nature?” This spellbinder garnered four Academy Award nominations in 1956, including Best Supporting Actress for McCormack as little Rhoda, the eight year old girl that just wants to have fun and one of the most evil child characters ever to grace the screen. Also nominated – Nancy Kelly for Best Actress as Rhoda’s tortured mother “Christine Penmark”, Best Supporting Actress Eileen Heckart as the lush Mrs. Daigle, and Hal Rosson for Best Cinematography

The gala evening of “bad” taste features:

Live Interview with Oscar nominated star Patty McCormack
Performances by Arturo Galster as “Christine Penmark”
Matthew Martin as “Hortense Daigle”
With Marilynn Fowler & Ste Fishell as evil “Rhoda Penmark”
“Miss Bad Seed” contest judged by Kathy Garver (“Cissy” from FAMILY AFFAIR),
A truly twisted stage processional: “The Baddest, Seediest Brats of Hollywood” featuring Kegel Kater, L. Ron Hubby, Johnny Kat, Moses and others
David Hegarty on the Mighty Wurlitzer
Screening of the magnificently dated camp classic THE BAD SEED
Autograph signing with Patty McCormack and Kathy Garver

“Aunt Monica wants to take me up to the roof.”
Patty McCormack as “Rhoda”

Click here to order tickets on-line to: THE BAD SEED [Type in "Shoes" for a special discount!]

PLUS – Special matinee screening of THE BAD SEED at noon.
Patty McCormack will make a guest appearance after the screening.
Tix – $12.50 Adult, Children under 12 free!


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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at:

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German mediator explains intelligence agency’s role in Gilad Shalit deal

Speaking to reporters, top German intelligences officials laud prisoner exchange deal, warning, however, that the situation was still fragile



While explaining their role in the prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas that would see IDF soldier Gilad Shalit free, top German intelligence officials said on Friday that the situation will continue to be fragile until Shalit arrives in Israel.

The comments were made by the German mediator to the Shalit talks Gerhard Conrad and the head of German intelligence Ernst Uhrlau, who had aided Israel in talks geared at retrieving former IDF officer Elhanan Tannenbaum from Hezbollah captivity in 2004.

Speaking to reporters in the Berlin headquarters of German intelligence (Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND), the officials expressed their satisfaction with the completed deal, and from their contribution to its completion, adding, however, that the situation was still fragile until the terms of the deal take place on the ground.

The German officials were asked about the role of Iran and Syria in the process, but they denied any involvement by the two countries.

The intelligence officials told reporters they had been optimistic as to the chances of striking a deal by the end of last year, saying, however, that talks fell through, a fact which they attributed to turmoil in the Arab world, and especially in Egypt.

It should be noted that Israeli sources estimated that one of the reasons a deal was not achieved six months ago was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unwillingness to make the required concessions, to which he agreed in the deal signed recently. That refusal also brought on the retirement of Shalit talks envoy Haggai Hadas, who was replaced by David Meidan.

Even though Conrad and Uhrlau did not indicate so directly, the impression they gave was that the Arab Spring and the Egyptian crisis severely damaged German intelligence ties with the old Egyptian regime, especially with the head of Egyptian intelligence, the General Omar Suleiman.

In this context, they half admitted that lines of communication were disrupted, a fact which scaled down their part in Shalit negotiations, leaving the stage for Egypt to supervise the prisoner swap talks.

Conrad, a man in his mid-50s, is a veteran intelligence officer, with a rank equivalent to that of a colonel, and represents the Middle East wing of the BND.

However, as far as Shalit negotiations were concerned, he was considered a “freelancer” of sorts, working in behalf of the BND, in order to prevent a direct link between his official role in German intelligence and his job as mediator. That’s mainly because Germany does not officially recognize Hamas.

He has been working in the Mideast for the last five years, following 2006′s Second Lebanon War, and mediated talks between Israel and Hezbollah which led to the 2008 swap deal that brought Israel back the bodies of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser.

Conrad was not involved at the time in Shalit talks, while they were run by then-Israeli envoy Ofer Dekel, but was brought in to those negotiations once Dekel was replaced by former Mossad man Haggai Hadas.

See Related: Gilad Shalit Agreement Archive

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Palestinian Authority cuts ties with pro-Palestinian U.S. lobby over criticism of UN statehood bid

By Natasha Mozgovaya

The American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) had been a key link between the Palestinian leadership and the U.S. administration in recent years, especially due to the lobby’s moderate political stance, and as a result of the friendship between the lobby’s head, Dr. Ziad J. Asali, and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

However, the sound relationship between the PA and the ATFP began fraying over efforts by the head of the Palestinian delegation to the U.S., Ma’an Erekat, to distance the pro-Palestinian lobby.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad

Those tensions increased dramatically, additionally, over the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN late last month, a move Asali openly criticized for its potential to mire relations with U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration.

While the ATFP’s official stance was neutral, the lobby’s head published an article critical of the Palestinian move in the UN; ATFP director general Ghaith al-Omri, speaking to Haaretz at the time, said the statehood bid could lead to violent riots in the West Bank, adding that it was up to the PA to manage the expectations they raised among Palestinians.

The ATFP was severely criticized by Palestinian activists for their view on the PA move, with some saying that the lobby lost its reason for existence.

Referring to the growing rift with the U.S. lobby, Palestinian journalist Daud Kutab wrote that the Palestinian diaspora had become both a blessing and a curse for the Palestinian cause, adding that, in some places, some members of the disapora were “hostages of local politics,” acting as “representatives of their local governments and not of the Palestinians.”

On Thursday, the Politico website revealed that uneasy relations between the PA and the ATFP reached a new low, after Ma’an Erekat informed the pro-Palestinian lobby that the Palestinian leadership was severing ties with the group over what he called their lack of support for the Palestinian bid at the UN.

According to some Palestinian sources, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is the one who asked the PLO representative to sever ties with ATFP.

However, as the dust settles over this latest crisis, it seems that the person in the most uncomfortable position is Fayyad, who had already approved his participation in the ATFP’s annual gala evening, expected to take place in Washington next week.

The event is usually attended by prominent members of the Palestinian immigrant community, Arab diplomats, U.S. officials, as well as several prominent members of the Jewish community. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the keynote speaker in last year’s event.

See Related: Palestinian Statehood Bid Archive

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Opposite sides of banks protests come together – Friday police cleanup called off

Wall Street meets occupier: Edward T. Hall III, left, and Jimmy Vivona in a cafe near Zuccotti Park.
Photo By Robert Stolarik

By Corey Kilgagannon
The New York Times

The two men at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan on Thursday afternoon could hardly look more different.

One, Edward T. Hall III, 25, was barefoot and dressed in loud, multicolored tights. He wore native American clothes and New Age jewelry, with a baseball cap pulled sideways over his long hair.

The other, Jimmy Vivona, 40, wore a smart blue pinstripe suit, a conservative blue-and-white striped tie and good shoes. He had neatly coiffed hair and a close shave. He has caught glimpses of the protesters on walks during his lunch break.

In a way, they could be poster boys for a divide that has come into stark relief, as the fourth week of the Occupy Wall Street protests in downtown Manhattan wind down.


Mr. Hall is a well-educated young man with a privileged upbringing who says he is following a greater calling than getting a job and making money. He sees the current protest as a “global movement” to help fight poverty and economic inequality. He has spent the past month sleeping in the park and is one of the organizers of the protest.

Mr. Vivona grew up in a working-class family on Staten Island and now lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, with his wife and two young children. He has been a stockbroker for 17 years, works “13 or 14 hour days” and has done well for himself on Wall Street.

“Not tens of millions of dollars, but I do O.K.,” was as specific as he would get.

City Room had arranged the meeting between the two men and invited them for a one-on-one discussion about the issues raised by the protesters. Trying to find someone to represent the views of the financial industry proved challenging and several workers declined. After running into Mr. Vivona outside Zuccotti Park, he agreed.

At a nearby cafe, this unlikely duo sat across from each other. Mr. Vivona, who works in an office building two blocks from the park, had a Snapple. Mr. Hall, who when told the meeting would be indoors ended up covering his bare feet with a pair of women’s rubber boots, went for a cappuccino.

The two men made cordial small talk at first. Mr. Hall said he played squash. Mr. Vivano said he played ice hockey. Then Mr. Hall began explaining some issues central to the protest, including concerns about a growing disparity in wealth between the rich and poor in America.

Mr. Vivona reminded Mr. Hall that America was a democracy and that many of these issues should be resolved at the ballot box. He said that he respected the protesters’ right to demonstrate and that this, in fact, was a testament to freedom of expression in America.

“We don’t begrudge you the opportunity to protest,” he said, adding that the right to free expression “makes us the best country in the world.”

Mr. Hall said he too was patriotic and that a goal of the protest was to help strengthen the United States by trying to help the unemployment problem and lift wages for the working class that have been “crushed by banks.”

Mr. Vivona said that he felt the protest was a bit unfocused in its message and that some of the signs made points that were “all over the place.”

Mr. Hall acknowledged that “a lot of our message is easily distorted as well as very hard to handle” and that “we’ve used, sort of, a sledgehammer” when a “tiny” hammer would have sufficed.

Mr. Hall said that he grew up in New Mexico and that both his parents were politically active lawyers who were thrilled that he was pursuing a socially conscious life and was involved in the Occupy Wall Street protest. Mr. Hall said he attended Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and then transferred to Bard College in upstate New York because of its reputation as a socially conscious school.

He had been renting in Washington Heights for the past two years while attending doctoral classes at Columbia University as a nonmatriculated student. He said that he supported his modest lifestyle on savings he earned working as a teenager and that he also had “a small trust fund” from his grandfather that he had not drawn from yet. For the past four weeks, he has eaten free meals and has slept in the park.

Mr. Vivano, a freelance broker for Empire Asset Management, a brokerage firm of about 30 brokers, said his prosperity depended on the economy. At best, he might be able to retire at age 50, but with a tougher economy would have to work into his 60s.

Perhaps his main message to Mr. Hall was that many Wall Street finance workers were not “fat cats,” but rather hard-working strivers who have simply “done well for themselves” without becoming exorbitantly rich.

“They’re guys like me, who work hard every day,” he said. “Every nickel I make, I work hard for.”

When Mr. Hall questioned why top executives making such big bonuses. Mr. Vivona countered with a sports analogy: of course Wayne Gretzky is going to earn much more than a much lesser hockey player.

When Mr. Hall mentioned capping high salaries, Mr. Vivona said, “But isn’t that a brand of socialism in a way?”

The discussion between the two men occurred before news broke that the planned cleanup of Zuccotti Park on Friday morning had been called off.

Reached by phone, Mr. Vivona said he hoped that was not a sign that the protesters would be staying much longer.

“I’d like to see things get back to some normalcy down here,” he said.

That was much the same point he made to Mr. Hall on Thursday.

“At some point, you have to be satisfied with the message you came to convey,” he said.

Mr. Hall sees no immediate end to the protest.

“We have to be patient with each other,” he said.

After the conversation, the two men exchanged phone numbers. Mr. Vivano straightened his tie and went back to his brokerage firm. Mr. Hall kicked off the boots and cheerfully walked barefoot back to the park to continue strategizing.

See Related: American Distrust of Banks Archive

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Gay man and rabbi forge unlikely bond in winsome ‘Sweet Like Sugar’

By Rebecca Spence

Like Benji Steiner, the protagonist in his touching new novel “Sweet Like Sugar,” Wayne Hoffman is gay and Jewish.

But unlike Benji, a 26-year-old graphic designer prone to dating pretty boys and church-going Christians, Hoffman has not spent countless hours with an elderly Orthodox rabbi who would have a heart attack if he knew what the author did in the bedroom.

Wayne Hoffman
Photo By Frank Mullaney

Such is the premise of “Sweet Like Sugar,” Hoffman’s follow-up to “Hard,” his racy first novel that chronicled gay life in New York at a turning point in the AIDS crisis. This latest book, as the G-rated title suggests, describes the unexpected and at times awkward friendship between Benji and an ailing octogenarian rabbi, Jacob Zuckerman, whose Jewish bookstore abuts Benji’s office in a suburban shopping center outside Washington, D.C.

Hoffman, a former managing editor of the Forward newspaper, grew up in Silver Spring, Md. and, like Benji, became a bar mitzvah at a Conservative synagogue. He found the inspiration for “Sweet” at his own version of the shopping mall: a midtown Manhattan office building that housed the English and the Yiddish editions of the Forward.

Hoffman had an inviting couch in his office overlooking 33rd Street — I know, because he was my boss when I was a reporter there. One afternoon in 2006, a black-clad, white-bearded man who worked at the Yiddish Forward, or Forverts, located on the other side of the floor (though culturally, it may as well have been on the other side of the planet) showed up in Hoffman’s office looking ill. The editor who escorted him asked if the old man could rest on Hoffman’s couch, and thus was born the opening scene of “Sweet Like Sugar.”

“Here we are, sharing an intimate moment. He’s sick on my couch, 5 feet from me, I don’t know his name, we haven’t spoken a word, and I realize I don’t even know if he speaks English,” recalls Hoffman, now deputy editor of Nextbook Press, which helps to promote Jewish literature.


“What if he woke up? What would we say? If he rolled over and I said, ‘Hi, I’m Wayne, I’m a gay, atheist leftist,’ that could be a lot to handle.”

That conversation never occurred, but the “what-if” gave rise to a lively, if predictable, novel about one young gay man’s search for Jewish identity.

Laden with pop-cultural references and flashbacks to the humiliations of an American Jewish childhood, including sexual harassment at a Jewish summer camp and trips to Florida to visit Grandma — not to mention dates who whisper to Benji, “I want you to be my bagel boy” — “Sweet Like Sugar” opens up a conversation about the intersections between gay and Jewish identity, and how Jews on opposite sides of the political spectrum can come to terms with differences when confronted with another’s humanity.

After the fictitious Rabbi Zuckerman, a recent widower who works too hard, falls asleep on Benji’s couch, Benji offers him a ride home and a tender friendship ensues. As Benji navigates a bad-luck streak with men and wonders if he’ll ever find his bashert, or destiny, the rabbi opens up to him about his beloved wife, reigniting Benji’s lapsed interest in Judaism.

By the end of the book, Benji has come out to the rabbi — briefly compromising their friendship — and discovered that despite the rabbi’s pious appearance, he, too, has not always followed the letter of Jewish law. What doesn’t happen is a big hug fest, with the rabbi realizing that he’s been interpreting Leviticus all wrong, and deciding that two men making love is actually kosher.

“The rabbi never changes his mind,” says Hoffman. “The rabbi doesn’t suddenly march in the Gay Pride Parade. What the rabbi does is realize that in all sorts of ways, he’s already open to the fact that not all Jews believe exactly what he does, but they’re still Jews.”

And this, Hoffman says, is what he hopes people will take from the book.

“What I’m trying to do is reach people who may or may not agree with everything my characters say but are at least willing to listen. It’s not about being in denial and pretending things are fine, it’s about how to be in the community together with other people who do not share all of your values.”

Wayne Hoffman will read from “Sweet Like Sugar” at 7:30 Tuesday, Oct. 18 at Books Inc., 2275 Market St., S.F. and 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19 at Magnet, 4122 18th St., S.F.

“Sweet Like Sugar” by Wayne Hoffman (352 pages, Kensington, $15)

See Related: Books Archive

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San Francisco Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT) conducts citywide drills October 21

Catastrophic incident response drills commemorating the 21st Anniversary of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake



NERT members from all over San Francisco will meet at staging areas in five different locations in the City on October 15th to put their training into action in this three-hour drill. NERT volunteers at each location have planned their drill activities, which may include practicing search and rescue techniques, triaging injured victims, setting up staging areas, and other essential disaster response skills. NERT has held annual Citywide drills since 1992. Between 200 and 300 volunteers
participate each year. Since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, NERT has trained over 21,000 civilians to assist the San Francisco Fire Department after a severe earthquake or other major emergency by taking care of themselves, their families, and their neighbors.



Saturday, October 15, 2011

Battalion 1 North Beach 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.

North Beach Playground (Mason Street and Lombard Street)

Battalion 4 Western Addition/Lower Pacific Heights 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Hamilton Recreation Field (Scott Street and Post Street)

Battalion 6 Bernal Heights 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.

Holly Park (Bocana Street and Highland Avenue)

Battalion 8 Parkside/Outer Sunset 09:45 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.

Parkside Playground (26th Avenue at Vicente Street)

Battalion 9 Mission Terrace 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Balboa Playground (San Jose Avenue at Ocean Avenue)

See Related: 72Hours Disaster Preparedness

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San Francisco Republican Party Chair Harmeet Dhillon threatens government action against local press

By Joe Eskenazi

If you write a newspaper article in San Francisco that rankles a political leader, the government can step in and punish you.

That sounds like red meat for right-leaning forces on the Internet, setting off a firestorm of rants about the liberal idiocy of our fair city and how an earthquake burying us all or setting us adrift in the Pacific would be America’s gain.

By all means, feel free to get that Internet firestorm started. We could use the Web traffic. But, in this case, the rankled political leader advocating the government actually step in to regulate newspaper content is the head of the city’s Republican Party.


Continue Reading: Government Action Against Local Press

See Related: Federal Prosecutors say advertising medicinal marijuana is against the law – Will prosecute the press

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How Barack Obama went from cool to cold

Barack Obama’s measured approach won him the White House. So why do supporters think he lacks the ‘fierce urgency of now’?

‘Americans want their president to really need them. He doesn’t': Barack Obama
Guardian Photo

By Gary Younge
The Guardian

In June 2002, during a budget crisis in Illinois, a state senator from Chicago’s West Side, Rickey Hendon, made a desperate plea for a child-welfare facility in his constituency to be spared the axe. A junior senator from Chicago’s South Side, Barack Obama, voted against him, insisting hard times call for hard choices.

Ten minutes later Obama rose, calling for a similar project in his own constituency to be spared, and for compassion and understanding. Hendon was livid and challenged Obama on his double standards from the senate floor. Obama became livid too. As Hendon has told it, Obama approached him, “stuck his jagged, strained face into my space”, and said: “You embarrassed me on the senate floor and if you ever do it again I will kick your ass.”

“What?” said an incredulous Hendon.

“You heard me,” Obama said. “And if you come back here by the telephones where the press can’t see it, I will kick your ass right now.”

The two men vacated the senate floor and, depending on whom you believe, either traded blows or came close to it.

This is a rare tale of Obama both directly facing down an opponent and losing his cool. But during the past year many of his supporters have wished he would show such flashes of anger, urgency and passion more often (if perhaps a bit more focused and less macho and juvenile). He campaigned on the promise to transcend the bipartisan divide; many of his supporters would like to see him stand his ground against his Republican opponents. Having praised his calm-headed eloquence, some would now like to see more passion.

The presidency is not just the highest office in the land. It is in no small part a performance. To some extent Americans look to their president to articulate the mood and embody the aspirations of the nation, or at the very least that part of it that elected them. Presidents are not just judged on what they say and do but how they say and do it. It’s not just what they achieve but how they are perceived, to the point where image trumps reality. Ronald Reagan raised the debt ceiling 17 times, ballooned the deficit, reduced tax loopholes and tax breaks. But he remains the darling of the Tea Party movement because he talked their talk, even if he didn’t walk their walk.

With his soaring rhetoric and impassioned oratory Obama performed brilliantly as a candidate. But in office he has come across as aloof at a time of acute economic pain and insufficiently combative when faced with an increasingly polarised political culture. The former academic is regularly accused of taking too professorial a tone: talking down to the public rather than to them.

“Americans would like their president to be sick and needy,” explains James Zogby, head of the Arab American Institute and executive member of the Democratic Executive Committee. “Bill Clinton would shake literally tens of thousands of hands every Christmas. Each person he’d meet would say: ‘I think he remembered me.’ Obama doesn’t like to do it. No real person would like to do it. And therefore he doesn’t do it. And people resent that. They want their president to really need them. He doesn’t. He’s OK, he’s relaxed, cool, calm. I’d love him to call me up like Clinton would … people like that, he doesn’t need it.”

But come election day next year he will need them. And with his approval ratings languishing in the low 40s, it looks as though they might not be there for him.

There are two particular areas where most commentators and the public feel that Obama has fallen short. The first is the economy. Poverty and repossessions are at a record high, the Dow keeps tanking, the deficit keeps growing and unemployment remains stuck at around 9%. Yet the man who recalled Martin Luther King’s evocation of “the fierce urgency of now” on the campaign trail has struck few as being either fierce or urgent as the nation teeters on the brink of another recession.

“You get the sense that this president, while intellectually engaged, is not emotionally engaged with what the American people are going through,” says Michael Fletcher, the Washington Post’s economics correspondent. “People want to feel there’s someone out there fighting their corner even if that person doesn’t win.”

Charlie Cook, one of Washington’s premier political analysts, believes there’s only so much Obama can do at this stage. “I think the problems are more objective,” he says. “Yes, he tends to lecture and tends to be professorial. I think that’s a problem, but I don’t think it’s the problem. I think eloquence only gets you so far. I think the emphasis was on going on television and trying to explain his agenda, to the point now where I think if the American people haven’t hit the mute button their finger is very close to that button where they just don’t listen any more. If things get better, we’ll re-evaluate, but right now – we’re not listening.”

Drew Westen, academic and author of The Political Brain, thinks they would listen if Obama changed the pitch. “What Americans really needed to hear from Barack Obama was not only I feel your pain, but also I feel your anger. And he’s a person who just doesn’t do anger. And if you can’t be angry when Wall Street speculators just gambled away the livelihoods of eight million of your fellow citizens then there’s something wrong with you.”

Man of action: George Bush

The other area is that the Tea Party leads the opposition that is now calling the shots within the Republican party. Here, whether on negotiations about the debt ceiling or the budget, Obama generally starts talking tough only to draw a line in the sand, erase it and then keep conceding ground to his opponents until they get most of what they want. Westen believes the end result is to give a sense of a man of little conviction. “Like most Americans, at this point, I have no idea what Barack Obama – and by extension, the party he leads – believes on virtually any issue.”

Since his jobs speech in early September, he has taken to confronting Republicans more directly and using the bully pulpit to go over the head of Congress to rally the public behind tax hikes on the wealthy as part of a second wave of economic stimulus. It is unlikely he can have much effect on the economy between now and election day apart from persuading people that it was not his fault, but that of the intransigent Republicans. But Bush showed that, on some levels, intransigence works – even if nothing else did.

“From the Bush White House you got a more consistent message,” says Fletcher, who covered both administrations. “Maybe there was less intellectual honesty, but you got a consistent, firm, very clear message. When Obama speaks, the other side always has a point, both sides are to blame. It’s almost as if he’s observing his presidency from outside of his presidency.”

In 2008 this was to Obama’s advantage. The fact that he was intellectual, consensual and measured contrasted well with the shortcomings of his predecessor. “One of the things that made Obama attractive to many Americans was a Bush hangover,” explains Bruce Riedel, a senior foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution who has advised the last three presidents on issues relating to the Middle East and south Asia. “There was a sense we’d had too much shoot from the hip, or shoot from the lip, that that had got us into two wars and the economic depression that we’re in. They wanted a more cerebral president who thought ahead rather than plunged in. Two years ago, that cerebral look seemed cool to many Americans. Two years later it seems cold. I think there are moments when Americans want a very black and white situation, and they want to cut to the chase, and Obama needs to reach beyond his natural personality to get there.”

Cold and calculating: Obama directs the assassination of Osama bin Laden
Photo By Pete Souza

Salim Muwakkil, a Chicago-based journalist, thinks in times of crisis Americans value impulsiveness in a leader. “Isn’t that part of the American myth?” he asks. “We don’t get stuck in the paralysis of analysis. We strike out when we see the wrong. Bush embodied that, Reagan had a bit of that. These times are calling even more for that kind of quality.”

This might be easier said than done. Not only does Obama have to perform the role of president, but also that of the first black one. Whatever detractors thought of Clinton or Bush Jr, they never accused them of not being born in the United States or secretly belonging to another faith. Part of his ostensible “post-racial” appeal as a candidate was the paradoxical claim that he did not scare white voters too much. Before the election Senate leader Harry Reid privately said his chances were good because he was a “light-skinned” African American “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one”.

If these were the criteria for success, would the US really want an angry black man with the codes to the nation’s nuclear arsenal? Muwakkil, who has known Obama for several years, believes the president may have overcompensated. “I think he’s brought an element of calm serenity to the office in a way that others have not done. In some ways it’s the epitome of the cool style. Almost ironically it’s a stereotype. It’s like the pimp from Iceberg Slim. The guy who was not perturbed by anything. Murders would happen in his vicinity and he’d carry on as if nothing happened.”

At certain moments this style has paid off. When Osama bin Laden was assassinated, for example, Obama performed the commander-in-chief role in a manner that most Americans thought was pitch perfect. “You wanted cold, calculating; you got cold, calculating,” says Riedel. “He coldly calculated the odds of whether Osama bin Laden would be in that villa – they were about 50/50. He coldly calculated that we would probably never get odds as good as 50/50 and so he went forward. It was a careful assessment of risk and opportunity.”

After a gunman opened fire in Tucson, Arizona, earlier this year, killing six and injuring several others, including congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, he managed to weave a more hopeful tapestry of the US’s political future from the tragedy, leaving his detractors looking petty and insubstantial.

Nevertheless, while he has mostly sung on the stump, he has stuttered in power. This inability to connect was exemplified last September during a televised town hall meeting when Velma Hart, a black woman – the demographic bedrock of Obama’s electoral base – expressed her frustration with his presidency. “I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now.”

Obama acknowledged hard times but went on to answer with a laundry list of achievements that failed to address the underlying tone of disillusionment in the question. A few months later Hart lost her job. “Here’s the thing,” she told me recently. “I didn’t engage my president to hug and kiss me. But what I did think I’d be able to appreciate is the change he was talking about during the campaign. I want leadership and decisiveness and action that helps this country get better. That’s what I want, because that benefits me, that benefits my circle, and that benefits my children.”

“Do you think he’s decisive?” I asked her.

“Ummm, sometimes … not always, no.”

See Related: Barack Obama Presidency Archive

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Occupy Wall Street braces for showdown Friday – Protesters plan to resist police orders

Thousands of anti-greed protesters, told they must clear their camping gear out of Zuccotti Park, brace for a showdown with the NYPD on Friday

banks oct 13 3
A man sleeps in Zuccotti Park as part of the Occupy Wall Street protests. The demonstrators plan to resist orders
to clear out their camping gear so the park can be cleaned Friday morning
Photo By Carolyn Cole

By Geraldine Baum
The Los Angeles Times

NEW YORK — Wall Street protesters were preparing Thursday for a confrontation with authorities who are expected to enforce new rules in the Lower Manhattan park where the demonstrators have been camped out for almost a month.

The protesters were told to clear out while Brookfield Office Properties Inc., the owner of Zuccotti Park, power-washes the area Friday morning. But company representatives — accompanied by police — handed out leaflets Thursday notifying the protesters that they could return only if they abide by new rules, which include no tents, tarps or sleeping bags on the ground, no lying on benches and no storing of personal property on the ground.

A confrontation also appeared to be brewing in San Diego, where police ordered protesters to remove tents and other property from the plaza behind City Hall by midnight Thursday or face arrest.

Occupy Wall Street’s website sent supporters a call for help.

“For those of you who plan to help us hold our ground — which we hope will be all of you — make sure you understand the possible consequences,” the post said. “Be prepared to not get much sleep. Be prepared for possible arrest…. We are pursuing all possible strategies; this is a message of solidarity.”

The protesters also accused Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of using the cleaning as a ruse to shut down their activity.

A protest spokesman emailed supporters urging them to show up at 6 a.m. Friday “to defend the occupation from eviction.”

Some had already tried Thursday to do their part to clean up, washing down benches and the stone flooring and replanting trampled flower beds.

But Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly made it clear that he was behind the owner, who had apparently sent a letter to police earlier asking for support in clearing the park.

“After it’s cleaned, they’ll be able to come back, but they won’t be able to bring back the gear, the equipment, sleeping bags,” Kelly told reporters. “That sort of thing will not be able to be brought back into the park.”

See Related: Opposite sides of banks protests come together – Friday police cleanup called off

See Related: American Distrust of Banks Archive

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Occupy Wall Street movement brings Jewish ethos to demonstrations

Protesters are undeterred by weather Oct. 10 at the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco
Photo By Emma Silvers

By Danielle Fleischman and Dan Klein
The Occupy Wall Street economic movement that has spread rapidly from New York to cities across the country, including San Francisco and Oakland, has taken on a Jewish flavor for some protesters — from holding outdoor Yom Kippur services to welcoming donated Shabbat challahs.

In New York and other locations, hundreds gathered for open-air Kol Nidre services on Oct. 7. “For many of us, social justice is where we find our Judaism,” said Regina Weiss, communications director for the New York–based Jewish Funds for Justice. “For many there is no more important way to stand up and express Judaism on the holiest night of the year than to stand with people who are hurting and to stand up for greater equality in the country.”

In downtown Oakland, activists erected a sukkah on Oct. 12 in Frank Ogawa Plaza to show solidarity with the movement on the eve of the Sukkot holiday. The sukkah was co-sponsored by an East Bay group, Jewish Youth for Community Action, and Kehilla Community Synagogue of Piedmont.

Hundreds gather in New York for Kol Nidre service to support the Occupy Wall Street movement
Photo By David A.M. Wilensky

Other groups around the country also built sukkahs, including Occupy Judaism, an online campaign that is trying to establish a Jewish presence at the protests nationwide.

The New York sukkah was donated by PopUp Sukkah, a company co-owned by Chabadnik Yoni Reskin, who said the protests represented an opportunity to have Jews fulfill the mitzvahs of Sukkot. “It’s not a political angle,” he said. “I truly believe that on Sukkot everyone should be able to celebrate the holiday. When I found that this opportunity was available, I wanted to be able to help perform the mitzvah.”

In San Francisco, Jewish protesters reflected a more regional, laid-back flavor.

In the city’s Financial District on Oct. 10, local legend “Diamond Dave” Whitaker, a staple of the beat poetry scene and a protest organizer, said he and other Jews on hand likely would be open to organized Jewish activities.

“If someone wanted to come down here with challah and whatnot, I think we’d be happy to do Shabbat,” he said, adding that his politics were in part shaped by time spent living in Israel on a kibbutz as a young man.

But another Jewish protester who showed up on the rainy Monday after Yom Kippur took a more global view of his participation.

“I came out today because I want to take part in what feels like an awakening of working people in this country, standing up against these really glaring economic inequalities that stare us in the face every day,” said the San Francisco resident, who wished to be identified as Phil H.

Days after an Oct. 6 police raid, protesters appeared undeterred as they rebuilt their camp, donned ponchos and huddled under tarps in front of the Federal Reserve Bank at 101 Market St. Bicycle-fueled generators powered laptops as people passed around donated bags of snacks.

“It’s messy,” said Phil H., a student at San Francisco City College, “but it’s a rediscovery in participatory democracy. I don’t know that that’s something that can or should be divided along religious lines. I think everyone has something to contribute.”

In New York, the person credited with the idea of holding the Kol Nidre services to support the demonstrators, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, said protesting is a key part of Judaism.

“The reason there is a Jewish place in these protests is that there is a protest place in Judaism,” said Waskow, director of the Shalom Center. “From the Exodus, from Isaiah, from Jeremiah and all the way down to rabbinic Judaism, there is a sense that Judaism is constantly struggling against top-down power of the Pharaoh.

“Judaism calls for freedom, democracy and feeding the hungry,” he added.

Some Jews in the New York protest said they’re trying to combat a minority strain of anti-Zionism and anti-Semit-ism running through the movement.

“There was a guy with a sign ‘Zionists control the financial world,’ ” said Kobi Skolnick, an ex-Chabadnik who attended a yeshiva in the West Bank. “They have freedom of speech, but so do I. What we did is we wrote on a big, 10 times bigger, sign: ‘This sign sucks, and it is not representative here.’ ”

Activist Daniel Sieradski, the organizer of Occupy Judaism, said there are anti-Zionist ideologues involved in the Occupy Wall Street protests who believe that Israel is central to U.S. economic issues.

They “think that the issue of the Israeli occupation is inseparable from the economic situation. They think that Israel is an outpost of American imperialism, including economic imperialism,” he said. “There is a tendency on the left to make Jews who identify with Israel uncomfortable. I hope we can overcome that. There are plenty of people against the Israel occupation, but that’s not what this is about.”

The Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly donated 120 High Holy Day prayerbooks for the Yom Kippur service in New York.

“Wherever there is an opportunity to bring Torah and learning to Jews, wherever they are, we want to be there,” said Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the organization’s executive vice president.

Sieradski, who also organized the service, read from a labor leader’s midrash at the event: “Kol Nidre reminds us that though we make commitments under duress, ultimately we are accountable only to the higher values of justice and righteousness.”

The sounds of prayer drowned out the drumbeat at the lower Manhattan plaza protesters have occupied since Sept. 17.

Congregants arranged themselves in concentric circles around the bimah and a Torah scroll on loan from an Orthodox synagogue, chanting and singing so that the words of the service could carry back to the edges of the crowd. It was hard to tell whether the Kol Nidre call and response was borrowed from an old labor tactic or Jewish summer camp. Halal food carts ringed the congregation.

Demonstrator Rachel Feldman, 26, noted that the Kol Nidre service drew many of her friends who would never go to traditional synagogues.

“This is what shul should feel like,” said Feldman, surrounded by a congregation wearing a mix of sneakers, ties, tallits, yarmulkes, jeans and T-shirts. “Overwhelmed by community.”

J. staff writer Emma Silvers contributed to this report.

See Related: American Distrust of Banks Archive

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Federal Prosecutors say advertising medicinal marijuana is against the law – Will prosecute the press


By Michael Montgomery

Federal prosecutors are preparing to target newspapers, radio stations and other media outlets that advertise medical marijuana dispensaries in California, another escalation in the Obama administration’s newly invigorated war against the state’s pot industry.

This month, U.S. attorneys representing four districts in California announced that the government would single out landlords and property owners who rent buildings or land where dispensaries sell or cultivators grow marijuana. Now, newspapers and other media outlets could be next.

U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy, whose district includes Imperial and San Diego counties, said marijuana advertising is the next area she’s “going to be moving onto as part of the enforcement efforts in Southern California.” Duffy said she could not speak for the three other U.S. attorneys covering the state but noted their efforts have been coordinated so far.

“I’m not just seeing print advertising,” Duffy said in an interview with California Watch and KQED. “I’m actually hearing radio and seeing TV advertising. It’s gone mainstream. Not only is it inappropriate – one has to wonder what kind of message we’re sending to our children – it’s against the law.”

Federal law prohibits people from placing ads for illegal drugs, including marijuana, in “any newspaper, magazine, handbill or other publication.” The law could conceivably extend to online ads; the U.S. Department of Justice recently extracted a $500 million settlement from Google for selling illegal ads linking to online Canadian pharmacies.

Duffy said her effort against TV, radio or print outlets would first include “going after these folks with … notification that they are in violation of federal law.” She noted that she also has the power to seize property or prosecute in civil and criminal court.

William G. Panzer, an attorney who specializes in marijuana defense cases, said publishers may have a reason to worry. Federal law singles out anyone who “places” an illegal ad in a newspaper or publication. Nevertheless, Panzer said he is not aware of a single appellate case dealing with this section of the law.

“Technically, if I’m running the newspaper and somebody gives me money and says, ‘Here’s the ad,’ I’m the one who is physically putting the ad in my newspaper,” he said. “I think this could be brought against the actual newspaper. Certainly, it’s arguable, but the statute is not entirely clear on that.”

Panzer said the penalty for a first offense is a maximum four years in prison and eight years for someone with a prior felony conviction.

In the federal law, an exception is made for ads that advocate the use of illegal drugs but don’t explicitly offer them for sale or distribution. Newspapers, Panzer said, could argue that they have a right under the First Amendment to run the ads, and any “prior restraint” before publication is itself illegal.

Duffy said she believes the law gives her the right to prosecute newspaper publishers or TV station owners.

“If I own a newspaper … or I own a TV station, and I’m going to take in your money to place these ads, I’m the person who is placing these ads,” Duffy said. “I am willing to read (the law) expansively and if a court wants to more narrowly define it, that would be up to the court.”

(Update: Lauren Horwood, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of California – which includes Bakersfield – told The Bakersfield Californian that U.S. Attorney Ben Wagner is not currently focusing on newspapers and television and radio stations that take advertising from medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives. She could not comment on whether Wagner might consider similar action in the future.)

Seven states, including California, allow for medical marijuana to be distributed in dispensaries, though more than 200 California cities and nearly two dozen counties have bans or moratoriums in place on storefront pot businesses. The industry has otherwise exploded in recent years, including a marked increase in delivery services.

Ngaio Bealum, publisher of West Coast Cannabis, described as “the Sunset magazine of weed,” said he receives a significant portion of his revenue from dispensary ads, though he has tough competition from alternative newspapers and even The Sacramento Bee, which began running print advertisements for dispensaries this year.

Bealum said it was “misguided for the Department of Justice to come after people who are following state law and doing well for the economy in a recession.” He disputed the notion that marijuana ads target children.

“We’re just in doctor’s offices and cannabis collectives, where you have to be 18 years old or where you have to be a patient,” he said. “We’re not targeting anyone but cannabis patients.”

Duffy said Proposition 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act, passed by California voters in 1996 has transformed from an effort to supply marijuana to sick people through nonprofit groups into a profit-making industry. She said the advertising is part of that – and “it’s illegal.”

Duffy said she’s seen marijuana stores advertise coupons, bring-a-friend deals, extra samples for buying a certain amount of marijuana, magazines devoted entirely to the industry, T-shirts for sale, marijuana linked to video games – all things, she said, “in large part directed at our youth and children.”

“The good intentions behind that law,” she said, “have almost completely been taken over by people who are trying to use that permission law to get rich, to distribute marijuana and traffic drugs to people who aren’t sick, to our youth and to people who are using drugs on a recreational basis.”

It’s clear that alternative newspapers throughout the state have benefited from the increased business, even as other advertising sources have dwindled.

In April, the Sacramento News & Review published a special supplement devoted exclusively to marijuana dispensaries. “This year’s edition includes more than 100 regional medical-cannabis dispensaries, physicians, and med-delivery and hydroponics shops for the 2011 Green Pages,” the newspaper wrote. Marijuana dispensary ads, which can cost $2,000 for a full page, allowed the News & Review to hire additional reporters.

“I don’t see how the News & Review running medical-marijuana ads is any different from TV stations running massive amounts of commercials for pharmaceutical companies selling drugs,” Jeff vonKaenel, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review, wrote in a May 2010 column about the advertising.

In an interview about Duffy’s statement, vonKaenel said he was “stunned by that interpretation of the First Amendment.” He said his publications “receive quite a bit of revenue from (dispensaries) and it would have a detrimental impact” if he was forced to stop publishing the ads.

Panzer said he doesn’t think the federal government can effectively shut down the marijuana industry, even if it makes short-term gains by targeting high-profile dispensaries and newspapers. Given the government’s lack of resources and the huge size of the marijuana industry, Panzer said officials’ efforts are “a losing proposition.”

“The government is trying to put the genie back in the bottle,” Panzer said.

Circumventing the law on advertising the sale of illegal drugs can bring expensive consequences. In August, Google agreed to pay a $500 million settlement for accepting illegal advertisements from online Canadian pharmacies. Employees of the company had been working with pharmacies to bypass Google’s own internal controls, even as Google executives testified before Congress, claiming the company had clamped down on the illegal ads.

The fine was one of the largest ever from a U.S. company. At the time of the settlement, Google said in a statement that “it’s obvious with hindsight that we shouldn’t have allowed these ads on Google in the first place.”

California is not the only state struggling with the issue of marijuana ads. In Colorado, the city of Boulder recently voted to ban medical marijuana ads that target young people or recreational users. Now, the city clerk will decide if the tone of the ads crosses the line.

The federal government’s recent crackdown on the marijuana industry coincides with a February 2011 memorandum written by the state’s four top federal prosecutors, outlining a uniform approach to enforcing federal marijuana laws in California. The document, reviewed by California Watch, places an emphasis on federal investigations that target “leaders and organizers of the criminal activity as opposed to lower-level workers.”

The memorandum sets thresholds that make investigations more likely to be prosecuted. Those include distributors caught with at least 200 kilograms of marijuana, including distribution near schools, playgrounds and colleges; cultivators with gardens of at least 1,000 plants that are not on federal land and at least 500 plants on federal or tribal land or where there is significant damage; and dispensaries that sell more than 200 kilograms or 1,000 plants annually.

See Related: San Francisco Republican Party Chair Harmeet Dhillon threatens government action against local press

See Related: Holocaust Archive

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Gilad Shalit to return home Tuesday

IDF chief informs Gilad Shalit’s family of expected procedures ahead of long-awaited reunion

By Ahiya Raved

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen Benny Gantz officially informed Noam and Aviva Shait that their son, captive soldier Gilad Shalit, is set to return home next Tuesday after five years in Hamas captivity. Gantz visited the Shalit family home in Mitzpe Hila on Thursday, ahead of the impending prisoner swap.

The IDF Chief briefed the family about the details of the deal, explaining that the first phase of the swap will take place on Tuesday: According to the agreement, Gilad will be flown to Egypt and from there to the Tel Nof Air Force base – where his family will finally reunite with him.

The IDF chief declined to speak to the media upon leaving the Shalits’ home.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Tuesday that Hamas had finally agreed to a prisoner exchange deal: Israel will release 1,027 Palestinian security prisoners in return for Gilad Shalit’s safe return.

The deal will take place in two stages: The first stage, which is set to take place within a week, will see 450 prisoners released parallel to Shalit. Shalit will be transferred to Egypt and from there to Israel. The second stage, scheduled to take place in two months time, will see 550 additional prisoners released.

Shimshon Libman, who heads the Shalit campaign, told reporters that “the chief of staff met with the family… He probably discussed the preparations being made ahead of Gilad’s return. “I hope that we’ll have Gilad back home by Simchat Torah night, barring any problems.”

Also on Thursday, the International Red Cross offered to play a neutral intermediary role in the prisoner exchange. “We are talking to both sides about our offer. We have offered our services as a neutral intermediary to both sides,” Red Cross Spokesman Marcal Izard said.

Popular Resistance Committees’ Spokesman Abu Mujahid said Thursday that Shalit’s captures will release a video documenting his time in captivity, after the prisoner exchange is completed.

“The video will show that he was treated well and with respect, as demanded by the Islamic dogma,” he said.

See Related: Gilad Shalit Agreement

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Were banks rewarded for bad behavior?

Al Jazeera

In the final episode of Meltdown, we hear about the sheikh who says the crash never happened; a Wall Street king charged with fraud; a congresswoman who wants to jail the bankers; and the world leaders who want a re-think of capitalism.

The financial crash of September 2008 brought the largest bankruptcies in world history, pushing over 30 million people into unemployment and bringing many countries to the brink of insolvency.


Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid al Maktoum calls himself Dubai’s CEO. He claims to run his government according to strict business principles, but now many are quietly questioning his judgement and his leadership.

In the years before the meltdown, Dubai had the biggest real-estate bonanza in the world. During the crash, the market tumbled, losing 50 per cent of its value, leaving Dubai virtually insolvent. But this did not deter the sheikh.

In January 2010, Sheikh Mohammed threw a massive party to mark the opening of the world’s tallest building – the Burj Khalifa – using PR strategies to suggest that the real estate crash was a good thing for the emirate.

As one world leader handles the crisis through denial, other leaders try to re-think capitalism. Even though the causes of the 2008 meltdown are now clear, there is no magic formula to stop it from happening again.

The world has to start planning for the next crisis, even as we recognise that this one is not over yet.


See Related: American Distrust of Banks Archive

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Fitch cuts bailed-out lenders Lloyds TSB and RBS credit ratings


The Guardian

Ratings agency Fitch cut the credit score of bailed-out lenders Lloyds TSB and Royal Bank of Scotland today, saying the Government had become less likely to give them further financial support.

Fitch’s downgrade of Lloyds and RBS followed a similar move last week from rival Moody’s, which also cited a reduced likelihood of additional state assistance for the banking sector.

“Support dynamics are changing in the UK,” Fitch said.

“The banking system is not only large relative to the UK economy, but there is also more advanced political will to reduce the implicit support for the country’s banks.”

Rating agencies had been widely expected to downgrade British banks amid signs the Government’s commitment to supporting them has waned.

The Independent Commission on Banking’s recommendation in September that banks ring-fence their retail units from riskier investment banking operations and hold more capital overall, has also been seen as negative for their credit rating.

Lloyds and RBS are 41 per cent and 83 per cent state-owned, respectively, after receiving billions of pounds aid during the 2008 financial crisis.

Fitch also placed rival bank Barclays on “rating watch negative,” signalling it too might be downgraded, citing exposure to volatile, market-sensitive business activities.

RBS and Lloyds shares were down 3.8 per cent and 2.5 per cent respectively.

Fitch’s decision – which led to further falls for banking shares on the London Stock Exchange – reflects moves by the Government to shift risk away from taxpayers and on to creditors but could see the cost of borrowing for the affected financial institutions increase.

But Fitch said Lloyds and RBS had shown steady improvement in their risk profiles and prospects over the past two years and they should achieve higher ratings in the medium term.

Lloyds, which is 40.2% owned by the taxpayer, said last week that it did not expect Moody’s decision to hit funding costs, while RBS, which is 83% state-owned, said it was “disappointed” by the move.

Manthos Delis, analyst from Cass Business School, said: “There is always a possibility that a forecast becomes self-fulfilling and spreads to the economy.

“We must understand that a downgrade by one basis point should not imply grave danger for British banks, but it should be taken as a wake-up call for action.”

See Related: American Distrust of Banks Archive

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Hedge fund founder sentenced to 11 years in prison – Insider trading

Raj Rajaratnam, co-founder of Galleon Group, enters federal court in New York
before being sentenced in the biggest hedge-fund insider trading scheme
in U.S. history.
Bloomberg News Photo

The Los Angeles Times

NEW YORK— A former billionaire who was the primary target of what prosecutors called the biggest hedge fund insider trading case in U.S. history was sentenced Thursday to 11 years in prison.

Galleon Group founder Raj Rajaratnam also was fined $10 million. U.S. District Judge Richard J. Holwell announced the sentence after concluding that Rajaratnam made well over $50 million in profits from his illegal trades.

“His crimes and the scope of his crimes reflect a virus in our business culture that needs to be eradicated,” Holwell said.

The judge also said Rajaratnam needs a kidney transplant and suffers from advanced diabetes, an illness he took into consideration in giving him leniency.

And he credited Rajaratnam’s charity work, which he called “the defendant’s responsiveness to and care for the less privileged.” The judge cited Rajaratnam’s work to help victims of the earthquake in Pakistan and Sept. 11, among others.

The sentencing culminates a series of convictions and sentencings that followed the October 2009 announcement of Rajaratnam’s arrest. More than two dozen people were arrested; all were convicted. The other defendants got sentences ranging from a few months to 10 years.

The prosecution placed Rajaratnam’s profits from illegal trades between $70 million and $75 million, saying he switched so much money around within his multibillion dollar funds that the movement of price in individual stocks could be traced to his trading whims.

Prosecutors had asked Holwell to send the 54-year-old to prison for at least 19 1/2 years for his May conviction on securities fraud charges. They said federal sentencing guidelines called for up to 24 1/2 years.

The defense asked for leniency partly based on Rajaratnam’s “failing health” and his “unique constellation of ailments.” They said a lengthy prison term will amount to a death sentence.

Lawyers for the Sri Lanka native argued for 6 1/2 to 9 years. They said the illegal profits actually total around $7 million, when the trades at his Galleon Group are disregarded.

See Related: American Distrust of Banks Archive

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Catch the Silver Coach at the Asian Art Museum – On Scene with Bill Wilson

Jay Xu, Director of the Asian Art Museum standing in front of the Maharaja
of Bhavnagar’s silver coach.
Photo By Bill Wilson © 2011

By Bill Wilson
Sentinel Photojournalist
Bill Wilson © 2011

In 1915 Colonel H.H. Maharaja Raol Shri Sir Bhavsinhi II Takhtsinhji Sahib, Maharaja of Bhavnagar placed an order for a silver coach with the Fort Coach Company of Bombay. That coach will be part of the exhibit “Maharaja: The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts” which will open to the public on October 21 at the Asian Art Museum. It arrived at the museum on Monday September 26 in a crate too large to make it through any of the museums doors so it was lifted by a crane through the window. There are two clips on You Tube of the arrival and uncrating. If you stop the second clip at around 58 seconds you will see me photographing the carriage.

The coach itself is a beautiful work of art. Objects that serve a functional purpose take on added beauty. Instead of just a metal elevated strip to prevent the coachman’s foot from slipping off the footrest, that piece of metal takes on the beauty of a lying down greyhound poised to jump into action.

The lying greyhound is just visible on the footrest
Photo By Bill Wilson © 2011

I don’t know if the bulldog plays a role in Indian mythology, or if the Maharaja just loved bulldogs but every end of a bar is in the shape of a face of a bulldog.

There are three bulldog heads in this picture. One on the right is labeled.
Photo By Bill Wilson © 2011

When I was a little kid my grandfather stored props from the Valley Forge Music Fair in his barn. We grandchildren would play on the stagecoaches, carriages and wagons, so I enjoyed imagining what it must have been like to be the “royalty” traveling in this conveyance.

An undated photo of the Maharaja of Bhavnagar
Photo By Bill Wilson © 2011

The family crest adorning the door of the coach
Photo By Bill Wilson © 2011

The maharaja’s coat of arms consists of 2 bulls flanking a shield with a golden eagle. Above the shield are a helmet and a dhow, a traditional sailing vessel, which refers to Bhavnahar’s involvement with maritime trade. The motto below the coat of arms reads “Mani shya Yatna Ishawara Kripa” which means “Man’s Endeavour, God’s Grace.”

Tranquil scene portrayed in silver on the footrest of the coach
Photo By Bill Wilson © 2011

As beautiful as the coach is, I had a more practical question. Who gets to polish it? Turns out the who and the how is explained in a posting on the internet from the exhibition’s previous stop in Toronto.

Maharaja: The Splendor of the India’s Royal Courts will be at the Asian Art Museum from October 21 to April 8, 2012

See Related: Asian Art Museum Archive

See Related On Scene with Bill Wilson Archive

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

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