Chile election: Michelle Bachelet far ahead, but falls short of outright victory
Bachelet faces presidential poll runoff, while centre-left coalition fails to gain super-majorities needed for fundamental reform
Associated Press in Santiago
theguardian.com, Monday 18 November 2013 02.00 GMT
Michelle Bachelet won nearly twice as many votes as her closest rival in Chile's presidential election on Sunday, but fell short of the outright majority needed to avoid a runoff on 15 December.
With more than 92% of votes counted, Bachelet had nearly 47%, against 25% for her conservative opponent Evelyn Matthei. Seven other candidates trailed far behind.
Bachelet predicted she would win comfortably in the second round and push forward significant social reforms.
"We're going to have a decisive and strong victory that backs up the transformation program that we have been building," she said.
Matthei's campaign celebrated getting another try at Bachelet, this time in a one-on-one race. "Going into a second round is certainly a triumph," Matthei told supporters.
Bachelet, 62, left office with an 84% approval rating after her 2006-10 presidency. This time, she has vowed to revamp the constitution, raise corporate taxes to fund an education overhaul and reduce wealth inequalities.
But on Sunday her centre-left New Majority coalition failed to win the super-majorities in Congress needed to make those changes.
Matthei, 60, an outspoken former labor minister, says Chile must continue business-friendly policies she credited for fast growth and low unemployment under President Sebastian Pinera.
This was Chile's first election after making voter registration automatic, increasing the rolls from 8.2 million to 13.5 million. But the new system also eliminated penalties for not voting. Pinera said late on Sunday that he was sorry turnout was so low, with 44% of registered voters staying at home.
With all 120 seats in the lower House of Congress and 20 of 38 Senate seats at stake, the low turnout probably did not help Bachelet's efforts to gain super-majorities for her coalition. Under electoral rules imposed by Pinochet to frustrate change, the losing party gets half the seats in each region if the winning party fails to secure more than two-thirds of the votes.
The dictatorship-era rules also require voting majorities in Congress of 57% for educational reform, 60% for electoral reform and nearly 67% for constitutional changes. But with most of the votes counted, Bachelet's coalition had 51% in the Senate and 48% in the lower chamber.
"You almost feel sorry for her because she's going to be stuck between the future and the past," said Peter Siavelis, a political science professor at Wake Forest University.
"There are all these demands in the streets for constitutional reform, but she's facing a Congress that's going to be elected by the binominal elections system," Siavelis said. "There's not going to be a majority there. So the influence of the dictatorship is going to impact on her reforms."
Bachelet and Matthei were childhood friends and neighbours, but found themselves on opposite sides after Chile's 1973 military coup, when Matthei's father ran the military school where General Alberto Bachelet, Michelle's father, was tortured to death for remaining loyal to ousted president Salvador Allende.
Both families have said General Matthei had no direct involvement in Bachelet's father's death and the two women have remained cordial over the years while they rose through political ranks on the right and left.
Chilean student leader Camila Vallejo elected to Congress
Woman who led 2011 student uprising joins lower house as Michelle Bachelet comes top in first round of presidential election
Reuters in Santiago
theguardian.com, Monday 18 November 2013 11.10 GMT
Camila Vallejo, who helped spearhead Chile's student uprising in 2011, has been elected to Congress alongside three other former university leaders, underscoring a generational shift in the country's politics.
The 25-year-old communist shot to international fame as one of the most recognisable faces of a student movement seeking free and improved education in a country fettered by the worst income distribution among the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's 34 member states.
Vallejo's victory is key for the presidential frontrunner Michelle Bachelet's attempt to have her Nueva Mayoria coalition gain a stronger foothold in both houses of Congress.
"We're going to celebrate our triumph on the streets of La Florida," Vallejo said on Twitter, referring to a district in Santiago.
Bachelet, who held Chile's highest office from 2006 to 2010, was the clear winner in the Andean country's presidential election on Sunday, although she will have to go through a second-round runoff next month to seal her victory.
The huge student protests of 2011 rocked the government of the incumbent president, Sebastián Piñera, and helped shape the 2013 electoral campaign, with Bachelet promising to implement tax reforms to finance an overhaul of education.
The independent candidates Giorgio Jackson and Gabriel Boric and fellow communist Karol Cariola, former comrades in the student movement, also gained seats in Chile's lower house on Sunday.
Their ascension to power, however, is not likely to keep protests from spilling on to the streets next year as some of the new generation of student leaders see them as sellouts.
"I wouldn't vote for Giorgio Jackson … for Camila Vallejo neither," said Melissa Sepulveda, the new head of the Universidad de Chile's student body, a position once held by Vallejo. "The possibility for change isn't in Congress."
In the USA...United Surveillance America
Welcome to your utterly corrupt corporate media today ............
David Gregory Makes a Fool Of Himself Comparing the ACA Rollout to Bush’s Iraq War
By: Sarah Jones
Saturday, November, 16th, 2013, 3:30 pm
Luckily the media has prepared you for this bit of surreal stupidity by previously comparing the ACA rollout to the Katrina debacle, which of course killed people as opposed to ACA, which is saving lives.
So it will come as little surprise to you that Republican talking points distributor David Gregory was happy to help Brian Williams advance concern trolling to the next level last night by comparing the ACA rollout to the Iraq War.
Transcript from NBC News with slight modifications:
Brian Williams: Let’s go to David Gregory, moderator of “meet the press” in the d.c. bureau. people start tossing around hurricane Katrina comparisons and that’s going to leave a mark.
David Gregory (R-TV): They aren’t liking that. it only goes so far if you are talking about competence of an administration or the ability for government to handle a really big project. Maybe there is some comparison. But it probably stops there. The bottom line is that the president has negative attribute attributes about his competence and his own credibility. those are trend lines that are going down. frankly I liken it more to the Iraq war. that was life and death. this is not. it’s totally different. But when it comes to an issue through which everything else can be judged that’s the comparison to the previous administration, one they are trying to fight through now.
In case you missed it, Bush lied this county into war with Iraq and the media helped him by selling weapons of mass destruction to the public with no pushback at all. So the ACA rollout is JUST LIKE the Iraq War, only without the media complicity, without the deliberate lies, and without an entire country being fear-mongered into subservience (see the Dixie Chicks). Also, as Gregory noted, there is the small, irrelevant issue of living versus dying.
Some of us think living is a BFD, so we see a huge difference between a law that saves lives and a war. Maybe Gregory doesn’t get out much, but he should stroll down Warrior’s Walk — maybe then he wouldn’t make a comparison this obscene.
Yes, the president’s poll numbers are hurting right now, but that says more about the media’s lazy coverage of the ACA rollout than it does about the real impact of technical glitches on Obama’s legacy.
Gregory is incorrect about Hurricane Katrina. Katrina did not reveal the government’s inability to handle a crisis; after all, Hurricane Sandy revealed a government’s ability to handle a crisis and working across the aisle to do so.
Katrina revealed a party/President uninterested in making government work, no matter what the cost. It revealed the end game behind modern day Republican ideology — a government that is not functional, but rather one that is designed to be incompetent in order to justify “small government”.
The tech problems with ObamaCare’s tech rollout reveal more of the same; it was Republicans who sabotaged the website rollout by refusing to run state exchanges and then refusing to fund the need to expand the federal exchange. Only Republicans hell bent on sabotage to save themselves from their refusal to be a part of fixing a problem would believe that this kind of huge load change would require nothing.
In a few weeks, the ACA website will be working and in a few years, millions will be enrolled. People who would have died without coverage will have coverage. Worried parents will have coverage that won’t bankrupt the family. No one will be looking at Obama’s presidency through the lens of a few tough months (months that would not have been tough without the rabid concern trolling of a very click/eyeball desperate media who never seem to find a “story” in real Republican fails like the government shutdown or Iraq).
But even if that weren’t true, even if it were a huge fail, comparing a healthcare law rollout to a war based on a lie or a catastrophe like Katina is irresponsible at best. It’s not even justifiable viewed through the “political lens” of desperate Republican pundits.
These kinds of cheap, sleazy comparisons are an admission that Bush really messed things up and yet the same Republicans/pundits who defend everything Bush did are at the same time so desperate to smear Obama with some Bush stench that they label every potential misstep “Katrina” and “Iraq”.
President Obama does not have a Katrina or an Iraq. He is not Bush. He is nowhere near as incompetent as Bush – in fact, Obama has been unnervingly competent (see Osama bin Laden). Where were the Bush comparisons then? Oh, I kid. It would be cruel to be accurate.
No pundit should be allowed to use Iraq as a measuring tool until they are willing to have an honest discussion about their role in selling the country on Iraq. They also need to explain why they never have an ounce of courage when a Republican is in the White House, and then spend the entire 8 years of the Democrats time in the White House play acting Very Serious Journalism by concern trolling semen stains and tech glitches while ignoring the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who died in a war based on lies.
SO BORING, so full of fail, so offensive and so predictable.
CNN split-screen segment compares Obama and crack-smoking Toronto mayor
By David Edwards
Sunday, November 17, 2013 9:56 EST
Barack Obama and Rob Ford compared on CNN
CNN on Saturday filled nearly ten minutes of airtime by discussing how President Barack Obama was like crack-smoking Toronto Rob Ford.
“The Most Trusted Name in News” began the segment with a split-screen image of Obama and Ford. The network then likened Obama’s recent admission that he was “not a perfect man” because of the health care reform roll-out to Ford’s insistence that he did not have oral sex with a staffer.
After asking which politician had the better approach, CNN host Don Lemon wondered if it was even appropriate to make the comparison.
“No, it’s not fair to compare them at all, it’s totally different,” damage control specialist Don Goldberg noted. “But it’s fun for people like myself.”
“It is fair to make a comparison for the simple fact that both of them are in trouble,” clinical psychologist Jeff Gardere disagreed. “With President Obama, certainly it’s a little bit different because here’s a person who’s really concerned about what the people really have to think. He is the leader of the free world — the leader of the world, many would say — whereas, Mayor Ford, this guy is a caricature. He really didn’t care what people thought.”
“We know the two crises are both very different,” Lemon said at the conclusion of the segment. “But it’s about how do you manage those crises? That’s what we’re trying to figure out.”
November 17, 2013 03:00 PM
Martha Raddatz Furthers GOP Narrative of President Obama's Trustworthiness
By Nicole Belle
Sweet Jesus, can we just start calling ABC News "Disney's Fox News" and make it crystal clear their editorial slant?
It is apparent that the Beltway Media is also on some conservative group's email blast list and are collectively too lazy, too stupid or too compromised to think critically about these talking points, instead accepting them wholly and framing questions entirely around them.
Case in point: the pathetic performance of Martha Raddatz, interviewing Kirsten Gillibrand on This Week. Mind you, this is the same outfit that gave Scott Walker a big, fat wet kiss of an interview, without mentioning anything that could detract from his potential 2016 presidential run (!!!).
But Kirsten Gillibrand didn't get a big, fat wet kiss of an interview. No, no, no....those are reserved for conservatives. Gillibrand instead was subjected to a continual onslaught of questions framed entirely to get her to acknowledge that President Obama is now facing his "Katrina": that no one trusts him, his presidency is a failure and everyone hates him. Watch how Gillibrand keeps trying to redirect the questioning back to the big picture and the impact it has on real people and how Raddatz ignores it to go back to the conservative talking points:
RADDATZ: And now, New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joins us. Thank you very much for joining us. I'm going to ask you the same question, can President Obama regain the trust of the American people?
GILLIBRAND: Of course, he can. Because, Martha, what this is about is everyday people needing access to Affordable Health Care. They don't want their coverage dropped because of a pre-existing condition or when they get sick. They want their kids covered up to 26. And they want to have preventive care covered. And that's what this bill does.
So, once we get over this implementation issue, we will then.
RADDATZ: If we get over this implementation...
GILLIBRAND: We will. They can fix this. This is a fixable problem. So, once they fix it, people will see, I have an opportunity to cover my family. And Martha, I was in the emergency room just last week with my son who had an asthma attack and took too many puffs on his puffer. And I looked in the eyes of all the other mothers in the emergency room, these are mothers who don't have health care, who may not -- this may be their only access.
RADDATZ: But whose trust has been shattered.
GILLIBRAND: No, but once -- that's an implementation issue. Once you get beyond it, you then say, look, oh my gosh.
RADDATZ: And you think we'll get beyond it?
GILLIBRAND: We will. You know what though, see emergency room is covered. Do you how much it is to go to an emergency room? You get a bill. It's very expensive.
RADDATZ: Let me ask you this, I want to go back to this implementation, because we can't quite go forward yet. Did you feel misled by Obama?
GILLIBRAND: He should have just been more specific, because the point is if you're offered by a terrible health care plan that the minute you get sick, you're going to have to go into bankruptcy, those plans should never be offered.
RADDATZ: So, were you misled?
GILLIBRAND: He should have just been specific.
No, we all knew, the whole point of the plan is to cover things people need, like preventive care, birth control, pregnancy. How many women the minute they get pregnant might risk their coverage? How many women paid more because of their gender because they might get pregnant? Those are the reforms...
RADDATZ: But we're talking about leadership here and trust. What does this all say about President Obama's leadership these past few weeks? He fell on his sword but he's missed that sword a couple of times.
GILLIBRAND: Well, no one is more disappointed in the implementation issues than President Obama and he has taken full responsibility for the mistakes and the lack of getting this system up and running when it was supposed to be up and running.
But what this was about, Martha, are those mothers in the emergency room who don't have access to affordable health care. I can't tell you how frightening it is when your kid can't breathe. It is a horrible moment. And I looked at every mother, and I'm telling you, we have to fix health care in this country. So, when you talk about President Obama's legacy, his legacy is going to be offering affordable health care to every family in this country.
WT ever-loving F, Martha Raddatz? What in the hell is wrong with you? Gillibrand is talking about how difficult health care has been for Americans and all you want to do is get her to wail that she's been misled by the president because he didn't anticipate just how much bad faith with which the insurance companies would operate? You need her to rend garments because a website was badly rolled out? You need her to supplicate herself with the suggestion that this will be a permanent state for all Americans even though this issue of dropped policies and higher rates affects just three percent of Americans? Why is it that you need to demand of a Democratic representative who supports giving all Americans access to healthcare a virtual public wearing of a hairshirt because everything is not all unicorns and rainbows from the very beginning?
YOU are the reason we can't have nice things, you and all your compromised, corrupted Beltway hacks. The hairshirt belongs on you.
Bob Woodward Explains to Fox News That the ACA Isn’t Obama’s Watergate
By: Sarah Jones
Sunday, November, 17th, 2013, 4:35 pm
Washington Post editor Bob Woodward has spoken a small bit of reality and on Fox News Sunday, no less.
The pundits are all wrong. ObamaCare isn’t Obama’s Katrina or his Iraq, or even his Watergate (notice these are all Republican scandals that Republicans are dying to falsely equivocate onto a Democrat oh PLEASE). Nope.
According to Woodward, Obama is incompetent (of course), but he had good intentions.
“What this is, it’s a mess clearly, but what it isn’t, and I think you have to look at the question of motive. And the President’s motive here, even though there were deep problems with the implementation, he wants to do something good for 30 million people and get them health insurance. So this isn’t Watergate, this isn’t Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.”
Is he incompetent? Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace begged. Of course, Woodward soothed.
Woodward said, “There’s no question about that. But you see all of these stories and this frenzy out there, the game over, the presidency is over some people are saying, and I think that’s not the case.”
It will get much worse, Woodward fed Wallace. Oh yes, much worse than an almost Katrina/Iraq/Watergate. Hisssss.
It’s the President’s fault that a website was deliberately overloaded and unfunded and then DDOS-ed, because Obama is responsible for everything, especially Republican obstructionism (see Benghazi). It’s like David Gregory said, it’s Iraq but without the deaths. And that is so not tacky or out of context or clown showy at all. Trying to help save the lives of millions of people is just like starting a war on a lie but without the deaths because you see in this episode of Rewriting History, Iraq was about incompetence, not lies.
Live or die, what’s the diff? Please be quiet when Very Important Pundits speak.
And so we have come around some crazy corner where this ride must be almost over because Bob Woodward has just told Fox News that this is not Obama’s Watergate.
Never mind that 47 million people without insurance are going to have it. Almost WATERGATE I tell you. Or at least Katrina. Iraq? PLEASE!?!?
When this hysteria has passed and people are signed up for affordable healthcare, we will resume our regularly scheduled Obama taxpayer funded GOP enabled Witch Hunts: Benghazi and the IRS. We will never discuss the People or how this helps the People, because life and death? Meh. We are so serious.
Nancy Pelosi Guts David Gregory’s Republican Talking Points and ACA Lies
By: Jason Easley
Sunday, November, 17th, 2013, 12:48 pm
Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi destroyed David Gregory and his Affordable Care Act lies on Meet The Press with a display of facts, truth, and no apologies.
Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy
DAVID GREGORY: There is a crisis of confidence, and the country feels it, about Obamacare. But it seems to go deeper. Thirty-nine Democrats voting with the Republicans on this bill that doesn’t look like it’s gonna go forward. Has it reached a point where Democrats don’t believe the president can pull this off and can make Obamacare work?
REP. NANCY PELOSI: No, I remind you that, now, 39 voted for this resolution the other day; the number has been in the 30s when it was to agree with them on the mandate for businesses, the mandate for individuals. So this is approximately the same number.
DAVID GREGORY: But there is some real frustration among your Democratic–
REP. NANCY PELOSI: This is true.
DAVID GREGORY:–caucus there.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: True, but you focused on the number, and the number is approximately the same of two, three months ago, as it is today. When the Republicans put forth a political initiative, people respond to it politically.
DAVID GREGORY: But I think the question is really are they losing confidence in the president’s–
REP. NANCY PELOSI: No.
DAVID GREGORY: –ability to make Obamacare work?
REP. NANCY PELOSI:No. Let me just say this, because on all these specifics, we have to completely step back and see the bigger picture. What I love about health care professionals is that they’re calm, and we must remain calm when we talk about the health of our country. The Affordable Care Act, as I call it, as I always called it, is right up there with Social Security, Medicare:
Affordable care for all Americans as a right, not a privilege.
The rollout of the website, that’s terrible. But the fact is that will be fixed. And that is the instrument of enrollment, as you know. What the Republicans did on Friday is not a fix. And if I just may, the law does not demand that all of these cancellations go out. The law says if you had your plan of the law, you can keep it, and that’s what the president said. So there’s a distinction between those who had it before, and what this law does is say other people can be enrolled in these bad initiatives, which the rules–
The point of the whole interview for Gregory wasn’t to be objective. His introduction to show said that the White House was shaken, there was a crisis of confidence in the president, and Democrats were abandoning him. Gregory had his narrative, and he wasn’t interested in the facts about what is really going on.
Gregory tried to get Pelosi on the Democrats defecting from Obama, but the Democratic leader used facts to shoot that down. He tried gotcha journalism with a video clip, but Pelosi explained why what she said was true. David Gregory even got part of the healthcare law wrong when he claimed that the law mandated that junk policies had to be canceled, and he was corrected by Rep. Pelosi.
The problem for the media is that this story is quickly running out of life. The media is going along with Republicans in pushing the belief that the website will never be fixed. They are assuming that the website will remain broken, because their story is pointless if they have to admit that this is a short term problem that is improving by the day. Obama’s presidency can’t be in crisis is the website is being fixed, so they have to pretend like it isn’t.
Nancy Pelosi didn’t play games with David Gregory. She shot down his BS, and gutted his attempt push a false story about a crisis that exists only in the minds of the mainstream media. The truth is that the news is slow, so the media decided to blow the website issues up into a presidency destroying moment.
Democrats know that once people sign up for the ACA, they will like it. They also know that if Republicans want to run in November 2014 on a website that has been fixed for ten months, they are more than happy to let them.
Nancy Pelosi gave Democrats a road map for handling media over the next couple of weeks. No retreat, no surrender, and no apologies for making the healthcare system better for hundreds of millions of people.
Why the GOP Will Fail: Senator Admits Republicans Have No Plan to Fix or Replace ACA
By: Jason Easley
Sunday, November, 17th, 2013, 6:28 pm
Sen. John Barrasso showed why Republicans are setting themselves up for failure by admitting to millions that they plan to take away their health insurance by not fixing or replacing the ACA.
CROWLEY: Let me bring in Senator Barrasso. So, this clearly — the president is off to a rough start on this. But one of the pushbacks whenever Republicans say this is wrong, that’s wrong is you never wanted it in the first place. They sort of turn it back on you saying, yes, it’s been rough, yes, it’s been terrible, but now you’re just trying to undermine it. What is your take on the Republicans next move to fix some of the things that you think are wrong with this?
BARRASSO: Well, you know, Candy, this past week, I introduced legislation, the state health care choice act so states could make decisions if they wanted to opt-out of the individual mandate or the employer mandate for the people in their states. I’m concerned about getting people health care that they need and want and can afford, and we don’t have those happening with these policies.
The website is just the tip of the iceberg, but for only every one person that’s been able to sign up, 40 people have gotten cancellation letters and, you know, the president may call these junk policies or substandard policies, but they’re policies that work for those people. I was with a rancher yesterday in Wyoming, in Laramie, others who’ve gotten these letters and it didn’t meet the president’s standards because the insurance policy didn’t include maternity coverage, but this is a woman that’s had a hysterectomy.
She shouldn’t have to pay for that kind of coverage. Republican solutions are there. We need to level the playing field so that people who buy insurance individually at the same tax rates as those who buy it than get it through work. We need to be able to let people to shop across state lines for better deals with insurance that works for them and their family not something the government says they have to have.
In terms of pre-existing conditions, my wife is a breast cancer survivor. She’s been through three operations, chemotherapy twice. I know how critical it is to make sure that people with pre-existing conditions have affordable insurance and states are able to do that.
What we’re seeing is this failed website that’s just the tip iceberg of lost coverage, losing your doctor, higher premiums and the fraud that is coming even on the healthcare.gov website has been remarkable and that the fraudsters are out there in force, trying to take advantage and steal identity of the American people.
When Sen. Barrasso was asked about the Republican Party’s plan to fix the ACA, he immediately suggested the legislation that would allow states to opt out of the individual and employer mandates. Barrasso went as far as to suggest that lots of states already sell affordable health insurance to people with preexisting conditions. This must come as a big surprise to the estimated one in seven Americans who were denied health insurance in the individual market due to a preexisting condition.
The Republican fix for the ACA is to kill it. Barrasso touted the same non-solutions that Republicans have been proposing since John McCain was their presidential nominee in 2008.
Republicans have no plan, and that’s why this effort to get rid of the ACA is going to fail. The problem for Republicans is that they are living in a fantasy where the website never gets fixed. The fact that the website is improving everyday, and more and more people are signing up doesn’t exist in the GOP mind. To them, the website is broken. It will never be fixed. Obamacare is doomed and must be scraped.
The GOP is going to run on getting rid of the ACA next year. They do not understand that by that time millions of Americans will have signed up and be participating in the exchanges. Those millions of newly insured people are going to look at Republicans and demand to know what they plan to replace the ACA with.
Mitt Romney tried to bluff his way through not replacing the ACA in 2012. That didn’t go so well, and that was before people were signed up and enrolled.
Republicans aren’t going win many votes when millions of people in red and blue states find out that the their healthcare solution is to take their health insurance away.
The media and the GOP are bashing president Obama for not having better planned the ACA rollout, but Republicans have no plan for the present or the future.
There is a freight train loaded will millions of ACA enrollees heading straight for the Republican Party in 2014, and when it arrives the ugly truth that Republicans have been trying to hide for years will be revealed. While they are campaign against the ACA next year, they will have no other choice but to make it clear that they don’t want people to have access to affordable healthcare.
Their dirty little secret will soon be exposed, and the ACA repeal that Republicans have lusted after will lead to their own demise.
Recent Judicial Decisions Show How Crucial It is To Fight for Obama’s Nominees
By: Deborah Foster
Sunday, November, 17th, 2013, 9:02 pm
Here we go again, another week, another Obama nomination for the judiciary blocked by the overly abused filibuster from the contemptible Republicans. Their insidious behavior actually comes with two excuses they actually expect fools to swallow. First, after admitting that Obama’s nominations to the judiciary are “uncontroversial,” they say that the courts are “not busy enough” to fill the empty seats. Next, they say that Obama is “court-packing,” or in other words, putting too many liberals in open judicial seats. This is laughable as the courts are currently tipped heavily in a conservative direction, and Obama has had no chance to appoint judges in the face of years of filibusters; fully 20 judges have sat in limbo, only to have most withdraw their names in frustration or have their nomination withdrawn by Obama. It is Obama’s job to appoint judges. He has every right to appoint liberal judges, just as Bush stacked the courts with far-right judges, but even then Obama selects centrist judges. Interestingly enough, the pool of judges Obama has picked has been very diverse including 7 African Americans, 1 Asian, and 1 Native American nominee. We have seen how willing these Republicans are to work with a person of a different race this past five years, so one is left to wonder if these judges didn’t fit their desired profile. The Republicans whine when accused of exercising bias against women and minorities, yet they have no other legitimate explanation for blocking Obama’s appointments.
Conservatives have an immeasurable number of faults and deficits, but the ability to effectively organize and strategize is not one of them. Ever since the 1960s, they have been meeting in churches, restaurants, and homes to plot their takeover of the country. It may even date as far back as the 1950s; Kim Messick at Salon.com notes, “William Rusher, Bill Buckley’s colleague at National Review, remarked revealingly that the modern conservative movement formed itself ‘in opposition to the Eisenhower administration.’” The story of this movement is masterfully explained in the book, “Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right,” by Lisa McGirr. While most people think of the 1960s as a time of counterculture, rebellion against the status quo, and a liberalization of the nation, that is not a complete picture of what was going on in the United States. Concurrent with the rise of the hippies was the rise of the grassroots conservative crusade, a crusade to see the country become a Christian nation (or in their eyes return to being a Christian nation) with all the associated conservative mores. Furthermore, the Civil Rights movement and the War on Poverty were cause for a “mini-revolution,” by these suburban warriors who felt threatened by the ascendancy of minorities and the economic initiatives of the government that were built on “their tax dollars” and helped “those people.”
Their planning and scheming brought them long-term success. The rise of Ronald Reagan from California was no accident. One of the strongest centers of conservative activism was in Orange County, California. A consequence of conservatives’ steadfast commitment to organizing has been their ability to identify which seats of power to target for infiltration. At some point, they eyed the judicial system, at the local, state, district, and federal levels, and decided this would be a place they could make a lasting impact. Of course, they were right; just look at Brown vs. Board of Education or Roe vs. Wade or Citizen’s United to see the enormous influence the judiciary has over social policy and American society. Having learned this lesson, they have steadfastly manipulated our courts to put in place far right judges, often with lifetime appointments, that haunt our daily lives with their outrageous decisions (e.g. Crawford v. Marion County Election Board; Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission; Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores; District Attorney’s Office v. Osborne; Shelby County v. Holder).
If you watched the confirmation hearings for Chief Justice John Roberts, you know he is highly intelligent, genuinely knowledgeable about the law, and has the conniving manner of a stereotypical lawyer to practice doublespeak, eloquently evade pointed questions, and manipulate listeners into believing he is a fair-minded justice. This facade hides his real intentions. As Jeffrey Toobin wrote in the New Yorker,
“In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff. Even more than Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party.”
Democrats never tried to filibuster the Bush-nominated John Roberts. They did put in some effort on two of Bush’s nominees that ended up receiving confirmation anyway, only to become radical judges giving a bad name to the word ‘ judgment’. Recently, Rachel Maddow profiled the legacy of George W. Bush in his appointments of Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown. Each has just made rulings eating away at women’s reproductive rights; Owen joining with two other Bush appointees, also women, to reinstate new, draconian Texas abortion laws that had been halted by a lower court, and Brown granting religious rights to corporations in allowing them to force their beliefs on employees with regard to birth control. Rogers is not alone. Judge Timothy Tymkovich, a Bush appointee, made the same ruling as Brown, but also said religious employers can reject laws that require gender equality. This is not surprising given that prior to nomination, Priscilla Owen had made judicial decisions so egregious that Alberto Gonzales once referred to one as “an unconscionable act of judicial activism.” Other judges have been just as destructive to civil rights, such as William Pryor, who ruled that Georgia’s voter ID law was “not discriminatory, but necessary to avoid voter fraud,” when only a thought-challenged fool, deliberately ignoring evidence, could ever reach such a conclusion.
These efforts to thwart President Obama’s nominations for federal and district courts are strategic, calculating, and part of a long-term plan to force conservative social policy on the country. Thus far, Harry Reid has steadfastly allowed the filibuster to remain a powerful tool in the hands of the Republicans. He needs to just shut it down. No doubt, in his mind, he pictures a day in the future when Democrats are in the minority and may need to use the filibuster themselves. He needs to rethink this dynamic. Except in rare instances, Democrats have not been good at drawing a line in the sand and refusing to negotiate. Whenever they do filibuster, they end up compromising, which is how we ended up with Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown. This week, in response to threats to change the filibuster rules, Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) snidely said, “Go ahead. There are a lot more Scalias and Thomases that we’d love to put on the bench.” Guess what, Democrats had the filibuster when those men were put on the bench. It didn’t work to prevent their appointment. It’s in our nature to be reasonable and cooperative. Our adversaries are neither. They will keep beating the Democrats over the head with the filibuster, force the slew of open judicial seats to remain open, and try every cutthroat measure to prevent the country from finally having a balance in the judiciary. It is part of their long term scheme, so it’s time the Democrats had a long-term scheme of their own.
John Boehner Is Trying to Emulate Vladimir Putin’s Assault on Homosexuals
Sunday, November, 17th, 2013, 7:32 pm
Even though the idea of equal rights for all Americans is a hallmark of the United States Constitution and why this country was once considered exceptional, Republicans have always opposed equality. ‘Conservative Christian’ Republicans are worse, and besides their long-standing opposition to equal rights for women, they have made treating the gay community like lepers their raison d’être despite a majority of Americans’ belief that persecuting citizens based on who they love is an abomination and not representative of a society allegedly founded on equal rights for all Americans. At least Republicans have not yet been successful in following Russia’s state-sponsored assault on gays, but Speaker John Boehner is doing his best to help the anti-gay movement increase their power in America and learn how to emulate Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assault on homosexuals.
Earlier in the week, the World Congress of Families (WCF), a toxic anti-gay organization was slated to hold a symposium, “The Family in America” in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, but after outrage from LGBT groups, the “loving invitation” to spread gay hatred in an official Senate building was rescinded. To make sure that the World Congress of Families and Center for Family, Religion, and Society could hold their gay hate fest in a taxpayer-funded government building, Boehner stepped up and used the auspices of his position as Speaker to give the group a forum in a House office building to teach “pro-family legislators” about how best to implement laws such as Russia’s ban on “promoting non-traditional sexual relationships.”
The WCF president, Allan Carlson, praised Boehner’s intervention and said, “At least in the House of Representatives people have not succumbed to the great fear of LGBT activists” like the Senate where he asserted that gay hatred is “being suppressed, debate is being shut off, and minds are being closed.” Boehner’s spokesman, Michael Steel said “providing space for the event did not suggest the speaker is necessarily in support of their views,” and that as an administrative task “we routinely provide a forum for discussion of public policy issues from across the political spectrum, but it does not imply endorsement of any particular point of view.” Steel is a liar. Boehner has been outspoken in his anti-gay support for DOMA and the National Organization for Marriage, so it is likely he jumped at the opportunity to give a worldwide organization a forum to teach conservatives how to legislate their deep-seated hatred of equal rights for the LGBT community.
The World Congress of Families will discuss “what can our pro-family legislators learn by studying our colleagues’ actions abroad,” and how can they combat the “current U.S. administration’s efforts to redefine marriage and family” by following nations like Russia and Uganda “who are seeking a reaffirmation of the natural family.” The WFC’s goal is convincing Republicans to craft and implement legislation, and national policy, based on Russian laws that criminalize being gay or promoting homosexuality that translated means punishing people who do not actively persecute gays. The WFC and conservative Christians in America pant for an American law like Russian president Putin signed making discussing homosexuality a crime, as well as confiscating children of LGBT parents and same-sex couples.
There has been an increase in support among conservative Christians for the Russian president who they anointed the “defender of Christian civilization” for his assault on gays and for designating “Christianity” as Russia’s state religion. One American preacher who assisted the anti-gay movement in Uganda that led to the killing of openly gay Ugandans praised Putin and argued that Russian officials should punish gay activists who planned to “rainbow-bomb the Olympics” by flying their own rainbow banner over the games to remind homosexuals that “the rainbow belongs to God!” By granting the WFC a forum to spread their gay hate, John Boehner is giving his approval to help them “import the Russian and Ugandan way of dealing with,” as WFC’s spokesman put it, “the policies of decline, death and disease promoted by the Sexual Radicals.” There is little doubt that if given the opportunity, Republicans would help anti-gay groups pass and implement laws to give free-rein to persecute, imprison, and likely kill American citizens based on their sexual orientation.
A sampling of the Russian anti-gay laws the WFC, and likely Boehner, supports are laws that throw people in jail for being openly gay, or saying, doing, or writing anything that is perceived as pro-gay, forcibly remove children from their gay parents, and condoning violence against gays. In fact, there have been well-publicized reports of gangs apprehending gay men and boys to terrorize them with violence, including rape, to cure the gay away that the Russian government approves of whole-heartedly. The WFC and NOM have been quietly influencing and supporting the Russian crackdown on gays and it is no secret they yearn for a similar environment to persecute gays in America. John Boehner gave them the forum they yearned for to teach “pro-family legislators” how Russia implemented its laws criminalizing homosexuality that has as its foundation the Christian bible.
Boehner needs to be held to account for acquiescing to a hate group like the World Congress of Families. If the criminal arsonist and car thief Darrell Issa (R-CA) were not so enamored with fabricating phony scandals targeting the Obama Administration, he would investigate Boehner for wasting taxpayer dollars by supplying a government building to spread gay hate. The extremist “family-oriented” religious right is emboldened to see the unadulterated hatred condoned by the Russian government, and if Boehner had even an ounce of decency, he would have followed the Senate’s lead and resisted giving the WFC a forum to inculcate their gay hate to any other Americans, especially “pro-family legislators.”
It is a travesty that as Americans are finally embracing the Founding Fathers’ assertion that “all men are created equal,” the Speaker of the House of Representatives opened a House office building to a group whose mission is predicated on persecuting human beings based on ancient religious mythos and their sexual orientation. Americans should not be deluded to think that the vicious anti-gay hatred in countries such as Uganda and Russia could never happen in America, because there are a substantial number of Americans that endorse criminalizing homosexuality and persecuting gays.
That a growing number of so-called American Christians and extremist conservatives are looking to Russian president Putin as the defender of Christian civilization, and yearning to implement laws criminalizing homosexuality is a portent that America is one election away from theocratic-based open season on gays. Americans should keep in mind that these so-called pro-family types will not be satisfied targeting just gays, and like any religious frenzy will ensnare any American who does not fit the religious rights’ standard of a “pro-family Christian Conservative.”
11/18/2013 06:55 PM
Politically Fractured: Populists Fail To Shift EU Balance
By Christopher Alessi in Brussels
Far-right populists are expected to make significant gains in elections for the European Parliament this spring, but the only existing populist group in the body shows these parties can shout as loud as they want but are unlikely to have much influence.
On a rainy November afternoon in his cramped office at the European Parliament in Brussels, Francesco Enrico Speroni, co-chair of the right-wing populist Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group (EFD), does not mince his words: "We have not been successful."
Italy's Northern League party, which the 67-year-old Speroni has represented in the parliament on and off since 1989, and its populist allies have failed to roll back European Union integration and prevent bureaucrats in Brussels from interfering in the national affairs of member states, he says.
His staff assistant interrupts him, in Italian, and gently prods the politician. "You're very negative today," she offers. But Speroni plows on, in English, undeterred. Despite predictions that populists from England to Hungary could make significant gains in next year's elections, Speroni believes the populists' power in parliament will not fundamentally shift. "The opposition will be greater, but still not much will happen: We don't have the votes to change the direction of the EU."
A Practical Populist Bloc
The EFD -- one of seven political groupings in the 766 member parliament -- was formed following the last election, in 2009. The bloc is comprised of 32 members from 12 different EU countries, with the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) holding the most seats (nine), followed by the Northern League (seven).
While all of the parties represented in the EFD are nationalist by nature, broadly critical of deeper EU integration and the euro zone, and claim to represent the popular will of their publics, the alliance is more practical than ideological. "The main reason they come together is because to not be part of a group is to be in quite a weak position," explains Jodi Vacquer, director of the Open Society Initiative for Europe. "A group gives them legitimacy and more speaking time" on the floor of the parliament, Vaquer adds. Unlike other parliamentary political groups -- like the Christian Democrats, Socialists, or Greens -- the EFD does not have a shared, pan-European agenda. Members are not required to vote along a party line, but are rather encouraged to vote as it suits their national interests.
The result is that the EFD has achieved scant to nothing in the realm of parliamentary policymaking. The group has "very little policy impact, and are unable to block many votes because their size is so small," says Marley Morris, a researcher at Counterpoint, a think tank affiliated with the British Council. EFD members have instead used the parliament as a soapbox in order to call attention to their national causes and garner media attention, Morris explains.
Lots of Talk, But Little Action
Indeed, the EFD delivered an average of less than one piece of draft legislation per member in committee sessions between July 2009 and October 2013, compared with over 2.5 per member for the center-right European People's Party (EPP) and the center-left Socialists & Democrats (S&D). Meanwhile, during the same time period, EFD members gave the largest number of speeches during plenary sessions, at an average of well over 200 per member, compared with around 150 for EPP and S&D members, according to VoteWatch Europe.
For Nigel Farage, Speroni's EFD co-chair and the group's most prolific orator, maximizing publicity, not legislating, is his end goal. "We have hugely increased awareness of what parliament does and increased euro skepticism," says Farage, who likened the EU to the "new communism" on the floor of parliament earlier this year.
A member of the European Parliament since 1999, Farage has long advocated for British withdrawal from the EU. These days, however, he is openly opposed to the very concept of the union. "Now I don't want Europe in the EU," he says. "It's an anti-democratic project run by bad and dangerous people."
Farage's radical and uncompromising stance on the EU is not shared by all EFD members. The Finns party's representative in the EFD, Sampo Terho of Finland, says his group would like to remain in the EU and "keep the euro," but prohibit euro-zone bailouts and return more legislative authority to national capitals. Although his party doesn't share UKIP's position of exiting the EU, Terho says EFD is a "workable" because its members are free to vote as they choose.
But others in the group, including, Speroni, have moved closer to Farage's position over the past few years. Europe's apparent failure to "solve" the euro crisis has encouraged Speroni to favor an Italian withdrawal from the EU and, at the very least, putting Italian euro-zone membership to a national referendum. "There is no discrepancy between me and Nigel," Speroni says of his alliance with Farage.
Despite his relationship with Farage, Speroni remains open to joining a potentially new bloc with other populist parties after next year's elections -- including with Italian rival Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement or Marine Le Pen's French National Front (FN). Le Pen -- whose party currently holds three seats in the European Parliament but stands to increase its presence to 18 next May -- is in talks to form a new, more ideologically cohesive populist group with Geert Wilders' Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV). "Maybe they will exclude us or maybe they will ask us to join," says Speroni.
He bristles at concerns over the FN's anti-Semitic history and contends that was only an issue in the past when the party was run by Le Pen's father, Jean-Marie. (Northern League, which has also been accused of anti-Semitism, was part of a short-lived group between 1999 and 2002 that included the elder Le Pen, who is still a member in the parliament alongside his daughter.)
For his part, Farage says he is "not open" to an alliance with Le Pen and Wilders, excluding the possibility that the FN could join the EFD. "Le Pen has made great strides, but issues like anti-Semitism are too embedded," says Farage. The Finns' Terho concurs. "We would probably not accept (Le Pen) because she's too controversial. She's making the right decision by talking about forming a new group," he says.
The divergent EFD responses to the potential upsurge of parties like Le Pen's illustrate the ideological heterogeneity of populist parties across the Continent. There are both "xenophobic" and "euroskeptic" populist parties, says Vacquer. Both types vary in their level of ideological fervor and also overlap at times. Northern League -- a party with a legacy of bigoted statements that advocates for the defense of European Christianity from an onslaught of largely Muslim immigrants -- and the more extreme and openly anti-Semitic Hungarian Jobbik party are both examples of this crossover. UKIP, which takes pains to distance itself from any overt racism, falls more squarely into the euroskeptic box.
While most of the populist parties in question tend to be right-wing and nationalist, they do not always fall into a traditional left-right divide, particularly on economic issues. Italy's Five Star Movement advocates leftist policies, including wealth redistribution -- and yet it has also been accused of being both a fascist and anarchist party.
The social and political context of a given nation plays a large role in shaping the economic policies of populist parties, says Roland Freudenstein, the deputy director at the Center for European Studies. UKIP is a product of its British environment, and so it is "inherently friendly to entrepreneurship," he says. Meanwhile, as a French populist, "Le Pen is almost socialist in her rhetoric about globalization." He adds, "Some of these populist parties are proof that the left-right paradigm belongs to the 20th century."
Defending 'Western Values'
All European populist parties, however, "share a very strong anti-elitist feeling, and their voters have a much lower level of trust in institutions and the mainstream media," says Vaquer. This anti-establishment basis allows for some coordination across national borders at the European level. Moreover, many of the parties are increasingly "finding common cause against immigration," while calling for a joint defense of a "broader European form of identity and Western values," says Jamie Bartlett, head of the violence and extremism program at Demos, a British think tank.
The euro crisis has also helped populist parties to shape a common stance against the so-called Brussels elite, even if the reasons differ. In Northern Europe, populists like the Finns point to the alleged mismanagement of taxpayer euros that have gone to huge EU bailout programs, while populists in the south, like the Five Star Movement, cite Brussels-imposed austerity that has hurt ordinary workers. "The crisis is inevitably a good opportunity" for populists, says Catherine Fieschi, director of Counterpoint. "It plays a role in terms of how it shapes the language" and helps make the views of a party like UKIP seem "commonsensical," she says. But Fieschi also cautions against seeing the crisis as the reason for the rise of European populism, noting that the FN and others have been gaining traction for over a decade.
Nonetheless, experts widely agree that populists will increase their presence in the parliament after the election. There are currently around 60 right-wing populists in parliament, including the majority of nonattached members -- meaning those who are not affiliated with any group like the current FN members -- and those in the EFD. Counterpoint's Morris predicts that number will rise to at least 100 next May, including gains for EFD's UKIP, the Finns, and the Danish People's Party -- though not for Northern League, which is expected to lose seats to the Five Star Movement. However, it will not necessarily prove easy for these parties to form workable political alliances.
To form an official group, parliamentary rules require that at least 25 members from at least one-quarter of EU member states be represented. Morris outlines a number of potential scenarios for populist alignments: In one, the EFD largely stays intact, alongside a new bloc led by the FN; in another, an FN-led group emerges as the only official populist bloc, with the rest (including UKIP) becoming non-attached members; and a final scenario results in the EFD continuing to be the only populist group, with the FN remaining non-attached. What is clear from Morris' analysis, though, is that the Northern League will prove decisive for the future of the EFD. If Speroni decides to join forces with Le Pen, it could signify the collapse of the EFD.
Regardless of how the parties coordinate, the populists will be "fragmented" and unable, despite increased numbers, to have "a huge impact on how the EP works," says Morris. But, he cautions, the "reason to be concerned is because of the kind of impact it could have on the stability of member states, and shifts in what mainstream parties do." Morris suggests that center-left and -right national parties could increasingly adopt xenophobic and anti-immigration policies to attract voters sympathetic to the populists.
At the parliamentary level, though, the populists are unlikely to have much luck unraveling the European project. If anything, their presence might paradoxically be a boon for EU advocates, says Giles Merritt, secretary general of the Friends of Europe think tank in Brussels. "The populists will force the European establishment to explain itself and argue its case" for greater European solidarity, Merritt says.
Moreover, as Speroni resignedly explains, "The proponents of integration will still have an absolute majority."
Surveillance technology out of control, says Lord Ashdown
Former Lib Dem leader says it is time for high-level inquiry to address fundamental questions about privacy in 21st century
Nick Hopkins and Matthew Taylor
The Guardian, Monday 18 November 2013 19.10 GMT
The technology used by Britain's spy agencies to conduct mass surveillance is "out of control", raising fears about the erosion of civil liberties at a time of diminished trust in the intelligence services, according to the former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown.
The peer said it was time for a high-level inquiry to address fundamental questions about privacy in the 21st century, and railed against "lazy politicians" who frighten people into thinking "al-Qaida is about to jump out from behind every bush and therefore it is legitimate to forget about civil liberties". "Well it isn't," he added.
Ashdown talks frequently to the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, and is chair of the the Liberal Democrats' general election team. Though he said he was speaking for himself, his views are understood to be shared by other senior members of the Liberal Democrats in government, who are also keen for some kind of broad inquiry into the subject.
This idea is also supported by Sir David Omand, a former director of GCHQ. He told the Guardian he was in favour of an inquiry and thought it would be wrong to "dismiss the idea of a royal commission out of hand". It was important to balance the need for the agencies to have powerful capabilities, and the necessity of ensuring they did not use them in a way parliament had not intended, Omand added.
Ashdown is the latest senior politician to demand a review of the powers of Britain's intelligence agencies – GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 – and the laws and oversight which underpin their activities.
In an interview with the Guardian, Ashdown said surveillance should only be conducted against specific targets when there was evidence against them. Dragnet surveillance was unacceptable, he added.
Ashdown made clear revelations in the Guardian about GCHQ and its American counterpart, the National Security Agency, had raised important issues that "could not be ignored or swept aside in a barrage of insults".
He also criticised the Labour party, which was in power when the agencies began testing and building many of their most powerful surveillance capabilities. Labour's former home secretary Jack Straw was responsible for introducing the Regulation of Investigatory Power Act 2000 (Ripa), which made the programmes legal.
"Ripa was a disgraceful piece of legislation," Ashdown said. "Nobody put any thought into it. Labour just took the words they were given by the intelligence agencies. I don't blame the intelligence agencies.
"We charge them with the very serious business of keeping us secure and of course they want to have powers. But it's the duty of government to ensure those powers don't destroy our liberties and Labour utterly failed to do this."
One consequence of Labour's negligence was the development of surveillance techniques that could damage civil liberties and erode privacy, said Ashdown.
He said that he was "frightened by the erosion of our liberties" and while accepting that there was a need to keep the nation safe it was the "habit of politicians who are lazy about the preservation of our liberties or don't mind seeing them destroyed, to play an old game.
"They tell frightened citizens: 'If you give me some of your liberties, I will make you safer'".
Ashdown said that as a young man in 1960s he was taken to a vast Post Office shed in central London where spies were steaming open letters. Recalling being met by "a deep fog of steam" after entering the room, he said that the place was "filled with diligent men and women, each with a boiling kettle on their desk, steaming open letters". It was appropriate for the state to intervene in the private communications of its citizens, but the peer added "only in cases where there is good evidence to believe the nation's security is being threatened, or arguably, when a really serious crime has been committed".
The former party leader said that intercepting communications needed to be "targeted on an individual and not classes of individuals or, as at the moment, the whole nation" and argued that ought to be sanctioned by a third-party, preferably by a judge, or if not a member of the cabinet.
Ashdown said he did not believe Britain's intelligence agencies were out of control, but he said the same was not true of technology.
"We need a proper inquiry to decide what liberties and privacies ought to be accorded in the new interconnected world, and what powers of intrusion ought to be given to the state. The old laws that applied in the age of the steaming kettle will no longer do. The old protections are no longer good enough," he said.
Ashdown said the Guardian's reporting of the NSA files had been "helpful because it had raised this important issue to the point where sensible people understand this inquiry is now necessary".
An inquiry also needed to be set in the context of people's privacy expectations, he added, noting: "People today seem more casual about their privacy than they used to be. They don't seem to mind when their privacy is breached when they use Google, Facebook and other social media."
He added that he hoped this had not "changed the public's attitude towards the state's power to intrude into their privacy" but argued this was the fundamental question that needed to be addressed.
Ashdown said he thought the agencies would welcome an inquiry too, saying that they "recognise the mechanisms are no longer sufficient" and he doubted whether such an exercise would be "inimical to the heads of the secret services".
The Lib Dem also dismissed the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, chaired by Sir Malcolm Rifkind, which is supposed to scrutinise the agencies.
He said that it was an institution "wholly incapable of coping" with the new circumstances.
Although he was careful to be respectful of its Conservative chair, Ashdown argued that "we are no longer in the age when a grandee's emollient words are enough to assure us that our liberties are safe" and concluded that the committee was "past its time".
Ashdown defended the Guardian's reporting of the issues over the last five months, and the paper's right to publish material that it deemed in the public interest.
He said: "I am not going to back every single thing the Guardian has done. But overall, in my view, the Guardian has done a very important in job exposing a really important issue that must now be properly considered."
But he also criticised Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked files to the Guardian, the Washington Post and Der Spiegel.
"When Snowden first broke cover, I had quite a lot of admiration for him. Here was a whistleblower breaking surface on an issue that is certainly important. But I have to say that the way he has behaved since has diminished that admiration enormously. It seems to me this is becoming more about vanity."
Meanwhile, Omand said the ISC had to be given a chance to review the work of the agencies in an inquiry that it announced last month.
"Much now depends first upon the ISC and whether their latest inquiry can rise above the current clamour to a calm and dispassionate examination of the capabilities needed to keep our people safe and secure, and at the same time, how public confidence can be maintained that under no circumstances could these powerful capabilities be used in ways that parliament did not intend."
German MPs complain about NSA silence on Angela Merkel hacking
National Security Agency accused of showing 'reluctance to speak plainly' about allegations that chancellor's phone was hacked
Philip Oltermann in Berlin
The Guardian, Monday 18 November 2013 19.05 GMT
Germany's interior minister has criticised the US National Security Agency for its silence in response to the allegations that American spies had hacked into chancellor Angela Merkel's phone.
At a special session in the Bundestag on Monday, Hans-Peter Friedrich said that contradictory comments from US intelligence directors and a reluctance to speak plainly had given rise to "conspiracy theories".
Merkel said the allegations had "tested" Germany's relationship with the US and affected negotiations over a transatlantic free trade agreement. "The charges are grave and have to be cleared up."
The chancellor did not comment specifically about the hacking of her phone.
Parliamentarians used the opportunity not only to vent their anger over the NSA, but also at Merkel's lethargic response to the scandal. Gregor Gysi, chairman of Die Linke, said the government had allowed itself to be "lulled to sleep" by the NSA's assurances, while failing to get clear answers.
Christian Ströbele, a veteran Green MP who met Edward Snowden in Moscow in October, renewed his call for Germany to offer asylum to Snowden – an offer Merkel has indicated she was unwilling to make.
"Have you ever considered thanking Edward Snowden?" he asked Merkel. "After all, you have to thank him for finding out that your mobile was probably bugged."
He said Merkel's refusal to speak directly about the Snowden revelations at the session was "not very brave", and reminded her that the list of questions that the German government had sent to the US in July still hadn't been answered. Merkel departed from the session soon after.
NSA surveillance hinders Iceland's attempts to be a haven for free speech
'It is obvious that it doesn’t matter if we have the best source protection laws in the world,' says Icelandic MP
theguardian.com, Tuesday 19 November 2013 10.54 GMT
Iceland’s attempts to become a free-speech haven risk floundering in the wake of revelations regarding the extent of internet monitoring by the US and UK intelligence agencies.
The Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI) has spent the last three years working protections for whistleblowers and investigative journalists into the country’s constitution. But the knowledge that monitoring of digital communications is far more widespread than previously thought makes it difficult to promise safety to sources who might have hoped otherwise.
“When we were making IMMI, even if we were aware that there had been spying going on, on all our devices, I don’t think any of us at the time – late 2009, early 2010 – anticipated that it was so invasive,” says Icelandic MP Birgitta Jónsdóttir, one of the driving forces behind the initiative.
“I mean, not even the most paranoid of my hacktivist tribe, except maybe Richard Stallman, could fathom how extensive this is. And so we didn’t write anything into IMMI about privacy.”
Before she was an MP – originally for the Citizens' Movement, a grassroots campaign born out of the Icelandic economic crash – Jónsdóttir was a volunteer for WikiLeaks, and in 2010 she worked with the organisation on the launch of the “Collateral Murder” video. She says the aim of IMMI was to “legalise WikiLeaks”.
“What I loved about WikiLeaks in its original days was that the whole idea behind it was that it was a digital dropbox, and anybody could drop the ‘brown envelope’ there, and we would never know who it was. That was the entire beauty of it.”
“And the aim with IMMI is to legalise that. That it is up to an editor if he processes information from a source, he doesn’t have to know the source.”
After the release of the NSA files, however, it has become clear that IMMI’s goals cannot be met through the legislative arena alone.
“With the revelations from the NSA, it is obvious that it doesn’t matter if we have the best source protection laws in the world. It just doesn’t matter.” With surveillance so much more widespread than was previously assumed, it no longer seems possible for a source to stay anonymous purely through legislative protection.
Jónsdóttir emphasises that the primary goal of the law was never to protect sources, but to protect their right to publish, and their publisher’s right to keep them anonymous.
“I was very surprised when Edward Snowden, for example, said when he appeared for the whistleblower behind the NSA [leaks] that he believed that he would have an automatic refuge in Iceland because of IMMI, because what I have always said is that the intent with IMMI would be to legalise the functions of WikiLeaks, or to make sure the Tibetan blogger who risks his life to tell us what’s going on will remain up, no matter what. Unaltered.
“But we could never save that person.”
The best model for IMMI is one not particularly enamoured of transparency campaigners: that of the tax haven. “My aim is to prevent these international law firms, that specialise in going after stories even years back in time,” from coming to Iceland, she says. “You can register the company with one person accountable in that country, and that person is going to be the front for more than one media organisation.
“That is an option that people can take, and it’s already happened – there are Icelandic citizens that front hosting companies. If it’s OK for tax havens to do it, why isn’t it OK for people that want to protect sources?”
For all that massive international surveillance eats away at IMMI’s successes, however, there’s a bigger threat on the horizon. Some nations have responded to the news that the US and UK monitor the net by splitting themselves from the anglophonic web, a move that concerns Jónsdóttir.
She has spoken against Brazilian attempts to wall the country’s internet off from foreign interference. “They have some great ideas, and I’m hoping to go to Icann and encourage them to do the other stuff they were going to do. But of course, we need to come up with ideas that exclude that specific one.
“The reason I’m worried about this balkanisation of the internet is that it is already in some countries. Iran and China have their own versions [of the web], and Iran wants to go completely off the net. That is very dangerous, and that idea … we do have to decentralise, but that’s not only about the idea of dealing with the extensive capacities of the NSA.”
Court order that allowed NSA surveillance is revealed for first time
Fisa court judge who authorised massive tapping of metadata was hesitant but felt she could not stand in the way
Spencer Ackerman in New York
theguardian.com, Tuesday 19 November 2013 04.53 GMT
A secret court order that authorised a massive trawl by the National Security Agency of Americans' email and internet data was published for the first time on Monday night, among a trove of documents that also revealed a judge's concern that the NSA "continuously" and "systematically" violated the limits placed on the program.
The order by the Fisa court, almost certainly its first ruling on the controversial program and published only in heavily redacted form, shows that it granted permisson for the trawl in part beacause of the type of devices used for the surveillance. Even the judge approving the spying called it a “novel use” of government authorities.
Another later court order found that what it called "systemic overcollection" had taken place.
Transparency lawsuits brought by civil liberties groups compelled the US spy agencies on Monday night to shed new light on the highly controversial program, whose discontinuation in 2011 for unclear reasons was first reported by the Guardian based on leaks by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
In a heavily redacted opinion Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the former presiding judge of the Fisa court, placed legal weight on the methods of surveillance employed by the NSA, which had never before collected the internet data of “an enormous volume of communications”.
The methods, known as pen registers and trap-and-trace devices, record the incoming and outgoing routing information of communications – traditionally phone calls made between individual users. Kollar-Kotelly ruled that acquiring the metadata, and not the content, of email and internet usage in bulk was harmonious with the “purpose” of Congress and prior court rulings – even though no surveillance statute ever authorized it and top officials at the justice department and the FBI threatened to resign in 2004 over what they considered its dubious legality.
“The court recognizes that, by concluding that these definitions do not restrict the use of pen registers or trap-and-trace devices to communication facilities associated with individual users, it is finding that these definitions encompass an exceptionally broad form of collection,” wrote Kollar-Kotelly in an opinion whose date is redacted.
The type of data collected under the program included information on the "to", "from" and "bcc" lines of an email rather than the content. According to the government’s declaration to Kollar-Kotelly the NSA would keep the internet metadata “online” and available to analysts to search through for 18 months, after which it would be stored in an “‘offline’ tape system” available to relatively few officials. It would have to be destroyed four and a half years after initial collection.
Metadata, wrote Kollar-Kotelly, enjoyed no protection under the fourth amendment to the US constitution, a precedent established by the supreme court in 1979 in a single case on which the NSA relies currently.
Still, Kollar-Kotelly conceded that she was blessing “a novel use of statutory authorities for pen register/trap and trace surveillance”.
While at times Kollar-Kotelly appeared in her ruling to be hesitant about granting NSA broad authorities to collect Americans’ internet metadata, “deference”, she wrote, “should be given to the fully considered judgment of the executive branch in assessing and responding to national security threats and in determining the potential significance of intelligence-related information.”
The legal status of the internet metadata program was highly controversial. In March 2004 several justice department and FBI individuals threatened to resign – including James Comey, George W Bush’s deputy attorney general and now Barack Obama’s FBI director – if the Bush White House and NSA persisted in authorizing the program over their objections that the internet metadata bulk collection was insufficiently legally grounded.
An internal NSA draft history, first reported by the Guardian, noted that the program paused in March 2004, while the White House quelled the secret rebellion, but resumed in July after then NSA director Michael Hayden sought to reassure Kollar-Kotelly, who “signed the first” so-called Pen Register/Trap and Trace Order on 14 July 2004.
It is unclear if the order from Kollar-Kotelly released on Monday is her order of 14 July 2004 as the date is redacted.
A later opinion on the internet metadata program, by Kollar-Kotelly’s successor, John Bates, states that the “NSA exceeded the scope of authorized acquisition continuously” after Kollar-Kotelly’s initial approval.
Bates wrote that subsequent NSA reporting to the court revealed that "systemic overcollection" had taken place from almost the beginning of the program. "Virtually every" record generated by the program "included some data that had not been authorized for collection". A footnote suggests that Kollar-Kotelly grew worried that the content of communications was collected at times despite her initial confidence that the collection methods of the pen registers and trap and trace devices could not permit that.
"The government has provided no comprehensive explanation of how so substantial an overcollection occurred," Bates wrote in another undated opinion, whose redactions suggest the NSA blamed "noncommunication with the technical personnel directly responsible".
A senior intelligence official, Shawn Turner of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told the Guardian in July that the Obama administration shut down the bulk internet metadata collection program in 2011 “for operational and resource reasons” and it had not been restarted.
Senator Ron Wyden, a member of the Senate intelligence committee, who has campaigned against the scope of NSA domestic surveillance, has suggested in several statements that the program was wasteful, violated Americans’ privacy and did not lead to useful counterterrorism information.
Hundreds of pages
The NSA also released hundreds of pages of documents on Monday related to training on use of its vast data troves; its certifications to Congress and the court about its bulk phone records collections on Americans; and its internal checks to prevent abuse.
The release was prompted by a lawsuit sponsored by the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Monday’s disclosure represented the final round of court-compelled document disclosures as part of the civil liberties organization’s attempts to learn more about what they contend is legally dubious mass surveillance on Americans phone records.
“On the logic of these opinions almost every digital footprint we leave behind can be vacuumed up by the government – who we talk to, what we read, where we go online," said Patrick Toomey, an attorney with the ACLU. "Like previous releases these materials show the danger of a government that sidesteps public debate and instead grounds its surveillance powers in the secret opinions of a secret court. The more we learn the clearer it is that our surveillance laws and oversight rules are in dramatic need of reform."
The release comes at the beginning of an important week in Washington for the NSA’s bulk phone records collection. On Thursday the NSA deputy director is scheduled to testify before a Senate panel that is considering a bill to strip the surveillance agency of its power to collect phone data from Americans without individual warrants. Legislators are also discussing attaching surveillance restrictions to an annual defence authorization bill that the Senate is taking up this week.
Monday was also a busy day for the NSA’s bulk surveillance in the courts. The supreme court declined to take a case about the bulk phone records collection, while a judge on a lower federal court considered an injunction against the NSA.
“I don't know, frankly, how I'm going to come out,” said Judge Richard Leon, who heard arguments for and against an injunction on the bulk phone records surveillance on Monday brought by the conservative group Judicial Watch in his US district court for the District of Columbia.
“It's going to the court of appeals and probably to the supreme court – one way or the other,” news organizations quoted Leon saying after the hearing.
At least one document related to bulk surveillance was not released.
The Fisa court announced on Monday afternoon that the intelligence agencies and the justice department decided that it would not declassify a court opinion from 19 February 2013 related to the court’s interpretation of Section 215. It is unclear if the opinion refers to bulk phone records collection or to the other sorts of records that the government contends the Patriot Act provision allows it to collect – such as financial data of the sort the Obama administration disclosed last week to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal that the CIA gathers.
The document disclosures came the same day that the US supreme court declined a request by the Electronic Frontier Foundation to review the legality of the bulk phone records collection.
A terse statement announcing several court orders did not address the reasons the court denied the review, brought by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which argued that the Fisa court had no right to order telecoms to turn over customer data in bulk to the government.
Several other legal challenges to the bulk phone records collection are pending before lower federal courts. One of them, brought by the ACLU, will begin oral arguments on Friday in the Southern District of New York.
Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of Epic, said in a statement that he was “disappointed” in the supreme court’s decision as he called the bulk surveillance order “clearly illegal”.
Private firms selling mass surveillance systems around world, documents show
One Dubai-based firm offers DIY system similar to GCHQ's Tempora programme, which taps fibre-optic cables
Nick Hopkins and Matthew Taylor
The Guardian, Monday 18 November 2013 21.42 GMT
Private firms are selling spying tools and mass surveillance technologies to developing countries with promises that "off the shelf" equipment will allow them to snoop on millions of emails, text messages and phone calls, according to a cache of documents published on Monday.
The papers show how firms, including dozens from Britain, tout the capabilities at private trade fairs aimed at offering nations in Africa, Asia and the Middle East the kind of powerful capabilities that are usually associated with government agencies such as GCHQ and its US counterpart, the National Security Agency.
The market has raised concerns among human rights groups and ministers, who are poised to announce new rules about the sale of such equipment from Britain.
"The government agrees that further regulation is necessary," a spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said. "These products have legitimate uses … but we recognise that they may also be used to conduct espionage."
The documents are included in an online database compiled by the research watchdog Privacy International, which has spent four years gathering 1,203 brochures and sales pitches used at conventions in Dubai, Prague, Brasilia, Washington, Kuala Lumpur, Paris and London. Analysts posed as potential buyers to gain access to the private fairs.
The database, called the Surveillance Industry Index, shows how firms from the UK, Israel, Germany, France and the US offer governments a range of systems that allow them to secretly hack into internet cables carrying email and phone traffic.
The index has details from 338 companies, including 77 from the UK, offering a total of 97 different technologies.
One firm says its "massive passive monitoring" equipment can "capture up to 1bn intercepts a day". Some offer cameras hidden in cola cans, bricks or children's carseats, while one manufacturer turns cars or vans into surveillance control centres.
There is nothing illegal about selling such equipment, and the companies say the new technologies are there to help governments defeat terrorism and crime.
But human rights and privacy campaigners are alarmed at the sophistication of the systems, and worry that unscrupulous regimes could use them as tools to spy on dissidents and critics.
Libya's former leader Muammar Gaddafi is known to have used off-the-shelf surveillance equipment to clamp down on opposition leaders.
Privacy International believes UK firms should now be subject to the same strict export licence rules faced by arms manufacturers.
"There is a culture of impunity permeating across the private surveillance market, given that there are no strict export controls on the sale of this technology, as there are on the sale of conventional weapons," said Matthew Rice, research consultant with Privacy International.
"This market profits off the suffering of people around the world, yet it lacks any sort of effective oversight or accountability.
"This lack of regulation has allowed companies to export surveillance technology to countries that use their newly acquired surveillance capability to spy on human rights activists, journalists and political movements."
Privacy International hopes the Surveillance Industry Index will give academics, politicians and campaigners a chance to look at the type of surveillance technologies now available in the hope of sparking a debate about improved regulation.
The documents include a brochure from a company called Advanced Middle East Systems (AMES), based in Dubai. It has been offering a device called Cerebro – a DIY system similar to the Tempora programme run by GCHQ – that taps information from fibre-optic cables carrying internet traffic.
AMES describes Cerebro as a "core technology designed to monitor and analyse in real time communications … including SMS (texting), GSM (mobile calls), billing data, emails, conversations, webmail, chat sessions and social networks."
The company brochure makes clear this is done by attaching probes to internet cables. "No co-operation with the providers is required," it adds.
"Cerebro is designed to store several billions of records – metadata and/or communication contents. At any time the investigators can follow the live activity of their target with advanced targeting criteria (email addresses, phone numbers, key words)," says the brochure.
AMES refused to comment after being contacted by the Guardian, but said it followed similar protocols to other surveillance companies. "We don't want to interact with the press," said a spokesman.
Another firm selling similar equipment is VASTech, based in South Africa, which has a system called Zebra. Potential buyers are told it has been designed to help "government security agencies face huge challenges in their combat against crime and terrorism".
VASTech says Zebra offers "access to high volumes of information generated via telecommunication services for the purposes of analysis and investigation".
It has been designed to "intercept all content and metadata of voice, SMS, email and fax communications on the connected network, creating a rich repository of information".
A spokesman for the company said: "VASTech produces products for governmental law enforcement agencies. These products have the primary goal of reducing specifically cross-border crimes such as child pornography, human trafficking, drug smuggling, weapon smuggling, money laundering, corruption and terrorist activities. We compete internationally and openly against several suppliers of similar systems.
"We only supply legal governments, which are not subjected to international sanctions. Should their status change in this regard, we hold the right to withdraw our supplies and support unilaterally."
Ann McKechin, a Labour member of the arms export control committee, said: "Obviously we are concerned about how our government provides licences, given these new types of technology.
"Software technology is now becoming a very large component of our total exports and how we police it before it gets out of country will become an increasingly difficult question and I think the government has to review its processes to consider whether they are fit for the task."
She said the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which has responsibility for granting export licences, had to ensure it has the skills and knowledge to assess new technologies, particularly if they were being sold to "countries of concern".
"The knowledge of staff which maybe more geared to more traditional types of weaponry," she added.
A business department spokesperson said: "The government agrees that further regulation is necessary. These products have legitimate uses in defending networks and tracking and disrupting criminals, but we recognise that they may also be used to conduct espionage.
"Given the international nature of this problem we believe that an internationally agreed solution will be the most effective response. That is why the UK is leading international efforts to agree export controls on specific technologies of concern.
"We expect to be able to announce real progress in this area in early December."
What's on offer
Some companies offer a range of spy equipment that would not look out of place in a James Bond film
Ordinary vans, cars and motorbikes can be customised to offer everything a spy could need. Tiny cameras and microphones are hidden in wing mirrors, headlights and even the makers' logo. Vehicles can also be fitted with the latest mass surveillance technology, allowing them to intercept, assess and store a range of digital communications from the surrounding area.
The range of objects that can hide high-quality cameras and recording equipment appears almost limitless; from a box of tissues giving a 360-degree view of the room, to a child's car seat, a brick and a key fob. Remote controls allow cameras to follow targets as they move around a room and have a powerful zoom to give high definition close-ups.
As with cameras recording equipment is getting more sophisticated and more ubiquitous. From cigarette lighters to pens their are limitless ways to listen in on other people's conversations. One firm offers a special strap microphone that straps to the wearer's would be spies' back and records conversations going on directly behind them. According to the brochure: "[This] is ideal because people in a crowd think that someone with their back turned can't hear their conversation.. Operatives can work much closer to their target."
Handheld 'biometric cameras'
This system, made by a UK firm, is currently being used by British forces in Afghanistan to help troops identify potential terrorists. The brochure for the Mobile Biometric Platform says: "Innocent civilian or Insurgent? Not Certain? Our systems are." It adds: "The MBP is tailored for military use and enables biometric enrolment and identification of finger, face and iris against on board watchlists in real time from live or forensic data."
Mobile phone locators
It is now possible, from a single laptop computer, to locate where a mobile phone is calling from anywhere in the world, with an accuracy of between 200 metres and a mile. This is not done by attaching probes, and it is not limited to the area where the laptop is working from. The "cross border" system means it is now theoretically possible to locate a mobile phone call from a town abroad from a laptop in London.
UN climate talks in Warsaw: what you need to know
The aim is to forge a legally binding global climate treaty in Poland to cut carbon emissions. But it's easier said than done
Fiona Harvey in Warsaw
theguardian.com, Tuesday 19 November 2013 13.06 GMT
What is happening in Warsaw?
It is COP19 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – or, in other words, the latest round of the ongoing United Nations talks aimed at forging a new global agreement on climate change. The talks began on 11 November but the real business – the "high-level segment" in which government ministers take part – opens on Tuesday with a short session and gala dinner for the assembled dignitaries, then the ministers get down to talks on Wednesday with the aim of finishing up on Friday evening.
Haven't we had this before? What has changed?
The UN talks have been going on since 1992, with annual conferences producing a few highs and lows along the way, but so far no comprehensive legally binding agreement. In 1997, the Kyoto protocol was signed, binding rich nations to cut their emissions by about 5% by 2012. But the US never ratified the treaty, so its impact was limited. In 2009, the Copenhagen summit ended in scenes of chaos, but it did produce commitments from all of the world's major economies, developed and developing, to cut or curb their greenhouse gas emissions – a historic first. However, those commitments only run to 2020, and are far less than the cuts scientists say are needed. In September, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change produced its most comprehensive review yet of the science of climate change, warning that the world is running out of its "carbon budget" – the amount of greenhouse gas we can pour into the atmosphere before warming the world by more than 2C, which scientists have identified as a crucial threshold beyond which many of the effects of climate change could become catastrophic and irreversible.
What is expected to come out of this year's talks?
The current goal of the negotiations is to forge an agreement, to be signed in Paris in 2015 and to come into force by 2020, that would involve substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from all the major economies, as well as commitments from poorer countries. But this meeting is just a staging point on the road to that goal – there is as yet no draft text for an agreement, no consensus on what a new deal should involve, or what legal form it should take.
That doesn't sound very interesting.
In terms of the business of this COP, much of it will be "housekeeping" – clearing the decks on various technicalities so that work can begin soon after on the draft text. But the Warsaw meeting has already provided more drama than was bargained for.
It began just two days after the most powerful typhoon ever to make landfall devastated the Philippines, with the loss of thousands of lives. Yeb Sano, leading the country's delegation, made an opening statement at the start of the discussions in which he broke down and connected the devastation wrought by typhoon Haiyan to climate change. His words had an effect on David Cameron, who also linked extreme weather to climate change.
Then, Japan came under attack for announcing that instead of aiming for a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, it would increase its emissions by 3%, saying this was necessary after the Fukushima disaster. But many onlookers feared that it would lead to further backsliding – there are doubts over what Australia's new climate-sceptic government will do about its existing agreements, and over the commitment of Canada and Russia to the talks.
What have the Polish hosts done about this?
Mostly, attract their own controversy – by giving a two-day platform at the talks to the global coal industry and highlighting the role of coal in energy generation. Coal is the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, but it supplies most of Poland's energy, and the government takes a hard line within Europe, resisting calls for more action on emissions.
What about developing countries?
They want clearer commitments on the provision of much-needed finance to help them move to a low-carbon economy: $100bn by 2020 is the aim. Some of this will come from public funds in rich nations, but that pot is likely to be meagre, so ways have to be found to raise money from the private sector. At present, it is not clear how that will happen, or what will count towards the $100bn (£62bn).
Some developing countries also want to resurrect the issue of "loss and damage", which some interpret as compensation to poor countries from the rich for the effects of climate change, such as an increase in the number or intensity of typhoons and hurricanes. Rich countries are determined that this will not happen. The rich nations also want major developing economies such as China and India to take on more of a role in curbing emissions.
Will these disagreements jeopardise the outcome?
This meeting is still likely to end with a feel-good statement that some form of progress has been made towards the 2015 goal, but the danger is that between now and that crucial date any further upsets, backsliding, failure to agree finance or deepening rifts between rich and poor could derail the whole process. That would leave the world without an agreement on tackling climate change, which would send a poor signal to investors and let countries that don't want to cut their emissions off the hook for years to come. Against a background of still-rising emissions, that is likely to take us well beyond our carbon budget.
PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIA ...
Arctic oil spill is certain if drilling goes ahead, says top scientist
Russia's push for exploration will devastate pristine Arctic, warns expert analyst of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill
Fiona Harvey in London and Shaun Walker in Moscow
theguardian.com, Tuesday 19 November 2013 11.45 GMT
A serious oil spill in the Arctic is a "dead cert" if drilling goes ahead, with potentially devastating consequences for the pristine region, according to a leading marine scientist who played a key role in analysis of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The warning came as Russia filed court orders this week to have Greenpeace activists and journalists kept in prison for a further three months in prison before their trial over a protest at Arctic oil dirlling.
Concerns about the potentially dire consequences of drilling for oil in the region have intensified as the Russian government and others have begun exploration under the Arctic seas. In such a cold region, any spill would be much more troublesome, because the oil would not naturally disperse as it does in warmer waters, and because of the difficulty of mounting a clean-up operation in hostile weather conditions.
The "Arctic 30" – comprising 28 activists and two journalists – were arrested when Greenpeace's Arctic Sunrise vessel was boarded by Russian coastguards in September and are facing lengthy jail terms if they are convicted. They have been kept in harsh conditions in freezing cold jail cells with poor food, and are being moved 800 miles from Murmansk to St Petersburg.
Simon Boxall, an oil spill expert from the University of Southampton, told the Guardian exploring the region was inherently dangerous: "It is inevitable you will get a spill – a dead cert. I would expect to see a major spill in the not too distant future. I would be astonished if you did not see a major spill from this."
The conditions in the Arctic would vastly compound the problem, he said. "It's a completely different environment. In temperate climes, oil disperses quickly. Bacteria help [to digest the oil]. In the Arctic the oil does not break down in this way – it can take decades before it breaks down. Nature will not help us."
Arctic oil spill pollution risks : Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico The surface of the Gulf of
During those decades, any spilled oil would be a serious hazard to marine life.
No industry is perfect, Boxall said, but the oil industry has behaved poorly in the past. "There are lots of failsafes on planes, but accidents still happen. At times, this is an irresponsible industry. Corners are cut, money is saved in small ways. Then it can go wrong and end up costing a huge amount of money, like in the Gulf of Mexico."
He added: "Different countries have different levels of health and safety. Russia does not have an enviable record on this."
Even without a spill, exploring the region could disrupt the Arctic environment, warned Jonathan Bamber of the University of Bristol. "You get an increase in shipping, and ships release their ballast water which contains species from other areas. So you could get the introduction to the Arctic of entirely foreign species and we don't know the impact of that. The Arctic ocean is very enclosed, virtually landlocked, so this could have very big consequences and affect the whole food chain."
Arctic map Arctic map showing location of Prirazlomnaya rig and where Greenpeace boat was seized
Greenpeace pointed out that the Arctic is the habitat for "a diverse range of unique wildlife", including 17 species of whale – such as the endangered narwhal, 90% of the remaining population of which lives in Baffin Bay – as well as polar bears, Arctic foxes, seals, hundreds of species of seabirds and millions of migrating birds. There are also 4m people who live in the Arctic, descendants of indigenous communities who have lived there for thousands of years. "The impact of a spill on these communities and already vulnerable animal species would be devastating and long-lasting," the group said.
Three Russian nationals among the Arctic 30 – Yekaterina Zaspa, Denis Sinyakov and Andrey Allakhverdov – were released on bail on Monday.
Gazprom Neft Shelf, the branch of the Russian state energy behemoth that runs the Prirazlomnaya platform where Greenpeace staged its protest in September, said that after multiple delays it planned to start drilling in December, and currently the rig is working in test mode. Next year, the plan is to produce 600,000 tonnes of oil, and the company says output will peak in 2021 when it will be working at maximum capacity and producing 6m tonnes per year.
Gennady Lubin, executive director of Gazprom Neft Shelf, declined to speak to the Guardian, but in a recent interview with an oil and gas periodical rubbished the claims of environmentalists that the rig's location makes it a uniquely dangerous operation. He said there were two icebreakers moored adjacent to the rig which are on permanent standby to deal with any emergency situations, and additional equipment available in the town of Varandey, about 40 miles from the platform. "Of course, in theory it is possible to contemplate any script based on the assumption that if you don't do that, environmental safety might be in danger," said Lyubin. "But that kind of thinking is absurd."
He also dismissed concerns about the durability of the rig itself. The top part of the rig was taken from a decommissioned North Sea oil rig built in 1984, which has led to further speculation about the reliability of Prirazlomnaya, but the Russians claim that the critics are again wrong.
Lyubin says Prirazlomnaya is a "new facility" that was "built to operate in the specific weather conditions of the Pechora Sea", and that only small parts of the Hutton rig were used in the structure. "The specially designed caisson part has allowed us to create a facility that successfully resists the Arctic climate, waves and ice, to protect all equipment and to ensure safe operation."
Lyubin said that Prirazlomnaya was inherently more secure than, for example, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. "The wells there are drilled from a floating platform, which is at hundreds of meters distance from the seabed," said Lyubin. "But here, the sea depth in the field area is 19-20 meters, so the Prirazlomnaya is installed directly on the seabed."
"The Arctic has been important for us for centuries," said Roman Khatsevich of the Murmansk Institute of Economics. "It's not just economics. Our country is a northern country, and the Arctic is one of the foundation blocks of our statehood. In the 1990s a lot of Arctic financing was stopped due to the economic and political collapse, but since 2000 it has been a priority again."
For now, there is a big question about how economically viable oil extraction in the taxing conditions will be, but Russia is pushing ahead with a number of major programmes to improve infrastructure in the region with an eye on both oil extraction and on developing the Northern Sea route through the Russian Arctic, as an alternative shipping lane from Europe to Asia.
"Especially with the worsening situation in the Middle East, the Arctic could become more and more important as a shipping route. In an ideal world, the Arctic can be a forum for international co-operation rather than conflict," said Khatsevich.
Just last week, Russian oil giant Rosneft signed a deal with Korean shipbuilding company Daewoo that should lead to the establishment of a major new shipbuilding cluster in Russia's far east, that would build icebreakers and marine equipment for offshore energy projects.
Kosovo pays a heavy toll for lack of reliable energy
Europe's most polluted country is beset by energy poverty, yet rich in toxic lignite. Is there a viable alternative to coal?
theguardian.com, Tuesday 19 November 2013 08.35 GMT
At the end of a dirt road, in the central Kosovan municipality of Obilić, lies Plemetina, a labyrinth of hastily constructed houses. Home to about 2,500 people, it is nestled below Kosovo B, a 600-megawatt, lignite-fuelled thermal power plant that belches black toxic fumes day and night.
"I have woken up and cursed that power plant a million times," says Driton Berisa, a Roma civil rights activist, sipping an espresso. "The air is always thick with smoke and dust, no matter how fresh the morning is."
He is sitting in a cafe in Prishtina, the capital of Kosovo – Europe's most polluted country (pdf) – but even here, in a city choked with car fumes, the air is much cleaner than in his village.
Like many in Plemetina, Berisa and his family arrived as refugees during the war. His mother, 55, has just undergone surgery for cancer, an illness he believes is the result of living less than half a kilometre from the power plant. "Everybody I know here has someone in the family with cancer," he explains. "It's one of the reasons I want to get out. I don't want my children growing up breathing this air."
It has not been easy to find a balance between Kosovo's urgent need for energy security and the poisonous effects of lignite, its cheapest naturally available resource. The country sits on the world's fifth-largest reserve of lignite, which produces 97% of its energy. Worth an estimated $1tn, at current consumption levels the supply will last another 1,500 years. Yet Kosovo faces frequent power cuts and exceptionally high levels of energy poverty.
"Kosovo has difficult and complicated energy needs," says Jan-Peter Olters, World Bank's Kosovo manager. "Three things have to be done at the same time: secure a supply of energy that it still does not have; ensure energy is affordable for people and enterprises operating here; and minimise the social and environmental impacts as much as possible."
The Bank is providing technical support to help the government develop and implement its energy strategy. At the core of the plan are two projects: one is to rehabilitate technology at Kosovo B to meet European Union environmental standards; the other is to replace the outdated Yugoslav-era Kosovo A power plant – which generates 2.5 tons of dust hourly – with a 600-megawatt facility, Kosovo C. If this plan goes ahead, the new unit will be built next to Kosovo B – further increasing pollution in the vicinity of Obilić.
These projects are progressing slowly but surely. Tender bids for private investment are scheduled for completion in April 2014, after which the World Bank – which has begun an environmental and social impact assessment – will determine the extent of its future financial involvement. The likeliest outcome is that it will at least act as a partial financial guarantor.
This year the bank imposed stringent conditions on coal investments. But as an International Development Association country – financially and energy poor – Kosovo meets the exceptional circumstances clause that permits lignite lending, according to the Bank.
That claim has triggered outrage among environmental lobbyists, who see Kosovo as a litmus test of the bank's commitment to withdraw from coal borrowing. "Kosovo has high losses in its energy grid, around 30-40%," says Visar Azemi, co-ordinator of the Kosovo Civil Society Consortium for Sustainable Development (Kosid). "We should not be talking about increasing capacity before efficiency."
Azemi believes investment in Kosovo C will do little to reduce energy poverty. "Building this kind of facility is expensive and the companies will need to recoup their investment; ultimately, these costs are passed on to the end consumer," he says. "It will lock Kosovo into a future of dependency [on] lignite. World Bank should explore other alternatives first."
Kosid cites research produced by the University of Berkley that shows potential for Kosovo to incorporate a significantly larger proportion of renewables into its energy mix than the existing 2%. The World Bank, however, says its experts are unable to find an economically viable solution that does not require substantial further investment in coal.
"For better or worse, Kosovo sits on 14bn tons of lignite, its comparative advantage in renewables is not really evident," says Olters. "We would like to be position to say an energy mix is doable, but that is not the case. If this [investment] doesn't happen, then the default option is that Kosovo A will remain open."
Scott Morris, policy fellow at the Centre for Global Development, says the evidence is inconclusive. He belives it would be wrong for the Bank to rule out coal lending. "There have to be options available to poor countries to meet their development needs," says Morris. "The bank should not be looking to have a large coal agenda. But it should be noted that Kosovo B is the only coal project they have in the pipeline."
The importance of energy security is not lost on the residents of Plemetina, who experience regular power shortages. Locals, however, say more open dialogue is needed. "I am not against the power plant," Berisa says. "But I have never heard of any representative from the Kosovo government or World Bank visiting Plemetina to discuss these issues."
Asked about the potential need for resettlements, Olters said a plan for the mine was being worked on by the Kosovo government with World Bank support, but that those living near the Kosovo B power plant do not need to be relocated.
The difficulties of overseeing resettlements in developing countries are well known. The European Bank for Development and Reconstruction is reeling from a series of corruption scandals surrounding the rehousing of residents near Kolubara mines in neighbouring Serbia.
"In the end," Berisa says, "it seems we pay the highest price for coal, with our health and our lives, but we get nothing in return."
Greece resumes talks with European lenders amid anger over austerity
Greek relations with troika of lenders soured by mistrust, anger and thinly disguised panic
Helena Smith in Athens
The Guardian, Monday 18 November 2013 19.41 GMT
A sense of déjà vu hung over Greece as the country resumed talks on Monday with mission chiefs from the international bodies that have kept its floundering economy afloat.
Almost four years after Athens's debt crisis exploded – forcing EU mandarins to rewrite the book of fiscal rules – mistrust, anger and thinly disguised panic have returned to strain Greece's relations with its lenders at the EU, European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).
"They are pressing us to adopt policies that are crazy," confided a senior government official as the finance minister, Yannis Stournaras, relaunched "intensive negotiations" with creditors over a looming budget black hole. "If we are forced to implement so much as half a measure more there will be a revolution in this country. Are they blind?"
In Brussels, another spokesman said: "It's bad. It's as if we are back in 2010 again."
Prime minister Antonis Samaras's fragile coalition now faces what insiders are calling its toughest month since assuming power in June 2012. With a wafer-thin majority, and an increasingly hostile anti-austerity opposition, the government must pass an array of highly controversial bills, starting with next year's budget, to be presented to parliament on Thursday.
Votes on a new property tax – which will see farmers being faced with a levy on landholdings for the first time – and on lifting a ban on home foreclosures are also lined up. Visiting inspectors say abolishing the repossessions amnesty, which expires on 31 December, is crucial to rejuvenating the cash flow of banks and the moribund Greek property market.
Barely 10 days after narrowly surviving a no-confidence motion, it is far from sure that ruling MPs will vote the measures through. But it is the prospect of yet more spending cuts – in the form of reduced wages and pensions and increased taxes – that has unnerved Greek officials most.
Relentless rounds of belt-tightening, the price of rescue funds worth €240bn (£200bn) since the outbreak of the crisis, has resulted in the disposable income of Greeks being slashed by 40%, according to Samaras, who has resolutely refused to adopt more measures.
With the country having suffered a 25% slide in GDP – after pulling off the biggest postwar fiscal adjustment in western history – his deputy, the socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos, last week went further, insisting that Greece had now reached "breaking point".
The human cost of reducing the budget deficit from 15.9% to around 3% of GDP this year had not only produced record levels of unemployment (at 27.2% the highest in the EU), but thrown Greece into prolonged recession, he said. "Our foreign friends have to understand that there can be no more measures."
Economists, even those who have criticised the government for not moving fast enough with reforms, say further cuts could risk wrecking the fiscal progress the nation has made so far.
"There is no way the economy can stabilise if they keep pushing us to cut more and more," said Prof Gikas Hardouvelis, who was in charge of economic policy under the previous, technocratic government. "In my view, the economy is about to stabilise and it could easily be undone if they keep insisting on more measures," he added. "To maximize the possibility of lenders getting their money back and to guarantee stability and subsequent growth I firmly believe we need another loan of about €12bn."
Another senior government aide highlighting mounting fears of political instability said: "What the troika [of lenders] don't seem to believe, or understand, is that the government will fall if pushed too far," said one. "At this point, after achieving so much, we deserve a bit more respect."
But with the troika still at odds with the government over the extent of the shortfall – both the EU and IMF claim it will be near €3bn – the standoff over how to fix the fiscal gap is expected to continue into 2014.
"Four years into the crisis we are still being haunted by the same problems," said the analyst, Giorgos Kyrtsos, adding that Greece's debt-to-GDP level would reach about 179% this year compared with 120% when the country received its first bailout in May 2010. "It's déjà vu all over again," he said, "although this time with far less Greek drama because the rest of southern Europe has basically been stabilised. Greece remains the odd man out."
Paris police hunt gunman after shootings at newspaper office and bank
Man with rifle injures staff member at Libération newspaper before heading to Société Génerale bank and Champs-Élysées
Kim Willsher in Paris
The Guardian, Tuesday 19 November 2013
Link to video: Paris manhunt after shooting at newspaper officeshttp://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/nov/18/paris-manhunt-shooting-newspaper-offices-video
Dozens of French police backed up by a helicopter and gendarmes are searching for a gunman who opened fire with a hunting rifle inside the offices of the left-wing newspaper Libération, leaving a staff member seriously injured, and was last seen on the Champs-Élysées.
The man, described by one witness as "serene and determined" caused panic as he criss-crossed the city using public transport and hijacking a private car. Detectives said they were combing the whole of west Paris for a "large built man with a shaved head in his forties" who they said appeared to have been behind three previous attacks including one at a television news channel.
He strode into the Libération entrance hall at about 10.15am and shot twice before fleeing on foot. He was then seen in the business district of La Défense, firing at the headquarters of France's second-largest bank, Société Génerale.
Link to video: Libération gunman at TV news offices in Paris - CCTV videohttp://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/nov/19/liberation-gunman-offices-paris-cctv-video
A motorist whose vehicle was car-jacked by the gunman told police he was "taken hostage" not far from La Defence shortly after shots were fired at the bank. He told detectives he was "threatened and forced to take the armed man in his car". The driver said he dropped the gunman off near the Avenue de Champs-Elysées.
The gunman, wearing green trainers, a black cap, black trousers and a sleeveless padded jacket, appeared in front of Philippe Antoine, chief editor at BFMTV. Throwing two cartridges on the ground, he said: "The next time, I won't miss you", and ran off. "It was all over in seconds," Antoine said.
The French interior minister, Manuel Valls, said: "The man is fleeing and poses a real danger. We will do everything we can to catch him."
Baptiste Bouthier, a Libération journalist, told the Guardian: "Apparently he came in and shot at the first person he saw, who happened to be a young photographer's assistant who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"At the moment we don't know more than that and the building is surrounded by police. We are all in great shock here."
French papers said police had matched the bullet cases found at Libération with those left at BFMTV, and security camera footage from the TV station and Libération confirmed it was the same man.
A journalist who saw the security video after Friday's attack at BFMTV said: "He held his gun, it was a gun with a long barrel. He was wearing black gloves."
Fabrice Rousselot, editorial director at Libération, said the man had shot twice. "He said nothing. He came in, he shot and he left as he had arrived."
Libération's editor, Nicolas Demorand, said staff were "horrified witnesses" of the drama. "When someone with a gun comes into a newspaper in a democracy, it's very, very serious whatever the mental state of that person.
"If newspapers and media have to become bunkers then there's something wrong in our society," Demorand added.
The 27-year-old victim was said to have been hit in the chest and is in a critical condition in hospital. The French government immediately sent police to the offices of other media organisations in Paris.
A Société Génerale worker, Pierre-Alber Garcias, told French journalists that he was in a group having a cigarette break near the bank's office tower at La Défense when he saw the gunman. "We heard the first explosion and at first we didn't realise it was a gun. Then I turned and 10 metres from me there was a man reloading his gun. Then there was a second shot.
"It's still going round in my head. He was very serene still quite determined. That's what was so shocking. We hid immediately behind a wall. We heard the second shot and stayed hidden. Thirty seconds after the second shot he had gone.
"I didn't feel particularly threatened. We had the impression he was firing into the air. He didn't seem to want to target anyone in particular."
One of the first on the scene at Libération was Lionel (first name only), who works in the newspaper's computer department.
"I arrived at 8am and did some computer maintenance. Shortly after 10am, I was heading towards the goods' lift with one of my colleagues to go for a coffee on the eighth floor," he told the paper.
"We heard two loud bangs coming from the ground floor. At first we thought the lift had a problem, so we came down by the other lift. Arriving , one of our colleagues was making signs to us from the window. In the entrance hall there was blood everywhere, and bullet casings on the ground.
"I began to give the victim first aid, given that I'm a first aider and a volunteer firefighter. I took his pulse and I talked to him, to reassure him, and placed him in the recovery position. The young man remained conscious, but I had to keep him stimulated because he was going to fall asleep.
"I cut his clothes to make a compression. The victim had taken a bullet as big as a thumb shot at point blank range. It had gone in through the back at the level of his left ribs and come out at the level of his left breast. The gunman had opened fire a second time, but the shot had gone into the ceiling.
"When he felt the hit of the bullet, the young man had run towards the car park, then retraced his steps before trying to flee. A colleague from general services had caught him and he collapsed in the middle of the hall.
"After ten to fifteen minutes, the emergency services arrived. I told them what I had done and I left the victim, conscious and aware of where he was."
President François Hollande issued a statement. "The head of state has asked the interior minister to mobilese all means to throw light on the circumstances of what happened and to arrest the person or persons who carried it out."
The prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said the Libération shooting was a "direct attack on one of the pillars of our democracy, the freedom of the press. The government will not allow representatives of the written or broadcast press, whose work is vital to the functioning of our democracy and our republican institutions, be threatened or victims of criminal acts while doing their jobs."
November 18, 2013
Hollande’s Assertive Role in Foreign Policy Is a Good Fit for France
By ALISSA J. RUBIN
PARIS — In the past few weeks, President François Hollande of France has been booed at a solemn national ceremony and forced to retreat on an element of his economic agenda. He has seen his nation’s credit rating downgraded and watched as his already-low public support continued to erode.
Outside France, it is a different story. Widely derided as flailing at home, Mr. Hollande is building a far more assertive and confident image abroad, most notably for the last two days in Israel, where he has been embraced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a vital player in the debate over how best to rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
While France has been seen as pro-Palestinian, Mr. Hollande was welcomed by Mr. Netanyahu as something of a hero for having helped delay a deal being negotiated by the United States and other allies that would loosen economic sanctions on Iran in return for guarantees by Iran that it would sharply restrict its nuclear activities.
In the past year Mr. Hollande, a socialist, has managed a successful military intervention in Mali and has stood in favor of a military strike against Syria over the Assad government’s use of chemical weapons, until the United States and Britain backed off.
Mr. Hollande is far from the first world leader to find himself more comfortable in the world of foreign policy than in the messy business of politics at home. But the contrast between his handling of the two sides of his portfolio is striking and is evidence that France, for all its domestic divisions, continues to enjoy a consensus at home about taking an assertive role in world affairs.
Mr. Hollande’s foreign policy positions are not “divisive vis-à-vis the French body politic,” said François Heisbourg, a special adviser to the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris.
“To take the stance he took doesn’t hurt him politically,” Mr. Heisbourg said of Mr. Hollande’s position that reportedly scuttled a deal between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany to relax sanctions against Tehran in return for tangible assurances about the peaceful nature of its nuclear program.
“This is pretty much of a consensus item; it was the position taken by his predecessor as well,” Mr. Heisbourg said, referring to the former conservative president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who also took a hard line on Tehran.
France’s stand on the Iranian nuclear deal, much like its stand on Syria, is part of Paris’s own brand of foreign policy, one that shares many of the same principles as the United States’ but sometimes has different priorities.
France has longstanding business ties with the Sunni Arab countries in the gulf, including Saudi Arabia, ties that have shaped its stand. The Sunni countries of the gulf want to keep a nuclear weapon out of the hands of Iran, which follows the Shiite branch of Islam. On this issue, Israel’s position is close to that of its Sunni Arab neighbors’: all say Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear bomb would be unacceptable.
Mr. Hollande got similar political mileage — support from the left and right — from the stand he took on Mali, in which he urged intervention when Islamic extremists took over the country’s north and began to advance toward the capital, Bamako.
He put French troops on the ground, who had enough success in routing the extremists that he received applause at home. He is now taking a similarly strong position on intervention, albeit of a far more limited sort, in the troubled Central African Republic.
Forcefulness seems to come easily to Mr. Hollande abroad: on Sunday in Israel he stated that on Iran, France wanted “a serious significant agreement that gives results” and detailed the main points, including the suspension of all enrichment of uranium to the level of 20 percent and a halt on construction of the heavy water reactor at the Arak plant.
But it seems to escape him when he faces charged domestic questions at home. On economic policy, he is trapped between a revolt over high taxes on one side and on the other his own party’s deep aversion to the benefit cuts and labor market reforms that are being urged by the European Union and the stock markets.
To choose either route could unleash mass demonstrations and risk further political wounds. Not to choose means continued drift and criticism from the European Union and other bodies that have become increasingly impatient with Paris’s inability or unwillingness to address big structural issues.
Over the past month, thousands of farmers, agricultural workers and truckers, many of them almost certainly socialist voters in the last election, blocked major roads in Brittany in France’s northwest, setting fires and destroying more than $10 million of government property to protest a tax on heavy trucks.
What is more striking to many observers is how the power vacuum in domestic politics is increasingly being filled by the far right. Extremist voices, some analysts said, are challenging not only Mr. Hollande’s legitimacy, but the traditional boundaries of French political discourse and the stature of the state.
“There’s a weakening of the institutions that embody authority,” said Christophe Barbier, the editor of L’Express, the weekly news magazine.
Among the most visible manifestations of the political climate have been racist slurs against Mr. Hollande’s justice minister, Christiane Taubira, who is black. Initially left unanswered, they are now being countered more aggressively by the government.
In October a candidate for the extreme right National Front party, Anne-Sophie Leclère, put a photograph on her own Facebook page of a baby monkey in a dress with the subtitle “At 18 months,” and then next to the monkey, an unflattering photograph of Ms. Taubira, with the subtitle “Now.”
Last week, Minute, a fringe right-wing magazine, also compared Ms. Taubira to a monkey. Mr. Hollande’s government reacted swiftly this time. The prime minister asked the interior minister, Manuel Valls, to take legal steps against the magazine under a law against racism, and the public prosecutor opened an official investigation.
But Mr. Hollande has difficulty escaping his critics at home.
On Armistice Day, a major national holiday, Mr. Hollande was traveling to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier when an organized protest met him along the way. Some of the protesters wore the red caps associated with a 17th-century anti-tax movement against Louis XIV, the Sun King.
Mr. Hollande’s decisive posture abroad, however, does little to shield him from such critics at home.
Maïa de la Baume and Scott Sayare contributed reporting.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: November 19, 2013
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that a candidate for the extreme right National Front party posted photographs of a baby monkey and Christiane Taubira, the justice minister, on Ms. Taubira’s Facebook page. The candidate, Anne-Sophie Leclère, posted the photographs on her own Facebook page, not on the page of Ms. Taubira.
November 18, 2013
German Chancellor Makes Plea for Ukraine
By ALISON SMALE
BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel demanded on Monday that Russia allow its onetime subjects — particularly in Ukraine — to exercise the sovereign right to make alliances as they choose.
“The Cold War should be over for everyone,” Ms. Merkel said, making her first speech to the German Parliament since winning the general election in September.
Ms. Merkel devoted the bulk of her 15-minute address to throwing Berlin’s considerable political and economic weight behind the European Union’s efforts to forge closer partnerships with six former Soviet republics: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
Those nations have been invited to sign association agreements at a two-day meeting that opens Nov. 28 in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, one of three former Soviet republics that joined the European Union in 2004.
Ukraine, by far the biggest of the countries invited, has become the object of an East-West tug of war. European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels made clear on Monday that responsibility for Ukraine’s fate lay with its president, Viktor F. Yanukovich, an ally of Moscow who has nonetheless said he wants his country to be closer to Europe.
Last week, though, the Ukrainian Parliament postponed consideration of a bill to allow the imprisoned former prime minister, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, to leave the country for medical treatment in Germany. The European Union wants the bill to be passed before it declares that Ukraine has met the conditions for entering an enhanced partnership. Diplomats widely see Tuesday as the deadline for the Ukrainian Parliament to act.
Ms. Merkel and the lawmakers from all parties who followed her to the lectern on Monday emphasized that the proposed agreements with former Soviet republics are “not directed against Russia” and could help Russia integrate with Europe, as the chancellor declared.
Moldova, Europe’s poorest country, and Georgia, which recently underwent a peaceful transition of power, are sure to sign agreements at the Vilnius meeting, Ms. Merkel said. She lauded the Moldovans, in particular, for ignoring a Russian boycott of its wine exports, the country’s most important source of foreign exchange.
Armenia, on the other hand, has succumbed to Russian pressure, including a threatened cutoff of energy supplies, and will now join a customs union led by Russia that includes Belarus and Kazakhstan, Ms. Merkel said.
Ukraine is a cliffhanger, the chancellor said: “It is not yet clear whether Ukraine is willing to create the conditions” to sign the association agreement with the European Union, which would open up trade and other economic benefits and make travel to Western Europe easier.
The debate over the union’s Eastern Partnership program in the German Parliament was followed by a lively discussion of the recent accusations that Germany’s most important ally, the United States, eavesdropped on millions of Germans, including the chancellor.
Ms. Merkel, displaying barely a trace of the anger that she voiced when the monitoring of her cellphone became known, seemed intent on tamping down the hard feelings that have developed over the affair. Still, she insisted that the United States had work to do to restore the confidence needed, for example, to negotiate a free trade accord with the European Union.
The spying accusations “are grave,” the chancellor said. “They must be cleared up. And, more important still: for the future, we must build new trust.”
In the debate, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a former foreign minister and member of the Social Democrats, with whom Ms. Merkel is now negotiating a new coalition government, said there was more to the matter than merely the discovery that the United States had spied on Germany.
“People sense that this is not a one-time oversight,” Mr. Steinmeier told the Parliament. “People sense that this is about a very basic question. This is about which moral and political guidelines do we need in this modern, digital 21st century?”
Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, has disclosed information about the agency’s surveillance operations to various publications — in Germany, primarily to the news weekly Der Spiegel. Several prominent politicians and intellectuals on the left have demanded that Mr. Snowden, who now has temporary asylum in Russia, be given shelter in Germany and be allowed to answer questions before a full-fledged parliamentary inquiry.
The chancellor’s conservative bloc and the Social Democrats used their combined majority on Monday to reject opposition calls for an inquiry. Still, such an inquiry could be established after Ms. Merkel is sworn in as head of a new government, which is expected to happen on Dec. 17.
11/18/2013 01:28 PM
Annual Payments: Berlin Helps Ethnic Germans in Eastern Europe
The German government spends more than 20 million euros per year on helping ethnic Germans living in Eastern Europe, SPIEGEL has learned. The payments are "an expression of special historical responsibility" for their suffering after World War II, Berlin says.
The German government spends more than €20 million ($27 million) per year on programs to support German minorities living in Eastern Europe.
The payments are an "expression of special historical responsibility," says the German Interior Ministry, and are intended to compensate people for the injustice they suffered in their countries after World War II.
The figures were made available by the ministry in response to a request from SPIEGEL. They don't include payments made by the Foreign Ministry, the Culture Ministry or Germany's 16 regional state governments.
The government contributes to financing care for the elderly, language tuition and cultural events for some one million people. It also subsidizes the German-Russian children's magazine Schrumdirum, paying €244,000 per year for subscriptions.
The per capita expenditure varies widely. Germans in Romania get almost €48 per year on average, compared with just €2 for Germans in Hungary.
The German government doesn't know how big its target group really is, though. The payments are based on local censuses in which people were asked if they saw themselves as ethnic Germans. For example, in 2011, only 109,000 Poles said they did, while minority associations put the figure of German Poles at up to 350,000.
In Russia, the figure could be 600,000 people rather than the 400,000 cited by the German Interior Ministry. In Hungary, successive censuses have increased the estimate for ethnic Germans from 30,000 to 86,000 between 1990 and 2011.
For the whole of Eastern Europe, the figure could be between 1 million and 1.5 million people.
This kind of support can be linked back to the Federal Expellee Law of 1953, which defines the rights of ethnic Germans or German citizens who were either expelled or fled as refugees from Central and Eastern Europe after the war. In June, the German parliament called on the government to "continue the aid policy for the German minorities."
One in six Walmart factories in Bangladesh fail safety review
Company publishes list of factories subject to independent inspection, but workers' groups say reports are vague
The Guardian, Monday 18 November 2013 19.27 GMT
One in six clothing factories used by Walmart in Bangladesh failed to meet basic standards of structural, fire or electrical safety, the US retailer has found.
Independent inspections for the company – which owns Asda in the UK – found that 32 of its 200 factories required urgent work to fix serious failings, including one factory that was so unsafe it had to be shut down and another with an illegal eighth floor containing the staff canteen.
Most of those factories have since carried out remedial work, but production is still temporarily halted at two factories, which have failed to make the improvements required for basic safety since the inspections started in May.
The inspections were carried out after the Rana Plaza disaster in April, when more than 1,100 workers died and many more were injured after a factory collapsed.
The problems emerged as Walmart published a list of 75 of the 200 factories that had been inspected and rated on electrical and building safety, from A, which would be a model factory, to D, the worst level.
The paperwork did not give details of the problems at each factory, but Jay Jorgensen, the company's global compliance officer, said the worst problems included the factory with an additional floor and another with an extra building that it did not have paperwork for.
Walmart had promised to publish a list of the factories it had inspected in June, but Jorgensen said the process had been delayed by civil unrest and difficulties in sourcing sufficient new materials, such as fire doors.
Jorgensen said Walmart had published the list in order to help other companies sourcing in the country, including the 100-plus signatories to an international factory improvement deal, the accord on fire and building safety in Bangladesh (AFBSB), which Walmart has refused to sign up to.
He said that 65% of the factories used by Walmart were also used by signatories of the accord, and added: "We want to collaborate with the accord."
Workers' rights campaigners slammed the reports as too vague to be helpful. Theresa Haas, of the US-based Worker Rights Consortium, said: "Walmart's reports are superficial at best. They contain no detailed information whatsoever about the results of the inspections or the remediation that has supposedly been carried out and there is no mention of the need to inform workers about risks that have been identified in their workplace.
"Walmart's approach to factory safety has not changed and the company continues to rely on a model that has repeatedly failed to protect workers from fire and building safety disasters."
Meanwhile, Jenny Holdcroft, policy director of the international union IndustriALL, called on Walmart to formally sign the accord. "I honestly don't know what anyone could do with the information they have published," Holdcroft said. She said the accord would be publishing full details of its inspections, which are due to start imminently. She said without proper knowledge of the issues raised by inspectors, workers could unknowingly find themselves working in unsafe conditions.
Jorgensen said Walmart had appointed a permanent team of 10 inspectors who would continue to work with factories, including making a further assessment in January. "We are committed to the welfare over the long haul," he said.
Walmart said that the factory inspections had been carried out over a period of several months by teams of six to 12 inspectors and cost $4m. Some of the money was used to provide training for workers in workplace safety.
A fund provided by the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, a group of North American retailers that have fought shy of signing the legally underpinned AFBSB, has helped support workers during factory closures while work was carried out. There are also low-cost loans available through the alliance to help factories make building improvements, but none of those identified by Walmart has taken up that offer.
November 19, 2013
Nepal Holds Vote Amid Scattered Violence
By GARDINER HARRIS
NEW DELHI — Voters crowded polling stations across Nepal on Tuesday, defeating attempts by a powerful Maoist group and other parties to disrupt or prevent new elections to select a Constituent Assembly charged with writing a constitution.
More than 60 percent of the country’s 12 million eligible voters had cast ballots by midafternoon, Nepal’s chief election commissioner, Neel Kantha Uprety, said in an interview.
“It is a grand success, if I may say so,” Mr. Uprety said. “We are very happy to see the participation of voters and the cool mind-set of the political parties and candidates.”
Mr. Uprety predicted that voter turnout would surpass 65 percent by the time polls were to close.
Some voters walked hours to reach their polling centers as the Election Commission restricted the use of unregistered vehicles on the country’s roads. “It was interesting to vote, as it was my first vote,” said Deepika Thapa, 23, one of millions of young people who were voting for the first time because of the relative youth of Nepal’s populace.
There were reports of scattered violence, including an explosion Tuesday morning in Katmandu that injured three children. The bomb, planted near a polling station, exploded when a child touched it, thinking it was a toy. The injured child, Samir Khadgi, 8, was in critical condition.
A hard-line faction of Communists known as the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists had vowed to disrupt the elections. Aligned with at least a dozen other parties, the Nepalese Maoists — known as Dashists — had held a transportation strike across the country for more than a week. There were several attacks on public vehicles during the strike, killing a truck driver and injuring at least two dozen other people.
The strike was intended to stop voters from returning to their home villages to cast ballots, and there were reports that some voters had been dissuaded from going home as a result of the disruptions.
Maoists halted elections in one district and looted ballot papers in another, according to the Election Commission. A special squad of the Nepalese Army was deployed in both places, and Mr. Uprety vowed to rerun elections in those districts.
Hard-line Maoists detained a prominent Nepali journalist in the Thawang district, but the Maoists insisted that the detention did not amount to an abduction.
“He was here to make the election process a success but we have been discussing things with him for the last two days,” said Santosh Budha, a Dashist central committee member, referring to the journalist. “It’s not an abduction.”
The opposition alliance objected to a variety of events leading up to elections, including the appointment of the country’s chief justice as a caretaker prime minister while the elections were held. The government declared a four-day holiday to encourage voters to return to their villages.
Nepal has suffered through decades of political upheaval and paralysis, including a 10-year civil war that ended in 2006. Tuesday’s vote was a rerun of an election in 2008 that created a Constituent Assembly that was to write a constitution. That body deadlocked over two major issues — what kind of democracy to adopt and how to divide the country into states.
The hope is that a new Constituent Assembly will resolve those issues and finish the constitution, which many observers believe is the only way the country can arrest a disastrous economic spiral that has forced a growing share of the nation’s youth to emigrate to find work.
Nepal, ruled for centuries by monarchs, has 125 ethnic groups, 127 spoken languages, scores of castes and three distinct ecosystems that have long divided its 27 million people into a blinding array of feuding communities, making political consensus difficult. More than 120 political parties have registered to compete in the latest elections.
Final tallies are not expected for at least three weeks, according to Mr. Uprety. There are three main political parties, including the Maoist group, a Marxist-Leninist party and the Nepali Congress. A royalist party that has called for a return of the king has gotten some attention in recent weeks.
Bhadra Sharma contributed reporting from Katmandu.
Liu Xiaobo to seek retrial
Nobel peace prize winner and dissident is serving an 11-year jail sentence in China for subversion
Tania Branigan in Beijing
theguardian.com, Tuesday 19 November 2013 10.50 GMT
The lawyer of jailed Nobel peace prize winner Liu Xiaobo has said the dissident intends to ask for a retrial.
Next month marks the fifth anniversary of the Chinese writer and critic's detention, on the eve of publication of a call for democratic reforms that he co-authored. He was subsequently jailed for 11 years for subversion and his appeal dismissed.
Liu's lawyer, Mo Shaoping, said he agreed to a legal challenge during a prison visit by his wife, Liu Xia.
"Liu Xia came to our law firm in October and formally authorised us to take this case. Last week, we submitted an application to Jinzhou prison requesting a visit to Liu Xiaobo," he added.
"We need to meet Liu to discuss details with him before we formally lodge a request for him with the Beijing high court. If Beijing high court rejects our appeal, we will appeal to the supreme court."
Joshua Rosenzweig, a human rights scholar based in Hong Kong, said courts had discretion as to whether to grant a retrial. That was one reason why such hearings were uncommon, he said.
"Another is that, even though prisons are not supposed to use the fact you are trying to reopen the case against you, in practice it is not seen as good behaviour, which has an impact on your eligibility for things like sentence reductions. There are built-in incentives against pursuing it," he added.
"In this case, frankly, he probably has very little to lose. I don't foresee that the authorities are terribly interested in giving him a sentence reduction … In practice, I would be very surprised were this case to be reopened. Politically, authorities don't have much reason to; it just reopens a big, festering wound."
Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch said the chances of winning a retrial were small but nonetheless worth a shot, given that a new leadership was in place.
"It's worth offering an opportunity to the leadership to change its mind. There are not many avenues to do that, the other being probably medical parole," he said.
"This is going to be decided at the highest level of authority – I assume the Politburo – as will any decision about him … It was a political decision to put him in jail in the first place; it will be a political decision to do anything with him."
He added that there was little international pressure, with most western countries proving extremely shy on the subject.
"If Beijing is not paying a price for putting him in jail … they have no incentive to release him," Bequelin said.
Liu Xia herself has been under house arrest since shortly after the announcement that her husband had won the Nobel peace prize, in October 2010.
She has never been accused of an offence and supporters say her family is suffering retaliation for her support for her husband. Her brother was jailed this year for fraud over a property dispute. His lawyers claimed the case was politically motivated.
Tony Abbott: no explanation, no apology to Indonesia for spying
Prime minister tells parliament other countries should not expect Australia to reveal the kind of details they keep secret
Lenore Taylor, political editor
theguardian.com, Tuesday 19 November 2013 03.57 GMT
Tony Abbott says Australia should not be expected to apologise nor to explain in detail the steps it takes to protect its citizens, in a statement to parliament responding to the diplomatic furore over revelations that Australian surveillance targeted the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and his inner circle.
Indonesia has demanded an explanation and an apology, but Abbott insisted this would not happen, although the bilateral relationship was “the most important single relationship that we have”.
“In the past 24 hours there have been calls for Australia to detail our intelligence operations and to apologise for them,” Abbott told parliament.
“The first duty of every government is to protect the country and to advance its national interests, that is why every government gathers information and why every government knows that every other government gathers information … there is no greater responsibility for a prime minister than ensuring the safety of Australian citizens and the security of our borders and that indeed is why we do collect intelligence. National security requires a consistent determination to do what is best for Australia and that is why this government will support the national security decisions of previous ones as we will expect future governments to respect ours.
“Australia should not be expected to apologise for the steps we take to protect our country now or in the past, any more than other governments should be expected to apologise for the similar steps that they have taken ... importantly in Australia’s case we use all our resources including information to help our friends and allies, not to harm them.
“Similarly ... Australia shouldn’t be expected to detail what we do to protect our country any more than other governments should be expected to detail what they do to protect theirs. Others should ask of us no more than what they are prepared to do themselves,” Abbott said.
"I don't believe Australia should be expected to apologise for reasonable intelligence-gathering activities."
He said he sincerely regretted any embarrassment to Indonesia caused by “recent media reports”.
The opposition leader, Bill Shorten, said the bilateral relationship needed to be “above party politics” but “the next few days are of the utmost importance”.
“Disagreement should not be allowed to fester. The government needs to quickly and effectively remediate the situation,” he said.
Shorten suggested Australia should take a different approach.
"I believe, for instance, that the example of the United States and the way that it handled a similar issue with Germany, provides the opportunity for us to consider the same course of action," he said.
The revelations of attempted spying against Indonesia were revealed on Monday by Guardian Australia and the ABC.
Yudhoyono subsequently accused Abbott of “belittling” Australia’s attempts to tap his phone and those of other senior Indonesian politicians.
Tweeting in Bahasa on his official account, Yudhoyono said: “I regret the Australian PM statement belittling the phone-tapping in Indonesia without feeling guilty. We are reviewing a number of co-operation agendas because of the damaging Australian behaviour … The action by the US and Australia is damaging the strategic partnership with Indonesia, a democratic nation.”
Indonesia recalled its ambassador, Nadjib Riphat Kesoema, to Australia and is reviewing all co-operation. He returned to Canberra from Brisbane on Tuesday morning and was due to fly to Jakarta later in the day.
Indonesia’s foreign minister, Dr Marty Natalegawa, said he was "flabbergasted" by the revelations, which he described as “nothing less than an unfriendly act” which “violates every single decent and legal instrument I can think of”.
The revelations come from a Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) slide presentation dated November 2009, during the former Labor administration.
Bob Carr, Labor’s foreign minister from 2012, has said the government must apologise for the spying and “carve out what is off limits” for intelligence gathering in future.
Carr said the revelations were “nothing short of catastrophic” for the bilateral relationship and that Abbott’s response to date had been “too dismissive by far”.
Carr suggested Abbott could apologise and then agree to “carve out areas we won’t touch” in a similar way to Barack Obama’s statement that the US was not currently monitoring the phone of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and would not do so in future.
Carr also suggested ministers would have “signed off” on the decision to spy on the Indonesian president, his wife and his inner circle, saying “you’d like to think the hand of a minister would hover before signing off” on such a proposal.
He said ministers should have considered whether the gains from such eavesdropping were “so vital” that they outweighed the risk to national security of the practice becoming publicly known.
Guardian Australia understands from several intelligence sources that the defence minister would normally have to approve such high-level surveillance targets. That minister was Joel Fitzgibbon until June 2009, and then John Faulkner. Both have declined to comment.
The documents, published by the Guardian and the ABC and leaked by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, show that the DSD targeted the phones of Yudhoyono and his wife, as well as those of eight other high-profile Indonesian politicians, among them possible successors to Yudhoyono.
Addressing the leak on Monday, Abbott said "all governments gather information and all governments know that every other government gathers information" and vowed that Australia used "resources at [their] disposal, including information, to help our friends and our allies, not to harm them".
Natalegawa dismissed these claims. "I have news for you," he said. “We don't do it. We certainly should not be doing it among friends.” He said he was unhappy with the "dismissive answers being provided" by Canberra