Big Brother” comes to the Vatican

As a result of the document leak scandal, each Vatican employee has now been given a swipe card with a microchip so that they can be traced at all times

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Having greeted the Swiss Guard in his magnificent uniform, an impeccably dressed monsignor walks briskly past until his eyes catch sight of the two security barriers located beyond the marble door frame. And his heart sinks with disappointment: from 1 january, anyone who enters or exits will have to swipe their new magnetic ID cards which are fitted with a chip that makes it possible to locate the card’s owner at any time.

Vatican City, Apostolic Palace, frescoed corridor in the Third Loggia: security checks in the Secretariat of State, the Holy See’s control room, have been boosted. And not just in terms of the times when the building can be accessed. This is just one of the consequences of the Vatileaks scandal. Locked archives, more stringent checks on those who wish to view dossiers and the obligation to declare every document that is photocopied. The Holy See has introduced a set of new, tougher rules, which even apply to the few members of the papal household. The personal secretaries’ office has been declared off limits to prevent a repeat of the leaked document incident.

Next to the Pope’s study

The Pope’s secretaries, Georg Gänswein and Alfred Xuereb share an office that is adjacent to Benedict XVI’s study. In this office, apart from the photocopier, there was also a desk with a computer for the papal butler. Angelo Guger, the now retired papal butler who served three Popes, used it for small secretarial tasks assigned to him by Fr. Stanislao Dziwisz. This is where Paolo Gabriele, Benedict XVI’s former butler, made copies of the famous leaked confidential documents that were passed on to Fr. Georg when the Pope had finished reading them. Because of the Vatileaks scandal, not only is the new papal butler, Sandro Mariotti, also known as Sandrone, not given any secretarial tasks, he is forbidden from spending time in the secretaries’ office. Security has also been tightened with regards to the handling of documents that make their way from the Secretariat of State to the Pope’s desk. These documents are then returned to the Secretariat of State with any additional notes and the unmistakable “B16” the Pope adds in his own writing to all letters read by him personally.

Clocking in and out

The card that shows what time someone entered and left and the apostolic building and the Secretariat of State is not in itself linked to the Vatileaks scandal. It is really a way to ensure everyone respects their agreed working hours, though long gone are the days when John XXIII could respond ironically to the question once asked to him by a diplomat who was interested in finding out how many people worked in the Vatican: “About half…” But the decision to fit the cards with a chip that can be used to locate the card’s owner anywhere inside the apostolic palace, is a telltale sign that the Holy See is tightening checks beyond working hours. “Only superiors have access to information in case there is a problem – a prelate told Italian newspaper La Stampa – and so people will not be monitored constantly.”

A “guardian” to oversee coded messages and photocopies

The man in charge of the Secretariat of State’s office for coded messages, the Slovenian monsignor, Mitja Leskovar, has the task of applying the ne security regulations. The prelate, who was born in Yugoslavia during the communist era and became an anti-espionage expert, handles confidential messages exchanged between the Holy See and the Apostolic Nuncios. Even making photocopies has become complicated in a post-Vatileaks Vatican: those who wish to photocopy texts have to add their name and what it is they are copying, to a special register. The registers are then checked by Leskovar. Greater care and respect for the rules now need to be shown in order to access the two archives kept for the Secretariat of State’s first and second sections respectively. They are both located in the Third Loggia of the Apostolic Palace two different people are in charge of each one. The first archive contains documents relating to the Pope’s daily service to the universal Church and the Roman Curia, the editing of papal documents and reports by Apostolic Nuncios on local churches. The second one holds letters on the relations between the Holy See and the world’s various States. Any Secretariat of State official who wishes to consult one of these documents must fill in a written and authorised request form. This rule already existed before but was not applied rigidly enough. Those who work inside the archive cannot carry mobile phones on them; these must be left in the cupboard provided. Tougher rules, more thorough checks and a tightening of procedures occasionally slows office work down. Even though Vatican leaders are certain Paolo Gabriele has no hidden network of accomplices, the consequences of the Vatileaks scandal are destined to make working life in the Vatican more difficult.

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UN General Assembly votes in favor of Palestinian statehood

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The U.N. General Assembly voted Thursday in favor of Palestinian statehood, after the Palestinians asked it to recognize a non-member state of Palestine in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

The resolution upgrading the Palestinians’ status to a nonmember observer state at the United Nations was approved by a more than two-thirds majority of the 193-member world body — a vote of 138 to 9, with the U.S. and Israel among those who opposed. There were 41 abstentions.

Real independence, however, remains an elusive dream until the Palestinians negotiate a peace deal with the Israelis, who warned that the General Assembly action will only delay a lasting solution. Israel still controls the West Bank, east Jerusalem and access to Gaza, and it accused the Palestinians of bypassing negotiations with the campaign to upgrade their U.N. status.

The United States immediately criticized the historic vote. “Today’s unfortunate and counterproductive resolution places further obstacles in the path peace,” U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice said.

And U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the vote “unfortunate” and “counterproductive.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the speech by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the General Assembly shortly before the vote “defamatory and venomous,” saying it was “full of mendacious propaganda” against Israel.

Abbas had told the General Assembly that it was “being asked today to issue the birth certificate of Palestine.” Abbas said the vote is the last chance to save the two-state solution.

After the vote, Netanyahu said the UN move violated past agreements between Israel and the Palestinians and that Israel would act accordingly, without elaborating what steps it might take.

Just before the vote, Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Ron Prosor, warned the General Assembly that “the Palestinians are turning their backs on peace” and that the U.N. can’t break the 4,000-year-old bond between the people of Israel and the land of Israel.

The vote had been certain to succeed, with most of the member states sympathetic to the Palestinians. Several key countries, including France, this week announced they would support the move to elevate the Palestinians from the status of U.N. observer to nonmember observer state.

Thursday’s vote came on the same day, Nov. 29, that the U.N. General Assembly in 1947 voted to recognize a state in Palestine, with the jubilant revelers then Jews. The Palestinians rejected that partition plan, and decades of tension and violence have followed.

The vote grants Abbas an overwhelming international endorsement for his key position: establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, the territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. With Netanyahu opposed to a pullback to the 1967 lines, this should strengthen Abbas’ hand if peace talks resume.

The overwhelming vote also could help Abbas restore some of his standing, which has been eroded by years of standstill in peace efforts. His rival, Hamas, deeply entrenched in Gaza, has seen its popularity rise after an Israeli offensive on targets linked to the Islamic militant group there earlier this month.

Israel has stepped back from initial threats of harsh retaliation for the Palestinians seeking U.N. recognition, but government officials warned that Israel would respond to any Palestinian attempts to use the upgraded status to confront Israel in international bodies.

The Palestinians now can gain access to U.N. agencies and international bodies, most significantly the International Criminal Court, which could become a springboard for going after Israel for alleged war crimes or its ongoing settlement building on war-won land.

However, in the run-up to the U.N. vote, Abbas signaled that he wants recognition to give him leverage in future talks with Israel, and not as a tool for confronting or delegitimizing Israel, as Israeli leaders have alleged.

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Vayishlach “And he sent” – Still Running From the Enemy

Torah Commentary
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Vayishlach “And he sent”

Genesis 32:4-36:43

Hosea 11:7-12:12

1 Corinthians 5:1-13

Revelation 7:1-12

Still Running From the Enemy

Jacob has seen much over his past twenty years with Laban. He has seen HaShem provide for him and give him great wealth. He has seen favor like few people will ever see. Jacob has wrestled with God and even been given a new name. After all of this, there is still an area of Jacob’s life he is not willing to turn over and allow it to be put to death. Jacob is still afraid of what others will think of him.

We see this in the infamous meeting with his brother Esau. Instead of standing on the promises of God in his life, he begins to divide what God has given him in hopes that in the end something will be salvaged if his brother begins a fight with him. It seems that with all Jacob has seen in the past years of God moving in his life, he would take a stand in the face of his brother instead of cowering in the shadows.

Next we see Jacob after his daughter Dinah has been raped by Shechem. In the end Simon and Levi take care of the situation by putting all the men of Shechem to death through a quite cleverly devised scheme. Right or wrong, these two boys stood against the odds and took vengeance for the act against their sister. What is the response of Jacob at the end of this account? He is concerned about what others will think of him! I for one just do not understand this one!

Now before you think I am just taking the opportunity to beat up on Jacob, let us first understand that the lives of these men and women are recorded so we may learn from them. I am not beating up on him, but expounding upon how he reacted so that we may learn.

As I write this commentary, it appears that Jacob and Esau are scheduled to have another meeting. This meeting is to decide what portions of Israel and Jerusalem are to be divided so that “peace” can finally come to Israel. The U.S. and the U.N. are playing the role of Shechem by attempting to take what is not rightfully theirs through the brokering of this meeting.

I wonder why any leaders of the nation of Israel can agree to be part of such a meeting. Have they forgotten the short history of the past sixty years? Do they not remember being attacked from every direction in 1948 and winning? Do they not remember the Six Day War? Do they not remember leaders of their past who called for the sun to stand still, killed multitudes alone with a jawbone of a donkey or called fire down from the heavens? It all makes one scratch his head with wonder.

What the outcome of this next meeting will be is a mystery at this moment in time. It is doubtful that Jacob will take a stand with Esau, but rather will once again bow down to his brother. It is doubtful that Jacob will take a stand against Shechem who has come with rape on his mind again. The outcome at this time in history is unsure, but that is to change. At some point Simon and Levi are going to rise up to fight. They will do so not on their own this time as they did in the days of their sister. This time they will do so under the direction of God and by His leading. They will go forth in the strength and power of great men such as Joshua, Gideon, Elijah and Sampson. These people are going to take a stand against the Esau’s and the Shechem’s of the world. In that day the house of Jacob will finally prevail and put an end once and for all to this sibling rivalry and abuse of the family.

How and when will this fight begin? Who will be the players this time? What will happen during this next meeting if it truly does take place? I will not begin to speculate. I do however know that many reading this commentary are feeling something rising up inside of them. It is not a feeling to pray for a good outcome to the meetings taking place or for God to delay His timetable anymore. Many of you feel as I do that this battle has gone on too long, it is time to face it head on and put an end to it once in for all. The words, “Let’s roll” are taking on new meaning in your spirits.

What will happen, how it will happen, and who will be the final players are yet to be made known. It is however a time to seek God, to listen and to stand at attention awaiting the orders that even now may be on the way.

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EU Budget Summit Fails in Echo of Debt-Crisis Stalemate

European Union leaders failed to agree on the 27 nation bloc’s next seven-year budget, replaying the clash between rich and poor countries that has stymied the response to the euro debt crisis.

National chiefs plan another summit early next year, when northern countries including Britain and Germany may have the upper hand in seeking to cut subsidies to lesser-developed southern and eastern economies clamoring for EU investment.

“Anything short of admitting that our talks have been extraordinarily complex and difficult would not reflect reality,”Jose Barroso, head of the European Commission, which manages the subsidy programs, told reporters after a two-day meeting in Brussels.

Britain’s defense of its cash-back guarantee and France’s clinging to farm aid gave the summit the flavor of EU negotiations in the 1970s or 1980s, diluting efforts to equipEurope with a budget to make it more competitive. Eastern and southern countries said reduced financing for public-works projects would condemn them to lag behind the wealthier north.

The euro rose to $1.2977 at 7 p.m. in Brussels from $1.2880 late yesterday. The Euro Stoxx 50 index rose 0.9 percent to 2,557.03.

In the EU’s last budget round, it took two summits, in June and December 2005, to strike a bargain. No date was set for the next negotiations. In the absence of an accord by late 2013, the EU would roll over its annual budget.

One Percent

At stake is a spending plan for the years 2014-2020 that would total about 1 percent of EU-wide gross domestic product. While that sum is paltry compared to the average 50 percent of GDP that each country spends inside its borders, the political resonance is far larger.

Wealthier countries such as Germany, the U.K., Denmark,Sweden and the Netherlands banded together to cut what they pay to the collective pool, pounding away at the original proposal of 1.033 trillion euros ($1.3 trillion) that came out in mid-2011.

Germany has led a bloc demanding austerity in Greece and three other bailed-out euro countries in exchange for rescue aid.

By the time the leaders convened yesterday, the figure on the table was 973 billion euros. It was soon trimmed to 971 billion euros, still too much for financially stronger countries that pressed for another 30 billion euros in cuts.

“For the upcoming weeks and months, my feeling is that we can go further, but it takes some preparatory work and it has to be balanced,” EU President Herman Van Rompuy, said.

Cameron’s Rebate

The alliance of spending cutters unraveled, when it came to the financing side of the budget. While U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron defended a rebate won by Margaret Thatcher in 1984, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden sought better terms for their own refunds and Denmark made a bid to join the money- back club.

French President Francois Hollande, for example, paired his farm-aid advocacy with calls for savings elsewhere, since France is among the 11 countries that pay more into the EU budget than they get out. As a result, agriculture was the relative winner as the leaders strengthened some budget lines and pared others.

The latest proposal added 8 billion euros back to the farm budget, taking it to 372 billion euros. Cuts elsewhere left infrastructure at 460 billion euros and immigration and border control at 17 billion euros. The biggest cuts came in foreign policy, down by 5 billion euros to 60.7 billion euros. The proposal left staff costs untouched at 62.6 billion euros.

Hollande’s Check

Taking aim at Cameron’s rebate, Hollande said: “France pays more than Britain; I could ask him for a check.”

For Britain, the summit was about more than euros and cents, testing Britain’s EU influence at a time of mounting pressure for a national referendum on whether to stay in the bloc.

Demanding spending cuts at home, Cameron made a special target of the 50,000 civil servants at EU institutions ranging from the commission and European Parliament, to the Court of Justice and agencies that regulate sectors from fishing to medicines.

“More than 200 Brussels staff earn more than I do,” Cameron said. “Brussels continues to exist as if it’s in a parallel universe.”

Aid Multipliers

Led by Poland, defenders of EU financing pointed out that spending at the European level goes further than money that stays within national borders, since EU subsidies back international projects like pipelines, bridges and airports.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz countered the wealthier countries’ insistence on paying less with the contention that it is cheaper for them to promote European projects, since contracts in Latvia or Slovenia go to companies in places like Germany and Sweden.

“Every euro invested by the EU attracts an average of between 2 and 4 euros in additional investment,” Schulz said. “The EU budget is not a zero-sum game in which one country wins what another loses. Synergies are generated which benefit the net contributors as well.”

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Egypt’s Brotherhood calls for protests, judges urge for strikes

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood called for protests across the country on Sunday to support President Mohammed Mursi, while the country’s judges urged for a nationwide strike against a decree they saw as granting Mursi new, extensive powers.

The Brotherhood’s protest requests came as Egypt’s Judges Club, a body that represents judges throughout the country, called for “the suspension of work in all courts and prosecution administrations,” after several hours of emergency talks in response to what they called Mursi’s “ferocious attack on Egyptian justice.”

On the ground, clashes erupted outside the High Court between supporters and opponents of Mursi’s new constitutional declaration while the Judges Club held an hours-long emergency meeting inside.

“Some supporters of the declaration shot off fireworks at the gates of the court, and police fired teargas at protesters after they attempted to storm the building,” reported Egypt Independent.

Protesters favoring the declaration started chanting “the people demand the execution of Abdel Maguid,” according to the newspaper, in reference to former Prosecutor General Mahmoud Abdel Meguid, who was sacked after Mursi’s new declaration and was attending the meeting inside.

During Saturday’s meeting, defiant Egyptian judges demanded the president retract a decree granting himself sweeping powers that put him beyond judicial oversight.

As the judges met, civil groups led former U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei, and former presidential candidates Hamdeen Sabbahi, Amr Mussa and Abdelmoneim Abul Futuh, said there could be no dialogue with Mursi until he rescinded the decree.

“We refuse any dialogue with the president until he cancels the constitutional declaration,” according to a joint statement read out at a news conference.

Several judicial bodies have condemned Mursi’s decree, with the Supreme Judicial Council, denouncing it as “an unprecedented attack on the independence of the judiciary and its rulings.”

Earlier on Saturday, the Judges Club of Alexandria announced a strike in the provinces of Alexandria and Beheira and said they “will accept nothing less than the cancellation of (Mursi’s decree),” which violates the principle of separation of powers, club chief Mohammed Ezzat al-Agwa said.

In the same vain, Egypt’s Shura council (upper house of parliament), dominated mainly by Islamists, said it will hold a meeting Sunday morning to discuss the repercussions of the declaration, according to Al Arabiya.

The president already held both and executive and legislative powers, and his Thursday decree puts him beyond judicial oversight until a new constitution has been ratified in a referendum.

The decree also means that the Islamist-dominated panel drawing up a new constitution can no longer be touched and gives it a two-month extension until February to complete its work.

Rallies by Mursi supporters, foes

A hard core group of opposition activists spent the night in Tahrir Square — the epicentre of the anti-Mubarak uprising — where they erected some 30 tents, an AFP correspondent reported.When others attempted to join them in the morning, police fired volleys of tear gas and forced them to retreat into surrounding streets, reported AFP.

The mainly secular liberals say they are determined to keep up the momentum of protests against Mursi’s decree and have called a new mass protest in Tahrir onTuesday.

The Muslim Brotherhood called on its own supporters to take to the streets on Tuesday in Abdeen Square, just streets away from Tahrir, to show their support for Mursi.

“Egypt is at the start of a new revolution because it was never our intention to replace one dictator with another,” activist Mohammed al-Gamal told AFP, showing his broken spectacles and hand in a plaster cast than he said were the result of police action.

Washington, which only Wednesday voiced fulsome praise for Mursi’s role in brokering a truce between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers to end eight days of deadly violence, led international criticism of the Islamist president’s move.

But a spokesman for the Freedom and Justice Party, headed by Mursi before his election, said the president’s decree was necessary to cut short the turbulent transition.

“We need stability,” said Murad Ali. “That’s not going to happen if we go back again to allowing the judges, who have personal reasons, to dissolve the constituent assembly in order to prolong the transitional phase.”

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TEXAS STUDENT SUCCESSFULLY DEFIES ‘TOTAL SURVEILLANCE STATE,’ CITING ‘MARK OF THE BEAST’

The idea of being tracked wherever one goes by a government computer chip may sound like something out of Science Fiction dystopia films like “V for Vendetta” or “Total Recall,” but apparently, it’s actually happening. And at least one Texas high school student has embarked on a mission to stop it.

Meet Andrea Hernandez, a sophomore at Texas’ John Jay High School Science and Engineering Academy, and a resistor against a new program there that enables the school to track its pupils: The proposed “tracking” method would require students to wear badges containing Radio Frequency Initiation (RFID) chips, and then track the chips embedded in the badges, presumably as a means of ensuring students don’t play hooky or go off-campus without permission, etc.

But Hernandez refuses to play along with the badges, even braving the threat of expulsion to do so. Why? Because she believes they’re Satanic, according to the blog God Discussion:

The choice has not been without controversy, as several parents have come forward with negative comments regarding their children.

Hernandez is claiming religious principles for refusing to carry her ID card, stating that she believes it is satanic, specifically calling it the “mark of the beast,” in reference to one of the interpretations of Christian biblical prophecy as outlined in the apocalyptic book, Revelation.

And while Hernandez’s reasons might strike some as odd, she’s having more success than one might initially expect, due partially to legal support from the nonprofit Rutherford Institute, which just successfully blocked her expulsion in court. Russia Today reports:

 

Andrea Hernandez was told she’d be expelled from John Jay High School’s Science and Engineering Academy in San Antonio starting next week if she insists any further on disobeying a new policy that requires students to wear ID badges equipped with tiny Radio Frequency Identification (“RFID”) chips. Now attorneys with the Rutherford Institute say Hernandez has been granted a temporary restraining order that will prohibit the Northside Independent School District from relocating the student to another facility.

“The court’s willingness to grant a temporary restraining order is a good first step, but there is still a long way to go — not just in this case, but dealing with the mindset, in general, that everyone needs to be monitored and controlled,”Rutherford Institute President John Whitehead says in a statement.

“Regimes in the past have always started with the schools, where they develop a compliant citizenry. These ‘Student Locator’ programs are ultimately aimed at getting students used to living in a total surveillance state where there will be no privacy, and wherever you go and whatever you text or email will be watched by the government.”

According to San Antonio’s KENS5 News, a judge gave Hernandez a temporary restraining order from the school district and ruled on Wednesday that the principal’s orders to make the surveillance mandatory were a violation of the student’s speech and religion.

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Morsi Asserts New Powers and Orders Ex-Officials Retried

Egypt’s Islamist president unilaterally decreed greater authorities for himself Thursday and effectively neutralized a judicial system that had emerged as a key opponent by declaring that the courts are barred from challenging his decisions.

Riding high on U.S. and international praise for mediating a Gaza cease-fire, Mohammed Morsi put himself above oversight and gave protection to the Islamist-led assembly writing a new constitution from a looming threat of dissolution by court order.

But the move is likely to fuel growing public anger that he and his Muslim Brotherhood are seizing too much power.

In what was interpreted by rights activists as a de facto declaration of emergency law, one of Morsi’s decrees gave him the power to take “due measures and steps” to deal with any “threat” to the revolution, national unity and safety or anything that obstructs the work of state institutions.

Morsi framed his decisions as necessary to protect the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago and to cement the nation’s transition to democratic rule. Many activists, including opponents of the Brotherhood, criticize the judiciary as packed with judges and prosecutors sympathetic to Mubarak. Brotherhood supporters accuse the courts of trying to block their agenda.

“He had to act to save the country and protect the course of the revolution,” said one of Morsi’s aides, Pakinam al-Sharqawi, speaking on Al-Jazeera. “It is a major stage in the process of completing the January 25th revolution,” she said, alluding to the starting day of last year’s uprising against Mubarak.

In a nod to revolutionary sentiment, Morsi also ordered the retrial of Mubarak and top aides on charges of killing protesters during the uprising. He also created a new “protection of the revolution” judicial body to swiftly carry out the prosecutions. But he did not order retrials for lower-level police acquitted of such killings, another widespread popular demand that would disillusion the security forces if carried out.

Liberal politicians immediately criticized the decrees as dictatorial and destined to divide a nation already reeling from months of turmoil following Mubarak’s ouster. Some said they exceeded the powers once enjoyed by Mubarak.

“Morsi today usurped all state powers & appointed himself Egypt’s new pharaoh,” pro-reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei wrote on Twitter. “A major blow to the revolution that could have dire consequences.”

ElBaradei later addressed a news conference flanked by other prominent politicians from outside the Brotherhood, including two presidential candidates who ran against Morsi, Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabahi.

They pledged to cooperate to force Morsi to rescind his assumption of greater powers. “We will work together as Egyptians until we achieve the goals of our revolution,” said ElBaradei, a former director of the U.N.’s nuclear agency and Nobel peace laureate.

They called for mass protests Friday to demand the dissolution of the declarations. The audience interrupted the press conference, chanting “Down with the Guide’s rule,” referring to the Supreme Guide of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group, Mohammed Badie.

The prospect of large rival protests involving Morsi’s opponents and supporters in Cairo on Friday raises the likelihood of clashes.

Thousands from the rival camps were already out on the streets of Cairo late Thursday in an increasingly charged atmosphere.

A crowd of Brotherhood supporters massed outside the Supreme Court building and offices of the prosecutor general — whom Morsi removed in Thursday’s edict. They chanted slogans for “the cleansing of the judiciary,” shouting, “The people support the president’s decisions.” Leading Brotherhood member Mohammed el-Beltagi, attending the rally, singled out several critics of Morsi from among the ranks of the judiciary for criticism.

Meanwhile, blocks away near Tahrir Square, hundreds of demonstrators held a fourth straight day of protests against Morsi and the Brotherhood. “Brotherhood is banned from entry,” declared a large banner at the protest.

Wael Ghonim, an icon of the anti-Mubarak uprising, rejected Morsi’s decisions, arguing the president could have protected the revolution without concentrating so much power in his hands.

“The revolution was not staged in search for a benign dictator, there is a difference between revolutionary decisions and dictatorial decisions. God is the only one whose decisions are not questioned.”

The Egyptian leader decreed that all decisions he has made since taking office in June and until a new constitution is adopted and a new parliament is elected cannot be appealed in court or by any other authority. Parliamentary elections are not likely before next spring.

The decree also barred the courts from dissolving the controversy-plagued assembly writing the new constitution. Several courts have been looking into lawsuits demanding the panel be disbanded.

The Brotherhood and Morsi allies who dominate the assembly have pushed to give the draft an Islamist slant that opponents fear would marginalize women and minority Christians, infringe on personal liberties and even give Muslim clerics a say in lawmaking. Liberal and Christian members withdrew from the assembly during the past week to protest what they say is the hijacking of the process by Morsi’s allies.

Morsi on Thursday extended by two months, until February, the deadline for the assembly to produce a draft, apparently to give members more time to iron out their differences.

He also barred any court from dissolving the Islamist-led upper house of parliament, a largely toothless body that has also faced court cases.

The president made most of the changes Thursday in a declaration amending an interim constitution that has been in effect since shortly after Mubarak’s fall and has over time become a ramshackle patchwork. The military, which took power after Mubarak, set the precedent for the executive unilaterally issuing constitutional changes, which it did several times during its 16-month rule.

The moves come as Morsi basks in lavish praise from President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for mediating an end to eight days of fighting between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers. Clinton was in Cairo on Wednesday, when she held extensive talks with Morsi.

Morsi not only holds executive power, he also has legislative authority after a previous court ruling just before he took office on June 30 dissolved the powerful lower house of parliament, which was led by the Brotherhood. With two branches of power in his hands, Morsi effectively took away many prerogatives of the third, the judiciary.

The provision for a retrial of Mubarak appeared to be a gesture to public opinion. The decree called for “new investigations and trials” against those who held “political or executive” positions in the old regime and who are accused of killing protesters.

Mubarak was convicted in June to life in prison for failing to stop the killing of protesters during last year’s uprising against his rule, but many Egyptians were angered that he wasn’t convicted of actually ordering the crackdown and that his security chief, Habib el-Adly, was not sentenced to death. Several top police commanders were acquitted, and Mubarak and his sons were found not guilty of corruption charges.

But the decree would not mean retrials for the dozens of lower-level police officers who have been acquitted or received suspended sentences in trials for killing protesters — verdicts that have outraged many Egyptians. That exclusion will guarantee Morsi the loyalty of the powerful but hated police force.

Morsi on Thursday also fired the country’s top prosecutor, Abdel-Maguid Mahmoud. A Mubarak-era appointee, Mahmoud has faced widespread accusations that his office did a shoddy job collecting evidence against Mubarak, el-Adly and the police in trials.

Morsi first fired Mahmoud in October but had to rescind his decision when he found that the powers of his office do not empower him to do so. So on Thursday, he decreed that the prosecutor general could serve in office only for four years, with immediate effect on Mahmoud, who had held the post since 2006. Morsi replaced Mahmoud with Talaat Abdullah, a career judge, and swiftly swore him in.

Thursday’s decisions were read on state television by Morsi’s spokesman, Yasser Ali. In a throwback to the days of the authoritarian Mubarak and his predecessors Anwar Sadat and Gamal Abdel-Nasser, the television followed up with a slew of nationalist songs.

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TEEN SENTENCED TO 10 YEARS OF CHURCH ATTENDANCE AFTER DUI MANSLAUGHTER CONVICTION

An Oklahoma teenager In Muskogee, Oklahoma, who pleaded guilty in the tragic death of another teen has been given an interesting sentence: 10 years of church attendance in exchange for not heading to prison. The defendant, Tyler Alred, 17, is not fighting a judge’s mandate, as his lawyer deems the decision both fair and appropriate.

“My client goes to church every Sunday,” attorney Donn Baker told Tulsa World. “That isn’t going to be a problem for him. We certainly want the probation for him.”

Alred, who was convicted of DUI manslaughter, crashed into a tree last year, an incident that led to the tragic death of his passenger and friend. Tulsa World has more:

The defendant, Tyler Alred, 17, was behind the wheel of a Chevrolet pickup about 4 a.m. Dec. 3 when he crashed into a tree on a county road east of Muskogee. His friend and passenger John Luke Dum, 16, of Muskogee died at the scene.

Alred, a high school and welding school student, admitted to Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers that he had been drinking, records show.

Although not legally drunk – he was given two breath tests, which, at 0.06 and 0.07, fell below the legal 0.08 blood-alcohol threshold for legal drunkenness – he was underage and, as a result, considered to be driving under the influence of alcohol.

In August, Alred pleaded guilty to manslaughter as a youthful offender and Muskogee County District Judge Mike Norman implemented the intriguing church-based penalty. The district attorney’s office will monitor the teen’s attendance to be sure that he complies.

Some experts have contended that mandating church attendance creates a separation of church and state issue. In addition to going to church, Alred will need to wear an ankle bracelet to monitor his alcohol intake, speak at events about the negative results of drinking and driving, finish high school and go for counseling. Additionally, he will undergo drug tests.

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Giant Sun Eruption Captured in NASA Video

The sun unleashed a monster eruption of super-hot plasma Friday (Nov. 16) in back-to-back solar storms captured on camera by a NASA spacecraft.

The giant sun eruption, called a solar prominence, occurred at 1 a.m. EST (0600 GMT), with another event flaring up four hours later. The prominences was so large, it expanded beyond the camera view of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), which captured high-definition video of the solar eruption.

In the video, a colossal loop of glowing red plasma erupts from the lower left of the sun, arcing up and out of frame as it blasts away from the star.

“The red-glowing looped material is plasma, a hot gas made of electrically charged hydrogen and helium,” officials with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, which oversees the SDO mission, explained in a description. “The prominence plasma flows along a tangled and twisted structure of magnetic fields generated by the sun’s internal dynamo. An erupting prominence occurs when such a structure becomes unstable and bursts outward, releasing the plasma.”

Friday’s solar eruption does not appear to be aimed at Earth, so will likely have little effect on our planet. But that was not the case earlier this week when a powerful solar flare erupted on Monday (Nov. 12). That flare registered as an M6-class eruption, a moderate but still intense solar event.

On Tuesday and Wednesday (Nov. 13 and 14), space weather conditions sparked a geomagnetic storm that supercharged the Earth’s auroras, creating spectacular northern lights displays for observers at high latitudes.

When aimed directly at Earth, the most powerful solar flares and eruptions can pose a threat to satellites and astronauts in orbit, and also interfere with communication, navigation and power systems on the ground.

The sun is currently in the middle of an active phase of its 11-year solar weather cycle. The current cycle is called Solar Cycle 24 and is expected to peak in 2013.

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Israel ready to ‘significantly expand’ Gaza offensive

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a stern warning to Hamas on Sunday, declaring that the Israeli army was prepared to significantly widen its Gaza offensive. Netanyahu’s threat came as Hamas launched a fresh rocket attack on Tel Aviv.

The Israeli army is ready to “significantly expand” its operation in Gaza, the country’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday as Hamas launched fresh rocket attacks on Tel Aviv.
Speaking at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said “The soldiers are ready for any activity that could take place”.
Netanyahu issued the warning as Israel’s “Iron Dome” system intercepted two rockets aimed at Tel Aviv. Hamas militants admitted responsibility for the latest rocket attack on Israel’s commercial capital.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry told FRANCE24 that a ground offensive into Gaza was likely if the rocket attacks continued.
“Our sole aim of this offensive is to make Hamas stop firing rockets. We have used air strikes but if that’s not enough then we may contemplate ground operations as well,” Ygal Palmor from the Israeli foreign ministry told FRANCE 24 on Sunday.
“If rockets are being fired then that will bring the ground operation forward,” he added.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also said on Sunday that Israel would not negotiate a truce with the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers as long as rocket fire continues from the Palestinian enclave.
Israel’s operation has drawn Western support for what US and European leaders have called Israel’s right to self-defence, but there have also been a growing number of calls from world leaders to seek an end to the violence.On Sunday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague warned that a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip “would lose Israel a lot of the international support and sympathy that they have in this situation.”

Hague told Sky News television it was much more difficult to limit civilian casualties in a ground assault and said it would threaten to prolong the conflict.

Air and sea raids continue

Fifty Palestinians, about half of them civilians, including 14 children, have been killed since the Israeli offensive began, Palestinian officials said. More than 500 rockets fired from Gaza have hit Israel, killing three civilians.

Since Israel unleashed its massive air campaign on Wednesday, the Jewish state has launched more than 950 air strikes on the coastal Palestinian territory, targeting weaponry and flattening militant homes and headquarters.
The raids continued past midnight on Sunday, with warships bombarding targets from the sea. An air raid targeted a building in Gaza City housing the offices of local Arab media, wounding three journalists from al Quds television, a station Israel sees as pro-Hamas, witnesses said.
The TV building also housed journalists from Britain’s ITN news and Sky News networks.
Three other attacks killed three children and wounded 14 other people, medical officials said.
Violence ‘shatters’ hopes of peace
The night of violence represents a blow to peace efforts, which have been lead by Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi, who on Saturday said there were indications a truce could “soon” be reached.
FRANCE 24’s correspondent Gallagher Fenwick, reporting from Gaza, witnessed the latest night of violence.
“Throughout the night we heard very heavy shelling, most of it coming from Israeli warships stationed off the coast. The sound of Apache helicopters and drones flying low overhead could also be heard,” Fenwick said on Sunday.
“The Israeli Air Force has published a statement saying it had hit what it called ‘terrorist targets’ across the Gaza Strip, including rocket-launching facilities and other Hamas infrastructure. For their part, the Palestinian factions are claiming responsibility for rockets being fired towards Israel,” said Fenwick.
“It has really shattered the hopes that were raised on Saturday night when rumours came out of Cairo that a truce might be brokered between the two sides,” he continued. “Considering the night we have just had, it appears we are heading in the opposite direction.”
On Sunday, France also became involved in attempts to bring peace to the region with Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius travelling to Israel to try and broker a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel.
During his one-day visit Fabius is due to meet with Israeli leaders as well as with the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, diplomatic sources told AFP.
Egypt’s foreign ministry said that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will head to Cairo on Monday for talks with the president and other officials on the crisis in Gaza.
Israeli President Shimon Peres said in an interview with Britain’s Sky News on Sunday he welcomed efforts by his Egyptian counterpart to secure a ceasefire in the Gaza conflict but accused Hamas of rejecting the proposals.
A delegation of ministers from the Arab League are due to visit the Gaza Strip on Tuesday in what a league official described as a “show of support for the territory”.
Israel said it would keep schools in its southern region shut on Sunday as a precaution to avoid casualties from rockets.
On Saturday, in the Israeli Mediterranean port of Ashdod, a rocket ripped into several balconies. Police said five people were hurt.