Friday, March 22, 2013

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Fighting Same-Sex Marriage With Zeal and Strategy
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Brian S. Brown has become the nation’s leading opponent of gay marriage. Now, his views are set for the ultimate American test: a Supreme Court hearing.
Obama Tries to Charm Israelis With Hebrew
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President Obama sprinkled Hebrew throughout his public remarks during his trip to Israel, an element of his effort to connect with the Israeli public.
More Older Americans Use Marijuana
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Today’s retirees are more accepting of marijuana use, and not just for medical reasons.

Seven Marines killed, others injured in Nevada training explosion
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Seven Marines were killed during a training exercise at a U.S. Army depot in western Nevada, Marine Corps officials said Tuesday.
Noam Chomsky: 'No individual changes anything alone'
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Noam Chomsky is one of the world's most controversial thinkers. Now 84, he reflects on his life's work, on current events in Syria and Israel, and on the love of his life – his wife
It may have been pouring with rain, water overrunning the gutters and spreading fast and deep across London's Euston Road, but this did not stop a queue forming, and growing until it snaked almost all the way back to Euston station. Inside Friends House, a Quaker-run meeting hall, the excitement was palpable. People searched for friends and seats with thinly disguised anxiety; all watched the stage until, about 15 minutes late, a short, slightly top-heavy old man climbed carefully on to the stage and sat down. The hall filled with cheers and clapping, with whoops and with whistles.
Noam Chomsky, said two speakers (one of them Mariam Said, whose late husband, Edward, this lecture honours) "needs no introduction". A tired turn of phrase, but they had a point: in a bookshop down the road the politics section is divided into biography, reference, the Clintons, Obama, Thatcher, Marx, and Noam Chomsky. Hetopped the first Foreign Policy/Prospect Magazine list of global thinkers in 2005 (the most recent, however, perhaps reflecting a new editorship and a new rubric, lists him not at all). One study of the most frequently cited academic sources of all time found that he ranked eighth, just below Plato and Freud. The list included the Bible.
When he starts speaking, it is in a monotone that makes no particular rhetorical claim on the audience's attention; in fact, it's almost soporific. Last October, he tells his audience, he visited Gaza for the first time. Within five minutes many of the hallmarks of Chomsky's political writing, and speaking, are displayed: his anger, his extraordinary range of reference and experience – journalism from inside Gaza, personal testimony, detailed knowledge of the old Egyptian government, its secret service, the new Egyptian government, the historical context of the Israeli occupation, recent news reports (of sewage used by the Egyptians to flood tunnels out of Gaza, and by Israelis to spray non-violent protesters). Fact upon fact upon fact, but also a withering, sweeping sarcasm – the atrocities are "tolerated politely by Europe as usual". Harsh, vivid phrases – the "hideously charred corpses of murdered infants"; bodies "writhing in agony" – unspool until they become almost a form of punctuation.
You could argue that the latter is necessary, simply a description of atrocities that must be reported, but it is also a method that has diminishing returns. The facts speak for themselves; the adjectives and the sarcasm have the counterintuitive effect of cheapening them, of imposing on the world a disappointingly crude and simplistic argument. "The sentences," wrote Larissa MacFarquhar in a brilliant New Yorker profile of Chomsky 10 years ago, "are accusations of guilt, but not from a position of innocence or hope for something better: Chomsky's sarcasm is the scowl of a fallen world, the sneer of hell's veteran to its appalled naifs" – and thus, in an odd way, static and ungenerative.
To be fair, he has – as he points out the next day, sitting under the gorgeous, vaulting ceilings of the VIP section of the St Pancras Renaissance hotel – not always been preaching to the converted, or even to the sceptically open-minded. "This [rapturous reception] is radically different from what it was like even five years ago, when in fact [at talks about Israel-Palestine] I had to have police protection because the audience was so hostile." His voice is vanishingly quiet as well as monotonal, and he is slightly deaf, which makes conversation something of a challenge. But he answers questions warmly, and seriously, if not always directly – a surprise, in a way, from someone who has earned a reputation for brutality of argument, and a need to win at all costs. "There really is an alpha-male dominance psychology at work there," a colleague once said of him. "He has some of the primate dominance moves. The staring down. The withering tone of voice." Students have been known to visit him in pairs, so that one can defend the other. But it is perhaps less surprising when you discover that he can spend up to seven hours a day answering emails from fans and the questing public. And in the vast hotel lobby he cuts a slightly fragile figure.
Chomsky, the son of Hebrew teachers who emigrated from Ukraine and Russia at the turn of the last century, began as a Zionist – but the sort of Zionist who wanted a socialist state in which Jews and Arabs worked together as equals. Since then he has been accused of antisemitism (due to defending the right to free speech of a French professor who espoused such views, some 35 years ago), and been called, by the Nation, "America's most prominent self-hating Jew". These days he argues tirelessly for the rights of Palestinians. In this week's lecture he quoted various reactions to the Oslo accords, which turn 20 in September, including a description of them as "an infernal trap". He replied to a question about whether Israel would still exist in 50 years' time by saying, among other things, that "Israel is following policies which maximise its security threats … policies which choose expansion over security … policies which lead to their moral degradation, their isolation, their deligitimation, as they call it now, and very likely ultimate destruction. That's not impossible." Obama arrived in Israel this week accompanied by some of the lowest expectations ever ascribed to a US president visiting the country. There was so much more hope, I suggest to Chomsky, when Obama was first elected, and he spoke about the Middle East. "There were illusions. He came into office with dramatic rhetoric about hope and change, but there was never any substance behind them," he responds.
He seems cautiously optimistic about the Arab spring, which he sees as a "classic example … [of] powerful grassroots movements, primarily in Tunisia and Egypt" – but is dryly ironic about the west's relationship with what is happening on the ground. "In Egypt, on the eve of Tahrir Square, there was a major poll which found that overwhelmingly – 80-90%, numbers like that – Egyptians regarded the main threats they face as the US and Israel. They don't like Iran – Arabs generally don't like Iran – but they didn't consider it a threat. In fact, back then a considerable number of Egyptians thought the region might be better off if Iran had nuclear weapons. Not because they wanted Iran to have nuclear weapons, but to offset the real threats they faced. So that's obviously not the kind of policy that the west wants to listen to. Other polls are somewhat different, but the basic story is about the same – what Egyptians want is not what the west would like to see. So therefore they are opposed to democracy."
What does Chomsky, who has infuriated some with his dismissal of the "new military humanism", think should be done in Syria, if anything? Should the west arm the opposition? Should it intervene? "I tend to think that providing arms is going to escalate the conflict. I think there has to be some kind of negotiated settlement. The question is which kind. But it's going to have to be primarily among Syrians. Outsiders can try to help set up the conditions, and there's no doubt that the government is carrying out plenty of atrocities, and the opposition some, but not as many. There's a threat that the country is on a suicidal course. Nobody wants that."
Chomsky first came to prominence in 1959, with the argument, detailed in a book review (but already present in his first book, published two years earlier), that contrary to the prevailing idea that children learned language by copying and by reinforcement (ie behaviourism), basic grammatical arrangements were already present at birth. The argument revolutionised the study of linguistics; it had fundamental ramifications for anyone studying the mind. It also has interesting, even troubling ramifications for his politics. If we are born with innate structures of linguistic and by extension moral thought, isn't this a kind of determinism that denies political agency? What is the point of arguing for any change at all?
"The most libertarian positions accept the same view," he answers. "That there are instincts, basic conditions of human nature that lead to a preferred social order. In fact, if you're in favour of any policy – reform, revolution, stability, regression, whatever – if you're at least minimally moral, it's because you think it's somehow good for people. And good for people means conforming to their fundamental nature. So whoever you are, whatever your position is, you're making some tacit assumptions about fundamental human nature … The question is: what do we strive for in developing a social order that is conducive to fundamental human needs? Are human beings born to be servants to masters, or are they born to be free, creative individuals who work with others to inquire, create, develop their own lives? I mean, if humans were totally unstructured creatures, they would be … a tool which can properly be shaped by outside forces. That's why if you look at the history of what's called radical behaviourism, [where] you can be completely shaped by outside forces – when [the advocates of this] spell out what they think society ought to be, it's totalitarian."
Chomsky, now 84, has been politically engaged all his life; his first published article, in fact, was against fascism, and written when he was 10. Where does the anger come from? "I grew up in the Depression. My parents had jobs, but a lot of the family were unemployed working class, so they had no jobs at all. So I saw poverty and repression right away. People would come to the door trying to sell rags – that was when I was four years old. I remember riding with my mother in a trolley car and passing a textile worker's strike where the women were striking outside and the police were beating them bloody."
He met Carol, who would become his wife, at about the same time, when he was five years old. They married when she was 19 and he 21, and were together until she died nearly 60 years later, in 2008. He talks about her constantly, given the chance: how she was so strict about his schedule when they travelled (she often accompanied him on lecture tours) that in Latin America they called her El Comandante; the various bureaucratic scrapes they got into, all over the world. By all accounts, she also enforced balance in his life: made sure he watched an hour of TV a night, went to movies and concerts, encouraged his love of sailing (at one point, he owned a small fleet of sailboats, plus a motorboat); she water-skied until she was 75.
But she was also politically involved: she took her daughters (they had three children: two girls and a boy) to demonstrations; he tells me a story about how, when they were protesting against the Vietnam war, they were once both arrested on the same day. "And you get one phone call. So my wife called our older daughter, who was at that time 12, I guess, and told her, 'We're not going to come home tonight, can you take care of the two kids?' That's life." At another point, when it looked like he would be jailed for a long time, she went back to school to study for a PhD, so that she could support the children alone. It makes no sense, he told an interviewer a couple of years ago, for a woman to die before her husband, "because women manage so much better, they talk and support each other. My oldest and closest friend is in the office next door to me; we haven't once talked about Carol." His eldest daughter often helps him now. "There's a transition point, in some way."
Does he think that in all these years of talking and arguing and writing, he has ever changed one specific thing? "I don't think any individual changes anything alone. Martin Luther King was an important figure but he couldn't have said: 'This is what I changed.' He came to prominence on a groundswell that was created by mostly young people acting on the ground. In the early years of the antiwar movement we were all doing organising and writing and speaking and gradually certain people could do certain things more easily and effectively, so I pretty much dropped out of organising – I thought the teaching and writing was more effective. Others, friends of mine, did the opposite. But they're not less influential. Just not known."
In the cavernous Friends' House, the last words of his speech are: "Unless the powerful are capable of learning to respect the dignity of their victims … impassable barriers will remain, and the world will be doomed to violence, cruelty and bitter suffering." It's a gloomy coda, but he leaves to a standing ovation.

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Russians flock to troubled Cyprus in attempt to protect finances
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Cyprus has become the offshore haven of choice for wealthy Russians choosing to keep their money abroad
They clustered in small groups on the plush couches dotted around the lounge of the Four Seasons hotel in the port city of Limassol. Nervous whispers and furtive glances revealed these were no ordinary tourists revelling in the sun on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.
They were Russians, who have been flocking to the city for urgent meetings with lawyers and financial advisers, fearing for their personal finances, which range from the low thousands to hundreds of millions of euros and total more than $32bn (£27bn).
"Everyone has flown in hoping to use contacts with locals to pressure the leadership, the deputies," says a man who identifies himself only as Vladimir. "We are all very worried, very scared."
The 45-year-old businessman refreshes his iPad incessantly, seeking news from the parliament in the capital, Nicosia. If the country's banks go bust, he stands to lose €58m. Where the money came from, he declines to say.
A large sliver of Russians has grown amazingly wealthy since the Soviet collapse, buoyed by the oil boom at the turn of the century. How the money was obtained in a country plundered by corruption is often anybody's guess.
Well fed on graft at home, most wealthy Russians choose to keep their money abroad, safe from prying rivals and over-zealous government officials seeking a piece of the pie. Cyprus has become their offshore haven of choice.
An EU plan, pushed strongly by Germany, to raise €5.8bn towards its €10bn bailout via a levy on accounts is widely seen here as a means of forcing Russians to pay for the luxury of keeping their ill-gotten gains safely inside the EU.
Vedomosti, Russia's leading financial newspaper, saw the charge going to the very top, citing President Vladimir Putin in all but name in an editorial published on Friday: "It's hard to believe, but it seems that European politicians are ready to take big risks to put pressure on a certain influential politician, who secretly harbours money in Cypriot banks."
Michael Sarris, the Cypriot finance minister, left Moscow on Friday after three days of negotiations failed to result in any Kremlin aid.
On the Mediterranean island, there are fears that the loss in confidence will prompt wealthy Russians to withdraw their cash en masse once transactions are allowed. Vladimir, the businessman, plays down those fears: "To take out a big sum and place it elsewhere – people will ask questions about where it came from. Everyone knows there's plenty of money here that smells bad."
Behind the billions, lies a solidly entrenched Russian community of about 50,000. Their base is Limassol, a sprawling city that lines the coast and stretches into inland foothills.
Signs of financial crisis abound – tattered posters reading "for rent" hang on half-finished buildings. Many shops are closed. Cafes and restaurants, once bustling, sit largely empty.
"It's been like this for a while, but has got worse in the past few days," says Lara Avakian, 29, a physiotherapist working in a beauty salon. "Everyone is waiting to see what will happen." And everyone has begun to think of the long-term consequences of a crisis that has struck at the very heart of Cyprus's economy: if the Russians take their money, we're doomed."
A sign outside Larnaca airport greets visitors with "welcome to Cyprus" in Russian. Russian-language billboards for Visa cards, luxury properties and Moscow-based banks line the road to Limassol, the country's second largest city. Petrol stations belonging to LUKoil, Russia's biggest private oil company, dot the roads.
The city's main stretch of seaside road boasts Russian groceries, their shelves packed with jars of pickles, vodka and Sovetskoye Shampanskoye, a super-sweet take on champagne. There are Russian-language bookstores and schools, and two Russian-language newspapers and radio stations, and Orthodox churches catering to the country's Russian community.
At Rus Market, Russian émigrés load up on sunflower seeds, Soviet-era chocolate brands and veniki, bound birch tree branches that Russians use in the bathhouse in order to beat the body's circulation into high activity. Videos by Russian pop stars blare from its television sets.
"We've lived here a long time, so we're taking it like Cypriots," says Olga, the co-owner of Afrodite Furs, one of four shops selling row upon row of fur coats in a city that lives in a near perpetual state of summer. "This is my second motherland."
She moved to Limassol after visiting Cyprus on holiday 12 years ago and meeting the man who would become her husband. "
I'm ashamed of Russia, they've just dropped us," she says. "They've all lived in Cyprus; they've fed on its low taxes and high interest rates. If you've already swarmed in here, you should lend a helping hand – all the more since we are both Orthodox, we have the same faith."
Since the crisis broke, Russian oligarchs have been coming out to declare they hold no funds in Cyprus.
Mikhail Prokhorov, a metals magnate, bank owner and politician, insists his holdings are zero. Alexander Lebedev, owner of the Independent and Evening Standard, says his holdings on the island are negligible. Yet the bulk of Russian oligarchs – from Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich to Arsenal FC owner Alisher Usmanov – are believed to control their firms via Cyprus-registered vehicles.
Many Russians have also invested heavily in real estate on Cyprus, buying luxury properties around the island. But many of the year-round Russian residents are not wealthy and have spent several days queuing up alongside Cypriots at bank machines in a desperate bid to withdraw cash in the event of a bank collapse.
Alexandra Zimakova, 38, a small business owner originally from St Petersburg, has just under €100,000 in Laiki Bank, the country's second largest and most troubled. "I already lived through one default, in Russia," she says, referring to the 1998 crisis when Russia defaulted on its debt, devastating its economy. "Now we have to see what will happen next. So far it's terrible panic, people talking about horrible things, rumours everywhere, very little real information."
Cyprus was meant to be different. In Russia, successful businesses are regularly raided by corrupt government inspectors and then stolen by well-funded rivals. Banks are still seen as insecure; many keep their savings at home.
Eight years ago, Zimakova bought a house outside Nicosia for €150,000. She does not know how much it is worth today, with real estate prices steadily dropping. In the past few days, neighbours have reported three robberies as people begin to store more cash at home.
"We don't know what will happen," she says, echoing the sentiments of everyone across the island, be they Russian or Cypriot.

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Cyprus crisis: UK experts fly out to advise on bailout
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Officials led by Treasury mandarin Tom Scholar visit island after Nicosia government accepts offer of 'technical assistance'
Britain has dispatched a task force of top civil servants to Cyprus to advise the stricken island on how to pull its banking system back from the brink of collapse.
The officials, led by Treasury mandarin Tom Scholar, flew out to the Mediterranean island after the government in Nicosia accepted an offer of "technical assistance" as it races to find solutions to keep its economy afloat.
The highly regarded Scholar is the Treasury's second permanent secretary and an expert in public finance and international issues. At the time of the UK financial meltdown he was parachuted into Northern Rock after it was nationalised. He was also a player in the 2008 bailouts of Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group. He is understood to have assembled a team of experts in banking and crisis management from across government departments to help solve the problems facing the two biggest banks, Bank of Cyprus and Laiki.
The UK team arrived amid continued uncertainty about how the country can raise the €17bn (£14.5bn) it needs by Monday to prevent a collapse into bankruptcy.
In a sombre statement on Cyprus television , government spokesman Christos Stylianides spelt out the gravity of the situation: "The president of the republic and the government are negotiating hard … to find solutions that would save the banking system and the wider economy and restore calm in the country. In these critical hours, everyone is obligated to show the highest responsibility.
"The parliament will be called up to make great decisions, difficult decisions … but the country must be saved. The political leadership is obligated, despite political differences, to find a solution. The next few hours will determine the future of this country."
The clock is ticking on Cyprus because the European Central Bank has given the country until Monday to shore up its banks before it pulls a key funding lifeline.
The nation's banks will have been shut for 10 days, assuming they are able to reopen on Tuesday. They closed last weekend when Nicosia announced it had accepted a bailout which included skimming €5.8bn from savings accounts. That was rejected by parliament. On Friday night, Cypriot politicians were promising a deal which would require deposits on accounts bigger than €100,000 to pay a tax of more than 10%.
Bills have also been placed before the Cypriot parliament to break up Laiki and allow the country Cyprus to take emergency steps to stop money flowing out of the country once the banks reopen.

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Russia for a more powerful Brics - The Hindu
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Russia for a more powerful Brics
The Hindu
Ahead of a Brics summit in South Africa next week, Russia has called for reshaping the group of five emerging countries from a discussion club into a new mechanism of “global governance”. The Concept of Russia's Participation in Brics, signed by President ...
'BRICS multiplies influence, but doesn't challenge anyone'RT

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Americans await gay marriage rulings
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As the US Supreme Court prepares to hear two critical cases, public attitudes to same-sex unions have shifted rapidly in favour of legalisation
Russia opens trial of dead Magnitsky
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The controversial trial of a dead Russian lawyer - Sergei Magnitsky - opens in Moscow with arguments about its legality.
Clinton joins other Dems in backing gay marriage
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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Hillary Rodham Clinton's embrace of gay marriage Monday signals she may be seriously weighing a 2016 presidential run and trying to avoid the type of late-to-the-party caution that hurt her first bid....
Pope installation draws world, religious leaders
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VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis' diplomatic skills will be put to the test on Tuesday as he hosts political leaders from 130 nations and religious representatives from a variety of faiths who are descending on Rome for his installation Mass, with Latin America strongly represented to celebrate the first pope from the New World....
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Moscow airport bomber named
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The suicide bomber who killed 36 people at Moscow's busiest airport last month has been named as a 20-year-old failed student from Russia's predominantly Muslim North Caucasus region.
Tatarstan's President Makes 'Minor' Hajj To Mecca
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Tatarstan's President Rustam Minnikhanov has arrived in Saudi Arabia and visited Mecca, where he performed the "umrah," or "minor hajj," an Islamic pilgrimage that can be performed at any time of the year.

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