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Morsi's Win in Egypt Draws Kudos, Caveats From U.S.
WASHINGTON—The Obama administration hailed the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood's presidential candidate in Egypt, Mohammed Morsi, as a key advance for Middle East democracy and a model for other Arab states attempting political transitions.
But beneath the White House's public pronouncements, fears are mounting inside U.S. national-security agencies about the prospects for Washington's alliance with Cairo, as well as for the regional interests of the U.S. and its allies.
The White House, while praising the election, cautioned Cairo's new leader Sunday to respect the rights of non-Muslims and women as he forms a government. It also suggested that Washington expects Egypt's new Islamist government to maintain and respect the country's peace treaty with Israel, a cornerstone of the American-Egyptian alliance for the past 30 years.
"We look forward to working together with President-elect Morsi and the government he forms, on the basis of mutual respect, to advance the many shared interests between Egypt and the United States," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said. "We believe that it is important for President-elect Morsi to take steps at this historic time to advance national unity by reaching out to all parties and constituencies in consultations about the formation of a new government."
President Barack Obama called Mr. Morsi on Sunday, the White House said, adding that Mr. Morsi told Mr. Obama he "welcomed U.S. support for Egypt's transition."
The White House also said the president called Ahmed Shafiq, who Mr. Morsi defeated, "to commend him on a well-run campaign," adding that he encouraged the general "to continue to play a role in Egyptian politics by supporting the democratic process and working to unify the Egyptian people."
Top diplomats, including the U.S. ambassador in Cairo, have had a number of "friendly contacts" with leading Muslim Brotherhood figures, including the former presidential candidate, Khairat al Shater, and members of the group's economic team, a senior U.S. official said. In these private talks, Muslim Brotherhood representatives have reassured the U.S. by saying "all the right things on the economic side," the official said, but elements of the group's social agenda remain a concern for the administration.
"Sure we'll deal with them. They're freely elected," the official said.
Depending on how much power the military cedes to the new president, Mr. Morsi's election potentially could damp U.S.-Egyptian military ties. The U.S. military maintained close relations with its Egyptian counterpart throughout former President Hosni Mubarak's rule.
In addition to $1.3 billion in annual military aid, U.S. and Egyptian officers held regular exchanges and military exercises to further bind the militaries.
At critical junctures in the transition, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other officials have called counterparts in Cairo, urging them to remain committed to elections. A little over a week ago, in a call to Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Mr. Panetta pressed the ruling military council to continue with the presidential elections and its democratic transition after a ruling by the country's high court dissolved Parliament.
In many ways, a Morsi victory was the most desirable outcome for Mr. Obama, who waded deeply into last year's Arab Spring and had sided against longtime U.S. ally Mr. Mubarak. Still, Mr. Morsi's win raises numerous challenges to U.S. security interests across the Middle East, said U.S., Arab and Israeli officials
The Muslim Brotherhood's rise in Cairo is seen as a risk to Israel's security and a complication to efforts at promoting Arab-Israeli peace talks. Israeli officials in recent weeks have pointed to growing attacks on the Jewish state from the Egyptian-controlled Sinai as evidence that a weakening military in Cairo is less able to secure Israel's borders and underpin the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement.U.S. and Arab officials also worry the Muslim Brotherhood's rise could accelerate the continuing expansion of Islamist governments across the region in the wake of the political uprisings that started last year. Islamist governments have been formed in Libya and Tunisia.
Washington is particularly concerned about the future of Jordan's King Abdullah, a staunch ally of the U.S. and Israel who has been a key player in combating the role of al Qaeda and Iran in the region. Jordan's own Muslim Brotherhood movement is driving growing political dissent inside the kingdom.
The U.S. and allied governments also are concerned about developments in Syria, worried that the Brotherhood or a more radical form of Sunni power could gain power as President Bashar al-Assad's rule weakens.
"It's scary what the region could look like in a year," said a senior Arab official. "You could have one bloc of the Muslim Brothers and the others close to Iran."
Madonna Badger’s ‘Today’ Interview Shouldn’t Ignore Fire’s Tragic Lessons
Still, let's hope that NBC corrects a dangerous misconception contained in a portion of the interview made available in advance of Thursday's broadcast, scheduled to run in the morning on NBC's Today show and in prime time on Rock Center with Brian Williams.
The authorities in Stamford, Conn., have said that the fire was almost certainly started by fireplace embers placed in a paper bag by her boyfriend, Michael Borcina. He then deposited the embers in a plastic container in a mudroom adjoining the house.
According to the transcript of the interview on the MSNBC website, Badger tells Lauer, "I don't believe that the ashes started the fire."
She explains to Lauer: "The wind blew ashes out onto the hearth, and so we were cleaning up. I watched [Borcina] take them with his hand, the shovel, and put 'em into the bag. And then take his—I watched him put his hands in the bag...to make sure that there's nothing on fire in the bag."
"And you watched him do that?" Lauer asks.
"Oh yeah," Badger says.
"Do you blame him?" Lauer asks.
"No, I do not blame him," Badger says. "I don't believe that the ashes started the fire. So I don't blame him.
NBC might also interview Cpt. Joe Duran of the fire department in Chico, Califa. He had this to say to the local press after his department responded to a fire caused by fire embers placed in a plastic container beside a house—just two days before the Badger fire
"The ashes can stay hot for days. They may even feel cool but deep inside the ashes may have an ember."
Duran said Wednesday of the Chico blaze, "It was kind of like, 'How did this fire start?' The guy said, 'Yeah, I put some embers in there, but that was three or four days ago.'"
Fireplace ashes are a hazard for at least a day and can remain so for as long as a fortnight, Duran says.
"It could be two weeks," he says. "Slowly, slowly, it just cooks and doesn't go out. Finally, at some point, it gets enough oxygen to ignite...creates enough heat to go into free burning mode."
He recommends letting the ashes cool for considerably longer than the uninitiated might imagine necessary before placing them in a metal container far from any structure. There is no reason not to take one added precaution.
"Put water in it," Duran says.
In the Chico fire, nobody was hurt. Duran emphasizes that he is not seeking to place blame on Badger or anyone else for the horrific losses incurred in the Connecticut fire. He said he has only compassion for the family and agreed to speak to The Daily Beast with the hope of preventing other tragedies.
"It's just a safety message," Duran says. "We get fires every year like that."
Duran's warnings and advice are echoed by fire safety experts elsewhere, including those at the U.S. Fire Administration, which has a "golden rule" that embers should sit at least 24 hours before being removed from the fireplace.
"These embers really can hold their heat, hold their temperature enough to get things burning for a long time," says USFA spokesman Tom Olshanski.
If just a single ember remains hot at its core, Olshanski notes, the result can be an inferno. "It's all you need," he says, "It's a lot like a book of matches...One match can bring down the largest of structures."
In the June 5 statement accompanying his decision not to file criminal charges in the Badger fire, Connecticut state Attorney David Cohen says the blaze almost certainly started in the mudroom where Bocina placed the ashes.
"A 'V' burn pattern was found at the extreme northwest corner of the house near the rear porch enclosure," Cohen states, summarizing the finding of the Stamford fire marshal. "The only area of the basement showing any sign of fire damage was the ceiling area in the northwest corner, directly below the rear entryway to the house from the so-called mudroom."
He continues: "Additionally, examination of the electrical service in the basement ruled out any electrical malfunction as being the cause of the fire. It would appear, therefore, that the fire originated in the mudroom located at the northwest corner of the first floor. Most likely it was caused by the disposal of fire place ash at that location."
"These embers really can hold their heat, hold their temperature enough to get things burning for a long time."
Cohen allows that "other theories have been proposed such as an electrical fault where the electric lines enter the house or defective electric or gas meters," but are impossible to test because the city of Stamford hastily tore down the house and carted the wreckage away, citing safety concerns.
"Thus, other theories, however unlikely, cannot be definitively rebutted," Cohen says.
Cohen goes on to report that "a fire had been lit in the fireplace at the home sometime in the afternoon of Dec. 24, and maintained throughout the day and early evening until approximately 8 p.m. when it was decided not to add any further wood."
Badger's daughters, 10-year-old Lily and 7-year-old twins, Sarah and Grace, went to bed, as did her parents, Lomer and Pauline Johnson. Badger and her boyfriend went out to the garage to wrap presents. They returned around 3:30 a.m.
"At that time, Mr. Borcina cleaned out the fireplace, shoveling the ash into a paper bag," Cohen says. "He says that he then smoothed out the ashes in the bag with his hand. This was confirmed by Mrs. Badger, who stated that this allayed any concern that she might have had that there were live embers present. The bag was placed in a plastic storage box, which was then placed just inside the exterior door in the mudroom, the point of origin of the fire. Badger and Borcina retired separately at about 4 a.m. The fire was reported at 4:41 a.m."
However likely it may be that the fire was started by the ashes, Cohen does not believe this translates into blame.
"It is my opinion that there is insufficient evidence to establish that either Mrs. Badger or Mr. Borcina were aware of and consciously disregarded a risk that there was a possible live ember in the ash that could result in a catastrophic fire," he says. "It stretches belief to think that they would consciously disregard the danger and go to sleep, much less that they would disregard any danger to the Badger children or Mrs. Badger's parents."
If that is so, then it can be assumed Badger and Borcina would never have put the embers in the bag if they were cognizant of the danger. Cohen was unable to determine whether there were working fire alarms in the house. Badger reportedly says in the Lauer interview that there were. Neighbors and the responding firefighters have said they did not hear any, but Cohen says it seems impossible that Badger and Borcina would have been so foolhardy with kids in the house.
"It would be difficult for a jury to believe that anyone would knowingly disable smoke detectors and then use the fireplace," Cohen suggests.
Meanwhile, Badger has filed notice that she intends to sue the city of Stamford for tearing down her burned house and carting the evidence away before the initial findings of the fire marshal could be independently verified and other possibilities fully explored.
Whether or not the ashes caused the fire, there is no doubt they constituted a hazard. It's a message that both NBC and Badger might try to spread during Thursday's broadcasts.
Automatic Speeding Tix
For many New York City drivers, the cadences of the common speeding ticket can be unfamiliar. Rare is the need to haggle with a police officer, pleading to be let off with a warning, or presenting the pregnant wife as Exhibit A in a bid for leniency. Rarer is the stretch of urban streetscape where an officer might safely approach an offending vehicle, as he would on a highway shoulder.
Luke Sharrett for The New York Times
Under a proposal now gaining traction in Albany, though, New Yorkers may soon be answering to an authority more suited to the city’s topography: cameras that record the speed of a passing car and issue violations automatically.
Though similar programs have already been put into effect for red-light and bus-lane violations in the city, the bill could signal a sweeping shift for drivers accustomed to a city whose traffic laws can be hard to enforce, cutting against an ethos of getting from here to there as quickly as possible.
The proposal initially calls for as many as 40 cameras to be mounted high across the city, of which 20 can be rotated, ensuring that drivers are never certain when their speed is being tracked.
Only those who exceed the city’s speed limit, typically 30 miles per hour, by more than 10 miles per hour would be given tickets, receiving a $50 fine. For those who exceed the limit by more than 30 m.p.h., the fine doubles to $100. Drivers would not be docked points on their licenses.
Transportation advocates, as well as the city’s Transportation Department, have long lobbied for a speed-camera policy, but supporters say the bill has finally cleared a significant hurdle: gaining a Republican sponsor, Andrew J. Lanza of Staten Island, in the State Senate.
“We live hurried lives,” Mr. Lanza said in an interview. “If people know these are out there, they’ll think twice. Nobody wants to pay a fine.” He was confident that the bill would pass the Senate before the legislative session ends this week; a similar bill in the Assembly, sponsored by Assemblywoman Deborah J. Glick, also required passage.
Proponents say the math is simple: Scores of New Yorkers are killed each year inspeeding-related crashes, and the use of cameras has already proved effective in other cities. Since speed cameras were installed in Washington in 2001, the police said traffic fatalities had fallen 56 percent, though it was unclear how much of the shift was attributable to the cameras. (In New York City, there were 243 traffic fatalities in 2011,about a 38 percent reduction from 2001.)
Before the program began in Washington, one in three drivers exceeded the speed limit at the locations where cameras were later installed, the police said. Today, one in 40 drivers speeds. (Washington does not make broad use of the element of surprise: a list of locations where the cameras may be is available on the city’s Web site.)
Louisiana, Ohio and Oregon are among the states to put speed camera initiatives into effect in recent years.
Anne McCartt, the senior vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said many areas of New York City were particularly well-suited for speed cameras.
“There are lots of traffic situations where it’s not practical or it can even be dangerous for traditional speed enforcement,” she said.
Still, some drivers said they retained a certain romantic attachment to the rare interactions with officers and their radar guns; the surge of pride derived from talking one’s way out of a ticket; the tacit kinship forged between drivers who slow in unison at the sight of a patrol car in the distance.
Wendell Kornegay, 48, from East New York, Brooklyn, said cameras could never capture the context of a traffic scene as an officer could. “I don’t think it’s fair,” he said, parking his vehicle near Rockefeller Center one day last week as his 1-year-old daughter, Melaine, sat quietly in her car seat. “If a cop was sitting there, you can see if someone was trying to catch the light to clear the intersection.”
Though he acknowledged the difficulty of even approaching 40 m.p.h. on many city streets, Mr. Kornegay wondered whether speeding was truly dangerous along desolate stretches where pedestrian traffic can be minimal at certain hours.
Janette Sadik-Khan, the city’s transportation commissioner, said such criticisms were a “nonstarter.”
“That’s when the problems are really at their highest danger,” she said. “We’re looking to put these cameras in places that have documented speeding problems.”
Bhairavi Desai, the executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, said the measure was simply another tactic to raise revenue for the city. In 2011, the city issued more than 820,000 red-light camera violations, the Transportation Department said, down from more than one million in 2010. The city has also issued 86,180 bus-lane camera violations since the program was begun in late 2010.
Ms. Desai said many cabdrivers had received bus-lane violations after performing what they thought were legal pickups or drop-offs in bus lanes.
“With a camera, who do you argue against?” she said.
Chrishna Sooknanan, 26, a cabdriver from Flatbush, Brooklyn, was among the bus lane offenders, he said. But the speeding legislation presents a more complicated wrinkle: How does a New York City cabby — that avatar of manic roadway efficiency and lead-footedness — tell needy passengers that he is afraid to speed?
“They complain like crazy,” he said of his riders, particularly those who travel from the financial district and Midtown. “They say, ‘You’re going to make me late.’”
But there is perhaps another group of New Yorkers with even less patience for speed-conscious driving. Ramon Reyes, 62, from Woodside, Queens, is a longtime driver for the United Nations. He has whisked diplomats from as far away as Angola around the streets of Manhattan, and his current assignment is to tend to the central African country of Chad’s mission to the United Nations, on East 36th Street.
While Mr. Reyes’s current boss is “a good guy,” he said, not all dignitaries are so understanding.
“They don’t get this is New York,” he said. “They leave two minutes before and say, ‘Why am I late?’ ”
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