Monday, 28 November 2011

Egyptian protesters clash with police, 1 dead (AP)

CAIRO ? Egyptian security forces clashed with protesters camped outside the Cabinet building Saturday, leaving one man dead, as tensions rose two days ahead of parliamentary elections being held despite mass demonstrations against military rule.

The violence occurred as a wave of protests against military rule was given extra impetus by the Egyptian military's decision on Friday to appoint a prime minister who served under deposed President Hosni Mubarak.

The Obama administration has increased pressure on Egypt's military rulers, who took over from Mubarak, to transfer power to civilian leaders throwing its support behind tens of thousands of protesters massed on Cairo's central Tahrir for more than a week.

Hundreds also had gathered outside the Cabinet building, a few blocks away, to prevent newly appointed Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri from entering to take up his new post. They clashed with security forces who allegedly tried to disperse them.

An Associated Press cameraman saw three police troop carriers and an armored vehicle firing tear gas as they were being chased from the site by rock-throwing protesters.

The man who was killed was run over by one of the vehicles, but there were conflicting accounts about the circumstances surrounding the death.

The Interior Ministry expressed regret for the death of the protester, identified as Ahmed Serour, and said it was an accident.

Police didn't intend to storm the sit-in but were merely heading to the Interior Ministry headquarters, located behind the Cabinet building, when they came under attack by angry protesters throwing firebombs, it said in a statement. The ministry claimed security forces were injured and the driver of one of the vehicles panicked and ran over the protester.

One of the protesters, Mohammed Zaghloul, 21, said he saw six security vehicles heading to their site.

"It became very tense, rock throwing started and the police cars were driving like crazy," he said. "Police threw one tear gas canister and all of a sudden we saw our people carrying the body of a man who was bleeding really badly."

Video clips posted on social networking sites also showed protesters rushing to rescue a heavily bleeding man they said was killed when a police vehicle ran over him.

Officials say more than 40 people have been killed across the country since Nov. 19, when the unrest began after a small sit-in by protesters injured during the 18-day uprising that ousted Mubarak was violently broken up by security forces. That led to days of clashes, which ended with a truce on Thursday. It wasn't clear if the melee on Saturday was an isolated incident or part of new violence by security forces trying to clear the way for the new prime minister, and protesters frustrated by what they believe are the military's efforts to perpetuate the old regime.

The military's appointment of el-Ganzouri, its apology for the death of protesters and a series of partial concessions in the past two days suggest that the generals are struggling to overcome the most serious challenge to their nine-month rule, with fewer options now available to them.

The latest crisis has overshadowed Monday's start of Egypt's first parliamentary elections since Mubarak was replaced by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi. The vote, which the generals say will be held on schedule despite the unrest, is now seen by many activists and protesters to be serving the military's efforts to project an image of itself as the nation's saviors and true democrats.

The next parliament is expected to be dominated by the country's most organized Muslim Brotherhood group, who decided to boycott the ongoing protests to keep from doing anything that could derail the election. However, the outcome of the vote is likely to be seen as flawed given the growing unrest and the suspension by many candidates of their campaigns in solidarity with the protesters.


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Sunday, 27 November 2011

Fractured town shows challenges ahead for Libya (Reuters)

BANI WALID, Libya (Reuters) ? Every revolution has its losers. Libya's new rulers, who swept to power three months ago in a revolt against Muammar Gaddafi's 42-year rule, have promised the country a brighter future. In the biggest cities, celebratory gunfire and the war-cry "God is great" can still be heard daily.

In Bani Walid, long a stronghold for Gaddafi loyalists and one of their last bastions to fall during this year's civil war, the mood is entirely different.

On a quiet Friday morning -- the day of rest in this almost entirely Muslim country -- a middle-aged man drew the metal shutters of his shop closed to speak freely about how Libya's new leaders have brought this town nothing but empty promises.

"Under Gaddafi everything was great. And now there's nothing," he says, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution by forces loyal to the National Transitional Council (NTC), which led the revolt against Gaddafi.

"They will find me," he says, adding angrily: "Anyone who tells the truth in Libya gets slaughtered."

Bani Walid, which sits on a rocky perch above a lush valley dotted with olive trees, is a town divided.

"Before the liberation, half the people were Gaddafi loyalists, half were with the revolution," said Tariq Faqi, a 28-year-old doctor who works at the town's hospital, after Friday prayers at the Abdel Nabbi bil Kheir Mosque.

"Now they accept reality and they're waiting to see what happens ... People feel they can't trust the new government until they see improvement."


After the fall of Tripoli three months ago, Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam hid among the town's 100,000 or so inhabitants. He says Western warplanes fired on his convoy as he fled, and their missiles blew off part of his thumb and index finger.

Bani Walid is also home to the Warfalla tribe, the biggest in this vast, oil-rich country of roughly six million people, and one upon which Gaddafi often relied to stay in power.

Here as all over Libya, security remains one of the top concerns. A militia from Tripoli, a good two hours' drive away, conducted a raid in Bani Walid this week, sparking a firefight in which several people were killed on each side.

Talks between tribal elders have eased tensions, and most people interviewed felt life had since returned to normal, but residents disagreed over how much faith to place in a central government they said had yet to deliver concrete results.

A provisional national government was sworn in on Thursday with the aim of steering the country toward democracy and dealing with the most pressing problems, with elections to a constituent assembly due in the middle of next year.

The new government was put in place by the unelected NTC, which still wields significant influence over all government matters and had the final say in each of Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib's cabinet appointments.

The country is still teeming with weapons, and Libya's new rulers have yet to disarm and make an army out of the patchwork of militias that roam the country, often far from their homes, occasionally clashing with each other, settling old scores.

Keib says his top priorities are improving security and looking after former rebel fighters and their families, but if he is to convince all of Bani Walid of the benefits of democracy, he will have to tackle a far wider range of issues.

"The situation now is good," school administrator Abdullah Mohammed, 36, said when asked about security, standing next to the mosque which, unusually, was damaged in the war, a testament to the intensity of the fighting that took place here.

"There was an incident two days ago but now it's getting better," he added as he left Friday prayers, echoing the sentiment of many who described the raid by men from Tripoli's Souq al-Juma neighborhood as an isolated case.

While many residents said they did not want any more armed "outsiders" coming to their town after a war in which many local homes were destroyed and looted, most said they were happy for a national army to come and help secure the town.

"We want Libya to be united. We don't want any problems between us," bank employee Garera Salem Mohammed, 52, said in a largely empty square bearing the scars of war.


Bani Walid's position on a hilltop made it virtually impregnable by ground forces alone. To take it, warplanes from Western countries in the NATO alliance pounded Gaddafi's forces while NTC troops battered the town with artillery.

At the fruit and vegetable market, the most common complaint was that banks had not reopened yet, as they have in Libya's cities, even though there is a nationwide restriction on monthly cash withdrawals.

"The market is dead. No one has any money with which to buy anything," said Munir Ali Muftah, 24, who was finding no takers for his dates and took shelter from the still-warm winter sun under his neighbor's tarpaulin roof.

"The people whose homes have been destroyed are not back yet," he added.

Of the market's few customers, most said they hoped the central government would bring an improvement in daily life but did not want to go so far as to predict it, replying simply with "insh'Allah" -- God willing -- when asked about the future.

Others were already growing impatient.

"We haven't seen anything from the new government. There's no money, there are no funds available for anything," said Moussa Juma Maymoun, 46, who was selling cigarettes, lighters and snuff stacked on the trunk of his car.

"In the former system, our situation was good. Everything was fine. But now everything is different. When you talk about elections and democracy, where is the democracy?" said Maymoun, who used to water olive trees for the agriculture ministry.

As the government begins to tackle all the problems of a country emerging from decades of dictatorship, it should think of the victims of this eight-month war as much as of the NTC fighters who emerged victorious, the local doctor said.

"Many of the civilians evacuated (during the war). They returned to find their homes destroyed, their belongings stolen. The government must take this into consideration and do something for them," Faqi said outside the mosque.

"Their priority should be the civilians, at least as much as the rebels. Civilians suffered a great deal in this country."

With national security still fragile and myriad factions continuing to compete for power ahead of next year's elections, the government would only achieve national unity by helping the war's losers as well as its winners.

"Educated people realize things can improve over time and are willing to be patient but here there are all levels of education," Faqi said.

(Additional reporting by Oliver Holmes and Taha Zargoun, editing by Peter Millership)


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Pope: sex abuse 'scourge' for all society

(AP) ? Pope Benedict XVI insisted on Saturday that all of society's institutions and not just the Catholic church must be held to "exacting" standards in their response to sex abuse of children, and defended the church's efforts to confront the problem.

Benedict acknowledged in remarks to visiting U.S. bishops during an audience at the Vatican that pedophilia was a "scourge" for society, and that decades of scandals over clergy abusing children had left Catholics in the United States bewildered.

"It is my hope that the Church's conscientious efforts to confront this reality will help the broader community to recognize the causes, true extent and devastating consequences of sexual abuse, and to respond effectively to this scourge which affects every level of society," he said.

"By the same token, just as the church is rightly held to exacting standards in this regard, all other institutions, without exception, should be held to the same standards," the pope said.

He didn't address accusations by many victims and their advocates that church leaders, including at the office in the Vatican that Benedict headed before becoming pontiff, systematically tried to cover up the scandals. Investigations, often by civil authorities, revealed that church hierarchy frequently transferred pedophile priests from one parish to another.

The pedophile scandal has exploded in recent decades in the United States, but similar clergy sex abuse revelations have tainted the church in many other countries, including Mexico, Ireland, and several other European nations, including Italy.

Benedict told the bishops that his papal pilgrimage to the United States in 2008 "was intended to encourage the Catholics of America in the wake of the scandal and disorientation caused by the sexual abuse crisis of recent decades."

Echoing sentiment he has expressed in occasional meetings with victims of the abuse on trips abroad, Benedict added: "I wish to acknowledge personally the suffering inflicted on the victims and the honest efforts made to ensure both the safety of our children and to deal appropriately and transparently with allegations as they arise."

Benedict seemed to be reflecting some churchmen's contentions that the church has wrongly been singled out as villains for the abuse.

The bishops were making periodic consultations with the Vatican, scheduled for every five years.

Associated Press


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26 bodies dumped in mass slaying in Guadalajara (AP)

GUADALAJARA, Mexico ? The bound and gagged bodies of 26 young men were found dumped Thursday in the heart of Mexico's second-largest city, in what experts said could mark a new stage in the full-scale war between the country's two main drug cartels, Sinaloa and the Zetas.

The bodies were stuffed in two vans and a pickup truck abandoned on an expressway near the Milennium Arches in Guadalajara, one of the most recognizable landmarks in the picturesque city that hosted last month's Pan American Games.

Most of the men died of asphyxia, according to officials in Jalisco state where Guadalajara is located, though initial reports indicated some had been shot.

The victims, apparently between the ages of 25 and 35, all had the words "Milenio Zetas" or "Milenium" written on their chests in oil, said Jalisco state Interior Secretary Fernando Guzman Perez. A law enforcement official who was not authorized to speak on the record said the writing was apparently meant as the killers' calling card, identifying the assassins as being from the Zetas and a smaller, allied gang, the Milenio Cartel.

The official said a banner found in one of the vehicles ? whose contents Guzman Perez refused to reveal ? was in fact signed by the Zetas. Mexican cartels frequently leave threatening messages with the bodies of their victims as a way of intimidating rivals and claiming responsibility for their actions.

The killings, apparently carried out before dawn, bore an eerie similarity to the Sept. 20 dumping of 35 bodies on an expressway in the Gulf coast city of Veracruz.

The victims in the Veracruz mass slaying were purportedly Zetas and the killers were allegedly linked to the Sinaloa cartel; those two cartels have emerged as Mexico's most powerful, and have each been trying to expand into each others' territories.

Raul Benitez, a professor at Mexico's National Autonomous University who studies security issues, said the Guadalajara mass killing may have been retaliation for the Veracruz slayings.

"I think the Zetas are responding by giving back in kind ... it is a game of one-upmanship," said Benitez.

The Guadalajara International Book Fair, which opens Saturday, is expected to draw as many as 600,000 visitors from around the world and describes itself as the world's most important Spanish-language book fair. The bodies were found about a mile (1.6 kilometers) from the Expo Guadalajara events center.

Best known as the home of mariachi music and tequila, Guadalajara also sits on the main highway running through western Mexico from the methamphetamine-producing state of Michoacan north toward the Pacific Coast state of Sinaloa.

In recent months, security officials and analysts have worried that the city could become a target for the Zetas, which has rapidly expanded since breaking with its old allies in the Gulf cartel in 2010.

The Zetas have been expanding west, from their base on the Gulf coast, and Sinaloa has apparently been sending proxy forces eastward into the territory of the Zetas or their allies, in what now appears to have become a nationwide battle.

"As long as there is definition on the division of territories, between Sinaloa and the Zetas, we are going to continue seeing this," said Benitez.

Guadalajara's mayor, Jorge Aristoteles Sandoval, told reporters that "these acts of barbarism show how the war between cartels, and crime, is getting more brutal."

"It's sad to see what's going on," taxi driver Jesus Amado said. "We used to be looking at the problem from afar. Now we're not, we've got it right here."

Officials initially reported that there were 23 bodies found. Ulises Enrique Camacho, a spokesman for the attorney-general's office, said Thursday afternoon that the toll had risen to 26.

Crime in this colonial city of some 1.5 million people was historically dominated by the powerful Sinaloa cartel, but the group's tight grip was shattered by the death of its regional commander, Ignacio "Nacho" Coronel, in a shootout with federal police in July 2010.

Guadalajara's murder rate then soared as factions of the cartel known as the New Generation and the Resistance battled to control Coronel's territory and assets. Street battles have left hundreds dead in the city and surrounding areas.

Killing slowed to a trickle during the Oct. 15-30 Pan American Games, which brought a massive influx of police and soldiers. Law-enforcement officials and analysts said they were nonetheless concerned that a Zetas onslaught could be imminent.

On Wednesday, 17 bodies were found burned in two pickup trucks in a strikingly similar attack in Sinaloa, the home state of the eponymous cartel. Twelve of the bodies were in the back of one truck, some of them handcuffed and wearing bulletproof vests.


Associated Press writers E. Eduardo Castillo and Michael Weissenstein in Mexico City contributed to this report.


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Saturday, 26 November 2011

Battle for Black Friday deals includes pepper spray, shootings (Reuters)

NEW YORK (Reuters) ? The holiday shopping season got off to an ugly start with shoppers pepper-spraying one another to battle for bargains and robbers shooting shoppers to steal their Black Friday purchases, police said on Friday.

In Los Angeles, authorities were reviewing Walmart security tapes to track down a Hispanic woman in her 30s who pepper-sprayed the crowd swarming Xboxes on sale 10 p.m. local time Thursday, Los Angeles police Sergeant J. Valle said.

"They were opening a package to try to get some Xboxes from a crate and this lady pepper-sprayed a whole bunch of people in order to gain an advantage over the Xboxes," Valle said.

Firefighters treated and released as many as 20 people injured in the incident at the Walmart in Northridge, California, authorities said. It was not known whether the woman actually purchased the Xboxes, Valle said.

Walmart is the U.S. discount store unit of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

In South Carolina, a Black Friday shopping spree at a Walmart in Myrtle Beach ended in gunfire when Tonia Robbins, 55, was accosted at about 1 a.m. on Friday by a robber who demanded her purse and then shot her in the foot, police said.

Robbins and her shopping companions were placing their purchases in the trunk of her car, parked across the street from the store, when the robber approached, police said.

When Robbins screamed, one of her companions reached into the car, pulled out a revolver stashed in the console and pointed it at the robber, who ran off, police said. She then fired two or three warning shots into the air.

Robbins was hospitalized and her condition was not known.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York, Harriet McLeod in South Carolina; Editing by David Bailey)


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Thousands rally in Egypt on "last chance Friday" (Reuters)

CAIRO (Reuters) ? Tens of thousands of Egyptians demanding an end to military rule packed Cairo's Tahrir square on Friday in the biggest turnout of a week of protests and violence that has killed 41 people.

The military rulers named a veteran former prime minister to head a new civilian cabinet, but that did little to appease the demonstrators who poured scorn on a name from the past.

The United States, long a bedrock supporter of Egypt's military, called on the generals to step aside "as soon as possible" and give real power to the new cabinet "immediately."

Protesters accuse the military of clinging to power since it took over when an uprising toppled President Hosni Mubarak on February 11. The past week of street battles between demonstrators and police have looked like a replay of February's unrest.

Kamal Ganzouri, named by the ruling army council to head a national salvation cabinet, said his powers were stronger than those given to previous prime ministers, but gave no details.

"I have asked the Field Marshal to give me a little time so I can form a cabinet that will satisfy the entire people," the veteran economist told a news conference, referring to army chief Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.

He said the new government would not be announced before Monday, the date set for Egypt's first free parliamentary election in decades, which could be overshadowed if the violence of the past week continues.

Ganzouri, 78, served as prime minister under Mubarak from 1996 to 1999. He was appointed after Prime Minister Essam Sharaf's cabinet resigned this week amid the protests.

Protesters responded angrily to the naming of a Mubarak-era veteran. After his appointment was confirmed, crowds in Tahrir chanted in derision: "They brought a thief and appointed another thief," referring to Sharaf and Ganzouri.

Hundreds of protesters shouted "Ganzouri, we don't want you" outside the cabinet offices in central Cairo.

The military rulers have promised a faster transfer of power to a civilian president, now due to be elected in June, and say the parliamentary elections will go ahead as planned.


Until a truce calmed violence on Thursday, streets around Tahrir had become battle zones with stone-throwing protesters fighting police firing tear gas, pellets and rubber bullets, a repeat of the scenes that forced Mubarak from office.

Protesters called for a million-man march on what they dubbed "the Friday of the last chance." A steady stream of men, women and children surged into Tahrir before weekly Muslim prayers, often the day of the biggest demonstrations of this year's "Arab Spring" uprisings across the region.

Some, like Atef Sayed, 45, with his wife and two daughters, were protesting for the very first time.

"We're here to back the idea that the military council hands responsibility to civilians and focuses on military affairs. Nine months have gone by with many things that have happened in a way opposite to what the revolutionaries wanted," he said.

But enthusiasm for the protests was not universal.

About 5,000 people waving Egyptian flags demonstrated in favor of the military rulers in Cairo's Abbassiya district.

"The people want the emptying of the square," shouted the demonstrators, watched by hundreds of people on flyover bridges. A banner read: "Egypt will not be governed from Tahrir square."

Activists who tried to organize a march to Tahrir from a mosque in the capital's Shubra neighborhood were rebuffed.

"The army council will leave in six months. We have elections in three days. What do these people want?" asked one worshipper angrily. "They are hired to start trouble."

In its strongest statement on Egypt's turmoil so far, the White House stepped up pressure on the military rulers to speed up the handover to civilian control.

"Full transfer of power to a civilian government must take place in a just and inclusive manner that responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people, as soon as possible," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.

"The United States strongly believes that the new Egyptian government must be empowered with real authority immediately."


The army, once hailed for its role in easing Mubarak from power, has come under increasing fire for dragging out a handover to civilian rule, even as Egypt's economy falters.

Many protesters say they do not trust the army to oversee a fair election next week.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which along with some other groups accepted army plans for a faster transition, wants the election to go ahead, drawing scorn from some protesters who say the Brotherhood is focused only on gaining seats in parliament.

The Brotherhood organized a protest last Friday against army efforts to shape a new constitution, but left Tahrir as protests widened. It held a separate rally this Friday at al-Azhar mosque for the "liberation" of Jerusalem from Israeli control.

The Health Ministry said 41 people have died in the week's violence, state television reported. More than 2,000 people were also wounded in the unrest in Cairo and several other cities.

The latest upheaval makes it even harder to dig the economy out of a crisis whose first victims are the millions of poor Egyptians whose frustration spurred the revolt against Mubarak.

Egypt's central bank unexpectedly raised interest rates on Thursday for the first time in more than two years, after depleting its foreign reserves trying to defend a currency weakened by the political chaos.

In fresh blows to confidence, the Egyptian pound weakened to more than six to the dollar for the first time since January 2005, and Standard & Poor's cut Egypt's credit rating.

The economic woes may argue in favor of Ganzouri, whose government virtually balanced the budget, cut inflation, held the exchange rate stable and maintained healthy foreign currency reserves during his time in office from 1996 to 1999.

He introduced some economic liberalization measures and many Egyptians viewed him as an official who was not tainted by corruption. But his record serving under Mubarak could stir opposition from those demanding a clean break with the past.

Some Facebook activists derided the choice of a Mubarak-era man to steer the country into a new era, listing four ancient pharaohs as useful alternatives if Ganzouri turns the job down.

"Tutankhamun is more suitable because he is from the youth," one said, referring to the boy king of ancient Egypt.

(Additional reporting by Shaimaa Fayed, Tamim Elyan, Dina Zayed and Ashraf Fahim; Writing by Alistair Lyon; Editing by Peter Graff)


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Friday, 25 November 2011

Love Isn't Easy. (OOC && Sign-Up)

Love Isn't Easy.


In most high schools around the world, you'll always find cliques, right? It as at Washington High School in Ohio. The "Golden Rule" at Washington High was to stay in your clique, and only in your clique. It was breaking the rule when you were to talk to someone else who was not in your group, and it was definitely against the rule to date anybody outside of your clique. If you did these things and anyone in your group found out, you would be considered a total outcast in the school. In Washington High, there are four main cliques. You had the preps who ruled the school, the nerds who were on the lower level of the chain, but they had brains and they are so intelligent. Then there are the musicians, they love the arts. The musicians can sing, dance, act, play instruments, you name it. Finally, you had your "others". The others were different, they were themselves, so they belong in a group all their own. In senior year of high school, things start to change. The young adults in the cliques come to a realization that... it was just stupid. They knew, however, if they broke the Golden Rule, they would become loners, who were at the very bottom of the chain. Eight people, a male and female from each clique, are chosen for a vacation over spring break, everything being paid for by the school, a vacation to Rome. A very romantic place. Sunday night, these different people board a plane, heading to Rome, not knowing anyone else. But while on vacation, sparks fly... but with someone different... someone from another clique. What will happen when the vacation ends and they go back in two weeks?


1.) Please no god-modding. Play your own character.
2.) Use realistic images only, no anime.
3.) Use the character templete I have provided.
4.) Keep all your cussing to a bare minimum.
5.) This is a semi-literate to a literate role-play, so be able to post more then just a paragraph. I understand writers block sometimes, but at LEAST avoid one-liners!
6.) To start out with, play one character, but after a couple of days and no one joins, you may double as a remaining character.
7.) To prove you read the rules, put your character's name in any color.
8.) Have a great time!


Prep Girl;;Raleigh Maria Collins;;Aika
Prep Guy;;Noah Jo?l Nicholson;;Winds of Fate
Nerd Girl;;Jane Marie Sanders;;Reserved for thelittlethings?
Nerd Guy;;__________;;
Musician Girl;;_________;;Reserved for Sarcasm
Musician Guy;;Jeffery Daniel Schroeder;;Sehnsucht.
Other Girl;;Umbriel Beatrix Merlin;;Reserved for Sorella
Other Guy;;_________;;

Character Sheet

Code: Select all
[center][size=150]Full Name.[/size][/center]
[right][img]Realistic Image.[/img][/right]
[size=85][b]Nickname:[/b] [i]what you'll go by.[/i]
[b]Character:[/b] [i]you you'll be playing.[/i]
[b]Age:[/b] [i]17-19.[/i]
[b]Physical Appearance:[/b] [i]please describe with detail.[/i]
[b]Personality:[/b] [i]detail.[/i]
[b]Secret Crush:[/b] [i]leave blank for now.[/i]
[b]Extra:[/b] [i]other information.[/i]


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Silent treatment creates a gem with 'The Artist' (AP)

LOS ANGELES ? "The Artist" is a dream for film fans, a dilemma for movie-marketing executives.

In an age of widescreen 3-D, rainbow-colored, star-driven spectacles, how do you sell a black-and-white film shot in a 2-D boxy format, with no A-listers and barely a word of spoken dialogue?

There's only one answer. Make people love it so much they do the selling for you, talking it up as one of the freshest, cleverest and sweetest nights out at the movies they've had in a while.

A throwback to the silent-film era, "The Artist" has been winning over audiences since premiering at last May's Cannes Film Festival and could become the first serious silent contender at the Academy Awards since the earliest years of the Oscars.

A couple of years ago, French writer-director Michel Hazanavicius felt utterly alone thinking that a silent movie might have a place in today's digital cinema era.

"It's something I had in mind for a long, long time, but it's very hard to find the money," Hazanavicius said at September's Toronto International Film Festival, where "The Artist" also played. "It was like a fantasy. Oh, my dream would be to produce a silent movie. And people would say, `Yeah, yeah, but in real life, what do you want to do?'"

Then came Hazanavicius' two "OSS 117" spy spoofs, both hits in France. With fresh box-office clout, he pitched his silent-movie idea to producer Thomas Langmann.

"Everybody thought I was crazy, and then I found someone more crazy than I was," Hazanavicius said. "He said, `OK, let's do it.'"

Hazanavicius recruited French star Jean Dujardin, his "OSS 117" leading man, for the title role of "The Artist," 1920s Hollywood silent-film sensation George Valentin, whose fortunes abruptly slide as the sound era takes over.

As George tumbles from the top to the bottom, rising talkies star Peppy Miller (Hazanavicius' wife, Berenice Bejo), becomes a guardian angel trying to look out for her former idol.

Shot in Los Angeles, "The Artist" grandly recreates old Hollywood and beautifully weaves from comedy to melodrama, lively action to clever dance numbers. Almost all of the scant dialogue is told the old-fashioned way ? through title cards ? but "The Artist" is far from silent. The film features a gorgeous, jazzy musical score and brilliant sound effects that pop from the speakers during otherwise hushed sequences.

While Dujardin and Bejo are relatively unknown to U.S. audiences, the supporting cast includes such Hollywood regulars as John Goodman, James Cromwell, Missi Pyle, Malcolm McDowell and Penelope Ann Miller. The film also co-stars a scene-stealing canine, Uggie, a Jack Russell terrier who is George's constant companion and co-star in his big-screen silent adventures.

"The Artist" picked up Harvey and Bob Weinstein as executive producers, whose Weinstein Co. is distributing the film domestically and aiming to do what the brothers do best ? attract Oscar attention that can make a mainstream hit out of an art house film.

"Marketing is strictly word of mouth. It's almost impossible to market, but I do think that everyone who sees it falls in love with it," said Erik Lomis, head of distribution for Weinstein. "I think it's a picture that can play everywhere, and I think it will play everywhere. It's just going to take some time to gestate in the market place."

The film already is a hit in France, where it opened in October. It debuts Friday in four New York City and Los Angeles theaters, and Weinstein will gradually roll it out to the rest of the country during the buildup to the Jan. 24 Oscar nominations.

"The Artist" has a strong shot at a best-picture nomination in a field that could include such heavy-hitters as Steven Spielberg's "War Horse," David Fincher's "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," George Clooney's "The Descendants" and Brad Pitt's "Moneyball."

Charles Chaplin continued making silent films into the 1930s, and other filmmakers occasionally have tried it, notably Mel Brooks with his 1976 comedy "Silent Movie." But a feature-length silent film has not competed for best picture since the late 1920s, when "Wings" and "Sunrise" took the top honors at the very first Oscars and the acting prizes went to performers in silent films, Emil Jannings and Janet Gaynor.

Even with an over-abundance of strong performances for the upcoming Oscars, "The Artist" might have acting prospects, too. Bejo's Peppy is a charming spitfire, while Dujardin won the best-actor prize at Cannes for "The Artist," a role that allowed him to emulate some of his early film heroes.

"There were lots of influences I took from, for example, Gene Kelly or someone like Douglas Fairbanks," Dujardin said. "Also, what I have to offer is very instinctual. I just let it go. ... Almost a fantasy, like imagining how would I be if I was kind of a big star, a little infatuated with myself at the end of the `20s, who's kind of extremely enthusiastic and at the same time happy. At the same time, a little naive. There's also a slight schizophrenic side to him."

"The Artist" arrives during a holiday crush of comedies, action flicks, family films and other Hollywood blockbusters that have colossal advertising budgets behind them.

Hazanavicius hopes audiences come out for his quaint little silent film, but it's now up to fans to do the talking and persuade other people to turn up.

"It's not really my problem. I made the movie I wanted to see, and now I've seen it and I'm happy with it. If people want to come, they will come. If they won't, I can't go in the house of everybody and say, `You, go to see a black-and-white silent movie!' I'm not Stalin. It's a free country," Hazanavicius said.

"I'm sure that people are scared. Everybody was scared from the very beginning. But they have to trust themselves, and they will enjoy it, if they come."




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Thursday, 24 November 2011

Poor recycling of BACE1 enzyme could promote Alzheimer's disease

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sluggish recycling of a protein-slicing enzyme could promote Alzheimer's disease, according to a study published online on November 21 in The Journal of Cell Biology (

Abeta, the toxic protein that accumulates in the brains of Alzheimer's patients, is formed when enzymes cut up its parental protein, known as amyloid precursor protein. One of those enzymes is beta-secretase or BACE1. BACE1 cycles between the Golgi apparatus and the plasma membrane, traveling through endosomes on the way. A protein complex called the retromer helps transport proteins back from endosomes to the Golgi. Previous studies have found reduced levels of two retromer components, including the protein VPS35, in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease.

To find out whether VPS35 affects Alzheimer's disease progression, Wen-Cheng Xiong and colleagues crossed two mouse lines to create animals that are prone to many symptoms of the disease and generate half the normal amount of VPS35. The mice displayed Alzheimer's-like abnormalities earlier than their parental strains, and their brains accumulated more Abeta.

Cells lacking VPS35 carried extra BACE1 in their endosomes, consistent with a defect in retromer-mediated protein transport. BACE1 is more active in the acidic interior of endosomes than in the more basic surroundings of the Golgi apparatus. Thus, by leaving more BACE1 trapped in endosomes, the decline in VPS35 levels could enhance BACE1 activity and generate more Abeta. Although no VPS35 mutations have so far turned up in Alzheimer's patients, the protein's level in the brain dwindles in aging mice. The researchers suspect that certain Alzheimer's disease risk factors, such as oxidative stress, also diminish VPS35 levels in the brain.


Rockefeller University Press:

Thanks to Rockefeller University Press for this article.

This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.

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NBC apologizes to Bachmann for Fallon song choice (AP)

ST. PAUL, Minn. ? GOP Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann received an apology from an NBC executive after an off-color song was played during her appearance on Jimmy Fallon's "Late Night," her spokeswoman said late Wednesday.

The Minnesota congresswoman received a personal letter from NBC's vice president for late night programming, Doug Vaughan, a day after she appeared on the show. As Bachmann walked onstage, the show's band had played a snippet of a 1985 Fishbone song entitled "Lyin' Ass B----."

Vaughan wrote that the incident was "not only unfortunate but also unacceptable," Bachmann spokeswoman Alice Stewart told The Associated Press. She said Vaughn offered his sincerest apologies and said the band had been "severely reprimanded."

Fallon also apologized to Bachmann when they spoke earlier Wednesday, she said. He'd tweeted earlier, saying he was "so sorry about the intro mess."

"He was extremely nice and friendly and offered his apology, and she accepted it," Stewart said, adding that the comedian said he was unaware the band planned to play the song. "It's just unfortunate that someone had to do something so disrespectful."

Bachmann lashed out earlier Wednesday at NBC for not apologizing or taking immediate disciplinary action. In her first comments on the flap, Bachmann said on the Fox News Channel that the Fallon show band displayed sexism and bias by playing the song.

"This is clearly a form of bias on the part of the Hollywood entertainment elite," Bachmann said. She added, "This wouldn't be tolerated if this was Michelle Obama. It shouldn't be tolerated if it's a conservative woman either."

She went further on a national radio conservative radio show hosted by Michael Medved, calling the incident "inappropriate, outrageous and disrespectful."

On Fox, Bachmann expressed surprise that she's heard nothing from the TV network. She suggested that discipline for the show's band, The Roots, was in order. She said she believed Fallon's comments to be sincere.

One of Bachmann's congressional colleagues, New York Democrat Nita Lowey, had called on NBC to apologize for its "insulting and inappropriate" treatment of its guest.

An NBC spokeswoman didn't return a phone message from The Associated Press.

The Roots' bandleader, Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, has said the song was a "tongue-in-cheek and spur-of-the-moment decision."

Bachmann, who is lagging in presidential polls, has spent the week promoting her new autobiography in national television interviews.


AP Television Writer David Bauder in New York and Associated Press writer Erin Gartner in Chicago contributed to this report.


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Wednesday, 23 November 2011

PIC: Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield Hold Hands in New York City (omg!)

PIC: Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield Hold Hands in New York City

Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield are madly in love -- and they don't care who knows it!

The Amazing Spider-Man costars -- who have been dating since the spring -- walked hand-in-hand through New York City's East Village on Sunday, marking the first time the couple has shown affection in public. See more pictures of the couple on Just Jared.

PHOTOS: Emma Stone's style evolution

(Though Garfield has attended a handful of events with Stone in the past week, the couple refuses to be photographed together on the red carpet.)

PHOTOS: Stars who fell in love on set

On Saturday, the pair was even seen buying jelly donuts and kissing each other at the Donut Pub, a source tells Us Weekly.

What makes Garfield, 28, such a perfect match for Stone, 23?

PHOTOS: Stars as superheroes

"Andrew is one of the most giving actors I've ever worked with," The Help star told Teen Vogue in September. "If I needed to get to a place of love or sadness in a scene, he'd leave messages on my phone to replay, or slip in lines off camera for a different reaction than what was scripted. He gave me so much to react to."

Get more Us! Follow us on Twitter, Friend us on Facebook, Subscribe to Us Weekly


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Five Favorite Films with Kermit the Frog (and Miss Piggy Too!)

Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy have been big movie stars for many years, and now they're back with The Muppets, which opens in theaters this week. In their latest big screen adventure, Kermit and Piggy are joined by Muppet superfan Walter, as well as non-Muppets Gary (Jason Segel) and Mary (Amy Adams), who help to get the whole gang back together for a wild televised variety show that may help them to save their old Muppet Theater from the wrecking ball. In interviews with Rotten Tomatoes, Kermit (performed by Steve Whitmire) and Miss Piggy (performed by Eric Jacobson) shared a few of their favorite films (spoiler: Miss Piggy prefers her own movies), and also talked about their craziest fans and their longevity in the movie business. Without further ado, let's begin with Kermit the Frog's Five Favorite Films:

Kermit the Frog: Wow, do I have five favorite films? Well, I love The Wizard of Oz because of the rainbow; it's kind of an inspiration for me. That's a good one.

Quite frankly, I really like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It's one of my favorites.

What do you like about that one?

Well, Tim Curry. And I'm sorry he got so typecast in that because he's got such a broad range, but we worked with Tim in Muppet Treasure Island, and we actually sung some of those songs in between takes. Even in this movie we were singing them with Jason [Segel] and Amy [Adams].

Five films, wow. What else? I love Vanilla Sky.

You do?

I love it. It's so weird. It's like what happens to me when I sit on a log and stare at the water too long. I love that one. I'm giving you strange answers, aren't I?

No, no, this is great. You watch a lot of movies, then.

I do. I do, whenever I can.

Ooh, I thought of one! The Devil's Advocate.


The morals... I love that. I love that movie. That's one of my other favorites. Al Pacino, he's done a lot of stuff, but I think that's his best role. I love it.

I hesitate to say Deliverance, but I must say I like the banjo, so why don't we go with that? It was shot down in the swamp, where I'm from, and I think there's a pig scene, too, so there you go. We're all set.

Next, Kermit talks about working with Fozzie, his craziest fans, and how his family first got into show business.


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Tuesday, 22 November 2011

49 penguins freed after rescue from NZ oil spill (AP)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand ? Forty-nine penguins rescued from an oil spill off New Zealand have been set free after being cleaned and nursed back to health by wildlife officials.

The birds released Tuesday are among 343 little blue penguins that have been cleaned of oil since a cargo ship ran aground on a reef near Tauranga on Oct. 5 and spilled some 400 tons of fuel oil.

More than 2,000 sea birds died in the spill.

The penguins were nursed back to health at a wildlife facility manned by specialists from New Zealand, Australia and the United States. They were fitted with microchips so they can be monitored after their release.

Wildlife Response Manager Kerri Morgan says it's important that wild penguins do not remain in captivity for too long because they can develop injuries and illnesses.


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Monday, 21 November 2011

CrunchBase Reveals: The Largest Seed And Angel Fundings From The Past Thirty Days

Screen Shot 2011-11-21 at 1.25.55 PMAs many of you already know, CrunchBase is a big, free resource for anyone trying to get the latest information on hot new startups, or competitors to their own hot new startups, the investing focus of various investors, and much more. The thing is, CrunchBase isn't used all that much on TechCrunch itself beyond the widgets you see at the end of articles. So, I'm going to start testing out a variety of posts with the goal of surfacing new and interesting information for all of you. To kick things off, I'll take a brief look at the largest seed and angel funding rounds that we recorded over the last 30 days -- you'll see just how big some of these rounds have been getting. But before I get into that, though, here are a few thoughts on using CrunchBase on TechCrunch.


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How Russia's Martian moon probe got stuck orbiting Earth

Launched Tuesday, Russia's Phobos-Grunt spacecraft was meant to explore the Martian moon Phobos. But, in what could mark the fourth Mars probe failure in a row, Phobos-Grunt now threatens to become another piece of space junk uselessly orbiting Earth.?

A robotic Russian spacecraft that launched on a mission to the Mars moon Phobos Tuesday (Nov. 8) is apparently stuck in Earth orbit, but hope for the probe is not lost yet, according to news reports.

Skip to next paragraph

The?Phobos-Grunt spacecraft launched?at 3:16 p.m. EST (2016 GMT) Tuesday and was supposed to be on its way to Phobos by now. The probe separated from its Zenit rocket properly, but its own thrusters then failed to fire in order to send the spacecraft streaking toward Mars, Russian officials said.

"It has been a tough night for us because we could not detect the spacecraft [after the separation]," Russian space agency chief Vladimir Popovkin said, Russian news agency?RIA Novosti reported. "Now we know its coordinates and we found out that the [probe's] engine failed to start."

Popovkin added that engineers aren't yet sure why Phobos-Grunt's engine didn't ignite, according to RIA Novosti. It's possible the onboard computers didn't send the proper command, he said.

Whatever the cause, the malfunction dealt a serious blow to the?$163 million Phobos-Grunt mission, which aims to grab bits of Phobos' surface and send them back to Earth by 2014. But there may still be hope for the spacecraft, Russia's first attempt at an interplanetary mission since 1996.

"We will attempt to reboot the program," RIA Novosti reported Popovkin as saying. "The spacecraft is currently on a support orbit, the fuel tanks have not been jettisoned, and the fuel has not been spent."

Engineers have about three days to figure out and fix the problem, Popovkin added. After that time, Phobos-Grunt's batteries will run out, and the spacecraft will likely turn into just another piece of space debris. [Photos: Russia's Phobos-Grunt Mission to Mars Moon]

Phobos-Grunt is also carrying China's first Mars probe, a small spacecraft called Yinghuo 1, that is supposed to separate from Phobos-Grunt and enter orbit around Mars.

If Phobos-Grunt cannot be salvaged, it would mark the fourth straight Mars failure for Russia.

The nation's Phobos 1 and Phobos 2 spacecraft, which launched in July 1988, suffered critical failures before their missions were complete. And the Mars 96 probe crashed into the Pacific Ocean shortly after liftoff in November 1996.

Russia is not alone in suffering setbacks with Mars missions. Historically, about half of all missions aimed at the Red Planet have failed, according to NASA records.

NASA also currently plans to launch a new U.S. mission to Mars this month. The $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory mission will send a car-size rover called Curiosity to explore the huge Gale crater on Mars.

Several spacecraft are actively studying Mars today. They include orbiting spacecraft operated by NASA and the European Space Agency, as well as NASA's Opportunity rover on the planet's surface.

You can follow senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter:?@michaeldwall. Follow for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter?@Spacedotcom?and on?Facebook.


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Saturday, 19 November 2011

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Privatizing Liberty

As Mayor Bloomberg's forces swooped down on Occupy Wall Street, news reports described the "hundreds of police and private security guards" who had re-taken Zuccotti Park. Those private guards were used against public citizens who had been exercising their civil liberties in a public area.

That's not just wrong. It's un-American.

This incident holds an important lesson for anyone who loves our freedoms: When something public is made private, our liberties are privatized too. And privatized liberty isn't liberty at all.

Privatizing Liberty

Zuccotti Park. New Yorkers knew it as Liberty Plaza Park for nearly half a century. Like other sites in New York, the plaza was created through an agreement between the city and a private company, United States Steel, that wanted to erect a building that exceeded the city's height limits. So the city made them a deal: You can take up more than your share of the public skyline, but in return you have to give the city some open space at ground level.

This wasn't a gift. It was a fair exchange between two parties, a private corporation and the people of New York. The people gave up a chunk of their skyline and the owner agreed to provide an open - and, by agreement, fully public - space in return. New York City makes these deals fairly often. The plazas created by these agreements are called "privately owned public spaces," or "POPS," and the city has lots of them.

The Mayor may want to read that phrase again: It doesn't say "privately owned private spaces." Both the owner and the city are obligated to keep them for public use, in the public sphere, with all the laws and freedoms that apply to public space.

The park's current owner, Brookfield Properties, rebuilt the park with private donations after it was damaged in the 9/11 attacks. With Mayor Bloomberg's permission, they also overstepped tradition and the bounds of propriety by renaming the park - not for the thousands of innocent people who died that day, but for their own chairman.

The symbolism is perfect:They replaced a treasured word for freedom with the name of a rich guy who'd done nothing to create the park. With the Mayor's blessing, they literally privatized the word "liberty."

Like I said, perfect. Tragic, but perfect.

Private Dicks

Brookfield overstepped its bounds when its CEO sent the mayor a letter saying that the Occupation "violates the law, violates the rules of the Park, deprives the community of its rights of quiet enjoyment to the Park, and creates health and public safety issues." Those aren't decisions a private company, even an owner, should make about a public space. They are judgments an elected official makes on behalf of a free citizenry.

This week Bloomberg and Brookfield have used the park's semi-private status as an excuse to invade a public space with a private security force. Whoever these guys were - besides rude and uncivil - they served as a kind of Blackwater militia, but targeting New Yorkers instead of Iraqis. (At least Brookfield says it fired the guard who called a citizen a "faggot.")

When it comes to privatization, it seems the Mayor has boundary issues. He has repeatedly used the park's private ownership status to claim, that the public has fewer rights there than it does in other public spaces. That's false. But then, that's the problem with "public/private partnerships." The "public" partner always gets rolled the public one.

But then, that's how these people are. Give 'em an inch and they'll take a mile. The lesson of Zuccotti Park is: Never give them an inch.

Thin Blue Line, Thick Green Wallets

News reports made noted the presence of two different groups, New York City police officers and private security guards, but in some ways that's become a distinction without a difference. The NYPD is frequently rented by the same Wall Street banks that broke the law, crashed the economy and got away with it. As Pam Martens reported in Counterpunch, Rudy Giuliani created an operation called the "Paid Detail" unit that turns New York's Finest into a "rent-a-cop" service for anyone with the money to pay for it.

And who has more money in New York than the banks? As Martens reports, companies like Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, and the New York Stock Exchange have rented the Thin Blue Line with the cash from their Thick Green Wallets. Even after the Stock Exchange was found to have illegally taken over public streets and walkways and "created a public nuisance," nobody was fined or arrested.

But then, it must be hard for a cop to arrest anybody that he sometimes has to address as "boss." Maybe that's one of the reasons why a retired Philadelphia police officer, Capt. Ray Lewis, was willing to be handcuffed and arrested by fellow officers during the protest. Capt. Lewis called their rationale for arresting him a 'farce' and promised to return.

New York isn't the only city that rents out its police force. But as the home of Wall Street and the financial capital of the nation, it bears moral and civic responsibilities that Mayors Guiliani and Bloomberg have disrespected and violated. The city's police deserve better.

Checkbook Democracy

But then, why would Michael Bloomberg be expected to understand that privatization is undemocratic? He "privatized" the electoral process, one of our most sacred democratic institutions, by buying himself the mayoralty. And he spent unprecedented levels of campaign cash from his personal billions to do it. Then, when he didn't like the term limits that the people of New York had decreed for their mayor - well, he "privatized" that too.

But this isn't really about Michael Bloomberg. Despite his reputation for healthy self-regard, even the billionaire mayor is only a symptom of a much larger problem. Rich people have been buying elections for so long that it's become the newest form of self-indulgence, conveying even more status than a Citation jet or a private island. Public office is the newest must-have item for the excessively vain and excessive well-to-do, a kind of vanity press for the self-published authors of their own meritless political careers. Bloomberg is merely the today's most conspicuous, extravagant, and fiscally irresponsible member of an increasingly ordinary club.

You don't have to be a billionaire to run for office these days, of course. But if you're not you'll spend most of your time begging them for money. No wonder the 1% call all the shots in government. They own it.

I've always thought it would be a good idea if elected officials wore the insignia of the corporations that sponsor them, the way race car drivers do.

Sold American

Republicans want to privatize Social Security and Medicare. The Bush and Obama Administrations have privatized law enforcement on Wall Street by asking banks to police themselves. And during the devastating San Diego fires, residents learned that AIG had created a private fire department that saved the homes of its clients while other nearby houses burned.

Privatized police. Privatized fire departments. Privatized prisons. Privatized armies of Halliburton and Blackwater soldiers. When for-profit companies perform government functions, they'll do it in a way that makes them money. That's not hard to understand, but our "leaders" keep doing it anyway.

Why? Because they've privatized their consciences, too.




Follow Richard (RJ) Eskow on Twitter:


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Friday, 18 November 2011

A GOP debt plan would hit some popular tax breaks (AP)

WASHINGTON ? Millions of taxpayers who take advantage of deductions for mortgage interest, charitable donations and state and local taxes would be targeted for potential tax hikes under a GOP plan to raise taxes by $290 billion over the next decade to help reduce the nation's deficit.

Some workers could also see their employer-provided health benefits taxed for the first time, though aides cautioned that the proposal is still fluid.

The plan by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who serves on the 12-member debt supercommittee, would raise revenue by limiting the tax breaks enjoyed by people who itemize their deductions, in exchange for lower overall tax rates for families at every income level. Taxpayers who already take the standard deduction instead of itemizing ? about two-thirds of filers ? could see tax cuts. The one-third of taxpayers who itemize their deductions might find themselves paying more.

The top income tax rate would fall from 35 percent to 28 percent, and the bottom rate would drop from 10 percent to 8 percent. The rates between would be reduced as well.

About 50 million households itemized their deductions in 2009, according to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation. About 35 million households claimed the mortgage interest deduction, and 36 million deducted charitable donations. Nearly 41 million claimed deductions for paying state and local taxes.

A GOP congressional aide said the plan is designed to raise taxes on households in the top two tax brackets. That would affect individuals making more than $174,400 and married couples making more than $212,300.

Some Republicans say the plan offers a potential breakthrough in deficit-reduction talks that have stalled over GOP opposition to tax hikes and Democrats' objection to cuts in benefit programs without significant revenue increases.

But Republicans are becoming increasingly divided over the issue of raising taxes. A growing number of Republicans in Congress say they would support a tax reform package that increases revenues, if it is coupled with significant spending cuts, enough to reduce the deficit by about $4 trillion over the next decade.

The so-called "go big" strategy has been endorsed by a bipartisan group of about 150 lawmakers from the House and Senate. A rival group of 72 House Republicans sent a letter to the supercommittee Thursday, urging members to oppose any tax increases.

"We must recognize that increasing the tax burden on American businesses and citizens, especially during a fragile recovery, is irresponsible and dangerous to the health of the United States," said the letter, circulated by Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C.

Democrats, meanwhile, have panned Toomey's plan, saying the rate reductions would cut taxes for the wealthy so much that taxes on the middle class would have to be raised. They also argue that Toomey's plan would generate less revenue than advertised.

They note that Toomey's plan assumes that tax cuts enacted under former President George W. Bush, and extended through 2012 under President Barack Obama, would continue. Toomey's plan would then cut the tax rates even more.

Republicans say Toomey's tax overhaul plan would increase tax revenue by $250 billion over the next decade. An additional $40 billion would be raised by using a new measure of inflation to adjust the tax brackets each year. Annual adjustments to the tax brackets would be smaller, resulting in more people jumping into higher tax brackets as their incomes rise.

The supercommittee has a Wednesday deadline to come up with a plan to reduce government borrowing by at least $1.2 trillion over the next decade. If the panel fails, $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts to domestic and military programs would take effect in 2013.

Some details of Toomey's plan remain in flux, in part because he is open to changes to help forge an agreement, said the GOP aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private negotiations. The aide confirmed that Toomey's plan is closely modeled after a proposal by three experts at the National Bureau of Economic Research, a private research organization perhaps best known for deciding when recessions begin and end.

The three experts are Martin Feldstein, a Harvard University professor who was President Ronald Regan's chief economic adviser; Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget; and Daniel Feenberg, a research associate at the bureau.

Under their plan, the tax benefits from itemizing deductions and excluding employer-provided health insurance from taxable income would be limited to 2 percent of taxpayer's adjusted gross income.

That means if a taxpayer has an adjusted gross income of $50,000, deductions and exemptions could reduce his or her tax bill by a maximum of $1,000.

Taxpayers who face limits on their tax breaks could opt to take the standard deduction instead. Currently, about one-third of tax filers itemize their deductions. The rest claim the standard deduction, which in 2011 is $5,800 for individuals and $11,600 for married couples filing jointly.

The plan envisions millions of additional taxpayers switching to the standard deduction, which would simplify their returns, MacGuineas said.

Policymakers across the political spectrum agree the federal tax code is too complicated, and most agree on a basic formula for simplifying it: Reduce tax breaks and use the additional revenue to lower the overall tax rates for everyone.

There is little agreement, however, on which tax breaks to target.

Toomey's plan attempts to sidestep debates over which tax breaks to target and instead proposes to limit taxpayers' overall ability to reduce their tax bills.

"This is a far more practical way to start to scale back the influence and costs of tax expenditures in the code by kind of glopping them together and capping them," MacGuineas said. "You're not picking the winners and losers."


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Republican Candidates on Abortion (ContributorNetwork)

Even though most Americans mention the economy as the most important problem facing the nation, abortion is still the most divisive topic. According to Gallup, the country is split almost 50-50 on the legality of abortion and this divide has remained virtually constant for more than 25 years.

It is a debate that is particularly intense because it deals with people's morals. Notice the principled desire to uphold justice in the severity of the opposing views: some view abortion as infanticide, murder. Others see it as a completely moral, personal choice for a woman.

The debate becomes even more complex when one takes into account the different nuances positions that exist. Given this context, it is essential to have a sense of where the candidates stand on abortion before voting. Here are some quotes and excerpts on abortion by each of the major Republican candidates:

Ron Paul

* Would define "life as beginning at conception by passing a 'Sanctity of Life Act.'"

* Would repeal Roe v. Wade and preventing activist judges from interfering with state decisions on life by removing abortion from federal court jurisdiction through legislation modeled after his 'We the People Act.'"

* Paul has a pro-life ad that can be seen here.

Herman Cain

* "What it comes down to is not the government's role or anybody else's role to make that decision. Secondly, if you look at the statistical incidents, you're not talking about that big a number. So what I'm saying is it ultimately gets down to a choice that that family or that mother has to make."

* "Yesterday in an interview with Piers Morgan on CNN, I was asked questions about abortion policy and the role of the president. I understood the thrust of the question to ask whether that I, as president, would simply 'order' people to not seek an abortion. My answer was focused on the role of the President. The President has no constitutional authority to order any such action by anyone. That was the point I was trying to convey. As to my political policy view on abortion, I am 100% pro-life. End of story."

Mitt Romney

* "I am pro-life and believe that abortion should be limited to only instances of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. I support the reversal of Roe v. Wade, because it is bad law and bad medicine. Roe was a misguided ruling that was a result of a small group of activist federal judges legislating from the bench. I support the Hyde Amendment, which broadly bars the use of federal funds for abortions. And as president, I will support efforts to prohibit federal funding for any organization like Planned Parenthood, which primarily performs abortions or offers abortion-related services.

* "I will advocate for and support a Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act to protect unborn children who are capable of feeling pain from abortion. And perhaps most importantly, I will only appoint judges who adhere to the Constitution and the laws as they are written, not as they want them to be written."

Newt Gingrich

* "I think that abortion should not be legal, and I think that how you would implement that I'm not sure."

* "People should select adoption rather than abortion and that choosing abortion is not acceptable."

* "I think that Planned Parenthood should be defunded, and I think it's a very significant issue to say to people, 'Should your tax money go to pay the leading abortion provider in America?'"


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Thursday, 17 November 2011

House GOP leader Cantor says deficit deal likely (AP)

WASHINGTON ? Sidestepping controversy, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., declined to take sides Monday on a proposal for higher tax revenues backed by fellow Republicans on Congress' supercommittee, yet expressed confidence the panel would agree on a deficit-reduction plan of at least $1.2 trillion by a Nov. 23 deadline.

A proposal for $300 billion in higher taxes has stirred grumbling within the ranks of congressional Republicans, for whom opposition to such measures has been political bedrock for more than two decades.

Two of the party's presidential hopefuls said Monday they wouldn't support any committee deficit-reduction plan that includes higher taxes.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, campaigning in Iowa, said he would "do everything in my power to defeat" any such proposal.

A spokesman for Rick Perry said the Texas governor "wants to look at details but if those details include a tax increase he's not going to be for it. He does not favor higher taxes," added David Miner.

Additionally, officials said that Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who outlined the plan last week in a closed-door meeting of four Republicans and three Democrats, has encountered criticism from fellow conservatives despite strong credentials as an opponent of higher taxes. "There's been a little bit, but it's been pretty muted," his spokeswoman, Nachama Soloveichik, said of the response.

Cantor's spokeswoman turned aside several emailed requests for the majority leader's views on the proposal. She said he hadn't seen the plan, and she referred to his comments at a news conference earlier in the day when he told reporters, "I'm not going to be opining as to any reports, hypotheticals or anything connected with their work."

Despite that pledge, Cantor was bullish in predicting agreement before the deadline and adding that a fallback requirement to cut $1.2 trillion from domestic and defense programs wouldn't be triggered.

The committee has been at work for two months, hoping to succeed at a task that has defied the best efforts of high-ranking political leaders past and present.

Despite intense talks late last week, there has been little indication of progress as age-old political divisions have re-emerged.

The principal stumbling blocks revolve around taxes on the one hand, and the large federal programs of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security on the other.

Democrats are unwilling to agree to cuts in benefit programs unless Republicans will accept higher taxes, particularly on the highest-income individuals and families.

Republicans counter that out-of-control spending largely accounts for the government's enormous budget deficits, and they say raising taxes will only complicate efforts to help the economy recover from the worst recession in more than seven decades.

At the same time, each side is grappling with the possible political consequences of the committee's work, with an eye on the 2012 campaign for control of the White House and Congress.

Liberal Democrats are highly reluctant to agree to curbs on programs the party has long been identified with, and last week members on the supercommittee jettisoned an earlier proposal to slow the rise in cost-of-living benefits for Social Security recipients.

The same goes for conservatives, many of whom fear the possible political cost of changing their positions in order to pursue a less-than-certain bipartisan compromise on deficit reduction.

Many GOP office holders have signed a pledge circulated by Americans for Tax Reform not to vote for higher taxes. The organization is led by Grover Norquist, a conservative activist, although in comments to reporters Cantor suggested that influence by an outsider isn't the dominant concern.

"It's not about Grover Norquist. It's about commitments that people made to the electorate they represent, the people that sent them here. That's what it's about," he said.

Republicans on the committee hailed Toomey's proposal last week as a breakthrough and a concession that could open the way to a deal.

But Democrats were dismissive, saying it amounted to a tax cut in disguise for the wealthy ? the very taxpayers that they and Obama say should pay more. According to numerous officials, Toomey's proposal envisioned an additional $250 billion in revenue emerging from a sweeping revision of the tax code that would bring the top rate down from 35 percent to 28 percent while reducing or eliminating many commonly used itemized deductions.

In an interview on Sunday, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, co-chairman of the supercommittee said that while Republicans believe that higher tax revenues will hurt the economy, "within the context of the bipartisan negotiation with Democrats, clearly they are a reality."

He said that whatever "damage would be done by $250 billion of new taxes we think would be offset by a system that would help create jobs. And as we're dealing with the debt crisis, we don't want to make the jobs crisis even worse. So that's what has been put on the table."

Jordan, R-Ohio, posted his dissent hours later in USA Today, although he refrained from criticizing any Republican directly.

"Balance doesn't mean `half-right, half-wrong,' he wrote, referring to Obama's calls for a deficit-cutting plan that includes higher taxes and spending cuts. "It means you don't fall over." Jordan is chairman of the Republican Study Committee, an organization of conservative GOP members of the House.


Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor in Washington and Thomas Beaumont in Iowa contributed to this story.


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