Hezbollah's role in Syrian conflict ushers new reality for its supporters
Once denied by its leaders, the Shia militant group's involvement in Syria is now a badge of honour for families burying their dead
Martin Chulov in Beirut
guardian.co.uk, Friday 24 May 2013 18.51 BST
The workmen had been busy in the room where Hezbollah honours its dead. In one corner of the martyrs' cemetery in south Beirut, four women shrouded in black sat cross-legged near a new grave, reading from the Qu'ran. Metres away, the yellow flag of the militant group covered a freshly covered hole in a white marble floor. The scent of burning incense wafted across the room.
Another grave, its concrete seal barely dry, had been partly completed nearby. There were seven fresh holes in all; and the grave digger was never far away. More bodies were due on Friday. At this rate, the tiny room – a shrine to Hezbollah's cause as much as to the men who died fighting for it – would soon be full.
The flurry of activity in the martyrs' cemetery marks the busiest period for the militant movement since the 2006 war with Israel, in which an estimated 400 of its members died. All the new graves here have been dug in the past 10 days. Many others have been sealed with the familiar yellow and green standard in villages across Lebanon where the rumblings of a very different war have now boiled over into sacrifice and loss.
The newly arrived dead have ushered in a new reality for Hezbollah, one that has taken more than two years of uprising and war in neighbouring Syria to publicly acknowledge: all the fallen have died fighting Arabs in Syria, not Jews in Israel. Such a shift in orientation, for so long denied by the group's leadership, is now being worn as a badge of honour by the families of the dead.
Many of the next of kin interviewed by the Guardian said that their sons and brothers had been defending Lebanon from foreign plotters – in this case Salafists from the east rather than Zionists from the south. "The threat to us comes from all directions," said one grieving relative in the Beirut suburb of Chiyah on Friday. "But behind it all is the hidden hand of Israel."
The relative had come to the martyrs' cemetery to bury Taalab Fadl, who had been killed fighting rebels in the Syrian town of Qusair.
Men in olive green rode motorbikes up and down nearby roads, all closed by steel barriers while the body was prepared for burial in an adjoining funeral hall. A truck stopped on a street corner, blaring martyrdom hymns throughout the cavernous lanes and alleys of the party's heartland.
A brass band prepared for the 2pm arrival. It had used the visit hours earlier of an Iranian delegation to prepare, warming up with stirring revolutionary ballads, more than the sorrowful tones often associated with loss.
The Iranians, around 70 men in two buses, had all made their way to the new graves, politely asking their guides where each had been killed. The officials spent more time in front of one grave at the centre of the room, that of the last Hezbollah member to die in Syria before the uprising, Imad Mughniyeh, the group's key strategist and military leader who was killed by Israeli assassins in Damascus in February 2008. Some bowed in deference, stooping to touch the tomb's marble cover. Others slowly toured the room acknowledging all of the dead, new and old.
Next to Mughniyeh was a new arrival, Rabiah al-Saadi, covered uncharacteristically in a red flag. And alongside him was Hadi, the son of the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah. Hadi had been killed by Israeli soldiers in south Lebanon in 1997.
A middle-aged man crouched in front of the grave of his 17-year son who also died in battle that year. One hand held the corner of the tomb and he sobbed uncontrollably into the other. As he rose to leave, he said: "Grief is the price we pay for love."
In the clandestine world of Hezbollah there is something revelatory about its graveyards; its members live with their secrets, but die stripped bare of them. As the tally of dead and injured has mounted over the past week, a clearer picture has emerged of the depth of the group's involvement in Syria, a battle that Nasrallah had long denied joining.
The impact of such a shift is resounding across Lebanon and beyond. Sectarian tensions, which have bubbled away as the crisis has worn on, are now more visible and potent than for many decades. "God help us," said one refugee from Qusair this week – a Sunni mother of three. "People say they are afraid of a world war. We want a world war rather than this. Either they let us die, or live with dignity."
In a series of speeches over the past two years, Nasrallah, who is rarely seen in public, has voiced unwavering support for Bashar al-Assad, whose regime has been essential to the group's power. But he has dismissed constant opposition claims that he was more than just a moral backer. In the past eight months, however, Hezbollah's leader has shifted tone, suggesting first that members were "not yet" involved in Syria, then highlighting the threat posed to Shia shrines there, particularly the Sayyida Zeinab mosque in Damascus, as a reason to consider stepping in.
This year, Hezbollah's television station, al-Manar, started playing a short video showing fighters near the Zeinab mosque – a tacit acknowledgement of the group's direct military support. Facebook posts about slain members appeared soon after. Then came tributes on Hezbollah channels and websites, all without details.
Its hand perhaps forced by the sheer volume of dead and wounded coming back from Qusair, the group has only this past week felt comfortable enough to drop the veil on its role in Syria. But even now, the graveyard clamour and pageantry of martyrdom has not led Hezbollah's leaders to address their direct involvement – a move that has profound implications both in Lebanon and across the region.
So far, justification is being left to the group's support base, much of which seems to be onside with the decision, citing a need to strike pre-emptively against rebel groups that they believe will come to fight them next.
"I am with Hezbollah in this decision, because it is better that we fight them there than here," said a Dahiyah resident, Mohammed Abdullah.
"People don't think critically. If Hezbollah want to do this, then that's OK. They believe that Hezbollah know what they are doing."
Another Dahiyah local echoed a sentiment widely heard among Hezbollah supporters – that Syria's opposition is al-Qaida-led and heading for Lebanon. "They are terrorists who pretend they are Muslims," said Zulfiqa Hamsa, 23. They want to take the weapons from Hezbollah and indirectly support the Zionists and the Jews.
"They have been afraid until now to say that Hezbollah have been involved in fighting in other countries because of international opinion."
Other supporters are equally comfortable with the shift in the group's raison d'etre. "Of course it's a big decision," said vendor Ala'a Attrass. "But it's necessary. You think there isn't sectarianism in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia? They are persecuting Shias there."
Lebanon's civilian leaders have largely remained mute over this week's events. By Friday, at least 30 Hezbollah members had returned in death shrouds. Many dozens more were injured. Its supporters estimated that the toll was much higher, with some well connected sources saying that a Syrian jet had mistakenly bombed a large group of Hezbollah members, killing up to 20 on Tuesday.
In the northern city of Baalbek – a strategic hub for Hezbollah, only 15 miles south of the frontline in Qusair – recent refugees were taking shelter from the war. Nearby, another of the group's main zones, Hermel, where its founding parade was held in 1982 and the group was mandated by Iran to fight Israel, was further down the path of conditioning its supporters to the change. Members here had begun erecting martyrs' posters to pay homage to the dead – something that is yet to be done in Beirut, where fading banners of the 2006 dead remain prominent.
On a visit to Baalbekon Thursday, Australia's foreign minister, Bob Carr, said the week's events had marked a groundshift in Syria's war. The deteriorating situation there, he said, "could become a sectarian civil war across the region. The prospect of it being a Shia, Sunni war across more than one country and this would be a huge tragedy.
"This is profoundly serious now. We could see the unravelling of nation states and the agreed boundaries that we have seen in the Middle East."
Back in Dahiyah, there was little reflection on the broader issues beyond an existential view of "us versus them", which has morphed into "we're better off getting them first".
"Fighting Israel has a different meaning and taste than fighting in Syria," said Mohammed Abdullah.
Asked which tastes better, he replied: "Israel, for sure."
Syrian government agrees to attend Geneva conference, says ally Russia
Assad regime agrees 'in principle' to conflict resolution initiative as Syrian opposition comes under pressure to take part as well
Matthew Weaver and agencies
The Guardian, Friday 24 May 2013 16.25 BST
Interview with Syrian President Bashar Assad, Damascus, Syria - 19 May 2013
The Syrian National Coalition is being urged to drop its demand that Bashar al-Assad should agree to stand down as a precondition for taking part in any talks. Photograph: AY-Collection/SIPA/Rex Feature
The Assad government has agreed to take part in next month's international conference in Geneva aimed at resolving Syria's civil war, according to ally Russia, as the Syrian opposition came under pressure to also commit to the initiative.
Russia's foreign ministry spokesman, Alexander Lukashevich, said: "We note with satisfaction that we have received an agreement in principle from Damascus to attend the international conference in the interest of the Syrians themselves finding a political path to resolve the conflict."
The Syrian government has yet to confirm that it would send a representative. Its deputy foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad, held "extensive negotiations" in Moscow this week about the conference, which was convened by Russia and the US. He described the meeting as positive but stopped short of announcing whether Damascus would take part. In his most recent interview, the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, insisted he would not negotiate with terrorists.
The main sticking point remains Assad's future, an issue that was deliberately fudged at the first Geneva conference last June as a way of getting broad international backing for some sort of transition government in Syria.
The country's divided opposition group the Syrian National Coalition, is meeting in Istanbul where it is being urged to drop its insistence that Assad should agree to stand down as a precondition for taking part in any talks.
Reza Afshar, head of the Syria team at the British Foreign Office, tweeted: "Syria opposition meeting now. Time to step up, make bold choices & commit to #Geneva."
Lukashevich accused the Syrian opposition of trying to undermine the Geneva conference. "We are again hearing about the precondition that Bashar al-Assad leaves power and that a government be formed under the auspices of the UN," he said.
He added that it was impossible to set the date for the conference at this point because there was "no clarity about who will speak on behalf of the opposition and what powers they will have".
Louay Safi, who has been touted as a possible new leader of the opposition coalition, said he supported the idea of talks but was wary. "Our fear is that the regime is not going to negotiate in good faith. We would like to hear enough [from Damascus] to know that they are serious about these negotiations," he said.
Coalition spokesman Khaled Saleh said the 60-member body supports "any conference that helps transition the situation into an elective government away from the dictatorship" but would not attend without indications that Assad would step down.
On Thursday, the coalition's outgoing leader, Moaz al-Khatib, proposed a transition plan involving granting Assad and his inner circle safe passage to another country. But Khatib's colleagues, many of whom rejected his offer to hold talks with the Assad government earlier this year, have also criticised his latest initiative.
One opposition official told Reuters that the plan was "heading directly for the dustbin of history".
05/24/2013 06:19 PM
Pleas for Weapons: Europe Reluctant to Arm Syrian Rebels
By Matthias Gebauer and Ulrike Putz
Despite desperate pleas from top Syrian insurgents, Western leaders remain reluctant to arm them. Though the European embargo is set to expire at the end of the month, political and legal considerations make aid for the rebels unlikely.
The general's address on Wednesday night must have been unforgettable. With his voice trembling, Salim Idriss, chief of staff of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), painted his personal nightmare scenario: All of the casualties in Syria could turn out to have been in vain, he said, if arms shipments do not quickly reach the rebels. So impassioned, as well as detailed, was Idriss' address at the final nightly meeting of the "Friends of Syria" conference, which was held in Amman, Jordan, that the foreign ministers in attendance sat together an hour and a half longer than originally planned.
The FSA could lose its fight against the regime of Bashar Assad within a few months, warned Idriss in his highly emotional speech. To avert defeat, his men say they would immediately need anti-tank weapons and surface-to-air missiles. In the general's address to foreign ministers from the United States, Turkey, Germany and eight other European and Arab countries, his depiction of the revolution's prospects for success was grim -- so grim, in fact, that the assembled foreign ministers asked their staffs at a certain point to leave the room.
The senior statesmen -- from US Secretary of State John Kerry to German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle -- know what kind of signal Idriss' desperate plea could send were it to find its way into the media, especially since the call for help will probably go unheeded. Observers close to the issue believe that the rebels will not receive arms from the West at any point in the near future. And owing to their unwillingness to intervene, the "Friends of Syria" might soon be held responsible for any additional progress that Assad makes in his battle against rebel forces.
German Arms Firms Forbidden to Supply Arms to Crisis Zones
Indeed, all the talk over the lifting of the arms embargo against Syria is mostly hot air: England and France are saying that they could soon begin arming select groups of Syrian rebels. But it is highly unlikely that this would actually come to pass. Even if the EU foreign ministers were to decide at their meeting on Monday to ease the embargo, that doesn't mean that the delivery of arms to Syria will be permitted. There are still the national laws of each individual country to contend with.
"For German companies, for instance, supplying military equipment to conflict zones is prohibited," says Markus Kaim, a defense expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. What's more, weapons producers likely have little interest in adding Syrian rebels to their list of customers. "It's not quantitatively attractive, and the political burden is too great," says Kaim. In addition, member states are bound by EU regulations to ensure that the weapons do not end up in the hands of terrorist organizations. "In the case of the rebels, that's impossible," says Kaim.
In reality, the debate on easing the embargo is mere saber-rattling aimed at Damascus. But Assad probably doesn't take it too seriously. It even appears that a majority of member states would prefer to keep the embargo in place. But this would require a unanimous decision, which France and England oppose.
Netanyahu Warns Against Arming the Rebels
Among the main backers of the embargo is Austria, which has deployed 370 peacekeepers to the Golan Heights, where they are responsible for monitoring the ceasefire between Israel and Syria. Vienna has already threatened to withdraw its troops if the embargo is allowed to expire. The risk is too big, say officials, that marauding rebel troops with weapons from the West could target the Austrians.
The Scandinavian countries, too, are united against lifting the embargo. They argue that wars only become more brutal and drawn-out when one of the sides is armed from abroad. Oxfam, the international aid organization, sees things similarly. "Sending arms to the Syrian opposition won't create a level playing field," it said in a statement. "Instead, it risks further fuelling an arms free-for-all where the victims are the civilians of Syria."
Germany, for its part, is watching and waiting. Berlin is no longer trying to prevent the embargo from being allowed to expire. The federal government says it wants to avoid an argument on the subject so as not to put the economic sanctions against Syria in jeopardy. But Westerwelle went on to caution that a grenade launcher or even an anti-aircraft missile could wind up "in the wrong hands."
During Westerwelle's visit to Israel earlier this month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unequivocally warned against all arms sales -- particularly of anti-aircraft missiles -- to Syrian rebels. In the hands of the rebels, he said, surface-to-air missiles could seriously endanger civilian aircrafts in Israel and turn the country's airspace into a virtual no-fly zone.
May 24, 2013
Battle for Syrian Town Spurs Sectarian Fighting in Northern Lebanon
By ANNE BARNARD and HANIA MOURTADA
BEIRUT, Lebanon — The all-out battle for the Syrian town of Qusayr, pitting the Lebanese Shiite Muslim militant group Hezbollah and Syrian armed forces against Sunni Muslim rebels, has spurred the worst sectarian fighting in years in the north of Lebanon.
Unusually fierce battles between militias in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli — Sunnis against Alawites who are allied with Hezbollah and the Syrian government — have kept schools and businesses closed there since Monday and left at least 24 people dead. Mortar fire and other heavy weapons have ravaged neighborhoods, a severe escalation from the usual sporadic gunfire that raised fears that the violence, usually contained in a few districts, would spread.
The weak Lebanese government’s official policy of dissociation from the Syrian conflict is increasingly in tatters as Lebanon faces its own political vacuum, coasting under a caretaker government and mired in disputes over how and when to hold elections. Worries here have mushroomed as the unexpected tenacity of rebels in Qusayr against better-armed opponents has given the battle strong symbolic significance. As the battle rages, it raises the question of whether Hezbollah will emerge emboldened or weakened — both possibilities that could also unbalance Lebanon.
Though senior opposition leaders insist they are not calling for assaults on Shiite areas in Lebanon, some rebels use baldly sectarian rallying cries. Leaders of American-backed factions of the Syrian opposition call on fighters to rally to Qusayr and threaten retaliation against Hezbollah. They have issued derogatory statements about its revered leader, Hassan Nasrallah, and taunted Hezbollah as “the party of the devil,” a play on its name, which means Party of God in Arabic.
There are fears of attacks by the most militant among the opposition’s sympathizers in Lebanon, fundamentalist Sunni factions active in Tripoli and the southern city of Sidon. Residents report that Hezbollah strongholds are on high alert for car bombs and other attacks.
Sunni fighters are widely believed to lack the capacity to mount a frontal assault on Hezbollah in Lebanon. But still, senior Lebanese and American officials have expressed growing fears of the kind of spillover that has happened in Tripoli as Hezbollah plunges more deeply into the Syrian war, riling Lebanon’s Sunni militants, some of whom are fighting alongside rebels in Qusayr.
And some fear the violence could spread further. One Syrian refugee in northern Lebanon, in the Wadi Khaled area near the Syrian border, said he was alarmed to hear some Syrian and Lebanese Sunnis there discussing plans to attack civilian supporters of Hezbollah, including in the Dahiya, its hub in Beirut’s southern suburbs.
“They want to attack the vulnerable part of Hezbollah, the rump,” he said, asking to be identified only by his first name, Muhammad, for his safety. He said that while he was unsure how serious the threat was, it revealed a level of anger that made him fear for the future.
The leaders of most Lebanese factions have political and economic interests in keeping the peace, but some have expressed new alarm in recent days. Even an ally of Hezbollah in Parliament, Alain Aoun, said in an interview that any intervention in Syria endangered Lebanon by fanning sectarian flames. Lebanon’s president, Michel Suleiman, lamented Friday that Lebanese citizens were fighting one another in Syria and, in what he called “a direct reflection” of the Syrian conflict, in Tripoli.
“With our own hands,” he said, “we are turning Lebanon into an arena.”
In Tripoli, each side accuses the other of starting the battle to take pressure off its allies in Qusayr, where rebels are enduring withering attacks and Hezbollah has taken unexpectedly heavy casualties that appear to number in the dozens.
Rifaat Eid, the communal leader of the hilltop Alawite district of Jabal Mohsen in Tripoli and a staunch supporter of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, blamed Sunni gunmen.
“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” Mr. Eid wrote on his Facebook page. “You will hear Jabal Mohsen roar.”
Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, a retired senior security official from Tripoli, said Hezbollah, through Mr. Eid, started the fight to keep Sunnis from flocking to Qusayr after it realized its hope of taking the city in 24 hours was “delusional.”
Sectarian tensions also flared in the southern city of Sidon at the funeral of a Hezbollah fighter who was raised as a Sunni and converted to Shiism. Followers of the extremist Sunni cleric Ahmad al-Assir, who has tapped into Sunni anger at Hezbollah’s support for Mr. Assad and dominance in Lebanon, blocked streets to prevent the fighter from being buried in a Sunni cemetery.
Lebanese see little prospect for relief from negotiations on the Syrian conflict planned by Russia and the United States for next month, despite official confirmation from Russia on Friday that the Syrian government would take part.
On Wednesday, as two of the rebels’ most prominent commanders videotaped themselves heading to Qusayr, one, Col. Abdul Jabbar al-Okeidi, declared, “We’re coming for you, Hassan Nasrallah!”
Hezbollah keeps its areas under tight control, but refugees from Syria have increased the Sunni population, and tension, in those places.
A Sunni resident of the Dahiya said Friday that Hezbollah officials urged him to notify them of any threats against him. He said he had seen 20 funerals of Hezbollah fighters in the past two weeks and heard Shiite shop owners criticizing Hezbollah’s leadership over the losses.
Syrian rebel shelling has already killed civilians in Hezbollah-controlled areas of the Bekaa Valley. One Syrian rebel, who gave only his first name, Abdullah, said his battalion fired mortar shells last week at the Shiite town of Hermel from a Lebanese area near the border.
Hisham Jaber, a Shiite who is a retired Lebanese Army commander, said he believed Hezbollah would try to extricate itself from Syria after the fight in Qusayr to short-circuit sectarian tensions and internal dissent. He said he did not foresee war in Lebanon, but could not rule out sporadic clashes in Sidon and the Bekaa.
Mr. Suleiman, the president, stopped short of condemning Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria. He declared that its traditional mission of opposition to Israel is “more noble and more important than anything, and should not get bogged down in the sands of dissension, whether in Syria or Lebanon,” especially as it has usually fought for “a national, not sectarian cause.”
Hwaida Saad contributed reporting.
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May 25, 2013
Chile's Indians Take on World's Largest Gold Miner
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
EL CORRAL, Chile — The Diaguita Indians live in the foothills of the Andes, just downstream from the world's highest gold mine, where for as long as anyone can remember they've drunk straight from the glacier-fed river that irrigates their orchards and vineyards with its clear water.
Then thousands of mine workers and their huge machines moved in, building a road alongside the river that reaches all the way up to Pascua-Lama, a gold mine being built along both sides of the Chile-Argentine border at a lung-busting 16,400-feet (5,000 meters) above sea level.
The crews moved mountaintops in preparation for 25 years of gold and silver production, breaking rocks and allowing mineral acids that include arsenic, aluminum and sulfates to flow into the headwaters feeding Atacama desert communities down below.
River levels dropped, the water is murky in places and the Indians now complain of cancerous growths and aching stomachs. There's no way to prove or disprove it, but villagers are convinced Barrick Gold Corp. is to blame for their health problems.
"We don't know how much contamination the fruit and vegetables we eat may have," complained Diaguita leader Yovana Paredes Paez. "They're drying up the river, our farms aren't the same. The animals are dying of hunger. Now there's no cheese or meat. It's changed completely."
Acting independently, Chile's newly empowered environmental regulator on Friday confirmed nearly two dozen violations of Barrick's environmental impact agreement, blocking construction on the $8.5 billion project until the Canadian company keeps its promises to prevent water contamination.
The Environmental Superintendent, Juan Carlos Monckeberg, also fined Barrick $16.4 million, the highest environmental fine in Chile's history, saying agency inspectors found the company hadn't told the full truth when it reported failures.
"We found that the acts described weren't correct, truthful or provable. And there were other failures of Pascua-Lama's environmental permit as well," Monckeberg said.
Barrick promised $30 million in fixes and said it remains committed to meeting the highest standards and causing no pollution. But Chile seems determined to minimize the dangers of digging huge pits and processing ore with toxic chemicals along the spine of the Andes, causing delays that threaten the future of this top priority for the world's largest gold-mining company.
"We're profoundly sorry that Pascua-Lama has suffered obstacles in its construction and we'll make our best efforts to get back on track and meet the conditions stipulated in the approved project," Eduardo Flores Zelaya, president of Barrick Sudamerica, said Friday. "We are respectful of the institutions in the countries where we operate, and as a consequence we will follow the resolution."
Monckeberg said Barrick caused permanent damage by failing to properly construct a diversionary canal, triggering a rockfall that covered a field down below with waste rock.
"I don't believe there's any way of repairing it," he told a news conference in Santiago.
Barrick had hoped to begin production in early 2014, and warned shareholders that it might abandon Pascua, the Chilean side, if construction delays keep the mine from opening this year.
Argentine authorities, meanwhile, have insisted that Lama will proceed with or without Chile, taking advantage of nearby infrastructure used for Barrick's Veladero mine, which produces ore just downhill.
Together, the two projects employ thousands of workers, fuel a third of the provincial San Juan economy, and promise millions in revenue for a country sorely in need of hard currency. But more than 70 percent of Pascua-Lama's 18 million ounces of gold and 676 million ounces of silver are on the Chilean side. The plan has been to extract it from huge open pits and carry it through a tunnel for processing in Argentina.
Rockfalls are just one of the threats to building anything in the high Andes, where gale-force winds have coated glaciers with construction dust for miles around and groundwater expands and contracts with each freeze and thaw. To refine ore into gold bullion, the company must transport thousands of tons of cyanide, mercury and other toxic chemicals to the mountaintop.
Once the precious metals are gone, Chile will be left with huge rock piles and Argentina with toxic waste that must be contained for generations to come on ever-moving slopes between melting glaciers and snowy peaks.
"I'm so angry at this company," said Meri del Rosario, 42, of El Corral, Chile. She has thyroid cancer; two cysts were removed from her throat last year. She blames water pollution from Pascua-Lama.
"If they keep working the valley will end up completely dry, and we'll have to go, and where? I think it's Barrick that has to go," she said.
Some 500 Diaguita have joined a civil lawsuit against Barrick, persuading an appellate court last month to block construction despite the company's denials that it caused any pollution or health problems.
The company's response to the environmental regulator was much more conciliatory: Faced with 23 violations, Barrick accepted nearly all of them, and obtained permission to make urgent repairs.
The violations include building some earthworks without approval, while failing to build others that were supposed to be in place before construction began so that rainfall wouldn't increase the runoff from mineral acids naturally released when rocks are broken. Instead, Barrick went ahead and moved mountaintops in preparation for 25 years of gold and silver production.
Barrick also acknowledged making an "unjustified discharge coming from the acid treatment plant to the Estrecho river" that was "neither declared nor monitored."
The company persuaded the regulator to withdraw an allegation that it had not properly built a huge, impermeable wall that stretches deep below ground and all the way across the top of the Rio del Estrecho valley.
Barrick said the wall stretches for 676 feet (206 meters) across the valley and reaches down as much as 200 feet (62 meters) below the surface, with sealants injected nearly 100 feet (30 meters) deeper still into fissures in the bedrock. It meets U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards and beats industry standards, the company said.
Despite all this work, inspectors found acid in five test wells below the wall. Barrick challenged the methodology and claimed the acid was there naturally, but after the regulator agreed that the wall met requirements, the company agreed to fortify several wells downstream to collect contaminated water.
Chile's environmentalists, farmers and indigenous communities were thrilled with Friday's ruling, saying it shows only strong oversight can force Barrick to keep its promises.
"One of the concerns we've always had is that they are going to work with an enormous quantity of cyanide," said Leonel Rivera Zuleta, 56, a farmer and member of the Diaguita community of Chipasse Tamaricunga. "Who will assure us that there won't be some kind of accident with this element so poisonous to nature and man?"
Living in adobe homes or concrete houses in the narrow Huasco valley, they tend "the garden of the Atacama," where the river enables them to grow oranges, apples, grapes and vegetables in landscape so barren it's been compared to the surface of Mars.
The Diaguita once followed the rivers up the mountains and roamed over both sides of the frontier, but now Barrick's security guards block their way at a checkpoint just above town. Dump trucks the size of two-story homes and dozens of red barrels with toxic warning labels are kept in a fenced lot nearby.
"The Earth is giving us the strength to be courageous," Diaguita leader Maglene Campillay said, amazed that they're being listened to in a country where mining sustains the economy. "This might be a small community that used to be afraid, but we've united, and we're defending our rights, because we're not going to let them take away our water and end our culture."__
Chile slaps $16 million fine on Canadian mine company
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, May 24, 2013 20:15 EDT
Chile’s environmental authorities slapped a $16.4 million fine Friday on Canadian mining company Barrick Gold for “serious” violations at its unfinished gold mine near the border with Argentina.
Officials here said the fine was levied after a four-month investigation into practices by Nevada Mining Company SpA, a subsidiary of Barrick Gold, which is developing the unfinished Pascua Lama mine, which would have been one of the world’s biggest gold mines.
Environmental officials here also confirmed the suspension of the mining project order last month by a Chilean court.
The penalty was imposed for “grave breaches” of permits granted in 2006 by environmental officials, including infractions of guidelines on digging and water management, and failure to provide authorities accurate information about the project.
Local residents have long complained about possible environmental damage to waterways from the massive open pit mining project.
A Chilean court last month suspended construction at the Pascua Lama site, accepting a complaint filed by indigenous groups on environmental grounds.
The Pascua Lama project was launched in 2009 by Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold producer, after an initial $8 billion investment.
The company had planned to spend another $8.5 billion on the mine, and hoped to start production there next year.
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May 24, 2013
Public Rapes Outrage Brazil, Testing Ideas of Image and Class
By SIMON ROMERO
RIO DE JANEIRO — The attacks have stunned this city. In one, an assailant held a gun to the head of a 30-year-old woman while raping her in front of passengers on a bus as the driver proceeded down a main avenue. In another, a 14-year-old girl from a hillside slum was raped on one of Rio’s most famous stretches of beach.
In yet another case, men abducted and raped a working-class woman in a transit van as it wended through densely populated areas. The police failed to investigate, and a week later the same men raped a 21-year-old American student in the same van, pummeling her face and beating her male companion with a metal bar.
“Unfortunately, it had to happen to her before anyone would help me,” said the Brazilian woman raped in the transit van. “I was like, ‘Could this have been avoided if they had paid attention to my case?’ ”
A recent wave of rapes in Rio — some captured on video cameras — have cast a spotlight on the unresolved contradictions of a nation that is coming of age as a world power. Brazil has a woman as president, a woman as a powerful police commander and a woman as the head of its national oil company — and yet, it was not until an American was raped that the authorities got fully involved and arrested suspects in the case.
In some ways, Brazil’s experience echoes recent events in India and Egypt, where horrific attacks have prompted outrage and soul searching, revealing deep fissures in each society. In Brazil, it has unleashed a debate about whether the authorities are more concerned about defending the privileged and Rio’s international image than about protecting women at large.
In India, the recent death of a student, who was gang-raped as her male companion was beaten on a bus under similar circumstances, has highlighted a prevailing view that women, no matter how much progress they make, are still fair game, unprotected by an ineffectual government.
And in Egypt, where the collapse of the old police state has led to an outbreak of sexual assaults in Tahrir Square in Cairo, some newly emboldened conservative Islamists publicly blame the women, saying they put themselves in harm’s way.
It is perhaps paradoxical that the issue has popped up so forcefully in Brazil, a country that has gone to great lengths to protect and promote women’s rights. There are special cars for women to ride on trains to avoid being groped, as in parts of India. There are special police stations here staffed largely by women. And there is a general view that holds women as equal, fully capable of excelling in even the most powerful posts.
“We’re living a schizophrenic situation, in which important advances have been made in women reaching positions of influence in our society,” said Rogéria Peixinho, a director of the Brazilian Women’s Network, a rights group here. “At the same time, the situation for many women who are poor remains atrocious.”
Indeed, the public discussion about the string of sexual assaults in Rio was relatively muted before the American student was attacked in late March after boarding a transit van in Copacabana, a beachfront district frequented by tourists. The reason, some experts argue, was that the earlier victims were largely poor or working class, reflecting one of Brazil’s enduring struggles: extreme class divisions in society.
“For a large part of the political leadership, these rapes only get to be a concern if they affect someone rich or damage Brazil’s image abroad,” said Malu Fontes, a newspaper columnist who criticized the lack of attention paid to rapes of poor women in Rio, which is preparing to hold the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.
“We like to believe in Brazil that we live in a peaceful, happy place, when the truth of our existence is far more complicated,” she said. “It’s like we’re Narcissus gazing into a pool of sewage.”
Rio’s public security officials acknowledge that they have faced a sharp increase in the number of reported rape cases, which surged 24 percent last year to 1,972 in the city. But they argue that the increase has taken place nationally, reflecting a change in legislation in 2009 to broaden the definition of rape to include oral and anal penetration, as well as efforts to make it easier for women to file rape complaints.
Brazil has made strides in its efforts to reduce violence against women. As early as the 1980s, it helped pioneer the creation of police stations with female officers to help victims register domestic violence, sexual assaults and other gender-related crimes. And in 2006, legislation was enacted nationwide intended to establish special courts for prosecuting acts of domestic violence with stricter sentences.
But while Rio’s authorities have succeeded in lowering rates of certain violent crimes, like homicides, the recent rapes have focused new attention on the dangers of riding Rio’s buses and vans, an essential part of life for many residents.
In the days after the rape of the American student, Mayor Eduardo Paes announced a ban on transit vans, which are privately owned and sometimes operating without permits, in Rio’s prosperous South Zone. The ban prompted criticism that the mayor was giving priority to the safety of wealthy seaside areas over grittier parts of the city where the vans are still allowed to operate.
A spokesman for Mr. Paes countered that the ban was not related to the rapes, but part of a broader public transportation plan under consideration for months. The spokesman added that the mayor had also forbidden vans to tint their windows, in an effort to prevent crimes within the vehicles.
Officials in the state of Rio de Janeiro said that rapes in buses, vans or subway cars accounted for less than 1 percent of all cases in recent years. “There are no signs of an epidemic of rapes within public transportation,” said Pedro Dantas, a spokesman for Rio’s public safety department.
Still, the string of cases in Rio, including the rape of a 12-year-old girl on a bus last year, are part of a larger pattern of attacks and harassment aboard transit vehicles in several cities, including two rapes this month around the capital, Brasília. In the city of Curitiba, lawmakers are reviewing a bill that would introduce women’s-only buses.
Eleonora Menicucci, Brazil’s minister for women’s affairs, noted that no nation was immune to shocking crimes against women, pointing to the abduction and long imprisonment of three women in Cleveland.
But she said Brazil had worked hard to encourage women to come forward to report rapes, and she contended that perpetrators would be prosecuted regardless of the backgrounds of the assailants or the victims. She cited a case in the city of Queimadas, where six men from relatively privileged circumstances were swiftly arrested, tried and convicted last year in the gang rape of five women, two of whom were killed after recognizing their assailants.
But critics remain skeptical, arguing that the main reason the rape of the 14-year-old girl from a slum drew public attention was that it occurred on the beach in front of Leblon, one of Rio’s most exclusive neighborhoods.
Sérgio Cabral, Rio’s governor, called the assault on the American student an “atrocity” but emphasized that he did not expect it to affect the image of Rio, which he was said was experiencing a “forceful moment with big events and investments.”
on: Today at 06:55 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Croatian president urges Britain to remain in the EU
Ivo Josipovic says British exit would have negative impact on trade bloc, as Croatia prepares to become 28th member state
guardian.co.uk, Friday 24 May 2013 17.07 BST
The president of the EU's newest member, Croatia, has urged Britain not to leave but instead to help reform Europe from the inside.
"The reason for us to enter is the same as yours is to stay," Ivo Josipovic told the Guardian during a visit to London before Croatia's formal accession on 1 July, when it will become the 28th member state. "It is a great opportunity. I always ask the critics what Greece would look like without the EU. I am a Euro-optimistic."
Josipovic said his meeting with David Cameron on Thursday left him convinced that Britain would not abandon the EU. "Looking at situation here, I don't think its going to happen. I heard the prime minister … and I read about the plans of your government. It's not anti-European," the Croatian president said.
He added a British exit "would be negative for Europe and for Croatia as well, because UK is an important country with an important economy, with important resources of all kind: the democratic tradition, historical, cultural. So definitely a break with the EU would not be a good thing … I would not like to see it."
Since Croatia applied for EU membership in 2003, the fortunes of both have fluctuated and are experiencing a downturn. Croatia is in recession with an unemployment rate of over 18% and, in the short term at least, membership could worsen the economic situation.
Croatia will erect a tariff wall between it and some of its major Balkan markets to the east. It will mean that many tourists, Russian and Turkish for example, will require a visa to spend their holidays on the Croatian coast, and it could accelerate a brain drain if the nation's best and brightest seek work across Europe.
However, Josipovic argued that EU trade and investment would outweigh the downsides to membership, and he pledged to do more to make it easier for European firms to invest in Croatia.
"It is complicated to come to do business – complicated because of the old mentality and the wish to put everything under norms. But the government is doing its best to change these things," he said. "There are obstacles but day by day we are making it easier."
Josipovic indicated that Croatia would side with the UK in seeking to focus the EU on its basic functions: maintaining a common market, promoting democracy and peace, while cutting back on what he saw as excessive Brussels bureaucracy.
He also said Croatia would be in favour of lifting the arms embargo on Syria "because in our history we were under aggression and couldn't obtain weapons. So equal chances should be provided to both sides."
Croatia has been criticised for the fact that there have been no convictions for the war crimes committed in 1995, when hundreds of Serb civilians were killed during and after Croatia's Operation Storm offensive.
Josipovic argued that investigators faced obstacles looking into crimes committed nearly 20 years ago, especially as previous nationalist governments had been reluctant to prosecute. But he added that the prosecutors would not give up.
"The war crimes investigations will never be suspended. There are no time limits," he said, adding that none of those responsible for the war crimes "will sleep peacefully".
on: Today at 06:50 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Vladimir Putin's goal is to destroy Russian civil society
For demanding fair elections and respect for the constitution, Russians are being treated as spies and traitors
The Guardian, Friday 24 May 2013 21.30 BST
I have been active in the human rights scene here since the dark days of the Soviet Union. As I look across today's Russia, I have every reason to believe that at the very top, the Kremlin has decided to destroy my country's civil society for daring to raise its head in protest against government repression and to demand fair elections and respect for the constitution.
From the end of the 80s to the middle of this century's first decade, a lively and active civil society formed in Russia. Today, it is an obstacle in the path of President Putin and his circle, who aim to form a harshly authoritarian, perhaps even totalitarian, regime.
It is precisely to destroy civil society – and primarily the human rights groups that form its backbone – that a series of repressive laws were adopted in 2012 by Russia's Duma, elected fraudulently and obedient to Putin. One of these laws requires that NGOs which receive funding from abroad and "engage in politics" voluntarily register as "foreign agents". This demand is the equivalent of Nazi Germany's demand that Jews don a yellow star.
This law is directed against human rights organisations that have to receive financing from foreign donors in order to maintain their independence – since neither the Russian government nor big business will support organisations whose goal is to protect citizens from violations of their rights by the state.
The foreign agents' law should not apply to human rights NGOs, as they do not engage in politics. However, the law defines the term "politics" as including "influencing the formation of public opinion" – and, of course, human rights NGOs do exactly that. For violating this law, NGOs face closure and fines of up to 500,000 rubles (£11,000), while their leaders face fines of up to 300,000 rubles and up to two years' imprisonment.
If the law demanded that NGOs register as organisations receiving foreign grants, all of us would register, as this would reflect the truth. But we cannot register as foreign agents. In Russia, "foreign agent" means "traitor", "spy". We are not agents of foreign governments or private foundations, as we do not carry out their instructions. To register as their agents would mean sacrificing our reputation.
Because not a single NGO registered as a foreign agent, several weeks ago the authorities began a mass wave of inspections across the country led by the state prosecutor, the ministry of justice and the tax authorities. We are aware of about 500 NGOs that have undergone such inspections – there are probably many more.
By law, the prosecutor has the right to conduct inspections only where there is evidence that a given organisation has, or is planning to, violate the law. The simultaneous inspection of hundreds of NGOs is a clearly illegal action by the prosecutor, whose mission is to ensure the law is obeyed.
Several dozen of the inspected NGOs have now received instructions stating that they are required to register as foreign agents. Golos, which organised election observers who uncovered massive falsifications during the parliamentary and presidential elections of 2011-2012, was the first to be sanctioned by the courts, receiving a fine of 300,000 rubles. All of these organisations are on the verge of being closed down.
The Moscow Helsinki Group, Russia's oldest human rights organisation, awaits this fate by the end of May, as do others. It is absolutely clear that Vladimir Putin's goal, as he begins his third term in office, is to destroy all independent civic activity. It is clear he fears that otherwise he will not succeed in retaining his office, let alone strengthening his authoritarian regime.
Russian rights group Memorial loses court challenge over raids on offices
Moscow court says raids by prosecutors were legal after hearing claims that group received millions of dollars from abroad
Alexander Winning in Moscow
guardian.co.uk, Friday 24 May 2013 14.43 BST
A Moscow court has rejected two appeals by one of Russia's oldest human rights groups over raids by prosecutors on its head offices at the height of a crackdown on critics of the Kremlin in March.
The raids on Memorial, which coincided with searches at hundreds of international and Russian non-governmental organisations (NGOs), were widely condemned by foreign governments and local activists. The Kremlin has painted the checks as a means of weeding out "foreign agents".
In its ruling on Friday, the Zamoskvoretsky district court deemed the raids legal, rejecting Memorial's claims that they were excessive and groundless.
Memorial, which runs a human rights organisation and research centre documenting Soviet-era political repression, has exposed rights abuses by Russian officials in the turbulent North Caucasus and criticised the detention of anti-Kremlin protesters at an opposition rally that turned violent a year ago.
Judicial officials, tax inspectors and journalists from a state-run TV channel accompanied prosecutors in the March raids, which came weeks after Vladimir Putin told senior FSB officers to check whether foreign-funded NGOs engaging in "political activity" had registered as foreign agents, in keeping with a law that came into force in November. Memorial's head office and its nearby Moscow branch located were both searched.
In comments harking back to the cold war, prosecutors told the court on Friday that Memorial received millions of dollars of funding from abroad to "influence public opinion in the country". In particular, prosecutors accused Memorial of receiving more than 92m roubles (£1.94m) between 2010 and 2011 from foreign donors including the US Ford Foundation.
Yan Rachinsky, a board member at Memorial, said the presiding judge even smiled at prosecutors' inability to formulate their arguments in court. Memorial would appeal against the ruling in Russia's constitutional court and the European court of human rights, he added.
Memorial, along with international rights groups such as Amnesty International, says it will refuse to adopt the foreign agent label. Russian authorities, who have cast foreign-backed organisations as political tools wielded by external enemies, have been unable to force any NGOs to adopt the unflattering label thus far.
Pavel Chikov, a member of Putin's human rights council and head of a legal group that provides assistance to civic and political activists, said that the Kremlin's crackdown on the NGO sector reflected a wider aim to silence government critics.
Another NGO targeted in the raids, the election monitor Golos, has been fined roughly $10,000 (£6,600) and fears closure. Golos reported widespread vote-rigging during parliamentary elections in 2011 and the presidential election that gave Putin a new six-year term last year.
"The last three months have seen unprecedented efforts to isolate Russia from the west and shield authorities from criticism," he said. "NGOs are currently spending all their energy working out how to defend themselves. Many activists are losing hope."
on: Today at 06:42 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Catholic archdiocese in Madrid reportedly training 8 new exorcists to meet parishioner demand
By Megan Carpentier
Friday, May 24, 2013 13:40 EDT
Catholics in and around Madrid concerned that they or their loved ones are suffering from demonic possession may be about to get some much needed assistance from the archdiocese. A spokeswoman confirmed to the Associated Press that the Church in considering training more priests in the exorcism rites to counter increasing demand for its one trained priest’s time.
The spokewoman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told the AP, “The devil exists. That’s a fact.”
News of the exorcists-in-training was first reported by the Spanish-language Catholic site Religion en libertad, which claims there are eight priests currently in training to learn how to perform exorcisms based on the De Exorcismus et supplicationibus quibusdam, approved by Pope John Paul II in 1998, which replaced the exorcism rites first published in 1614. Catholic World News described the new rite in 1999:
The liturgical ritual itself is centered on supplicatory prayers, asking for God’s help, and “imperative” prayers addressed directly to the Devil, commanding him to depart. The prayers are to be said as the exorcist lays his hand on the individual, and are part of an overall ritual which includes specific blessings and sprinklings with holy water. The ritual also includes the litany of the saints, the reading of the Psalms and the Gospel, and a proclamation of faith which may be either the familiar Creed or a simple question-and-answer (“Do you renounce Satan? I do.”). The ritual concludes with the kissing of the Cross, and the final prayer, proclaiming the triumph of Christ and his Church.
ReL’s Álex Rosal reports that the eight candidates are additionally studying the 1614 rites as well as the so-called Roman Ritual of 1952, which served as a bridge between the older rites and the final liturgical version issued in 1998. Candidates are also said to be reading the books of Father Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican’s chief exorcist and a controversial figure in his own right.
Rosal further reports that there are eight candidates to correspond to each of the eight dioceses, and decisions may be made with the input of local psychiatrists to rule out mental illness and drug abuse before beginning an exorcism.
Spanish website The Local reports that there are only 18 registered exorcists in Spain, the most famous and active of which is, according to exorcism expert and author José María Zavala, Father Salvador Hernández Ramón, who reportedly studied under Amorth in Rome. The training itself is reportedly being led by Bishop Cesar Franco.
on: Today at 06:38 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
Swedish police try to restore order in Stockholm after week of rioting
Reinforcements brought in after disturbances show Sweden is not immune to tensions festering in deprived communities
Anthony Lane in Stockholm and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Friday 24 May 2013 17.39 BST
Police reinforcements have poured into the capital from provincial districts as Stockholm sought to put an end to a week of rioting, the worst to hit Sweden for years.
Disturbances have spread to 23 suburbs, dozens of cars have been set alight and around 30 people have been detained in connection with the riots, which were touched off on Sunday after police shot dead a man, believed to be Portuguese, who was reportedly wielding a knife.
Although a city police spokesman claimed the situation was at last calming down, further reinforcements arrived on Friday night from Skane, several hundred miles away to the south, as well as from Vastra Gotaland.
On Thursday night, two schools, a police station and 15 cars were set alight. The previous night around 70 cars were reportedly burned.
Few citizens in the city's suburbs appeared to believe that police would be able to prevent the disturbances from continuing after the end of the school week, but there was cautious optimism in the city that the worst of the rioting was over.
"It feels like things have been calmer tonight, at least that's our impression," said police spokeswoman Towe Hägg. "There are a lot of volunteers out on night patrols and that might have helped," she added. Local community leaders were hailed as "heroes" by the prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, for stepping in to help police restore order.
The riots have served as a sharp reminder that despite regular praise for its 'Nordic model' of progressive politics, relatively low unemployment and a generous social safety net, Sweden is not immune to the tension that festers in deprived communities.
The riots began on Sunday in the neighbourhood of Husby, 14km north-west of Stockholm's city centre, a week after police shot a 69-year-old man who was reportedly roaming the area with a machete. According to Stockholm police, the man retreated to an apartment that was stormed by officers who were concerned for the welfare of a female inhabitant. An attempt to disarm the man with a flash grenade was unsuccessful and he was then shot by the police. The incident resulted in groups of young local men setting fire to about 100 vehicles.
Husby was calm on Friday, with children making their way home from school only showing the most cursory interest in burnt-out wrecks under the bridge next to their school.
Although the smashed windows of shops, two schools and the local library had yet to be replaced, locals of the 12,000-strong neighbourhood, which has an 80% immigrant population, said there had been no problems since 20 members of the local Islamic centre went around Husby to talk to the youths involved in the original disturbances.
"They told them that it had to stop and that they were scaring people," said Abdul, a nurse in the local hospital after Friday prayers at the mosque.
"At the moment it's very hard to get jobs – not just here but for everyone in Sweden," said the Moroccan immigrant who had lived in Husby for 11 years. Having registered growth of 6.1% and 3.9% in 2010 and 2011 respectively, the Swedish economy slowed to just 0.8% last year, largely as a result of faltering exports to the eurozone. Residents born outside Sweden represent 15% of the country's 9.5 million population, but account for 35% of those registered as unemployed.
Many of the riots have occurred in cramped neighbourhoods with tall, run-down housing blocks, which were quickly constructed as part of Sweden's "million homes" project in the 1960s and 1970s when Stockholm was in the grip of one of its periodic housing crises. Long-since abandoned by almost all of their original inhabitants, they are often the only source of available housing for migrants and asylum-seekers from war-torn countries.
Sweden's relaxed immigration policy and generous asylum system has resulted in exceptionally high immigration levels over the last decade. In 2012, 82,000 non-Swedes migrated to the country – 44,000 of them were asylum-seekers. The country's migration board expects to receive 54,000 asylum seekers in 2013, including around 20,000 Somalis.
on: May 24, 2013, 07:46 PM
|Started by Rad - Last post by Gray|
I want to continue and have a busy three day weekend ahead of me. I have thought about his Aries Venus but have not yet begun going through a thorough process of analysis and writing. I would hope to have something ready by next Wednesday or Thursday, if that is not too late.
Thank you again for the opportunity,
on: May 24, 2013, 11:53 AM
|Started by Rad - Last post by Rad|
Rad, before I get started I have a question about Venu's placement.
In my own observations when a planet is within a degree or so from an angle I have tended to interpret it as if it was in the next house from the perspective of just beginning, taking the first steps, into a new cycle since it really seems to take on those characteristics of the angular house more strongly than the cadent house it is in.
I also have the intuition to question the birth time here. Perhaps Venus is more in the third than we thought? How would you suggest I proceed with working with Venus in an accurate way here?
With a planet this close the the proceeding cusp the actual house the planet is in serves as the baseline upon which the following cusp, house, is then added too. So in Darwin's case, the 3rd house is the baseline upon which the 4th can be added. The very nature of his life demonstrates the accuracy of his 3rd house Venus: not only in the life of Darwin, but the life that came before that as well.
God Bless, Rad
on: May 24, 2013, 07:43 AM
|Started by Steve - Last post by Rad|
In the USA...
May 23, 2013
Pivoting From a War Footing, Obama Acts to Curtail Drones
By PETER BAKER
WASHINGTON — Nearly a dozen years after the hijackings that transformed America, President Obama said Thursday that it was time to narrow the scope of the grinding battle against terrorists and begin the transition to a day when the country will no longer be on a war footing.
Declaring that “America is at a crossroads,” the president called for redefining what has been a global war into a more targeted assault on terrorist groups threatening the United States. As part of a realignment of counterterrorism policy, he said he would curtail the use of drones, recommit to closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and seek new limits on his own war power.
In a much-anticipated speech at the National Defense University, Mr. Obama sought to turn the page on the era that began on Sept. 11, 2001, when the imperative of preventing terrorist attacks became both the priority and the preoccupation. Instead, the president suggested that the United States had returned to the state of affairs that existed before Al Qaeda toppled the World Trade Center, when terrorism was a persistent but not existential danger. With Al Qaeda’s core now “on the path to defeat,” he argued, the nation must adapt.
“Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue,” Mr. Obama said. “But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. It’s what our democracy demands.”
The president’s speech reignited a debate over how to respond to the threat of terrorism that has polarized the capital for years. Republicans contended that Mr. Obama was declaring victory prematurely and underestimating an enduring danger, while liberals complained that he had not gone far enough in ending what they see as the excesses of the Bush era.
The precise ramifications of his shift were less clear than the lines of argument, however, because the new policy guidance he signed remains classified, and other changes he embraced require Congressional approval. Mr. Obama, for instance, did not directly mention in his speech that his new order would shift responsibility for drones more toward the military and away from the Central Intelligence Agency.
But the combination of his words and deeds foreshadowed the course he hopes to take in the remaining three and a half years of his presidency so that he leaves his successor a profoundly different national security landscape than the one he inherited in 2009. While President George W. Bush saw the fight against terrorism as the defining mission of his presidency, Mr. Obama has always viewed it as one priority among many at a time of wrenching economic and domestic challenges.
“Beyond Afghanistan, we must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror,’ ” he said, using Mr. Bush’s term, “but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America.”
“Neither I, nor any president, can promise the total defeat of terror,” he added. “We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society. But what we can do — what we must do — is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger to us, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all the while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend.”
Some Republicans expressed alarm about Mr. Obama’s shift, saying it was a mistake to go back to the days when terrorism was seen as a manageable law enforcement problem rather than a dire threat.
“The president’s speech today will be viewed by terrorists as a victory,” said Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Rather than continuing successful counterterrorism activities, we are changing course with no clear operational benefit.”
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said he still agreed with Mr. Obama about closing the Guantánamo prison, but he called the president’s assertion that Al Qaeda was on the run “a degree of unreality that to me is really incredible.” Mr. McCain said the president had been too passive in the Arab world, particularly in Syria’s civil war. “American leadership is absent in the Middle East,” he said.
The liberal discontent with Mr. Obama was on display even before his speech ended. Medea Benjamin, a co-founder of the antiwar group Code Pink, who was in the audience, shouted at the president to release prisoners from Guantánamo, halt C.I.A. drone strikes and apologize to Muslims for killing so many of them.
“Abide by the rule of law!” she yelled as security personnel removed her from the auditorium. “You’re a constitutional lawyer!”
Col. Morris D. Davis, a former chief prosecutor at Guantánamo who has become a leading critic of the prison, waited until after the speech to express disappointment that Mr. Obama was not more proactive. “It’s great rhetoric,” he said. “But now is the reality going to live up to the rhetoric?”
Still, some counterterrorism experts saw it as the natural evolution of the conflict after more than a decade. “This is both a promise to an end to the war on terror, while being a further declaration of war, constrained and proportional in its scope,” said Juan Carlos Zarate, a counterterrorism adviser to Mr. Bush.
The new classified policy guidance imposes tougher standards for when drone strikes can be authorized, limiting them to targets who pose “a continuing, imminent threat to Americans” and cannot feasibly be captured, according to government officials. The guidance also begins a process of phasing the C.I.A. out of the drone war and shifting operations to the Pentagon.
The guidance expresses the principle that the military should be in the lead and responsible for taking direct action even outside traditional war zones like Afghanistan, officials said. But Pakistan, where the C.I.A. has waged a robust campaign of air assaults on terrorism suspects in the tribal areas, will be grandfathered in for a transition period and remain under C.I.A. control.
That exception will be reviewed every six months as the government decides whether Al Qaeda has been neutralized enough in Pakistan and whether troops in Afghanistan can be protected. Officials said they anticipated that the eventual transfer of the C.I.A. drone program in Pakistan to the military would probably coincide with the withdrawal of combat units from Afghanistan at the end of 2014.
Even as he envisions scaling back the targeted killing, Mr. Obama embraced ideas to limit his own authority. He expressed openness to the idea of a secret court to oversee drone strikes, much like the intelligence court that authorizes secret wiretaps, or instead perhaps some sort of independent body within the executive branch. He did not outline a specific proposal, leaving it to Congress to consider something along those lines.
He also called on Congress to “refine and ultimately repeal” the authorization of force it passed in the aftermath of Sept. 11. Aides said he wanted it limited more clearly to combating Al Qaeda and affiliated groups so it could not be used to justify action against other terrorist or extremist organizations.
In renewing his vow to close the Guantánamo prison, Mr. Obama highlighted one of his most prominent unkept promises from the 2008 presidential campaign. He came into office vowing to shutter the prison, which has become a symbol around the world of American excesses, within a year, but Congress moved to block him, and then he largely dropped the effort.
With 166 detainees still at the prison, Mr. Obama said he would reduce the population even without action by Congress. About half of the detainees have been cleared for return to their home countries, mostly Yemen. Mr. Obama said he was lifting a moratorium he imposed on sending detainees to Yemen, where a new president has inspired more faith in the White House that he would not allow recidivism.
The policy changes have been in the works for months as Mr. Obama has sought to reorient his national security strategy. The speech was his most comprehensive public discussion of counterterrorism since he took office, and at times he was almost ruminative, articulating both sides of the argument and weighing trade-offs out loud in a way presidents rarely do.
He said that the United States remained in danger from terrorists, as the attacks in Boston and Benghazi, Libya, have demonstrated, but that the nature of the threat “has shifted and evolved.” He noted that terrorists, including some radicalized at home, had carried out attacks, but less ambitious than the ones on Sept. 11.
“We have to take these threats seriously and do all that we can to confront them,” he said. “But as we shape our response, we have to recognize that the scale of this threat closely resembles the types of attacks we faced before 9/11.”
Eric Schmitt and Jonathan Weisman contributed reporting.
Click to watch this very important speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsp5xtUERmk
Yet more evidence of the utterly corrupt U.S. Corporate Media ...
The Media Refuses to Challenge John Boehner’s ‘Obama Scandals’ BS
By: Sarah Jones
May. 23rd, 2013
Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) carefully started off Thursday’s press conference by instructing reporters that Republicans’ number one priorities are jobs and economic growth… but IRS scandal!
The media refused to challenge the Speaker on the facts that have come to light over the past week, many of which threw cold water on Republicans’ various claims regarding the “Obama scandals”.
Boehner skipped over the specifics for jobs, throwing the Keystone Pipeline out as one of their jobs plans (even though a State Department draft environmental impact statement found it will only create 35 permanent jobs). Then he quickly launched into Operation Heritage Institute Get Barack Obama, saying of the IRS scandal, “This White House — The lights are on, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone home.”
Luckily for the Speaker, he doesn’t need facts to indict. Boehner assured the press that the IRS has been systematically destroying Americans rights for two years, but we can’t get a straight answer from this administration. Are you getting the Nixonian references or should I put it in bold around Obama’s name just in case you missed it? Since there is no real evidence suggesting Obama had anything to do with any of these scandals, we might need to repeat the Nixon theme a LOT in order to smear via suggestion.
What the American people are seeing in this administration, the Speaker repeated again this week, is an “arrogance in power.” Nixon! Nixon, because suggesting there is an atmosphere of “intimidation” and “arrogance” is the best they can do. Notice that those are feelings, and not facts, and they serve to both silence critics and smear the target, who is now caught unable to aggressively fight back because — “arrogance”.
Asked about disagreements on aid for Oklahoma, Boehner tried to avoid the topic by sidestepping into a “we have programs in place to help people in need” beginning, but in order to kill the notion that aid should be given, he was sure to add that “Washington has a spending problem…”
I’m happy to report that Boehner did revert back to debt fear-mongering (in spite of the actual numbers improving), as I feared he’s forgotten about his alleged mission amidst the manufacturing of scandals against the President.
Boehner was reminded that last week he said someone should go to jail over the IRS scandal. The press was very helpful in pushing the Republican narrative forward, noting that we have to get these people in the IRS to talk somehow (that’s a NO to your right to plead the fifth, apparently) if he wants to send them to jail. Boehner backtracked by noting that the DOJ has opened a criminal investigation into the IRS “scandal” of asking nonprofits for proof that they aren’t overly involved in politics. Currently, this “scandal” looks more like incompetence and bad target words, but unlike Republicans, we reserve final judgment until the facts are uncovered at great expense to us all, because it’s not as if Republicans should be doing any actual legislating.
No one asked Boehner about the news that a Capitol Hill Republican leaked doctored Benghazi emails to the press.
No one asked Boehner about the fact that Darrell Issa (R-CA/Obama Hunter) was told of the IRS investigation last year, while Republicans keep claiming no one told them anything and asking why Congress was not informed.
No one asked Boehner about the fact that the only person who changed Benghazi talking points was Republican hero General David Peteraeus. No one asked him if he might want to clear the record of his previous allegations against President Obama and Hillary Clinton.
No one asked why Republicans have not passed one single jobs bill, but instead keep trying to pass off this as their jobs bill (“this” translates to killing ObamaCare, subsiding big oil more, cutting taxes for corporations and rich people, etc), even though nonpartisan economists agree that their list will not create jobs in the short term and we need jobs created in the short term.
The Republican public relations “presser” is now concluded.
Expect this to go on throughout the summer, packaged and sold with relentless cable fervor ala Nancy Grace, as your media tries to survive the summer slump.
Polls show that all Americans care about right now is the economy. Obama’s approval rating is going up because the economy is getting better, even as Republicans and the press try to burn him at the stake for floating after they accused him of being a witch.
Meanwhile, real Americans still want to know: WHERE ARE THE JOBS.
In Order to Sell ‘Obama’s Watergate’, RNC Chair Dismisses the Constitution
By: Sarah Jones
May. 23rd, 2013
Republicans have to hit the cray-cray wall at some point very soon.
On MSNBC’s Morning Joe Thursday morning, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus made a total fool of himself by ricocheting from suggesting an Obama impeachment should only come after the evidence, and then, sans evidence, claiming that Obama was in the middle of the IRS “scandal”. Priebus was called out by panelist John Heilemann, who demanded to know why Priebus would make such an assertion without any evidence.
Priebus tried to claim that Bush and Reagan administration appointee Lois Lerner pleading the fifth is all we need to know before indicting Obama. That irritated Heilemann even more, as he apparently knows his history.
Reince Priebus: I think that the Republicans and Democrats too now. They are involved in investigating this. I think you have to connect the dots. I think Daryl Issa is doing a pretty good job to figure out what the truth is. I don’t think that Lois Lerner did herself a scandal with any favors by pleading the fifth amendment yesterday which whether you agree with it as a basis of law or not, implies some criminal aspects of this investigation.
John Heilemann: That is not –
Reince Priebus: I get it, John but when you plead the fifth after you claim that –
John Heilemann: It doesn’t –
Reince Priebus: I didn’t understand.
John Heilemann: Just to be clear.
Reince Priebus: You don’t need to plead the fifth if you’ve done nothing wrong and come forward.
John Heilemann: That is not true. Not what the Fifth Amendment says.
Reince Priebus: I know it’s not.
John Heilemann: You’re asserting the opposite.
Reince Priebus: No. Because if you have an administration that says they have done nothing wrong and this is just a bunch of low level people in Cincinnati, and then you have Lois Lerner come forward and plead the fifth I think it raises questions and that is the only point.
Let us help the Republican chairman. The right against self-incrimination is spelled out in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Furthermore, pleading the fifth may not be taken into consideration when deciding if a defendant is guilty: “When a defendant pleads the Fifth, jurors are not permitted to take the refusal to testify into consideration when deciding whether a defendant is guilty. In the 2001 case Ohio v. Reiner, the U.S. Supreme Court held that “a witness may have a reasonable fear of prosecution and yet be innocent of any wrongdoing. The [Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination] serves to protect the innocent who otherwise might be ensnared by ambiguous circumstances.” This case beefed up an earlier ruling that prosecutors can’t ask a jury to draw an inference of guilt from a defendant’s refusal to testify in his own defense.”
According to Priebus, police around the country can now use a suspect’s silence as proof of guilt. Heck, why don’t we just revert back to 17th century England.
Priebus followed that fail up with assertions that the IRS ‘scandal’ is Obama’s Watergate (maybe it will stick this time, unlike the other 15 times Republicans have tried). He said “You don’t call for impeachment until you have the facts” and then proceeded to indict Obama on non-facts, claiming Obama was in the “middle” of it all. Pressed on this, Preibus claimed the White House admitted they were in the middle of it. That wasn’t true either, but Obama’s “guerrilla warfare” needs to be stopped! Obama is “out of control” (notice the lack of evidence, and the wild, unsupported accusations).
Of course, there is not a shred of evidence that President Obama even knew about what two staffers in Cincinnati were allegedly doing (this entire narrative was leaked to the press by Congressional Republican aides and “someone” in the IRS, but has been vehemently denied by IRS officials).
Even if Republicans had established that the President knew (and they have NOT), they have no smoking gun that he ordered the IRS to do this in order to seek revenge on his political opponents, and that is what Nixon did. Also, of rather large import, there was indisputable evidence in Nixon’s case.
Using keywords to flag certain nonprofits, some of whom were actually doing illegal activities in aiding the GOP, for review is not even on the same planet as a President using a governmental agency to exact revenge on his enemies.
These facts got Heilemann worked up, and he hollered at Preibus that his Watergate charge was “… an assertion that’s not actually borne out by any of the facts!”
This caused Preibus to trip over himself, babbling about how Obama was in the “middle of all of this”, again, without a shred of proof.
According to Priebus’ logic, Speaker John Boehner, who is from Ohio, needs to be impeached as well: If the President is supposed to have known about what was allegedly going on in an office with two workers in Cincinnati, Ohio, then surely the Speaker, who is from there, should have known even before the President.
After all, as the Speaker keeps telling us, his job is oversight of the government.
Alert: There will be no more Constitutional freedoms, in order that Republicans are allowed to persecute this President without evidence. You are on notice: In order to protect Dark Money from being asked questions by the IRS, you no longer have the right to plead the fifth without it automatically inferring your criminal guilt. No trial necessary.
House Republicans Pass Unconstitutional Bill Hijacking Obama’s Power Over Keystone XL
May. 24th, 2013
As America continues making the transition from a representative democracy to a corporate-controlled fascist state, it is becoming more difficult to have any faith that the minority party in power has any regard whatsoever for this nation or its people, but that is to be expected from Republicans whose raison d’être is empowering corporations. There are few areas of government and policy Republicans have not ceded to their corporate handlers, but none is as blatant and damaging as allowing the corporate oil industry to dictate energy and environmental policy that is having acutely deleterious effects on the people and health of the environment. Part of the problem is a corporate-controlled press that advances the oil industry agenda without opposition, and part is allowing oil industry sycophants to serve in Congress that emboldened them to stage a coup d’état to seize power from the President and warn him to toe the oil industry line or else. A major share of the blame lies solely with the Founding Fathers and their pathetic Constitution that has failed miserably to protect the people from corporate oligarchs even when they are from a foreign nation.
Two events over the past two days inform that Republicans are employed by a foreign nation’s prime minister and one of its corporations that promises to enrich the GOP’s primary campaign donors’ bottom line regardless the existential threat to the environment and the health and welfare of the American people. On Wednesday, House Republicans took the unprecedented, but not wholly unexpected, step to wrest power from the President of the United States by passing a bill that circumvents the President’s executive power and approved the environment-killing Keystone XL pipeline at the direct order of a foreign corporation and Canada’s prime minister. The Harper government has exerted its formidable power over Republicans to subvert the Constitution to advance a Canadian corporation’s intent to pump 830,000 barrels per day of tar sand bitumen to American refineries en route to South America, China, and Europe.
Following the Republican practice of blatant lying to enrich and empower corporate control of energy policy, TransCanada spokesman, Shawn Howard, said, “We appreciate the continued support from many members of Congress, who understand the importance of Keystone XL to the American economy,” and that “Keystone XL will be the safest oil pipeline, and it will help make America less reliant on more expensive oil from countries that do not share its interests and values.” TransCanada has reported that the KeystoneXL pipeline will regularly spill tar sand bitumen on American soil, as well as touted contracts already in place to sell every drop of refined tar sand on the foreign export market. Americans will never see or use any of the refined tar, but they will pay more for gas as TransCanada predicted the pipeline will increase the price of fuel at the pump by at least 20-cents per gallon. In fact, the pipeline is so hazardous to the environment that the Canadian government will not allow TransCanada to build the pipeline over Canadian soil to West coast refineries, so they charged Republicans to ignore the Constitution and pass a bill to approve the pipeline’s construction regardless it is the purview of the President of the United States.
Yesterday, a group of Senate Republicans sent a stern warning to President Obama to approve the pipeline forthwith, and forbade him from including any measures to address climate change the pipeline is certain to exacerbate on a massive scale. Two dozen Senate Republicans cautioned the President that he had better not link one single climate change policy to approval of the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, and that he dare not “tether its fate to wholly unrelated and economically disastrous new regulatory policies.” Every climate scientist on the planet has warned that developing Canada’s tar sands will increase CO2 emissions to a point it will be “game over for the climate” in spite of the Koch brothers and ExxonMobil report to the State Department that building the pipeline is an environmentally sound endeavor with “manageable” consequences to the environment. Two weeks ago, carbon dioxide (CO2) reached the 400ppm milestone for the first time in at least 800,000 years according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and climate scientists agree the evidence is conclusive the strong growth of CO2 emissions is from burning coal, oil, and natural gas. 400 ppm is 50 ppm over the threshold scientists claim demands immediate steps to curb fossil fuel emissions or it is game over for the climate; Republicans and their corporate masters could not care less.
The real issue is not just the devastation inherent in pumping tar bitumen through the pipeline, or that the climate is going to be decimated to expand Canada’s tar industry, but that Republicans have no regard for anything but corporate interests; even a corporation’s interests. It is true they successfully put the oil industry in charge of energy policy, but they have also given corporations power to dictate policy on every issue affecting the American people and there is little anyone can, or will, do to stop the corporate takeover. The media is wholly owned and operated by corporations pushing agendas hostile to democracy and the American people, and Republicans dutifully enact laws written by corporations through the American Legislative Exchange Council. The recent Senate vote on background checks prior to gun purchases is the perfect example of Republicans giving corporate interests power to subvert the will of 91% of the population to maintain their profits, and it was a portent of democracy’s end and corporate control of government.
The Founding Fathers could have prevented America’s spiral into corporate fascism, but they likely never imagined Americans would sit idly by and allow their elected representatives to cede the government to corporations. Perhaps the Constitution’s framers believed a free press would inform the people of the impending corporate coup d’état, but corporations own the media and successfully concealed democracy’s demise. It is prescient that the media has never informed the people that Keystone is dangerous and will not provide any oil for Americans, and they will be as guilty as Republicans and the oil industry for climate Armageddon as well as America’s continued slide into corporate oligarchy. It is apropos the corporate oil industry and Republicans will be the undoing of the climate, because long before they despoil the climate and environment that will make Earth uninhabitable, their effort to destroy American democracy will have reached fruition.
House Republicans Destroy the GOP by Voting to Raise Student Loan Interest Rates
By: Jason Easley
May. 23rd, 2013
By a vote of 221-198, House Republicans continued to destroy their party by passing a bill that would raise student loan rates.
Nine Republicans voted against the bill, and two Democrats voted for it. House Republicans tried to disguise their plan to raise student loan interest rates as saving the student loan program by making it a part of the “free market.” What House Republicans passed is a variable rate scheme where a student’s loan rate would be reset every year, so that the loan rate the student paid as a freshman would likely increase each year until they graduated.
The Washington Post reported that the bill would cause the interest rate on a Stafford Loan to double, “Students who max out their subsidized Stafford loans over four years would pay $8,331 in interest payments under the Republican bill, and $3,450 if rates were kept at 3.4 percent. If rates were allowed to double in July, that amount would be $7,284 over the typical 10-year window to repay the maximum $19,000.”
The point of this bill wasn’t to save the student loan program, but to kill it. The Republican goal is to turn student loans back over to the banks. By turning student loans into variable rate loans, House Republicans are laying the groundwork for the big banks to make huge profits off of students should they get their hands on student loans again.
President Obama has already threatened to veto the bill, but Senate Democrats should bury it before it ever has the chance to hit his desk.
Votes like this one are what is destroying the Republican Party.
Republicans can’t be serious about courting young voters and their parents while passing legislation that makes a college education less affordable, or in the worst case scenario unobtainable for many Americans.
The contrast is obvious. President Obama and the Democrats frequently discuss ways to make higher education more available and affordable as Republicans vote to impose economic barriers of exclusion that would only aid their corporate benefactors.
The message from House Republicans to the middle class is clear. The American Dream is dead for you. Forget about advancing through education. Shoot for being a manager at Wal-Mart, because in our America you have to pay to play.
That mentality makes for a terrible campaign slogan, and it’s why disapproval of the Republican Party has reached 59%.
House Republicans are offering most Americans a message of rejection and alienation. In short, they are the self destruct button that keeps blowing up their party.
Bernie Sanders Calls Out the Corporate Controlled Senate For Rejecting GMO Labels
By: Jason Easley
May. 23rd, 2013
After the Senate rejected an amendment that would have let states require labels on food or beverages made with genetically modified ingredients, Sen. Bernie Sanders called them out.
After seeing his amendment rejected by a vote of 29-71, Sen. Sanders (I-VT) said, “An overwhelming majority of Americans favor GMO labeling but virtually all of the major biotech and food corporations in the country oppose it. Today’s vote is a step forward on an important issue that we are going to continue to work on. The people of Vermont and the people of America have a right to know what’s in the food that they eat.”
The amendment, which was co-sponsored by Democratic Senators Mark Begich (D-AK) Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), would have given states the clear authority to require the labeling of foods produced through genetic engineering. The troubling thing for liberals and progressives is that more Democrats voted against the bill (28) than voted for it (24). (Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was the lone Republican to vote for the amendment, because Republicans as a general rule believe that actually knowing what is in your food is big government.) Usual progressive voices Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown voted against the amendment, while corporate Democrat Chuck Schumer voted for it.
It is common sense that people have the right to know what they are putting in their bodies. This isn’t about telling anyone what to eat, but offering people the freedom and information that will allow them to know more about what they are eating. The number of no votes for the Sanders amendment on the Democratic side illustrates how much the Senate has been infected with the corporate agenda.
If GMOs are so harmless, why do the biotech and food corporations oppose labeling them?
Sen. Sanders saw progress in this vote, but real progress will come when the Democratic caucus stops subscribing to the corporate agenda on GMOs, and supports giving the American people access to the truth about what is in their food. China, which used lead paint in children’s toys, requires GMO labeling, but the land of the free and home of the brave does not.
Until we get the corporate money out of politics Americans will never be what they eat, because they’ll have no idea what’s in their food.