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|The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And both that morning equally lay
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Architect of Egypt’s NGO crackdown is Mubarak holdover
The architect of Egypt’s crackdown on U.S.-funded pro-democracy organizations is a holdover from the cabinet of former president Hosni Mubarak who has tried for years to stymie the groups’ activities.
Faiza Abou el-Naga, the minister who coordinates international aid and long the most powerful woman in the Egyptian government, has survived a series of cabinet purges and weathered the groundswell of anger toward remnants of Mubarak’s regime. But her intensifying campaign against the civil society groups offers clear proof, her critics say, that some elements of the old guard remain entrenched and are trying to block the rise of new political leadership in the country.
“Mubarak is still ruling in some ways and is still blocking the emergence of a new regime in Egypt,” said Abdullah al-Ashaal, a former deputy foreign minister. “Faiza Abou el-Naga is one of the tools in that.”
Palestinian rivals agree to form unity government
The leaders of rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas signed a deal in Qatar on Monday to form a unity government of independent technocrats for the West Bank and Gaza, headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The move, following the failure of exploratory Israeli-Palestinian talks aimed at reviving stalled peace negotiations, was condemned by Israel, which says the Islamist Hamas cannot be part of any peace efforts.
The accord signed by President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal is supposed to pave the way for Palestinian presidential and parliamentary election possibly later this year, and to rebuild the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip following a 2008-2009 Israeli offensive against Hamas.
Eyes on dissident states as mortgage deal nears
A broad settlement with major banks over mortgage servicing abuses that would bring relief to distressed U.S. homeowners could be announced as early Thursday, two people familiar with the matter said.
Negotiators said a federal-state mortgage servicing settlement already has the backing of over 40 states but so far lacks the support of a handful of critical states, including California and New York.
The size of the settlement is estimated at up to $25 billion, but that could drop if a number of states stay on the sidelines.
The Gay-Marriage Decision: Is It Too Narrow to Reach the Supreme Court?
The ruling Tuesday, Feb. 7, striking down California's ban on gay marriage marks the first time a federal appellate court has squarely rejected a state decision to limit marriage to straight couples. In so doing, it scored big for the two couples who brought the case and the thousands more who hope to marry in California.
However, the decision did less than many gay-rights advocates had hoped: it said nothing about whether the U.S. Constitution guarantees gays and lesbians the right to marry someone of their own sex. And the reinstitution of marriage for gay couples in California may well be put on hold while it is appealed to the Supreme Court, where its fate remains in the hands of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy's swing vote. That is, if the Supreme Court deigns to take it up.
But the explosion of joy via Twitter over the ruling — and the less raucous but just as earnest online hand-wringing by gay-marriage opponents — was not for nothing. By striking down California's Proposition 8, passed on Election Day 2008, the panel ruled 2-1 that California voters violated the U.S. Constitution by singling out gays and lesbians when they wrote a ban on same-sex marriage into the constitution. It mattered not one bit, the two-judge majority wrote, that gays had been given the right to marry mere months before, in a landmark decision by the California Supreme Court.
Obama Tries to Ease Ire on Contraception Rule
Facing vocal opposition from religious leaders and an escalating political fight, the White House sought on Tuesday to ease mounting objections to a new administration rule that would require health insurance plans — including those offered by Catholic universities and charities — to offer birth control to women free of charge.
As the Republican presidential candidates and conservative leaders sought to frame the rule as showing President Obama’s insensitivity to religious beliefs, Mr. Obama’s aides promised to explore ways to make it more palatable to religious-affiliated institutions, perhaps by allowing some employers to make side insurance plans available that are not directly paid for by the institutions.
But White House officials insisted the president would not back down from his decision last month that employees at institutions affiliated with religious organizations receive access to contraceptives.
Self-Cloning Seagrass May Be World's Oldest Living Thing
Australian and European scientists say they believe ancient seagrass growing on the floor of the Mediterranean Sea may be the oldest living organism on the planet.
The researchers say their findings indicate the vast beds of submerged vegetation are most likely at least 100,000 years old. That is nearly 60,000 years older than a Tasmanian plant that currently holds the title of world’s oldest living thing.
Breast cancer kills older women more often: study
Breast cancer is often considered more deadly among younger women, but older women -- particularly those over 75 -- are actually more likely to die of the disease, according to an international study.
Researchers, who tracked thousands of women and published their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association, said that among women diagnosed with a certain common type of breast cancer, those over 75 years-old were 63 percent more likely to die of it than women under 65.
"I suspect it's undertreatment. We did show the rates of chemotherapy and radiation therapy are less in the older group," said Stephen Jones, medical director at US Oncology Research in Texas and one of the study's authors.