Politics and Legislation
[JURIST] Newly elected Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] on Thursday ordered the release of 572 people who had been convicted by the military. Morsi, Egypt’s first elected civilian president, had formed a committee to review all the cases of prisoners who had been sentenced by military courts since the beginning of the revolution that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile; JURIST news archive] last year. Activists and international rights groups have repeatedly called for Egypt to end the practice of civilian trials by military commissions [AFP report], which have been criticized for not meeting the requirements of independence and impartiality. Morsi also commuted the life sentences of 16 individuals [Egypt State Information Service report] to seven years imprisonment. Earlier this month Morsi appointing a fact-finding committee to investigate the deaths of protesters[JURIST report] in last year’s demonstrations. 9,714 individuals have been released out of the 11,879 Egyptians detained by the military since last year’s uprising.Earlier this month, a few days after he was sworn in, Morsi issued a decree [JURIST reports] calling the dissolved Egyptian parliament back into session, despite a previous ruling by the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court [official website] dissolving it due to its finding that one-third of its members were elected illegally [JURIST report]. The court suspended Morsi’s decree two days later, after which Morsi vowed that he would respect the ruling [JURIST reports]. A court struck down [JURIST report] a government decree in June that restored broad arrest powers to Egyptian military officials. Days before its dissolution, the Egyptian parliament elected a new constitutional council after lawmakers finally reached an agreement [JURIST reports] on the political composition of the council. In April the country’s Administrative Court effectively suspended [JURIST report] the work of the 100-member council responsible for drafting the country’s new constitution after ruling in favor of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the formation of the panel.
Gun control calls follow Colorado theater shootings, but few expect major changes
A handful of Democrats are pressing for tougher gun laws in the wake of the Colorado movie theater shootings that left 12 people dead.
Moving such bills has become extraordinarily difficult on Capitol Hill because of powerful gun rights allegiances, however, and Republican strategists predicted the latest gun violence was unlikely to lead to significant changes.
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) — whose husband was killed and son seriously injured in a 1993 shooting on a Long Island commuter train — told reporters on Friday that the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other opponents of gun control have a simple but effective strategy following gun violence tragedies.
“They will wait it out, wait it out, wait it out, until people forget about it again, until another tragedy happens like last night,” said McCarthy. “We should be proactive before another tragedy happens.
“There are ways of doing this without infringing upon anyone’s rights,” she said.
[JURIST] Beijing’s Chaoyang District Court on Friday rejected the appeal brought by dissident artist Ai Weiwei [BBC profile] challenging the government’s imposition of 15 million yuan (USD $2.4 million) tax evasion penalty. The fine was leveled against Fake Cultural Development Ltd., the company that helps Ai, 55, produce and market his works, which was accused and charged with tax evasion in November. Ai, an internationally acclaimed artist [AFP report] whose works have been exhibited around the world, claims that by imposing such penalty, the government violated the tax law, and he urged the court to overturn the Beijing tax office’s rejection of his appeal against the penalty. Friday’s ruling did not surprise Ai[Reuters report] because the court on Friday morning rejected lawyers’ requests to see evidence against the company, produce witnesses and have an independent auditor verify figures.The tax penalty is widely viewed as a government attempt to silence one of the country’s most outspoken dissidents. About 30,000 people donated money to help Ai cover an 8.45 million yuan bond required to contest the tax charges. Ai plans to appeal the court’s decision.
Ai spent 81 days in secret detention last year. Last month the court banned Ai from attending [JURIST report] the first hearing in the case, and further banned him from attending any hearings, including Friday’s delivery of the verdict. Ai’s wife Lu Qing, the legal representative of Fake Cultural Development, attended the hearing with other lawyers and reported that during the hearing witnesses they requested were blocked from testifying including Ai. Other rights activists such as Hu Jia [advocacy blog; JURIST news archive] were also barred from attending the hearing. The court also closed the five-seat chamber to journalists and filming. The court agreed to hear [JURIST report] the case in May, surprising many with its ruling since Chinese courts rarely accept appeals claims brought by dissidents and their relatives.
Subcommittee Chairman McCaul Opening Statement at Hearing on the Impact of UAVs in the Homeland
Published on Jul 19, 2012 by HouseHomeland
On Twitter: @HouseHomeland
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Management delivers an opening statement at a hearing entitled: “Using Unmanned Aerial Systems Within the Homeland: Security Game Changer?”
Privacy advocates satisfied with Lieberman’s cybersecurity rewrite
Revisions that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) made to his Cybersecurity Act seem to have appeased privacy advocates who lobbied against an earlier version of the bill.
Michelle Richardson, a legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told The Hill that Lieberman and other co-sponsors made “substantial changes” and undertook a “Herculean effort to build privacy protections” into the bill.
Sharon Bradford Franklin, senior policy counsel at The Constitution Project, applauded the changes, saying they “go a long way toward alleviating our concerns.”
“The amendments address key civil liberties concerns that have dogged the cybersecurity debate,” agreed Leslie Harris, president and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology.
The statements mark a major shift for the privacy groups, which had urged the Senate to reject the previous version of Lieberman’s bill to prevent an erosion of civil liberties.
Supporters of Lieberman’s bill, including Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), conducted months of negotiations behind closed doors with the privacy groups to develop the revised proposal.
Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) also pushed for tougher privacy protections.
Like the controversial Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) that passed the House in April, Lieberman’s Cybersecurity Act would encourage companies to share information about cyber threats with the government.
The privacy groups fought fiercely against CISPA, saying it would lead private companies to hand over their customers’ personal information to military spy agencies.
President Obama also threatened to veto CISPA over privacy and civil liberty concerns.
Canadians protest Saudi government, western allies
Published on Jul 23, 2012 by PressTVGlobalNews
Canadians took to the streets this weekend to display their antipathy towards what they call the anti-democratic government of Saudi Arabia. Activists voiced concerns with the backing the Saudi monarchy receives from Western governments which regularly claim to be concerned with Human Rights and democracy in the Middle East.
Press TV’s Joshua Blakeney reports from Calgary.
Mexico protest: Over 30,000 march against new president
Published on Jul 23, 2012 by RussiaToday
At least 32,000 protesters marched through Mexico City on Sunday to protest the “imposition” of the new president – READ MORE: http://on.rt.com/dz6a73
RT LIVE http://rt.com/on-air
Third-party groups ready multiple ads attacking health-care law
View Photo Gallery — Supreme Court upholds health-care law, individual mandate: The Supreme Court’s decision Thursday is a major victory for the White House less than five months before the November election. The law will affect the health-care choices of millions of Americans.
By Dan Eggen,
The ads amount to the next wave of opposition to Obama’s health-care plan, which was upheld by the Supreme Court last month as constitutional under the federal government’s taxing authority. Some of the groups most active on the issue have received funding from health-care firms opposed to parts of the legislation.
“How far will they go to protect Obama’s agenda?” a narrator asks in one digital ad, which equates a trio of New York Democrats with the Three Stooges comedy troupe. “Tell congressmen Bill Owens, Tim Bishop and Louise Slaughter to repeal the health care tax.”
Two donations to the group have emerged publicly from the health-care sector: $3 million in 2011 from insurance giant Aetna and $4.5 million in 2010 from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association (PhRMA), Washington’s biggest drugmaker lobby.
Aetna and PhRMA officials say their contributions were made in support of general policies, not political ads.
The effort underscores the secrecy that pervades many of the political ads inundating voters this year, particularly in a dozen crucial swing states that are likely to decide the presidential race between Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Some $10 trillion comes from just 92,000 people scattered around the globe.
By Victoria Cavaliere / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Harold Cunningham/Getty Images
Swiss bankers Wegelin & Co. Swiss have been charged with conspiring to help American taxpayers to hide $1.2 billion from the Internal Revenue Service.
The wealthiest people in the world have exploited loopholes in international tax rules, evading the taxman and sheltering a staggering $21 trillion or more in offshore accounts, according to a report released Sunday.
To give perspective to the scale of the offshore economy, the economic transparency group Tax Justice Network said the sum is larger than the entire United State’s economy, or enough money to entirely solve the European debt crisis.
The report, called The Price of Offshore Revisted, says between $21 trillion and $32 trillion could be hidden in tax havens in countries like Switzerland and the Cayman Islands. The first details of the report were released to the Observer in London.
And most of the money hidden overseas comes from people who would make the was majority of the top 1 percent turn green with envy, economists said.
Instead, some $10 trillion that has been stashed in off-shore accounts is owned by only 92,000 people, or 0.001 percent of the world’s population, the report finds.
“These estimates reveal a staggering failure: inequality is much, much worse than official statistics show,” said John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network. “People on the street have no illusions about how unfair the situation has become.”
Market Pulse: Pain in Spain spooks euro buyers
Published on Jul 23, 2012 by ReutersVideo
July 23 – The only way is down for euro/dollar today after media reports that six Spanish regions could need financial help, says Reuters FX Analyst Neal Kimberley.
K Street hopes for lift from lame duck
Revenue on K Street is in a holding pattern ahead of a lame-duck session that could be one for the record books.
Friday was the deadline for lobby firms to disclose their second-quarter reports for 2012 as required under the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA). While some on K Street reported revenue gains over 2011, others saw a decline despite an active spring session for Congress.
Some lobbyists predicted the preparations for the lame-duck session after the election — when lawmakers are expected to tackle big-money issues like the Bush-era tax rates and automatic spending cuts — would bring a spike in business at the end of the year.
They noted that the heat of a presidential election is putting legislating on hold until then, as both Republicans and Democrats push for votes they think will put them in a good political position come November.
Firms including Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Ogilvy Government Relations, Williams & Jensen, Alston & Bird and Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti reported slight to moderate gains for the first half of the year, ranging from 2 percent to 6 percent.
But the top dog on K Street, Patton Boggs, reported a slight decline from last year, while Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, the traditional No. 2, took a 13 percent dive.
The Podesta Group, which had the third-highest revenues for 2012’s first half, reported no change between this year and last.
Four other shops — Van Scoyoc Associates, Cassidy & Associates, Cornerstone Government Affairs and Dutko Grayling — saw double-digit drops in LDA revenue.
Kevin O’Neill of Patton Boggs said that, with a payroll tax cut extension and broad transportation measure already through Congress this year, lawmakers had in many ways exceeded expectations.
But he said the 2012 campaign might have caused some parts of corporate America to be less aggressive on the lobbying front. Patton Boggs raked in a reported $24.2 million in lobbying revenue for the year’s first half, a 2 percent decline from 2011’s $24.8 million.
“There’s a natural sense in the business community right now that election years, especially presidential election years, can’t be as jam-packed with signatures achievements as a non-election year,” said O’Neill, the firm’s deputy chairman for public policy.
“That’s a common perception and may cause clients to take their foot off the pedal quicker than they otherwise might.”
But O’Neill also said that the firm was satisfied with its numbers, especially because lots of their work on regulatory issues falls “under the radar” and isn’t reflected by the LDA reports.
He noted that extensive preparations are being made for the lame-duck session, and said clients are eager to make sure they aren’t caught flat-footed when Congress moves into overdrive in December.
“Putting the game plan down, figuring out which players you need to have on the field: Astute clients may not be as visible in a quarter like this, but they’re doing an awful lot to get ready,” O’Neill said, comparing the current period to a pep rally before the big game.
Smith Davis, a partner at Akin Gump, noted that his firm was heavily reliant on billable hours last quarter, and partly attributed the revenue drop to a slowdown on Capitol Hill after the failure of last year’s supercommittee.
Tax Loopholes Block Efforts to Close Gaping U.S. Deficit
WASHINGTON — As a member of the “Gang of Six,” Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho has emerged as something of a hero among advocates of bipartisanship, one of three conservative Republicans working with three Democrats to cut the deficit by closing loopholes that allow businesses and households to avoid paying taxes.
Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
Senator Mike Crapo, Republican of Idaho, fought to save a tax loophole for the timber industry.
A one-stop destination for the latest political news — from The Times and other top sources. Plus opinion, polls, campaign data and video.
Yet earlier this year, the senator made sure that a $3 billion loophole — protecting “black liquor,” an alcoholic sludge used as fuel in timber mills and factories — remained open in the negotiations over the highway bill that President Obama signed this month. Many budget experts criticize the loophole as a tax dodge because it allows the sludge to qualify for an energy subsidy created to wean the country off imported oil for vehicles, which black liquor does not do.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers casually point to closing loopholes as the answer to much that ails the country. Negotiations to avoid automatic military spending cuts in January, to enact sweeping deficit reduction and to lower corporate and personal income tax rates all hinge on closing unidentified loopholes.
But the back-room actions on black liquor point to just how difficult it will be to lower the budget deficit through painless changes in the tax code. Even for a self-proclaimed deficit hawk like Mr. Crapo, one man’s loophole can be another’s vital constituent interest.
An Idaho company “feared losing the write-offs could affect employment decisions,” said Lindsay Nothern, a spokesman for Mr. Crapo.
Mr. Nothern would not identify the company, but Matt Van Vleet, a spokesman for Clearwater Paper, a Spokane company with a large pulp mill in north-central Idaho, confirmed that his company had gone to Mr. Crapo seeking to keep the tax break open.
“We would have felt significant pain,” he said.
Federal tax receipts are reduced by more than $1 trillion a year by various tax deductions and credits, known as tax expenditures, often tied to a policy aim. Ending them would nearly eliminate the federal deficit, which is projected to be $1.2 trillion in the current fiscal year.
But the three largest are as popular as they are expensive: the mortgage interest deduction has cost about $75 billion a year recently, the employer deduction for health care has cost $120 billion a year, and the charitable-giving deduction has cost $38 billion a year, according to the bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation.
Others are more hotly debated, like the exclusion or deferral of taxes on overseas corporate earnings. Legislation by Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan, to end a tax deduction for the expense of moving business overseas fell to a Republican filibuster in the Senate this week.
Still other tax breaks verge on the unpopular, criticized by aides of both parties. Offshore tax havens and other tax shelters cost the government about $150 billion a year, said Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.
For tax aides in both parties, black liquor falls into the category of the hard to defend.
Mr. Nothern, the spokesman for Mr. Crapo, confirmed the senator’s role in the disappearance of the provision that would have eliminated the loophole, which happened sometime between its approval by the Senate Finance Committee and its arrival on the Senate floor this spring.
But he added that those actions bore no impact on the deficit negotiations that Mr. Crapo helped start. Mr. Nothern said in an e-mail: “Instead of discussing individual loophole closures to save a buck here or there (more than likely so the bucks can be immediately spent elsewhere), the Gang of Six and bipartisan partners remain talking about a much larger agreement — a simultaneous effort to agree on spending caps, tax reforms (including loophole adjustments and lowering of tax rates), plus reforms to Social Security, Medicare and related programs to keep them solvent.”
The company in question did not appear to be a political contributor to Mr. Crapo, but the forestry and forest products industry has given him $216,286 over his career, ranking 13th among industry givers, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Since the 1930s, the timber industry has used an alcoholic sludge produced as a byproduct of wood processing to power its mills and plants. In 2009, black liquor became something else — a tax haven. The timber industry labeled black liquor an alternative fuel under the provision Congress created to encourage ethanol production for cars and trucks. Congress never agreed, but the Internal Revenue Service did, backing the timber industry’s interpretation.
That year, black liquor cost the Treasury more than $4 billion.
Wars and Rumors of War
Security Council extends UN mandate for Syria
[JURIST] The UN Security Council [official website] on Friday extended the UN monitoring mission in Syria for an additional 30 days. The mandate for the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) [official website], deployed as part of the peace plan of UN Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan [official profile], received a unanimous vote for a 30-day extension [Reuters report] in the Security Council. Amnesty International (AI) and three other rights groups had urged the UN to renew the mandate [JURIST report], stating that human rights abuses in the country are on the rise and that the UN must continue to pressure the government to improve humanitarian conditions. The UN Syria mission, approved in April, sent up to 300 unarmed military observers and other humanitarian aid[JURIST report] to supervise the implementation of a peace plan. Most of the monitoring was suspended in June due to increased risk from rising violence.Earlier this month UN Chief Military Observer in Syria Major-General Robert Mood stated that he believed Syrian authorities were committed to implementing the peace agreement [JURIST report] that was reached earlier this month. Mood, who works with the UNSMIS, confirmed that the UN would continue to provide humanitarian support as the violence subsides, even if the UNSMIS mission is not renewed. In June the UNSMIS concluded in a report that Syrian forces “may have been responsible” for the killing of more than 100 civilians [JURIST reports] in Al-Houla in May. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad [BBC backgrounder], however, said earlier that month that the government had nothing to do with the attacks [JURIST report]. In April Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report [JURIST report] stating that Syrian security forces had killed more than 100 civilians and opposition fighters in recent attacks. In March HRW also reported on and linked to videos of Syrian forces rounding up civilians for use as human shields [JURIST report], including women and children, forcing them to walk in front of soldiers and tanks during troop movements and attacks so that opposition fighters would not shoot at them.
Over 100 killed in Iraq blast wave as Al-Qaeda ‘returns with revenge’
Published on Jul 23, 2012 by RussiaToday
Over 100 people have been killed in a wave of blasts in Iraq in the bloodiest day the country has seen this year – READ MORE: http://on.rt.com/j0vgao
The violence mostly targeted security forces and follows a warning from the new Al-Qaeda leader in the country that the terrorist group is returning to its former strongholds there. He also threatened the US. with attacks.
Mark Almond, professor of international relations at Bilkent University in Turkey warns of a grim fate for the region if the invasion of Iraq is repeated in Syria.
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Syrian government’s chemical weapons stash raises alarm in Washington
Reports that the Syrian government is at risk of losing control of its chemical weapons stockpile have set off alarm bells in Washington.
Hawks in Congress who have been pushing the Obama administration to step up its involvement in the Syrian conflict said the revelations about the weapons show the urgent need for an intervention by the United States.
“The longer this lasts,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on CNN, “the more likelihood that these chemical weapons stockpiles that Bashar Assad has gets in the wrong hands, or maybe even used.”
Others urged caution, arguing the United States should partner with other countries in the region to gain control of the weapons if the regime of President Bashar Assad falls.
“What it means is that there’s a larger concern that maybe will concentrate people’s focus a little more,” said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who rejected the idea that time is running out for action in Syria. “I think it increases the vigilance and accelerates the consideration of options.”
The latest frenzy was set off by a Wall Street Journal report that quoted U.S. officials as saying that Assad had moved “parts of its vast arsenal of chemical weapons out of storage facilities.” On Monday, Syria’s former ambassador to Iraq, who defected last week, added to the tension by telling the BBC that Assad “will not hesitate to use chemical weapons” if he’s cornered.
Kerry said such accusations should be taken with a grain of salt.
“Everybody says everybody’s going to do something over there,” Kerry told The Hill following a speech at the annual conference of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition. “I think we have to make our own judgments. I think we have to look at it very carefully. The good thing is we have the capabilities to watch very closely what’s going on.
“Nobody knows what the rationale may be for moving anything yet. There are a number of possibilities — some bad, some good,” he said, referring to the possibility that Assad intends to use them or simply wants to keep them from falling into the hands of potential terrorists. “You’ve got to figure them out.”
The White House put Syrian officials on notice that they would be held responsible for safeguarding the weapons.
“There are certain responsibilities that go along with the handling and storage and security of those chemical weapons,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. “We believe that the individuals who are responsible for living up to those challenges should do so and will be held accountable for doing so.”
Syria is believed to have a stockpile of nerve agents such as mustard gas and even more dangerous nerve agents like Sarin in at least 50 chemical weapon production and storage facilities around the country, according to the Heritage Foundation. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said the challenge of securing weapons in Syria is perhaps “100 times worse” than in Libya, where thousands of surface-to-air missiles are still unaccounted for following the rebellion there.
Experts have differing views about what to do about the stockpiles.
Some advocates of intervention say the United States should up its involvement in order to strengthen its hand with the rebels if Assad’s regime falls.
“Without greater U.S. involvement now, our ability to shape the post-Assad country will be severely limited and the odds of sheer chaos or an extremist takeover go up,” the conservative writer Max Boot wrote for Commentary magazine on Thursday.
“This has the makings of a very dangerous situation, especially because the Assad regime has chemical weapons which could conceivably fall into the wrong hands.”
But Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs panel on nonproliferation, said the United States has already done plenty.
“We’ve done a lot that’s on the record, we’ve done a lot that’s off the record,” Sherman told The Hill this week after a subcommittee hearing on securing Syria’s chemical weapons. “We’ve done plenty for the Syrian rebels, and commitments about what happens to chemical weapons that fall into their hands … are very important and a very small thing to ask, given what we’ve done, which is more than you can determine by reading the newspaper.”
Others have suggested bombing the chemical weapons storage areas.
The Israelis are considering such a move, but have been warned against it by the Obama administration, according to a report in The New York Times.
Mosaic News – International Community Remains Silent on Ethnic Cleansing in Myanmar
Published on Jul 23, 2012 by linktv
International community remains silent on ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, Egypt’s striking workers to occupy Mahalla factory until their demands are met, Protestors defy government ban on rallies with 25 marches across Bahrain, and more.
Today’s headlines in full:
International community remains silent on ethnic cleansing in Myanmar
Al Jazeera, Qatar
Egypt’s striking workers to occupy Mahalla factory until their demands are met
BBC Arabic, UK
Protestors defy government ban on rallies with 25 marches across Bahrain
Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province holds candlelight vigil for protests’ martyrs
Israel points finger at Hezbollah for Bulgarian bus bombing
New TV, Lebanon
Syrians hold funeral for killed officials as clashes continue in Damascus
New TV, Lebanon
Experts doubt Hezbollah orchestrated Israeli bus bombing
Press TV, Iran
Saudi intelligence chief sacked for poor performance
Press TV, Iran
Yemenis in Sa’ada call for expulsion of US ambassador, condemn US drone attacks
Press TV, Iran
Israel’s ownership claim of al-Aqsa Mosque causes outrage
Palestine TV, Ramallah
Image: A Rohingya man from Myanmar cries after being arrested by Border Guards of Bangladesh (BGB) while trying to get into Bangladesh, in Teknaf June 18, 2012: REUTERS/Andrew Biraj
Mosaic is a Peabody Award-winning daily compilation of television news reports from the Middle East, including Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Syria, the Palestinian Authority, Iraq and Iran. Watch more Mosaic at http://www.linktv.org/mosaic
Articles of Interest
Scotland Debates Independence
Published on Jul 23, 2012 by TheRealNews
Will Independence be good for ordinary people and what will it mean for UK’s nuclear weapons program?
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