Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Trouble With Corporate Taxes

The Trouble With Corporate Taxes.Introduction

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for an overhaul of the corporate tax code. The federal corporate tax rate is 35 percent, higher than in almost any other country. But because the tax code is replete with loopholes, the government actually raises less money from corporations than in previous decades.

As David Leonhardt writes, some companies have paid less than 10 percent tax, and companies in the same industry often paid very different rates, even when they were similar in size. The system encourages companies to devote enormous amounts of time and effort to finding loopholes. Those that successfully use tax breaks would probably resist change.

How hard would it be to reform the corporate tax? Where should we start?

Democrats Defeat Attempt to Repeal Health Care Law (REMEMBER when you get sick and have not health money or go bankrupt because you got sick DON'T VOTE REPUBLICAN dummy!)

WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats on Wednesday defeated a bid by Republicans to repeal last year’s sweeping health care overhaul, as they successfully mounted a party-line defense of President Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement.

Challenges to the law, however, will continue both on Capitol Hill and in the courts, with the United States Supreme Court ultimately expected to decide if the health care law is Constitutional.

The vote was 47 to 51, with all Republicans voting unanimously for repeal but falling 13 votes short of the 60 needed to advance their proposal.

Lawmakers in both parties joined forces, however, to repeal a tax provision in the health care law that would impose a huge information-reporting requirement on small businesses. That vote was 81 to 17, with 34 Democrats and all 47 Republicans in favor.

Senators Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, and Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, were absent.

Republicans said after the votes that they would persist in their efforts to overturn the law. Rejecting assertions that the repeal vote was a “futile act,” Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, declared, “These are the first steps in a long road that will culminate in 2012.”

Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota and a potential presidential candidate in 2012, noted that Republicans had just 40 votes when they opposed the health care bill last year, but had 47 as a result of winning seats in November.

“Elections do have consequences,” Mr. Thune said.

The vote to eliminate the tax provision offered a brief moment of consensus on a day otherwise characterized by angry partisan disagreement. In the latest reprise of last year’s fierce debate over the health care law, senators cross rhetorical swords for hours of floor debate.

Republicans denounced the overhaul as impeding job creation and giving the government too big a role in the health care system. Democrats highlighted the law’s benefits, especially for the uninsured, and noted that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has projected that the law would reduce future federal deficits.

Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, who is an ophthalmologist, cited the law’s requirement that nearly all Americans obtain insurance as evidence that it was unconstitutional and overly intrusive.

“If you can regulate inactivity, basically the non-act of not buying insurance, then there is no aspect to our life that would left free from government regulation and intrusion,” Mr. Paul said. He added, “From my perspective as a physician, I saw that we already had too much government involvement in health care.”

Mubarak’s Allies and Foes Clash in Egypt

CAIRO — President Hosni Mubarak struck back at his opponents on Wednesday, unleashing waves of his supporters armed with clubs, rocks, knives and firebombs in a concerted assault on thousands of antigovernment protesters in Tahrir Square calling for an end to his authoritarian rule.

Early Thursday morning, shots were fired at the anti-Mubarak protesters, a number of witnesses said. It was unclear whether the shots came from the pro-government demonstrators or from the military forces stationed in the square.

Two people were killed by the gunfire and 45 people were wounded, said a doctor at a nearby emergency clinic set up by the antigovernment demonstrators. After the gunshots, soldiers fired their weapons into the air, temporarily scattering most of the people in the square.

On Wednesday, the protesters, after first trying to respond peacefully to the Mubarak supporters, fought back with rocks and firebombs of their own. Scores of the wounded were carried back on cardboard stretchers to a makeshift clinic set up in a nearby mosque, where they were treated by dozens of doctors.

By 9 p.m. on Wednesday, government officials said, about 600 people had been wounded and three killed in the day’s battles; more than 150 people have died in the week of violence, human rights groups say. The crackdown was in defiance of calls by the United States and Europe to avoid violence, and it provoked swift condemnation and a rift with the Egyptian government, a longstanding ally.

In another sign of the shifting landscape in the Middle East, another authoritarian government made a concession to protesters as the president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, said neither he nor his son would run for office in the next election.

The Egyptian military, with tanks and soldiers stationed around the square, neither stopped the violence on Wednesday nor attacked the protesters. Soldiers watched from behind the iron fence of the Egyptian Museum, occasionally shooting their water cannons, but only to extinguish flames ignited by the firebombs.

Only two days after the military pledged not to fire on protesters, it was unclear where the army stood. Many protesters argued that Mr. Mubarak was provoking a confrontation in order to prompt a military crackdown.

It is also possible that the military was satisfied with his decision to step down, perhaps fearful of the more radical shift to democratic elections that protesters are calling for.

Mohamed ElBaradei, who was designated to negotiate with the government on behalf of the opposition, demanded that the army move in and protect the protesters. “The army has to take a stand,” he said in a television interview. “I expect the Egyptian Army to interfere today.”

The deployment of plainclothes forces paid by Mr. Mubarak’s ruling party — men known here as baltageya — has been a hallmark of the Mubarak government, and there were many signs that the violence was carefully choreographed.

The Mubarak supporters emerged from buses. They carried the same flags and the same printed signs, and they all escalated their actions, from shouting to violence, at exactly the same moment: 2:15 p.m. The protesters showed journalists police and ruling party identification cards that they said had been taken from Mubarak supporters who had been caught infiltrating Tahrir Square, also known as Liberation Square, and detained in a holding pen.

The preparations for a confrontation began Wednesday morning, a day after Mr. Mubarak pledged to step down in September while insisting that he would die on Egyptian soil. The president’s supporters waved flags as though they were headed to a protest, but armed themselves as though they were itching for a fight. Several wore hard hats; one had a meat cleaver and two others grabbed the raw materials to make firebombs from their car.

One man washed his pliers in a pool of dirty sewage, before charging into a battle. Another man held a club wrapped in electrical tape and studded with tacks. Others carried knives, rubber tubes and chains. Before they laid siege to Tahrir Square in what seemed to be coordinated waves, they hid those weapons in their waistbands.

“He won’t go!” the Mubarak supporters chanted.

“We won’t go!” the protesters replied.

Some of the Mubarak supporters arrived in buses. When they spoke with one another, they referred to the antigovernment protesters as foreigners or traitors, and to Mr. Mubarak as Egypt’s “father.”

But some were also men like Mohamed Hassan, an accountant, who had attended Tuesday’s antigovernment demonstration. “Of course we needed a change,” Mr. Hassan said on Wednesday, standing on the Corniche, a boulevard in sight of the Egyptian Museum. Mr. Mubarak’s speech had changed his mind. “I think all of our demands were filled,” he said. “We need change, but step by step.”

The anti-Mubarak demonstrators had organized themselves to try to avoid violence. Men held hands in long chains to keep the two groups apart. Others, with effusive apologies, searched those entering the square for weapons. Some stepped in with whistles to break up arguments that had started to grow heated.

Several people interviewed independently said that ruling party operatives had offered them 50 Egyptian pounds, less than $10, if they agreed to demonstrate in the square on Mr. Mubarak’s behalf. “Fifty pounds for my country!” said Yasmina Salah, 29.

Then, suddenly, at exactly 2:15 p.m. arguments between pro- and anti-Mubarak demonstrators around the square turned into shoving matches.

“We don’t know who is with us and who is against us now — we are lost,” said Abdel Raouf Mohamed, 37, before he was interrupted by a burly young man who shouted: “I love Mubarak! I need Mubarak!”

Seven minutes later, Reda Sadak, 45, said, “In 10 minutes, there will be a big fight here — it is an old game, the oldest game in the regime.”

In fact, before he finished speaking, rocks and sticks began to fly from the pro-Mubarak forces into the crowd of anti-Mubarak demonstrators.

Even then, many tried to avoid retaliation. A line of a half-dozen unarmed men stood quietly, waving their hands in the air while the pro-Mubarak forces rained rocks down on them.

Sameh Saber, another antigovernment protester, started running toward the battle line with a tree branch.

“Put it down,” an older man implored.

“Three of my friends are bleeding inside,” Mr. Saber yelled back, “and my friend lost an eye!” But he put down the branch.

At 2:50 p.m., as hundreds of rocks flew past the Egyptian Museum, two tanks started up. Anti-Mubarak protesters who had been standing on them jumped off and the crowd cheered with delight. “The people and the army are one hand!” they chanted.

The tanks rolled to create a barricade between the opposing groups, and for a while the soldiers encouraged both sides to calm down. But then the soldiers seemed to retreat, and soon the anti-Mubarak forces began hauling scraps of metal to build a barricade around the tank.

A soldier on top of another tank fired live ammunition into the air to push back a surging group of pro-Mubarak protesters. A couple of men jumped up on the tank and started to kiss his feet, and for a moment the soldier, weapon in hand, began to cry.

A higher-ranking officer climbed up, and the anti-Mubarak protesters begged him to protect them. “But aren’t they Egyptian?” the officer replied. “You want me to fire at Egyptians?”

And for the rest of the day the soldiers did nothing, telling anti-Mubarak protesters who begged them to engage that they “had no orders.”

Then, about 3:15 p.m., the battle was joined. Abandoning any attempt to avoid violence, thousands of anti-Mubarak protesters used scraps of steel to rip up the pavement into pieces, carrying them in milk crates and scarves to hurl back at their attackers.

“They want to take the revolution from us,” said Mohamed Gamil, a 30-year-old dentist in the crowd of antigovernment protesters. “We are ready to die for the revolution.”

Pro-government demonstrators chanted, “With our blood, with our souls, we sacrifice for you, oh Mubarak.” Eighteen charged their foes on horseback and two on camels.

Soon the air was full of the sound of anti-Mubarak protesters banging rocks and steel to rally one another, and the smell of gas from burning firebombs.

“Mubarak kills his people!” said Islam Hessomen, 25, a protester. “He is letting the people kill each other!”

As the carnage continued, many turned on the watching military behind the museum’s fence. “Are you happy now?” the anti-Mubarak protesters jeered. Many journalists were harassed and detained.

Late Wednesday, a government spokesman ordered the evacuation of the square, but many of the young men declared that they would stay until Mr. Mubarak left Egypt or they died as “martyrs.”

Mona El-Naggar and Anthony Shadid contributed reporting.

Arab World Faces Its Uncertain Future

CAIRO — The future of the Arab world, perched between revolt and the contempt of a crumbling order, was fought for in the streets of downtown Cairo on Wednesday.

Tens of thousands of protesters who have reimagined the very notion of citizenship in a tumultuous week of defiance proclaimed with sticks, home-made bombs and a shower of rocks that they would not surrender their revolution to the full brunt of an authoritarian government that answered their calls for change with violence.

The Arab world watched a moment that suggested it would never be the same again — and waited to see whether protest or crackdown would win the day. Words like “uprising” and “revolution” only hint at the scale of events in Egypt, which have already reverberated across Yemen, Jordan, Syria and even Saudi Arabia, offering a new template for change in a region that long reeled from its own sense of stagnation. “Every Egyptian understands now,” said Magdi al-Sayyid, one of the protesters.

The protesters have spoken for themselves to a government that, like many across the Middle East, treated them as a nuisance. For years, pundits have predicted that Islamists would be the force that toppled governments across the Arab world. But so far, they have been submerged in an outpouring of popular dissent that speaks to a unity of message, however fleeting — itself a sea change in the region’s political landscape. In the vast panorama of Tahrir Square on Wednesday, Egyptians were stationed at makeshift barricades, belying pat dismissals of the power of the Arab street.

“The street is not afraid of governments anymore,” said Shawki al-Qadi, an opposition lawmaker in Yemen, itself roiled by change. “It is the opposite. Governments and their security forces are afraid of the people now. The new generation, the generation of the Internet, is fearless. They want their full rights, and they want life, a dignified life.”

The power of Wednesday’s stand was that it turned those abstractions into reality.

The battle was waged by Mohammed Gamil, a dentist in a blue tie who ran toward the barricades of Tahrir Square. It was joined by Fayeqa Hussein, a veiled mother of seven who filled a Styrofoam container with rocks. Magdi Abdel-Rahman, a 60-year-old grandfather, kissed the ground before throwing himself against crowds mobilized by a state bent on driving them from the square. And the charge was led by Yasser Hamdi, who said his 2-year-old daughter would live a life better than the one he endured.

“Aren’t you men?” he shouted. “Let’s go!”

As the crowd pushed back the government’s men, down a street of airline offices, banks and a bookstore called L’Orientaliste, Mr. Abdel-Rahman made the stakes clear. “They want to take our revolution from us,” he declared.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition force, has entered the fray. In a poignant moment, its followers knelt in prayer at dusk, their faces lighted by the soft glow of burning fires a stone’s throw away. But Mr. Abdel-Rahman’s description of the uprising as a revolution suggested that the events of the past week had overwhelmed even the Brotherhood, long considered the sole agent of change here.

“Dignity” was a word often used Wednesday, and its emphasis underlined the breadth of a movement that is, so far, leaderless. Neither the Brotherhood nor a handful of opposition leaders — men like Mohammed ElBaradei or Ayman Nour — have managed to articulate hopelessness, the humiliations at the hands of the police and the outrage at having too little money to marry, echoed in the streets of Palestinian camps in Jordan and in the urban misery of Baghdad’s Sadr City. For many, the Brotherhood itself is a vestige of an older order that has failed to deliver.

“The problem is that for 30 years, Mubarak didn’t let us build an alternative,” said Adel Wehba, as he watched the tumult in the square. “No alternative for anything.”

The lack of an alternative may have led to the uprising, making the street the last option for not only the young and dispossessed but also virtually every element of Egypt’s population — turbaned clerics, businessmen from wealthy suburbs, film directors and well-to-do engineers. Months ago, despair at the prospect of change in the Arab world was commonplace. Protesters on Wednesday acted as though they were making a last stand at what they had won, in an uprising that is distinctly nationalist.

“He won’t go,” President Hosni Mubarak’s supporters chanted on the other side. “He will go,” went the reply. “We’re not going to go.”

The word “traitor” rang out Wednesday. The insult was directed at Mr. Mubarak, and it echoed the sentiment heard in so many parts of the Arab world these days — governments of an American-backed order in most of the region have lost their legitimacy, built on the idea that people would surrender their rights for the prospect of security and stability. In the square on Wednesday, protesters offered an alternative, their empowerment standing as possibly the most remarkable legacy of a people who often lamented their apathy.

Everyone seemed joined in the moment, fists, batons and rocks banging any piece of metal to rally themselves. A man stood on a tank turret, urging protesters forward. Another cried as he shouted at Mr. Mubarak’s men. “Come here!” he said. “Here is where’s right.” Men and women ferried rocks in bags, cartons and boxes to the barricades. Bassem Yusuf, a heart surgeon, heard news of the clashes on television and headed to the square at dusk, stitching wounds at a makeshift clinic run by volunteers.

“We’re not going to destroy our country,” said Mohammed Kamil, a 48-year-old, surging with the crowd. “We’re not going to let this dog make us do that.”

From minute-by-minute coverage on Arabic channels to conversations from Iraq to Morocco, the Middle East watched breathlessly at a moment as compelling as any in the Arab world in a lifetime. For the first time in a generation, Arabs seem to be looking again to Egypt for leadership, and that sense of destiny was voiced throughout the day.

“I tell the Arab world to stand with us until we win our freedom,” said Khaled Yusuf, a cleric from Al Azhar, a once esteemed institution of religious scholarship now beholden to the government. “Once we do, we’re going to free the Arab world.”

For decades, the Arab world has waited for a savior — be it Gamal Abdel-Nasser, the charismatic Egyptian president, or even, for a time, Saddam Hussein. No one was waiting for a savior on Wednesday. Before nearly three decades of accumulated authority — the power of a state that can mobilize thousands to heed its whims — people had themselves.

“I’m fighting for my freedom,” Noha al-Ustaz said as she broke bricks on the curb. “For my right to express myself. For an end to oppression. For an end to injustice.”

“Go forward,” the cries rang out, and she did, disappearing into a sea of men.

Nada Bakri contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon.

Violence flares in Cairo square

Toll mounts as pro-democracy supporters apparently come under attack from Mubarak loyalists in the Egyptian capital.

Heavy gunfire is being heard in Cairo's Tahrir (Liberation) Square as pro-democracy demonstrators continue to defy curfew in the Egyptian capital.

Ambulances were seen heading to the area on Thursday morning and at least two fatalities were reported.

Protesters from the pro-democracy and pro-government camps fought pitched battles on Wednesday in Tahrir Square, the epicentre of demonstrations against Hosni Mubarak for the past nine days.

At least three people were reported to have died and more than 1,500 others injured in those clashes, according to officials and doctors quoted by the Reuters news agency.

An Al Jazeera correspondent, reporting from just outside Tahrir Square late on Wednesday night, said dozens of pro-Mubarak supporters erected barricades on either side of a road, trapping the pro-democracy supporters. They were gathering stones, breaking streetlights and using balaclavas to cover their faces, apparently in preparation for a fresh standoff with the pro-democracy crowd.

Our correspondent said local residents thought the men preparing for the standoff were police officers but the claim could not be independently confirmed.

Just hours earlier, an Al Jazeera online producer reporting from near Tahrir Square said: "Someone - a few people actually - were dropping homemade bombs into the square from the buildings surrounding it."

Gunshots were also regularly ringing out of the square.

Witnesses said the military allowed thousands of pro-Mubarak supporters, armed with sticks and knives, to enter the square. Opposition groups said Mubarak had sent in thugs to suppress anti-government protests.

One of our correspondents said the army seemed to be standing by and facilitating the clashes.

Though initially put on the backfoot by the sudden attack, determined anti-government protesters looked to be winning the battle against Mubarak supporters.

Al Jazeera's special coverage on Egypt
Witnesses also said that pro-Mubarak supporters were dragging away protesters they had managed to grab and handing them over to security forces.

Salma Eltarzi, an anti-government protester, told Al Jazeera there were hundreds of wounded people. "There are no ambulances in sight, and all we are using is Dettol," she said. "We are all so scared."

Aisha Hussein, a nurse, said dozens of people were being treated at a makeshift clinic in a mosque near the square.

She described a scene of "absolute mayhem", as protesters first began to flood into the clinic.

"People are coming in with multiple wounds. All kinds of contusions. We had one guy who needed stitches in two places on his face. Some have broken bones."

Mustafa Hussein, a physician who was treating the injured at a makeshift hospital near Tahrir Square, told Al Jazeera that most of the injured protesters "coming in today are suffering from head injuries resulting from rocks being thrown at them".

Meanwhile, another Al Jazeera correspondent said men on horseback and camels ploughed into the crowds as army personnel stood by.

At least six riders were dragged from their beasts, beaten with sticks by the protesters and taken away with blood streaming down their faces.

One of them was dragged away unconscious, with large blood stains on the ground at the site of the clash.

The worst of the fighting was just outside the world famous Egyptian Museum, which was targeted by looters last week.

Al Jazeera's correspondent said a group of pro-government protesters took over army vehicles. They also took control of a nearby building and used the rooftop to throw concrete blocks, stones, and other objects.

Soldiers surrounding the square took cover from flying stones, and the windows of at least one army vehicle were broken. Some troops stood on tanks and appealed for calm but did not otherwise intervene.

Many of the pro-Mubarak supporters raised slogans like "Thirty Years of Stability, Nine Days of Anarchy".

Al Jazeera's Jane Dutton, also in Cairo, said that security guards have also been seen amongst the pro-Mubarak supporters, and it may be a precursor to the feared riot police arriving on the scene.

Dutton added that a journalist with the Al-Arabiya channel was stabbed during the clashes.

Several cars went up in flames near Liberation Square as riots raged deep into the night [AJ online producer]
Fighting took place around army tanks deployed around the square, with stones bouncing off the armoured vehicles.

Several groups were involved in fist fights, and some were using clubs. The opposition also said many among the pro-Mubarak crowd were policemen in plain clothes.

"Members of security forces dressed in plain clothes and a number of thugs have stormed Tahrir Square," three opposition groups said in a statement.

Mohamed ElBaradei, a prominent opposition figure, accused Mubarak of resorting to scare tactics. Opposition groups have reportedly also seized police identification cards amongst the pro-Mubarak demonstrators.

"I'm extremely concerned, I mean this is yet another symptom, or another indication, of a criminal regime using criminal acts," ElBaradei said.

"My fear is that it will turn into a bloodbath," he added, calling the pro-Mubarak supporters a "bunch of thugs".

ElBaradei has also urged the army to intervene.

"I ask the army to intervene to protect Egyptian lives," he told Al Jazeera, adding he said it should intervene "today" and not remain neutral.

Despite the clashes, anti-government protesters seeking Mubarak's immediate resignation said they would not give up until Mubarak steps down.

Khalil, in his 60s and holding a stick, blamed Mubarak supporters and undercover security for the clashes.

"But we will not leave," he told Reuters. "Everybody stay put."

Pro-Mubarak supporters on camels and horses charged at protesters [AJ online producer]
Mohammed el-Belgaty, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, told Al Jazeera the "peaceful demonstrations in Tahrir Square have been turned into chaos".

"The speech delivered by President Mubarak was very provocative as he used very sentimental words.

"Since morning, hundreds of these paid thugs started to demonstrate pretending to be supporting the President. Now they came to charge inside Tahrir Square armed with batons, sticks and some knives.

"Mubarak is asking the people to choose between him or chaos."

Ahead of Wednesday's clashes, supporters of the president staged a number of rallies around Cairo, saying Mubarak represented stability amid growing insecurity, and calling those who want his departure "traitors."

"Yes to Mubarak, to protect stability," read one banner in a crowd of 500 gathered near state television headquarters, about 1km from Tahrir Square.

A witness said organisers were paying people $17, to take part in the pro-Mubarak rally, a claim that could not be confirmed.

Other pro-Mubarak demonstrations occurred in the Mohandeseen district, as well as near Ramses Square.

Source: Al Jazeera

Anderson Cooper And CNN Crew Attacked By Pro-Mubarak Mob In Egypt

CNN’s Anderson Cooper has been attacked while reporting for the network in Egypt.
The anchor, who’s been reporting nearly nonstop since the weekend, described the attack to viewers this morning shortly after a Twitter report on the incident from CNN’s Steve Brusk, who said Cooper had been “punched 10 times in the head as pro-Mubarak mob surrounded him and his crew trying to cover demonstration.”

Cooper, resuming his live coverage, looked fine and unshaken.

Egypt official says one killed, 600 injured in Cairo clashes

Update at 1:38 p.m. ET: Egypt's health minister says one person was killed and nearly 600 injured in clashes between pro- and anti-government forces.

Update at 1:32 p.m. ET: Egyptian state TV warns protesters to "evacuate immediately" the central square in Cairo that anti-government demonstrators have held for several days, CNN reports.

Update at 1:20 p.m. ET: White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says President Obama had a "direct, frank and candid" conversation with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Gibbs says the thrust of the talk was that "the time for change had come." Gibbs said Obama and the administration strongly condemn "the outrageous and deplorable violence."

Update at 1:12 p.m. ET: Egypt state TV says authorities will begin clearing Tahrir Square, which anti-government protesters have held for days to demand the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

The square in central Cairo became the focal point of clashes today as pro-government forces tried to battle their way into the protest area. Clashes between pro- and anti-Mubarak forces left hundreds injured, Al-Jazeera TV reports, as both sides hurled rocks and chunks of concrete at each other.

The pro-government side gathered atop buildings and hurled firebombs into the crowd, the AP reports.

Update at 12:40 p.m. ET: USA TODAY's Jim Michaels and Theodore May in Cairo report that dozens of protesters -- perhaps hundreds -- have been injured in the melee. Many ran through the streets with blood streaming down their faces. Opposition protesters beat pro-Mubarak demonstrators as they were dragged, wounded, through the crowds.

Anti-government protesters set up barricades outside Tahrir Square after clashes with supporters of President Hosni Mubarak today in Cairo. CAPTIONBy Peter Macdiarmid, Getty ImagesThe AP says the battle line was formed next to the famed Egyptian Museum at the edge of Tahrir Square. Pro-government rioters blanketing the rooftops of nearby buildings dumped bricks and firebombs onto the crowd below, setting a tree on fire inside the museum grounds.

On the street, the two sides crouched behind abandoned trucks and hurled chunks of concrete and bottles at each other. Among the more than 3,000 government supporters, some waved machetes.

Some pleaded for protection from soldiers stationed at the square, who refused, the AP says.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley issued this statement:

After days of peaceful protests in Cairo and other cities in Egypt, today we see violent attacks on peaceful demonstrators and journalists. The United States denounces these attacks and calls on all engaged in demonstrations currently taking place in Egypt to do so peacefully. These attacks are not only dangerous to Egypt; they are a direct threat to the aspirations of the Egyptian people. The use of violence to intimidate the Egyptian people must stop. We strongly call for restraint.

Bloodied anti-government protesters were taken to makeshift clinics in mosques and alleyways, and several hundred were reported injured.

Update at 11:30 a.m ET. The Associated Press reports that the clashes began when about 3,000 Mubarak supporters broke through a human chain of protesters trying to defend the thousands gathered in Tahrir Square.

From there, the clashes escalated into outright street battles as hundreds poured in to join each side. They tore up sidewalks and a nearby construction site and began hurling stones, chunks of concrete and sticks at each other.
A small contingent of pro-Mubarak forces on horseback and camels rushed into the anti-Mubarak crowds, trampling several and swinging whips and sticks to beat people. Protesters retaliated, dragging some from their mounts, throwing them to the ground and beating their faces bloody.

Update at 11:12 a.m. ET: The White House says the United States "deplores and condemns" the violence in Egypt and repeats its call for restraint.

Update at 10:42 a.m. ET: At least 100 people have been injured in clashes in central Cairo between pro- and anti-Mubarak protesers, Al-Jazeera reports.

The worst of the fighting is taking place just outside the famous Egyptian Museum, Al-Jazeera reports. The network says its correspondents report that the army is letting pro-Mubarak supporters through barracides around Tahrir Square.

Update at 10:35 a.m. ET: Opposition leader Mohadem ElBaradei calls President Hosni Mubarak's pledge to step down after September's elections "an act of deception" that will not satisfy the demands of protesters.

"Nobody is satisfied with that, nobody is ready to be naive, not see a ploy," ElBaradei told a small group of journalists in an interview, The Wall Street Journal reports. "It's an act of deception to me."

The Nobel laureate says that protesters will end their demonstration only after Mubarak meets their demand to leave the country.

Update at 10:31 a.m. ET: The BBC's Ian Pannell sums up the clashes today: "There's a lot of anger on the streets at the moment, a lot of argument, fists are flying. And who knows where this will end."

Update at 9:53 a.m. ET: CNN reports a "pitched battle" between pro- and anti-Mubarak forces in front of the antiquities museum in Cairo. Anderson Cooper reports that pro-government forces have thrown four or five firebombs at the anti-Mubarak crowds. Cooper says the firebombs set at least one military vehicle afire briefly.

CNN reports that military forces, which checked crowds for ID and weapons before demonstrations the past two days in Tahrir Square, are standing aside and no longer involved in crowd control.

Update at 9:53 a.m. ET: CNN reports that crowds have overturned a military vehicle near the Cairo antiquities museum and clashes broke out between pro- and anti-Mubarak forces in the center of the city.

CNN's Anderson Cooper says the pro-Mubarak crowds are "looking for a fight."

Earlier posting: Hundreds of pro- and anti-government forces are clashing in central Cairo today as protesters calling for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak refused the military's call to end their week-long demonstrations.

Al-Jazeera reports shots in the area where pro- and anti-Mubarak forces are clashing in central Cairo. Al-Jazeera says they appear to be warning shots fired into the air and some demonstrators may be trying to take refuge in the antiquities museum.

Hundreds of rock-throwing demonstrators have moved behind barriers and trucks for protection.

USA TODAY's Jim Michaels and Theodore May report that dozens of pro-Mubarak demonstrators mounted on horses and camels charged into a crowd at Tahrir Square, swinging whips and clubs.

NBC's Richard Engel reports that some demonstrators have knives and others are using crowbars to break up pavement stones to use as missiles.

CNN"s Steve Brusk tweets that correspondent Anderson Cooper was punched 10 times in the head as a pro-Mubarak mob surrounded him and his crew as they were trying to cover the demonstration.

It is not clear what impact the clashes will have on efforts to stabilize the country. Anti-government protesters have said they are not satisfied with Mubarak's statement and pledged to continue to pressure him to resign. Demonstrators who support the president began appearing in larger numbers Wednesday.

"The people in Tahrir Square are not Egyptians," says Gamel el-Fekey, 54, who showed up for a pro-Mubarak rally. "Mubarak is the father of our country."

The Kochs fight back

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Faced with an avalanche of bad publicity after years of funding conservative causes in relative anonymity, the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, Charles and David, are fighting back.

They’ve hired a team of PR pros with experience working for top Republicans including Sarah Palin and Arnold Schwarzenegger to quietly engage reporters to try to shape their Koch coverage, and commissioned sophisticated polling to monitor any collateral damage to the image of their company, Koch Industries.

At the same time, through their high-priced lawyers, private security detail and influential allies in conservative politics and media, the Kochs have played hard ball with critics and suspected foes.

Young environmental activists who pranked them have been hit with a lawsuit seeking more than $100,000 in damages, and the leak of an internal document describing their political activities resulted in an investigation – complete with document analysis and interviews of suspects – that eventually identified the mole.

Both their new openness and their aggressive – and sometimes secretive – tactics were on display before and during the Kochs’ closed-door, invitation-only four-day annual winter meeting of conservative donors and leaders that concluded Tuesday with a breakfast at the pricey resort that hosted it here in the Palm Springs suburbs.

On the one hand, the Kochs asked a handful of participants to talk to POLITICO about the conference, marking the first time the company has waived the strict confidentiality rules surrounding its donor meetings, which have been taking place twice a year since 2003, but had attracted almost no attention until this year’s.

“You know why they’re being scrutinized, don’t you?” asked Herman Cain, a former pizza company CEO and long-shot 2012 GOP presidential candidate who has attended four Koch conferences, including the one that concluded today.

“Because they’re not liberal. That’s all that’s about,” said Cain.

And, in another shift, Koch’s PR representatives reached out to reporters, largely in response to a raucous rally outside the resort gates that vilified the Kochs as personifying a corrupt political system – and that resulted in the arrests of 25 proteste rs.

On the other hand, the Kochs retained a heavy private security detail, which tracked resort guests deemed “suspicious,” erected a blockade Saturday to block a documentary camera crew from filming arriving guests, and removed a POLITICO reporter from the resort café under threat of arrest.

The pushback began in earnest last summer, when the brothers, longtime supporters of libertarian think tanks, started coming under intense scrutiny for their role in helping start and fund some of the deepest-pocketed groups involved in organizing the tea party movement, and for steering cash towards efforts to target President Barack Obama, his health care overhaul, and congressional Democrats in the run-up to the 2010 election.

Democrats – led by Obama, his political adviser David Axelrod and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) – singled out political spending by non-profit groups funded by the Koch brothers, namely Americans for Prosperity, as a campaign issue.

In media appearances, Van Hollen even spelled out the previously little-known brothers’ last name, saying on Al Hunt’s Bloomberg News television show that “Americans for Prosperity which are the Koch Industries, k-o-c-h (are) like the third wealthiest people in the country,” while in a background conference call with reporters a senior administration official suggested Koch Industries might be avoiding corporate taxes – prompting outrage from the Kochs' allies and calls for an investigation from GOP Senators, who contended the White House may have illegally accessed the company’s tax information.

The Koch brothers, who are worth a reported $21.5 billion each, commissioned polls to test whether public opinion about their privately owned oil, chemical and consumer products company changed in the midst of the attacks.

Personally, the brothers and their executives were rattled by the scrutiny, according to a conservative source who has closely tracked the Kochs’ philanthropy and their meetings, but who contends the Kochs largely brought the heightened scrutiny on themselves.

“They somehow thought that they could runs tens of millions of dollars in ads, but fly under the radar screen and that nobody was going to find out,” said the source. “So they’re scrambling now because they weren’t nearly as prepared for the fallout as they should have been.”

The source requested anonymity to discuss the Kochs without provoking the ire of the brothers, who – some in conservative circles say – are known for retaliating against allies and former allies deemed insufficiently loyal. For instance, the source cited the company’s investigation to determine who leaked a packet of Koch literature that included a list of the attendees of the previous donor meeting, held in June in Aspen, Colo., and an invitation from Charles Koch inviting potential participants to the Rancho Mirage meeting.

The packet, posted on the White House-allied ThinkProgress blog in October, included the dates and location of the recently concluded conference, allowing critics to plan demonstrations. The environmental group Greenpeace on Friday flew a blimp over Rancho Mirage emblazoned with stylized portraits of David and Charles Koch bracketing the words “Koch Brothers; Dirty Money,” while Sunday’s rally was organized by the liberal watchdog group Common Cause, in conjunction with labor unions and the civil disobedience outfit Ruckus Society.

“I don’t want to call it a witch hunt, but it was a pretty intense inside intelligence-type operation that lasted a week,” the source said of the Kochs’ search for the leaker, explaining that Koch officials used clues in the invitation ThinkProgress obtained to “narrow it down to a few (invitees) and went and asked them.” The source said the Kochs ultimately found the source of the leak.

The Kochs also deployed a forceful response in late December against an anonymous group of pranksters who had issued a fake press release purporting to be from the company – and set up a corresponding website –implying Koch Industries had changed its skeptical stance towards climate change, and would cease funding organizations that worked to debunk climate science and oppose legislation to limit carbon emissions.

Koch Industries sued the pranksters, who called themselves Youth for Climate Truth, alleging the prank harmed Koch’s “business and reputation,” as well as its “goodwill … in the minds of the public” – and seeking $100,000 and other damages.

Deepak Gupta, a lawyer for the watchdog group Public Citizen, which is defending the climate group, called the Koch suit “a very aggressive move. It’s sort of like using a bazooka to get at a fly.” And Public Citizen’s filings suggested it may have backfired, furthering the pranksters goal of “drawing additional media attention to Koch’s political activities.”

But Koch’s top lawyer Mark Holden defended the lawsuit, telling POLITICO “intentional theft and trademark infringement may be just a prank to some people, but we take it seriously.”

The Kochs also took the Democratic attacks seriously, assembling a crisis communication team including consultants Michael Goldfarb – a former editor at the conservative Weekly Standard who worked on Arizona Sen. John McCain’s 2008 GOP presidential campaign and now works at firm where he represents McCain’s running mate Palin among other clients – and Ron Bonjean, a veteran GOP Capitol Hill press hand and occasional pundit who was a top adviser to Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona, Trent Lott of Mississippi and former House Speaker Denny Hastert of Illinois.

A new media consultant who worked on the McCain campaign, Soren Dayton, was hired last year to handle corporate issues, while Julie Soderlund, a veteran California GOP operative who worked for Schwarzenegger and the failed California GOP Senate campaign of Carly Fiorina, was retained last week to help with an anticipated barrage of media scrutiny of the conference and the protests, which never quite materialized.

A few days before Bonjean signed his contract with the Kochs, he posted an item on POLITICO’s Arena attacking a New Yorker article linking the Kochs’ political philanthropy to their business interests as “a hit piece without balance designed as a foundation for the professional left-wing community to launch its attacks.”

Bonjean’s post, which made no mention of any affiliation or potential affiliation with the Kochs, asserted “the Koch brothers have lived the essence of the American Dream by building up its family-owned businesses that now employ thousands of hardworking Americans.”

Bonjean, Goldfarb and Soderlund traveled to Rancho Mirage, where Goldfarb and Soderlund moved mostly unnoticed through the crowd of protesters Sunday, and could be seen talking to representatives from the relatively few media outlets on the scene. Though they were not quoted in stories, much of the national coverage of the conclave counterbalanced the protesters’ charges either by quoting past meeting attendees defending the conference as an exchange of policy ideas, or by noting that major liberal donors like billionaire financier George Soros attend similar meetings to dole out funds – and that, in fact, Common Cause has received funding from Soros.

Longtime Koch hand Nancy Pfotenhauer, who also was an adviser to the McCain campaign, issued carefully worded statements to the Los Angeles Times (meeting attendees are “some of America’s greatest philanthropists and job creators … who share a common belief that the current level of government spending in our nation is simply unsustainable”), (the goal is “to discuss solutions to our most pressing issues and strategies to promote policies that will help grow our economy, foster free enterprise and create American jobs”) and other outlets.

Other high-profile Koch backers went on the attack against the protesters and the media, alleging that the occasionally vituperative rhetoric among Sunday’s crowd would have drawn sweeping media condemnation had they occurred at tea party rallies, which liberals alleged were rife with widespread extremist, homophobic and racist rhetoric.

During Sunday’s demonstration, Koch and resort security discouraged curious donors from leaving the resort buildings to watch protesters from the grounds, though a photo posted on a Common Cause blog with the headline “We got their attention” appears to show David Koch watching the protest from a resort balcony. And other participants watched from a patio behind a heavily guarded gate, as protesters pressed toward baton-wielding sheriff’s deputies in riot helmets guarding the entrance, waving signs reading “Koch Kills” and “Uncloak the Kochs,” and chanting “David and Charles Koch: Your corporate greed is making us broke.”

“It’s always disappointing to see these really vitriolic personal attacks in America from the left, and you saw it out there,” Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, and an attendee at the conference, told POLITICO in a telephone interview during a break between conference sessions Monday.

Conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin posted a photo of one protester’s hand-made sign featuring a swastika.

And various conservative media outlets and journalists have also assailed the Kochs’ critics, including several who have received funding, honoraria or other payments from Koch-linked non-profits, or donors who attend their conferences – including Reason magazine, Wall Street Journal editorial board member Stephen Moore, and the Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney.

Carney, who spoke on Sunday at the conference, and other conservative journalists came in for criticism after the leaked memo revealed that they attended last year’s Koch meeting in Aspen – along with major GOP donor Phil Anschutz, who owns the Washington Examiner.

Afterwards, Carney voluntarily disclosed that he has received small payments from Koch-affiliated non-profits over the years for speeches, editing and mentoring. He told POLITICO Saturday that he considers it healthy for there to be scrutiny of people across the political spectrum “who spend money and get involved in politics – which is what’s going on in Palm Springs.”

But he said the way the White House and ThinkProgress have highlighted the Kochs’ activity has “has been silly and misleading and probably at times dishonest.”

Inside the resort at the beginning of the conference, “there was an atmosphere almost of paranoia,” said Gary Ferdman, a Common Cause official.

Ferdman had reservations at the resort and stayed there Thursday and Friday night. He said he was told Saturday that his lunch reservations at the resort restaurant had been canceled and was urged to check out and leave promptly by a member of Koch’s large security detail.

Security manned every doorway and stairwell near the ballrooms where Koch events were held, and threatened to jail this POLITICO reporter while he waited in line at the resort’s café, after he stopped by a Koch conference registration table.

The resort grounds were “closed for a private function,” the resort’s head of security, James Foster told POLITICO, ushering the reporter outside, where private security guards, wearing gold lapel pins bearing Koch’s “K” logo, threatened “a citizen’s arrest” and a “night in the Riverside County jail” if the reporter continued asking questions and taking photographs.

© 2011 Capitol News

Mubarak concessions 'insufficient'

Egypt protesters continue to demand president's immediate ouster, as US calls for urgent transition and reforms plan.

Many Egyptians feel that president Hosni Mubarak's concessions are 'too little too late'

Unimpressed by a pledgefrom president Hosni Mubarak's that he would not renew his rule, thousands of Egyptian protesters are continuing to protest across the country, adamant that the president must step down.

Mubarak, in a defiant speech, announced he would not seek re-election in September, when his presidential term comes to an end.

But protesters reacted angrily, jeering him and once again calling for an immediate end to his 30-year reign.

"The speech is useless and only inflames our anger," said Shadi Morkos in Tahrir square. "We will continue to protest."

"We will not leave! He will leave!" others chanted at the time.

Clashes break out

Protests escalated on Wednesday as anti-government activists clashed with pro-Mubarak supporters who descended upon Tahrir square in central Cairo, where demonstrators have been camped out for days.

Our correspondent at the scene said people were "frenzied" with pro-government supporters chanting "With our blood and our souls, we will sacrifice for Mubarak".

She said the atmosphere was tense, with potential battle lines being drawn between the two sides of the Egyptian divide.

Demonstrators have also clashed in Alexandria, the countrt's second city, while smaller protests are continuing around the country.

Jane Dutton, an Al Jazeera reporter in Cairo, said there is now a "real standoff" between anti-government Egyptians and Mubarak, with neither side seeming to budge in the others' direction.

"[Mubarak] has said he will step down, just not yet. He has offered them all these concessions, demands that they have made over many years, for other parties to run in the elections, for there to be a fixed term under the president."

"But it's too little too late," she said.

"People are angry that these sort of changes are being imposed or suggested under a dictatorship, under this regime. They want him to go and they want him to go now."

'Opportunity for real change'

Speaking to Al Jazeera after Mubarak's speech, protesters in Cairo echoed the same sentiments.

"I want to say that this man is provoking us. This man wants to have a massacre in this country that has been good to him and his children." one male demonstrator said.

"Chants of 'Down with the regime! Down with the president!' started up again about 30 seconds after he was done with the speech," Ashraf Khalil, a journalist based in Cairo, told Al Jazeera.

"Talking to the protesters in Tahrir Square, those who are remaining have made it clear that his latest concessions are unacceptable.

"They have no intention of giving him some sort of eight month farewell tour. They want him gone immediately and they plan to keep the pressure up," Khalil said.

But to those demanding he leave Egypt, Mubarak said on Tuesday: "This is my country ... and I will die on its soil".

Barack Obama, the US president, reacted to his speech saying "orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now".

Floods of reaction to Mubarak's speech has been posted on social networking sites, which have been seen as a vehicle for some of the protests.

"Mubarak said he wants to die in Egypt - careful what you wish for!" Guapo Plethora, a user on micro-blogging site Twitter, wrote.

Another, Iyad El-Baghdadi, tweeted "Live from Tahrir Square: Everyone considers Mubarak an ex-President and think his days are numbered."

Mona Eltahawy, a columnist and public speaker on Muslim and Arab issues, also tweeted saying, "It's Mubarak vs Egypt and Egypt must win. Armed forces [have] to understand. There is no way Mubarak can stay til September. OUT."

Al Jazeera's correspondents on the ground in Egypt reported the feeling on the streets.

"I was in Tahrir Square for Mubarak speech and once they heard offer to not run again, chanting started 'get out get out'," one of our correspondents tweeted.

Later he added: "Nobody there believes any of his promises any more. They know this is their opportunity for real change and won't stop 'til it happens."

Another tweeted that: "History may be repeating itself. Former Tunisian president Ben Ali gave three speeches and [vowed not to run again for elections].

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

A Food Manifesto for the Future

For decades, Americans believed that we had the world’s healthiest and safest diet. We worried little about this diet’s effect on the environment or on the lives of the animals (or even the workers) it relies upon. Nor did we worry about its ability to endure — that is, its sustainability.

That didn’t mean all was well. And we’ve come to recognize that our diet is unhealthful and unsafe. Many food production workers labor in difficult, even deplorable, conditions, and animals are produced as if they were widgets. It would be hard to devise a more wasteful, damaging, unsustainable system.

Here are some ideas — frequently discussed, but sadly not yet implemented —that would make the growing, preparation and consumption of food healthier, saner, more productive, less damaging and more enduring.

•End government subsidies to processed food. We grow more corn for livestock and cars than for humans, and it’s subsidized by more than $3 billion annually; most of it is processed beyond recognition. The story is similar for other crops, including soy: 98 percent of soybean meal becomes livestock feed, while most soybean oil is used in processed foods. Meanwhile, the marketers of the junk food made from these crops receive tax write-offs for the costs of promoting their wares. Total agricultural subsidies in 2009 were around $16 billion, which would pay for a great many of the ideas that follow.

•Begin subsidies to those who produce and sell actual food for direct consumption. Small farmers and their employees need to make living wages. Markets — from super- to farmers’ — should be supported when they open in so-called food deserts and when they focus on real food rather than junk food. And, of course, we should immediately increase subsidies for school lunches so we can feed our youth more real food.

•Break up the U.S. Department of Agriculture and empower the Food and Drug Administration. Currently, the U.S.D.A. counts among its missions both expanding markets for agricultural products (like corn and soy!) and providing nutrition education. These goals are at odds with each other; you can’t sell garbage while telling people not to eat it, and we need an agency devoted to encouraging sane eating. Meanwhile, the F.D.A. must be given expanded powers to ensure the safety of our food supply. (Food-related deaths are far more common than those resulting from terrorism, yet the F.D.A.’s budget is about one-fifteenth that of Homeland Security.)

•Outlaw concentrated animal feeding operations and encourage the development of sustainable animal husbandry. The concentrated system degrades the environment, directly and indirectly, while torturing animals and producing tainted meat, poultry, eggs, and, more recently, fish. Sustainable methods of producing meat for consumption exist. At the same time, we must educate and encourage Americans to eat differently. It’s difficult to find a principled nutrition and health expert who doesn’t believe that a largely plant-based diet is the way to promote health and attack chronic diseases, which are now bigger killers, worldwide, than communicable ones. Furthermore, plant-based diets ease environmental stress, including global warming.

•Encourage and subsidize home cooking. (Someday soon, I’ll write about my idea for a new Civilian Cooking Corps.) When people cook their own food, they make better choices. When families eat together, they’re more stable. We should provide food education for children (a new form of home ec, anyone?), cooking classes for anyone who wants them and even cooking assistance for those unable to cook for themselves.

•Tax the marketing and sale of unhealthful foods. Another budget booster. This isn’t nanny-state paternalism but an accepted role of government: public health. If you support seat-belt, tobacco and alcohol laws, sewer systems and traffic lights, you should support legislation curbing the relentless marketing of soda and other foods that are hazardous to our health — including the sacred cheeseburger and fries.

•Reduce waste and encourage recycling. The environmental stress incurred by unabsorbed fertilizer cannot be overestimated, and has caused, for example, a 6,000-square-mile dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that is probably more damaging than the BP oil spill. And some estimates indicate that we waste half the food that’s grown. A careful look at ways to reduce waste and promote recycling is in order.

•Mandate truth in labeling. Nearly everything labeled “healthy” or “natural” is not. It’s probably too much to ask that “vitamin water” be called “sugar water with vitamins,” but that’s precisely what real truth in labeling would mean.

•Reinvest in research geared toward leading a global movement in sustainable agriculture, combining technology and tradition to create a new and meaningful Green Revolution.

I’ll expand on these issues (and more) in the future, but the essential message is this: food and everything surrounding it is a crucial matter of personal and public health, of national and global security. At stake is not only the health of humans but that of the earth.


A Diplomatic Scramble as an Ally Is Pushed to the Exit

WASHINGTON — Last Sunday at 2 p.m., a blue-and-white Air Force jet left Andrews Air Force Base bound for Cairo. On board was Frank G. Wisner, an adroit ex-diplomat whom President Obama had asked hours before to undertake a supremely delicate mission: nudging President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt out of power.

What exactly Mr. Wisner would say was still in flux as he flew to Egypt, administration officials said Tuesday; he talked with senior officials in Washington several times during the nearly 14-hour flight. By the time Mr. Wisner met with the Egyptian leader on Tuesday, the diplomat knew what message he would deliver. And Mr. Mubarak had already lost the backing of his other crucial pillar of support: the Egyptian military, which declared it would not open fire on the demonstrators who were demanding his ouster.

The story of how Mr. Mubarak, an Arab autocrat who only last month was the mainstay of America’s policy in a turbulent region, suddenly found himself pushed toward the exit is first and foremost a tale of the Arab street.

But it is also one of political calculations, in Cairo and Washington, which were upset repeatedly as the crowds swelled. And it is the story of a furious scramble by the Obama White House — right up until Mr. Obama’s call Tuesday night for change to begin “now” — to catch up with a democracy movement unfolding so rapidly that Washington came close to being left behind.

“Every time the administration uttered something, its words were immediately overtaken by events on the ground,” said Robert Malley, Middle East and North Africa program director for the International Crisis Group. “And in a matter of days, every assumption about the United States relationship with Egypt was upended.”

In Cairo, the protests prompted Mr. Mubarak to surround himself even more closely with current and former military leaders, including his new, hastily named vice president, prime minister and deputy prime minister.

But instead of protecting him, there is increasing evidence that over the last three days the military establishment — one of the most respected institutions in Egyptian society, and the crucial factor in deciding control of the streets — may have been moving toward pushing Mr. Mubarak out.

The first sign of the military’s deteriorating support came Saturday when rank-and-file troops ordered to buttress the retreating police instead began to cheer on the protesters. Then on Monday night, the military leadership appeared to break away, announcing that the military respected the people’s legitimate demands and that it would not use force against peaceful demonstrators.

A short time later, Mr. Mubarak’s closest aide, Omar Suleiman, the chief of Egyptian intelligence and the newly named vice president, invited opposition groups to negotiate over constitutional reforms.

Back in Washington, the administration was struggling to balance its ties to Mr. Mubarak, its most stalwart ally in the Arab world, with its fear of ending up on the wrong side of history.

But days of watching the protests mushroom on the streets of Egyptian cities convinced administration officials — some facing their first national security crisis in these roles — that Mr. Mubarak probably would not weather the political storm.

Former President George Bush, whose ties to Mr. Mubarak were cemented by the Egyptian leader’s commitment to supply Arab troops during the Persian Gulf war in 1991, called Mr. Mubarak, on his own initiative, to discuss the crisis, officials said. It was not clear what Mr. Bush told Mr. Mubarak.

At a two-hour meeting at the White House last Saturday, Thomas E. Donilon, the national security adviser; William M. Daley, the White House chief of staff, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon E. Panetta; and other officials coalesced around a strategy to start trying to ease Mr. Mubarak out, an official said.

Mrs. Clinton, officials said, suggested that the administration send Mr. Wisner, a former ambassador to Egypt who knows Mr. Mubarak well, to deliver a message directly from Mr. Obama to the Egyptian leader. Officials said Mr. Wisner urged Mr. Mubarak to declare publicly that he would not run for re-election. But Mr. Wisner has extended his stay in Cairo, officials said, and may have a follow-up meeting with Mr. Mubarak if events seem to demand a quicker exit.

At the Saturday meeting, the officials also agreed that Mrs. Clinton would start calling for “an orderly transition” when she taped a round of interviews for the Sunday talk programs. Administration officials were already smarting from not coming out more fully in support of the protesters earlier. In particular, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. had been criticized for an interview with “NewsHour” on PBS on Thursday, in which he answered “no” when the host, Jim Lehrer, asked if the time had come for Mr. Mubarak to go.

“They took a little while to catch up, but by Sunday morning they understood that it was over, and since then, they’ve understood how to make it happen,” said Martin S. Indyk, the director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.

Still, administration officials were grappling with their public message versus their private message. Senior officials say that as Mr. Wisner traveled to Egypt, Obama officials in Washington were working on his message to Mr. Mubarak: to announce that he would not run for re-election (he did that), and to promise that his son would not run for election (he did not do that).

“No one wanted it to seem as if we were pushing him out,” one administration official said. “That would not serve American interests. It was important for President Mubarak to make the decision.”

Two hours after Mr. Wisner’s plane left Andrews Air Force Base, White House officials sent an e-mail to more than a dozen foreign policy experts in Washington, asking them to come in for a meeting on Monday morning. “Apologies for the short notice in light of a very fluid situation,” the e-mail said.

The Roosevelt Room meeting, led by Benjamin Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, and two other National Security Council officials, Daniel Shapiro and Samantha Power, examined unrest in the region, and the potential for the protests to spread, according to several attendees.

Significantly, during the meeting, White House staff members “made clear that they did not rule out engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood as part of an orderly process,” according to one attendee, who like others interviewed for this article spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want to talk publicly about the meeting. The Muslim group had been suppressed by Mr. Mubarak, and Bush administration officials believed it was involved in terrorist activities. It renounced violence years ago.

Several times, two other attendees said, White House staff members said that Mr. Obama believed that Egyptian politics needed to encompass “nonsecular” parties: diplomatic-speak for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Adding to the pressure against Mr. Mubarak, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, called on the president to bow out gracefully and “make way for a new political structure,” in an Op-Ed article in The New York Times. Mr. Kerry did not coordinate his message with the administration, an official said, but the White House welcomed his initiative.

On Tuesday morning, Mr. Donilon was hunkered over a sprawling spreadsheet on his desk, crossing out names of more than 100 leaders and other officials in the Middle East and the United States. The spreadsheet — “matrix,” one White House aide called it — was full of Mr. Donilon’s notations and asides, as he went through which person at the State Department, the Pentagon, and White House was to call which foreign counterpart.

Mr. Obama himself spoke to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, among other leaders.

American officials had also been in close contact with Vice President Suleiman, who may be playing a particularly pivotal role in managing the transition of power. American and Egyptian officials who know him well describe him as both a cunning operator and Mr. Mubarak’s closest aide. He is also considered the figure with the largest base of support in Egypt’s security forces because his work as intelligence chief built him deep ties with the internal security police and the military.

The momentous events in Cairo leave many questions. Will the protesters tolerate Mr. Mubarak’s staying on, even in a lame-duck capacity? Early indications were negative. How will Egypt prepare for credible elections, after nearly 30 years in which the political opposition was ruthlessly suppressed?

As Stephen P. Cohen, a Middle East expert, put it, “How can you have a transitional government that is acceptable to both the military and the people in the streets, and that is not a coronation for the Muslim Brotherhood?”

Also, how will an extended period of turmoil in a country at the heart of the Arab world affect stability across a region already being rocked by unrest from Yemen to Jordan? And for the United States, can an Egypt without Mr. Mubarak serve American interests in the Middle East?

On Tuesday night, that too remained unanswered. But Mr. Obama, addressing the nation from the White House after a 30-minute phone call with Mr. Mubarak, said, “What is clear, and what I indicated tonight to President Mubarak, is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now.”

Mark Landler and Helene Cooper reported from Washington, and David D. Kirkpatrick from Cairo.

Overcrowded Internet Running Out of Addresses

IP Address Authority Says Only 6 to 9 Months Left Before Addresses Run Out; Looking to Technology to Make Room

NEW YORK - The spread of Internet use in Asia and the proliferation of Internet-connected phones worldwide are causing the Internet to run out of numerical addresses, which act as "phone numbers" to ensure that surfers reach websites and e-mails find their destination.

The top-level authority that governs such addresses will distribute the last batches on Thursday, two people with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity because a formal announcement wasn't planned until Thursday.

That doesn't mean consumers will suddenly find websites unreachable, though. And if everything goes according to plan, Internet users won't even notice.

"It will just be 'business as usual' if everyone gets their job done," said John Curran, CEO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers, or ARIN, one of five regional groups that dole out such addresses. ARIN covers the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean.

The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, the top-level administrator of the system, has called a press conference in Miami on Thursday. One person said its last five "blocks" of Internet Protocol, or IP, addresses will be distributed then. These blocks, each with 16.8 million addresses, will be distributed to the regional registries. That means the regional groups will have IP addresses to distribute further to Internet service providers, websites and others before running out. Curran expects to deplete his allotment in six to nine months.

The current Internet address system, Internet Protocol version 4, has been in place since the 1980s. It allows for a theoretical maximum of 4.3 billion addresses in use, far beyond what was thought necessary for what was then mainly a network for academic use.

Engineers have known for years that the pool of these IP addresses would one day run out. Websites and service providers have been experimenting with a new technology that allows for many more addresses - an infinite number, for all practical purposes. But many have been slow to do so because of a lack of immediate benefits. The exhaustion of IP addresses at the top level puts pressure on them to move more quickly.

The new system is called Internet Protocol version 6, or IPv6. Curran said only about 2 percent of websites support it. However, many of those are the most-visited sites on the Internet, including Google and Facebook. He expects smaller sites to scramble for IPv6 addresses now.

As Internet service providers run out of IPv4 addresses, they'll have to give subscribers IPv6 addresses. The challenge lies in connecting them to websites that have only IPv4 addresses. In essence, IPv4 and IPv6 are different "languages." Several "translation" technologies are available, but they haven't been tested on a large scale, Curran said. That could lead to problems reaching some websites, or slow surfing.

"We're estimating how these boxes will work, but we haven't seen one deployed with tens of thousands of customers on it yet," Curran said.

The "end game" - the distribution of the last five blocks - was triggered by the distribution of two of the last seven blocks on Tuesday. They went to the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre, the regional registry for East Asia (including India), Australia and the Pacific islands.

Bye Bye, Mubarak By MAUREEN DOWD NYTimes

If only W. had waited for Twitter.

And Facebook. And WikiLeaks.

Revolutionary tools all, like the fax machine in the Soviet Union.

The ire in Tahrir Square is full of ironies, not the least of which is the American president who inspired such hope in the Middle East with his Cairo speech calling around this week to leaders in the region to stanch the uncontrolled surge of democracy in the Arab world.

Egyptians rose up at the greatest irony of all: Cleopatra’s Egypt was modern in ancient times and Mubarak’s was ancient in modern times. The cradle of civilization yearned for some civilization.

President George W. Bush meant well when he tried to start a domino effect of democracy in the Middle East and end the awful hypocrisy of America coddling autocratic rulers.

But the way he went about it was naïve and wrong. “In many ways, you can argue that the Iraq war set back the cause of democracy in the Middle East,” Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations who worked at the State Department during Bush’s first term, told me. “It’s more legitimate in Arab eyes when it happens from within than when it’s externally driven.”

You can’t push a morally muscular foreign policy by subverting morality. And you can’t occupy a country only to trade one corrupt regime for another.

In his second inaugural, President Bush pledged a goal of “ending tyranny in our world.” But he only managed to get rid of one tyrant (a weakened one he had a grudge against). He learned that trying to micromanage the future course of the internal politics of another country is very difficult.

As Haass wrote at the time in an op-ed piece: “Immature democracies — those that hold elections but lack many of the checks and balances characteristic of a true democracy — are particularly vulnerable to being hijacked by popular passions.”

Just so, Haass now says of Egypt’s political eruption: “This could go off the rails. The end of Mubarak is like the second inning.”

He said that Mubarak’s “royalist, monarchist pretensions, his plan to install his son Gamal as his successor, truly offended a lot Egyptians, who found it humiliating. Humiliation is a powerful motivator in the Middle East.”

In 2005, Secretary of State Condi Rice chided the Egyptians to be more democratic, but Mubarak continued to stifle his country’s vitality.

W. associated his “freedom agenda” with war.

In another irony, one of the reasons Bush decided he needed to do something about the Arab dictatorships was his belief that they were spawning terrorists. But to try to fulfill his grandiose promise to defeat “every terrorist group of global reach,” he needed the cooperation of the same dictators the U.S. had always supported. And he fell back to relying on the help of dictatorships to try to shut down dictatorships. Instead, he shut down the democratization process in 2006 after he and Rice were blindsided by Hamas winning the Palestinian elections.

“We were overly spooked by the victory of Hamas,” said Robert Kagan, a senior Brookings fellow, neocon and Iraq war advocate who co-founded the prescient Working Group on Egypt, a bipartisan group of Middle East experts who wanted to get the administration to press Mubarak to be more democratic.

“The great fear that people have with Islamist parties is that, if they take part in an election, that will be the last election,” he continued. “But we overlearned that lesson and we need to get beyond that panicky response. There’s no way for us to go through the long evolution of history without allowing Islamists to participate in democratic society.

“What are we going to do — support dictators for the rest of eternity because we don’t want Islamists taking their share of some political system in the Middle East? We’ve got to put our money where our mouth is.

“Obviously, Islam needs to make its peace with modernity and democracy. But the only way this is going to happen is when people speaking for Islam take part in the system. It’s incumbent on Islamists who are elected democratically to behave democratically.”

Members of Kagan’s group met with members of the White House national security team on Monday. He does not think, as some critics do, that President Obama has been too slow to embrace the Egyptian protesters. “It’s tricky,” he said. “Any administration is extremely reluctant to push out a longtime ally.”

But he believes that the administration “really made a mistake not preparing for this a year ago.” He thinks that Mubarak’s health problems emboldened restive Egyptians.

And he advises President Obama — who went on TV Tuesday night to assure Egyptians that they will determine their own destiny, but maybe not just yet — not to count on a long goodbye for Mubarak.

“The notion of trying to figure out a Mubarak option,” he said, of a leisurely transition, “should be dropped.”

Who is the 'Most Desirable Woman' of 2011?

It's time to unveil AskMen's 10th Annual Top 99 Most Desirable Women list.

After more than 5 million votes were cast internationally, who came in No. 1 for 2011?

While Gisele Bundchen and Angelina Jolie have made it onto all 10 editions, this year's list features some new faces, including Mila Kunis, Olivia Wilde and Nicki Minaj, in addition to welcoming newcomers like royal icon Kate Middleton, Glee's Lea Michele and Mad Men's Jessica Pare.

Also, Beyoncé was named "Woman of the Decade" by ranking high on the list an impressive nine times, including No. 1 in 2007. Here's the rest of the Top 10:

2. Mila Kunis
3. Sofia Vergara
4. Selita Ebanks
5. Miranda Kerr
6. Cheryl Cole
7. Scarlett Johansson
8. Katy Perry
9. Anne Hathaway
10. Jessica Pare

Other notables on the list:

17. Emma Watson

23. Beyoncé

26. Shakira

41. Rihanna

45. Kim Kardashian

48. Kristen Bell

49. Megan Fox

56. Taylor Swift

60. Elin Nordegren

61. Kate Middleton

67. Angelina Jolie

69. Padma Lakshmi

74. Elisabetta Canalis

80. Maria Sharapova

81. Dianna Agron

82. Freida Pinto

85. Halle Berry

91. Lea Michelle

97. Ivanka Trump

Punxsutawney Phil Predicts an Early Spring

PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pa. -- To the relief of the winter-weary, the world's most famous groundhog is predicting an early spring.

Punxsutawney Phil emerged around dawn on Groundhog Day on Wednesday to make his 125th annual weather forecast in front of thousands who braved muddy, icy conditions to hear his handlers reveal that Pennsylvania's prophetic rodent had not seen his shadow.

Phil's handlers, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's Inner Circle, concoct the forecasts. Several thousand revelers gathered in the pre-dawn hours on a small hill called Gobbler's Knob to hear the prediction.

Before Wednesday, Phil had seen his shadow 98 times and hadn't seen it 15 times since 1887. There are no records for the remaining years, though the group has never failed to issue a forecast.

The tradition traces its origins to a German superstition.