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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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Wall Street set to slash 10,000 jobs – American distrust of banks grows

Solidarity: Singer Kanye West joined with demonstrators at the Occupy Wall Street movement
which is drawing attention to corporate greed and corruption

The Mail

New York’s financial sector has been hit by a further setback – with the prediction that 10,000 people working in the city’s securities industry will lose their jobs.

The announcement, forecast for 2012, will mean a staggering 32,000 people in the city’s industry would have lost their jobs since January 2008. But it may come as good news for the Occupy Wall Street movement - which has taken over the city’s Zuccotti Park to protest against corporate greed.

The news will pile even further pressure on New York’s battered economy, which is struggling to cope with the fall out from the European debt debacle and turbulence in the financial markets.

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in his 2011 statement: ‘The securities industry had a strong start to 2011.

‘But its prospects have cooled considerably for the second half of this year. It now seems likely that profits will fall sharply, job losses will continue, and bonuses will be smaller than last year.

‘These developments will have a rippling effect through the economy and adversely impact State and City tax collections.’ He said the securities industry had lost 4,100 jobs in August, wiping out many of the 9,900 job gains between January 2010 and April 2011.

According to the report, by the Office of the State Comptroller, securities-related activities accounted for one in eight jobs in the city.

Set back: Another 10,000 jobs are set to be lost in New York’s securities industry

It also represented 14 per cent of New York State’s tax revenues and nearly 7 per cent of New York City’s. The report also said that each job gained or lost in the industry leads to the creation or loss of almost two additional jobs in other industries in New York City.

Mr DiNapoli added: ‘As we know, when Wall Street slows, New York City and New York State’s budgets feel the impact and that is a concern.’

A slew of financial services companies have disclosed plans to cut jobs in recent months, including Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, HSBC and Barclays. Investment banks are forecasted to report big declines in third-quarter earnings in the coming weeks due to big trading losses in the financial markets.

Profits for member firms of the New York Stock Exchange are seen tumbling to $18 billion in 2011, marking a one-third decline from the year before.

Timing: The Occupy Wall Street movement may take comfort in news of the job losses

The OSC said the expected new job cuts are due to the current debt crisis in Europe, the ‘sluggish’ domestic economy, turbulence in the stock markets and regulatory changes aimed at forcing banks to be less risky.

Like many analysts, the OSC said cash bonuses are expected to shrink this year, marking the second-straight year of declines.

But it is not all bad news.

The report revealed the average salary in the industry jumped by 16.1 per cent last year to $361,330.

This is in comparison to an average salary of $66,120 in the private sector.

The protests against the state of the U.S. political and economic systems, which started with a handful of people, have now spread to more than 25 cities – from Sacramento to Seattle, Anchorage to Atlanta and Mobile to Minneapolis.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he will allow Occupy Wall Street protesters to stay indefinitely at their Manhattan village – but suggested some have only camped out there because of the warm weather.

He also said demonstrators will only be allowed to stay in Zuccotti Park as long as they obey the laws.

See Related: American Distrust of Banks Archive

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Denied Veterans Benefits over same-sex marriage, ex-sailor challenges law

Carmen Cardona of Norwich, Conn., a Navy veteran who wed her partner last year,
is fighting the Defense of Marriage Act
Photo By Evan McGlinn

By James Dao
The New York Times

In what experts say is the first case of its kind, a disabled Navy veteran from Connecticut is challenging the constitutionality of two federal laws that define marriage as being between opposite-sex partners, saying the government denied her veterans benefits because she is married to a woman.

The former sailor, Carmen Cardona of Norwich, married her partner in Connecticut last year. But when she applied for an increase in her monthly disability compensation because she was newly married, the Department of Veterans Affairs regional office in Hartford rejected her application, citing a federal statute that defines a spouse as “a person of the opposite sex.”

In a case to be filed before the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, a special federal court in Washington that handles disputes over veterans benefits, Ms. Cardona’s legal team from the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School will argue that the government’s definition violates her Fifth Amendment right to due process. The lawyers intend to file their notice to appeal on Thursday.

But the legal team, which includes law student interns, says it will also challenge the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

Though the constitutionality of the marriage act has been challenged in federal courts around the country, experts said this would be the first time a plaintiff had tried to use the veterans court of appeals to attack the law.

Michael Allen, a professor of constitutional and veterans law at Stetson University College of Law in Florida, called the case part of a “cultural legal shift” in which the expansion of same-sex marriage to more states — most recently New York — and the end of the military’s ban on openly gay, lesbian and bisexual troops have opened the door to challenges against federal rules on marriage.

“These challenges are bubbling up all over the place,” Professor Allen said. “With the recognition of same-sex marriage in New York, a big state, you’ll see this more frequently.”

Advocates for gay rights say they also anticipate lawsuits challenging the federal definition of marriage to be filed by active-duty troops in same-sex marriages who have been denied benefits granted to heterosexual married couples, like military health care, housing and commissary rights for spouses.

The case poses a possible conundrum for the Obama administration. In February, President Obama directed the Department of Justice to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act against lawsuits challenging its constitutionality.

But cases before the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims are generally argued by lawyers from the Department of Veterans Affairs — and some veterans lawyers said it was possible the department might try to chart a different legal course.

“If an appeal is filed, V.A. lawyers will analyze the legal arguments made by the appellant and respond appropriately in its briefs,” said Josh Taylor, a spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Yet even if the department chooses not to defend the laws against Ms. Cardona’s challenge, it is possible that lawyers hired by the House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio, to defend constitutional challenges against the Defense of Marriage Act will handle the case.

And even if no government lawyer defends the laws, the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims could still rule against Ms. Cardona. The court consists mainly of judges — most of them former military officers — appointed by President George W. Bush.

If Ms. Cardona loses her appeal, she can take her case to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and, ultimately, the Supreme Court.

The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims was created in 1988 to provide an independent judicial body to hear disputes between veterans and the government.

Previously, veterans who felt they had been unfairly denied disability compensation or other benefits by the Veterans Administration, as it was known then, had to appeal their cases to a board that itself was part of the department.

The Court of Appeals, like other federal courts, has the power to rule federal laws unconstitutional. But it typically tries to avoid making sweeping rules, experts said, preferring instead to find narrowly tailored resolutions to legal battles.

Still, even a narrow legal decision in Ms. Cardona’s case could set an important precedent for other same-sex couples seeking veterans benefits.

Ms. Cardona, 45, served in the Navy for 18 years, 12 on active duty and 6 in the Reserves. She received an honorable discharge in 2000 at the rank of petty officer second class, and went to work as a correctional officer for the State of Connecticut.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has rated her 80 percent disabled because of carpal tunnel syndrome in both her hands, for which she receives a monthly disability check. More severely disabled veterans with dependent spouses, children or parents are eligible for supplements to their disability checks.

But after she wed her partner of nine years in 2010, the department rejected her petition for a spousal increase in her benefit because her wife was of the same sex.

In an appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals, the department’s administrative panel for resolving disputes, Ms. Cardona argued that federal laws and regulations had unconstitutionally used sexual orientation to deny her valuable property.

In its ruling, the board said it did not have the authority to reverse the law.

But the board also said it “is sympathetic to the arguments advanced by the veteran, especially in light of her honorable service.”

“I was in disbelief when I was rejected,” Ms. Cardona said in a telephone interview. “I served my country for so many years.”

Ms. Cardona said she made her initial request for spousal benefits on the advice of a counselor from a veterans organization, and not because she was trying to make a larger legal point.

But in her case before the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, Ms. Cardona says the issue has gone beyond money.

“I just want to put it out to the public for people like me,” she said. “We worked hard for our country, we should be able to receive the same benefits as heterosexuals.”

See Related: Marriage Equality Archive

See Related: On Scene with Bill Wilson Archive

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Bay Area Reporter endorses Bevan Dufty First Choice for San Francisco Mayor


For more than six weeks the Bay Area Reporter editorial board has been meeting with the numerous candidates for mayor. This is the first city election in many years where there is neither an incumbent nor an obvious heir apparent running. We have come away from the process with a number of impressions. First is the depth of the candidate field. Of the nearly 20 candidates on the ballot, we believe that at least six, perhaps more, have the experience, expertise, intelligence, motivation, and vision to serve as a capable mayor.

Mayoral candidate Bevan Dufty greeted potential
voters at the Castro Street Fair earlier this month
Photo By Jane Philomen Cleland

The city is indeed fortunate to have such a large number of dedicated public servants from which to choose. We were also impressed that every candidate that accepted our invitation to meet with us (and only one did not), and each had a long history of support for the LGBT community and the issues that are most important to us: full equality in the community, including marriage equality; inclusion in all levels of decision making in city government; full transgender rights and inclusion; total intolerance of bigotry or hate whether it be found in government, in the schools, or on the streets. Regardless of who is elected mayor, we will have a friend and ally in Room 200 at City Hall. And while many are qualified, some particularly stand out. These are our recommendations for mayor.

We recommend Bevan Dufty as voters’ first choice on Election Day. Dufty, who is gay, served two terms as District 8 supervisor and ran the Office of Neighborhood Services under former Mayor Willie Brown, and knows how San Francisco works. He’s developed city budgets and knows that most residents care about their neighborhoods – streets, Muni, the homeless, parks, and preserving the unique character that is San Francisco.

We’re not endorsing Dufty just because he is gay. But political recommendations are part of our responsibility as the leading LGBT newspaper and it would be significant for America’s gayest city to have an out mayor. It’s important to us that one day San Francisco have a gay mayor and Dufty is as qualified as anyone else in the field. The late Harvey Milk often urged LGBTs to elect their own. We find it curious that Dufty could not secure the top spot from either of the city’s LGBT Democratic clubs; the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club left him off entirely.

It’s part of why Dufty is running. “I think it does make a difference to have a gay mayor in San Francisco,” he told us. “I am going to set the national agenda – responding to LGBT young adults. There is an agenda I’ve been part of setting in this city that I’m proud of.”

“In a decade where we will be fighting for our rights, it does make a difference,” he said.

Dufty is also a parent, which is another important aspect of his life. Gay and lesbian parents are becoming increasingly visible in ways that once didn’t seem possible – on the playground, in parent groups, and at their kids’ schools. Dufty’s first television ad features him and his daughter Sidney riding on Muni and delivers a heartfelt message about why he wants to be mayor. Sidney, he says, loves riding the Muni Metro and arriving “someplace new.”

“I want all of us to see it that way,” Dufty says.

Continue Reading: Bevan Dufty for Mayor

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Ambassador Michael Oren: Israel taking Iranian assassination plot seriously

Oren says recently thwarted Iranian plot to assasinate Saudi ambassador to U.S. is ‘definitely an escalation’,
Israeli embassy could potentially be Iranian target, Israel ‘always has to be vigilant’

By Natasha Mozgovaya

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren said on Wednesday that Israel is taking the thwarted plot against the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. and the possibility that the Israeli Embassy was a target seriously, saying it was “definitely an escalation” in an interview with MSNBC.

U.S. authorities said on Tuesday that they had broken up a plot by two men linked to Iran’s security agencies to assassinate Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir. One was arrested last month while the other was believed to be in Iran.

Ambassador Michael Oren

“We know the Iran regime. This is an Iranian regime that has not only sponsored terrorist organizations in our area, Hamas and Hezbollah, that have fired thousands and thousands of rockets at our civilian population, but they’ve struck abroad as well,” Oren said in the interview.

The Israeli ambassador then went on to recount how Iran was responsible for the bombing of the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, killing over a hundred people.

” Iranian terrorist organizations have killed hundreds of American servicemen, whether in Saudi Arabia, in Iraq, in Lebanon back then – we always have to be vigilant about the Iranian government,” Oren reportedly warned.

He said this was “definitely an escalation”, adding that “it’s not out of character for the Iranian regime; this is not a rational regime”.

When asked whether Israel is going to take action against Iran, Oren told MSNBC “we are always fighting against Iranian terror at our borders and beyond our borders, and we’re always vigilant and we have very good partners in the security and law enforcement institutions of the United States.”

The ambassador applauded the U.S.’s success in thwarting the Iranian plot. “But I think the important thing to keep in mind is Iran is doing all of this without nuclear weapons. Imagine what they could do if they actually had nuclear weapons,” he warned in the interview.

Oren also commented on the deal with Hamas to secure the release of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. “We hope he’s coming home. It was a very tough decision, a painful decision, but Gilad Shalit is the son of every Israeli. All of our kids serve in the army, so we know what it feels like. And our kids have to know that when they go out to defend our country, that if, God forbid, they fall prisoner, and we’ll do everything to get them home. We’re doing everything to bring Gilad home,” he said.

See Related: Iran Archive

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Calpine, GE celebrate construction of Russell City Energy City – Honor on-site Construction Workers

HAYWARD, Calif. – Executives of Calpine Corporation (NYSE:CPN) and GE (NYSE: GE) unit GE Energy Financial Services today joined state and local officials, construction trade representatives, contractors, community leaders and business partners in celebrating the continuing construction of the 619-megawatt, combined-cycle Russell City Energy Center in Hayward, California. The event honored hundreds of on-site construction workers.


“We are very proud that the Russell City Energy Center will use the most advanced emissions control technology available today for a natural gas-fired power plant and that its construction is providing jobs at a time when they are greatly needed in California,” said Jack Fusco, Calpine’s President and Chief Executive Officer.

Jack Fusco

“Calpine was founded in California and has always been committed to helping meet the state’s power needs in an environmentally responsible manner. This project will provide reliable and cost-effective electricity to citizens of Hayward and the Bay Area and, importantly, support the integration of increased renewable power.”

“We are glad to have our crew at work on constructing of the Russell City Energy Center project, which will put more than 700 people to work in the Bay Area,” said Andreas Cluver, secretary-treasurer of the Alameda County Building Trades Council. “Building this efficient, natural gas power plant has generated union construction jobs in Hayward at a time we need it most.”

“Wherever we work, our goal is to make a positive contribution in the community, and Russell City is no exception,” said Alasdair Cathcart, president of Bechtel’s power business. “We are pleased to be working with Calpine and GE to bring jobs and reliable, cleaner energy to the Bay Area.”

Construction of the Russell City Energy Center is on schedule. Several major foundations are completed, and underground pipe systems are being installed along with electrical duct banks and vaults. The project is expected to be completed during 2013.

“Today’s event commemorates a great achievement made possible by the combination of Calpine’s vision, GE’s support as a project development partner, and the cooperation of governments, our neighbors, and now the workers who are building this plant that will provide reliable energy to California,” said Alex Urquhart, President and CEO of GE Energy Financial Services.

During the celebration, Russell City Energy Center presented a check for $10 million to the City of Hayward for design and construction of a new library. In addition, Calpine, in cooperation with St. Mary’s College, presented six scholarships for the St. Mary’s summer basketball camp program to St. Bede’s Elementary School and the Southern Alameda County Catholic Youth Organization in memory of Rick Thomas, a former Calpine employee who played a crucial role in the Russell City project’s development.

Calpine began developing the Russell City Energy Center in 2001 and owns 75% of the project, while a GE Energy Financial Services affiliate owns the balance. In June, an $844.5 million credit facility was secured to finance construction of the plant, the nation’s first to receive a federal air permit that includes a voluntary limit on greenhouse gas emissions. Pacific Gas and Electric has agreed to purchase the full output of electricity from Russell City upon completion and will supply natural gas under a 10-year power purchase agreement approved by the California Public Utilities Commission in September 2010. The facility will play a critical role in meeting the Bay Area’s power needs as older, emissions-intensive plants are retired and in supporting the growing renewable integration projects in California.

The facility will use the most advanced emissions control technology available today for a natural gas-fired power plant. In addition to minimizing air emissions, the plant will conserve water by using reclaimed wastewater from the City of Hayward’s Water Pollution Control Facility for all cooling and boiler makeup. This environmentally responsible process will prevent up to four million gallons of wastewater from being discharged into San Francisco Bay each day. In addition, the plant will generate approximately $30 million initially in one-time tax revenue, followed by recurring property tax revenues.

About Calpine

Founded in 1984, Calpine Corporation is a major U.S. power company, currently capable of delivering approximately 28,000 megawatts of clean, cost-effective, reliable and fuel-efficient power from its 92 operating plants to customers and communities in 20 U.S. states and Canada. Calpine Corporation is committed to helping meet the needs of an economy that demands more and cleaner sources of electricity. Calpine owns, leases and operates primarily low-carbon, natural gas-fired and renewable geothermal power plants. Using advanced technologies, Calpine generates power in a reliable and environmentally responsible manner for the customers and communities it serves. Please visit our website at for more information.

About GE Energy Financial Services

GE Energy Financial Services’ experts invest globally across the capital spectrum in essential, long-lived, and capital-intensive energy assets that meet the world’s energy needs. In addition to capital, GE Energy Financial Services offers the best of GE’s technical know-how, technology innovation, financial strength, and rigorous risk management. Based in Stamford, Connecticut, the GE business unit helps its customers and GE grow through new investments, strong partnerships, and optimization of its approximately $20 billion in assets. For more information, visit

About GE
GE (NYSE: GE) is an advanced technology, services and finance company taking on the world’s toughest challenges. Dedicated to innovation in energy, health, transportation and infrastructure, GE operates in more than 100 countries and employs about 300,000 people worldwide. For more information, visit the company’s Web site at

See Related: Energy Supply Archive

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Gilad Shalit prisoner swap may bring Hamas to forefront of Middle East politics

Palestinians chant slogans as they take part in a rally celebrating a prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel,
in Gaza City on October 12, 2011. Israelis welcomed on Wednesday a major prisoner swap that will free
soldier Gilad Shalit after five years in captivity in return for the release of 1,000 Palestinians
Photo By Ismael Mohamad

By Ethan Bronner
The New York Times

JERUSALEM — The prisoner exchange between Hamas and Israel that is expected to begin next week could reshape regional relationships, strengthening Egypt, Hamas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel while posing an acute challenge to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

One result might be a more confrontational — and Hamas-imbued — Palestinian movement that could, in the long run, increase Israel’s difficulties, drawing inspiration from and invigorating popular protests across the Middle East. It could also tighten the relationship between Hamas, Egypt and Turkey.

“Hamas has been in the shadows and this moves it into the Palestinian forefront for now,” said Zakaria al-Qaq, a political scientist at Al Quds University in East Jerusalem.

Under the deal, announced on Tuesday, Israel will free more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the release of Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier seized in a cross-border raid by Hamas in 2006 and held ever since in Gaza.

President Shimon Peres of Israel announced that Turkey, which has angrily downgraded its relations with Israel in the last year, had played an unexpected role in helping broker the deal. Turkey is close to Hamas.

Some of the details of the Hamas-Israel deal have not been disclosed, making it hard to determine why the two sides suddenly came to agreement after failing to in past years, on what seem to have been similar terms. But the growing turmoil in the region played an important role, as did domestic politics.

Hamas is worried about its base in the Syrian capital, Damascus, given the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. It is exploring both Turkey and Egypt as possible future bases, and this deal will help it in both pursuits.

Israel, for its part, fears that after elections in Egypt, the government there might not be helpful, so it thought it best to act now.

In addition, Hamas, and to a lesser extent Israel, seemed to be reacting to efforts by the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority to gain membership in the United Nations. President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority earned the admiration of many of his people by pressing his case for statehood upon the Security Council, rejecting American requests to withhold the application and refusing to return to negotiations with Israel without a freeze on settlements in the West Bank.

Hamas, which rules in Gaza and calls for Israel’s destruction, has criticized the move, saying it lacked dignity and offered legitimacy to Israel. At the moment, Mr. Abbas is having trouble gathering sufficient support on the Security Council and among major European powers. Meanwhile, Hamas is promising desperate families of prisoners that they will soon be reunited with their loved ones, some of whom have been in jail for two decades.

For Mr. Netanyahu, bringing home Sergeant Shalit, whose image is everywhere in Israel, offers a significant political boost. The popular yearning for his return is in many ways comparable to the social protest movement here last summer that began with anger over the high costs of consumer goods and income inequality. It cuts across ideological lines and focuses on the perceived failure of the government to honor its social contract with the people: to do all it can to bring back its soldiers and serve its citizens.

Returning Sergeant Shalit to his family is likely to soften Mr. Netanyahu’s image as someone too focused on geopolitics and insufficiently caring toward average people and their daily concerns. It may also force the social protest movement to reduce its criticism of him, at least temporarily, building unity in an often fractured society and extending his government’s time in office.

For Hamas, the timing of the swap agreement is almost ideal. Anger over the conditions of Palestinian prisoners in Israel has been growing in the West Bank and Wednesday was a strike day in support of the prisoners, with government offices and universities closed.

In the West Bank city of Hebron, in front of thousands of people gathered in the main square in support of the prisoners, the local Fatah leader, Kifah al-Owiwi, congratulated Hamas — a rarity — and asked it to work harder at reconciling the two movements.

Hamas made a point in its negotiations with Israel of insisting that all Palestinian factions, as well as Israeli Arabs and Jerusalem residents, be represented in the prisoner release, giving it the ability to say that it is taking care of all Palestinians.

“Hamas is now gaining clout domestically and regionally, and this will strengthen the demands for reconciliation with Fatah to proceed,” said Khalil Shikaki, a political scientist in Ramallah. “And if the Muslim Brotherhood gains in elections in Egypt, as many expect, that improves Hamas’s position even more.”

Israel and Hamas are sworn enemies, but Israeli officials are also angry at Mr. Abbas for his United Nations move.

“Preserving Abbas’s image is no longer so important for Israel, which was happy to give him a slap in the face,” said Yitzhak Reiter, a professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

At the same time, Israel worries about having to contend with dozens of convicted militants’ suddenly being freed, some of them to the West Bank. At an intelligence briefing for Israeli journalists, it was disclosed that the perpetrators of some of the most notorious and murderous attacks would be freed, although not all to the West Bank.

Yaakov Amidror, Israel’s national security adviser, said on the radio that because the Israeli military maintained tight control of the West Bank, he was not so worried about the men who would be released there.

It appears that both sides did yield on some long-held positions in the negotiations. Hamas agreed to remove from its list of prisoners some of the most notorious from Israel’s point of view. Marwan Barghouti, of Fatah, who is seen as a likely future leader, was also removed at Israel’s insistence. Hamas accepted that some prisoners would be sent into exile for a period of years, which it had previously rejected.

“The greatest disagreement inside Hamas was if we should agree to the expulsion of such a large number of prisoners,” said Ribhi Rantisi, a Hamas activist in Gaza, on Israel Radio. “But they agreed and this was really the biggest concession.”

Fawzi Barhoum, Hamas’s spokesman in Gaza, said that at the outset of “five years of difficult negotiations” Israel had demanded the release of Shalit with “no price,” offering only to ease the blockade on Gaza. But, he said, Israel relented partly because the Arab Spring was changing the situation in neighboring countries.

He also appeared to suggest that some prisoners could be released to Arab countries, saying that “any deportation of any prominent member or detained people from occupation jails to any Arab countries during the spring of the Arab revolution” might prove to be only temporary in the new political climate in the region, and would be “a step to return back again to Palestine.”

For its part, Israel agreed to allow more prisoners back into the West Bank even though the history of such releases suggests that some released killers return to violence. One reason it did so was its belief that the Palestinian security forces there are more dedicated to stopping violence and more effective at it as well. But this exchange could also weaken the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

If talks over a future Palestinian state fail to resume, if the United States Congress cuts off aid to the Palestinian Authority because of its United Nations bid and if fears heighten of growing Hamas influence, those security forces may shift their focus.

In addition, if Syria implodes and Egypt fails to achieve democratic reforms while Israel’s hawkish right wing grows stronger, the Shalit exchange may end up damaging Israel’s interests more in the long run than it helps them in the immediate future.

Stephen Farrell contributed reporting from Gaza City.

See Related: Gilad Shalit Agreement Archive

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California cities warn of public safety crisis


By Kevin Yamamura
The Sacramento Bee

As California begins redirecting new inmates and parolees to counties this month, nine big-city mayors are asking the cash-strapped state for money to address a “brewing public safety crisis.”

The mayors, including Sacramento’s Kevin Johnson and Los Angeles’ Antonio Villaraigosa, contend in a letter they sent Thursday to Gov. Jerry Brown that his “realignment” plan will result in higher police costs. Villaraigosa led the charge earlier last week by calling the program “political malpractice” and saying his city needed to move 150 police officers to help the probation department supervise offenders.

The mayors have asked Brown for “an immediate guaranteed funding stream for city-related realignment costs.” Cities also want funding as part of a November 2012 ballot initiative being considered by the governor to enshrine realignment dollars in the state constitution, said Villaraigosa spokeswoman Sarah Sheahan.

“On behalf of millions of Californians who reside in our cities, we respectfully request your immediate attention to a brewing public safety crisis that could threaten the success of the recently-launched realignment program,” the mayors’ letter states. “As a result, we believe the safety of our cities could be at risk.”

Brown officials question the new challenge from Villaraigosa, saying that he never raised serious concerns during the legislative process. In response to the issues he voiced, Brown spokeswoman Elizabeth Ashford said in an e-mail, “Realignment was debated by law enforcement and public safety experts for months in Sacramento. You would think that any legitimate concerns about the policy would have been raised before it was implemented.”

Beyond the Los Angeles officer shift, the mayors did not specify how costs would rise for police departments. Sheahan said that reasons vary by city, but additional officers would be needed on the streets and to help with managing the new offenders under local supervision.

The mayors are apparently still stinging from a June state budget provision that shifts $130 million in vehicle taxes from cities to counties to help pay for realignment. They cite that shift as a funding loss that reduces “the availability of city resources to help ensure the success of realignment.”

See Related: Crime Archive

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Banks protesters block San Francisco Wells Fargo world headquarters


A group of ‘Occupy SF’ protesters were arrested early Wednesday after they blocked the entrances to the Wells Fargo’s world headquarters in San Francisco’s Financial District.

About a dozen protesters were blocking the doors and one by one were being arrested and removed by San Francisco police officers.

The arrests capped a march by several hundred ‘Occupy SF’ protesters through the financial district, disrupting rush-hour traffic. The protest began with a rally – addressed by several speakers including San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos, who is running for mayor.

“We are standing for a better world…Together we will win because we are not going to stop,” Avalos implored the crowd.

Banks protester holds up a sign. People across the country, including in San Francisco,
have joined the protest

They then began a march through the financial district. The march was organized by a number of groups including Causa Justa Just Cause, Unite Here Local 2850, the California Partnership, Young Workers United and the Chinese Progressive Association.

Meanwhile, another group of protesters locked arms and blocked the entrance to the Wells Fargo building awaiting the arrival of the marchers.

The San Francisco demonstration was just one of many around the country targeting the nation’s financial institutions. Across the Bay, “Occupy Oakland” demonstrators were camped out on Frank Ogawa Plaza.

Dozens of tents dotted the lawn, and according to Lolo Schiener, an unemployed 27-year-old Berkeley resident with a master’s degree in speech pathology, the group has been receiving a steady stream of donations that will allow them to continue occupying the plaza.

“We have a lot of food,” she said. “A lot of people have been donating food and money.”

The group has also been giving food to the homeless and those who ask for it.

Elsewhere, the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has spawned grass-roots activities around the U.S. and prompted comments from President Barack Obama, is now drawing political remarks from overseas.

Iran’s top leader said Wednesday that the wave of protests reflects a serious crisis that will ultimately topple capitalism in America. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei claimed the United States is now in a full-blown crisis because its “corrupt foundation has been exposed to the American people.”

The remarks came a day after U.S. officials said the Obama administration plans to leverage charges that Iran plotted to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador into a new global campaign to isolate the Islamic republic.

For the past 3 1/2 weeks, the economic protesters have besieged a park in lower Manhattan near Wall Street. A march on Tuesday, past the homes of wealthy residents, marked the first time the movement has singled out individuals as part of the 1 percent they say are getting rich at the expense of the rest of America.

More activities were planned Wednesday. In Ohio, the group Occupy Cincinnati was staging a march.

Protesters in New York planned to gather at the headquarters of JP Morgan Chase, where they’ll continue to decry the expiration of the state’s 2 percent “millionaires’ tax” in December.

Meanwhile, the lawyer for a woman pepper sprayed during an action last month is demanding that the Manhattan district attorney prosecute an NYPD deputy inspector on an assault charge. Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the matter is being investigated by police internal affairs and the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

Despite the onset of cold weather, protesters have indicated they’re in it for the long haul.

Occupy Seattle demonstrators sent the mayor a list of demands, including approval for large tents to be used as a kitchen, infirmary, storage area and information center — and written approval of long-term occupancy.

In Washington, six people were arrested Tuesday for demonstrating inside a Senate office building. More than 125 protesters in Boston were arrested after they ignored warnings to move from a downtown green space, police said.

The New York state comptroller has issued a report showing that Wall Street is again losing jobs because of global economic woes. The job losses threaten tax revenue for a city and state heavily reliant on the financial industry.

The industry shed 4,100 jobs in the late spring and summer and could lose nearly 10,000 more by the end of 2012, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said. That would bring the total industry loss to 32,000 positions since the financial meltdown of 2008.

The sector employed 166,600 people in investment banks, securities trading firms and hedge funds as of August.

Christopher Guerra, an artist and Occupy Wall Street protester from Newark, N.J., said the job losses aid the protesters’ cause.

“That means more people on our side,” Guerra said. “The companies are destroying this country by helping themselves, not the people, and pushing jobs out of America. If they get shafted, they will realize that what we are saying is true.”

See Related: American Distrust of Banks

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The Gilad Shalit Agreement: A contrast in cultures

The controversial exchange highlights one extreme difference: Israel values life

By Rabbi Ken Spiro

A couple of years ago I remember seeing an incredible contrast on YouTube. A very large and very old leatherback sea turtle (which is on the endangered species list) had been caught in a fisherman’s net off the coast of Gaza. The beautiful creature was hauled ashore and surrounded by a large crowd of Gazans. One of the men in the crowd explained to the reporter how the meat of the turtle would feed Gazan children, who were suffering due to the Israeli occupation, and the blood would help cure various ailments. The turtle was dragged behind a truck, flipped on its back and then slaughtered.


Further up the Mediterranean coast in Israel, a much younger and smaller sea turtle had been injured by a boat and lost one of its limbs. The turtle was rescued by some Israelis and then taken to a special turtle sanctuary where it was operated on, nurtured back to health and then released back into the sea.

The contrast couldn’t have been more extreme.

When I heard about the impending exchange of Gilad Shalit for over a thousand Palestinians prisoners, many with “blood on their hands,” I was reminded of those two turtles.

To me those two turtles represented a microcosm of the values of Israel and the Jewish people versus the enemies that surround us.

In the summer of 2006, after Israel had withdrawn from Gaza, Gilad Shalit was kidnapped by Hamas terrorists from an Israeli tank guarding Israel’s border with Gaza. The terrorists had tunneled under the security fence and after killing the other members of the crew, dragged Shalit back to Gaza. In violation of international law no one was allowed to have contact with him, not even the Red Cross.

Israel has thousands of Palestinian security prisoners. All are treated humanely according to international law. They have the right to legal representation, visitation from family and the Red Cross and even educational opportunities while they are in prison.

The most striking contrast is the attitude of the two sides towards freeing these captives. The Israeli government has worked tirelessly for the release of Gilad. So important is the life of one soldier that the government of Israel is about to repeat what it has done numerous times before: embark on controversial, lopsided prisoner exchanges in order to free a few or even one Israeli prisoner. These exchanges have proven to be very problematic; hundreds of Israelis have been killed or wounded by terrorist who were released in one of these exchanges and then returned to terrorism. Controversy aside, the concern for the life of one soldier is a powerful testament to the humanity and moral strength of Israel and the profound concern that Judaism has always held for the value of life, a value which the Jewish people taught the world.

The contrast with Israel’s adversaries in the Middle East couldn’t be more extreme. The first question the International community should really be asking is why does the Arab world have so little respect for its own people that it thinks the life of one Jew is worth a thousand plus Arabs? Aren’t these exchanges usually a one-for-one deal? Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. These are the people who brought to the world hijackings and suicide bombings, who raise their children to want to be martyrs and who fire rockets from schools and hospitals. They have demonstrated time and time again that human life, even the life of their own people, has very little value.

Former Prime Minister Golda Meir once said, “We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.” Sadly the Arab world seems to moving further away from this goal and real peace still seems like a distant dream.

But let’s not end on a negative note. The Jewish people are about to celebrate the Holiday of Sukkot. A major theme of Sukkot is joy, to appreciate the beauty and wonder of God’s creation and focus on the specialness and the unique mission of the Jewish people.

As we celebrate Sukkot this year let us be aware that even though the Jewish people and Israel face many dangers and challenges, there is much to take pleasure in. Let us take particular pleasure in the values that we the Jewish people have not only taught the world but have lived by for centuries despite enduring great hardship at the hands of the nations of the world.

Despite living in the roughest “neighborhood” in the world-surround by hostility, war and terrorism, the Jews of Israel have not only maintained their dignity, but have a created a thriving, productive, free, democratic and technologically advanced country that is truly a testament to the power and humanity of the Jewish people, the Jewish spirit and the Jewish Faith.

For Shalit’s parents and others who have worked so tirelessly for these 1900-plus days to secure his release, the level of joy at this moment is unfathomable. Yes, the deal is controversial, reasonable people have reason to be opposed. Irrespective, let us all give thanks for the elation of a Jewish boy is being reunited with his family and his people.

See Related: Gilad Shalit Agreement Archive

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The LGBT community mourns the death of Frank Kameny

LGBT pioneer Frank Kameny

By W. Badmin
The Washington Blade

Several LGBT rights organizations have released statements following the announcement of Frank Kameny’s passing. Many of these groups continue the work that Frank began when he fought back against his termination in 1957 from the Army Map Service. Frank will always be remembered for coining the term “Gay is good” in the 1960s through his work with the Mattachine Society.

Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund:

Frank Kameny, one of the most significant figures in the modern LGBT civil rights movement, has died, according to a report in the Washington Blade tonight.

In 1961 Kameny founded the Mattachine Society of Washington – one of the earliest LGBT rights organizations in the U.S. – pre-dating the Stonewall riots by nearly a decade. Kameny’s activism sprang from his termination from a federal government position because of his sexual orientation. He received an official apology from the federal government after President Barack Obama took office in 2009.


Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund President and CEO Chuck Wolfe issued the following statement tonight:

“We mourn the loss of a hero and a founding father of the fight to end discrimination against LGBT people. Dr. Kameny stood up for this community when doing so was considered unthinkable and even shocking, and he continued to do so throughout his life. He spoke with a clear voice and firm conviction about the humanity and dignity of people who were gay, long before it was safe for him to do so. All of us who today endeavor to complete the work he began a half century ago are indebted to Dr. Kameny and his remarkable bravery and commitment.”


Human Rights Campaign:

Upon the news that LGBT equality pioneer Frank Kameny has died, Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese issued the following statement:

“Frank Kameny led an extraordinary life marked by heroic activism that set a path for the modern LGBT civil rights movement. From his early days fighting institutionalized discrimination in the federal workforce, Dr. Kameny taught us all that ‘Gay is Good.’ As we say goodbye to this trailblazer on National Coming Out Day, we remember the remarkable power we all have to change the world by living our lives like Frank — openly, honestly and authentically.”

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.


Diego Sanchez, Senior Legislative Advisor to Rep. Barney Frank:

For Frank Kameny to die on National Coming Out Day, Oct. 11, 2011, feels to me like my Dad dying on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2000 — when a career-long, victorious warrior went to God on a day that best represents his contribution to our country and American lives everywhere; the day will always represent both the symbol and the man, with honor and hope.


Federal GLOBE: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Employees of the Federal Government:

An American Hero has passed away.

Frank Kameny died today at 86. Frank served his country his whole life. In the military, in government service, and in making the country a more perfect union when the government he fought for and toiled for fired him. Frank was fired just for being gay. He had done nothing untoward, not been a threat. Rather he was working on important technology which his removal from government service delayed for decades.

But Frank did not get bitter. He did what American’s have done since our founding—he righted the wrong. It did not come quickly or easily. Frank fought his dismissal all of the way to the Supreme Court. Frank fought the Civil Service Commission. Frank fought for the rights of every American to lead a good life. Frank was a leader for the LGBT movement when leaders were hard to find and paid dearly. Frank paid dearly.

Frank was the reason for Federal GLOBE to get started. Frank was our inspiration and was our father. He was our mother. He was our fairy/angel/mentor/pathblazer/blinding light. Frank was our inspiration. His meticulous research and articulation paved the way for LGBT civil rights advancements over the last 25 years.


Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation:

NEW YORK, NY — The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) today issued the following statement following news that LGBT advocacy pioneer Frank Kameny died in his Washington, D.C. home:

“Frank Kameny sparked national change and set the example for gay and lesbian Americans to live their lives openly and proudly,” said Mike Thompson, Acting President of GLAAD. “He taught us the power that our visibility and stories have in changing hearts and minds. Today on National Coming Out Day, we honor Frank’s legacy not only by remembering this pioneer, but by continuing his work to speak out and share our own stories.”

Frank Kameny is recognized as one of the pioneers of the modern LGBT advocacy movement. After being dismissed from the U.S. Civil Service Commission for being gay, he argued the first civil rights claim based on sexual orientation before the United States Supreme Court in 1961. Together with Jack Nichols, he co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington and launched the first public demonstrations by gay and lesbian Americans at the White House in 1965. Kameny was appointed as the first openly gay member of D.C.’s Human Rights Commission and was a U.S. Army veteran of World War II.


In 2007, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History included his picket signs from the White House demonstration. Papers documenting his life were added to the Library of Congress in 2006. In 2009, Kameny received the Theodore Roosevelt Award.

National Center for Lesbian Rights:

SAN FRANCISCO, CA — One of the most prominent leaders of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality movement—Dr. Frank Kameny—passed away at his Washington D.C.-area home today. He was 86.

In 1957, Kameny was dismissed from his position as an astronomer in the Army Map Service because he was gay, motivating him at the time to become a leading voice in the movement for equality and justice. He protested his firing and appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, becoming the first known gay person to file a gay-related case before the high court.

Although the court denied his petition, the decision prompted Kameny to devote much of his life to LGBT advocacy.


Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell, Esq.:

“Frank Kameny is among a small group of brave and uncompromising men and women without whom the modern civil rights movement for LGBT equality would have faltered. At a time when most lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals lived deeply shadowed and closeted lives, he stepped into the bright glare of public scrutiny and hostility and demanded respect and cultural evolution. It is fitting that his passing would happen on Coming Out Day. Were it not for his coming out, many of us would still be living a lie.”


American Foundation for Equal Rights:

“Out and Proud, Kameny Was Fighting For Equality Long Before the Rest Of Us Knew We Could”

Los Angeles, CA – Today, America lost a legendary civil rights pioneer. The staff and board of directors at the American Foundation for Equal Rights extend heartfelt condolences to the friends and family of LGBT rights pioneer Franklin E. Kameny, who died of natural causes in his home today at the age of 86.

His passing comes less than a month before the planned celebration of the 50th anniversary of Kameny’s founding of the Mattachine Society of Washington, the first gay rights organization in the nation’s capital.

President of AFER’s board of directors, Chad Griffin, released the following statement about Mr. Kameny and the long legacy of hope and optimism he leaves behind, “America has lost a hero today. Out and proud, Frank Kameny was fighting for equality long before the rest of us knew we could.” He added, “Because there was one Frank Kameny, trailblazing and honest enough to speak out 50 years ago, there are now millions of Americans, coming out, speaking out and fighting for their basic civil rights. His is a legacy of bravery and tremendous impact and will live on in the hearts and minds of every American who values equality and justice.”

In the landmark ruling striking down Proposition 8, the U.S. District Court referenced the efforts of Frank Kameny and the Mattachine Society to chronicle the long and shameful history of state-enforced discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans. In particular, the Court cited the famous 1966 letter from the chairman of the U.S. Civil Service Commission rejecting the Mattachine Society’s request to rescind the policy banning “active homosexuals” from federal employment.


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