Monthly Archives: June 2013

The F.B.I. Deemed Agents Faultless in 150 Shootings

Gerardo Mora/Getty Images

An apartment complex in Orlando, Fla., where Ibragim Todashev was killed by an F.B.I. agent last month.

 

By  and 
Published: June 18, 2013

“WASHINGTON — After contradictory stories emerged about anF.B.I. agent’s killing last month of a Chechen man in Orlando, Fla., who was being questioned over ties to the Boston Marathonbombing suspects, the bureau reassured the public that it would clear up the murky episode.

“The F.B.I. takes very seriously any shooting incidents involving our agents, and as such we have an effective, time-tested process for addressing them internally,” a bureau spokesman said.

But if such internal investigations are time-tested, their outcomes are also predictable: from 1993 to early 2011, F.B.I. agents fatally shot about 70 “subjects” and wounded about 80 others — and every one of those episodes was deemed justified, according to interviews and internal F.B.I. records obtained by The New York Times through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

The last two years have followed the same pattern: an F.B.I. spokesman said that since 2011, there had been no findings of improper intentional shootings.

In most of the shootings, the F.B.I.’s internal investigation was the only official inquiry. In the Orlando case, for example, there have been conflicting accounts about basic facts like whether the Chechen man, Ibragim Todashev, attacked an agent with a knifewas unarmedor was brandishing a metal pole. But Orlando homicide detectives are not independently investigating what happened.

“We had nothing to do with it,” said Sgt. Jim Young, an Orlando police spokesman. “It’s a federal matter, and we’re deferring everything to the F.B.I.”

Occasionally, the F.B.I. does discipline an agent. Out of 289 deliberate shootings covered by the documents, many of which left no one wounded, five were deemed to be “bad shoots,” in agents’ parlance — encounters that did not comply with the bureau’s policy, which allows deadly force if agents fear that their lives or those of fellow agents are in danger. A typical punishment involved adding letters of censure to agents’ files. But in none of the five cases did a bullet hit anyone.

Critics say the fact that for at least two decades no agent has been disciplined for any instance of deliberately shooting someone raises questions about the credibility of the bureau’s internal investigations. Samuel Walker, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska Omaha who studies internal law enforcement investigations, called the bureau’s conclusions about cases of improper shootings “suspiciously low.”

Current and former F.B.I. officials defended the bureau’s handling of shootings, arguing that the scant findings of improper behavior were attributable to several factors. Agents tend to be older, more experienced and better trained than city police officers. And they generally are involved only in planned operations and tend to go in with “overwhelming presence,” minimizing the chaos that can lead to shooting the wrong people, said Tim Murphy, a former deputy director of the F.B.I. who conducted some investigations of shootings over his 23-year career.

The F.B.I.’s shootings range from episodes so obscure that they attract no news media attention to high-profile cases like the 2009 killing of an imam in a Detroit-area warehouse that is the subject of a lawsuit alleging a cover-up, and a 2002 shooting in Maryland in which the bureau paid $1.3 million to a victim and yet, the records show, deemed the shooting to have been justified.

With rare exceptions — like suicides — whenever an agent fires his weapon outside of training, a team of agents from the F.B.I.’s Inspection Division, sometimes with a liaison from the local police, compiles a report reconstructing what happened. This “shooting incident review team” interviews witnesses and studies medical, ballistics and autopsy reports, eventually producing a narrative. Such reports typically do not include whether an agent had been involved in any previous shootings, because they focus only on the episode in question, officials said.

That narrative, along with binders of supporting information, is then submitted to a “shooting incident review group” — a panel of high-level F.B.I. officials in Washington. The panel produces its own narrative as part of a report saying whether the shooting complied with bureau policy — and recommends what discipline to mete out if it did not — along with any broader observations about “lessons learned” to change training or procedures.

F.B.I. officials stressed that their shooting reviews were carried out under the oversight of both the Justice Department’s inspector general and the Civil Rights Division, and that local prosecutors have the authority to bring charges.

The 2,200 pages of records obtained by The Times include an internal F.B.I. study that compiled shooting episode statistics over a 17-year period, as well as a collection of individual narratives of intentional shootings from 1993 to early 2011. Gunfire was exchanged in 58 such episodes; 9 law enforcement officials died, and 38 were wounded.

The five “bad shoots” included cases in which an agent fired a warning shot after feeling threatened by a group of men, an agent fired at a weapon lying on the ground to disable it during an arrest, and two agents fired their weapons while chasing fugitives but hit no one. In another case, an agent fired at a safe during a demonstration, and ricocheting material caused minor cuts in a crowd of onlookers.

Four of the cases were in the mid-1990s, and the fifth was in 2003.

In many cases, the accuracy of the F.B.I. narrative is difficult to evaluate because no independent alternative report has been produced. As part of the reporting for this article, the F.B.I. voluntarily made available a list of shootings since 2007 that gave rise to lawsuits, but it was rare for any such case to have led to a full report by an independent authority.

Occasionally, however, there were alternative reviews. One, involving a March 2002 episode in which an agent shot an innocent Maryland man in the head after mistaking him for a bank robbery suspect, offers a case study in how the nuances of an F.B.I. official narrative can come under scrutiny.

In that episode, agents thought that the suspect would be riding in a car driven by his sister and wearing a white baseball cap. An innocent man, Joseph Schultz, then 20, happened to cross their path, wearing a white cap and being driven by his girlfriend. Moments after F.B.I. agents carrying rifles pulled their car over and surrounded it, Agent Christopher Braga shot Mr. Schultz in the jaw. He later underwent facial reconstruction surgery, and in 2007 the bureau paid $1.3 million to settle a lawsuit.

The internal review, however, deemed it a good shoot. In the F.B.I.’s narrative, Agent Braga says that he shouted “show me your hands,” but that Mr. Schultz instead reached toward his waist, so Agent Braga fired “to eliminate the threat.” While one member of the review group said that “after reading the materials provided, he could not visualize the presence of ‘imminent danger’ to law enforcement officers,” the rest of the group voted to find the shooting justified, citing the “totality of the circumstances surrounding the incident,” including that it involved a “high-risk stop.”

But an Anne Arundel County police detective prepared an independent report about the episode, and a lawyer for Mr. Schultz, Arnold Weiner, conducted a further investigation for the lawsuit. Both raised several subtle but important differences.

For example, the F.B.I. narrative describes a lengthy chase of Mr. Schultz’s car after agents turned on their siren at an intersection, bolstering an impression that it was reasonable for Agent Braga to fear that Mr. Schultz was a dangerous fugitive. The narrative spends a full page describing this moment in great detail, saying that the car “rapidly accelerated” and that one agent shouted for it to stop “over and over again.” It cites another agent as estimating that the car stopped “approximately 100 yards” from the intersection.

By contrast, the police report describes this moment in a short, skeptical paragraph. Noting that agents said they had thought the car was fleeing, it points out that the car “was, however, in a merge lane and would need to accelerate to enter traffic.” Moreover, a crash reconstruction specialist hired for the lawsuit estimated that the car had reached a maximum speed of 12 miles per hour, and an F.B.I. sketch, obtained in the lawsuit, put broken glass from a car window 142 feet 8 inches from the intersection.

The F.B.I. narrative does not cite Mr. Schultz’s statement and omits that a crucial fact was disputed: how Mr. Schultz had moved in the car. In a 2003 sworn statement, Agent Braga said that Mr. Schultz “turned to his left, towards the middle of the car, and reached down.” But Mr. Schultz insisted that he had instead reached toward the car door on his right because he had been listening to another agent who was simultaneously shouting “open the door.”

A former F.B.I. agent, hired to write a report analyzing the episode for the plaintiffs, concluded that “no reasonable F.B.I. agent in Braga’s position would reasonably have believed that deadly force was justified.” He also noted pointedly that Agent Braga had been involved in a previous shooting episode in 2000 that he portrayed as questionable, although it had been found to be justified by the F.B.I.’s internal review process.

Asked to comment on the case, a lawyer for Agent Braga, Andrew White, noted last week that a grand jury had declined to indict his client in the shooting.

In some cases, alternative official accounts for several other shootings dovetailed with internal F.B.I. narratives.

One involved the October 2009 death of Luqman Ameen Abdullah, a prayer leader at a Detroit-area mosque who was suspected of conspiring to sell stolen goods and was shot during a raid on a warehouse. The F.B.I. report says that Mr. Abdullah got down on the ground but kept his hands hidden, so a dog was unleashed to pull his arms into view. He then pulled out a gun and shot the dog, the report says, and he was in turn shot by four agents.

The Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed a lawsuit against the F.B.I. The group was concerned in part because the handgun had no recoverable fingerprints and because of facial injuries to Mr. Abdullah. It also contends that the dog may have been shot instead by the F.B.I. agents and the gun thrown down in a cover-up.

A report by the Michigan attorney general’s office, however, detailed an array of evidence that it says “corroborates the statements of the agents as to the sequence of events,” including that bullet fragments in the dog’s corpse were consistent with the handgun, not the rifles used by the F.B.I. agents. Such an independent account of an F.B.I. shooting is rare. After the recent killing of Mr. Todashev in Orlando, both the Florida chapter of the same group and his father have called for investigators outside the F.B.I. to scrutinize the episode.

James J. Wedick, who spent 34 years at the bureau, said the F.B.I. should change its procedures for its own good.

“At the least, it is a perception issue, and over the years the bureau has had a deaf ear to it,” he said. “But if you have a shooting that has a few more complicated factors and an ethnic issue, the bureau’s image goes down the toilet if it doesn’t investigate itself properly.”

 

A version of this article appeared in print on June 19, 2013, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: The F.B.I. Deemed Agents Faultless In 150 Shootings.”

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by | June 20, 2013 · 5:46 pm

Vaccine Against HPV Has Cut Infections In Teenage Girls

June 19, 2013 3:10 PM
A 13-year-old girl gets an HPV vaccination from Judith Schaechter, a pediatrician at the University of Miami, in 2011.

A 13-year-old girl gets an HPV vaccination from Judith Schaechter, a pediatrician at the University of Miami, in 2011.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

 

“A vaccine against human papillomavirus — the most common sexually transmitted infection and the cause of almost all cervical cancer — is dramatically reducing the prevalence of HPV in teenage girls.

The first vaccine against HPV, Merck’s Gardasil, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2006. Cerverix, from GlaxoSmithKline, was approved in 2009.

In the first four years of immunizations, infections from the four strains of human papillomavirus targeted by the vaccines plummeted by more than half among 14-to-19-year-olds in the United States.

Federal health officials say they were surprised by the number since only about 1 in 3 girls in this age group has received the full three-dose course of the vaccine. About half have received a single dose.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, acknowledges that the number of girls who have gotten the HPV vaccine is “very disappointing” and “certainly not good enough.”

Still, Frieden says, “The vaccine works and works very well.” The findings of the CDC study were released Wednesday in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

The vaccine has been controversial, with some parents worried about possible health risks, and others worrying that vaccination could encourage earlier sexual activity.

The study didn’t find a decrease in the HPV strains covered by the vaccine in other age groups, a clue that the vaccine is responsible for the decrease among teenagers.

 

Researchers also didn’t find any decrease in sexual activity among girls in the target population that might explain why HPV prevalence is down, from nearly 12 percent to just over 5 percent.

 

The current recommendation is that girls get the HPV vaccine when they are 11 or 12, before the initiation of sexual activity, when the vaccine produces the best protection. Females up to age 26 are urged to get the three-shot course if they have not received the vaccine earlier.

The recommendation is similar for boys, in whom HPV can cause genital warts along with penile and anal cancers, except that the so-called catch-up vaccination is recommended for males only up to age 21.

The vaccine costs between $128 and $135 a dose, or around $400 for the full course, on the private market. Many insurers cover HPV vaccination, and the federally sponsored Vaccines for Children program provides it free of charge for qualified patients.

CDC officials say they intend to use the new results to press for wider use of HPV vaccines. The goal is to get 80 percent of adolescents fully vaccinated.

Frieden says the payoff will be tens of thousands of fewer cases of cervical cancers and deaths.

“Of girls alive today between the ages of zero and 13, there will be 50,000 more cases of cancer if we don’t increase the rates to 80 percent,” Frieden says. “And for every single year we delay in getting to 80 percent, another 4,400 women are going to develop cervical cancer in their lifetimes — even with good screening programs.”

CDC officials say that HPV vaccines have a very good track record for safety following distribution of 56 million doses in this country.

“We have a very clear idea of the safety,” Frieden says. “We’ve looked at all the adverse events that have been reported. Virtually all have not been serious. Among the serious events, the main issue has been fainting, redness and swelling at the injection site and other temporary symptoms.”

Last week Japanese health officials suspended their recommendation to vaccinate girls between 14 and 19 against HPV after some reports of pain and numbness following injection. Japanese officials say they want to investigate a possible link.

“The outcomes they were concerned about are things we have looked for in our data system here in the U.S.,” says the CDC’s Dr. Cindy Weinbaum. “We found a total of about a dozen reports that related to something like regional pain syndrome such as Japan was reporting.”

Weinbaum says the CDC found “really no consistency among them that would suggest anything specifically related to the vaccine.”

The CDC has investigated 42 reports of deaths among HPV vaccine recipients.

“The cause of these deaths has been very varied,” Weinbaum says. “It’s everything from cardiovascular to infectious, neurologic and hematologic. Again, there’s no consistent pattern of deaths that have occurred after vaccination that would give us any cause to be concerned” that the vaccine was responsible.”

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by | June 20, 2013 · 5:43 pm

An ‘Adventure’ For Kids, And Maybe For Their Parents Too

June 17, 2013 2:54 AM
Finn is in the middle, with the skinny arms. Jake is the dog. Together, they have Adventure Time.

Finn is in the middle, with the skinny arms. Jake is the dog. Together, they have Adventure Time.

Cartoon Network

“Count plenty of grownups among the millions of fans of Adventure Time, a kids’ show on Cartoon Network. Some are surely Emmy voters. (It’s won three.) Others are very possibly stoners. Still others are intellectuals. Lev Grossman falls in the last category. He wrote two best-selling novels, The Magicians and The Magician King, and he’s Time‘s senior book critic.

Grossman’s critique of Adventure Time? “It’s soooo smart! It’s sooo intelligent!”

Hang on. He’s just getting started.

“I am a little bit obsessed with it,” Grossman continues. “It’s rich and complicated the way Balzac’s work is. Which is a funny thing to say about a cartoon.”

For the uninitiated, Adventure Time is set in a surreally pastel post-apocalyptic kingdom crawling with mutated candy creatures, bizarre princesses — think Slime Princess and Lumpy Space Princess — and our two heroes. They’re Finn and Jake, a gangly human boy and his moon-eyed yellow dog.

The show’s creator, Pendleton Ward, modeled Jake partly after Bill Murray’s sardonic camp counselor in the 1979 movie Meatballs, a cooler-than-cool older-brother figure who can laugh at his charges without being mean, and whose teachable moments are anything but cloying.

“Jake sees his own death in one episode,” says Ward. “And Finn has to deal with that. Jake’s a hip guy. He can watch his own death and he’s comfortable with it. And that’s a weird thing especially for Finn, who’s super young, and it’s really hard on him.”

In the episode, called “New Frontier,” Jake experiences a vision during which he’s taken to an afterlife of stars and darkness by a little banana-like creature (voiced by Weird Al Yankovic).

“When I die, I’m gonna be all around you,” he reassures Finn. “In your nose. And your dreams. And socks! I’ll be a part of you in your earth mind. It’s gonna be great!”

“That episode was really tough to tackle, writing for a children’s television show,” Ward remembers. “And it was hard for us to really not make it so sad and scary that you feel really sad and scared watching it.”

Adventure Time insists on emotional honesty— even in its bad guys, usually depicted as cardboard villains in kids’ cartoons.

Grossman offers the shrill, socially maladapted Earl of Lemongrab as an example. An unlikable character, his story is movingly explored and raises questions nearly every kid has wondered about: Why do I seem weird to other people? Why do I seem weird to myself?

Or take the buffoonish, bandy-legged and morally compromised Ice King. “[He’s] psychologically plausible,” Grossman observes. “He’s an old lecherous man who has a magical crown. It’s made him into this strange, awful individual who goes around capturing princesses.”

The King’s crown wiped his mind and warped his body. He’ll die if he takes it off.

“Which is this rather moving tension, and he doesn’t remember who he used to be, but other people do,” Grossman says. “It’s very affecting. My dad has been going through having Alzheimer’s and he’s forgotten so much about who he used to be. And I look at him and … this cartoon is about my father dying.”

In spite of the critical admiration, the warm feelings of fans and the prestigious awards,Adventure Time nearly never aired. “It actually felt like a great risk,” says Rob Sorcher, the Cartoon Network’s chief content officer. “It’s not slick. It doesn’t feel manufactured for kids, so who’s it for?”

Um, perhaps partly for the kind of grownup who might watch Yo Gabba Gabba with a little chemical assist?

“For me, it doesn’t come from that place,” says Adventure Time‘s creator, Pendelton Ward. “For me, it comes from my childhood, wandering in my mind. You can’t really go anywhere when you’re a kid. You don’t have a car. You don’t have anything but a backyard and a brain. And that’s where I’m coming from when I’m writing it.” He pauses. “I can’t speak for all the writers on the show.”

Ward and his mom used to watch cartoons together when he was a kid, but he claims today he’s not writing specifically for a co-viewing audience of parents and kids. Still, author Lev Grossman says Adventure Time works for him and his eight-year-old daughter Lily equally.

“It’s really important for us to have something we can enjoy together and talk about together. It gives us in some ways a common language for talking about more important issues,” he says.

Adventure Time‘s world used to be our world. Then it was destroyed by a war. It’s strewn with detritus such as old computers, VHS tapes, and video games from the 1980s.

“It takes my childhood, the shattered pieces of it, and builds it into something new, which is now part of Lily’s childhood,” he says, almost in wonder.”

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by | June 18, 2013 · 6:53 pm

Argentina Approves Transgender Rights Legislation, Makes Sex-Change Surgery A Legal Right

By MICHAEL WARREN 05/09/12 10:57 PM ET

Argentina Transgender Rights

“BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Adults who want sex-change surgery or hormone therapy in Argentina will be able to get it as part of their public or private health care plans under a gender rights law approved Wednesday.

The measure also gives people the right to specify how their gender is listed at the civil registry when their physical characteristics don’t match how they see themselves.

Senators approved the Gender Identity law by a vote of 55-0, with one abstention and more than a dozen senators declaring themselves absent – the same margin that approved a “death with dignity” law earlier in the day.

President Cristina Fernandez threw her support behind the law and is expected to sign it. She has often said how proud she is that Argentina became Latin America’s first nation to legalize gay marriage two years ago, enabling thousands of same-sex couples to wed and enjoy the same legal rights as married heterosexual couples.

For many, gender rights were the next step.

Any adult will now be able to officially change his or her gender, image and birth name without having to get approval from doctors or judges – and without having to undergo physical changes beforehand, as many U.S. jurisdictions require.

“It’s saying you can change your gender legally without having to change your body at all. That’s unheard of,” said Katrina Karkazis, a Stanford University medical anthropologist and bioethicst who wrote a book, “Fixing Sex,” about the medical and legal treatment of people whose physical characteristics don’t fully match their gender identity.

“There’s a whole set of medical criteria that people have to meet to change their gender in the U.S., and meanwhile this gives the individual an extraordinary amount of authority for how they want to live. It’s really incredible,” she said.

When Argentines want to change their bodies, health care companies will have to provide them with surgery or hormone therapy on demand. Such treatments will be included in the “Obligatory Medical Plan,” which means both private and public providers will not be able to charge extra for the services.

“This law is going to enable many of us to have light, to come out of the darkness, to appear,” said Sen. Osvaldo Lopez of Tierra del Fuego, the only openly gay national lawmaker in Argentina.

“There are many people in our country who also deserve the power to exist,” Lopez said.

Children also get a voice under the law: Youths under 18 who want to change their genders gain the right to do so with the approval of their legal guardians. But if parents or guardians want a gender identity change and don’t have the child’s consent, then a judge must intervene to ensure the child’s rights are protected.

Argentina need not worry about vast numbers of people demanding sex changes, Karkazis predicted.

“This isn’t going to create a huge demand on the national health system for these procedures. They’re difficult, painful, irreversible. And this is why many people don’t do it,” she said.

But because the law says people can legally change their identities without having to undergo genital surgery or hormone therapy, these changes can be more benign and even reversible, if some day the person’s self-image changes.

Other countries, including neighboring Uruguay, have passed gender rights laws, but Argentina’s “is in the forefront of the world” because of these benefits it guarantees, said Cesar Cigliutti, president of the Homosexual Community of Argentina.

“This is truly a human right: the right to happiness,” Sen. Miguel Pichetto said during the debate.”

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by | June 18, 2013 · 6:03 pm

Taliban to Start Talks With U.S. and Afghan Government

Mohammed Dabbous/Reuters

Muhammad Naeem, left, a spokesman for the Office of the Taliban of Afghanistan announced the opening of an office in Qatar on Tuesday to help restart talks on ending the 12-year-old war in Afghanistan.

 

By  and 
Published: June 18, 2013

“KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban announced on Tuesday that they were prepared to take the first step toward peace negotiations with the Afghan government after 12 years of war, and American officials said that they would meet with Taliban representatives in Qatar within the week to start the process.

If talks begin, it will be the first time that the antagonists in the Afghanistan war have undertaken negotiations to end the conflict, begun in 2001 when American forces entered the country to rout Al Qaeda. Efforts to get such talks started have long been stalled, hijacked by conflicting demands from the main parties with long-term goals in Afghanistan: the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai, the exiled Taliban leadership, the United States and Pakistan.

In a televised speech announcing the opening of a Taliban political office in Doha, the capital of Qatar, Mohammed Naim, a Taliban spokesman, said that their political and military goals “are limited to Afghanistan” and that they did not wish to “harm other countries.”

Senior Obama administration officials in Washington said the Taliban statement contained two crucial pledges: that the insurgents believed that Afghan soil should not be used to threaten other countries — an indirect reference to Al Qaeda’s sheltering in Afghanistan with the Taliban regime’s blessing before the Sept. 11 attacks — and that they were committed to finding a peaceful solution to the war.

“Together, they fulfill the requirement for the Taliban to open a political office in Doha for the purposes of negotiation with the Afghan government,” a senior administration official said.

American officials had long insisted that the Taliban make both pledges before talks start. The first element, in particular, is vital — it represents the beginning of what is hoped will be the Taliban’s eventual public break with Al Qaeda, the officials said. The ultimate goal of such talks, from a Western and Afghan government point of view, would be to persuade the Taliban to disarm and accept the Afghan Constitution. But officials warned that many hurdles remained in what was sure to be a long process.

President Obama called the Taliban’s announcement “an important first step towards reconciliation.”

But “it is a very early step,” Mr. Obama said at a meeting with President François Hollande of France at a Group of 8 summit meeting in Northern Ireland. “We anticipate there will be a lot of bumps in the road.”

In the next step, United States officials said, American envoys will meet later this week with Taliban representatives in Qatar. Members of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, which is to represent the government in talks, will then sit down with the insurgents.

But the first meetings will probably feature little more than an exchange of agendas, another senior administration official said, cautioning against expectations for the talks to yield substantive results any time soon. Indeed, one major obstacle for the peace process has been the outright refusal of Taliban negotiators to talk directly with Mr. Karzai’s administration.

“There is no guarantee that this will happen quickly, if at all,” the official said.

President Karzai referred to the impending opening of the office earlier in comments at a ceremony celebrating the transfer of all security responsibilities to Afghan forces from the American-led multinational forces in Afghanistan.

While he signaled his acceptance of the office’s opening, Mr. Karzai has repeatedly said that the talks must be Afghan-led, implying that the neither the United States nor the Pakistanis should be interlocutors. And he wants the talks held in Afghanistan.

Both demands are difficult to meet. Realistically both Pakistan and the United States have to be guarantors of any peace effort. Ultimately it is the United States that has bargaining chips — the Taliban prisoners that it holds at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — that might help bring the Taliban to the table. And Pakistan, as the home of most of the Taliban leadership and as the place where they have been able to receive funding and training for the fight, would have to play a role in encouraging the Taliban and backing their participation in a peace plan.

As for relocating the peace talks in Kabul, the Taliban are opposed to that because they feel they would be at an immediate disadvantage on the turf of their opponents, the Afghan government.

“The president should not use the term ‘immediately’ or ‘as soon as possible’ in talking about moving the peace negotiations to Afghanistan,” said Sayed Agha Akbar, a onetime Taliban commander now living in Kabul.

“Using such inflammatory words would be a serious blow to the peace talks at the moment when they are about to start.”

The Taliban statement on Monday said that in addition to initial negotiations, the Doha office would be used to explain the group’s views to other countries, and to meet with representatives of the United Nations and with regional, international and nongovernmental organizations. The Taliban also said they planned to give media statements about the current political situation.

Mr. Karzai’s concern is that the Taliban will use the office as a forum to try to re-establish their political legitimacy, especially in international circles, rather than confining the office to peace talks.

“Peace is the desire of the people of Afghanistan,” Mr. Karzai said at a Kabul news conference after the transfer ceremony. “Peace is a hope that the people of Afghanistan make sacrifices for every day.”

Talks between the United States and the Taliban “can help advance the process, but the core of it is going to be negotiations among Afghans and the level of trust on both sides is extremely low, as one would expect,” the second senior Obama administration official said. “So it is going to be a long, hard process if indeed it advances significantly at all.”

 

Alissa J. Rubin reported from Kabul, and Matthew Rosenberg from Washington. Jackie Calmes contributed reporting from Enniskillen, Northern Ireland.”

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by | June 18, 2013 · 5:58 pm

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2013/06/201361742432736655.html

http://aje.me/18Q0hMZ

18 Jun 2013 05:32

“Turkey has said it may bring in the army to help end nearly three weeks of nationwide anti-government protests.

The warning came as two major union federations went on strike on Monday over police violence against demonstrators.

The government raised the threat of putting soldiers on the streets after a weekend of violent clashes prompted by the eviction of campers occupying Istanbul’s Gezi Park, the epicentre of the protest movement.

Police “will use all their powers” to end the unrest, Bulent Arinc, deputy prime minister, said in a televised interview.

“If this is not enough, we can even utilise the Turkish armed forces in cities.”

The deployment of the military, the self-described guardian of the secular state, would mark an escalation of a crisis posing the biggest challenge yet to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted government.

But after losing their focal protest site, with Gezi Park and the adjoining Taksim Square still guarded by police on Monday, the demonstrations appeared to lose some of their intensity.

The more subdued mood was in stark contrast to the weekend, when riot police fired volleys of tear gas and jets of water in hours-long running battles with thousands of protesters.

Groups of hundreds of striking workers from the KESK and DISK union federations took to the streets in Istanbul, Ankara and the western city of Izmir calling for the police violence against protesters to end immediately and chanting “Erdogan, resign!”.

Their progress was at times blocked by officers backed by water-cannon vehicles but there were no reports of fresh clashes.

Smaller turnout

The unions’ turnout was smaller than when they marched in support of the demonstrators on June 5.

The labour rallies had a more structured feel than the counterculture-style sit-in at Gezi Park’s tent city, and the work stoppage involved many professionals who make up a liberal, urban class that mostly backs the anti-Erdogan protesters.

But labour strikes often have little visible impact on daily life in Turkey and Monday’s rallies were no different.

TV images showed crowds of government supporters in Istanbul facing down some protesters and chanting “the hands targeting the police should be broken”.

On Twitter, a trending topic urged protesters to stay home – some expressing concern that pro-government mobs might attack them.

But overnight, for hours, a lone man stood silently on Taksim Square, eventually joined by about 20 other people who did likewise before police escorted them away.

The group put up no resistance. Pockets of unrest erupted elsewhere in Istanbul, with police resorting to water cannon and tear gas at times.

Turkey’s crisis began when a sit-in to save Gezi’s 600 trees from being razed in a redevelopment project prompted a brutal police response on May 31, escalating into countrywide demonstrations against Erdogan, seen as increasingly authoritarian.

So far four people have been killed and nearly 7,500 people injured, according to the Turkish Medical Association (TBB).

At a rally of more than 100,000 supporters of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Sunday, Erdogan defended his response to the demonstrations, saying it was his “duty as prime minister” to order police to storm Gezi Park after protesters defied his warnings to clear out.

He also threatened to go after those who had offered assistance to the protesters, alluding to the luxury hotels who opened their doors to people fleeing the clouds of tear gas and jets of water during the park’s evacuation on Saturday.

“We know the ones who sheltered in their hotels those who cooperated with terror. They will be held accountable,” Erdogan said.

Opponents accuse him of forcing Islamic conservative reforms on the mainly Muslim but staunchly secular nation of 76 million, and of pushing big urban development projects at the expense of local residents.

But Erdogan, 59, has been in power since 2002 and remains popular. His AKP has won three elections in a row, taking nearly half the vote in 2011 after presiding over strong economic growth.

A survey by Metropoll, published in the Zaman daily, found that the AKP would still come first if elections were held now, with 35.3 percent of the vote.

International criticism

The US and other Western allies have widely criticised Erdogan’s handling of the crisis, undermining Turkey’s image as a model of Islamic democracy.

Some Turkish leaders, including Erdogan, have suggested that outside forces are behind the demonstrations in a bid to destabilise the country.

The US on Monday denied any role in the recent unrest.

“We absolutely reject the accusations that US groups or individuals are responsible for or have elevated, or escalated, I should actually say, the protests in Turkey,” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for her part, urged Turkey to respect democratic freedoms and said the police response to the protesters “was much too harsh”.

“I am in any case shocked,” she told RTL television on Monday.”

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies

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by | June 18, 2013 · 5:54 pm

World Naked Bike Ride and Portland Art Museum: An au naturel pairing

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Portland’s version of the World Naked Bike Ride is getting the endorsement of the Portland Art Museum to gather in the Park Blocks in front of the museum. Participants even get a special viewing of the museum’s show, “Cyclepedia” just before the ride.(Torsten Kjellstrand/The Oregonian/2010)

 

By Margaret Haberman, The Oregonian 
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on May 05, 2013 at 8:00 AM, updated May 05, 2013 at 9:31 AM

“It’s the perfect mash-up of counter-culture and high culture, Portland-style: The World Naked Bike Ride and the Portland Art Museum are teaming up this year.

Talk about naked ambition. Both sides see the benefit of joining forces.

For the museum, its new exhibit “Cyclepedia” is opening — a collection of 36 weird and wonderful bikes highlighting innovative design through the decades.

For the ride, the leafy Park Blocks in front of the museum provide an ideal spot to launch the lighthearted protest that typically attracts more than 4,000 free-of-clothes spirits.

It seemed au naturel to coordinate.

“It’s about embracing bodies, embracing something new, embracing something incredibly Portland,” says Meghan Sinnott, the lead wrangler of the bike ride.

“We’re delighted that a large group of enthusiastic cyclists will be gathering essentially in what is our front yard,” says museum spokeswoman Beth Heinrich.

It doesn’t get any more karmic than this:

When the museum planned to bring “Cyclepedia” to Portland — the only place in the U.S. that will host the collection — it reached out to cycling groups. It happened that the date for Portland’s annual version of the World Naked Bike Ride coincided with the first day of the bike exhibit.

Some ground rules: There’s no published route to discourage gawkers. Don’t drink and ride. This year, the ride isn’t a loop, so pack along anything you want at the end. And the guidelines are “As Bare As You Dare” – which means some riders go stitchless and others wear things to cover certain bits.

And so it is on June 8, cyclists in various stages of undress will meet at the museum. They’ll get a special deal to see “Cyclepedia” from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., when the ride begins: The price of admission to the show is $1 per item of clothing. That means no clothes — no charge.

As Sinnott says, the museum folks “get it.” As Heinrich says, “The human body is art.”

And really, the naked rider demographic fits nicely with the museum crowd, Sinnott says. Stats show that more than a third of the ride’s participants are ages 25-34, but it has more people 45-plus than those from 18 to 21, she says. It’s also close to equal parts men and women.

While it’s perhaps a little uncomfortable drawing the glare of publicity to a big crowd of naked people (ride organizers don’t advertise the route in advance hoping to discourage gawkers), the downtown locale is light-years nicer than some of the rougher areas where the ride has kicked off in the past — think broken glass and discarded needles, Sinnott says.

“We’re thrilled with the idea,” she says. “It’s a much better place. It gives respect to the riders.” At the same time, she says: “We realize it’s a spectacle, but it’s not a spectator sport.”

The change of venue shouldn’t affect all the different reasons people choose to ride: Some are protesting dependency on oil or the American car culture. Others want to bring attention to the vulnerability of cyclists. There are about as many causes as there are body types among the riders.

The museum hopes the association with the bike ride will expose “Cyclepedia” to a wider crowd.

“We were very conscious that this would bring a lot of attention,” says Heinrich. “Our hope is that people will pay attention to the exhibit.”

It’s all in keeping with the museum’s rather hipster streak these days. After all, the TV show “Portlandia” shot a funny sketch about bike valets at the museum. Its shows have included “The Art of Tattoo.” At the same time “Cyclepedia” runs, museum patrons also can view “Man/Woman” — bronze sculptures of nudes by Gaston Lachaise.

“We’re trying,” Heinrich said.

“Cyclepedia” should appeal to anyone who prizes creativity, beauty and marvelous machines — the museum chose the bikes from more than 200 in Vienna-based designer Michael Embacher’s collection.

The ones showing here include a bike used by wartime paratroopers, one with a ski instead of a front wheel, a tricycle and bikes that fold, carry cargo, race and carry two people. They come from Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Italy, the U.S. and elsewhere. Expect Eugene-based Bike Friday to be represented.

The exhibit is the third in the museum’s design series. It follows “China Design Now” and “The Allure of the Automobile.”

Workshops and lectures accompany “Cyclepedia” throughout summer. The exhibit wouldn’t be complete without some bike tours thrown in — people can register for a handful of field trips, including one that traces Portland’s bike culture. The museum is calling them “joyrides.”

But wear clothes.

— Margaret Haberman”

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by | June 18, 2013 · 5:48 pm