US and Afghanistan wrangle with deal to keep troops in place after 2014
White House plays down talk agreement has been reached, while Afghan officials say it must include US apology
Emma Graham-Harrison in Kabul and Dan Roberts in Washington
theguardian.com, Tuesday 19 November 2013 21.23 GMT
The US and Afghanistan are close to reaching a draft security agreement that would allow American forces to stay in the country past 2014, Afghan officials have claimed. The deal is critical to Afghanistan's hopes of stability after western combat troops leave next year.
However any deal would need to include a public apology for past mistakes by American forces from the US government, the Afghan presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi said on Tuesday, prompting a flat denial from Barack Obama's top national security aide that any such concession was on the table. An apology would almost certainly be politically controversial in Washington.
Faizi said an apology was part of the negotiations and “would acknowledge the suffering of the Afghan people, recognise mistakes in the 'war on terror' in Afghanistan, and guarantee that the mistakes of the past will not be repeated”.
But Susan Rice, the US president's national security adviser, said: "No such letter has been drafted or delivered. There is not a need for the United States to apologise to Afghanistan."
Rice told CNN's Situation Room programme on Tuesday night: "Quite the contrary, we have sacrificed and supported them in their democratic progress and in tackling the insurgents and al-Qaida. So that [letter of apology] is not on the table." Claims about a letter arose from a "complete misunderstanding of what the situation is", Rice said.
The White House played down talk that a final deal had been reached, refusing to confirm reports that a phone call between US secretary of state John Kerry and President Karzai had suggested an apology might be conveyed in a letter to the Afghan people.
“I am not going to comment on letter that hasn't been written,” said the White House spokesman, Jay Carney. “This issue has always been one that is subject of conversations with the Afghans, and the general issue of Afghan casualties has always been one of concern to the US military, which takes enormous care to avoid civilian casualties.”
Even if a draft is agreed between the governments of the two countries, it still has to be put to an assembly of around 3,000 Afghans, or loya jirga, gathered from across the country this week. They are meant to be broadly representative of the population, but without clear guidelines for their selection, critics argue it will be a rubber-stamp assembly reflecting Karzai's wishes. “This agreement is not reached until the loya jirga has passed judgment,” Carney said.
Monday evening's discussion between Kerry and Karzai was aimed at hammering out a dispute over whether American forces would be allowed to enter Afghan homes on night raids, the latest chapter in a year of high-stakes, and often highly public, negotiations.
The two men agreed the outline of a potential workaround, Faizi said, although he admitted that the wording had not yet been fixed.
The compromise would allow US forces to enter Afghan homes, but only in extraordinary circumstances, and the deal would be accompanied by the US government’s letter of apology. Karzai requested that Obama sign the letter, and Kerry said he would pass details of the proposed compromise to the White House.
Karzai has taken a fierce public stand against night raids by foreign troops, saying they are a violation of Afghan sovereignty, and harm innocent people. American commanders say the surprise searches are a vital tool for fighting an insurgency, and now usually arrive with Afghan special forces who they have trained.
Kerry had flown into Kabul last month for negotiations to rekindle a stalling process. Talks dragged on past his planned departure, but ended with the broad outlines of a deal that satisfied both sides.
However, the account of Monday evening's conversation from the presidential palace in Kabul suggested that Karzai, a skilled negotiator, was not willing to give much ground. He initially suggested that Kerry come to Kabul to defend his government's demand for night raids at the 3,000-strong national meeting, or delay a decision on the deal until a new government is voted in next year.
The security agreement will give US forces one main base at Bagram, near Kabul, and the right to station troops on eight other Afghan military bases around the country.
Without the deal, there will be no US soldiers staying on to help train up the army, and other Nato nations will not leave their forces in Afghanistan to help. The $4bn a year required by the the country's security forces to keep fighting the Taliban, largely pledged to come from US funds, would also be in jeopardy.
Although not officially contingent on the security pact, a rejection would been seen as such a strong vote against the US mission in the country that congress would likely be wary of signing off on such a major financial commitment.
At the daily press briefing on Tuesday, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki confirmed that there had been "some progress made" to resolve the security pact outlining where and how many US troops can remain in Afghanistan next year, but denied there was a final version. "There was an agreement in principle on the text," she said.
Psaki refused to go into specific details or comment on reports that Obama would write a letter acknowledging mistakes made during the 12-year war. "I don't have anything to say about it, on whether there's a letter, whether there will be a letter," Psaki said.
Additional reporting by Karen McVeigh in New York
Afghan refugees in Iran face harassment, report finds
Families split up, children abused and adults forced to work without pay, says Human Rights Watch
Emma Graham-Harrison in Kabul
theguardian.com, Wednesday 20 November 2013 09.27 GMT
The Iranian government is splitting up Afghan refugee families, abusing children and subjecting adults to forced labour and beatings as it attempts to reduce the number of people fleeing across the long and porous border with Afghanistan, according to a report from Human Rights Watch.
There are between 2.4 million and 3 million Afghans living in Iran, a mix of asylum seekers and economic migrants who mostly lack official documents, according to the report, Unwelcome Guests: Iran's violation of Afghan refugee and migrant rights.
It is one of the largest refugee populations in the world and a strain on the Iranian economy as the country struggles with the fallout from years of sanctions.
But Iran is not meeting its legal obligations, HRW said, and has set up a complicated and confusing registration system that leaves even legitimate, long-term refugees liable to deportation.
"Iran is deporting thousands of Afghans to a country where the danger is both real and serious," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at HRW. "Iran has an obligation to hear these people's refugee claims rather than sweeping them up and tossing them over the border to Afghanistan."
For some forced out, who fled years ago or were born to refugee parents in Iran, Afghanistan is an alien place where spreading violence and a stumbling economy make resettling hard.
"Afghanistan may be even more dangerous now than when many of these refugees first fled," Stork added. "Now is not the time for Iran to send them home."
Iran has been a refuge for Afghans since the conflict began more than three decades ago. Wages, although meagre, are better than many Afghans could hope to earn at home. For about 800,000 people with valid refugee papers, there is a chance of a better education for their children and greater freedom for women.
But for the past five years, Iran has refused to let newly arrived Afghans register as asylum seekers, which makes it easier to deport them. Conditions have deteriorated, pressures have increased for those already there and they have little recourse when they face abuse.
"Human Rights Watch interviewed parents separated from their children during the deportation process with no idea how they would find their children again; young men and women born in Iran and effectively prevented from ever gaining Iranian citizenship being deported to a country they had never visited in their lives," the report said.
In the process of being deported, many are charged unreasonable fees, beaten, forced to work without pay, have cash or valuables stolen by authorities and go without adequate food. Perhaps most heartrending are the stories of split families.
One case it cited was of Arif and his wife, who had lived in Iran for 10 years and were registered refugees. They were seized from a minibus and deported with an infant, leaving behind three children aged eight, 10 and 12. "I don't know what I will do. I don't have money to get a passport and visa. We have no one to help," the children's father told HRW.
November 19, 2013
A New Party Challenges the One That Has Run India for Most of Its History
By ELLEN BARRY
NEW DELHI — Snaking down one of this city’s dusty back streets on a recent afternoon was a line of auto-rickshaws, the motorized buggies that course through this city by the tens of thousands, carrying ordinary citizens on their daily rounds. Unless you looked closely, you could miss the fact that they were part of a political insurgency.
One after another, drivers were plastering their vehicles with posters for the Aam Aadmi, or Common Man, Party, which hopes to end the ruling Congress Party’s 15-year dominance in Delhi in state elections two weeks from now.
The idea seemed quixotic at first. Founded last year out of the fading embers of an anticorruption street movement, the party had only one recognizable face, that of a former tax commissioner, Arvind Kejriwal. Most striking, it avoided the red-meat topics that drive most Indian political forces — caste, religion, region and family — focusing instead on the lone issue of stamping out corruption.
Seen from a distance, India’s forthcoming state elections are a gladiatorial showdown between the Congress Party, which has governed India for 53 of the last 65 years, and its Hindu nationalist opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party. But Aam Aadmi has broken that pattern in Delhi, in large part by capturing votes from the city’s working poor, a fast-growing group that has slipped out of Congress’s grip. Aam Aadmi has risen steadily in the polls, startling the heavyweights and setting the stage for a genuinely triangular contest.
Asked why they would use their vote on an untested newcomer, the auto-rickshaw drivers responded with a stream of grievances — over bribetaking transport inspectors and thuggish police constables, but also over the price of onions, registration fees, potholes and a growing sense of disconnection between the governing class and the governed.
“The common man is fed up,” said Pawan Kumar, extracting from his shirt a wad of paper documenting a fine that he had contested, desperately and fruitlessly. Nearby stood Gaurav, who said his frustration had grown so intense that whenever he overheard pro-Congress talk from passengers, he stopped his vehicle and told them it had malfunctioned.
“Congress has been the ruling party for the last 60 years,” said Gaurav, who does not use a surname and who migrated with his family to Delhi as a child. “They say all the right things, but look at the condition of the country. Other countries have come much farther in 60 years. Why don’t we have better medical facilities, educational facilities, roads? Why? Who is answerable for this?”
Even if Aam Aadmi wins only a small number of Delhi’s parliamentary seats — a real possibility, given India’s first-past-the-post system — it will challenge assumptions that have long undergirded Indian politics. Congress, with its socialist roots, addressed the rural and marginalized poor. Bharatiya Janata, created as a party of urban traders, spoke to more affluent, urban Indians, those more likely to hold Hindu nationalist views.
But that calculation is being scrambled in the black box of urban India, where new categories of voters are coming into existence.
Though the new party had little chance of winning the very rich (B.J.P. voters) or the poorest of the poor (Congress’s), the fat layer in the middle is expanding with waves of migration from northeastern provinces. Yogendra Yadav, a soft-spoken political scientist who has become Aam Aadmi’s main strategist, said support for Aam Aadmi had grown fastest among “those who are a little uprooted, who come and are lost for identity, lost for a grouping.”
Those who have latched on to the Common Man bandwagon include many in Delhi’s fast-growing informal economy — “this vast army of drivers, blacksmiths, locksmiths, cobblers, domestic workers, the guys who sell paan on the sidewalk,” said Ashutosh Varshney, a political scientist at Brown University. Voters like these interact constantly with low-level government officials, and their resentment has mounted to the point at which it trumps other political messages.
“There is a certain helplessness that comes from dealing with the malfunctioning state at the street level,” Mr. Varshney said. While more affluent people can “telephone their way through or bribe their way through,” he said, the working poor look to politicians to address their complaints. They vote, and in large numbers.
There are still some gaping holes in the new party’s platform, which is not surprising, considering the group’s swift transformation from a street movement. Though Mr. Kejriwal has pledged that his first major act will be arranging an independent ombudsman to look into complaints against government officials, the party has been slow to issue a clear manifesto beyond opposing corruption.
That has left it unclear where Aam Aadmi stands on basic political and economic questions. Dipankar Gupta, a sociologist, described the party’s appeal as superficial, “another way of saying ‘none of the above.’ ”
As its poll numbers have improved, the party has made compromises that smack of politics as usual, alienating purists who were among its early supporters. On Monday, as Mr. Kejriwal tried to counter a fresh rebuke from Anna Hazare, the Gandhian social activist who was his partner in the anticorruption movement, a man who identified himself as a Hazare supporter sprang up and flung a can of black ink at his face. Party leaders have quietly replaced some of their “common man” candidates with more politically experienced ones.
Mr. Yadav acknowledged that some of those decisions had been painful, but that party leaders had begun to feel “this close to actually making it” and become focused on running candidates who would be seen as viable.
“To be honest, I am stunned with the response that we are getting,” he said. “All I can say is that we have stepped into something not of our making.”
As the last days of campaigning ticked away, earnest volunteers continued to comb Delhi on Aam Aadmi’s behalf. Anita Pandey, 43, was plastering Kejriwal posters onto the back of auto-rickshaws on a recent afternoon. If a driver refused, saying the police were singling out drivers who carried the poster, she hectored him cheerfully and at high volume. “Why? Why?” she cried. “Show courage! If you will not show courage, who will?”
She worried, though, about what would happen when party workers began blanketing low-income neighborhoods with the freebies known here as sops, most often bottles of whiskey and 500-rupee notes.
Sure enough, a campaign worker from Bharatiya Janata — or rather the employee of a subcontractor, Adventure Media — showed up at the same spot a few days later, offering drivers brand-new lemon-colored canvas covers for their vehicles. The covers had a retail value of 500 rupees (about $8), a day’s take-home pay for many of them, and came complete with sewn-on campaign posters declaring support for the B.J.P.
The drivers murmured their admiration from across the street, debating whether accepting such a thing amounted to selling their vote. Each of them could recall the waves of gifts that arrived in their impoverished neighborhood ahead of elections, delivered in crates to the homes of the slum’s rainmakers, year after year.
A driver named Rakesh Kumar glanced over at the stack of auto-rickshaw covers and smiled. “Many people will take it, and they will paint it over,” he said. Then, he said, “we will vote for Kejriwal.”
Hari Kumar contributed reporting.
November 19, 2013
As Myanmar Modernizes, Old Trades Are Outpaced by New Competitors
By THOMAS FULLER
YANGON, Myanmar — For years they poured out their hearts on the broken pavements of Myanmar’s cities and towns, young lovers desperate for privacy yet with no choice but to use what the Burmese call roadside phone shops.
Daw Myint Myint Than, who rents out her two phone lines in central Yangon, has heard it all: the sobbing, heartbroken women; the angry spouses; the duplicitous boyfriends who gush sweet nothings to one girlfriend, hang up and repeat the same sweet nothings to another.
“I have lost all faith in men,” said Ms. Myint Myint Than, who sat on a plastic stool impatiently wiggling her silver-painted toenails as her customers chatted away.
Roadside phone shops — actually no more than a tiny table on the sidewalk and a few push-button phones — flourished in Myanmar when the former military junta set the price of obtaining a cellphone at thousands of dollars.
But as this country opens to the world, the phone rental business is losing customers quickly, one of a number of antiquated trades that are disappearing from a rapidly modernizing country. Who needs a roadside phone shop when you can now buy a cheap cellphone and call from anywhere you want?
The list of soon-to-be obsolete professions is growing: The typewriter clerks who sit outside courthouses and government offices are losing ground to computers and email. The mimeograph machines and a whole neighborhood of men who manually carve rubber stamps are being replaced by laser printers, scanners and photocopiers.
In every society, professions disappear in the name of progress. But the pace of change in Myanmar, where army generals introduced a form of democracy two years ago, has been compressed into months, not decades.
“The typewriting business is bad,” said Daw Nwe Sanda, who was at an outdoor shop in Yangon, where the clack-clack-clack of manual typewriters fills the air. “We still have our regular customers. But someday computers will replace all of this.”
Myanmar today feels caught between centuries. A clerk next to Ms. Nwe Sanda paused at her typewriter, picked up her smartphone and browsed Facebook.
Shiny new cars pass her stall, which sits in front of a moss-covered, five-story British colonial building that is so dilapidated that large plants grow out of cracks in the facade.
To tourists who hail from more orderly, sanitized societies, Myanmar’s street life can be charming.
On the sidewalks of Yangon, radishes are shredded, corn is steamed, coconuts are hollowed out and stalks of sugar cane are crushed into juice. Vendors sell knickknacks. On one stretch of sidewalk, they hawk teacups, used knives, Chinese-made plastic toys, two types of rat poison and a large pile of dusty, secondhand TV remote controls.
The streets are cacophonous, crowded and colorful. But the charm is lost on some here. It is more like desperation, said U Say Thu, who has made rubber stamps on a Yangon street corner for the past decade.
“No one would choose to work on the roadside,” said Mr. Say Thu, who tries to support his wife and children on an income of about $200 a month. “We would prefer to be indoors.”
It took him almost a year to master the art of hand-carving rubber stamps, which companies used for decades to give their correspondence an official imprimatur. But finding customers is getting harder, Mr. Say Thu said. He works with his back to a wall that is covered in green fungus across the street from Sule Pagoda, the golden Buddhist shrine in central Yangon.
“My profession is in danger,” he said. “It’s hard to make ends meet.”
A few blocks away is another trade that seems bound for obsolescence: the “ice water ladies” who offer to quench the thirst of customers with a block of ice that drips through a sock into a pitcher of water. Two wrinkled women compete for business by clanging metal cups together. Their main threats, convenience stores that sell bottled water, are opening across the country.
Life in Yangon is moving indoors. Investors paved over a huge cemetery a few years ago and built Junction Square, a giant shopping mall.
Office buildings and hotels are under construction across the city. Air-conditioned supermarkets carry delicacies like Roquefort cheese from France and apples from the United States.
Once a relatively scarce luxury, air-conditioning is everywhere now, in the form of newly imported cars. After decades when buying a car was beyond the reach of all but the wealthy, the government has allowed a flood of imports.
A significant portion of Yangon’s population now spends lots of time shielded from the tropical heat — in traffic jams.
The new cars replaced what populated Myanmar’s streets before the country opened up: decades-old Japanese-made cars held together by the ingenuity of mechanics who welded their own spare parts, and used needles and thread to repair torn engine hoses.
But those resourceful mechanics can barely contain their bafflement as they stare under the hoods of the new cars, in which microprocessors control everything.
“It’s a big problem,” said U Zaw Ye Win, who last year helped open Engine Doctor Engineering, a company that trains old mechanics in the ways of modern autos. Four decades of advances in automotive technology have cascaded into the country over the past two years. Myanmar’s mechanics, like grease-monkey Rip Van Winkles, are trying to grasp the finer points of computer diagnostics.
Mr. Zaw Ye Win, who was trained to be a mechanical engineer, is a good example. He spent 12 years as a political prisoner for defying the military junta and was released during an amnesty in 2011. When he emerged from jail, he had never sent an email, owned a mobile phone or used a web browser, let alone Google. He has quickly caught up.
“Many mechanics don’t know how to use a laptop,” he said. “We explain it slowly.”
Sinosphere - Dispatches From China
November 20, 2013, 3:07 am
Property Taxes Hoped to Curb China’s Real Estate Excesses
By ADAM CENTURY
Housing prices in China’s major cities continue to soar, according to a report released by the National Bureau of Statistics on Monday. With the exception of Wenzhou, in the eastern province of Zhejiang, housing prices rose in 69 of the 70 major cities in the survey during the first 10 months of 2013. In 21 cities prices jumped by more than 10 percent, and in another 26 cities by 8 percent to 10 percent. Shanghai and Beijing topped the list, with increases of 21.4 percent and 21.2 percent, respectively.
The release of the figures comes just days after the country’s top leadership pledged at the Communist Party Central Committee’s Third Plenum to accelerate property tax legislation, a step that many analysts say could help cool the sizzling market. The relevant clause in the Third Plenum report — a mere 15 characters in Section 17 of the more than 21,000-character document — offers no details as to how or when such a tax would be implemented.
The government is concerned that rising property prices could render housing even more unaffordable for lower- and middle-income Chinese, and thus fuel social instability. But any specific plans to impose a broad property tax have sparked controversy. For one thing, an effective property tax would require individuals, including government officials, to provide a more accurate record of their real estate holdings, a move analysts say would be resisted because of the scale of illicit income and other corruption it would uncover.
“The moment the government starts collecting taxes, people will be able to see the properties that individuals own,” wrote Li Xiaoning, a real estate market analyst, in the Legal Daily newspaper. “This will unleash problems that will truly test the boldness and determination of the government’s fight against corruption.”
Few issues are more explosive in China than abuses and excesses in the property market. With the domestic stock market stagnant, interest rates low and heavy restrictions on Chinese investing abroad, many higher-income Chinese have channeled their money into real estate, driving up prices and the hoarding of property while many lower-income Chinese cannot afford homes. In September, citizens cheered after a mid-level bureaucrat in Guangzhou nicknamed “Uncle House” for his large real estate holdings (22 properties, to be exact) was sentenced to 11 and a half years in jail for accepting bribes.
At present, China taxes profits on property sales, but does not impose a regular tax on the assessed value of property, with the exception of pilot programs that started in 2011 in Shanghai and Chongqing.
One argument in favor of a comprehensive property tax is that it would increase the cost of holding unused real estate and discourage property speculation. Another is that it would reduce local governments’ dependence on land sales, which now make up the bulk of their revenues. A heavy reliance on land sales has spurred excessive development in some cities, and illegal government seizures of property in others.
In an interview with the state-run Global Times newspaper, Fan Xiaochong, vice president of the Sunshine 100 Real Estate Group, supported this goal: “If the property tax gradually replaces land sales as a source of revenue, it will be a wise long-term strategy for local governments.”
Early this year, the central government asked mid- and large-sized cities to lay out “housing price control objectives.” In response, some cities raised minimum down payments, attempted to limit the number of homes an individual can purchase or introduced policies to curb lending. But the figures released this week suggest these measures have had little effect.
“There are many factors that determine housing prices, including not only supply and demand but also the policy environment,” Chen Zhi, the vice-secretary of the Beijing Real Estate Association, told Xinhua, the state-run news agency. “To set goals for the property market but not take corresponding actions is simply empty talk.”
In early November, the Shanghai government announced it was raising the minimum down payment for second homes to 70 percent from 60 percent. On Nov. 18, the Guangzhou government followed suit, requiring a 70 percent down payment on second homes and pledging to increase the supply of low- and middle-income housing for the city’s nearly 13 million residents. Guangzhou also decreed that residents without a local hukou, or residence permit, must show proof of tax or social security payments for the previous three years to be granted the right to purchase a home.
The government will have to be on guard against the unintended consequences of any changes in property law. In March, China introduced a nationwide 20 percent capital gains tax on home sales, up from 1 percent.
Married couples in Beijing were quick to find a loophole. The new regulation allows couples who jointly own two residential properties but then divorce to register each property under one person’s name. They can then, under certain conditions, sell those properties tax-free. And then, if they so desire, they can remarry.
In the first nine months of this year, Beijing’s divorce rate increased by more than 40 percent.
Indonesia halts co-operation on people smuggling in phone tapping row
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono demands explanation – Tony Abbott says he will reply 'swiftly, fully and courteously'
Oliver Laughland in Jakarta and Lenore Taylor in Canberra
theguardian.com, Wednesday 20 November 2013 07.17 GMT
Indonesia has temporarily halted all co-operation with Australia on people smuggling, its president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, announced on Wednesday as he continued to demand an explanation from the Australian government for the phone tapping revelations.
In a dramatic escalation of the row between the two countries, Yudhoyono spelled out a series of measures, including suspending all joint military exercises, in response to the scandal sparked by documents published by Guardian Australia and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Speaking at the presidential palace, Yudhoyono said such phone tapping was “in violation of international law”, saying: “I don't understand why it had to happen. Why Australia did it to Indonesia.”
He added: “I am expecting an official statement and stance from the Australian government.”
Yudhoyono said he would be writing to the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, on Wednesday demanding an official explanation.
Abbott promised to reply “swiftly, fully and courteously” to Yudhoyono’s letter, in a statement to parliament on Wednesday night.
The prime minister said he had been “encouraged by the president’s remarks about the strength of the relationship” and again expressed “deep and sincere regret about the embarrassment to the president and Indonesia caused by recent media reporting”.
The rift between the two countries opened up after reports from the Guardian and the ABC on Monday that Australia's spy agencies had attempted to listen in on the personal phone calls of Yudhoyono, and targeted the mobile phones of his wife, senior ministers and confidants.
The reports revealed top-secret documents, dated November 2009, from the whistleblower Edward Snowden, a former contractor to the US's National Security Agency.
In response to Abbott’s parliamentary statement, the opposition leader, Bill Shorten, said it was a “team Australia” moment and the Labor party would support the government’s efforts to repair the bilateral relationship.
Yudhoyono said a number of areas of co-operation would be reviewed, including temporary suspension of information-sharing deals, joint military training, and “co-ordinated military operations targeting people smuggling”.
“We can't possibly continue with it when we're not sure that there isn't tapping on Indonesia national forces,” he said.
Yudhoyono said all future co-operation between Australian and Indonesia should be conducted under a code of conduct that was “binding” and “clear in nature”.
The ABC reports that Indonesia has now pulled out of a biannual joint airforce training exercise in the Northern Territory, which had started on Tuesday. Future training exercises have been put on hold.
“I find it personally hard to comprehend why the tapping was done. We are not in a cold war era,” Yudhoyono said.
He added that he was hopeful the “good” relationship between Australia and Indonesia would continue “after this problem is resolved”, also calling for calling for calm among Indonesians.
"I know Indonesians are upset and angry on what Australia has done to Indonesia. But in international relations, in dealing with certain situations, we can not be emotional, we must remain rational,” he said.
Before Yudhoyono’s statement, Indonesia’s chief of intelligence said Australian intelligence authorities had told him tapping had occurred between 2007 and 2009.
Marciano Norman, head of the Indonesian State Intelligence agency, said the Australian security officials had reassured him that the phone tapping would stop.
“According to my latest communication, starting from now they will stop – they won't do it anymore," he said.
"If they conduct activities outside the existing information sharing co-ordination, then it is a violation and thus it is unacceptable."
Marty Natalegawa, the Indonesian foreign minister, had said Indonesia was officially downgrading its relationship with Australia.
He said the downgrade would “include reviewing all bilateral co-operation between the two countries – not only information and intelligence exchange”.
“It's no longer business as usual,” he said.
There was a police and security presence at the Australian embassy in Jakarta on Wednesday, with police officers telling Guardian Australia they were on standby for protests outside. There were no scheduled protests as of Wednesday afternoon.
Tony Abbott under growing pressure to mend rift with Indonesia
Prime minister urged to end diplomatic standoff and make gesture of reconciliation after phone-tapping revelations
Lenore Taylor, political editor
theguardian.com, Wednesday 20 November 2013 02.36 GMT
The prime minister is under increasing pressure to mend the growing diplomatic rift with Indonesia caused by revelations by Guardian Australia and the ABC that Australia sought to spy on Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and his inner circle in 2009.
The opposition leader, Bill Shorten, the former Labor foreign minister Bob Carr and a former Australian ambassador to Indonesia, John McCarthy, have urged Tony Abbott to act to calm the row and end the diplomatic stand-off.
In an article written for Guardian Australia, Shorten reiterated his sense of urgency, saying: "The days ahead are of the utmost importance. Disagreement should not be allowed to fester.
"The government needs to quickly and effectively remediate the situation. I can assure the Australian people that the opposition will fully co-operate in the task before Australia. We are willing to join the Abbott government in any effort, briefings or discussions in pursuit of the task of rebuilding trust within this key relationship."
Indonesia has categorically rejected the prime minister's statement to parliament on Tuesday in which he said he "regretted" embarrassment caused by media reports but saw no reason for Australia to either explain or apologise for the surveillance.
McCarthy, who was ambassador from 1997 to 2001 and who has in recent years chaired an Australia-Indonesia leadership dialogue, said he understood Abbott's position that he would not apologise, because that implicitly confirmed the spying had taken place. But he said it was crucial for Abbott to make personal contact with Yudhoyono to calm the dispute.
"There is nothing, frankly, to prevent the prime minister saying to the president that it's not happening and it's not going to happen in the future. That's what Obama did with Angela Merkel and I don't see a problem with that," he told the ABC, referring to President Barack Obama's pledge to the German chancellor after a similar spying revelation, also from documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
"Personal contact is crucial at this stage. You have to deal with it by getting on the front foot, by contacting the Indonesian president and saying this is not going to continue to happen. The fact that you take the initiative shows you are contrite to some degree," McCarthy said.
"It can't be allowed just to fester. If it festers it will get worse and it will be much harder to deal with, particularly as the politics get hotter in Indonesia".
Speaking to Guardian Australia and the ABC at the presidential palace, Yudhoyono's foreign affairs spokesman, Teuku Faizasyah, described the Australian prime minister's decision to neither confirm nor deny the revelations as "not advisable".
He said: "At the moment, what we are requesting is very clear. The earlier the clarification that we receive, that will clear the air. It's not advisable to maintain the status quo of not confirm[ing] nor deny[ing] if there is any tapping incident in the past.
"At stake is the strategic relations that we've already established."
Indonesia's police chief, General Sutarman, also told Fairfax media that he was preparing to halt all joint programs, including those addressing trans-national crime, people smuggling, trafficking in persons and terrorism if the president ordered it in response to phone tapping revelations.
In a statement to parliament on Tuesday, Shorten said he believed Abbott should act so the issue did not become "a running sore" in the crucial bilateral relationship, also citing the Obama pledge to Merkel as an example of how to handle it.
"We should not allow these matters to fester for very long at all. We should not allow this matter to taint our relationship going forward, and we encourage the government to redouble its efforts to ensure that this is not the case. We in the opposition do not underestimate the seriousness of this issue. The most important thing is that Tony Abbott doesn't allow this to become a running sore," he said.
The manager of opposition business, Tony Burke, said on Wednesday that "at the moment, Tony Abbott seems to be risking everything on the bet that Indonesia will not escalate the situation".
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".
The leader of the Greens, senator Christine Milne, called on Abbott to "pick up the phone" to try to calm down the row, saying he could promise that "henceforth this won't happen".
"Everyone knows if there is a level of tension at a personal level ... the best way to fix it is at a personal level," she said.
But former Howard government foreign minister Alexander Downer said he believed Abbott's refusal to comment on intelligence matters was the right course, and that Australia was best advised to stand firm and let the furore blow over.
Former Australian ambassador to China Ross Garnaut said Australia may need to follow the American example and apologise.
"We will need to go out of our way to reassure them that we do treat Indonesia and its leaders with respect," he said.
In parliament on Tuesday, Abbott said: "In the past 24 hours there have been calls for Australia to detail our intelligence operations and to apologise for them.
"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."
11/19/2013 03:31 PM
Unprepared: Government Failings Intensify Haiyan Aid Disaster
By Katrin Kuntz, Jonathan Stock and Bernhard Zand
Typhoon Haiyan has left entire regions all but inaccessible in the Philippines, while the ensuing chaos has hampered the efforts of relief workers. A country hit by about 10 typhoons a year ought to be better prepared.
It was the day after the typhoon when Peter Görgen's phone rang. As an operations manager for the Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW), Görgen is one of the first people to receive a call when Germany expects to provide aid in a disaster zone.
He and his wife were just having lunch and discussing an art exhibit in Grevenbroich, a town near Düsseldorf. The call was from his boss, who said only a few words: "Can you go?" Görgen said "yes" and immediately shifted his mental focus from Grevenbroich to the Philippines.
Görgen, 65, is organized. His main job is as an engineer in the Federal Office for Building and Regional Planning, but he knew exactly how to react after the call, and didn't even forget to throw some socks into his backpack before getting into a waiting car to the airport for a flight to Manila two hours later.
Whether they are talking about an earthquake in Pakistan or a tsunami in Sri Lanka, men like Görgen refer to their operations as casually as others mention family vacations. No matter where in the world a particular disaster has occurred, Görgen always puts on the same dark blue "multi-functional operations suit" and hits the road.
His mission in the Philippines is to organize something that is immediately needed in crisis zones: clean drinking water. When people start drinking from puddles, for lack of other sources of water, or from rivers in which dead bodies are floating around, the most dangerous consequence of a disaster is bound to ensue: disease epidemics.
Görgen and his team have prepared two large water purification systems, along with a laboratory and tools, which enable them to supply drinking water for up to 36,000 people a day. Görgen is one of the most experienced operations managers at THW, having been on more than 40 foreign missions in 22 years. But he can't leave Manila immediately. First he has to coordinate his operation with the Foreign Ministry and the Interior Ministry, which involves requesting helicopter flights and reviewing aerial images. For Görgen, the most important issue is deciding where to locate the facility.
Aid Catastrophe Follows Typhoon
Finally, on Wednesday, Nov. 13, Görgen was up at 3 a.m. and took the first flight from Manila to the northern, typhoon-stricken part of the island of Cebu. Upon arrival, he got into a car with the German honorary consul, who drove him to the north. Along the way, they saw devastated cities, collapsed school buildings and palm trees that had snapped in half. Children stood by the side of the road, holding up signs that read: "We need water."
Super-typhoon Haiyan, one of the largest typhoons ever to hit the coast, with winds of up to 379 kilometers (235 miles) per hour, had struck the Philippines days earlier on Friday, Nov. 8. Haiyan had derived its strength from warm ocean waters with temperatures of up to 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit), growing into a massive storm that destroyed entire regions. Its most devastating aspect was a storm surge up to five meters (16 feet) high, which leveled entire cities. Several thousand people died, although the official death toll remains uncertain. The damage is estimated at €10 billion ($13.5 billion).
But after the catastrophe, the aid disaster began. For several days the world, and especially the government in Manila, was unable to help many of the storm's survivors. Entire regions were cut off, with relief workers unable to reach them. The survivors had nothing to eat or drink, and there were no medical personnel to care for the wounded. Looters ransacked what was left at warehouses and shops, and the disaster zone descended into chaos.
"I do feel that we have let people down because we have not been able to get in more quickly," said Baroness Valerie Amos, the United Nations emergency relief coordinator.
Haiyan's arrival was not a surprise by any means. The Philippines is hit by about 10 typhoons a year, and the government in Manila should have been prepared. "The emergency plans are very poorly conceived," says a senior official in Manila who, eager to avoid conflict with President Benigno Aquino, does not want to see his name in print.
Government Unprepared for Disaster
The Philippines consists of more than 7,100 islands, and according to the official, most parts of the country are easily accessible by ship. To be more prepared for disasters like Haiyan, Manila could station a handful of freighters around the country and keep them on call, with water filtration systems, emergency food supplies, medicine and tents on board. After a disaster, these ships could reach the affected areas more quickly than international aid workers, who must be flown in.
The government also bears some of the responsibility for the deaths of many Filipinos. It could prepare the country more effectively for typhoons. Many cities are too close to the water, where storm surges are quick to wash away flimsy huts. And meteorologists can predict the arrival of typhoons with a fair degree of accuracy, sometimes hours or even days in advance. In other words, people could get out of harm's way, the government official says angrily. But many don't.
The Philippines is one of the poorest countries in the world. Some residents own nothing but a "TV set and a kettle," which they want to protect from looters, says the official from Manila. For that reason, they often stay in their huts -- and die there. The police and military should maintain a stronger presence in provincial areas, to establish order and stop looters, says the man from Manila. If these steps are not taken, the next typhoon could cause as much damage as Haiyan did in Tanauan, a city on the island of Leyte.
At 10:30 a.m. last Thursday, 26 more names were added to the list of fatalities in the city. On this day, civil defense officer Chat Ortega, 53, maintains two lists, one for those reported dead and one for the missing. Six days after the storm, there are more than 1,000 names on her first list. The list of the missing is longer, so long, in fact, that Ortega doesn't have the time to add up the numbers on all the pages. There are people waiting in line in front of the city hall. Some want to know where to bury their dead, while others are waiting for news on the missing.
After that, they intend to leave the city.
No Provisions a Week Later
Thousands are already embarking on an exodus out of Tanauan, making their way north on foot, by bicycle, or whatever means possible. Their goal is to get out, and to somehow travel the roughly 20 kilometers (13 miles) up the east coast of Leyte to the airport in Tacloban, where large military aircraft are taking off and landing. The refugees hope that by reaching Tacloban, they will be able to get something to eat and drink, and perhaps a seat on a flight out of this nightmare.
The road from Tanauan to Tacloban begins at the Embarcadero Bridge. Mountains of debris -- palm trees, roof trusses, a minibus, a coffee table -- have piled up against the bridge. Bodies float in the water, stuck in the debris, and the stench is unbearable.
"There are a few dozen bodies under this bridge," says dentist Quintin Octa, who is helping local official Ortega manage her lists of the dead and missing. "We have no means to recover them." Men pump water out of a well a little farther down the canal. "Drinking water is our biggest problem," says Octa.
Tanauan, a city of about 50,000 before the storm, was destroyed. Located directly on the Pacific coast, it was defenseless against the storm surge. There are no longer any habitable dwellings between the waterfront and the city hall.
Almost a week has passed since the typhoon, and still no fresh water, not a single food shipment and no gasoline have arrived in Tanauan. She doesn't want to complain about her government, says Ortega, since she herself is part of it, but -- "no," she says, interrupting herself and angrily turning her face away.
By last Wednesday afternoon, German THW operations manager Görgen know where he and his team can provide the most effective help. On this day, they decide to install the water purification equipment in the northern part of the island of Cebu.
The plan is straightforward: The equipment has to be flown to Cebu, where his personnel will load it onto trucks and take it to the north. There they will set up the equipment and begin providing the local population with drinking water. Time is now of the essence.
His unit of 18 men and one woman is already in the air, on board a Lufthansa cargo plane, along with 22 tons of equipment. The THW staff have brought along German federal property certificates, letters of recommendation and customs stamps for the Filipino authorities. They are determined not to lose any time.
The team of specialists in the field includes mechatronics engineers, electricians and chemical laboratory assistants. If all goes well, they will be able to unload the materials immediately after landing and begin driving north. They hope to be able to begin setting up the equipment by evening.
But things are not going well. The cargo aircraft was diverted from the civilian airport to a military field. A portion of the team is on board another aircraft, which has landed at the civilian airport. The men at the civilian airport decide to drive to the military airport. The two airports are only five minutes away from each other, but a guard at the military airport refuses to let them in, citing his orders.
"But I was already here this morning," says the German honorary consul, who is still accompanying Görgen. "Flights with relief supplies are constantly landing at the airport, and the Americans are also there."
The guard is sweating. He doesn't respond. The consul, Franz Seidenschwarz, has been living in the region for 26 years, is an honorary citizen of Cebu and speaks the local language, Visaya. He knows that if he raises his voice and humiliates the guard, he will have lost the argument. As in many Asian countries, it would amount to a loss of face for the guard.
'Please Help Us'
As difficult as it is at the moment, the consul has to keep his cool. His cellphone rings, but he doesn't answer. According to Seidenschwarz, answering a call while in conversation with someone is a serious faux pas.
"Please understand my problem," he says pleasantly to the guard.
"I understand, Sir. We have to coordinate."
"Good, good. I know. Please notify your boss."
"We will notify our boss," the guard says. But he doesn't move, instead taking a large handkerchief from his pocket and wiping his forehead. He seems uncomfortable. He apparently either doesn't know which boss to consult or doesn't have the nerve to make the call.
The consul pleads with the guard: "Please help us. There is drinking water equipment there. The people need water."
But nothing happens. One team is in the airport and can't get out, while the other team is at the gate and can't get in.
A car stops at the gate with people from the local water authority inside: a driver, the boss and two engineers. They are supposed to help the German team, but they too are reluctant to challenge the guard, so they remain in the car. A coconut falls to the ground. "Very dangerous," says the boss, looking at the coconut.
The consul finally convinces the guard to let them in. He has discovered that they have a mutual acquaintance, and suddenly the guard agrees to drive them toward the tarmac in a military bus. Relationships are critical in the Philippines.
But the hydraulic ramp is still missing, and the trucks that were promised haven't arrived yet, either. In the meantime, the THW team members try to get their equipment through customs. But the interpreter doesn't speak the local dialect, which she is unwilling to admit. In the end, despite the disaster, the Filipino customs agents decide that it's time for them to go home. There is one small consolation: A hydraulic ramp arrives late in the afternoon. But now the team is missing a forklift.
Refugees Walk toward Help
On the neighboring island of Leyte, the coastal road veers inland north of Tanauan. The hills to the left look as if they had been bombed. The storm stripped the trees of their leaves, leaving the fields exposed to the sun, so that the crops are now brown. The stumps of palm trees protrude from the swampland on the right side of the road, where the land slopes down to the coast, while corpses and wrecked boats float in the canals.
During the day, a flood of refugees surges along the road, as people from settlements littered with wreckage from the shore make their way northward. Some of the women are carrying umbrellas while the men have wrapped towels around their heads to protect themselves from the sun. No one speaks. They are all saving their strength, forming a silent, bleak convoy.
In San Joaquin, the first larger village, which was also destroyed, one of the many residents who drowned was Maximina Abano. As the waters rose, she and her husband Jesus left their house and started running. She was carrying her five-year-old son Aldrin Jude in her arms. They only made it a few hundred meters before the wave caught up with them. Jesus and Aldrin managed to grab onto the post of an iron fence set in concrete, but Maximina didn't make it.
"The surf simply ripped her away, in the middle of San Joaquin, in the middle of the street," says her sister Marylou, who is a nun.
A mass was read for Abano in the cathedral of the neighboring city of Palo, where the altar and pews have been exposed to the elements since the typhoon. The storm tore the roof off the enormous church.
US General Douglas MacArthur landed on the beach of Palo in October 1944, an important date in the history of the Philippines, because it marked the beginning of the end of the Japanese occupation. The monument to MacArthur that was erected in Palo survived the storm almost completely intact -- only one of the seven men shown wading ashore was knocked down by the waves.
The procession of refugees continues northward through the devastated town, passing the monument along the way. From here it is only about eight kilometers to the airport in Tacloban. The sound of the planes becomes audible when the wind changes directions.
The refugees who are on foot take the short coastal road to the airport, which is littered with uprooted trees. The few cars still on the road a week after the storm must drive through the city, passing the looted Robinsons Mall, warehouses and gas stations.
There is a severe thunderstorm. The people stop walking and look up at the sky. There is no point in looking for shelter in a city where almost all the roofs are gone.
The road to the airport passes through a neighborhood called Paraiso. A sign on the left side of the road reads: "There are 50 bodies in San Pedro. Pick them up!" There are bodies lying in black bags on the other side of the road. There is a naked woman among the hundreds pushing their way between cars and bicycles. She too is walking toward the airport, which is now close at hand. In this apocalyptic scene, no one is walking with her, no one stops her and no one approaches her.
On this afternoon, as journalists await the arrival of UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos, a senior US military official appears on the tarmac: Marine Brigadier General Paul Kennedy, 50, who, with his sunglasses, brilliant white teeth and khaki uniform, resembles his famous fellow American, General MacArthur. He has arrived with what he calls "game-changing" news: The aircraft carrier USS George Washington is on its way to the Gulf of Leyte, and amphibious ships have also been requested. "This will put us in a position to provide people with fresh water."
The general disappears, and as movie-like as his appearance may have seemed, on this afternoon there is a touch of confidence in the faces of the soldiers, doctors and aid teams.
'There Is a Great Need for Water'
Meanwhile, on the island of Cebu, German THW manager Görgen faces an exasperating state of affairs. He needs more trucks, as well as an official contact in the north. Görgen drives to the island capital, Cebu City. The governor of the province is Hilario Davide III. It is rumored that he owes his career in part to being the son of the chief justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, a country where those with the right family connections stand a better chance of making it to the top.
After coming in office, Davide decided to have the statehouse renovated. The entire building is currently under construction. Görgen takes a seat in a large armchair in the waiting room, looking a little out of place in his "multi-functional operations suit" with its yellow reflective stripes. The governor doesn't seem to know who Görgen is, even though they met two days earlier.
Görgen explains what he needs.
"How many people are with you?" the governor asks.
"Nineteen," Görgen replies.
"No, technical assistance. As I mentioned, water aid."
"Oh, water. Yes, I'm sorry, I'm confused. Okay."
"There is a great need for drinking water," says Görgen.
"Did you manage to unload your materials?" the governor asks.
"God bless you. Would you like some coffee?"
"Just don't leave the coffee untouched. That would be impolite," the German honorary consul whispers. "At least take a few sips."
Nothing But Candles
The meeting ends. "This is happening too slowly for me," says Görgen. He meets with other people. Perhaps he will get more trucks, after all -- more than a week after the disaster.
The city of Ormoc is more than 100 kilometers southwest of Tacloban, on the other side of Leyte. It's a city in shock. The roofs, made of tiles or corrugated metal, are gone. The coconut trees are stripped bare. The streets are under water. The people are joking and smiling, but sometimes they begin to weep only seconds afterwards.
The poor have been hit especially hard. Many lived in huts directly on the shoreline, like Evangelina, her husband Marcelo and their two children. They had been making a meager living selling pots in a shop in the city, and occasionally going fishing. When the storm came, Marcelo took his family to a tiny chapel near their hut, where they hid behind the altar. They stayed there, holding each other's hands, until it was over.
Now they are standing in front of what is left of their hut. A dictionary, a deodorant stick, three candles and an old mattress are lying on the floor. They cheerfully show us what is left of their lives. In the end, they say "thank you for your time" and return to the beach, where the sky is turning purple just before nightfall. Soon, in a city that once boasted a population of almost 200,000, there will be nothing to see but a few candles.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
Beirut suicide blasts raise tensions in Lebanon as Sunni militants target Iran
Iranian diplomat among at least 23 killed in bombings as role of Tehran and Hezbollah in Syrian war widens sectarian divide
Martin Chulov in Beirut and Saeed Kamali Dehghan
theguardian.com, Tuesday 19 November 2013 19.50 GMT
Two explosions near the Iranian embassy in Beirut have killed at least 23 people, including an Iranian diplomat, causing extensive damage to one of Lebanon's most heavily guarded districts and once again raising fears that the country is being sucked into the civil war raging over its border in Syria.
A cleric linked to an al-Qaida-inspired group later claimed that its members had carried out the attack, seeking revenge for Iran's role in supporting the Assad regime. "The Abdullah Azzam brigades – the Hussein bin Ali cells … are behind the attack on the Iranian embassy in Beirut," Sheikh Sirajeddine Zuraiqat, said on his Twitter feed. "It is a twin suicide operation by two heroes from the Sunni community in Lebanon."
Lebanese officials later added weight to the claim, which if proven would mark the first such attack during the war carried out in Lebanon by a global jihadist group.
The bombings shattered more than two months of relative calm across the restive country. Lebanon is struggling to contain the widespread spillover from the devastating war over its eastern border, which has become a proxy arena for myriad regional agendas.
Iran and its strategic ally, the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, have both taken prominent roles in defending the Syrian leader, as his forces steadily claw back ground lost in 32 months of uprising, then war.
One of the explosions on Tuesday morning is thought to have targeted a convoy arriving at the embassy, which contained the Iranian cultural attaché, Sheikh Ibrahim Ansari.
Ghazanfar Roknabadi, Iran's ambassador to Lebanon, confirmed Ansari's death, the semi-official Iranian news agency Fars said. Lebanese officials also said that he had died.
Among the others killed were embassy guards – eyewitnesses said they had tried to stop a suicide bomber riding a motorbike near the building's gates, which were destroyed in the attack. The first bombing is thought to have been a prelude to a more substantial explosion about a minute later. A large crater near the embassy gate revealed the size of the bomb, which is thought to have been hidden in a car.
Gunfire was heard in the minutes after the blasts as security forces tried to hold back bystanders and allow a cavalcade of rescue vehicles to enter the Bir Hassan area on the western edge of Hezbollah's Beirut stronghold.
Hezbollah has been on high alert in its south Beirut stronghold since August when the second of two explosions within weeks ravaged a nearby area, killing scores. Ever since, a Hezbollah-run security cordon has surrounded much of south Beirut, giving the area a siege-like feel.
While the Shia Islamic leadership of Iran and its Hezbollah ally are strongly supportive of Bashar al-Assad's regime, those fighting against it are almost all Sunni Muslims – many of them homegrown Syrians, but also including jihadis who have travelled to Syria to fight the regime and its backers.
Lebanon's president, Michel Suleiman, called his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, to express his support. Lebanon's feuding political blocs, implacably split along regional faultlines, also condemned the blasts and urged restraint.
As state power has crumbled in Syria, sectarianism has grown there and in Lebanon, where, despite their 1,400-year-old schism, Islam's two main sects have more or less co-existed since both countries were formed from the ruins of the Ottoman empire.
But such an accommodation is increasingly being tested here and across the region, where the two sects live near each other. Iraq has suffered almost daily bombings for the past six months, nearly all of them carried out by extremist Sunni groups, who openly say they are trying to reignite the sectarian war that raged there in 2006-07.
Both Iran and Hezbollah have played lead roles in recent advances by Syrian forces around Aleppo in the north and in rebel-held land south of Damascus. Hezbollah is also believed to be at the vanguard of an offensive in the Qalamoun mountains just east of the Syrian border, which looms as a strategic battleground in the overall fight for control of the country.
With the war raging and regional tensions reverberating, Syrian political opposition leaders have yet to commit to a summit that aims to bring the crisis to a negotiated end. Opposition leaders say they remain opposed to Iran taking part and to Assad playing any future role in Syria.
Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said dealing with "terrorists" in Syria should be near the top of the agenda at any summit. Lavrov is hoping to bring all sides together at a meeting dubbed Geneva 2. However, diplomats in Beirut fear that there is not enough common ground between rival camps to look for détente.
They say that not holding the summit is better than having it ending in failure, potentially escalating a desperate humanitarian crisis.
Before the Abdullah Azzam Brigades' apparent claim of responsibility, Iran's ambassador blamed Israel for the attack. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, remains vehemently opposed to negotiations between Iran, the US and Europe over the fate of Tehran's nuclear programme, which Iran insists is for civilian purposes but Israel counters is a cover for nuclear weapons to threaten it.
Kenyan rights group accuses anti-terror police of unlawful killings
Group calls on Britain and US to suspend support for police units whose abuses it says increase support for Islamists
Daniel Howden in Mombasa
theguardian.com, Tuesday 19 November 2013 23.00 GMT
A Kenyan human rights group has called on Britain and the US to suspend their support for anti-terror police accused of a string of disappearances and extra-judicial killings in the country.
Illegal tactics allegedly used by Kenya's anti-terrorism police unit (ATPU), which receives finance and training from the UK and US, may be strengthening support for radical Islamists in east Africa, a report by Muslims for Human Rights (Muhuri) concludes.
The report, titled We Are Tired of Taking You To Court, documents six years of alleged abuses in Kenya's port city of Mombasa, which has become a recruiting ground for the al-Qaida-linked Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab.
Based on interviews with former detainees and families of victims, the dossier builds a picture of routine harassment by the police unit, as well as unlawful killings and mistreatment of suspects in custody.
"These abuses are not only unlawful but counterproductive," said Jonathan Horowitz, of the Open Society Justice Initiative, a group funded by the financier George Soros, which co-authored the report. "Violent extremists use such abuses to justify violence and to recruit others."
Kenyan authorities have denied licensing the unit to operate outside the law and claim it has thwarted a number of terror plots. Since 2003 Kenya has received nearly $50m from the US state department's anti-terrorism assistance fund. It has also received unspecified training, equipment and funds from the UK.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in a statement: "All our support to the ATPU is delivered in line with [government guidelines] … to mitigate human rights abuses." It said it would challenge the unit where allegations were made.
Muhuri names 20 individuals who had been under investigation by Kenya's anti-terror police who have subsequently disappeared or been murdered.
It says there is evidence to implicate the ATPU in the disappearance of Badru Mramba in November 2012. It also presents "credible allegations" that the same unit used unlawful lethal force on Omar Faraj, a Mombasa resident killed during an operation last year.
Similar allegations are made about extrajudicial executions by the ATPU of two more known suspects, Kassim Omollo and Salim Mohammed Nero.
The unit was set up 10 years ago in response to the 1998 embassy bombings in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, and related attacks on targets in Mombasa.
Its operations have come against a backdrop of deepening radicalisation among Muslim populations in coastal Kenya, increased foreign intervention in neighbouring Somalia and terror attacks inside Kenya. The worst of these came this September when gunmen stormed the Westgate mall in Nairobi, an attack claimed by al-Shabaab.
The ATPU has regularly arrested suspects but has delivered very few convictions in court. The unit has been accused of the killing in August 2012 of Sheikh Aboud Rogo Mohammed, a radical imam under investigation by the UN and the US for links to al-Shabaab.
In the wake of the Westgate attack, his unofficial successor as leader of the coast's radical community, Sheikh Ibrahim Omar Rogo, was killed in a near identical shooting in the same area of Mombasa. Kenyan police haves denied involvement in either death.
Abubakar Sheikh Ibrahim Shariff, another radical preacher and friend of the deceased pair, has openly accused the ATPU of the killings. "The government is murdering us," he said, claiming that no serious effort had been made to investigate the October shooting in which three other men also died.
Known popularly as Makaburi – Swahili for "graveyard" – the sheikh denies membership of al-Shabaab but supports their methods. He said counter-terrorism operations were making more Kenyan Muslims agree with him. "The jihad is a tree, the more blood you spill the more it will grow," he said.
November 19, 2013
Pushing Peace on the Palestinians
By JODI RUDOREN
JERUSALEM — Omer Barlev has a plan. Two plans, actually.
The first is familiar to anyone who has been paying even a little attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for, oh, a couple of decades. Two states for two peoples, roughly divided along the line of Israel’s border before the 1967 war, with Israel keeping its main settlement blocs but turning over Arab East Jerusalem to Palestine; freedom of access to holy sites for all; and an unspecified solution for Palestinian refugees other than a mass return to pre-1948 homes.
The second plan, which Mr. Barlev sees as a tactic rather than a goal, is more provocative. Titled “It’s in Our Hands,” it calls for Israel to unilaterally define its own borders to ensure its security. Mr. Barlev, a new Parliament member from Israel’s opposition Labor Party, would keep control of all of Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley and bequeath about 60 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians, evacuating 35,000 Jewish settlers — less than 10 percent of the total.
“The basic idea is taking our future in our hands,” explained Mr. Barlev, the 60-year-old son of a former chief of the Israeli military whose own career has been split among the army, high-tech businesses and social service work. “There are things we can do today. There are things we can lead today and not be led. I’m saying, in order to keep Zionism and to keep the Jewish state, we don’t need a partner.”
Like the majority of Israeli politicians — and the public they represent — Mr. Barlev seeks a two-state solution but sees it as an almost impossible dream. So with the peace talks Secretary of State John Kerry started this summer going nowhere, and the Americans expected to soon present an alternative plan of their own for resolving the conflict, Mr. Barlev is pushing what he calls “a unilateral threat.”
There is no shortage of such unilateral plans. Blue White Future, a left-leaning group of Israelis founded in 2009, advocates a voluntary withdrawal of some 100,000 Jewish settlers to “prepare the ground” for peace. Ehud Barak, a former prime minister, has made several vague calls for Israel to impose the outlines of two states. On the Israeli right, Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, campaigned on annexing about two-thirds of the West Bank, while Yoaz Hendel, a commentator who used to work for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, suggests taking 12 percent, turning Palestinian cities and villages into a demilitarized state, and leaving the remaining half — home to 100,000 Arabs and 100,000 Jews — for further negotiation.
“Sometimes the stronger actor should decide for the other because the other cannot decide for itself,” Mr. Hendel said, admitting the arrogance of such an approach. “If we decide for ourselves, if we will put the vision, the world will accept it.”
The Palestinians, a majority of whom also support the two-state solution but think it mostly a mirage, have plans of their own. Even as they go through the motions of Mr. Kerry’s nine-month negotiations, many Palestinian leaders would prefer to leverage the observer-state status they won at the United Nations last year to prosecute Israel for war crimes and forge further independence through international institutions. Others, seeing Israel as an ahistorical — and amoral — ethnocracy that will eventually fall like the Soviet Union and apartheid South Africa, are willing to wait for what they see as inevitable: a single, binational state.
That none of these plans has gained traction is a testament to the lack of urgency felt on either side, despite the dire warnings by Mr. Kerry and others about the closing of the window on the two-state solution and the violence and chaos that could follow.
Enter Mr. Barlev, who said he spent much of his $14,000 parliamentary budget printing 3,000 copies of his plan for presentation to fellow politicians, diplomats and thought leaders.
“This will put pressure on them in order to finalize the negotiations positively,” Mr. Barlev said of the Palestinians, sounding no less arrogant than Mr. Hendel. “Because they will understand that if the negotiations will fail, we are going to move forward — and where we are going to move forward.”
November 19, 2013
Small Protest in Tahrir Square Restores Dissent to Cairo’s Heart
By KAREEM FAHIM
CAIRO — The protesters’ numbers were small, compared with the millions who have marched through Egypt’s streets in recent months. And at one point, a soccer game on television seemed more urgent than the chants.
Even so, a demonstration on Tuesday in Cairo’s Tahrir Square seemed to represent a breakthrough for young leftists and other revolutionary activists who have struggled to find their voice since the military ousted President Mohamed Morsi in July, splitting the country into polarized, feuding camps.
Galvanized by anger and marching under the banners of slain comrades on Tuesday, the activists tried to offer an alternative in Egypt’s sclerotic political scene. As they have in the past, the activists condemned Mr. Morsi’s Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood. But now, just as vigorously, they denounced the military and its leader, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, brazenly defying Egypt’s ultranationalist mood.
The protests seemed to temporarily restore Tahrir Square as a sanctuary for dissent after the many pro-military rallies in the square that followed Mr. Morsi’s fall, a change that seemed to stun some of the military’s fans.
With arguments, and then rocks, activists clashed with some of General Sisi’s supporters on the edge of the square. Other protesters defaced a memorial that had been erected by the military-led government the day before, seeing it as an insidious attempt to appropriate the memory of their struggle.
Hundreds of demonstrators chanted: “Down with military rule.”
By late Tuesday, security forces had regained control of the square and state news media reported that one person had died and another 17 were injured.
The protest, by a few thousand people, was a break from Egypt’s exhausting routine, dominated by the quarrel between its most powerful political actors. Since July, the security services have worked to dismantle the Brotherhood, detaining thousands of its members and killing hundreds of Mr. Morsi’s supporters in a brutal crackdown. The Islamists have continued their protests, vowing to settle for nothing less than the reversal of the military takeover.
As the military and the Islamists have cast themselves as protectors of Egypt’s revolution, activists who participated in the uprising against the former president, Hosni Mubarak, in 2011 have struggled to find their place.
The military-backed government gave them an opportunity on Monday, when officials dedicated the foundation of a monument to slain protesters. Activists were appalled by the government’s attempt at solidarity with people killed by the state’s own security services. They were also angered by the timing: the dedication coincided with the anniversary of antigovernment clashes in 2011 and 2012 that left at least 48 protesters dead.
After the ministers left, protesters set about destroying the monument. By Tuesday evening, it had been chipped and chiseled, scarred with slogans and turned into a platform for a coffin constructed by the protesters. One person mocked the cost. “A million pounds, and the people need one pound,” they wrote.
Mayy El Sheikh contributed reporting.
Maduro gets power to rule by decree
Venezuela's National Assembly grants president sweeping powers as he targets businesses he blames for economic woes
theguardian.com, Wednesday 20 November 2013 01.39 GMT
The Venezuelan congress has granted President Nicolas Maduro emergency decree powers that will strengthen his hand as he goes after businesses the government accuses of sabotaging the economy.
The National Assembly's vote had been widely expected since Maduro requested a month ago to be given expanded power to enact laws without consulting congress for up to a year.
The same tactic was employed four times by Maduro's mentor and predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez, to promulgate dozens of laws that dramatically boosted state control over the economy.
Unlike the charismatic Cházvez, who had near-absolute command over his party, doubts about Maduro's leadership have risen since he defeated opposition leader Henrique Capriles by a razor-thin margin in April's presidential election and as worsening shortages of basic goods and galloping inflation, now at 54%, have eroded popular support for his rule.
Maduro in recent days has ordered the military to seize dozens of appliance stores, slash prices on imported electronics and arrest more than 100 business owners for alleged price gouging.
On Tuesday the Venezuelan unit of General Motors was fined the equivalent of US$85,000 for allegedly overcharging and practicing "usury" in the sale of car parts to local concessionaires. The government also asked Twitter to take down accounts of users posting the illegal black market exchange rate for Venezuela's bolivar currency, which is trading at about one-tenth of the official value.
Such measures have rallied Maduro's working-class base and even won approval from some government opponents who have joined the long lines snaking outside appliance stores nationwide for the last 10 days in search of deep discounts on TV sets and refrigerators.
A key question is whether Maduro will maintain the radical stance after next month's mayoral elections, which the opposition is trying to frame as a referendum on his rule, or adopt a more pragmatic tack in an effort to stabilise the economy.
After Tuesday's vote the National Assembly president, Diosdado Cabello, led a march of more than 2,000 red-shirted supporters from the legislature to the presidential palace to deliver the text of the decree law to Maduro.
Addressing a crowd smaller than the ones Chávez was accustomed to drawing, Maduro reiterated a pledge to use his expanded powers to keep prices low across industries and limit profit margins to 30%. He also vowed to start 2014 with a frontal attack on corruption.
"They underestimated me; they said Maduro was an amateur," he told the crowd. But "what you've seen is little compared to what we're going to do".
The legislative process leading up to Tuesday's vote was marred by controversy after an opposition congresswoman was stripped of her immunity from prosecution over corruption charges, allowing for her substitution by a pro-government lawmaker who gave Maduro the crucial 99th vote needed to prevail.
Capriles lambasted the manoeuvre as a naked power grab and vowed on Tuesday to retaliate with a strong performance for opposition candidates in the 8 December municipal elections.
"I'll give it to you really straight so it registers," Capriles warned Maduro in a message on Twitter. After the December elections "we're going for you and your disastrous government, constitution in hand".
Ancient humans interbred with Neanderthals and mystery species in ‘Lord of the Rings’ world
Genome analysis suggests interbreeding between modern humans, Neanderthals, Denisovans and a mysterious archaic population.
19 November 2013
New genome sequences from two extinct human relatives suggest that these ‘archaic’ groups bred with humans and with each other more extensively than was previously known.
The ancient genomes, one from a Neanderthal and one from a different archaic human group, the Denisovans, were presented on 18 November at a meeting at the Royal Society in London. They suggest that interbreeding went on between the members of several ancient human-like groups living in Europe and Asia more than 30,000 years ago, including an as-yet unknown human ancestor from Asia.
“What it begins to suggest is that we’re looking at a ‘Lord of the Rings’-type world — that there were many hominid populations,” says Mark Thomas, an evolutionary geneticist at University College London who was at the meeting but was not involved in the work.
The first Neanderthal1 and the Denisovan2 genome sequences revolutionized the study of ancient human history, not least because they showed that these groups interbred with anatomically modern humans, contributing to the genetic diversity of many people alive today.
All humans whose ancestry originates outside of Africa owe about 2% of their genome to Neanderthals; and certain populations living in Oceania, such as Papua New Guineans and Australian Aboriginals, got about 4% of their DNA from interbreeding between their ancestors and Denisovans, who are named after the cave in Siberia’s Altai Mountains where they were discovered. The cave contains remains deposited there between 30,000 and 50,000 years ago.
Those conclusions however were based on low-quality genome sequences, riddled with errors and full of gaps, David Reich, an evolutionary geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts said at the meeting. His team, in collaboration with Svante Pääbo at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have now produced much more complete versions of the Denisovan and Neanderthal genomes — matching the quality of contemporary human genomes. The high-quality Denisovan genome data and new Neanderthal genome both come from bones recovered from Denisova Cave.
The new Denisovan genome indicates that this enigmatic population got around: Reich said at the meeting that they interbred with Neanderthals and with the ancestors of human populations that now live in China and other parts of East Asia, in addition to Oceanic populations, as his team previously reported. Most surprisingly, Reich said, the new genomes indicate that Denisovans interbred with another extinct population of archaic humans that lived in Asia more than 30,000 years ago, which is neither human nor Neanderthal.
The meeting was abuzz with conjecture about the identity of this potentially new population of humans. “We don’t have the faintest idea,” says Chris Stringer, a paleoanthropologist at the London Natural History Museum, who was not involved in the work. He speculates that the population could be related to Homo heidelbergensis, a species that left Africa around half a million years ago and later gave rise to Neanderthals in Europe. “Perhaps it lived on in Asia as well,” Stringer says.
Lyme bacteria show that evolvability is evolvable
Natural selection favours those with a greater capacity to generate genetic variation.
14 November 2013
Some gamblers succeed by spiriting cards up their sleeves, giving them a wider range of hands to play. So do some bacteria, whose great capacity for genetic variability helps them evolve and adapt to rapidly changing environments.
Now research on Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, shows that the capacity to evolve can itself be the target of natural selection. The results were published today in PLoS Pathogens1.
“There are other data that suggest that there could be selection on evolvability, but this is the first example where there really aren’t any other confounding answers for the data,” says lead author Dustin Brisson, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
B. burgfdorferi can cause a chronic infection even if its animal host mounts a strong immune response — evading those defences by tweaking the shape and expression of its main surface antigen, VIsE. A series of unexpressed genetic sequences organized into ‘cassettes’ recombine with the VIsE gene, changing the resulting protein such that it escapes detection by the host’s immune system.
“They make a clever case that the variation in these cassettes tells you something about evolvability and the results back up the idea,” says Tim Cooper, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Houston in Texas.
The researchers studied the molecular evolution of the cassettes’ genetic sequences in 12 strains of B. burgdorferi. They found that natural selection seemed to favour bacteria with more genetic variability within their cassettes, and hence a greater capacity to generate different versions of the antigen.
“Greater diversity among the cassettes in itself shouldn’t be a selective advantage considering they aren’t expressed and don’t do anything else,” says Brisson. “But we did find evidence of selection, so the question is what else could it be for besides evolvability?”
Brisson also examined samples of B. burgdorferi frozen in the 1990s by his co-author, Brian Stevenson, a Lyme disease researcher at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. Stevenson had collected the samples after experimentally infecting mice with once strain of the bacterium and re-isolating the organisms a year later to see how they evolved. When he and Brisson re-examined the samples, they found that changes to the genetic sequences of the silent cassettes were more common than changes in other parts of the genome.
“It makes a lot of sense that organisms should be predisposed to dealing with future environments, but when you get down to thinking about how this might come about, it’s not so obvious,” says Paul Rainey, an evolutionary geneticist at the New Zealand Institute for Advanced Study in Auckland and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön, Germany. “These guys show quite clearly that natural selection can lead to the evolution of types that have a greater capacity to respond to future environments.”
Walls: an illusion of security from Berlin to the West Bank
Although doomed to crumble, humans have always built walls. From the failed Maginot Line to the Great Wall of China they are an indelible part of our history
The Guardian, Tuesday 19 November 2013 14.35 GMT
'Something there is," runs a line from Robert Frost's poem Mending Wall, "that doesn't love a wall." But for as long as mankind has been building, we have been building walls: around cities, along borders, across disputed lands; to protect, keep out, demarcate and divide.
Jericho, on what is now the West Bank, threw up its walls as early as 8000BC. China built stretches of its Great Wall by 700BC. Hadrian's Wall, "to separate the Romans from the Barbarians", came in AD129.
In recent times, France misplaced its faith in a supposedly impregnable barrier on its frontier with Germany. Three decades later, concrete and barbed wire was slicing Germany's former capital in half as well. The Maginot Line did not work and the Berlin Wall did not last. But walls and fences have not stopped going up. Indeed, since the Iron Curtain came down a quarter of a century ago, the world has been busy building separation barriers at a rate perhaps unequalled in history: at least 6,000 miles of wire, concrete, steel, sand, stone, mesh; anything to keep peoples out – or in.
It is not just walls separating divided communities in cities such as Belfast and Homs, or compounds hermetically sealed to divide rich from poor such as in São Paulo. The vast majority of barriers are going up on borders – and not just around dictatorships or pariah states.
Most strikingly, some of the world's leading democracies including the US, Israel and India have, in the past decade, built thousands of miles of barriers along borders both recognised and disputed. Since 2006, the US has erected 600 miles of fence along its Mexican border. Israel is building a 400-mile West Bank barrier, plus another 165-mile fence along its Egyptian border. India has built a 340-mile barrier along the so-called Line of Control of its disputed border with Pakistan, and is busily constructing another 2,500-mile fence on its frontier with Bangladesh. Last year, Greece threw up a four-metre-high wall along its short land border with Turkey. The river Evros runs along much of the land frontier.
What is odd is that this building is happening at a time when less-physical walls appear to be crumbling. This is the age of the global economy, multinationals, vanishing trade barriers; of "the free movement of goods, capital, services and people", unprecedented mobility and instantaneous communication.
So why build new walls – especially when, as history shows, the old ones rarely did what they set out to do? For there is almost always a way through, under, over or round a wall. As Janet Napolitano, until recently US secretary of homeland security, once astutely observed: "Show me a 50ft wall, and I'll show you a 51ft ladder."
James Anderson, emeritus professor of political geography at Queen's University Belfast, notes that walls get built for very different reasons. He says: "There are those built as a response to internal civil, often ethno-national, conflict, within states and often within cities. There are those erected because two groups are going at each other, but the state itself is not at stake – rich against poor, white against black, criminal against potential victim. And there are those that run along state borders."
Justified more often than not, these days, as anti-terrorist measures, border fences are more likely to be aimed "at keeping out, or at least differentiating, migrant labour", argues Anderson. He distinguishes, too, between walls that came from "the bottom up", and those imposed from the top down.
Belfast's walls, he notes, originated in 1969 as "simple defence mechanisms, barricades made of bedsteads and doors to stop vehicles coming in to your street".
Thirty years on, they have become "part of people's reality" and are still – perhaps uniquely in the world of walls – supported by almost all those who live beside them. Running for the most part parallel to the roads into the city centre, though, they are not "huge impediments" to day-to-day life.
The barrier separating Israel and the West Bank is different. "This was a state project," says Anderson. "Certainly some, especially the settler movement, welcome it as protection, security against suicide bombers. Palestinians see it as a mechanism for a land grab." At times it also causes almost unimaginable inconvenience and hardship.
But walls can have unforeseen consequences, says Mick Dumper, professor in Middle East politics at Exeter University. "Israel built the separation barrier to separate two communities and prevent terrorism," he says.
"One result has been that 60,000-70,000 Palestinians who had moved out of Jerusalem have moved back, as they didn't want to be cut off from the services they need. At a time when Israel is seeking to assert the city's Jewish identity, its Palestinian population has sharply increased."
And a wall changes a city, even after it has come down. Wendy Pullan, senior lecturer in the history and philosophy of architecture at Cambridge University, calls this a "disruption of urban order. A divided city changes its whole metabolism. And divided cities do not flourish."
The physical reorganisation engendered by a wall is accompanied by an inevitable impact on the psychology of those who live beside it, adds Pullan, who heads the Conflict in Cities (CinC) project run by Cambridge University's centre for urban conflicts research: "There's a tendency to vilify those on the other side. It's very easy to say: we can't see them, we don't know them, so we don't like them."
But mainly, walls just don't do their job very well. "We don't have examples of walls solving problems," says Pullan. Suicide bombings may have fallen dramatically since Israel built its wall. "But it's hard to say whether that's cause or correlation. The regime has also got much firmer, in other ways," she adds.
Anderson, also a member of CinC, argues that national border fences are at least partly intended for show: to let governments be seen to be doing something. If the US were truly serious about tackling illegal migrant labour, he says, "it would prosecute more employers".
So in general, concludes Pullan, walls are "more symbolic than anything else. But their symbolism is enormous. Even now, Berlin remains best known for the wall. The most recognisable image of Jerusalem is now, arguably, its wall. The visual impact is so very strong. If you want to get across the idea of division, a wall is very, very powerful."
In the USA...United Surveillance American
Despite the corporate media's efforts to defeat it ...
November 19, 2013 05:00 PM
Poll: Majority Oppose Obamacare Repeal Despite Rollout Troubles
By Diane Sweet
Why are the majority of Americans still against the GOP call to repeal Obamacare? Despite the MSM's best efforts at obfuscating, by now the benefits should be clear. The Affordable Care Act will help millions of Americans who've been locked out of the insurance market. We can’t go back on a law that stops insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, that prevents the bankruptcy of cancer survivors by ending lifetime caps on coverage, and that no longer forces women to pay double for the same care men get.
No one is saying our work on the healthcare front is done. Far from it. Medicare for All or a Public Option is a must if we want real fundamental change, but if Republicans and for-profit insurance companies succeed at destroying the gains we've made, it will be a huge step backwards that could kill chances to move reform forward for decades.
Most importantly, what does the GOP have to replace the AFA with? Absolutely nothing.
"Despite sharp divisions over the long-term impact of President Obama's health-reform law, fewer than two in five Americans say it should be repealed, virtually unchanged since last summer, the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll has found.
Amid all the tumult over the law's troubled implementation, the survey found that public opinion about it largely follows familiar political tracks and has changed remarkably little since the summer on the critical question of what Congress should do next. On that measure, support for repeal has not significantly increased among any major group except Republicans and working-class whites since the Congressional Connection Poll last tested opinion on the question in July.
While the survey found a slim majority believes the law will do more to hurt than help the nation's health care system over time, it also found the statute retains majority support among key elements of the modern Democratic coalition, including minorities, college-educated white women, and young people. That means Congressional Democrats inclined to distance themselves from the law in the hope of placating skeptical independent or Republican-leaning voters face the risk of alienating some of their core supporters.
Conversely, the overwhelming opposition to the law within the GOP coalition—with nearly nine in 10 self-identified Republicans calling the law "fundamentally flawed" and nearly three-fourths of them supporting its repeal—ensures that Republican legislators will continue to face grassroots pressure to roll it back, by any means available."
November 19, 2013
Health Insurance Marketplace Is Still About 40 Percent Incomplete, Official Says
By ROBERT PEAR
WASHINGTON — The chief digital architect for the federal health insurance marketplace said Tuesday that 30 percent to 40 percent of the project was still being built.
The official, Henry Chao, made the assessment in testimony before a panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Lawmakers expressed surprise that so much work remained to be done seven weeks after the federal website opened to the public.
Mr. Chao, the deputy chief information officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the government was still working on “back office systems,” including those needed to pay insurance companies that are supposed to provide coverage to millions of people under President Obama’s health care law.
“We have yet — we still have to build the financial management aspects of the system, which includes our accounting system and payment system and reconciliation system,” Mr. Chao said. These parts of the system, he said, are “still being developed and tested.”
Mr. Chao said the government had largely completed computer systems that were most important to consumers and allowed them to apply for insurance, compare health plans and enroll. However, White House officials said that even these parts of the system were still being repaired and were not performing as well as they had hoped.
Mr. Chao said that until the hearing on Tuesday he had not seen a consultant’s report warning the Obama administration that the project was far behind schedule in March and April of this year.
In the report, the consulting group, McKinsey & Company, anticipated many of the problems that crippled the federal insurance website, HealthCare.gov, when it opened six months later, on Oct. 1. McKinsey said that management indecision, heavy reliance on outside contractors and insufficient time for “end-to-end testing” created risks that the website would not work.
Despite the warnings, Mr. Chao said, top officials decided to fire up the website as planned and did not seriously consider delaying its debut.
Mr. Chao said the decision to open the site last month was made by “a conglomerate” of Obama administration officials that included Marilyn B. Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“I wish I had the luxury of a time machine to go back and change things, but I can’t do that,” Mr. Chao said. “My direction from Marilyn Tavenner was to deliver a system on Oct. 1.”
In April, Mr. Chao said, he told McKinsey that the government faced huge challenges in staying on schedule and meeting the Oct. 1 deadline.
President Obama said Tuesday that the bungling of the health care website showed a larger problem in the way the government bought information technology.
“What we probably needed to do on the front end was to blow up how we procure I.T., especially on a system this complicated,” Mr. Obama said at an event held by The Wall Street Journal. “We did not do that successfully. Now, we are getting it fixed, but it would have been better to do it on the front end, rather than the back end.”
“In fact,” Mr. Obama said, “there’s probably no bigger gap between the private sector and the public sector than I.T.”
Representative Michael C. Burgess, Republican of Texas, said at the congressional hearing that administration officials were like airplane pilots who ignored storm warnings. The administration’s attitude, he said, was, “Don’t check the weather, we’re flying anyway.”
It was, Mr. Burgess said, “a recipe of disaster.”
Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said Tuesday that the administration “continues to make measurable progress to improve HealthCare.gov.”
Specifically, she said, the government has fixed “two-thirds of the high-priority bugs” that were responsible for inaccuracies in enrollment data and for the difficulties consumers had in signing up directly with insurers.
Ms. Bataille indicated that consumers could bypass the federal website and use insurance company sites to file applications, especially if they did not need subsidies to help defray the costs.
But people using insurance company websites will not necessarily see health plans available from competing insurers. Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, has repeatedly promoted “transparency and competition” as a way to drive down premiums.
McKinsey & Company said that construction of the federal website had been hamstrung by the fact that the project had no clearly identified leader and that government contractors received conflicting instructions from different offices at the Medicare agency.
Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana, said the McKinsey report showed chaos at the Medicare agency, with “nobody in charge.”
“This report says the White House absolutely knew what was going on, and if they didn’t tell the president — he ought to be firing those people today,” Mr. Scalise said.
Representative Joe L. Barton, Republican of Texas, said the report made it “absolutely clear that this website was not going to work well, if at all, on Oct. 1.”
Ms. Sebelius, who was in Florida on Tuesday, said the website would improve, but she appeared to lower expectations and to play down the significance of a Nov. 30 deadline set by the White House to fix it.
“The 30th of November is not a magic go, no-go date,” Ms. Sebelius told The Associated Press. “It is a work of constant improvement. We have some very specific things we know we need to complete by the 30th, and that punch list is getting knocked out every week.”
Ms. Sebelius said last month that the security of the federal website had been tested by the Mitre Corporation and that the company “did not raise flags about going ahead” on Oct. 1.
But Jason Providakes, a senior vice president at Mitre, said at the hearing on Tuesday: “Mitre is not in charge of security for HealthCare.gov. We were not asked, nor did we perform, end-to-end security testing. We have no view on the overall safety or security status of HealthCare.gov.”
November 19, 2013
In Stance on Renewal of Old Health Policies, States Run the Gamut
By KATIE THOMAS, SUSANNE CRAIG and KAREN YOURISH
Just a few days after President Obama said that millions of consumers should be able to keep their old insurance plans for another year — even if they did not meet the requirements of his health care law — he is finding support among states that would not exactly be described as allies.
Of the 13 states that have so far said they will allow consumers to renew canceled plans, all but four are led by Republican governors and have generally been opposed to the new health care law. Of the eight that have said they will not carry out the policy, six are in Democratic-led states, many of which have actively worked to put the law into effect and have argued that allowing such an extension could undermine its success. They include New York, which announced its decision on Tuesday, and Massachusetts. Many other states, including California and New Jersey, are still weighing their options.
The new plans being offered under the Affordable Care Act require that insurers cover a wider range of benefits than many of the old plans. In addition, the insurers are prohibited from turning away people with existing medical problems or charging them more.
Mr. Obama’s announcement last week came after the political uproar prompted by millions of consumers’ receiving notices that their health plans were being discontinued because they no longer complied with the law.
Many states with low numbers of such cancellations were those that had let insurers temporarily avoid the law’s requirements by offering early renewal of existing plans. Those renewals allowed people to keep their existing plans though next year. The goal was to smooth the transition for consumers, commissioners in those states said.
“It turned out to be a good decision,” said Mike Chaney, the insurance commissioner in Republican-led Mississippi, who said fewer than 500 people in his state received notice of discontinued policies because he encouraged the major insurers to offer the option of renewing for an additional year.
Mr. Chaney said insurers could have chosen to cancel policies in his state anyway, but “I would have hammered them if they did.”
Several other Republican-led states, including Oklahoma, Utah and New Mexico, also reported few cancellations and cited their policies on early renewals as one of the reasons.
However, the final decision was up to insurers. For that reason, in some states that permitted early renewals there were still hundreds of thousands of canceled policies.
In Florida, Kevin McCarty, the insurance commissioner, said the state allowed insurers to offer customers the option of early renewal.
“If they liked their plan, they got to keep their plan,” he said paraphrasing a comment by Mr. Obama that has been often repeated by critics who say he broke his promise.
But Florida Blue, the state’s largest insurer, decided to discontinue the plans of about 300,000 people, including 40,000 whose coverage will end by Jan. 1. Now it is working to offer those customers the option of extending their plans for an additional year under Mr. Obama’s proposal, Mr. McCarty said.
Whether the move will ultimately be good for consumers is unclear. Proponents of the health care law, including several states that have most enthusiastically embraced it, have argued that renewing old plans will undermine the success of the fledging insurance marketplaces. They have also asserted that some of those plans have fewer benefits than new ones devised to comply with the new law.
There is also little indication of how many people who got cancellation notices will decide to renew. They may find better deals on the new insurance marketplace, especially if they qualify for tax-credit subsidies.
“I do not believe his proposal is a good deal for the State of Washington,” Mike Kreidler, Washington’s state insurance commissioner, said in a statement after the president’s announcement last week. Other states that have said they will not put Mr. Obama’s proposal into effect are Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Vermont and Indiana.
Although New York said it did not plan to allow the estimated 100,000 canceled policies to be renewed, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo did not completely close the door to the idea.
“If it is causing a problem for someone we will certainly look at it,” he said Monday. “Our program has actually been working well.”
California, which has an active state insurance marketplace, is scheduled to decide the issue on Thursday. Its insurance commissioner has supported Mr. Obama’s proposal, while the head of its marketplace has raised concerns about it. In California, insurers were required to cancel their noncompliant plans by the end of the year if they were also participating in the state marketplace.
Keith Cruickshank, who lives in the San Diego area, got a cancellation notice from his insurer, Kaiser Permanente, and said the new policy he found in the state marketplace for himself, his wife and their son would cost an additional $4,000 or so a year.
“We support Obamacare, but are being singled out because we are healthy and earning above the subsidy level,” Mr. Cruickshank said. If given the choice to renew his old plan, he says he would.
Still, there is no guarantee prices on those old plans will not also rise. Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina announced Tuesday that it had filed documents with the state, which has said it will work to carry out Mr. Obama’s plan and allow about 230,000 customers to renew their noncompliant plans. But it also said that those customers would see rate increases of 16 percent to 24 percent.
For the states that choose to go ahead with Mr. Obama’s proposal, regulators and insurers must quickly work out tricky logistical details like approving rates for the coming year and working to return customers to their computer systems.
Some state insurance commissioners in states that were already allowing early renewals said they had a head start.
In Kentucky, which has generally embraced the health care law and has said it will carry out Mr. Obama’s proposal concerning canceled policies, regulators have already reviewed rates for insurers that offered renewals of their noncompliant plans. Therefore, they expect the process for state residents whose policies were canceled — about 280,000 of them — to be fairly straightforward.
“All of that regulatory due diligence that we had to do, we’ve already done it,” said Sharon Clark, the state’s insurance commissioner. “I feel for some of my colleagues who are having a much more difficult time than I am.”
Josh Katz and Keith Collins contributed reporting.
Republicans Have Pushed Him Too Far and Now Harry Reid Is Ready to Go Nuclear
By: Jason Easley
Tuesday, November, 19th, 2013, 10:46 pm
After Senate Republicans blocked a third Obama judicial nomination this week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has reached his breaking point and is ready to go nuclear.
The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent spoke to senior Senate Democratic leadership aide who told him,
“Reid has become personally invested in the idea that Dems have no choice other than to change the rules if the Senate is going to remain a viable and functioning institution,” the aide says. That’s a long journey from where Reid was only 10 months ago, when he agreed to a toothless filibuster reform deal out of a real reluctance to change the rules by simple majority. Asked to explain the evolution, the aide said: “It’s been a long process. But this is the only thing we can do to keep the Senate performing its basic duties.”
Asked if Reid would drop the threat to go nuclear if Republicans green-lighted one or two of Obama’s judicial nominations, the aide said: “I don’t think that’s going to fly.”
Reid could change the rules to a simple majority requirement to break the filibuster on judicial nominees as soon as this week. The reaction among Democrats should be that it’s about time. This has been a progression for Sen. Reid. He has given Republican numerous warnings as he has advanced towards his current position, but every time they refused to listen.
Senate Republicans brought Harry Reid to the point of going nuclear. There will be lots of talk about the history of the Senate and respecting the minority, but Mitch McConnell has left Reid no choice. Majority Leader Reid either had to change the rules, or watch President Obama’s constitutional power to appoint judges evaporate due to Senate Republican filibusters.
Republicans are going to stomp their feet, whine, and howl, but they brought this on themselves by deciding that they would rather obstruct than govern.
The time has come.
Welcome to the reality of how Republicans have broken your beloved Senate, Sen. Reid.
Supreme Court will not block Texas abortion law
By Arturo Garcia
Tuesday, November 19, 2013 18:41 EST
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that it would not block Texas’ HB2, which opponents argue would severely hinder reproductive freedom on the state.
The Associated Press reported that the high court voted 5-4 not to reinstate an injunction against a state requirement that doctors who perform abortions at women’s health clinics have admittance privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the facility.
The high court’s decision upholds a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on Oct. 31 that “the incidental effect of making it more difficult or more expensive to procure an abortion cannot be enough” to strike the provision down.
However, women’s health advocacy groups vowed to continue to fight to scuttle the law.
“We will take every step we can to protect the health of Texas women,” Planned Parenthood Foundation of America president Cecile Richards said in a statement. “This law is blocking women in Texas from getting a safe and legal medical procedure that has been their constitutionally-protected right for 40 years. This is outrageous and unacceptable — and also demonstrates why we need stronger federal protections for women’s health. Your rights and your ability to make your own medical decisions should not depend on your zip code.”
POTUS Goes There: Obama Shreds Republicans For Calling Him a Socialist
By: Jason Easley
Tuesday, November, 19th, 2013, 6:06 pm
President Obama shredded Republicans who have called him a socialist today by pointing to his record, and highlighting their love of big government programs like Medicare while fearing socialism.
The president said,
People call me a socialist sometimes, but you’ve got to meet real socialists, and you’ll have a sense of what a socialist is. I’m talking about lowering the corporate tax rates. My healthcare reform is based on the private marketplace. Stock market is looking pretty good last time I checked, and it is true that I’m concerned about growing inequality in our system. But nobody questions the efficacy of market economies in terms of producing wealth and innovation, and keeping us competitive.
On the flip side, you know most Republicans, even the tea party, one of my favorite signs during the campaign was folks hoisting a sign governments keep your hands of my Medicare. Think about that. Ideologically they did not like the idea of the federal government, and yet they felt very protective about the basic social safety net that has been structured.
My simple point is this. If we can get beyond the tactical advantages that parties perceive in painting folks as extreme and trying to keep an eye always on the next election, and for a while at least just focus on governing then there is probably seventy percent overlap on a whole range of issues.
President Obama broke it down, and explained to Republicans why their howls of socialism are laughable. This president is a centrist, not a socialist. It was refreshing to hear him summarize his own views and record. There is not a single policy that this president has advocated for that could be described as socialistic.
Obama is the opposite of a socialist. The only socialism that Republicans are able to attach to the president is what they dream up. President Obama did not nationalize or takeover the auto industry. He didn’t nationalize and stage a government takeover of healthcare, and raising taxes on the wealthy because they are paying less than their fair share is not socialism.
The ignorant people who call President Obama a socialist do not know what a socialist is. They are so extreme that they describe center left policies as socialism. It was nice to hear the president bluntly lay it out, and confront the ridiculous Republican delusion that he is a socialist.
The know nothings who do nothing in the Republican Party have been making this bogus claim for too long. Barack Obama is not a socialist, and it was to see him treat the Republican allegations with the ridicule that they so richly deserve.
Walmart’s Greed Exposed: They Could Pay Employees $25,000/Year Without Raising Prices
By: Jason Easley
Tuesday, November, 19th, 2013, 12:41 pm
A new Demos study has revealed that the only thing stopping Walmart from paying their employees $25,000 a year without raising prices is their ridiculous level of greed.
According to Demos, here is how Walmart could afford to pay their workers $25,000 a year without raising prices,
Now as another holiday season approaches, this research brief considers one way Walmart could meet the wage target its employees are calling for— without raising prices. We find that if Walmart redirected the $7.6 billion it spends annually on repurchases of its own company stock, these funds could be used to give Walmart’s low-paid workers a raise of $5.83 an hour, more than enough to ensure that all Walmart workers are paid a wage equivalent to at least $25,000 a year for full-time work.
Curtailing share buybacks would not harm the company’s retail competitiveness or raise prices for consumers. In fact, some retail analysts have argued that by providing a substantial investment in the company’s front-line workforce, higher pay could be expected to improve employee productivity and morale while reducing Walmart’s expenses related to employee turnover.
With more money in their wallets, Walmart employees would likely spend a portion of the cash at Walmart itself, boosting the company’s sales. Sales might also increase as customers benefit from an improved shopping environment.
The other benefits of offering higher pay for Walmart would be attracting better candidates for positions, good publicity, and the potential for employees to view working at Walmart as a source of pride.
Walmart’s business model reflects the narrow minded economic views of the Republican Party. By choosing to only share profits at the top, Walmart is calling the stockholders makers and their employees takers.
The Republican idea that a business has to raise prices if wages are raised is false. Companies like Walmart can afford to raise wages without raising prices if they choose to do so. Costco has proven both Republicans and Walmart wrong by paying a living wage and watching their profits soar. Customers have abandoned Walmart for Costco in 2013, because unlike Walmart, Costco supports raising the minimum wage.
Costco goes beyond the Democratic proposal of increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. They already pay a $11.50 minimum wage, “At Costco, we know that paying employees good wages makes good sense for business,” said Craig Jelinek, Costco’s President and CEO. “We pay a starting hourly wage of $11.50 in all states where we do business, and we are still able to keep our overhead costs low. An important reason for the success of Costco’s business model is the attraction and retention of great employees. Instead of minimizing wages, we know it’s a lot more profitable in the long term to minimize employee turnover and maximize employee productivity, commitment and loyalty. We support efforts to increase the federal minimum wage.”
Walmart is being undone by their own business model, which mandates that employees are the bottom of the barrel, and labor costs must always be kept absurdly low. Walmart’s abuse and mistreatment of their employees goes beyond the poverty wages that they pay.
The greed of the Walton family is killing Walmart, and they are costing taxpayers billions of dollars each year. Customers will continue to flee as long as Walmart decides that it would rather be a modern American workhouse instead of a responsible employer.
Republican Food Stamp Cuts Force 47.7 Million People to Live on Less Than One Meal a Day
Tuesday, November, 19th, 2013, 10:49 am
Over the course of human history, several holy men, humanitarians, and even a philosopher noted that “The measure of a society is how it treats its weakest members,” and it is likely that Mahatma Gandhi, Pope John Paul II, Aristotle, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer were not referring to the richest country on Earth; the United States of America. Although polling reveals that a majority of Americans decry the foul treatment of this country’s weakest members, children and senior citizens, it is still a sad fact of life that this country’s government treats its most vulnerable citizens with gross disregard and utter contempt; apparently just because they exist. A better measure of the richest nation on Earth is the federal budget and how it reflects the government’s priorities that place preservation of oil industry, defense industry, corporate, and religious organizations’ profits over the survival of its most vulnerable citizens.
In yet another damning report on the plight of children, seniors, and the poor due to Republican’s austerity, a new Pew Research report reveals that the recent food stamp cuts that went into effect on November 1st mean that 47.7 million children, senior citizens, working Americans, and nearly a million veterans will have to get by on one less meal a day and tragically, Republicans and their supporters clamor for deeper cuts. It should be glaringly obvious that next to persecuting women and gays, Republicans have made malnutrition of the poor one of its highest priorities. Although they attempt to portray food stamps cuts as an abstract dollar amount on the government’s balance sheet, their cuts are having devastating results in human terms.
Mahatma Gandhi once said “the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man.” If America’s poorest citizens ever needed protection from Republican cruelty, it is now when the true measure of Republican inhumanity is on the rise and tragically, many of their victims are their staunchest supporters. Some Americans believe cutting spending on food stamps is a legitimate means to rein in government spending, but if they were aware of the hard numbers adversely affected by withholding food, it likely would humanize the problem and put debt reduction in a different perspective.
It is important to understand that the food stamp cuts on November 1st that mean one meal-a-day less for the poorest Americans amounted to $5 billion for fiscal 2013-2014, and includes an additional $6 billion next year. Add to that stark reality the fact that House Republicans voted an additional $39 billion in cuts in September that ballooned to $90 billion as Republicans head into bicameral budget negotiations to prevent another government shutdown in January. Republicans still yearn for $135 billion in cuts according to the so-called “Ryan budget” they have passed in the House for three straight years.
Although the poor across the nation will have one meal less each day due to the $5 billion in cuts, it is in deep-red Republican states, particularly Southern states, where the poor are slated to feel the effects of the food stamp cuts most. In Pew Research’s Stateline interactive map, states with the highest percentage of residents dependent on food assistance are Republican strongholds. For example, in Mississippi, 22% of the population is reliant on food stamps including 307,000 children and 119,000 senior citizens, and $5 billion in cuts means 426,000 poverty-level, working poor, disabled, and senior residents will have to get by on one less meal each day. That does not include sequester cuts Republicans refuse to end that cut Head Start, Meals On Wheels, or free and reduced school lunches that are part of the SNAP cuts. The sad irony is that those most likely to go hungry every day are probably poor white people voting for Republicans who cannot wait to impose more hunger on them.
It is also ironic that those same red-state Republicans overwhelming support harsher food stamp cuts according to a new poll. Although Americans as a whole object to the November food stamp cuts, an overwhelming majority of Republican voters (67%) strongly approved of 47-million Americans going without one meal a day. It is likely that Republican voters are under the delusion that if their GOP representatives in Congress slash more SNAP funding, they will be withholding food from people of color, but as has been stated ad nauseum there are more poor white children, seniors, and disabled Americans nationwide receiving nutrition assistance than African, Hispanic, Asian, and Native Americans combined. Still, Republicans portray food stamp recipients as minorities to garner support to cut even more and increase hunger among their white Republican supporters; particularly in southern states.
There are 47.7 million Americans who will have to survive with one less meal a day due to the $5 billion cuts in SNAP funding, and a little over 30% are working families, 32% are seniors and disabled, and 27% are children. According to the Veterans Administration, nearly one million Veterans receive food assistance in any given month, and that does not include over 5,000 active duty military personnel whose families will have to make do with one less meal every day. The idea that nearly 48 million Americans will lose one meal a day is not lost on Republicans who could not care less what damage their cuts, or inaction, are wreaking on the poor. In fact, last week when two immigrant children approached Speaker John Boehner while eating breakfast asked him, “How would you feel if you had to tell your kids at the age of 10 that you were never coming home?” He replied “That wouldn’t be good.” Boehner, and his Republican House caucus, know precisely what their food stamp cuts mean to 48 million Americans and they knew “it wouldn’t be good.”
It is time for Americans to ask Republicans dying to cut more food stamp funding ‘how they would feel if they had to tell their kids they would have to go without one meal a day,’ but it is likely they would have them arrested and escorted to jail where they would not have to make do with one less meal a day. This nation is the richest country in the history of the world, and the notion that even one child, senior citizen, Veteran, or working American has to make do without one meal a day is an abomination of epic proportion.
Sadly, losing one meal daily is predicated on $5 billion in food stamp cuts, and if Republicans have their way the figure will be well over $100 billion that means the 48 million Americans dependent on food assistance will likely starve to death. Nearly a quarter of America’s children are living in dire poverty, seniors are barely staving off perpetual hunger, and millions of Americans have no idea where their next meal is coming from, and if America was measured by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens, or how its federal budget reflects it priorities, it would be found to be exceptional in its rank brutality and cruel treatment of it weakest citizens.
US and UK struck secret deal to allow NSA to 'unmask' Britons' personal data
• 2007 deal allows NSA to store previously restricted material
• UK citizens not suspected of wrongdoing caught up in dragnet
• Separate draft memo proposes US spying on 'Five-Eyes' allies
The Guardian, Wednesday 20 November 2013 19.00 GMT
The phone, internet and email records of UK citizens not suspected of any wrongdoing have been analysed and stored by America's National Security Agency under a secret deal that was approved by British intelligence officials, according to documents from the whistleblower Edward Snowden.
In the first explicit confirmation that UK citizens have been caught up in US mass surveillance programs, an NSA memo describes how in 2007 an agreement was reached that allowed the agency to "unmask" and hold on to personal data about Britons that had previously been off limits.
The memo, published in a joint investigation by the Guardian and Britain's Channel 4 News, says the material is being put in databases where it can be made available to other members of the US intelligence and military community.
Britain and the US are the main two partners in the 'Five-Eyes' intelligence-sharing alliance, which also includes Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Until now, it had been generally understood that the citizens of each country were protected from surveillance by any of the others.
But the Snowden material reveals that:
• In 2007, the rules were changed to allow the NSA to analyse and retain any British citizens' mobile phone and fax numbers, emails and IP addresses swept up by its dragnet. Previously, this data had been stripped out of NSA databases – "minimized", in intelligence agency parlance – under rules agreed between the two countries.
• These communications were "incidentally collected" by the NSA, meaning the individuals were not the initial targets of surveillance operations and therefore were not suspected of wrongdoing.
• The NSA has been using the UK data to conduct so-called "pattern of life" or "contact-chaining" analyses, under which the agency can look up to three "hops" away from a target of interest – examining the communications of a friend of a friend of a friend. Guardian analysis suggests three hops for a typical Facebook user could pull the data of more than 5 million people into the dragnet.
• A separate draft memo, marked top-secret and dated from 2005, reveals a proposed NSA procedure for spying on the citizens of the UK and other Five-Eyes nations, even where the partner government has explicitly denied the US permission to do so. The memo makes clear that partner countries must not be informed about this surveillance, or even the procedure itself.
The 2007 briefing was sent out to all analysts in the NSA's Signals Intelligence Directorate (SID), which is responsible for collecting, processing, and sharing information gleaned from US surveillance programs.
Up to this point, the Americans had only been allowed to retain the details of British landline phone numbers that had been collected incidentally in any of their trawls.
But the memo explains there was a fundamental change in policy that allowed the US to look at and store vast amounts of personal data that would previously have been discarded.
It states: "Sigint [signals intelligence] policy … and the UK Liaison Office here at NSAW [NSA Washington] worked together to come up with a new policy that expands the use of incidentally collected unminimized UK data in Sigint analysis.
"The new policy expands the previous memo issued in 2004 that only allowed the unminimizing of incidentally collected UK phone numbers for use in analysis.
"Now SID analysts can unminimize all incidentally collected UK contact identifiers, including IP and email addresses, fax and cell phone numbers, for use in analysis."
The memo also set out in more detail what the NSA could and could not do.
The agency was, for example, still barred from making any UK citizen a target of surveillance programs that would look at the content of their communications without getting a warrant. However, they now:
• "Are authorized to unmask UK contact identifiers resulting from incidental collection."
• "May utilize the UK contact identifiers in Sigint development contact chaining analysis."
• "May retain unminimized UK contact identifiers incidentally collected under this authority within content and metadata stores and provided to follow-on USSS (US Sigint System) applications."
The document does not say whether the UK Liaison Office, which is operated by GCHQ, discussed this rule change with government ministers in London before granting approval, nor who within the intelligence agencies would have been responsible for the decision.
The Guardian contacted GCHQ and the Cabinet Office on Thursday November 7 to ask for clarification, but despite repeated requests since then, neither has been prepared to comment.
Since the signing in 1946 of the UKUSA Signals Intelligence Agreement, which first established the Five-Eyes partnership, it has been a convention that the allied intelligence agencies do not monitor one another's citizens without permission – an agreement often referred to publicly by officials across the Five-Eyes nations.
However, a draft 2005 directive in the name of the NSA's director of signals intelligence reveals the NSA prepared policies enabling its staff to spy on Five-Eyes citizens, even where the partner country has refused permission to do so.
The document, titled 'Collection, Processing and Dissemination of Allied Communications', has separate classifications from paragraph to paragraph. Some are cleared to be shared with America's allies, while others – marked "NF", for No Foreign – are to be kept strictly within the agency. The NSA refers to its Five-Eyes partners as "second party" countries.
The memo states that the Five-Eyes agreement "has evolved to include a common understanding that both governments will not target each other's citizens/persons".
But the next sentence – classified as not to be shared with foreign partners – states that governments "reserved the right" to conduct intelligence operations against each other's citizens "when it is in the best interests of each nation".
"Therefore," the draft memo continues, "under certain circumstances, it may be advisable and allowable to target second party persons and second party communications systems unilaterally, when it is in the best interests of the US and necessary for US national security."
The draft directive states who can approve the surveillance, and stresses the need for secrecy.
"When sharing the planned targeting information with a second party would be contrary to US interests, or when the second party declines a collaboration proposal, the proposed targeting must be presented to the signals intelligence director for approval with justification for the criticality of the proposed collection.
"If approved, any collection, processing and dissemination of the second party information must be maintained in NoForn channels."
The document does not reveal whether such operations had been authorized in the past, nor whether the NSA believes its Five-Eyes partners conduct operations against US citizens.
The other sections of the document, cleared for sharing with the UK and other partners, strike a different tone, emphasising that spying on each other's citizens is a collaborative affair that is most commonly achieved "when the proposed target is associated with a global problem such as weapons proliferation, terrorism, drug trafficking or organised crime activities."
It states, for example: "There are circumstances when targeting of second party persons and communications systems, with the full knowledge and co-operation of one or more second parties, is allowed when it is in the best interests of both nations."
The memo says the circumstances might include "targeting a UK citizen located in London using a British telephone system"; "targeting a UK person located in London using an internet service provider (ISP) in France; or "targeting a Pakistani person located in the UK using a UK ISP."
A spokeswoman for the NSA declined to answer questions from the Guardian on whether the draft directive had been implemented and, if so, when. The NSA and the White House also refused to comment on the agency's 2007 agreement with the UK to store and analyze data on British citizens.
The British foreign secretary in 2005 was Jack Straw, and in 2007 it was Margaret Beckett. The Guardian approached both of them to ask if they knew about or sanctioned a change in policy. Both declined to comment.
The Five-Eyes nations have, so far, steered clear of the diplomatic upheavals, which have emerged as a result of revelations of the NSA spying on its allies.
France, Germany and Spain have all recently summoned their respective US ambassadors to discuss surveillance within their borders, while earlier this month the UK ambassador to Germany was invited to discuss alleged eavesdropping from the UK embassy in Berlin.
Case for wider inquiry into surveillance growing stronger, says Nick Clegg
Deputy PM says Edward Snowden revelations are 'chipping away at bedrock of public support for work of agencies'
Rowena Mason, political correspondent
theguardian.com, Thursday 21 November 2013 11.37 GMT
Nick Clegg has hinted at the need for a wider inquiry into the "unimaginable" power of spying technology as US whistleblower Edward Snowden's leaks are chipping away at public support for the intelligence agencies.
The deputy prime minister said there was a stronger and stronger case for a broad inquiry with each passing day of revelations about the scale of mass surveillance by British and US security services.
In his strongest comments yet, Clegg said a new inquiry could look at the proportionality of surveillance on top of existing oversight by the intelligence and security committee and judges.
Asked about new reports in the Guardian about US spying on British internet users, Clegg said: "The technologies which are now used by our security agencies are far, far more powerful and are able to store and analyse data on a scale we have never known before.
"The ability now to hoover up, analyse, discard, process information is now on a scale which was unimaginable even a few years ago. So I think it is right to ask questions about the proportionality of modern intelligence-gathering and use of data and, crucially, the accountability."
Speaking on his LBC 97.3 radio show, Clegg said he strongly supported the need for secrecy by the intelligence agencies but there needed to be proper accountability as current regulation was quite opaque.
"Unless there is proper accountability, it is not legitimate in the eyes of the public," he said. "Frankly, I think we can and should reflect on what more we can do.
"I do think there is a legitimate question to ask, which is: how do you make sure you have proper accountability and proper proportionality about the use of these powers?
"With each passing day with all of these revelations you chip away at the bedrock of public support for the work of the agencies and that is a dangerous thing."
He suggested there could be a review similar to that set up in the US by Barack Obama, and did not dismiss the idea of a public inquiry.
"We have these arrangements in place – the intelligence and security committee, they are doing a review, you have these judges to test these agencies."
But he said "with each passing day there is a stronger and stronger case to look at this in the round" and added he had an "open mind on how to try and keep up with all these different issues so we keep up with the revolution in the power of intelligence agencies and are open to those who want to do us harm".
Clegg's comments come after several senior Liberal Democrats, including former leader Lord Ashdown, said more must be done to investigate the scale of internet surveillance by spies.
David Cameron and the heads of the intelligence agencies have claimed the Guardian endangered national security by publishing stories based on Snowden's leaks.
Andrew Parker, the head of MI5, said the stories were a "gift" to terrorists, while Tory MP Julian Smith has called for the Guardian to be prosecuted over the way it has stored and transported files.
Police detained David Miranda, the partner of then Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, under terrorism laws and mounted an investigation after seizing documents.
However, there have been growing calls from politicians for more scrutiny of the intelligence services as more emerges from the Snowden files.
There has been international outrage about reports the US tapped the phones of 35 world leaders and the power of the NSA and GCHQ to secretly access undersea internet cables carrying the communications of millions of users.
The intelligence and security committee is now looking at oversight of the agencies, whose heads gave evidence in public for the first time a few weeks ago.
However, Clegg's comments will increase pressure for a more independent investigation.