Wednesday, February 16, 2011

This Red Neck has no chance to be another George Wallace!?

Haley Barbour Won't Denounce Proposal Honoring Confederate General,
Early KKK Leader

Republican Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is refusing to condemn a state proposal that would honor a Confederate General and early leader of the Ku Klux Klan, the Associated Press reports, telling reporters on Tuesday that "I don't go around denouncing people."

The proposal, brought up by the Mississippi Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans, seeks to create a state-issued license plate honoring Nathan Bedford Forrest. Forrest was a lieutenant general in the Confederate Army and, it is believed one of the earliest members of (and first "Grand Wizard" to) the white supremacist group Ku Klux Klan.

Barbour, considered a potential 2012 presidential candidate, said he didn't think the proposal would be successful and that he did not, as a policy, denounce things or people.

"I don't go around denouncing people," he said, according to the Associated Press, when asked for a response to the proposal. "That's not going to happen. I don't even denounce the news media."

"I know there's not a chance it'll become law," he added.

Derrick Johnson, of the Mississippi chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) said on Tuesday that Barbour's refusal to speak out against the proposal was "curious."

"I find it curious that the governor won't come out and clearly denounce the efforts of the Sons of Confederate Veterans to honor Nathan Bedford Forrest," Johnson told the AP. "As the head of the state, he shouldn't tap dance around the question."

Forrest, a slave trader before the Civil War, is thought to have distanced himself from the KKK later in life

STUDY: Was Fox News Trying To Scare People With Their Egypt Coverage? The Fall of Mubarak and the Media

Could it be Fox News was trying to scare people about the uprisings in Egypt?

The good folks over at Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism have just released their study on the media's coverage of Egypt (they do this for the 'newshole' every week) and it makes some interesting conclusions.

Notably, Fox's coverage of the uprisings in Egypt had a different tone than the rest of the cablers.

On Fox News the tone was noticeably different, as anchor Megyn Kelly said: “One feels joy for those who are watching on screen left [but] there is concern for the United States of America and Israel at this hour.” She interviewed a former intelligence officer who warned, “this is a very dangerous time for U.S. policy interests…Iran really is in position to be resurgent here.”

PEJ links this difference in tone to certain words and phrases that popped up with more frequency on Fox:

At the same time, the search did reveal some differences in the use of key words between the Fox News Channel and its two rivals—CNN and MSNBC. For example, Fox used the term Muslim Brotherhood about five times as frequently as the other two combined and mentioned Israel about twice as often as CNN and MSNBC combined.

Before you ask, yes, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity were "among those in the media expressing the most concern about the ouster of Mubarak." Indeed

The two weeks of protest in Egypt seemed to be settling into a pattern, and the press, ever impatient, began to turn away. Then, in two days, protest turned to revolution and coverage of the unrest in the Middle East again dominated the U.S. news agenda.

By the time the week was over, February 7-13, the turmoil in Egypt filled 40% of the newshole, according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. That is down from the previous week’s level of 56%—when the crisis registered as the biggest international story in the four years PEJ has studied the media agenda through its weekly News Coverage Index. But those numbers don’t tell the whole story.

In the first half of last week (Monday through Wednesday), coverage of Egypt accounted for 26% of the newshole as the stalemate between President Hosni Mubarak and the protestors seemed to drag on. But from Thursday through Sunday—in the hours leading up to and following Mubarak’s exit—coverage roared back, filling 59% of the newshole—and even more on cable news (93%), network news (69%) and radio news (63%).

As it did, the narrative turned from a sense that the power struggle might continue, to certain reports that Mubarak would resign, to his defiant refusal, to a chaotic sense that he was no longer in control of his own destiny. And then the media narrative switched again, this time to speculation about what might happen next in Egypt and the implications for the U.S. and the region. An array of pundits and analysts lined up to somehow try and answer what MSNBC host Chris Matthews called the “many unanswered questions.”

An analysis of the coverage suggests that in the climactic final days, a celebratory tone about democracy overwhelmed a fearful one about the implications for security in the Middle East. The evidence also suggests that at least one news outlet, Fox, offered a noticeably different vantage point.

The Egyptian protests began in earnest on January 25 and led to the fall of Mubarak on February 11. And in the three weeks from January 24-February 13, the Mideast story accounted for more than one-third (39%) of all the coverage measured by PEJ’s Index. The second biggest story in those three weeks, the U.S. economy, generated less than one-quarter of that coverage, at 9%.

Last week, no media sector covered the extraordinary events in Egypt as extensively as cable news —a platform that often devotes more coverage to the biggest story of the week than the media generally—this time 59% of the airtime studied.

As is often the case with major breaking events, CNN, which has more foreign bureaus and reporters than any other cable network and whose programs are more oriented to breaking news than to talk, devoted considerably more of its airtime studied last week (83%) to the story than did MSNBC (48%) and Fox (43%).

Although no subject generated anywhere near the coverage Egypt did, the economy was the No. 2 story last week, accounting for 10% of the coverage on news from the housing sector and the job market as well as Barack Obama’s efforts to mend fences with business. That was followed, at 3%, by news about the Obama Administration itself, some of which focused on the president’s personal habits.

The No. 4 story, at 3%, was coverage of U.S anti-terror efforts in a week in which the Homeland Security secretary raised red flags about the threat level. And the fifth-biggest subject, 2%, was a media story—the sale of the liberal Huffington Post site to AOL.

The Drama in Egypt

In the first half of the week, coverage of Egypt actually began to diminish significantly as the prospect of extended stalemate loomed.

“With rallies in their third week, the question is whether the demonstrators have the stamina and resources to fight on—or whether they'll retreat behind the few concessions Mubarak's regime has thrown at them,” said a story posted on AOL News on February 9.

But on February 10, the media and U.S. officials such as CIA Director Leon Panetta began sending strong signals that a Mubarak resignation was imminent—a prediction that was disproven by the Egyptian president’s speech that day.

That generated a new theme in the coverage best described by two words—what happened?

“The chaos and confusion that so permeated throughout Egypt made its way to the White House today,” reported ABC correspondent Jake Tapper. “They are still trying to make sense of it, just like the crowd in Tahrir Square.”

Then, on February 11, Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak had stepped down, and the scenes in Tahrir Square led some journalists to invoke comparisons to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

CNN’s Ivan Watson reported that, “Moments ago, the crowd just exploded into cheering and flag waving and chanting the word ‘Freedom!’ And I saw two men drop to their knees and begin praying immediately in the streets…Absolute scenes of rapture.”

On MSNBC, correspondent Ron Allen characterized the Egyptian mood under Mubarak as a “feeling of just captivity…of limited hopes and dreams” and described the post-resignation scene as “a huge celebration…It’s like the Fourth of July, it’s New Year’s Eve…”

On Fox News the tone was noticeably different, as anchor Megyn Kelly said: “One feels joy for those who are watching on screen left [but] there is concern for the United States of America and Israel at this hour.” She interviewed a former intelligence officer who warned, “this is a very dangerous time for U.S. policy interests…Iran really is in position to be resurgent here.”

In attempting to assess the overall tone of U.S. coverage in the week’s two most frantic days—Thursday and Friday—there are some clues to guide us. For example, a search by PEJ found that among some of the key terms used on cable and network evening news broadcasts on February 10 and 11, positive messages seemed to predominate.

In order to monitor the contours of the coverage, researchers identified a series of significant terms related to the ongoing events in Egypt. Six of them—including “democracy,” “triumph,” “celebrate” and “pluralism”—seemed to have positive connotations. Another six—including “theocracy,” “Muslim Brotherhood,” “extremism” and “radical”—appeared to have more worrisome connotations.

PEJ then tracked the use of those terms on 17.5 hours of cable news and network news broadcasts on February 10 and 11. Of the five terms that appeared most frequently on the programs, four of them—“democracy,” “freedom,” “peace” and “celebrate”—had upbeat implications. Only one, the “Muslim Brotherhood,” would seem to indicate concern or negativity. Moreover, the group of positive-leaning terms appeared about three times as often as the more negative ones.

At the same time, the search did reveal some differences in the use of key words between the Fox News Channel and its two rivals—CNN and MSNBC. For example, Fox used the term Muslim Brotherhood about five times as frequently as the other two combined and mentioned Israel about twice as often as CNN and MSNBC combined.

Fox News host Sean Hannity and his colleague Glenn Beck were among those in the media expressing the most concern about the ouster of Mubarak. On his February 11 program, Hannity declared that “at the end of the day, I think we have weakened America’s influence in the world” and he warned that the Muslim Brotherhood or a Muslim state could emerge.

And once the media documented the sudden transfer of power in Egypt, that narrative was quickly overtaken by another—one driven by speculation, prediction and a dose of ideology.

From different points on the political spectrum, commentators offered their assessments of what had happened. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof expressed the hope that the U.S. would rethink its traditional support of Mideast autocrats. “We tie ourselves in knots when we act as if democracy is good for the United States and Israel but not for the Arab world,” he wrote. “For far too long, we’ve treated the Arab world as just an oil field.”

But in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Jack Kelly, a former deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force who writes a syndicated column, was more concerned about the possibility of an unfriendly government taking power. “Obama administration cluelessness about the [Muslim] brotherhood is dangerously reminiscent of Carter administration policy toward Iran in 1979,” he wrote.

By the end of the week, that question of what will happen next in Egypt consumed much of the U.S. media.

Appearing on CNN’s Parker Spitzer, Fouad Ajami, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, predicted that, “there will be an Islamic current [to the next government], but it won’t be a theocracy.”

On MSNBC’s Hardball, MSNBC commentator and author Richard Wolffe warned that overt U.S. support for any of the factions competing for power would be the “kiss of death.”

During a discussion on ABC’s Sunday talk show “This Week,” former State Department official Robert Kagan asserted that the best strategy for the U.S. would be to “press for gradual reforms so that you don’t wind up creating a tinderbox that explodes.”

And This Week host Christiane Amanpour—who had landed a coveted interview with Mubarak the week before—seemed to sum up the subtext for the conversation by declaring: “Clearly, everybody is terrified that what’s going to happen in Egypt is another Iran.”

That potential scenario is likely to keep the U.S. media focused on Cairo for some time.

The Rest of the Week’s News

The week’s No. 2 story was the economy, which was dwarfed by coverage of Egypt even as it jumped to 10% of the newshole, up from 5% the previous week. While there were no major developments, the newsmaking events included President Obama’s speech to the U.S Chamber of Commerce and word that more than one-quarter of American homeowners owe more on their mortgage than the value of their houses.

From there, it was a significant drop to the third-biggest story, news about the Obama Administration (3%), which included reaction to Fox News host Bill O’Reilly’s Super Bowl interview with the president and Michelle Obama’s announcement that her husband had kicked the smoking habit. That was followed, (also at 3%) by coverage of U.S. anti-terrorism efforts, a topic driven in part by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s testimony to Congress that in some ways, the terror risk to the U.S. is at its highest level since 9/11.

The final story (2%) was a new media merger with troubled online company AOL buying the six-year-old Huffington Post site for $315 million dollars. Not surprisingly, the story got the most coverage (6% of the newshole studied) in the online sector. A substantial chunk of last week’s media commentary expressed caution, if not skepticism, about the deal.

Newsmakers of the Week

Barack Obama was once again the top newsmaker, after having been relegated to the No. 2 position the previous week behind Hosni Mubarak. From February 7-13, Obama was a prominent newsmaker in 9% of the week’s stories, up from 6% the previous week. (To be a prominent newsmaker, someone must be featured in at least 50% of a story.)

Mubarak, who relinquished power on February 11, was a lead newsmaker in 6% of last week’s stories, down moderately from 8% the previous week. The No. 3 newsmaker (2%) was another prominent figure in the Egyptian revolution, Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who became one of the key figures among the protestors.

The fourth-leading newsmaker (1%) was Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who last week spoke her first words since the January 8 Tucson shootings. She was followed (also at 1%) by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, whose new memoir was just released and Christopher Lee, a married Republican Congressman from New York who resigned quickly after the nation learned of his use of Craigslist—sans shirt—to contact a woman.

About the NCI

PEJ’s weekly News Coverage Index examines the news agenda of 52 different outlets from five sectors of the media: print, online, network TV, cable and radio. (See List of Outlets.) The weekly study, which includes some 1,000 stories, is designed to provide news consumers, journalists and researchers with hard data about what stories and topics the media are covering, the trajectories of that media narrative and differences among news platforms. The percentages are based on "newshole," or the space devoted to each subject in print and online and time on radio and TV. (See Our Methodology.) In addition, these reports also include a rundown of the week’s leading newsmakers, a designation given to people who account for at least 50% of a given story.

Mark Jurkowitz of PEJ

Egypt's Women Rally Behind Lara Logan

The sexual assault of CBS correspondent Lara Logan sheds light on the constant harassment and violence women face across the country despite the revolution. Ursula Lindsey reports.

Almost everyone in Egypt has now heard the news that on February 11, the night when millions of Egyptians were celebrating the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, CBS correspondent Lara Logan was beaten and sexually assaulted by a mob.

The reaction here to the attack on Logan has been consternation. "Lara Logan, I apologize sincerely with all my heart," reads an online petition being circulated Thursday. "To every girl, woman, mother harassed, I apologize sincerely with all my heart. To my mother nation Egypt, I apologize sincerely with all my heart. And I promise you all that I will try the very best that I can to bring an end to this, in the quest to have our sisters 'Walk Free.'"

When I reported on the subject a few years back, some men I interviewed said only girls who dress provocatively get harassed; other denied flatly that harassment takes place at all.

"We are all Lara," says Engy Ghozlan, 26, a co-founder of HarassMap, a digital map that monitors incidents of sexual harassment against women here.

Ghozlan and other activists have been at the forefront of a battle against harassment and violence against women here. Even as more Egyptian women than ever attend university and enter the workforce, they have had to contend with a society that still considers unaccompanied women out in public as “fair game” for sexual comments, advances and worse.

I've lived in Egypt since 2003 and much as I love it here I am sometimes disheartened and frustrated by the constant harassment. Most of it is obnoxious but innocuous—men whispering things under their breath, singing songs, and brushing up against me.

A survey released in 2008 by the Center for Women's Rights found that 83 percent of Egyptian women and 98 percent of foreign women had experienced harassment. Still, many here remain in denial about the extent of sexual violence and the very nature of harassment. Until recently, there was no word in Arabic for it—with people instead using the much lighter terms mu’aksa ("flirting, teasing").

And many women remain uncomfortable discussing sexual harassment or assault because they fear they will be stigmatized or blamed for it. When I reported on the subject a few years back, some men I interviewed said only girls who dress provocatively get harassed; other denied flatly that harassment takes place at all.

Resorting to the police has been largely useless; they are often accused of harassment themselves.

Under these circumstances, female journalists and photographers face particular challenges doing their work. Being a foreigner in and of itself can attract unwanted attention; add to that that they are often working alone, and heading into the middle of all-male crowds.

After a terrorist bombing in 2004 in the historic neighborhood of Khan Al Khalili, myself and two female foreign journalists trying to cover the attack were surrounded by young men who formed a circle around us and locked their arms. Someone tried to unzip the pants of one of the women I was with. A middle-aged man dragged us to safety.
Often, female reporters don't focus on what happens to them because they don't want to appear weak or whiny or get side-tracked from the main story.

In 2004, during demonstrations by the opposition against President Mubarak, government-backed thugs attacked protesters and journalists. I just happened to leave half an hour before the thugs sexually attacked all the women there, groping them and tearing their clothes. Sexually attacking and humiliating female protesters has long been an effective regime tactic to scare half the country off the street. The next day, the state press accused one of the female demonstrators of undressing herself in public.

When pro-government groups attacked the protesters in Tahrir Square, there were also reports of sexual assault.

When they aren’t orchestrated by the regime, the worst incidents tend to happen where there are large crowds: The chaos of proximity and the cover of collective anonymity loosen the enforcement of a shared moral code. Even then, there are always people who try to step in and help. (Logan was reportedly rescued by a group of women and soldiers).

One of the most striking aspects of the protests has been how many women participated, and said they felt welcome and safe.

Young female activists played a key role in planning the protests. Asmaa' Mahfouz, a 22-year-old activist with the 6 April group, put a message on YouTube before the protests started. The veiled, diminutive Mahfouz played on gender politics to encourage Egyptians to join the demonstration, saying: "I'll be distributing flyers and I'll be going out on the street [...] Everyone in this country who calls himself a man, should come out. Everyone who says girls who go to demonstrations will be abused, so they shouldn't go—he should act like a man and come out."

Not just activists but average Egyptian women came out day after day, facing tear gas, rubber pellets, beatings, and the risk of arrest.

Amany Eid, 34, works at a telecom company. She ventured out to her first protest on January 28. "We were four girls," she says. "We took one guy with us just in case it got nasty, in case we got harassed. We know Cairo—these things end up happening."

But, she says, "It was perfect. There was no harassment. Everyone was so emotionally and politically involved." Eid was separated from most of her friends and blinded by tear-gas. Nonetheless, she continued attending protests. "As the days progressed the number of women on the street was incredible," she says.

Nourhan Ahmad, a 17-year-old high school student in Alexandria, says when she joined her first protest on January 28 she was "afraid."

"I thought I would be the only girl," she says. Instead, she found many women alongside her. And, she says, "I never experienced this gender equality in Egypt before."

Egyptians insist that what happened to Logan is not representative of their revolution; some note that sexual violence unfortunately happens the world over. But some also say it’s a reminder that the road ahead is a long one, and that they need to focus on social as well as political change.

"Tahrir Square was a small representation of what we want Egypt to be, but not necessarily what it is," says Ghozlan. "Society still does have its problems and we can't ignore them and think they've gone away."

Ghozlan's group has long campaigned for a new law against sexual harassment. Today, they and other women’s rights groups are also calling for women to be better represented in the political transition, so their concerns aren’t left by the wayside.

In the last few weeks, says Ghozlan, “We set an example. We set a rule.”

What happened to the American correspondent, says Eid, is “unacceptable. If they catch these guys—I hate to say this but they will be beaten to death. They're disgracing us."

Ursula Lindsey is a Cairo-based reporter and writer.

For Cold Virus, Zinc May Edge Out Even Chicken Soup

Scientists still haven’t discovered a cure for the common cold, but researchers now say zinc may be the next best thing.

A sweeping new review of the medical research on zinc shows that sniffing, sneezing, coughing and stuffy-headed cold sufferers finally have a better option than just tissue and chicken soup. When taken within 24 hours of the first runny nose or sore throat, zinc lozenges, tablets or syrups can cut colds short by an average of a day or more and sharply reduce the severity of symptoms, according to the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, a respected medical clearinghouse.

In some of the cited studies, the benefits of zinc were significant. A March 2008 report in The Journal of Infectious Diseases, for example, found that zinc lozenges cut the duration of colds to four days from seven days, and reduced coughing to two days from five.

While the findings are certain to send droves of miserable cold sufferers to the drugstore in search of zinc treatments, the study authors offered no guidance on what type of zinc product to buy. The authors declined to make recommendations about the optimal dose, formulation or duration of zinc use, saying that more work was needed before they could make recommendations.

“Over all, it appears that zinc does have an effect in controlling the common cold,” said Dr. Meenu Singh, the review’s lead author and a professor in the department of pediatrics at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, India. “But there still needs to be consensus about the dose.”

Zinc experts say that many over-the-counter zinc products may not be as effective as those studied by researchers because commercial lozenges and syrups often are made with different formulations of zinc and various flavors and binders that can alter the effectiveness of the treatment.

“A lot of preparations have added so many things that they aren’t releasing zinc properly,” said Dr. Ananda Prasad, professor in the department of oncology at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit and an early pioneer of research into zinc as an essential mineral. Two of Dr. Prasad’s studies were included in the Cochrane report.

“The public is confused because people have used the wrong dose, they have used the wrong sort of zinc or they have not started the treatment within 24 hours of onset,” he said.

Even so, the new report gives credence to the long-debated theory that zinc can be an effective treatment for colds. While it’s not certain how the mineral curbs colds, it appears to have antiviral properties that prevent the cold virus from replicating or attaching to nasal membranes.

The first study to show that zinc might be a useful treatment for the common cold was published in 1984, but the research was criticized for its poor methods. Since that study, 18 more trials of zinc for colds have been conducted: 11 of them showed it to be a useful treatment, while seven of them showed no benefit, according to the review.

Although a majority of trials have shown some benefit from zinc, many of them have been criticized for failing to “mask” the treatment, meaning the participants most likely knew they were using zinc, which may have skewed the results. At the same time, many of the trials that showed no benefit from zinc have been criticized for using formulations that may have contained ingredients that blunted the effectiveness of zinc.

The Cochrane reviewers selected 15 studies that enrolled a combined 1,360 participants. The studies were all considered to have good methodological quality with a low risk of bias, but they were far from perfect. All the studies compared zinc use with a placebo, but in several studies the zinc users complained about the taste of lozenges, suggesting that some people may have known that they were using zinc rather than a placebo.

Even so, when the data was pooled, the effect shown was strong. The review found that not only did zinc reduce the duration and severity of common cold symptoms, but regular zinc use also worked to prevent colds, leading to fewer school absences and less antibiotic use in children. People who used zinc were also far less likely to have a cold that lasted more than seven days.

The studies used various forms and doses of zinc, including zinc gluconate or zinc acetate lozenges and zinc sulfate syrup, and the dose ranged from 30 to 160 milligrams a day. Several studies in the Cochrane review used zinc acetate lozenges from the Web site, created by George Eby, the researcher who wrote the first zinc study in 1984.

Dr. Prasad said his studies have used zinc acetate lozenges from that contained about 13 milligrams of zinc. Study participants took a lozenge every three to four hours during the day for four consecutive days, resulting in a daily dose of 50 to 65 milligrams a day, he said.

Some cold sufferers have been wary about using zinc since the Food and Drug Administration warned consumers to stop using Zicam nasal sprays and swabs, which contain zinc, after numerous reports that some users lost their sense of smell after using the product. The Cochrane report did not review any studies of nasal zinc products.


Libyan police stations torched could Muammar Gaddafi be next after 41 years of cruel rule?

Clashes reported across the country, as security forces and government supporters confront demonstrators.Hundreds of protesters have reportedly torched Libyan police outposts in the eastern city of Beyida, while chanting: "People want the end of the regime."

"All the people of Beyida are out on the streets," said 25-year-old Rabie al-Messrati, who said he had been arrested after spreading a call for protests on Facebook.

Online calls of dissent have been growing rapidly over the past few days, with Facebook groups calling for "Uprising on February 17" doubling in popularity between Monday and Wednesday.

In the southern city of Zentan, 120km south of Tripoli, hundreds of people marched through the streets and set fire to security headquarters and a police station, then set up tents in the heart of the town, as a wave of unrest spread south and westwards across the country.

Activists had earlier clashed with government supporters and police, who reportedly shot rubber-coated steel bullets and used water cannon in Benghazi city.

Demonstrators gathered in the early hours of Wednesday morning in front of Benghazi's police headquarters and chanted slogans against the "corrupt rulers of the country", Al Jazeera's sources said.

Chants including "No God but Allah, Muammar is the enemy of Allah," can be heard on videos of demonstrations uploaded to YouTube. Independent confirmation was not possible as Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's administration keeps tight control over the movements of media personnel.

Police reportedly fired tear gas and violently dispersed protesters, arresting 20. Families of those arrested are planning to gather outside the city's security directorate to demand their release, our source tells us.

Al Jazeera is understood to have been taken taken off the state-owned cable TV network, but is still reportedly available on satellite networks.

Meanwhile, protesters have taken to Twitter to spread details on how to bypass internet clampdowns. Social media sites were reportedly blocked for several hours through the afternoon, but access was restored in the evening.

The crowds of demonstrators included some armed with rocks and petrol bombs, reported the online edition of Libya's privately owned Quryna newspaper, which is based in Benghazi - some 1,000km east of the oil-exporting country's capital.

At least 38 people were injured in the clashes, including ten security officials.

Benghazi's residents have a history of distrust of Gaddafi's rule, and many of the people jailed for membership of banned political groups are from the city.

On Wednesday evening, 110 members of the armed - and outlawed - Libyan Islamic Fighting Group were due to be released from Abu Salim prison later on Wednesday, in a suspected move to quell tension in the city, believed to have been orchestrated by Gaddaffi's son, Seif al-Islam Gaddaffi.

There are just 30 members of the group remaining in prison.

The state has also offered to double the salaries of government workers, and co-ordinated a series of twelve pro-Gaddaffi rallies in cities across the country.

In a telephone interview with Al Jazeera, Idris Al-Mesmari, a Libyan novelist and writer, said that security officials in civilian clothes came and dispersed protesters in Benghazi using tear gas, batons and hot water.

Al-Mesmari was arrested hours after the interview.

'Day of rage' called

Anti-government protesters have also called on citizens to observe Thursday as a "Day of Rage". They are hoping to emulate recent popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia to end Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's 41-year-old rule.

The rare protests reportedly began after relatives of those killed in a prison massacre about 15 years ago took to streets. They were joined by scores of other supporters.

Benghazi residents have a history of distrust of Gaddafi

The relatives were said to have been angered by the detention of Fathi Terbil, human rights lawyer and official spokesman of the victims' families, who was arrested by the Libyan security forces, for no apparent reason.

However, Terbil was later released, according to reports.

Twelve-hundred prisoners were killed in the Abu Slim prison massacre on June 29, 1996, after they had objected to their inhumane conditions inside the prison.

Those killed were buried in the prison's courtyard and in mass graves in Tripoli. The families of the victims have been demanding that the culprits be punished.

Mohammed Maree, an Egyptian blogger, said "Gaddafi's regime has not listened to such pleas and continues to treat the Libyan people with lead and fire."

"This is why we announce our solidarity with the Libyan people and the families of the martyrs until the criminals are punished, starting with Muammer and his family."

Libyan state television reported that rallies were taking place all over the country early this morning “in support of the rule of the people by the people”.

Signed statement

A group of prominent Libyans and members of human rights organisations have also demanded the resignation of Gaddafi.

They said that the Libyans have the right to express themselves through peaceful demonstrations without any threat of harassment from the regime.

The demands came in a statement signed by 213 personalities from different segments of the Libyan society, including political activists, lawyers, students, and government officials.

Meanwhile, a local human rights activist told Reuters news agency that the authorities have decided to release 110 prisoners jailed for membership of banned organisation, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.

The prisoners to be freed on Wednesday, are the last members of the group still being held and will be set free from Tripoli's Abu Salim jail, Mohamed Ternish, chairman of the Libya Human Rights Association said.

Hundreds of alleged members of the group have been freed from jail after it renounced violence last year.

Source: Al Jazeera

Prisoners stole millions from the IRS in 2009

The IRS issued $39.1 million in undeserved federal tax refunds to jail and prison inmates, according to data.

Seemingly proving the adage that crime pays, even behind bars, prisoners in the three states received nearly $19 million in IRS refunds during 2009 after filing false or fraudulent tax returns, according to an IRS report to Congress that was included in a federal audit released in January.

The IRS said it could not immediately determine how much, if any, of the fraudulent refunds in 2009 has been recovered, because the recapture process "can take several years."

The actual amount stolen by inmates could be even higher: The audit concluded the IRS doesn't always conduct fraud screening on tax returns filed by prisoners.

Although inmates' prison jobs don't pay enough to trigger tax withholding, some prisoners and their families may legally receive income from investments, inheritances or other sources that can qualify them for legitimate tax refunds. Washington enacted legislation in 2008 intended to crack down on fraudulent tax refunds claimed by inmates, but the intended enforcement has been bogged down by legal questions.

"If the IRS does not take action, the problem will only worsen and more taxpayer dollars will be lost," said J. Russell George, the Treasury Department inspector general for tax administration, whose office conducted the audit.

George added that "prisoners continue to find new ways to exploit weaknesses in the system in order to receive refunds to which they are not entitled." Underscoring that warning, a second inspector general audit issued Feb. 3 found that 29 inmates received nearly $50,000 in federal tax credits for electric and alternative motor vehicles they falsely claimed in tax returns.

The IRS "takes refund fraud seriously," and has instituted programs that stop "the vast majority of refunds from fraudulently going to inmates," said Michelle Eldridge, the agency's chief national spokeswoman, who added "we continue to increase our efforts."

But so do inmates seeking refunds for jobs they never held, and taxes that weren't withheld.

California, Florida and Georgia may lead the trend because they have large state prison populations, the IRS said. The three states ranked second, third and fifth, respectively, in a 2010 inmate count by the Pew Center on the States, a non-profit that identifies state policy solutions.

Evidence in federal court cases indicates they're typically run by inmates who gain access to the Social Security numbers and identifying information of others — sometimes including fellow prisoners — and then use the data to file false tax returns that generate thousands of dollars in refunds.

In some cases, the inmates search the Internet for listings of businesses that have filed for bankruptcy. Listing a defunct firm as employer on a false tax return can make it difficult for the IRS to verify the claim.

The scams often involve inmates' relatives or friends who are not behind bars. They receive and cash IRS refund checks, then deposit funds in prison accounts.

Danilo Suarez, 50, a Florida convict who has served time for drug possession and other charges, scammed at least $58,022 in IRS refunds by filing 14 or more false tax returns that listed addresses for his daughter, sister and other relatives, federal court records show.

Suarez pleaded guilty last year, and was sentenced Jan. 14 to an additional five-year prison term, plus restitution of the full amount stolen from the IRS. His attorney, Stewart Abrams, did not respond to messages seeking comment on the case. Suarez's daughter and sister each were sentenced to six months behind bars for related convictions.

Court records show the scam ultimately involved multiple prisoners and tens of thousands of dollars in fraudulent refunds. Suarez was caught in part because an alert official at a Key West bank spotted an upside-down notary stamp on a power-of-attorney form Suarez's daughter used in an effort to cash a tax refund check in early 2007.

Separately, officials at the Monroe County Detention Center in Key West found instructions in a prisoner's cell describing how to file false tax returns.

The discoveries led to a joint investigation by Key West police and federal authorities, including the FBI and the IRS. The probe also led to charges against Shawn Clarke, 38, an inmate who had been sentenced to a five-year term for battery.

In a deal with prosecutors, Clarke pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to file false claims. He was sentenced in September to 51 months in prison. Clarke was also ordered to pay $40,345 in restitution for his role in the refund scam, which, like the Suarez case, involved help from relatives outside the jail.

In a separate criminal information filed last month in Tennessee, Jeanni Renee Hillin was accused of receiving $58,651 in refunds for false tax returns filed in 2006 as part of a conspiracy with a state prison inmate the court filing identified only as W.J.

The inmate allegedly sent Hillin tax returns that included Social Security numbers from fellow prisoners and other inmates recruited at other Tennessee state prisons, the complaint charged. Hillin pleaded not guilty at her arraignment last week.

Hoping to improve government detection of similar frauds, Congress in 2008 gave the IRS authority to disclose prisoners' tax information to state departments of corrections and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The new statute carved an exemption in federal laws that in most cases bar the IRS from sharing such data.

The intended information-sharing had not started as of October, because the IRS and Department of Justice were investigating whether prison officials could legally disclose the IRS data to inmates and their attorneys, the audit found.

Asked by USA TODAY about any change since October, the tax agency said it signed a memorandum of understanding with the federal prison system this month. The IRS said Commissioner Douglas Shulman on Monday wrote to governors of the 10 states with the highest numbers of fraudulent tax returns filed by prisoners. Shulman asked the states to help improve data they currently give the IRS on their inmate populations. The letters also sought approval of agreements that would allow the IRS to share information about fraudulent tax activity by prisoners, thus enabling the states "to take appropriate disciplinary actions."

Along with the delay, the inspector general audit found that the IRS does not check all tax returns filed by prisoners. The tax agency identified 44,944 false or fraudulent tax returns filed by prisoners in 2009, but the audit identified 54,410 tax returns it said the IRS failed to identify as having been filed by prisoners.

Commissioner Douglas Shulman says the IRS wants agreements with states to share information about fraudulent tax activity by prisoners.
"As such, these individuals would not be subjected to the specialized fraud checks the IRS has developed for prisoner-filed tax returns and, therefore, may never be identified as a false/fraudulent prisoner tax return," the audit concluded.

Disputing that finding, the IRS said most of the tax returns identified by the audit had been checked. As tax returns are screened by the agency's Electronic Fraud Detection System, the IRS checks for matches with identifying data supplied by the federal and state prison systems.

When a prisoner filing is identified, the IRS gives it a special indicator. The specially marked tax returns then are evaluated, the IRS said.

The inspector auditors recommended more stringent safeguards, a proposal met with partial agreement from Victor Song, the IRS' criminal investigation chief.

The screening issue is complicated, the IRS cautioned, because legitimate tax refunds filed by inmates are mixed with the many fraudulent applications. Additionally, the prisoner population constantly changes, making it difficult for the IRS to maintain a complete and accurate database of the inmate population.

Under a Treasury Department proposal issued Monday as part of the federal budget process, by Dec. 1 of each year all U.S. prisons would be required to give the IRS all names and Social Security numbers of inmates serving terms at least one year.

State prison officials say they already cooperate with the tax agency, and several said they look forward to increased, two-way information sharing. Inmates who filed false returns might face jail sanctions, apart from any criminal charges.

David Folsom, deputy inspector general of Florida's corrections department, said the state is currently helping investigate two suspected cases of prisoner tax refund fraud.

"It's almost like a little bit of a dance where we provide information, but we aren't told (by the IRS) how it fits into the investigation. It's been a little frustrating," Folsom said.

The IRS said it can't share full investigation details until an indictment has been issued.

"Unfortunately, in some cases silence has been misunderstood as inaction on the part of the IRS," Eldridge said. "We understand the frustration caused when prison officials provide information and then cannot get updates or other information from the IRS, but federal law clearly prohibits IRS from disclosing on-going case information."

Voicing hope the information-sharing envisioned by Congress begins to flow, Folsom said, "we'd like to be more involved and help speed up these investigations."

But not all states necessarily share that view.

Cassandra Hockenson, an information officer for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said the agency likely would defer to the IRS' better funding and expertise in investigating tax frauds.

"We do not have anything to do with them (prisoners) filing their tax returns," Hockenson said. "The IRS is the collection arm of the federal government. If they ask us for any information, we're more than happy to comply."

Kevin McCoy, USA TODAY

Fed Forecasts Faster Growth as Economy Gathers Steam (JOBS? when?)

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve revealed Wednesday that its policy makers had substantially upgraded their forecasts for how much the United States economy will grow this year, even though they expect that unemployment will remain painfully high for some time.

The core projections of top Fed officials now call for growth of 3.4 percent to 3.9 percent this year, up from the previous forecast of 3 percent to 3.6 percent, released in November. But the grim outlook for the job market was largely unchanged; Fed officials expect unemployment to be 8.8 percent to 9 percent this year, only slightly less than the November estimate of 8.9 percent to 9.1 percent.

Growth expectations were lifted by an improvement in consumer spending in the fourth quarter, though Fed officials were uncertain how long that would last, according to minutes released Wednesday of the Fed’s policy meeting in late January.

“On the one hand, the additional spending could reflect pent-up demand following the downturn or greater confidence on the part of households about the future, in which case it might be expected to continue,” the minutes noted. “On the other hand, the additional spending could prove short lived given that a good portion of it appeared to have occurred in relatively volatile categories such as autos.”

At the meeting, the Federal Open Market Committee, the Fed’s crucial policy arm, voted unanimously to continue with a plan announced in November to purchase $600 billion in Treasury securities, the second round of a strategy that is intended to push down long-term interest rates and lift share prices. The strategy, known as quantitative easing, has been controversial — critics say it could set the stage for future inflation and asset bubbles — but the Fed has been fairly unified behind it.

The minutes revealed that Fed officials view the risks of deflation — a protracted fall in prices, of the sort that has afflicted Japan for more than two decades — had diminished. That fear of deflation had been a principal factor behind the decision in August to set the stage for the bond purchases.

The minutes painted a picture of a committee that was not quite certain about how long and painful the recovery would take from the 2007-9 recession — the longest downturn since the Depression.

“On the downside, participants remained worried about the possible effects of spillovers from the banking and fiscal strains in peripheral Europe, the ongoing fiscal adjustments by U.S. state and local governments, and the continued weakness in the housing market,” the minutes stated. “On the upside, the recent strength in household spending raised the possibility that domestic final demand could snap back more rapidly than anticipated. If so, a considerably stronger recovery could take hold, more in line with the sorts of recoveries seen following deep economic recessions in the past.”

Although food and energy prices have increased recently, especially in fast-growing emerging markets, the committee did not have a consensus on whether that development would lead to higher inflation in the United States, noting that the factors affecting businesses’ ability to pass higher costs through to their consumers were “complex and hard to monitor in real time.”

The minutes noted that most Fed officials viewed the large slack in the economy — that is, the economy’s underperformance relative to its potential — as “likely to remain a force restraining inflation,” and believed that while price declines were unlikely, inflation was likely to remain below its desired level (2 percent or slightly below) “for some time.”

Some participants also said that if the public doubted the Fed’s willingness to reduce its huge balance sheet — by selling the financial assets it acquired as a response to the crisis — when the time comes to do so, “the result could be upward pressure on inflation expectations and so on actual inflation.”

In recent months, the Fed chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, has been adamant in saying that the Fed was ready and willing to curb inflation — and could even raise interest rates at a moment’s notice if it needed to.

The committee’s unanimous vote in January to consider the $600 billion bond-buying program, which is to continue until the end of June, surprised some observers, because a small but vocal minority on the committee had questioned the need for the program. But the minutes revealed that for now, the committee was unified on continuing the purchases, viewing the risks to doing so as manageable.

“A few members noted that additional data pointing to a sufficiently strong recovery could make it appropriate to consider reducing the pace or overall size of the purchase program,” the minutes stated. “However, others pointed out that it was unlikely that the outlook would change by enough to substantiate any adjustments to the program before its completion.”


Message to MSNBC do not give your girl newsreaders any sports stories! They always screw up the players names! How about a pronunciation coach??

Americans see hope for Mideast peace in Egypt revolt

Americans are cautiously optimistic that the upheaval in Egypt will increase the chances for an enduring peace in the Middle East, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, though there is also concern about the potential consequences of the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

Those surveyed give President Obama high marks for his handling of the unfolding situation. By more than 2-to-1, 66%-28%, they credit him with doing a good or very good job.

"It offers an opportunity as well as a challenge," Obama said at a news conference Tuesday. "I think the opportunity is that, when you have the kinds of young people who were in Tahrir Square, feeling that they have hope and they have opportunity, then they're less likely to channel all their frustrations into anti-Israeli sentiment or anti-Western sentiment, because they see the prospect of building their own country. ...

"The challenge is that ... democracy is messy."

Americans take a similar optimistic-but-wary view of the path ahead. In the poll:

•By 37%-22%, they predict events in Egypt will increase rather than decrease the chances for enduring peace in the Middle East; 28% say it won't make a difference.

•By 28%-21%, they say it will help rather than hurt U.S. efforts to fight terrorism; 41% say it won't make a difference.

•By 47%-44%, they say it will result in democracy taking hold in other countries in the region.

Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies warns it's too soon to make judgments about repercussions.

At the White House news conference — dominated by questions about the administration's 2012 budget proposal released Monday — Obama called on governments in the Mideast to avoid crackdowns on pro-democracy protesters. He blasted Iran for using force against demonstrators.

"The world is changing," he said, addressing the region's rulers. "You have a young, vibrant generation within the Middle East that is looking for greater opportunity. ... You've got to get out ahead of change; you can't be behind the curve."

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in what was billed as a major address on the Internet, praised the organizational role that social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter have played for democracy activists in the Mideast — but she warned the same tools could be used by autocratic regimes to crush dissidents

Obama plays hardball with veto threat

President Barack Obama signaled his openness to larger deficit-reduction talks with Congress on Tuesday but drew a sharp line at the immediate spending cuts proposed by the House, even suggesting that Republicans were jeopardizing the Pentagon’s ability to “meet vital military requirements.”

The thinly veiled veto threat was delivered in a formal statement of administration policy just hours after debate opened in the House on the Republican plan.

And the suggestion that Republicans risked hurting the nation’s defense amounts to an especially hardball political response designed to play on divisions in the GOP over the level of Pentagon cuts.

“The bill proposes cuts that would sharply undermine core government functions and investments key to economic growth and job creation and would reduce funding for the Department of Defense to a level that would leave the department without the resources and flexibility needed to meet vital military requirements,” the statement read.
“If the president is presented with a bill that undermines critical priorities or national security through funding levels or restrictions, contains earmarks or curtails the drivers of long-term economic growth and job creation while continuing to burden future generations with deficits, the president will veto the bill.”

In fact, Republicans have already sworn to keep all earmarks out of the bill, and their primary focus remains domestic and foreign-aid spending. But under pressure to meet the goal of cutting $100 billion from Obama’s 2011 requests, the House Appropriations Committee agreed to cut $15 billion from what Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had requested for 2011.

In the early rounds of the floor debate Tuesday, the $516.2 billion defense chapter of the bill was the first up for amendments — and the immediate target of more spending cuts offered by newly elected conservatives.

Pro-defense forces prevailed in the first series of votes last night. But House Armed House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) has grown increasingly agitated with the level of cuts and most fears the prospect that, unless the spending impasse is resolved soon, it will be impossible to get a final defense budget in place.

“Whatever it takes, we need to get a bill,” McKeon told POLITICO.

But going to his friend Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), and seeking relief, was not an option at this stage.

“Boehner’s in a box right now,” McKeon said of the pressure on the leadership from the right and tea party freshmen. “Boehner’s got parameters that he has to work within.”

“They [the speaker and GOP leadership] worked out what they thought was workable, and the freshmen and other conservatives kind of told them it wasn’t enough. He has to get some kind of deal.”

In this light, the White House veto threat fits into a Democratic strategy of standing back, perhaps poking at the Republican majority but largely hoping that divisions arise within the GOP itself.

For example, South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, a member of the Democratic leadership, delivered emotional remarks during a news conference on the education cuts in the bill — speaking of the impact on districts, like his own, that have a large concentration of poverty and on as many as seven historically black colleges targeted by the GOP.

“You explain to me how that will provide us the wherewithal to compete,” Clyburn said of the cuts. “They’ve just gone in with a meat ax chopping stuff out in order to get to some magic number without regard to what this means to the people that we are trying to prepare for the future and what it means to this country if we are going to compete.”

But limited by the rules governing debate, restoring funding would be difficult, and Clyburn appears to be focusing on directing what remains to the areas of greatest need.

Senate Democrats are Obama’s real line of defense, but in turn, the president is under pressure there to show that he is willing to make more of a commitment to a longer-term deficit reduction scheme akin to suggestions that came out of his presidential commission last year.

“I’m not suggesting that we don’t have to do more,” Obama said at the White House, in the face of criticism that his new budget fell short of the mark.

“It’s a matter of everybody having a serious conversation about where we want to go and then ultimately getting in that boat at the same time so it doesn’t tip over.”

“Congress and the president always have this dance,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). “This is the beginning of the question, if at the end of the day you can have a dramatic agreement, I still think it’s very possible. This time it’s different.”

And whatever the disappointment with Obama’s budget, those dreaming bigger still met Tuesday morning and reported progress on their own efforts.

“My personal thing is the numbers are wrong, it’s highly inaccurate and doesn’t go near where we need to be, and I think they realize that,” said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) of the White House. “This is the first bid. It is a negotiating chip.”

© 2011 Capitol News