04/04/2013 06:06 PM
Arming for Virtual Battle: The Dangerous New Rules of Cyberwar
By Thomas Darnstaedt, Marcel Rosenbach and Gregor Peter Schmitz
Now that wars are also being fought on digital battlefields, experts in international law have established rules for cyberwar. But many questions remain unanswered. Will it be appropriate to respond to a cyber attack with military means in the future?
The attack came via ordinary email, when selected South Korean companies received messages supposedly containing credit card information in the middle of the week before last.
Recipients who opened the emails also opened the door to the enemy, because it was in fact an attack from the Internet. Instead of the expected credit card information, the recipients actually downloaded a time bomb onto their computers, which was programmed to ignite on Wednesday at 2 p.m. Korean time.
At that moment, chaos erupted on more than 30,000 computers in South Korean television stations and banks. The message "Please install an operating system on your hard disk" appeared on the screens of affected computers, and cash machines ceased to operate. The malware, which experts have now dubbed "DarkSeoul," deleted data from the hard disks, making it impossible to reboot the infected computers.
DarkSeoul was one of the most serious digital attacks in the world this year, but cyber defense centers in Western capitals receive alerts almost weekly. The most serious attack to date originated in the United States. In 2010, high-tech warriors, acting on orders from the US president, smuggled the destructive "Stuxnet" computer worm into Iranian nuclear facilities.
The volume of cyber attacks is only likely to grow. Military leaders in the US and its European NATO partners are outfitting new battalions for the impending data war. Meanwhile, international law experts worldwide are arguing with politicians over the nature of the new threat. Is this already war? Or are the attacks acts of sabotage and terrorism? And if a new type of war is indeed brewing, can military means be used to respond to cyber attacks?
The War of the Future
A few days before the computer disaster in Seoul, a group led by NATO published a thin, blue booklet. It provides dangerous responses to all of these questions. The "Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare" is probably no thicker than the American president's thumb. It is not an official NATO document, and yet in the hands of President Barack Obama it has the potential to change the world.
The rules that influential international law experts have compiled in the handbook could blur the lines between war and peace and allow a serious data attack to rapidly escalate into a real war with bombs and missiles. Military leaders could also interpret it as an invitation to launch a preventive first strike in a cyberwar.
At the invitation of a NATO think tank in the Estonian capital Tallinn, and at a meeting presided over by a US military lawyer with ties to the Pentagon, leading international law experts had discussed the rules of the war of the future. International law is, for the most part, customary law. Experts determine what is and can be considered customary law.
The resulting document, the "Tallinn Manual," is the first informal rulebook for the war of the future. But it has no reassuring effect. On the contrary, it permits nations to respond to data attacks with the weapons of real war.
Two years ago, the Pentagon clarified where this could lead, when it stated that anyone who attempted to shut down the electric grid in the world's most powerful nation with a computer worm could expect to see a missile in response.
A Private Digital Infrastructure
The risks of a cyberwar were invoked more clearly than ever in Washington in recent weeks. In mid-March, Obama assembled 13 top US business leaders in the Situation Room in the White House basement, the most secret of all secret conference rooms. The group included the heads of UPS, JPMorgan Chase and ExxonMobil. There was only one topic: How can America win the war on the Internet?
The day before, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had characterized the cyber threat as the "biggest peril currently facing the United States."
The White House was unwilling to reveal what exactly the business leaders and the president discussed in the Situation Room. But it was mostly about making it clear to the companies how threatened they are and strengthening their willingness to cooperate, says Rice University IT expert Christopher Bronk.
The president urgently needs their cooperation, because the US has allowed the laws of the market to govern its digital infrastructure. All networks are operated by private companies. If there is a war on the Internet, both the battlefields and the weapons will be in private hands.
This is why the White House is spending so much time and effort to prepare for possible counterattacks. The aim is to scare the country's enemies, says retired General James Cartwright, author of the Pentagon's current cyber strategy.
Responsible for that strategy is the 900-employee Cyber Command at the Pentagon, established three years ago and located in Fort Meade near the National Security Agency, the country's largest intelligence agency. General Keith Alexander heads both organizations. The Cyber Command, which is expected to have about 4,900 employees within a few years, will be divided into various defensive and offensive "Cyber Mission Forces" in the future.
Wild West Online
It's probably no coincidence that the Tallinn manual is being published now. Developed under the leadership of US military lawyer Michael Schmitt, NATO representatives describe the manual as the "most important legal document of the cyber era."
In the past, Schmitt has examined the legality of the use of top-secret nuclear weapons systems and the pros and cons of US drone attacks. Visitors to his office at the Naval War College in Rhode Island, the world's oldest naval academy, must first pass through several security checkpoints.
"Let's be honest," says Schmitt. "Everyone has treated the Internet as a sort of Wild West, a lawless zone. But international law has to be just as applicable to online weapons as conventional weapons."
It's easier said than done, though. When does malware become a weapon? When does a hacker become a warrior, and when does horseplay or espionage qualify as an "armed attack," as defined under international law? The answers to such detailed questions can spell the difference between war and peace.
James Lewis of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), one of the country's top cyberwar experts, is somewhat skeptical about the new manual. He sees it as "a push to lower the threshold for military action." For Lewis, responding to a "denial of service" attack with military means is "really crazy." He says the Tallinn manual "shows is that you should never let lawyers go off by themselves."
Claus Kress, an international law expert and the director of the Institute for International Peace and Security Law at the University of Cologne, sees the manual as "setting the course," with "consequences for the entire law of the use of force." Important "legal thresholds," which in the past were intended to protect the world against the military escalation of political conflicts or acts of terror, are becoming "subject to renegotiation," he says.
According to Kress, the most critical issue is the "recognition of a national right of self-defense against certain cyber attacks." This corresponds to a state of defense, as defined under Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, which grants any nation that becomes the victim of an "armed attack" the right to defend itself by force of arms. The article gained new importance after Sept. 11, 2001, when the US declared the invasion of Afghanistan an act of self-defense against al-Qaida and NATO proclaimed the application of its mutual defense clause to come to the aid of the superpower.
Changing the Logic of War
The question of how malicious malware must be to justify a counterattack can be critical when it comes to preserving peace. Under the new doctrine, only those attacks that cause physical or personal damage, but not virtual damage, are relevant in terms of international law. The malfunction of a computer or the loss of data alone is not sufficient justification for an "armed attack."
But what if, as is often the case, computer breakdowns do not result in physical damage but lead to substantial financial losses? A cyber attack on Wall Street, shutting down the market for several days, was the casus belli among the experts in Tallinn. The US representatives wanted to recognize it as a state of defense, while the Europeans preferred not to do so. But the US military lawyers were adamant, arguing that economic damage establishes the right to launch a counterattack if it is deemed "catastrophic."
Ultimately, it is left to each country to decide what amount of economic damage it considers sufficient to venture into war. German expert Kress fears that such an approach could lead to a "dam failure" for the prohibition of the use of force under international law.
So was it an armed attack that struck South Korea on March 20? The financial losses caused by the failure of bank computers haven't been fully calculated yet. It will be up to politicians, not lawyers, to decide whether they are "catastrophic."
Just how quickly the Internet can become a scene of massive conflicts became evident this month, when suddenly two large providers came under constant digital attack that seemed to appear out of nowhere.
The main target of the attack was the website Spamhaus.org, a project that has been hunting down the largest distributors of spam on the Web since 1998. Its blacklists of known spammers enable other providers to filter out junk email. By providing this service, the organization has made powerful enemies and has been targeted in attacks several times. But the current wave of attacks overshadows everything else. In addition to shutting down Spamhaus, it even temporarily affected the US company CloudFlare, which was helping fend off the attack. Analysts estimate the strength of the attack at 300 gigabits per second, which is several times as high as the level at which the Estonian authorities were "fired upon" in 2007. The attack even affected data traffic in the entire Internet. A group called "Stophaus" claimed responsibility and justified its actions as retribution for the fact that Spamhaus had meddled in the affairs of powerful Russian and Chinese Internet companies.
Civilian forces, motivated by economic interests, are playing cyberwar, and in doing so they are upending all previous war logic.
A Question of When, Not If
A field experiment in the US shows how real the threat is. To flush out potential attackers, IT firm Trend Micro built a virtual pumping station in a small American city, or at least it was supposed to look like one to "visitors" from the Internet. They called it a "honeypot," designed to attract potential attackers on the Web.
The trappers installed servers and industrial control systems used by public utilities of that size. To make the experiment setup seem realistic, they even placed deceptively real-looking city administration documents on the computers.
After only 18 hours, the analysts registered the first attempted attack. In the next four weeks, there were 38 attacks from 14 countries. Most came from computers in China (35 percent), followed by the US (19 percent) and Laos (12 percent).
Many attackers tried to insert espionage tools into the supposed water pumping station to probe the facility for weaknesses. International law does not prohibit espionage. But some hackers went further than that, trying to manipulate or even destroy the control devices.
"Some tried to increase the rotation speed of the water pumps to such a degree that they wouldn't have survived in the real world," says Trend Micro employee Udo Schneider, who categorizes these cases as "classic espionage."
"There is no question as to whether there will be a catastrophic cyber attack against America. The only question is when," says Terry Benzel, the woman who is supposed to protect the country from such an attack and make its computer networks safer. The computer specialist is the head of DeterLab in California, a project that was established in 2003, partly with funding from the US Department of Homeland Security, and offers a simulation platform for reactions to cyber attacks.
Benzel's voice doesn't falter when she describes a war scenario she calls "Cyber Pearl Harbor." This is what it could look like: "Prolonged power outages, a collapse of the power grid and irreparable disruptions in the Internet." Suddenly, food would not reach stores in time and cash machines would stop dispensing money. "Everything depends on computers nowadays, even the delivery of rolls to the baker around the corner," she says.
Benzel also describes other crisis scenarios. For example, she says, there are programs that open and close gates on American dams that are potentially vulnerable. Benzel is worried that a clever hacker could open America's dams at will.
Should Preemptive Strikes Be Allowed?
These and other cases are currently being tested in Cyber City, a virtual city US experts have built on their computers in New Jersey to simulate the consequences of data attacks. Cyber City has a water tower, a train station and 15,000 residents. Everything is connected in realistic ways, enabling the experts to study the potentially devastating effects cyber attacks could have on residents.
In Europe, it is primarily intelligence agencies that are simulating digital war games. Germany's foreign intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), also has a unit that studies the details of future wars. It is telling that the BND team doesn't just simulate defensive situations but increasingly looks at offensive scenarios, as well, so as to be prepared for a sort of digital second strike.
"Offensive Cyber Operations," or OCOs, are part of the strategy for future cyberwars in several NATO countries. The Tallinn manual now establishes the legal basis for possible preemptive strikes, which have been an issue in international law since former US President George W. Bush launched a preemptive strike against Iraq in March 2003.
The most contentious issue during the meetings in Tallinn was the question of when an offensive strike is permissible as an act of preventive self-defense against cyber attacks. According to the current doctrine, an attack must be imminent to trigger the right to preventive self-defense. The Tallinn manual is more generous in this respect, stating that even if a digital weapon is only likely to unfold its sinister effects at a later date, a first strike can already be justified if it is the last window of opportunity to meet the threat.
The danger inherent in the application of that standard becomes clear in the way that the international law experts at Tallinn treated Stuxnet, the most devastating malware to date, which was apparently smuggled into Iranian nuclear facilities on Obama's command. The data attack destroyed large numbers of centrifuges used for uranium enrichment in the Natanz reprocessing plant. Under the criteria of the Tallinn manual, this would be an act of war.
Could the US be the perpetrator in a war of aggression in violation of international law? Cologne international law expert Kress believes that what the Tallinn manual says parenthetically about the Stuxnet case amounts to a "handout for the Pentagon," namely that Obama's digital attack might be seen as an "act of preventive self-defense" against the nuclear program of Iran's ayatollahs.
The Fog of Cyber War
According to the Tallinn interpretation, countless virtual espionage incidents of the sort that affect all industrialized nations almost daily could act as accelerants. Pure cyber espionage, which American politicians also define as an attack, is not seen an act of war, according to the Tallinn rules. Nevertheless, the international law experts argue that such espionage attacks can be seen as preparations for destructive attacks, so that it can be legitimate to launch a preventive attack against the spy as a means of self-defense.
Some are especially concerned that the Tallinn proposals could also make it possible to expand the rules of the "war on terror." The authors have incorporated the call of US geostrategic expert Joseph Nye to take precautions against a "cyber 9/11" into their manual. This would mean that the superpower could even declare war on organized hacker groups. Combat drones against hackers? Cologne expert Kress cautions that the expansion of the combat zone to the laptops of an only loosely organized group of individuals would constitute a "threat to human rights."
Germany's military, the Bundeswehr, is also voicing concerns over the expansion of digital warfare. Karl Schreiner, a brigadier general with the Bundeswehr's leadership academy in Hamburg, is among those who see the need for "ethical rules" for the Internet battlefield and believe that an international canon for the use of digital weapons is required.
Military leaders must rethink the most important question relating to defense in cyberspace: Who is the attacker? "In most cases," the Tallinn manual reads optimistically, it is possible to identify the source of data attacks. But that doesn't coincide with the experiences of many IT security experts.
The typical fog of cyberwar was evident most recently in the example of South Korea. At first, officials said that DarkSeoul was clearly an attack from the north, but then it was allegedly traced to China, Europe and the United States. Some analysts now suspect patriotically motivated hackers in North Korea, because of the relatively uncomplicated malware. That leaves the question of just who South Korea should launch a counterattack against.
The South Korean case prompts Cologne international law expert Kress to conclude that lawyers will soon have a "new unsolved problem" on their hands -- a "war on the basis of suspicion."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
UN urges strict hygiene to prevent worldwide spread of China’s deadly H7N9 virus
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, April 5, 2013 15:27 EDT
The United Nations on Friday presented a list of recommendations, including a strict hygiene culture and keeping different breeds of animals apart, to try to curb the spreading of the H7N9 flu virus which has killed six people in China.
“With the virus harder to detect, good biosecurity measures become even more essential to reducing the risk of virus transmission to humans and animals,” said Juan Lubroth, the chief veterinary officer of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
Among the precautions, the FAO recommended farmers and other livestock handlers to regularly wash their hands and keep animals separate from living areas, warning that “close contact with infected animals can put people at risk”.
The organisation also said people should avoid eating sick animals and that they should not be fed to other animals.It recommended keeping different types of animals and species apart and to cull infected animals “if the human threat is confirmed as animal in origin”.
“It is important that all signs of illness or sudden and unexplained deaths in poultry, farmed birds, wild birds or other animals are reported to the authorities so that they can deal with them safely and help stop the virus spreading,” it said.
Lubroth said that “with this virus we don’t have a red flag that immediately signals an infection. This means farmers may not be aware that virus is circulating in their flock. Biosecurity and hygiene measures will help people protect themselves from virus circulating in seemingly healthy birds or other animals.”
The number of confirmed human infections in China rose to 16 Friday, with four of the six fatalities in Shanghai. Officials said two new infection cases had been detected in the eastern province of Jiangsu, and a seven-year-old girl had been quarantined in Hong Kong for tests after returning from Shanghai, showing flu-like symptoms.
In the USA...
Liberals fuming over Social Security cuts in Obama’s budget proposal
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, April 5, 2013 19:23 EDT
President Barack Obama will make key concessions to Republican foes next week when he unveils his US budget that proposes cuts to cherished entitlement programs, the White House said Friday.
Obama’s fiscal blueprint slashes the deficit by $1.8 trillion over 10 years, in what a senior administration official described as a “compromise offer” that cuts federal spending, finds savings in Social Security and raises tax revenue from the wealthy.
Republicans led by House Speaker John Boehner are opposed to new tax hikes, after the president secured $600 billion in increased tax revenue in a year-end deal.
Boehner’s party controls the House of Representatives, and passage of the president’s budget is unlikely if it contains new tax revenue provisions.
But Obama’s concession to conservatives in the form of reduced cost-of-living payouts for Social Security benefits could revive consideration of a deficit-reducing “grand bargain” that has proved elusive in recent years.
Such cuts to public pension programs and public health insurance for the elderly — seen as sacred cows for Obama’s Democrats — have been longstanding demands of Republicans.
“While this is not the president’s ideal deficit reduction plan, and there are particular proposals in this plan like the CPI (consumer price index) change that were key Republican requests and not the president’s preferred approach, this is a compromise proposal built on common ground,” the official said.
Obama is willing to “do tough things to reduce the deficit,” but only in the context of a package that includes new revenues from the wealthy, the official added.
Liberals immediately fumed that Obama appeared to be caving in to Republicans, with the group Democracy for America worried about the “profoundly disturbing” proposal for Social Security cuts.
Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, who caucuses with Democrats, warned the move would slash $120 billion from Social Security benefits over 10 years, and pledged to “do everything in my power to block” Obama’s so-called “chained CPI” proposal.
Even moderate Congressman Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, told MSNBC television that he has “serious concerns” about its impact on seniors.
The White House insisted that the Social Security cut was part of a recognition of the need to make some painful changes in federal programs in order to reduce spending.
“This isn’t about political horse trading; it’s about reducing the deficit in a balanced way that economists say is best for the economy and job creation,” the administration official said.
Obama’s new revenues will draw in part from capping retirement savings plans for millionaires, and closing some loopholes that benefit the rich.
The annual budget deficit is projected at 5.5 percent of gross domestic product for the fiscal year ending in September. Under the Obama budget, that would decline to 1.7 percent of GDP by 2023.
Combined with the $2.5 trillion in savings already achieved since negotiations in 2010, the Obama budget would bring total deficit reduction to $4.3 trillion over 10 years, slightly higher than the overall goal agreed to by both parties for stabilizing the national debt.
But Boehner warned that Obama had “moved in the wrong direction” by making skimpier entitlement cuts than he had offered in negotiations with Republicans last year.
And “if the president believes these modest entitlement savings are needed to help shore up these programs, there’s no reason they should be held hostage for more tax hikes. That’s no way to lead and move the country forward,” Boehner said.
April 5, 2013
Veterans’ Programs Are Set for Raise in Spending Plan
By JAMES DAO
WASHINGTON — Facing growing criticism from Congress, veterans’ groups and even late-night television hosts, the Obama administration announced on Friday that it would include significant increases for veterans’ programs, including money for mental health services, in the budget it unveils next week.
The president’s budget for the 2014 fiscal year will include $63.5 billion in discretionary funds for the Department of Veterans Affairs, a 4 percent increase over the current budget, said Denis R. McDonough, the White House chief of staff.
The spending plan calls for a 13.6 percent increase in discretionary spending, to $2.5 billion, for the Veterans Benefits Administration, the embattled agency within the department that oversees benefit programs, including education and disability compensation programs. And it will include $7 billion for mental health services, a 7 percent increase.
The budget will also propose spending nearly $300 million on two programs intended to digitize disability claims for wounded veterans. The department has more than 850,000 claims awaiting decisions, of which nearly 70 percent have been pending for more than 125 days, its benchmark for timely action.
President Obama also intends to propose making permanent two credits created to encourage businesses to hire veterans. Those credits, which are scheduled to expire at the end of the year, range up to $9,600 for hiring disabled veterans who have been unemployed for more than six months.
The president’s budget proposal is largely a political document, a starting point in negotiations with Congress. But Mr. McDonough, appearing before reporters alongside the secretary of veterans affairs, Eric K. Shinseki, asserted that the proposed increases — coming amid intense budget cutting across the federal government — underscored Mr. Obama’s priorities.
“The budget,” Mr. McDonough said, “lays out in pretty stark detail the president’s commitment to our vets and to their families.”
The Obama administration has come under fire in recent weeks for its handling of veterans’ issues, largely because of persistent and growing delays in processing compensation claims for injured veterans. (Many veterans complain about delays in obtaining health care as well, but the backlog in disability compensation has been a bigger issue.)
In recent weeks, Representative Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican who is chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, called on Allison Hickey, the under secretary for benefits, to resign because of her failure to shrink the backlog.
Perhaps more damaging to the administration, the general public now seems to equate the backlog with poor care for veterans. Joe Klein of Time magazine has called on Mr. Shinseki to resign, and Jon Stewart, host of “The Daily Show,” has devoted several recent episodes to deriding the Obama administration for breaking promises on veterans’ benefits, calling the backlog “criminal.”
Veterans’ groups have consistently complained about the slow processing of claims as well, though several major groups, including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans, have come to Mr. Shinseki’s defense.
Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and a leading critic of the department, called Friday’s budget announcement “welcome” but added that “no one has said this is a money problem.”
“Really what we’re talking about is execution,” he said.
For Mr. Shinseki, who meets regularly with veterans’ groups but does not often hold news conferences, the one-hour session in an ornate room at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building represented something of a departure, intended perhaps to counter criticism that he is aloof.
Most of the questions focused on the mountainous claims inventory, for which Mr. Shinseki did not offer any new proposals. Instead he emphasized the department’s core strategy, which involves digitizing the paper-clogged process in every regional office by the end of the year.
Mr. McDonough also said that he had also begun convening experts from several federal agencies, like the Social Security Administration and Department of Health and Human Services, to offer advice on taming the claims inventory.
As he has consistently in the past, Mr. Shinseki asserted that the department was on schedule to eliminate the backlog by 2015. Asked whether he meant the beginning or end of that year, he replied simply, “2015.”
Mr. Shinseki also noted that delays in processing claims were partly the result of Obama administration policies that expanded benefits, like for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange. “It was the right thing to do,” he said.
The Human Costs of the War on Social Security and Medicare
By: Adalia Woodbury
Apr. 5th, 2013
With friends like the Republican Party, seniors don’t need enemies. Americans work their entire lives to provide for their families. Throughout that period we contribute to Medicare and Social Security in the name of providing a safety net for the golden years of our lives. Yet, the Republican Party continues to call these programs “entitlements” as if they were an undeserved handout (unlike the bonuses that executives get for destroying our environment, the economy or both.)
We already know about the despised Ryan plan that seeks to replace Medicare with coupons that won’t come anywhere near covering the costs of premiums, co-pays and all those other wonderful goodies that come with the private health care “system.”
It’s bad enough that corporatists seek to line insurance providers pockets with policies that really amount to a Ponzi scheme. The trend is toward creating a monopoly of high deductible plans. In other words, it’s about paying premiums to insurance companies simply because they exist while paying for more of our healthcare needs as if we didn’t have any insurance.
As noted by Wendal Potter: corporate health insurance isn’t about providing people with options to suit their needs, nor is it about providing the security that comes with insurance.
Even in 2008, the last year I worked for an insurance company, my colleagues in the sales division were encouraging employers to go “total replacement,” which means eliminating all choices except high-deductible plans. Insurers have long used proprietary “studies” supposedly proving that making people pay more out of pocket for medical care will “incentivize” them to lead healthier lives.
It is about increasing profits by shifting more of the costs for previously insured healthcare to the consumer. In other words, you pay for healthcare insurance, plus you pay the costs for your healthcare yourself. There are corporatists who will tell you that the more you pay out of pocket, the more likely you are to live a healthier life style. Of course, you’re not supposed to notice that earning enough to feed your family, have shelter etc. would also contribute to living a healthier life style. However, I digress. This is more of the same mindset that sees healthcare generally and health insurance especially as just another business.
I guess that’s why hospitals inflate costs for over the counter items It doesn’t have a thing to do with increasing profits. It’s all in the name of promoting a healthy lifestyle. That’s as truthful as the claim that voter suppression is about preserving election integrity.
Except when factored in with other corporatist policies, a healthier life is the impossible dream at any age and more than impossible for seniors. True enough, part of leading a healthier life means making responsible choices like staying away from smoking. It also means having enough nutritious food to eat and having shelter from the elements - both things are increasingly elusive to Americans stuck in low paying jobs, let alone people who want but can’t get work. For seniors, it means going hungry for longer periods, as they see a bigger cut of their income going to healthcare costs.
Even if we went with the notion that high deductibles will encourage people to make healthy life style choices, I don’t understand how anyone can accept a “system” in which the purpose of healthcare “insurance” is profit, rather than providing healthcare from which we would have a healthier (and more productive) society.
If people who don’t earn enough to lead healthier lives are charged more for lacking the financial resources to lead healthier lives, that means more people will be less healthy. We don’t need to try this out to see where it leads. We only need to look at what poverty does to life expectancy in developing countries, or look to the correlation between increased poverty and illness along with the effects on life expectancy in this country compared to the days when we had a vibrant middle class.
Obamacare does improve the situation since insurance companies are now prohibited from discriminating against people with “pre-existing conditions” albeit with premiums costing 3 times more than a “normal” person. Naturally this goes with insurance policies that operate on the premise of denying as many healthcare services as possible. Combine that with a high deductible healthcare plan, and the reality is that access to healthcare will only exist on paper.
Yes, it means that young people can continue on their parents’ insurance until they are twenty-six. Given that more young people are working for minimum wage and without benefits, they won’t have to pay insurance companies for the benefit of paying their healthcare costs out of pocket.
This is the system that Paul Ryan’s coupons would partially buy for seniors. In other words, seniors would see a reduction in their income thanks to the chained CPI and more of that money will go to health “insurers” that only provide “insurance” with hefty deductibles.
I’ll grant that of the possible ways to steal Social Security to line the pockets of corporate America, the chained-CPI appears to be the most benevolent. However, the chained CPI is a sleeping zombie that penalizes people for having the audacity to live longer. The cuts get deeper, meaning less money for the increasingly high costs of coupon care, plus the increasing cost of paying for the healthcare costs aren’t insured under healthcare “insurance”. It also means that seniors, especially women, will go hungry more days per month as they get older. After all, silly Americans, if you’re lucky enough to live to be a senior, you’ll see that you are not “entitled” to food or access to “the best healthcare system in the world.”
As noted by JOHN WOJCIK of People’s World
The “Chained CPI” is touted as taking into account that seniors cut back when prices rise.”They are actually saying,” Johnson wrote, “that because people have to cut back to cat food, then they should only be getting enough to pay for cat food. The elites love the ‘Chained CPI’ because it helps keep the government from raising taxes on the rich to pay back what was borrowed from Social Security and used to give tax cuts to the rich.
The chained CPI will hit every senior hard, but especially women. According to the National Women’s Law Center, the chained CPI means if you’re 70 you’ll go hungry 1 day a month, but if you commit the crime of living until you’re 95 you’ll be rewarded with hunger 13 days out of every month.
When you combine cuts to social security with the private health insurance system, and hospitals padding costs for basics like aspirin and gauze pads, seniors will have much more to worry about than if the Air traffic controller will be there to guide their private jet, or if they have to pay full price for a haircut.
Robert Reich explains:
Even Social Security’s current inflation adjustment understates the true impact of inflation on the elderly. That’s because they spend 20 to 40 percent of their incomes on health care, and health-care costs have been rising faster than inflation. So why adopt a new inflation adjustment that’s even stingier than the current one?
If the best healthcare system in the world doesn’t get you, the chained CPI eventually will. You’ll be glad to know, however, that your sacrifice means the corporate elite will be able to build more sweatshops.
Mitt Romney and Bain Continue to Make Millions by Killing American Jobs
Apr. 5th, 2013
One of the methods scientists use to predict a particular outcome involving animals is through careful observation of recurrent actions by an individual or group when presented with a given object or in a given situation. After seeing the same behavior repeated over and over, observers are capable of making very accurate predictions that some people may misinterpret as being prophetic. It is the same with businesses, and it is not uncommon for a casual observer to make accurate predictions regarding the success or failure of a company based on observable patterns and procedures of successful enterprises, and a novice may appear brilliant when they successfully predict a particular outcome based on observable patterns. This week, the largest American toy retailer gave itself three years to reverse declining profits after pulling an initial public offering (IPO) and hoping a new strategy under a new CEO would save Toys R Us. However, based on past recurrent actions by a large private equity firm, Toys R Us are headed for bankruptcy and dissolution that will earn Bain Capital Partners outrageous profits as they harvest another company under their supervision.
During the 2012 presidential election, Americans learned how Willard Romney’s private equity firm, Bain Capital, bought companies with plenty of liquid assets, leveraged them with crushing debt, installed their surrogates to “run” the company, and when they failed to meet their debt obligations, took them into bankruptcy and reaped the benefits because Bain’s surrogates represented the creditors and debtors. It was a winning proposition for Bain Capital, but devastating for shareholders, creditors, employees, and debtors who were fleeced while Bain made off with the profits and companies’ assets often to repeat the process again until there was nothing left but the business’s obituaries.
Toys R Us is in trouble because although they have plenty of liquid assets, they have $4 billion in debt coming due by 2018 and after a disappointing holiday season that saw their profits decline the most since Bain Capital Partners bought them out in 2005, their CEO is stepping down and awaiting a new leader to implement a strategy to save the company. The company said “unfavorable market conditions” and a “leadership transition” drove them to pull the IPO as well as secure a new seven year loan to repay another loan while awaiting a new leader and strategy for success. The current CEO, Gerald Storch, has been with the company since Bain Capital Partners bought out Toys R Us, and will stay with the firm until a suitable replacement is found.
An analyst at a debt researching firm, Gimme Credit LLC, said “The financial problem is that the company is so leveraged on a multiple basis. It would be very difficult for Toys “R” Us to go ‘on the road’ to raise equity without a good management bench,” and it is a proven and winning tactic for Bain who typically leverage companies with debt, install their own surrogates, and make out like bandits when the company is unable to meet its obligations. Last week the company arranged for a $400 million loan to go with cash on hand to repay another loan of $617 million, to be repaid over seven years. Another analyst said the “company has significant liquidity as it stands today, and we think they will access the market in the next 12 to 24 months to refinance existing high-coupon debt.”
Toys R Us is going through a typical Bain company’s death throes that include being leveraged with crushing debt to be repaid with more debt burden until the company has little choice but to declare bankruptcy. It is noteworthy that Bain Capital Partners LLC is a firm Willard Romney started and is separate from Bain Capital Romney claims he “retroactively retired” from in 1999 even though SEC and FEC filings show he was still running the private equity firm until after 2001. The FEC or SEC has never filed charges against Romney, but that is another issue.
It is likely Toys R Us will not survive the three year period they gave themselves to reverse declining profits or the crushing $4 billion in debt due by 2018, especially when they are repaying existing debt with more debt. A credit analyst with Fitch Ratings said “They have to do major restructuring to the business as the current model is facing big pressure,” and that “it really is a tough story for the company to grow out of this capital structure” that many, many other Bain companies experienced prior to being harvested by Bain. The “major restructuring” Bain businesses normally go through is laying off employees, selling assets, eliminating and raiding pension accounts, and then shuttering the businesses when the assets are gone leaving creditors and debtors holding the bag.
Obviously, predicting Toys R Us is finished is only conjecture, but it is conjecture borne of observable patterns of behavior by vulture capitalists like Bain Capital, or Bain Capital Partners LLC, or whichever private equity firm Romney is associated with. Toys R Us may survive the restructuring and mounting debt to prosper beyond expectations, but based on Bain’s model of buying successful businesses, leveraging them with debt, and restructuring them with more debt, layoffs, and closures, it is safe to say Toys R Us will go the way of many, many other companies and file bankruptcy, liquidate their assets, and send the proceeds directly to Willard Romney’s offshore tax havens to avoid paying taxes on profits earned off the misery of another American business.
Jobs Report Proves Obama Correct About The Sequester Killing Jobs
By: Adalia Woodbury
Apr. 6th, 2013
sequester and unemploymentWe’re seeing the first signs of the Sequester effect on job creation with this month’s jobs report. It isn’t pretty. The modest drop in the unemployment rate to 7.6% isn’t something to celebrate because the bulk of that number is a result of people giving up on looking for work.
The 88,000 jobs that were created (excluding farm related jobs) is the lowest number since last June. According to Paul Dales, who is an economist at Capitol Economics in London, when the numbers go below 100,000 it’s time to start worrying.
Just to give some perspective, the economy created 248,000 jobs in February and 148,000 in January, during a time in which there was some hope that Republicans would miraculously come to their senses before the Sequester kicked in.
Credible economists point to the fact that this is just one bad jobs report. We shouldn’t go into panic mode, at least not yet. At the same time, they are saying there are warning signs.
For example, even in its earliest stages, sequestration has had a negative effect on local economies. Think Progress reports: “The automatic spending cuts that went into effect at the start of March are spread outover a host of domestic programs and are having a real impact on communities across the country. Sequestration is cutting jobs, shutting down essential services, and hurting state economies.”
Another disturbing sign is seen in the labor force participation rate which measures how many Americans are either working or looking for work. In March, it dropped to 63.3 percent down from the 63.5 percent in February. Five years ago, the labor force participation rate was 66.1 percent.
In February, President Obama and leading Democrats warned that sequestration would hurt job creation. Here is what Nancy Pelosi said when speaking on the negative effects on the economy with sequestration and a Republican bill that amounts to sequestration on steroids.
We’re in this place, in this chamber of the House of Representatives, to represent the American people. We recognize that a thriving middle class is the backbone of our democracy and that we are here to meet the needs of the American people and strengthen that democracy. With the legislation that is before us today, we undermine, we undermine all of those efforts. So, with the sequestration, which is reaffirmed in this legislation, it would go down a path that is harmful to our economy, and harmful to our national security. Don’t take it from me, the Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, told Congress last week on more than one occasion that the cuts of this size, made this quickly, would hurt hiring and incomes, slow the recovery, cost the economy 750,000 jobs and keep deficits larger than otherwise.
Here is what the President said back in February:
“The impact of this policy won’t be felt overnight, but it will be real,” Mr. Obama said at the Newport News Shipbuilding company in Newport News, Va. “The sequester will weaken America’s economic recovery, it will weaken our military readiness, and it will weaken the services people depend on.”
In fact, most of America anticipated that the sequester effect on the economy and, with it, job creation would be harmful.
According to Pew, “Roughly six-in-ten Republicans, Democrats and independents alike say the sequester will have a major effect on the nation’s economy, and by overwhelming margins all agree that the effect will be negative, not positive.”
The only people who thought the sequester was no big deal, or doesn’t go far enough are conservatives.
Here is what Tea Party darling Rand Paul said: “Tea party conservatives say the $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts over ten years is only a start.”
John Boehner tried to sell his caucus on the “benefits” of Sequester in 2011, before trying to blame the President for the sequester and, of course, advocating more of the same policies that produced the recession.
“The president’s policies continue to make it harder for Americans to find work,” he said in a statement. “To help grow our economy and expand opportunity for all Americans, Republicans passed a balanced budget that addresses our spending problem, unleashes North American energy like Keystone, and fixes our broken tax code, and voted to replace the president’s sequester with smarter cuts and reforms.”
My mother used to have a saying about people like John Boehner. He’s trying to sit on two chairs with one behind. On one hand, he’s arguing that the savage cuts that came with sequester are hurting job growth and despite having sold sequester in 2011. On the other hand, he’s arguing we need more of same savage cuts and tax cuts for the rich that hurt job creation to create more jobs. Gee, why didn’t we think of that before? Oh wait, we did and it didn’t work over the 30 years we did try it. It begs the question, why would it work now.
Moreover, if Boehner truly believes that sequestration is bad, why would he allow a bill that amounts to sequestration on steroids? If the sequester retards economic growth, doesn’t it stand to reason that sequester on steroids will only make things worse?
As Paul Krugman noted we really don’t have a spending problem, despite John Boehner’s huffing and puffing. Spending under President Obama is way down from the days in which Republicans decided to put two wars on the country’s credit card.
That deficit has declined from 5.6 percent of potential GDP in 2011 to 2.5 percent in 2013 — that’s 3 percent of GDP, which is a lot of austerity. Not all of that cut has even hit yet — the sequester isn’t in the macro numbers yet — but the rise in the payroll tax is very clearly driving the latest bad numbers, which show big declines in retail.
Indeed, the report shows that retail jobs are down, which stands to reason. More people are working for lower wages be it as a result of being underemployed or as a result of furloughs because of the sequester. When there is less money to spend, there is less demand for retail goods. When there is less demand it means jobs are cut, or at the very least, they are not created.
Krugman goes on to repeat what he and others have said for some time.
This is really stupid; as long as we’re at the zero lower bound, austerity is a huge mistake. Yet for what, the third time since 2009, all discussion in Washington has turned away from job creation to deficits (even though the debt problem has largely faded away) and the need for an early Fed exit from stimulus (even though unemployment remains high and inflation low).
While economists have a more refined understanding of the intricacies involved, one need only do some reading about the effects of austerity on Europe’s economy to realize that savage cuts to government spending when the economy is weak retard economic growth, kill jobs and grow poverty. It’s only a matter of common sense to realize that even more savage cuts to government in America will produce exactly the same results – on steroids.
Virginia AG Wants to Ban Consensual Sex Acts As a ‘Crime Against Nature’
Apr. 5th, 2013
It is safe to say there are very, very few Americans who would be in favor of the government intruding in their personal lives so long as they were not breaking any laws. Indeed, Republicans lead the charge to keep government from interfering in people’s lives, except of course, when they want to control women’s reproductive health. There have been plenty of suggestions that what Republicans really want to control is when a woman has sex, and for what purpose, but it is hardly what they would say if they were asked outright. However, it is beginning to appear that controlling sex is behind the perpetual intrusion into women’s lives and bodies, and in Virginia, the attorney general is going to court to control everyone’s sexual relations and criminalize what he calls “Crimes Against Nature.”
In 2003, the United States Supreme Court ruled that laws banning and criminalizing consensual gay sex was unconstitutional, but in Virginia the prohibition was never expunged from the law. In March, the 4th Circuit Appeals court struck down Virginia’s “Crime Against Nature” law citing the 2003 Supreme Court decision that invalidated state laws that make any sexual activity between consenting adults a crime. A legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia said “It is shameful that Virginia continued to prosecute individuals under the sodomy statute for 10 years after the Supreme Court held that such laws are unconstitutional,” and hoped “this ruling brings an end to such prosecutions.” Fanatical Christian extremist, gubernatorial candidate, and Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli does not agree and is appealing the ruling before the full 4th Circuit’s panel of 15 judges to adjudicate and rule to criminalize sexual relations he objects to. The case in question involved consensual, heterosexual oral sex, but Cuccinelli refuses to accept the ruling and wants the full panel of judges to prohibit consensual oral and anal sex between gay and heterosexual couples because he considers them crimes against nature.
Cuccinelli claims that his desire to prohibit certain types of sexual relations has nothing to do with sexual orientation, and he has a point when one considers that in Cuccinelli’s bible world, consensual heterosexual oral sex is a crime against nature. However, a year after the Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas that states could not make oral sex between consenting married couples a felony, a bipartisan group in Virginia backed a bill to adjust Virginia’s Crimes Against Nature law to comply with the High Court ruling. Cuccinelli opposed and helped kill the bill and in 2009 he said he supported prohibitions on sexual behavior between consenting adults. He said, “My view is that homosexual acts, are intrinsically wrong. And I think it’s appropriate to have policies that reflect that. They don’t comport with natural law.”
According to the National Center on Health Statistics, if Virginia’s bans on oral and anal sex between consenting adults were applied nationally, 90% of men and women in the United States between the age of 25 and 44 would be criminals. In Virginia, with 64% of the population of 8 million people between the ages of 18 and 65, the state could not possibly house millions of heterosexual, gay, married, or single people Cuccinelli claims are committing crimes against nature (read against bible edicts) in the privacy of their own bedrooms. A violation of Crimes Against Nature carries a penalty of between one and five years in prison for “engaging in oral and anal sex between consenting adults, gay or straight, married or single, and makes such carnal acts a felony.” It is no small wonder the Supreme Court ruled against anti-sodomy laws, but considering Cuccinelli’s hardline Christian fanaticism, it is unsurprising he is campaigning to police married, unmarried, gay, and heterosexual couples to control what they do in the privacy of the own bedrooms.
Cuccinelli is the man who was offended by state-issued lapel pins his staff wore because they were replicas of the state’s 1776 state seal featuring Virtus, the Roman goddess of bravery and military prowess because the statue’s left breast was exposed leading him to demand a new version that covered the bosom so it was “a little more virtuous.” The devout Christian also claimed he had the power to “install decorations on public lands celebrating “the birth of Jesus Christ“—so long as they’re mixed with secular items such as candy canes and snowflakes,” and he advised Virginia’s public universities and colleges against extending nondiscrimination protections to gays and lesbians. Now he is appealing the 4th Circuit to give their blessing to prohibitions on sex between gays and heterosexuals, married or not, after he claimed in 2010 his primary job was “defending Virginians against an out-of-control and overreaching federal government; I’m not going to step aside and not do my job.”
Most Americans would agree that criminalizing sex between consenting adults, married or unmarried, gays or heterosexuals, in the privacy of their own bedrooms, is the epitome of government overreach, but Cuccinelli and his ilk do not consider imposing bible morality on the people overreach or government intrusion. His own words that he is “not going to step aside and not do his job” informs a fanatical religious extremist who feels a conviction to force Americans to be “a little more virtuous” according to his religious beliefs. The Supreme Court is the law of the land, and they ruled that what transpires between two consenting adults in private is protected by the 14th Amendment of the ultimate law; the United States Constitution. Cuccinelli’s problem, like so many evangelical fundamentalists, is that as self-appointed religious stewards of morality, their beliefs supersede the law of the land and regardless if it is baby Jesus displays on public land, or criminalizing sexual relations between consenting adults, the Supreme Court and U.S. Constitution are secondary to archaic Jewish dispensations men like Cuccinelli still believe are the supreme law of the land.
US seeks to ease tensions with North Korea by postponing missile test
Test launch of a Minuteman 3 intercontinental missile next week delayed until next month to avoid exacerbating crisis
Justin McCurry in Seoul, Peter Walker and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 7 April 2013 09.58 BST
The US has attempted to ease rising tensions with North Korea by postponing a missile test scheduled to take place in California next week, lest this be interpreted by Pyongyang as deliberately provocative.
The US defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, decided to delay the long-planned test launch of a Minuteman 3 intercontinental missile from an airbase until next month over concerns it could exacerbate the crisis, officials briefed reporters anonymously. "This is the logical, prudent and responsible course of action to take," a senior defence official was quoted as saying by Reuters.
The test had no connection to North Korea and could be rescheduled for next month, the official said, maintaining that the US remained prepared to respond to any North Korean threat.
Recent days have seen a rapid escalation of Pyongyang's sabre-rattling against the US and its allies in the region, notably South Korea, something described by analysts as a possible attempt by the North's young and untested leader, Kim Jong-un, to shore up his internal power base.
Along with threats of war, including the use of nuclear weapons, this has involved North Korea reportedly moving medium-range missiles to positions where they could potentially strike South Korea, Japan and US bases in the Pacific.
On Friday, North Korea attempted to heighten fears of military conflict when it told embassies in Pyongyang, that it could not guarantee the safety of their staff in the event of war. In another sign that it is determined to increase the pressure, Pyongyang extended a ban preventing South Korean officials from entering the Kaesong industrial complex – which it operates jointly with the South – for a fourth day.
A government official in Seoul said there was no indication of an exodus of foreign diplomats from the North, despite the warning. "We don't believe there's any foreign mission about to leave Pyongyang," the official told the Yonhap news agency. "Most foreign governments view the North Korean message as a way of ratcheting up tension."
The message to embassies came as US officials confirmed media reports that North Korea had moved two Musudan missiles, which have a 1,865-mile range, to its east coast. Possible launches are expected to be tests rather than targeted strikes, and may be timed to coincide with the 101st anniversary of the birth of North Korea's founding father, Kim Il-sung, on 15 April.
In response, South Korea has sent Aegis destroyers equipped with advanced radar systems to both of its coasts. Washington had earlier said it would speed up the deployment of missile defence systems to Guam, a US Pacific territory whose military bases Pyongyang has identified as targets. Officials in Washington offered a measured response to confirmation that the North had mounted two missiles on mobile launchers. "We've obviously seen the reports that North Korea may be making preparations to launch a missile and we're monitoring this situation closely," the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said. "And we would not be surprised to see them take such an action. It would fit their current pattern of bellicose, unhelpful and unconstructive rhetoric and actions."
US attempts to lower the diplomatic temperature come after a prolonged display of its naval and air power in the region during joint military exercises with South Korea. Pyongyang has condemned the annual drills, which run to the end of the month, as preparations for an invasion.
The North Korean media continued to describe the standoff in dramatic terms at the weekend, accusing the US and South Korea of "waging madcap nuclear war manoeuvres".
"This is aimed at igniting a nuclear war against it through a pre-emptive strike," the Minju Joson, a government daily newspaper, said. "The prevailing situation proves that a new war, a nuclear war, is imminent on the peninsula."
The prospect of a North Korean missile test is causing concern in Japan, which is easily within range. In Tokyo, Yoshihide Suga, a government spokesman, said that Japan was preparing for a "worst-case" scenario, and urged China and Russia to play significant roles in defusing tensions. Experts and officials have dismissed Pyongyang's threats to launch nuclear strikes against the US, given the rudimentary state of its weapons capability. But it could cause widespread disruption with a cyber-attack, according to a defector who worked for the regime's 3,000-member cyberwarfare unit.
The regime's next move could be to break into US computer networks to steal information and spread viruses, Jang Se-yul, who defected to the South in 2008, told the Observer. North Korea's hackers are suspected of being behind recent cyberattacks that paralysed computer networks at several South Korean banks and broadcasters.
"It would demonstrate that North Korea is a strong cyberpower," Jang said. "Their prime target is the US, and they've been preparing for something like this for years, including when I was there in the 1990s. I can't say how successful they would be, but it's a possibility."
The barrage of threats have failed to unnerve people in Seoul, just 34 miles from the demilitarised zone – the strip of heavily guarded land that has separated the two states since they agreed on a ceasefire, but not a peace treaty, at the end of the 1950-53 Korean war. Streets were packed with cars and shoppers as usual on Saturday, despite rain and chilly weather.
The South Korean media have also been measured in their coverage. When Pyongyang vowed last week to restart its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, South Korean newspapers devoted more space to government plans to grant tax breaks to home buyers. On Naver, the country's most popular web portal, the most read news item last week was about Ryu Hyun-jin, a South Korean baseball pitcher who made his debut for the LA Dodgers. The relaxed mood would quickly change in the event of a localised attack on a South Korean military asset or one of the frontline islands near the disputed maritime border.
Last week the South's new president, Park Geun-hye, said that the military would hit back hard if provoked. Her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, was criticised for his slow response to attacks in 2010 on a naval ship and island, in which 50 people died.
An editorial in the Korea Times said those living in both the North and South had reason to be vigilant. "Not a single expert can say for sure what will be the unpredictable regime's next move," it said. "One thing seems certain, however: it will be Koreans, especially South Koreans, who will have to shoulder the risks of any misjudgment or miscalculation to be made by either Koreas."
There was consternation, too, that the North had disrupted operations at Kaesong for four days, although it has not closed the facility. Last week it prevented South Korean workers from crossing the border into the complex, located just inside North Korea. About 100 South Koreans who had stayed at Kaesong last week were due to return on Saturday, with 500 more remaining.
The Korea Herald noted that the £56bn that the North earns from the complex every year was "no small amount", adding that the country "does not have many comparable or better sources of hard currency".
Political tensions have briefly disrupted operations at Kaesong several times since it opened in 2004, but a complete and prolonged shutdown would be a sign that cross-border ties were near to collapse.
"South Korea takes this situation very seriously," a senior government official in Seoul told the Observer. "We must watch even the smallest moves by North Korea. At the same time, we will continue to send signals that we want to build trust with Pyongyang in the hope that it will cooperate and dialogue can begin."
William Hague urges calm response to North Korea's 'paranoid rhetoric'
Foreign secretary says no sign of major military buildup after Pyongyang's warning that it could not guarantee safety of embassy staff
Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 7 April 2013 11.12 BST
The North Korean regime is guilty of "paranoid rhetoric" after warning last week that it could not guarantee the safety of embassy staff in the event of a war, William Hague has said.
As the US moved to ease tensions by postponing a missile test in California, the foreign secretary urged Britain and other allies to remain calm as he said there were no signs of a major military buildup.
Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Hague said: "We have to be concerned about the danger of miscalculation by the North Korean regime, which has worked itself up into this frenetic state of rhetoric in recent weeks, and the danger that they would believe their own paranoid rhetoric. But it is important that the international response to this, including our response, must be clear and united and calm."
The foreign secretary declined to comment on British and other intelligence about the military threat from North Korea. But he indicated that intelligence suggested Pyongyang did not pose a major threat when he said there were no signs of the sort of military buildup that would be expected before a major conflict.
"It is important to stress that we haven't seen in recent days, in recent weeks, a change in what is happening in North Korean society. We have not been able to observe that. We have not seen the repositioning of forces or the redeployment of ground forces that one might see in a period prior to a military assault or to an all-out conflict. That is why I say it is important to keep calm as well as to be firm and united about this."
The foreign secretary's remarks came after Chuck Hagel, the US defence secretary, postponed the test launch of a Minuteman 3 intercontinental missile from a California airbase until next month in an attempt to reduce tensions.
Hague said the behaviour of the regime of North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, was typical of authoritarian leaders who needed to shore up their position by creating an external threat. "What is going on here could easily be what we have often seen throughout history among authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. Remember that this is a regime that has to justify the intense militarisation of their society and the development of these weapons and missiles, even though many people in their country are regularly and seriously short even of food.
"To justify that you have to have an external threat … or danger you can point to. I think the announcement last week that foreign embassies could not necessarily be protected after Wednesday of next week, which is what they said to our embassy, is also consistent with that.
"But I haven't seen any immediate need to respond to that by moving our diplomats out of there. We will keep this under review with our allies. But we shouldn't respond and play to their rhetoric and that presentation of an external threat every time they come out with it."
Hague drew a contrast between the pre-industrial revolution state of the North Korean countryside and the regime's development of missiles. "There is an enormous gap. This is a country where many people are working in the field. It is a case of manual labour in the fields without many tractors – so they are short of tractors. But they do have the machines that carry long-range and intermediate-range missiles around.
"If the leadership of North Korea continue on their current path over the coming months and years, they will end up leading a broken country that is internationally isolated."
April 7, 2013
South Korea Expects Missile Launch by North
By CHOE SANG-HUN
SEOUL, South Korea — The South Korean government warned on Sunday that the North might launch a missile later this week, while a top military leader postponed a scheduled trip to Washington, citing escalating tensions on the peninsula.
The warning by Kim Jang-soo, director of national security for President Park Geun-hye, came three days after the South Korea’s defense minister said that the North had moved to its east coast a missile with a “considerable range” but not capable of reaching the mainland United States.
The missile was widely believed to be the Musudan, which the South Korean military says can travel “more than” 3,000 kilometers or 1,864 miles. But South Korean media and analysts say the missile can extend its range to 4,000 kilometers or 2,490 miles, which would put American bases in Guam within its reach.
Mr. Kim said that the North Korean authorities had told foreign embassies in Pyongyang to inform them by Wednesday whether they needed assistance in evacuating should they wish to because of rising tensions on the peninsula.
The North gave a similar warning to some of the 123 South Korean factories in the joint industry park in the North Korean city of Kaesong, Mr. Kim said. For a fifth consecutive day, North Korea blocked South Korean workers and supplies from entering the factory park, forcing 13 plants to stop production as of Sunday.
The Kaesong complex is the last remaining major project of inter-Korean cooperation and a crucial test of whether North Korea was willing to sacrifice a lucrative source of hard current to push its political and military priorities.
“We believe this is a calculated move by the North,” Mr. Kim said during a meeting of security-related officials on Sunday. The North, he said, “may launch a provocation, such as missile launch,” around Wednesday, he said.
His comments were relayed by Kim Haing, a presidential spokeswoman.
“North Korea has been engaged in a so-called headline strategy,” Mr. Kim, the national security director, said, referring to an almost daily drumbeat of North Korean threats that has made newspaper headlines since early March.
North Korea was raising tensions in an effort to frighten and force the United States and South Korea to return to dialogue with possible concessions, Mr. Kim said. The pressure was also aimed at China and Russia to mediate on North Korea’s behalf.
“We see through their motive," he said. Although North Korea shows no signs of attempting a full-scale war, it will suffer damage many times more than we do if it launches even a localized provocation.”
South Korea “has no intention of attempting premature dialogue just because of a crisis,” Mr. Kim said, urging the North to ease tensions so dialogue can start.
Foreign embassies told to consider evacuating Pyongyang have dismissed the advisory.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Sunday that the Chinese embassy in Pyongyang was operating normally, and urged the North to "thoroughly ensure the safety of Chinese embassy and consular personnel resident in North Korea." The Xinhua News Agency on Saturday quoted Foreign Minister Wang Yi as telling United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that Beijing would “not allow trouble on China’s doorstep.”
Also on Sunday, Gen. Jung Seung-jo, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the South Korean military, postponed plans to meet with his American counterpart, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, in Washington on April 16, military officials said. General Jung could not be away from South Korea amid the rising tension, the officials said.
South Korea’s military is on heightened alert after North Korean threats to strike the United States and its allies. North Korea has been angry over United Nations sanctions imposed on it for its February nuclear test and joint American-South Korean military drills.
Washington responded by flying nuclear-capable bombers over South Korea in training missions and moving two of the Navy’s missile-defense ships closer to the Korean Peninsula. It also planned to deploy a land-based missile-defense system to Guam later this month.
Christopher Buckley contributed reporting from Hong Kong.
Tourists say situation ‘normal’ in North Korea
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, April 6, 2013 15:16 EDT
The situation on the ground in North Korea appears normal and calm, tourists and guides say, despite high international tensions and Pyongyang warning diplomats to consider leaving.
With the Korean peninsula in crisis and Pyongyang threatening a nuclear strike against the US, North Korean authorities have told embassies they would be unable to guarantee their safety if a conflict breaks out.
But tourists are still visiting the largely isolated state, with several groups on board a flight back to Beijing on Saturday.
“We’re glad to be back but we didn’t feel frightened when we were there,” said Tina Krabbe, from Denmark, who spent five days in the country.
“It didn’t feel like there was much tension in the city. We were OK actually.”
A 15-year-old from Hong Kong on a school trip said: “My mum thought a war was going to break out or something like that.”
But he added: “What we saw was all peaceful. There was absolutely no conflict… there was no unrest.”
Visitors said they had been able to watch BBC news in their foreigner-only hotels.
A man and woman with American accents, carrying hand luggage only and no souvenirs, declined to be interviewed and said they were not allowed to talk to the media.
Nicholas Bonner, founder of Koryo Tours, who has been organising trips to North Korea for 20 years and visited last week, said life was “carrying on as normal”.
“It is certainly tense, but people are going on with their daily work and tourism is continuing and people have been very hospitable,” he said.
“Everyone just hopes that it’ll blow over.”
Western tourism to North Korea remains small-scale, with the country’s marginalised nature acting as a draw for some travellers, but is only possible as part of an organised tour with local escorts.
April 6, 2013
Nuclear Talks With Iran End Without Accord or Plans for Another Round
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
ALMATY, Kazakhstan — Negotiations over Iran’s disputed nuclear program broke off Saturday with scant signs of progress, much less an agreement on tighter controls demanded by six world powers in exchange for some easing of sanctions that have a stranglehold on the Iranian economy.
The failure to reach any accord was a stark but not surprising setback in a tortuous, decade-long standoff over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. While the talks have been complicated by the Iranian presidential election just 10 weeks away, officials said the sides remained divided by fundamental disagreements, none of which are new.
Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, who led the talks for the six powers, said that after two days of “long and intense discussions,” the sides “remain far apart on the substance.”
No future negotiations were announced, and Ms. Ashton said she would be “in touch very soon” with the top Iranian negotiator, Saeed Jalili, “in order to see how to go forward.”
Mr. Jalili offered a sharply different summary, saying at a briefing that the next move was up to the big powers, and that they needed more time to digest a new proposal from Iran. He said the proposal was largely based on a plan first put forward in Moscow in June and aimed at addressing some of the international community’s concerns.
But he also adopted a strident tone in reiterating Iran’s view that it has a right to enrich uranium for civilian purposes.
“Of course, there is some distance in the position of the two sides,” Mr. Jalili said. But he said Iran’s proposals, which required recognizing “our right to enrich and ending behaviors which have every indication of enmity toward the Iranian people,” were designed “to help us move toward a constructive road.”
A senior American official called Iran’s demands unreasonable and “disproportionate.”
“It is fair to say that Iran is prepared to take very minimal steps in regards to its nuclear program,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, which has become the State Department’s standard practice at the talks.
The official insisted that the Obama administration was still committed to achieving a diplomatic solution, but warned of additional sanctions should Iran fail to voluntarily curb its nuclear program. “International pressure continues and will only increase if Iran is not responsive,” the official said.
Britain also warned of tougher sanctions. “Iran’s current position falls far short of what is needed to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough,” Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement. He added, “We look to Iran to consider carefully whether it wants to continue on its current course, and face increasing pressure and isolation from the international community.”
Officials struggled to give a realistic assessment of the talks’ failure, while also offering a hint of optimism.
“There may not have been a breakthrough, but there also was not a breakdown,” the American official said.
Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s lead negotiator, said, “We’re still on the threshold,” according to the Interfax news service.
The futility of the talks was certain to arouse renewed alarm, particularly from Israel, which had tempered its repeated threats of a military strike against Iranian nuclear sites in deference to the diplomatic efforts.
“This failure was predictable,” Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, said in a statement. “Israel has already warned that the Iranians are exploiting the talks in order to play for time while making additional progress in enriching uranium for an atomic bomb.” He added, “The time has come for the world to take a more assertive stand and make it unequivocally clear to the Iranians that the negotiations games have run their course.”
The conclusion of the talks without agreement on even a modest confidence-building measure or the clear prospect of future talks was striking, given that all sides seemed to have incentives to keep the conversation going, and to avoid talk of military intervention.
The United States has focused increasingly in recent weeks on an intensifying threat from North Korea, which, unlike Iran, already possesses nuclear weapons. Iran, meanwhile, is preoccupied by an internal power struggle over the presidential election.
Western countries fear that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, while Iran has insisted that its program is for peaceful purposes, including atomic energy and medical research, to which it claims a right as a signer of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Iran has accused the big powers, particularly the United States, of hypocrisy for maintaining their own nuclear arsenals. But at the same time, Iran has refused to comply with United Nations Security Council demands that it suspend its uranium enrichment program, expand access for inspectors and answer questions about its intentions.
The talks here in Kazakhstan were the fifth round over the past year between Iran and the so-called P5-plus-1. The group consists of the five permanent members of the Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany.
The negotiations have settled into a familiar routine: the big powers demand concrete steps from Iran and a firm commitment to comply with United Nations and other international mandates, only to be faced with delays or complicated counterproposals, including one on Friday that one Western diplomat said had left officials “puzzled.”
Western officials had arrived here with guarded optimism that Iran would give a concrete response to a February proposal that would provide a modest easing of sanctions in exchange for restrictions on Iran’s supply of enriched uranium. Enriched to high levels, the uranium could be used in nuclear weapons.
The proposal called for Iran to accept broad oversight for all of its nuclear activities by the International Atomic Energy Agency, but the big powers dropped a demand that Iran shut its enrichment plant at Fordo, built deep below a mountain. Instead, Iran would only have to suspend enrichment there, and take other steps that would make it difficult to resume quick production of nuclear fuel.
In another apparent softening, the six powers had said Iran could keep a small amount of uranium enriched to 20 percent purity, which can be converted relatively quickly to weapons grade, for use in a reactor to produce medical isotopes.
After the first morning of discussions on Friday, the Iranians said they had offered a new “comprehensive” proposal aimed at building cooperation. The statement baffled the six powers, who said they had not heard anything that sounded like a new plan. The Iranian side later clarified that it had presented a “scaled down” version of a package first proposed in Moscow in June, which was quickly rejected.
Mr. Jalili said Saturday that Iran’s plan incorporated the proposal put forward in February, and said the next move was up to the six powers. “Good negotiations took place, and in consideration of our new proposals, it is now up to the P5-plus-1 to demonstrate its willingness and sincerity to take appropriate confidence-building steps in the future,” he said.
Ms. Ashton and Mr. Ryabkov agreed that there had been somewhat more productive give-and-take than in previous meetings.
“The Iranians’ position was quite open and quite constructive,” Mr. Ryabkov said. Still, both diplomats said that ultimately the sides were too far apart on the substantive issues.
Jodi Rudoren contributed reporting from Jerusalem.
Secretary of State John Kerry warns Iran that time running out on nuclear talks
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, April 7, 2013 8:46 EDT
The United States’ top diplomat warned Iran on Sunday that time is running out on nuclear negotiations between the Islamic republic and world powers.
“This is not an endless process. … You can’t just talk for the sake of talking,” Secretary of State John Kerry told a news conference in Istanbul.
Iran and six world powers — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — have failed to break the deadlock over Tehran’s nuclear drive.
After two days of talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan, aimed at limiting Iran’s nuclear programme, chief negotiator Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top diplomat, said on Saturday that the sides were still “far apart.”
And no new date was agreed for the resumption of negotiations.
“This is not an interminable process … we hope that out of Almaty will come a narrowing of the differences,” Kerry said.
The continuing diplomatic deadlock comes as Israel refuses to rule out a pre-emptive strike targeting atomic facilities in the Islamic republic.
Kerry repeated Washington’s willingness to have a diplomatic solution.
“It is our desire to have a diplomatic solution but this choice lies in the hands of the Iranians,” he said.
Iran insists on international recognition of what it says is its “right” to enrich uranium, a key component of the nuclear fuel cycle which can also be used to make the explosive core of an atomic bomb.
World powers say Tehran must end enrichment to high levels and verifiably suspend operations at the Fordo mountain bunker where such activity takes place before recognising Iran’s rights to pursue less threatening activities.
April 6, 2013
Rumors About Uzbekistan Leader’s Health Set Off Succession Debate
By ANDREW E. KRAMER
MOSCOW — The president of Uzbekistan, a white-haired man in a suit, rose from his seat at an annual spring festival and swung his hips, clapped his hands and danced a vigorous little jig.
This was nothing out of the ordinary; President Islam Karimov, who is 75 and has ruled Uzbekistan, the most populous country in the former Soviet Central Asia, since before the collapse of Communism, dances every year for Nowruz, the Persian spring holiday celebrated throughout the region.
For eight days after this year’s televised event, however, Mr. Karimov disappeared from public view and a disputed report surfaced that he had suffered a heart attack on the day of the dance, March 19. The heightened possibility that a leader who has been in power for more than two decades could suddenly die in office underscored the uncertain politics of succession in Uzbekistan.
State television broadcast archival footage of the leader, never a good sign. His oldest daughter, Gulnara Karimova, 40, seen as a leading figure in what some analysts say is a succession struggle already under way, resigned as envoy to the United Nations in Geneva on Tuesday, possibly positioning herself for a larger role at home. Uzbek exiles reported political paralysis, citing people inside the government.
The rumors in the nation of 30 million people highlight a broader, looming political quandary in former Soviet states from Russia to Tajikistan, where the absence of real elections has meant that succession becomes an unpredictable, hair-raising event.
It is important for the United States because Uzbekistan has been a partner of convenience in supplying American and NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan. And over the next two years NATO forces in Afghanistan are expected to remove about 70,000 vehicles and 120,000 shipping containers. That operation will require rail lines and well-surfaced roads, something Uzbekistan has to offer as an alternative to Pakistan.
Uzbekistan, a country of apricot orchards, cotton fields and ancient stone cities in the foothills of the Pamir Mountains, has no tradition of democracy, having been ruled by vassal khans of the czars until the Soviet period, and by Mr. Karimov after that. It is unclear now whether it will have a dynastic succession with the rise of a leader’s child, as in North Korea, or whether power will pass to a government insider.
The country is an international pariah, and its politics are usually a black box. It has been under United States sanctions since 2004, when human rights investigators determined that political prisoners had died after being immersed in scalding water — in fact, after being boiled alive.
A debate opened among Uzbek exiles over whether the report that the president had suffered a heart attack, posted on March 22 on the Web site of the opposition People’s Party of Uzbekistan, was genuine or was intentionally floated by one of the potential successors within the government.
It continued after Mr. Karimov appeared briefly on television on March 27 in a meeting with Kazakhstan’s foreign minister, which was seen as an unconvincing demonstration of his good health.
“He could be sick or it could be deliberate rumors,” Shahida Tulaganova, an Uzbek opposition journalist, said in a telephone interview from London. “The probability of the second scenario is greater, but we don’t know. It’s making a lot of people nervous.”
The People’s Party leader, Mukhammad Salikh, said in a telephone interview that his source within the president’s entourage was motivated not by intrigue but by a simple desire to get out the truth. “They wanted to hide this fact, but we learned about it,” Mr. Salikh said.
In the world of Uzbek politics, family ties are never far from the surface.
Prime Minister Shavkat Mirzayev, another leading contender for succession, is seen as having Moscow’s backing after his nephew last October married the niece of Russia’s richest man, Alisher Usmanov, who is of Uzbek origin and close to the Kremlin.
“That was a good alliance,” said Ms. Tulaganova, the Uzbek opposition journalist.
But the reputed Western-leaning candidate, Rustam Azimov, a deputy prime minister and former banker, is said to have wide support in Tashkent, the capital.
According to the Uzbek Constitution, if the president dies in office, the speaker of the Senate becomes the acting president and new elections are to be called.
But a leadership change in neighboring Turkmenistan showed that former Soviet states are not always bound by legal documents. When Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan’s dictator who went by the nickname Turkmenbashi, died in December 2006, the speaker of Parliament was the constitutionally designated successor. But other factors decided the outcome. The police quickly arrested the speaker and a former dentist, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, who had risen to prominence by replacing Soviet-era gold crowns with more naturally appearing composite materials, emerged as the new leader.
The report about the Uzbek president’s health, said Danil Kislov, the editor of Fergana News and an authority on Central Asian politics, seems intended to compel Mr. Karimov to designate a successor and head off a similar struggle for power. “If no heart attack happened, one would have to be invented,” for this purpose, Mr. Kislov said.
Mr. Karimov’s daughter was the most outspoken in refuting the report.
In a post on Twitter on March 26, Ms. Karimova wrote: “Don’t try to grate on my nerves with this lowly talk,” and “Smn should be more than crazy to say so after seeing OUR PRESIDENT dancing.”
One important indicator of the veracity of the disputed report may come in mid-April, when Mr. Karimov is reportedly scheduled to visit President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in Moscow. If he cancels the trip, it will raise more suspicions.
April 7, 2013
Ukraine Leader Pardons Jailed Allies of Ex-PM Tymoshenko
KIEV (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich pardoned two jailed allies of his main political opponent, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, on Sunday but took no steps to free the imprisoned opposition leader herself.
The European Union, which has curbed its ties with Ukraine over the jailing of Yanukovich opponents, hailed the pardons for former interior minister Yuri Lutsenko and former ecology minister Heorhiy Filipchuk as an important initial step in addressing what it considers "selective justice".
The pardons were the first sign of any relaxation in a drive against Tymoshenko and her allies in which several of her ministers have been jailed or fled abroad to avoid prosecution.
The two former ministers had been serving jail terms for abuse of office. Their pardon came after a week of political tension which saw the opposition, re-energized by a strong showing in an election last October, block parliamentary proceedings and force pro-Yanukovich deputies to hold a rival parliamentary session in a separate building.
The United States and the EU say prosecutions of Tymoshenko and former members of her government are politically motivated.
The EU has made their release a condition for signing deals on trade and political association with Kiev, and has said those agreements could be shelved for years unless progress is made on justice and other issues by next month.
"Ukraine: AT LAST-Welcome very much Pres Yanukovich decision 2 pardon Lutsenko & Filipchuk: first but important step 2 deal w/ selective justice," the EU's enlargement commissioner, Stefan Fuele, wrote in a message on Twitter after the pardon.
According to the presidential decree, Yanukovich's clemency decision was based on a request by the state ombudsman and took into account the health of the two men.
Lutsenko, 48, had been serving a four-year sentence at a jail 230 km (140 miles) north of Kiev and only last week had his appeal against conviction rejected by a court. His press secretary said he had already been released and his wife and a group of supporters were on their way to pick him up.
Despite Sunday's decree, Yanukovich showed no signs of clemency towards Tymoshenko, who is serving a seven-year jail sentence also for abuse-of-office.
The peasant-braided, 52-year-old former heroine of Ukraine's 2004 "Orange Revolution" street protests came close to beating Yanukovich in a bitter run-off for president in February 2010 and is regarded as his fiercest challenger.
Apart from the charge for which she is currently in prison, Tymoshenko is also being prosecuted for alleged embezzlement and tax evasion. Pre-trial hearings are also being conducted in Kiev in a third case against her for allegedly ordering a contract killing of a local businessman and parliament deputy in 1996.
(Additional reporting by Olzhas Auyezov in Kiev and Jan Strupczewski in Brussels; Editing by Andrew Roche and Peter Graff)
Multi-ethnic couples reflect Bosnia’s growing diversity
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, April 6, 2013 17:00 EDT
Sandra Zaimovic, a Catholic Bosnian Croat and her husband Rusmir, a Bosnian Muslim, are looking forward to celebrating both Eid and Christmas with their new baby this year.
Couples of different ethnicity like the Zaimovics were a rarity in the years following the 1992-1995 war which divided Bosnia along ethnic lines, but today they are slowly reappearing, reflecting the country’s growing diversity.
“It is an advantage for children to grow up in two cultures and I am very happy that, while I am a Catholic, my last name is Muslim,” says Sandra, a 32-year-old charity worker.
Rusmir and Sandra, herself a child of a mixed marriage between a Bosnian Croat mother and Serb father, met in 2003 at a friend’s party.
They were married two years later, one of the rare ethnically mixed marriages in Bosnia to take place since the war.
“Ours is a marriage of love — we have never asked any questions about our ethnicity or our faith,” says 33-year-old computer engineer Rusmir Zaimovic.
Their families had no objections, but many others have queried their relationship.
“I often meet people who ask me how my mother has reacted, how the two of us manage everything. Remarks like that remind me where we live,” says Sandra.
Over the years, however, Sandra and Rusmir have made a tight network of friends, many of whom are also ethnically mixed couples, or those who find no fault with their life choices.
The former Yugoslav republic was once a shining example of diversity, but Bosnian society was torn apart during the war that pitted its three main ethnic communities – Serbs, Croats, and Muslims – against each other.
Many mixed couples were unable to resist the pressures of the time and either split up or left the country.
Most have never returned.
Today the country has a population of just 3.8 million, of which 40 percent are Muslim, 31 percent Serb (mainly Orthodox Christian) and 10 percent Bosnian Croat.
Over two million people were forced from their homes during the war, in which 100,000 died.
In 1992, before war broke out, nearly 13 percent of all married couples in Bosnia were multi-ethnic, but today they number just four percent.
While there are no reliable statistics for the years immediately following the war, the current figure is likely to be an increase on the late 1990s and early 2000s, when ethnic divisions remained deeply entrenched.
– Consequence of war: deep distrust –
The campaign of “ethnic cleansing” led by Bosnian Serbs against Bosnian Muslims, including the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys — designated as genocide by two international courts — destroyed any veneer of peaceful coexistence between communities.
The ethnologist Ugo Vlaisavljevic confirms that the psychological scars of the war run deep. “As a consequence of the horrors of war that we experienced in the 1990s a deep distrust between the people emerged… and of course this has had a considerable impact on people’s personal lives.”
Neda Perisic, an anthropologist, points out that couples like the Zaimovics face more than societal pressure, highlighting the institutional discrimination inherent in the political system imposed by the 1995 peace accord.
“In Bosnia, there are no individual, but only collective rights,” she says, explaining that almost all jobs in public administration or state-controlled companies are reserved for members of the three so-called constituent communities.
According to Bosnia’s constitution, the country is made up of three constituent peoples: Muslims, Serbs and Croats – and ‘others’, a category which encompasses all other ethnic groups living in the country.
In a system based on the rights given to each of the three main ethnic groups, those who are considered to be ‘other’ face fewer opportunities, she warns, continuing “in a system like this, children from mixed marriages are marginalised.”
As children of mixed ethnicity are classified as ‘other’, Perisic says that as adults they will have little chance of finding work in the public sector, which is by far the largest employer in the country.
Given that Bosnia currently struggles with unemployment of over 40 per cent, this is a significant handicap.
Nearly a generation may have passed since the war but prejudices persist, as a recent article by well-known Bosnian Serb actor and director Nikola Pejakovic shows. In his weekly column in the biggest Bosnian Serb daily, Pejakovic described mixed marriages as a “misfortune”, writing: “They were a part of the (former) Yugoslav communist regime plan to play with people and genetics.”
The multi-ethnic actor Sanin Milavic, who is himself in a mixed marriage, retaliated: “Get the hell out of my bedroom!” in a post on his Facebook page which went viral.
“Here, you’re given an identity at birth, like a cow branded with a hot iron, as if identity is not something we construct,” Milavic said.
Summing up the problems faced by children of mixed ethnicity, he said: “I am not worried about myself, but for my son who, according to the constitution of this country, does not exist.”
Busts of Il Duce and Di Canio T-shirts – welcome to Mussolini's birthplace
Some hail the football manager's past, but others in the fascist leader's home town say Italy must come to terms with its history
Tom Kington in Predappio
The Observer, Saturday 6 April 2013 22.05 BST
Behind the counter, amid the Mussolini clocks, swastika badges, fascist recipe books and busts of Hitler, Benizzi Ferrini has hung a T-shirt featuring the face of Paolo Di Canio.
"When Paolo gave his salute on the pitch it was a gesture from the heart, and the way he is being treated now in England is not correct," said Ferrini, a lifelong fascist, who runs one of the string of memorabilia shops that line the main street of Predappio, Benito Mussolini's birthplace. When Di Canio visited the store a few years back on a trip to the town, Ferrini wanted to show his respect for the footballer. "I presented him with a bust of Mussolini," he recalls fondly.
As Di Canio battles on as Sunderland's new manager despite the furore over his Mussolini tattoo and notorious fascist salute to fans when he played for the Rome team Lazio, Predappio is a good place to start understanding what fascism means to Italy today, and why not all Italians are getting too riled by a stiff-arm saluting footballer.
The town of 6,500, tucked into hills covered by vineyards and fruit trees in Emilia Romagna, draws 100,000 pilgrims a year to Mussolini's tomb, where the visitors' book is crammed with exhortations to the dead dictator to "rise again and save Italy".
Visitors can also take in the town, a medieval hamlet that was rebuilt on Mussolini's orders in the 1920s with imposing, wildly out of proportion state office buildings and neat grids of two-storey brick houses backing into green fields. Disregarding the commonsense rule that aircraft should be built where they can take off, he then insisted on building an aviation factory in the hills outside town.
As he reinvented Predappio to bolster his prestige, Mussolini was meanwhile strengthening his dictatorship nationwide, arresting and exiling opponents, passing racial laws banning Jews from public office and pushing Italy into a disastrous alliance with Hitler and a punishing war that ended with partisans hanging his body upside down in Milan in 1945.
But to listen to some Italians today, Mussolini's misdeeds are a mere distraction from his triumphant road and railway building, his draining of malarial marshes, introduction of a welfare state and the building of abundant public housing, not least the neat Rome tenements divided by tidy gardens where Paolo Di Canio first kicked a football. The idea that Mussolini's record can be split in two, with the negatives set aside, was seized on as a vote-winner in January by Silvio Berlusconi, who said: "The racial laws were the worst fault of Mussolini as a leader, who in so many other ways did well."
Despite, or perhaps because of its heritage, Predappio has long elected leftwing mayors, most recently Giorgio Frassineti, a geologist who possesses the sardonic sense of humour required to run a town regularly besieged by busloads of what Italians diplomatically call "Nostalgics".
"Italians treat history like a butcher's shop, where you can pick just the nice cuts you want," Frassineti said on Thursday, as he officially opened an ice-cream parlour across the street from a semi-circular piazza laid out in the centre of town by the Duce, where a gap in a classical colonnade deliberately frames a view of the stone cottage where the dictator was born.
"Italy has never come to terms with Mussolini, and Predappio represents that," said Marie-Line Zucchiatti, 48, a town councillor. "Locals watch the visitors piling off the buses but just don't get involved."
"I get up to 10 insulting emails a week, from leftwingers who say I cater too much for the visitors and also from rightwingers who say I don't do enough," said Frassineti.
At his fascist memorabilia store, Ferrini was convinced the pilgrims pouring off the buses three times a year – to celebrate the date of Mussolini's birth, death and the fascist "march on Rome" in 1922 – were the tip of an iceberg. "If they held a referendum tomorrow asking Italians, 'Are you a fascist?', five or six million would say yes," he said.
Politicians unafraid of praising Mussolini re-entered the political mainstream in 1994 when Berlusconi brought Gianfranco Fini's post-fascist National Alliance party into government. A Berlusconi minister, Ignazio La Russa, broke taboos in 2008 by eulogising the Italian troops who fought for the Salò republic headed by Mussolini in northern Italy and backed by the Nazis after he was ejected from power in 1943. In 2006 Alessandra Mussolini, the Duce's granddaughter and a Berlusconi MP, proclaimed: "Better a fascist than a faggot."
But Walter Veltroni, the centre-left politician whom Berlusconi defeated to regain office in 2008, warned there could be no ifs or buts about Mussolini. "The period was a tragedy and Mussolini has a gigantic responsibility," he said.
As mayor of Rome in 2006, Veltroni invited players from Lazio and Roma to listen to a talk by an Italian Jew who was deported to Auschwitz by the Nazis in 1944. "I did it after antisemitic banners were waved by fans of the teams," he said. "Paolo Di Canio was the Lazio captain at the time, and he told me he was really struck by the talk."
While critical of the right's frequently rose-tinted view of Mussolini, Veltroni also attacked the Italian left's long-time habit of drawing a veil over two decades of Italian fascism. "That has meant turning the page without metabolising our history, and the more you ignore the period, the more fanaticism develops," he said.
Veltroni said he had been shocked at the discovery last month of a long-hidden network of air raid tunnels that Mussolini had built under his wartime office in Rome at Palazzo Venezia, a stone's throw from the town hall. "I was mayor of Rome and knew nothing about it," he said. "I reopened to the public Villa Torlonia, Mussolini's wartime residence in Rome, and it hasn't become a second Predappio yet," he said. "I would like to see the balcony at Palazzo Venezia, where Mussolini gave his speeches, be opened again, without embarrassment, so children can stand on it."
Frassineti said he was trying to put the same ideas into practice at Predappio, to encourage visitors "not to celebrate or negate the past, but to understand it, to finally get the debate going about Mussolini that Italy has never had".
Walking through the colonnade from the ice-cream parlour, he scaled the steps to the house where Mussolini was born, where he has set up a photographic exhibition showing how the dictator built the new Predappio around the stone building, to elevate it to a shrine. Photographs show wedding parties posing on the steps of the house and architectural plans for the new town. As an engrossing historical record, it is a far cry from the baseball bats with Mussolini's face on them and the SS coffee cups that are on sale on the high street.
"Sometimes the Nostalgics refuse to pay to get in to the house, because they don't want to put money in the coffers of a 'communist' mayor like me, but I also see a growth in the number of curious visitors who are neither Mussolini sympathisers nor feel the shame any more of coming to look," he said.
"We are even getting school trips, which would have been unthinkable a few years ago. It shows that the debate is finally starting."
Further down the road, Ferrini showed no sign of wanting to get into a debate on the subject, ending his interview with a fascist salute. "I am planning the next Paolo Di Canio T-shirt," he said. "It will read 'Sunderland', with an image of Di Canio giving his salute above," he added.
Germany and France 'will block David Cameron's plan for a new EU treaty'
Heavyweight nations snub PM's plans to defuse the Conservative party's civil war over Europe
Toby Helm, political editor
The Observer, Saturday 6 April 2013 22.40 BST
David Cameron's "grand plan" to defuse the Tory civil war over Europe by winning back powers from the EU has been thrown into doubt after Germany said it would prefer to solve the eurozone's problems without a new European treaty.
In a blow to the prime minister, who has pledged to renegotiate UK membership before calling an in/out referendum in 2017, both Germany and France are now coming out against opening up the EU rulebook again in the timescale envisaged by Cameron.
In his keynote speech on Europe in January, Cameron said he believed the "best way" to secure the "changes needed for the long-term future of the euro and to entrench the diverse, competitive, democratically accountable Europe that we seek" was through a new treaty. If such a process were to be undertaken, all member states would be able to table their demands for changes to the way the EU operates.
The UK would be able to exert strong leverage by wielding the threat of a veto unless it won the right to a looser relationship in areas such as social and justice policy. But since hearing Cameron's pitch, Germany and France have come out firmly against what they believe would be an interminable and hugely complex negotiation among the 27 member states, which they fear could involve members spending much of their time debating UK concerns.
A spokesman for the German government made clear that, while Berlin would back treaty changes if deemed necessary, it felt it would be better to avoid such an inevitably lengthy process. "We want to achieve a functioning, efficient and prosperous eurozone," he said. "For that we've started a process with our partners to agree on the necessary steps to achieve this goal. If these steps cannot be realised without a treaty change, we'll go for it. If these steps are achievable within the existing treaty framework, so much the better. It will save us much time."
Berlin and Paris, in a further sign of irritation at the UK's approach, have snubbed an offer to take part in an exchange of views with the Foreign Office on whether some EU powers should be returned to member states as part of a "review of competences", it emerged last week. Charles Grant, the director of the politically independent Centre for European Reform, who has held talks with senior officials in Berlin and Paris in recent weeks, said there was "no chance" of a new EU treaty in time for Cameron to hold a referendum in 2017, even if he was still in No 10.
"The French and the Germans have cooled on the idea of rewriting the treaties, for four reasons," Grant said. "One: they want to spike Cameron's guns, and deny him the leverage that a big new treaty would give the British. Two: though the eurozone still has many problems, they think the chances of a breakup are minimal, so there is no need for a dramatic leap forward to some sort of 'political union'.
"Three: although rhetorically many Germans favour a federal future, when they think about what it would mean in practice – financial transfers to the south – they get cold feet and prefer the status quo. And four: many countries – above all France – worry about the difficulties of ratifying a new treaty. Some, like Ireland and perhaps France, would have to hold referendums." Grant said that Germany backed a limited treaty change which would allow euro member states that renege on promises of reform to be punished. But it was clear that the French would not accept such changes unless Germany agreed to a eurozone budget, or the mutualisation of eurozone debts, both of which would cost it money, making it highly unlikely.
Grant added: "Even if there was a move to amend one or two articles, the UK would not gain leverage: Britain's partners could bypass a veto as they did with last year's 'fiscal compact' treaty, which was negotiated outside the framework of the EU."
Government sources said the prime minister still believed he could achieve a better deal for the UK whether or not there was a new treaty.
Briton: Tax changes mean families with single earner will lose nearly £4,000 a year
Ed Balls lays into prime minister for prioritising tax cuts for millionaires over 'squeezed' workers as IFS data is published
Nicholas Watt, Conal Urquhart and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 6 April 2013 12.04 BST
Families with children where one parent works will be hardest hit by new tax changes that come into force on Saturday, according to shadow chancellor Ed Balls, who says gains from a higher personal allowance of nearly £10,000 are "swamped" by higher VAT and cuts to tax credits.
Balls said prime minister David Cameron had prioritised tax cuts for millionaires over "squeezed" workers after new figures commissioned by the Labour party from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) show that a one-earner family with children will lose an average of just under £4,000.
The thinktank's data shows that a couple with children, where one parent works, will be worse off by £3,995.65 a year on average after the tax and benefit changes introduced since 2010. Average households will be worse off by £891 a year.
Balls highlights a series of changes that will be introduced with the start of the new financial year. These include a freeze in child benefit for a third year and an increase in tax credits by just 1%. The personal allowance will increase to £9,440 although the higher threshold will fall to £41,450 to help pay for this.
Labour argues the figures show the government has the wrong priorities because the tax changes include a cut in the top rate of income tax from 50p to 45p. This will give 13,000 people who earn more than £1m an average tax cut of £100,000. The change will benefit 267,000 people earning £150,000-plus a year.
The shadow chancellor said: "These figures show the full picture David Cameron and George Osborne do not want you to see. They reveal that any gains ministers boast about from the rise in the personal allowance are swamped by higher VAT, cuts to tax credits and child benefit.
"People in work, people looking for work, stay at home mums and pensioners hit by the granny tax are all being squeezed like never before. Millions are paying more while millionaires pay less."
The IFS data shows that lone parents will also be hit by the changes. A lone parent in work will be worse off by £1,225.95 a year while a lone parent out of work will lose £1,206.50. Couples with children where both parents work will be worse off by £1,869.09 while a similar couple with no children will lose £672.10.
The coalition defended the tax changes on Saturday with David Cameron taking to Twitter to highlight the increase in the personal tax allowance. He wrote: "From today 24 million people will be paying £600 less income tax than in 2010."
Danny Alexander, the chief secretary to the treasury, told the Today programme: "My priority as the Liberal Democrat in the Treasury has been to deliver as fast as possible the big income tax cuts for working people and overall to ask the wealthiest to pay more. The wealthy are paying more in every year of this government than they did during the entire period Labour was in office."
Cameron also posted a link on Twitter a new Conservative poster outlining the change with the headline "Help for Hardworking People".
Labour launched its own poster – with the tag "Who Wants to Bung a Millionaire? Dave Does" – setting out claims that high earners are benefiting while millions are worse off under coalition reforms.
The personal allowance and top rate change are just some of the financial changes being implemented from April 6. The Daily Telegraph reported that the new requirements for the small businesses to inform Her Majesty's Revenue Customs (HMRC) of wage payments as they happen could be a damaging burden. Next week, the civil service union PCS will go on strike as HMRC introduces its real time information system which allows employers to update any payments they make as they make them.
Saturday's rise in the personal allowance will give an extra £267 a year to millions of basic rate taxpayers but has been paid for by reducing the threshold for 40% tax to £41,450, adding 400,000 people to that tax band.
Most tax credits and working age benefits, including Jobseeker's Allowance, are being increased by 1% – below the rate of inflation while pensioners get an increase in the state pension, which goes up by 2.5% to £110 a week.
The general secretary of the Unite union, Len McCluskey said the budget changes will only benefit the wealthy and will not energise the economy.
"This is not the way to recover our failing economy. Creating real jobs and paying decent wages, including a one pound increase on the minimum wage, will bring down the benefits bill and get people spending again," he said.
"Instead of getting on with the job he ought to be doing, like sorting out the problems he has caused to our economy, Osborne prefers to encourage hatred and demonise the poor, both in and out of work, in an ideological attack on our welfare state."
Portuguese government condemns high court’s budget rejection
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, April 6, 2013 20:45 EDT
Portugal’s centre-right government on Saturday condemned the constitutional court’s rejection of several aspects of the country’s tough 2013 budget, saying that the decision “makes it difficult” to make budget cuts promised to creditors.
The court’s decision would have “a negative impact” on the austerity programme underway, said government spokesman Luis Marques Guedes.
He said that the Portuguese prime minister had requested an emergency meeting with President Anibal Cavaco Silva to discuss the situation.
On Friday the court ruled that some measures in the budget were unlawful, including the scrapping of a 14th month of salary for civil servants and retirees, as well as cuts to unemployment and sickness benefits.
The rulings — at a time of mounting public anger over the deepening austerity — could compromise the government’s need to apply tough budget measures to meet the terms of a 78-billion-euro ($100 billion) EU-IMF bail-out that was granted in 2011.
Local media said the court decision would see the state lose out on about 1.2 billion euros in savings.
“It’s the laws that need to conform to the constitution and not the other way around,” court president Joaquim Sousa Ribeiro said Friday in a statement, adding that the decision covered all of 2013 and therefore carries retroactive powers.
The 2013 austerity budget, approved by parliament last year, was expected to bring Portugal 5.3 billion euros in savings, 80 percent financed by tax increases that Finance Minister Vitor Gaspar has called “enormous” but indispensable to pull the bailed-out eurozone country out of the crisis.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Report: Disgraced French budget minister lied to Swiss bank
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, April 6, 2013 21:30 EDT
Disgraced former French budget minister Jerome Cahuzac lied to a Swiss bank when it accepted his assertion that funds paid into his account had been declared to tax authorities, a newspaper report said Saturday.
The Zurich-based Tages Anzeiger said the politician presented a “bogus tax certificate” to the Julius Baer bank.
According to a report by French newspaper Le Monde, Philippe Peninque, a longtime friend of Cahuzac, paid the controversial untaxed 600,000 euros ($775,000) into an account at a Geneva branch office of Swiss bank UBS in 1992 in his own name.
A few months later Cahuzac changed the account into his name during a visit to Geneva, according to the report.
In 2000, Geneva-based Reyl & Co, now a private bank which at the time did not have a banking license and was therefore not bound by strict banking regulations such as providing the names of account holders, opened a so-called omnibus account at UBS that included Cahuzac’s funds.
In this type of account several individual accounts are combined, allowing for easier management by the futures merchant.
After Switzerland pledged to cooperate with foreign authorities in cases of tax evasion in 2009, Cahuzac asked Reyl & Co to transfer the money to an omnibus account at a Julius Baer bank branch in Singapore.
But Tages Anzeiger said a wary Julius Baer asked Reyl & Co for a so-called A Form that would include the name of the account’s fund holder.
Realizing that the holder was a politician the bank also demanded a document certifying that the funds had been declared to tax authorities.
According to Tages Anzeiger, Cahuzac “presented a bogus tax certificate” and claimed that the 600,000 euros were made through his work as a plastic surgeon.
Based on the assertion, Julius Baer authorised the transfer of the funds.
Cahuzac — the minister responsible for cracking down on tax evasion until he resigned in mid-March — was charged Tuesday with “laundering the proceeds of tax fraud” after he admitted to having the foreign bank account, following weeks of denials.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
April 6, 2013
Grave Robbers and War Steal Syria’s History
By C. J. CHIVERS
TELL MARDIKH, Syria — Ali Shibleh crawled through a two-foot-high tunnel until reaching a slightly larger subterranean space. He swung his flashlight’s beam into the dark.
A fighter opposed to President Bashar al-Assad, Mr. Shibleh was roaming beneath Ebla, an ancient ruin that for several decades has been one of Syria’s most carefully studied and publicly celebrated archaeological sites. He had just made another of his many finds: he lifted something resembling a dried stick, then squeezed it between his fingers and thumb.
It broke with a powdery snap. “This is human bone,” he said.
Across much of Syria, the country’s archaeological heritage is imperiled by war, facing threats ranging from outright destruction by bombs and bullets to opportunistic digging by treasure hunters who take advantage of the power vacuum to prowl the country with spades and shovels. Fighting has raged around the Roman ruins of Palmyra, the ancient city in central Syria, once known as the Bride of the Desert. And the Syrian Army has established active garrisons at some of the country’s most treasured and antiquated citadels, including castles at Aleppo, Hama and Homs.
For decades Ebla has been celebrated for the insights it offers into early Syrian civilization. The scenes here today offer something else: a prime example of a peculiar phenomenon of Syria’s civil war — scores, if not hundreds, of archaeological sites, often built and inhabited millenniums ago because of their military value, now at risk as they are put to military use once more.
Seen from afar, Ebla is a mound rising above the Idlib plain. It was first settled more than 5,000 years ago. It eventually became a fortified walled city whose residents worshiped multiple gods, and traded olive oil and beer across Mesopotamia. The city was destroyed around 2200 B.C., flourished anew several centuries later and then was destroyed again.
The latest disruption came after war began in 2011. Once rebels pushed the army back and into nearby garrisons, the outcropping upon which Ebla rests presented a modern martial utility: it was ideal for spotting passing government military planes.
And so Mr. Shibleh and several other fighters have been posted on the mound with two-way radios, to report the approaches of the MIG and Sukhoi attack jets that have repeatedly dropped bombs on cities and towns that have fallen from Mr. Assad’s control.
“I keep a watch here,” he said.
He and other members of his fighting group, which calls itself The Arrows of the Right, perform a dual duty. They say they also try to protect Ebla from full-on looting by thieves who want to sort through the place with earth-moving equipment, looking for artifacts to sell on the black market.
But even if the presence of The Arrows of the Right may have prevented the site from being scoured by bulldozer blades, it has brought harm. Ebla, occupied by even a few rebels, is suffering the effects of more traffic, damage and theft.
Mr. Shibleh himself digs on the ancient mound, and he has explored its underground passages. He led the way on this day into a series of ancient crypts.
“It is another country underground,” he said, crawling on his chest through tunnels he clearly knew well.
In one section of tunnel, Mr. Shibleh found a large scoop-shaped piece of bone that appeared to be as light as a wafer. It had been part of a human head. “There were too many skulls,” he said. “The cave here was full of them.”
Those skulls, he said, are now gone — removed by artifact hunters and then thrown away.
Grave sites are potential spots to find jewelry or figurines, as some corpses were interred with offerings and possessions. This has made Ebla, like hundreds of other sites in a country that sometimes refers to itself as an open-air archaeological museum, a tempting spot for thieves.
Ebla’s crypts have not been the source of its fame. In the 1960s and 1970s the city’s prominence was restored and its name became well known among archaeologists when an archaeological mission led by an Italian, Paolo Matthiae, discovered the city-state’s long buried archive, which held more than 16,000 stone tablets.
As they have been translated from cuneiform script, these records written on stone have shed light on the administration, trade, theology and life in a city from another time.
“Ebla was the most important and prominent kingdom in the era of 3000 B.C.,” said Cheikhmous Ali, a Syrian archaeologist and an organizer of Protect Syrian Archaeology, an association that has been documenting damage and theft of Syrian antiquities.
The Ebla tablets, he said, along with another set found in Tal Baidar, “are considered the most ancient cuneiform texts in Syria.”
The meticulous excavation of Ebla’s ruins had continued in the decades since the tablets were unearthed, and layer by layer had turned up more artifacts. Archaeologists had left much of the site undisturbed, for careful sifting by future teams. They hoped for more finds.
That methodical examination has recently been replaced by crude digging and crime.
After Mr. Shibleh returned above ground, children were digging holes in the undisturbed sections of the mound, seeking more artifacts. Mr. Shibleh said some people also come to the site and haul away carloads of dirt from inside the tunnels; it is ideal, he said, for making the ceramic liner for bread-baking ovens.
Dr. Matthiae did not reply to e-mail messages. But after being shown photographs taken by The New York Times of the digging and intrusion into the crypts at Ebla, Mr. Ali was dismayed. He compared the continuing damage to the destruction of antiquities in Iraq after the American-led invasion in 2003.
“This is vandalism,” he said. “Destroying the site by throwing the skeletons haphazardly here and there.”
He added: “A whole civilization belonging to all humanity is being destroyed.”
Mr. Ali and Maamoun Abdul-Karim, who leads the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums in Syria, said that archaeologists on both sides of the war have appealed to the combatants to avoid using ancient sites for military purposes, and to protect ruins from vandals, looters and thieves.
The effort has had only a limited effect. “Even before the situation in Syria now, we didn’t have very good control,” Dr. Abdul-Karim said.
Dr. Abdul-Karim said his ministry has repeatedly asked the Syrian military to refrain from occupying ancient fortresses and historic places.
With military garrisons come almost casual damage — from foot and vehicular traffic, makeshift construction, digging for bunkers and sandbags, the use of open latrines, graffiti and more — as well as the risks to the ruins from bombs and bullets.
“To the soldiers, we try by all messages from 23 million Syrians, to say: ‘Do not use the archaeology sites. It is our history, it is our heritage, it is for all people, it is for the world.’ ”
“We cannot refuse the army,” he said ruefully. “The problem is that in some areas the fighting is very strong, and we can do nothing except to give the message.”