Entries from February 2011

“The King’s Speech” Sweeps Big Awards

February 28th, 2011 at 3:56 am 1 Comment

The New York Times reports:

LOS ANGELES — “The King’s Speech,” the period drama about King George VI of Britain and his vocal coach, won best picture and three other trophies at the 83rd Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday night. But in many ways the Oscars played out like the more populist and less prestigious Golden Globes: veering in multiple directions as voters sprinkled their attention among a half-dozen pictures, with no film walking away with a commanding sweep.

“The King’s Speech” did not make its presence felt until late in the night, with an unexpected victory for Tom Hooper as best director. David Seidler won for his original screenplay for this film, while Colin Firth took the best-actor prize.

“I have a feeling my career’s just peaked,” said Mr. Firth, who went on to joke that he was “experiencing stirrings” somewhere in the upper abdominal region, “which are threatening to transform themselves into dance moves.”

Inception,” the blockbuster about dream invaders, also won four trophies, mostly in technical categories like sound mixing, while “The Social Network,” a contemporary story about the founding of Facebook, took three awards, including adapted screenplay for Aaron Sorkin.

A pregnant Natalie Portman won best actress for her role as a demented ballerina in “Black Swan,” that film’s lone prize. “The Fighter” and “Alice in Wonderland” each won two awards; even Universal Pictures, virtually AWOL through the Oscar season, won one: its “Wolfman” took the make-up prize, for the work of Rick Baker and Dave Elsey.

A victory for “The King’s Speech” put the Oscar in the hands of a team of producers — Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin — from Britain and Australia. But the triumph belonged to Harvey Weinstein, a master campaigner whose Weinstein Company distributed the film in the United States. Mr. Weinstein, who left Miramax Films in 2005 with his brother Bob to form the Weinstein Company, last had a best picture with the musical “Chicago,” released by Miramax in 2002.

Mr. Firth made a deep verbal bow in the direction of Mr. Weinstein. “Of course, Harvey, who first took me on 20 years ago when I was a mere child sensation,” he said in extending his thanks.

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Libyan Rebels Increasingly Organized, Well-Armed

February 28th, 2011 at 3:50 am Comments Off

The New York Times reports:

ZAWIYAH, Libya — The Libyan rebels challenging Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi demonstrated their increasing military coordination and firepower on Sunday, as defecting officers in the east took steps to establish a unified command while their followers in this rebel-held city, just outside the leader’s stronghold in the capital, displayed tanks, Kalashnikovs and antiaircraft guns.

In a further sign of their strength, the rebels also talked about tapping revenue from the vast Libyan oil resources now under their control — estimated by some oil company officials to be about 80 percent of the country’s total. And in recognition of the insurrection’s growing power, Italy’s foreign minister suspended a nonaggression treaty with Libya on the grounds that the Libyan state “no longer exists.” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States was reaching out to the rebels to “offer any kind of assistance.”

The most striking display of strength was seen here, 30 miles from Colonel Qaddafi’s Tripoli redoubt. Zawiyah is one of several cities near the capital controlled by rebels, who have repulsed repeated attempts by Colonel Qaddafi’s forces to retake them. And the arsenal they displayed helped to explain how the rebels held Zawiyah.

“Army, army, army!” excited residents shouted, pointing to a defected soldier standing watch at Zawiyah’s entrance as he raised his machine gun in the air and held up two fingers for victory.

A few yards away a captured antiaircraft gun fired several deafening salutes into the air, and gleeful residents invited newcomers to clamber aboard one of several army tanks now in rebel hands. Residents said that when Colonel Qaddafi’s forces mounted a deadly assault to retake the city last Thursday — shell holes were visible in the central mosque and ammunition littered the central square — local army units switched sides to join the rebels, as about 2,000 police officers had done the week before.

And on Sunday, scores of residents armed with machine guns and rifles joined in a chant that has become the slogan of pro-democracy uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and across the Arab world: “The people want to bring down the regime!”

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Despite Threats, US and South Korea Begin Military Exercises

February 28th, 2011 at 3:46 am 1 Comment

The BBC reports:

Large-scale military exercises involving American and South Korean troops have begun, prompting North Korea to threaten “all-out war”.

The training drills are held every year and commanders insist they are purely defensive.

But talks between North and South Korea aimed at easing tensions between the two countries broke down recently.

Three months ago the North shelled a South Korean island, killing four people.

The exercises on land, sea and in the air involve 200,000 South Korean troops and nearly 13,000 Americans – most of whom are not based in the country.

In part it is a regular rehearsal for emergency deployments of US forces in the event of a sudden attack on South Korea.

Every year Pyongyang denounces the exercises, saying they are actually a pretext for an American invasion of the North to topple the communist government.

But this year’s rhetoric is harsher: the North has threatened to turn the South’s capital, Seoul, which sits less than 48km (30 miles) from the border and so well within range of artillery, into a “sea of fire”.

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Arab Revolutions Mean Trouble For al-Qaeda

February 28th, 2011 at 3:37 am Comments Off

The New York Times reports:

For nearly two decades, the leaders of Al Qaeda have denounced the Arab world’s dictators as heretics and puppets of the West and called for their downfall. Now, people in country after country have risen to topple their leaders — and Al Qaeda has played absolutely no role.

In fact, the motley opposition movements that have appeared so suddenly and proved so powerful have shunned the two central tenets of the Qaeda credo: murderous violence and religious fanaticism. The demonstrators have used force defensively, treated Islam as an afterthought and embraced democracy, which is anathema to Osama bin Laden and his followers.

So for Al Qaeda — and perhaps no less for the American policies that have been built around the threat it poses — the democratic revolutions that have gripped the world’s attention present a crossroads. Will the terrorist network shrivel slowly to irrelevance? Or will it find a way to exploit the chaos produced by political upheaval and the disappointment that will inevitably follow hopes now raised so high?

For many specialists on terrorism and the Middle East, though not all, the past few weeks have the makings of an epochal disaster for Al Qaeda, making the jihadists look like ineffectual bystanders to history while offering young Muslims an appealing alternative to terrorism.

“So far — and I emphasize so far — the score card looks pretty terrible for Al Qaeda,” said Paul R. Pillar, who studied terrorism and the Middle East for nearly three decades at the C.I.A. and is now at Georgetown University. “Democracy is bad news for terrorists. The more peaceful channels people have to express grievances and pursue their goals, the less likely they are to turn to violence.”

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China Shuts Down Sparsely Attended Protests

February 28th, 2011 at 3:20 am 1 Comment

The BBC reports:

The time was about 1330. Lines of Chinese police stood at the entrance to Wangfujing, Beijing’s most famous shopping street.

The authorities’ anxiousness was palpable.

Dozens of police vans were parked on the roadside, uniformed men with dogs patrolled up and down, street cleaning vans drove up and down spraying water to keep people away, and a sudden rash of suspiciously unnecessary street repairs meant big hoardings had been put up.

It would have been farcical if it hadn’t turned so brutal.

The reason for all this nervousness was the call that had gone out over the internet for Chinese people to stage their own “Jasmine Protests”, copying the wave of democratic revolutions in the Middle East and north Africa.

The police were monitoring everyone going into the pedestrian zone. But unable to distinguish the protesters, who’d been called to “stroll” peacefully and silently past McDonald’s restaurant at 1400, from genuine shoppers they focussed on picking out foreign reporters and cameramen.

Targeted campaign

A similar call a week ago had brought out just a handful of protesters. Since then stepped-up internet controls have been blocking any mention of the word “jasmine”.

So relatively few people in China even know the call for protests has been made.

There has also been a deliberate and targeted campaign to round up lawyers, activists, and bloggers, around a hundred people in total. Some have been detained, some disappeared, others threatened.

A few, who seem to have reposted internet messages calling for peaceful gatherings, face extremely serious subversion charges.

We were immediately singled out. Uniformed officers blocked our way a few hundred yards from McDonald’s and demanded our press cards. Nervously they talked into mobile phones and handheld radios.

They stalled us, then barked at us to stop filming. Plainclothes men came and stood right in front of our camera so we couldn’t take shots.

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Boehner: We Don’t Need A Shutdown

February 28th, 2011 at 2:40 am Comments Off

The LA Times reports:

Reporting from Washington — House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) told a convention of religious broadcasters in Nashville on Sunday evening that a federal government shutdown was not appropriate and not what the electorate wanted.

His remarks were the latest sign that congressional leaders were backing away from the brink of a shutdown.

“Americans want the government to stay open, and they want it to spend less money,” Boehner said. “We don’t need to shut down the government to accomplish that. We just need to do what the American people are asking of us.”

He cited “the moral responsibility” to reduce the federal deficit and cut government largesse while keeping the government open, but he said Congress also had a responsibility to address Social Security and Medicare spending.

FLOTUS Defended by Huckabee and Christie

February 28th, 2011 at 2:36 am 3 Comments

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Two prominent Republicans, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and likely 2012 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, came to the defense of First Lady Michelle Obama’s efforts to reduce childhood obesity.

Speaking on separate Sunday talk shows, the Republicans said they stood behind Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign despite conservative criticism.

Mr. Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor who shed many pounds himself when in office, said on “Fox News Sunday” that obesity is a problem threatening the welfare of the entire country.

“What Michelle Obama is proposing is not that the government tells you that you can’t eat dessert,” Mr. Huckabee said. Rather, the first lady wants Americans “to recognize that we have a serious obesity crisis–which we do,” Mr. Huckabee said.

Recently, prominent voices on the right including Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh have criticized the antiobesity efforts. They say it’s a sign of overbearing government.

This month Mr. Limbaugh said Mrs. Obama is “requiring what everybody can and can’t eat. She’s demanding that everybody basically eat cardboard and tofu. No calories, no fat, no nothing.”

Mr. Huckabee said many young people can’t pass the physical necessary to join the military.

“That’s serious,” he said. “This is no longer just a health issue [or] an economic issue. It’s becoming an issue of national security.”

Mr. Christie, appearing on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” said criticism of the first lady’s campaign is “unnecessary.”

“I think it’s a really good goal to encourage kids to eat better,” said the New Jersey governor, who has spoken about his own girth.

“I struggled with my weight for 30 years,” Mr. Christie said Sunday. “If a kid can avoid that…more power to them and I think the first lady is speaking out well.”

U.S. Citizenship Test Riddled With Errors

February 28th, 2011 at 2:32 am 1 Comment

Dafna Linzer writes:

Last month, I became an American citizen, a tremendous honor and no easy accomplishment, even for a Canadian. After living here for 12 years, I thought I knew everything. Then I learned how we mint Americans.

After years of steep filing fees and paperwork (including one letter from Homeland Security claiming that my fingerprints had “expired”), it all came down to a test. I passed, and, my fellow Americans, you could, too — if you don’t mind providing answers that you know are wrong.

Friends told me I didn’t need to study, the questions weren’t that hard. But I wanted to and so for months I lugged around a set of government-issued flashcards, hoping to master the test. I pestered my family and friends to quiz me. Sometimes I quizzed my sources. I learned things (there are 27 amendments to the Constitution) and they learned things (there are 27 amendments to the Constitution). But then we began noticing errors in a number of the questions and answers.

Take Question 36. It asks applicants to name two members of the president’s Cabinet. Among the correct answers is “Vice President.” The vice president is a cabinet-level officer but he’s not a Cabinet member. Cabinet members are unelected heads ofexecutive departments, such as the Defense Department, or the State Department.

The official naturalization test booklet even hints as much: “The president may appoint other government officials to the cabinet but no elected official may serve on the cabinet while in office.” Note to Homeland Security: The vice president is elected.

Still, a wonderful press officer in the New York immigration office noted that the White House’s own website lists the vice president as a member of the Cabinet. It’s still wrong, I explained. I told her that my partner wrote an entire book about the vice president and won a Pulitzer Prize for the stories. I was pretty sure about this one. A parade of constitutional scholars backed me up.

In fact, the Constitution aligns the vice president more closely with the legislative branch as president of the Senate. Not until well into the 20th century did the vice president even attend Cabinet meetings.

Then there is Question 12: What is the “rule of law”?

I showed it to lawyers and law professors. They were stumped.

There are four acceptable answers: “Everyone must follow the law”; “Leaders must obey the law”; “Government must obey the law”; “No one is above the law.”

Judge Richard Posner, the constitutional scholar who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago, was unhappy. “These are all incorrect,” he wrote me. “The rule of law means that judges decide cases ‘without respect of persons,’ that is, without considering the social status, attractiveness, etc. of the parties or their lawyers.”

So, where do these questions come from?

Gingrich Close to Announcing Presidential Run

February 28th, 2011 at 2:28 am 2 Comments

Politico reports:

Newt Gingrich will make his final decision about whether or not to run for president in a matter of days, with an announcement soon to follow, according to various reports and Gingrich aides.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, quoting attorney and Gingrich adviser Randy Evans, reported Saturday that Gingrich will announce his exploratory in Georgia within 10 days. Gingrich himself told The Palm Beach Post on Thursday that he’s two weeks away from an announcement, a timely echoed by an Associated Press report.

A Gingrich aide confirmed to POLITICO’s Mike Allen that a decision is near, but sought to tamp down expectations that any announcement will happen this coming week.

“Newt will most certainly not announce [this] week,” the Gingrich aide said, “but he will have made a decision on an exploratory phase one way or the other.”

Tunisian Prime Minister Resigns

February 28th, 2011 at 2:18 am Comments Off

BBC reports:

Tunisian Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi has announced on state TV that he is resigning – a key demand of demonstrators.

He was speaking at a news conference in Tunis, after making a lengthy speech defending his record in government.

Mr Ghannouchi is seen as being too close to former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who was toppled in an uprising last month.

Mr Ghannouchi, 69, had served under Mr Ben Ali since 1989.

“After having taken more than one week of thinking, I became convinced, and my family shared my conviction, and decided to resign. It is not fleeing my responsibilities; I have been shouldering my responsibilities since 14 January [when Mr Ben Ali fled],” he said.

“I am not ready to be the person who takes decisions that would end up causing casualties,” he added.

“This resignation will serve Tunisia, and the revolution and the future of Tunisia,” he added.

Within hours a replacement was named for Mr Ghannouchi – Beji Caid-Essebsi, 84, who served as foreign minister in the government of the late President Habib Bourguiba.