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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1090985 times)
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In the USA...United Surveillance America

November 21, 2013

In Kennedy’s Death, a Turning Point for a Nation Already Torn


Fifty years after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the nation seems to be experiencing a kind of fairy tale about itself, alternately bright and dark.

It is inspiring, but also deflating, to see and hear again (and again) the handsome, vigorous president, the youngest ever elected to the office, as he beckons the country forth to the future, to the “New Frontier,” and its promise of conquest: putting a man on the moon, defeating sharply defined evils — totalitarianism, poverty, racial injustice.

This, we have been reminded, was the dream Kennedy nourished, and much of it died with him, when the sharp cracks of rifle fire broke out as his motorcade rolled through the sunstruck streets of Dallas. With this horrific, irrational deed, a curse was laid upon the land, and the people fell from grace.

But this narrative and the anniversary remembrances have obscured the deeper message sent and received on Nov. 22, 1963. In fact, America had already become a divided, dangerous place, with intimations of anarchic disorder. Beneath its gleaming surfaces, a spore had been growing, a mass of violent energies, coiled and waiting to spring.

“The sniper’s bullet left one wound that is not healed, a wound to our consciousness of ourselves as Americans,” the culture critic Dwight Macdonald wrote in December 1963. “Despite all the evidence in the newspapers, the daily stories of senseless brutality and casual murder, we have continued to think of ourselves as a civilized nation where law and order prevail.”

This is not to say America wasn’t a more optimistic place than it is now.

“The sense, one might even say the ‘feeling,’ of being American, was quite different in 1963 from what it would become,” Robert P. George, a professor of politics and law at Princeton who is also the chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, said in an interview.

One reason was that the nation’s most powerful institutions were widely seen as “fundamentally good and trustworthy — government, the military, religious institutions. People even trusted big corporations,” Dr. George said. This was before Vietnam, before scandal shook the foundations of the Roman Catholic Church, before the sequence of Wall Street bubbles and meltdowns.

The tumult of the ’60s, including the unraveling of the Johnson and Nixon presidencies, came to be depicted, in part, as a disillusioned reaction to Kennedy’s death. But actually, the seeds had begun to sprout during his administration. Kennedy himself embraced a policy of insurgency. He was fixated on ridding Cuba of its dictator, Fidel Castro. And he backed a coup in South Vietnam that resulted in the murder of its president, Ngo Dinh Diem, and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu — an act Kennedy painfully reflected on in a taped memorandum he dictated three weeks before he was killed.

And while many today mourn the loss of the consensus politics of the Cold War era, the center was already collapsing in 1963. Left-wing groups like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Students for a Democratic Society, both impatient with the slow pace of social change, were formed at the time of Kennedy’s presidency.

On the right, the John Birch Society was flourishing, and in 1962, 18,000 young conservatives attended a rally at Madison Square Garden at which Kennedy was jeered, and a new tribune, Barry M. Goldwater, took the stage. Soon he would vow to clean out “the swampland of collectivism.”

Had Kennedy lived, he might have found himself contending with these fresh rebellions. Instead his memory was sacralized, and his death seen as a kind of freeze-frame, the moment at which America pivoted away from its better self.

But things looked much different at the time.

The best-selling nonfiction book when he was killed was Victor Lasky’s “J.F.K: The Man and the Myth,” a dubiously researched jumble of smears and innuendo, including the stale rumor that Kennedy, an observant Catholic, had suppressed a previous marriage to a Palm Beach socialite. The book was briefly removed from circulation by its publisher, Macmillan, after Kennedy’s death.

Kennedy hatred was deepest, perhaps, in the South, where civil rights battles had grown increasingly tense. “White violence was sort of considered the status quo,” Diane McWhorter, who grew up in Birmingham, Ala., and is the author of “Carry Me Home,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the racial unrest of 1963, said recently.

“There had been so many bombings that people had accepted it,” Ms. McWhorter said. But in May, the city’s blacks struck back, attacking the police and firefighters and setting several businesses on fire. In September, only two months before Dallas, white supremacists in Birmingham planted a bomb in a black church, killing four young girls.

Kennedy himself was a reluctant supporter of civil rights legislation, but when at last he called for it, many Southern whites were enraged.

“I was in my gym class at the Brooke Hill School for girls,” Ms. McWhorter recalled. “Someone came in and said the president had been shot, and people cheered.”

Protest and rage advanced on other fronts, too. Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22,” published in 1961, lampooned the bureaucratization of the modern warfare state. Thomas Pynchon’s “V,” published in 1963, hinted of conspiratorial webs spun in “a howling Dark Age of ignorance and barbarity.” James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time,” a best seller in November 1963, explored the world of Elijah Muhammad, whose message to whites, Mr. Baldwin reported, was that “the sword they have used so long against others can now, without mercy, be used against them.”

Stephen Harrigan, a novelist and journalist who lives in Austin, Tex., was a teenager in Corpus Christi, Tex., when Kennedy was assassinated. Dallas “was somewhere else,” a world away, Mr. Harrigan said. But when he moved to Austin, in September 1966, the city was recovering from its own catastrophic spasm of gun violence committed a month before when Charles Whitman, like Lee Harvey Oswald a former Marine, killed 17 people and wounded 32 others in a shooting spree from the clock tower at the University of Texas.

“There was a palpable sense that something had been let loose,” Mr. Harrigan said recently. “The Kennedy assassination had opened up this box of horrors.” But what had been let loose were forces already there. After Oswald and Whitman would come the macabre gallery of angry loners who gained celebrity from the famous people they killed or tried to (George C. Wallace, John Lennon, Ronald Reagan) or who went on mass rampages (at Virginia Tech; in Aurora, Colo.; in Newtown, Conn.).

We’re captivated still by the handsome young president, coming to office at the apex of American power, immortalized in an intoxicating sheen of glamour imparted by the new medium of television. And, of course, we can never know what might have been different had he lived. But one who seems to have recognized the malign forces at play, ahead of those around him, was John F. Kennedy himself. He was averse to large crowds, even though he stirred them — perhaps because he stirred them. His celebrated “cool” masked uneasiness and distrust.

In “A Thousand Days,” published in 1965, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., who worked in the Kennedy administration, described a president who had “peered into the abyss and knew the potentiality of chaos.” In the summer of 1963, Mr. Schlesinger reported, Kennedy concluded an informal talk by suddenly reading a portion of Blanche of Castile’s speech from Shakespeare’s “King John,” the lines beginning “The sun’s o’ercast with blood,” and ending “They whirl asunder and dismember me.”

Mr. Schlesinger had predicted a new “politics of hope” with Kennedy’s election. But Kennedy’s own hopes were more tempered. While others basked in the excitements of Camelot, Mr. Schlesinger wrote, Kennedy himself had become acutely aware of the difficulties of governing “a nation so disparate in its composition, so tense in its interior relationships, so cunningly enmeshed in underground fears and antagonisms, so entrapped by history in the ethos of violence.”

Click here to read / view an interactive of the death of President Kennedy:


I still getting emotional about the JFK assassination 50 years later

JFK knew how to handle a crisis. We should take inspiration and take back our country from the people who've wrecked it

Jesse Ventura, Friday 22 November 2013 13.45 GMT      

What does it matter? It was 50 years ago! What difference does it make now?

A lot of young people – who didn't live through the 60s, or even the 70s – actually have every right to ask those questions. And they deserve some real answers, too.

To put it bluntly, the assassination of President Kennedy makes all the difference in the world. That tragic day in our history was a determining factor in the type of world we have today.

The founders of this country had a vision of freedom and liberty that they tried to ensure for generations to come. They tried to design a democracy so full of checks and balances that it was bulletproof. So that no matter how many crooks managed to get themselves elected, the republic still prevailed.

There have even been a few brief shining moments when the real potential of that original vision took hold. One such moment was Franklin Roosevelt's presidency. A decimated work force that was shell-shocked from the Great Depression was struggling for its very survival. FDR came to the rescue with the New Deal, a program that redistributed wealth from Wall Street to workers who'd lost their jobs as a result of corporate greed and government corruption – does that sound like a problem you might be familiar with?

Another great moment was the presidency of John F Kennedy in the early 1960s. This time the world was reeling from the Cold War, and a military gone so mad with power and war-like policies (again, sound familiar?) created a very real threat of nuclear annihilation.

But JFK brought us away from the brink of death and destruction by standing up to the war mongers and allowing sanity to prevail. For a moment, we truly seemed to be moving away from the horrors of war and toward a new world where peace between all countries was possible. Then JFK was murdered, eliminated by the same madness he had been fighting against; and it was like the dream suddenly died. We were left with a horrible void and a profound sense of hopelessness. Grown men cried, and with good reason.

So I hope that young people can forgive me for still getting emotional about the JFK assassination 50 years later. We haven't even had full disclosure, let alone closure.

What we have had is unbelievable amounts of lies and obfuscation, something that affects every single American citizen. I have written about and refuted the incredible government lies, lies that are supported throughout Tom Hank's movie Parkland. If you read what those doctors at Parkland Hospital actually said and believed, you'll understand how our government lied to us and is still lying to cover up that crime.

In fact, through my research, I discovered there are hundreds if not thousands of documents that the government won't release to the American people concerning the assassination of our president. If Oswald really did it, if the Warren Commission's findings were 100% accurate, what purpose does it serve to conceal these documents? What are our elected officials hiding, 50 years later?

Perhaps what they're afraid of is that we'll figure it out: they've successfully destroyed our nation. They've looted the treasury, pulled the rug out from under the working middle class, and re-routed our country's resources back to the war machine and the wealthiest 1%.

On top of that, they've destroyed our Fourth Amendment rights, the Bill of Rights, and our basic civil liberties by spying on us. They continue to stand in the way of offering us one form of government-run health care while our tax dollars pay for their four separate options.

Today, we face a crisis almost everywhere we look. Our Congress is an international joke. As Will Rogers said:

    We have the best politicians that money can buy.

Now, more than ever, we need real change – and that won't come from either Democrats or Republicans when both parties are bought by the same lobbyists, corporations, and banks. We are being told by our so-called leaders that conflicts are unavoidable, that we must live in a state of perpetual war, and that we must surrender our rights to survive. I'd like to remind you of the words of Ben Franklin:

    Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.

22 November marks a crucial moment in American history. Americans have always had the resources to put our country back on track, now we need the resolve. Let's give the 1% the big wake-up call that they truly deserve. There's a time for observing history and there's a time for making it. We can take back our country. And if we don't do it, nobody else will.


November 21, 2013

In Landmark Vote, Senate Limits Use of the Filibuster


WASHINGTON — The Senate approved the most fundamental alteration of its rules in more than a generation on Thursday, ending the minority party’s ability to filibuster most presidential nominees in response to the partisan gridlock that has plagued Congress for much of the Obama administration.

Furious Republicans accused Democrats of a power grab, warning them that they would deeply regret their action if they lost control of the Senate next year and the White House in years to come. Invoking the Founding Fathers and the meaning of the Constitution, Republicans said Democrats were trampling the minority rights the framers intended to protect. But when the vote was called, Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader who was initially reluctant to force the issue, prevailed 52 to 48.

Under the change, the Senate will be able to cut off debate on executive and judicial branch nominees with a simple majority rather than rounding up a supermajority of 60 votes. The new precedent established by the Senate on Thursday does not apply to Supreme Court nominations or legislation itself.

It represented the culmination of years of frustration over what Democrats denounced as a Republican campaign to stall the machinery of Congress, stymie President Obama’s agenda and block his choices for cabinet posts and federal judgeships by insisting that virtually everything the Senate approves be done by a supermajority.

After repeatedly threatening to change the rules, Mr. Reid decided to follow through when Republicans refused this week to back down from their effort to keep Mr. Obama from filling any of three vacancies on the most powerful appeals court in the country.

This was the final straw for some Democratic holdouts against limiting the filibuster, providing Mr. Reid with the votes he needed to impose a new standard certain to reverberate through the Senate for years.

“There has been unbelievable, unprecedented obstruction,” Mr. Reid said as he set in motion the steps for the vote on Thursday. “The Senate is a living thing, and to survive it must change as it has over the history of this great country. To the average American, adapting the rules to make the Senate work again is just common sense.”

Republicans accused Democrats of irreparably damaging the character of an institution that in many ways still operates as it did in the 19th century, and of disregarding the constitutional prerogative of the Senate as a body of “advice and consent” on presidential nominations.

“You think this is in the best interest of the United States Senate and the American people?” asked the Republican leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, sounding incredulous.

“I say to my friends on the other side of the aisle, you’ll regret this. And you may regret it a lot sooner than you think,” he added.

Mr. Obama applauded the Senate’s move. “Today’s pattern of obstruction, it just isn’t normal,” he told reporters at the White House. “It’s not what our founders envisioned. A deliberate and determined effort to obstruct everything, no matter what the merits, just to refight the results of an election is not normal, and for the sake of future generations we can’t let it become normal.”

Only three Democrats voted against the measure.

The changes will apply to all 1,183 executive branch nominations that require Senate confirmation — not just cabinet positions but hundreds of high- and midlevel federal agency jobs and government board seats.

This fight was a climax to the bitter debate between the parties over electoral mandates and the consequences of presidential elections. Republicans, through their frequent use of the various roadblocks that congressional procedure affords them, have routinely thwarted Democrats. Democrats, in turn, have accused Republicans of effectively trying to nullify the results of a presidential election they lost, whether by trying to dismantle his health care law or keep Mr. Obama from filling his cabinet.

Republicans saw their battle as fighting an overzealous president who, left to his own devices, would stack a powerful and underworked court with judges sympathetic to his vision of big-government liberalism, pushing its conservative tilt sharply left. The court is of immense political importance to both parties because it often decides questions involving White House and federal agency policy.

Republicans proposed eliminating three of its 11 full-time seats. When Democrats balked, the Republicans refused to confirm any more judges, saying they were exercising their constitutional check against the executive.

Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, said Democrats had undercut the minority party’s rights forever. “We have weakened this body permanently, undermined it for the sake of an incompetent administration,” he said. “What a tragedy.”

With the filibuster rules now rewritten — the most significant change since the Senate lowered its threshold to break a filibuster from two-thirds of the body to three-fifths, or 60 votes, in 1975 — the Senate can proceed with approving a backlog of presidential nominations.

There are now 59 nominees to executive branch positions and 17 nominees to the federal judiciary awaiting confirmation votes. The Senate acted immediately on Thursday when it voted with just 55 senators affirming to move forward on the nomination of Patricia A. Millett, a Washington lawyer nominated to the Washington appeals court. Two other nominees to that court, Cornelia T. L. Pillard and Robert L. Wilkins, are expected to be confirmed when the Senate returns from its Thanksgiving recess next month.

The filibuster or threats to use it have frustrated presidents and majority parties since the early days of the republic. Over the years, and almost always after the minority had made excessive use of it, the Senate has adjusted the rules. Until 1917, the year Woodrow Wilson derided the Senate as “a little group of willful men” that had rendered the government helpless through blocking everything in front of it, there was no rule to end debate. From 1917 to 1975, the bar for cutting off debate was set at two-thirds of the Senate.

Some would go even further than Thursday’s action. Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, said that he would like to see the next fight on the filibuster to be to require senators to actually stand on the floor and talk if they wanted to stall legislation.

The gravity of the situation was reflected in an unusual scene on the Senate floor: Nearly all 100 senators were in their seats, rapt, as their two leaders debated.

As the two men went back and forth, Mr. McConnell appeared to realize there was no way to persuade Mr. Reid to change his mind. As many Democrats wore large grins, Republicans looked dour as they lost on a futile, last-ditch parliamentary attempt by Mr. McConnell to overrule the majority vote.

When Mr. McConnell left the chamber, he said, “I think it’s a time to be sad about what’s been done to the United States Senate.”


November 21, 2013

Partisan Fever in Senate Likely to Rise


WASHINGTON — President Obama will get a short-term lift for his nominees, judicial and otherwise, but over the immediate horizon, the strong-arm move by Senate Democrats on Thursday to limit filibusters could usher in an era of rank partisan warfare beyond even what Americans have seen in the past five years.

Ultimately, a small group of centrists — Republicans and Democrats — could find the muscle to hold the Senate at bay until bipartisan solutions can be found. But for the foreseeable future, Republicans, wounded and eager to show they have not been stripped of all power, are far more likely to unify against the Democrats who humiliated them in such dramatic fashion.

“This is the most important and most dangerous restructuring of Senate rules since Thomas Jefferson wrote them at the beginning of our country,” declared Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee. “It’s another raw exercise of political power to permit the majority to do whatever it wants whenever it wants to do it.”

The decision to press the button on the so-called nuclear option was no doubt cathartic for a Democratic majority driven to distraction by Republican obstructionism. President Obama had predicted his re-election would break the partisan fever gripping Washington, especially since the Tea Party movement swept Republicans to control of the House. It did not.

“Doing nothing was no longer an option,” said Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, one of a new breed of Democrats who have pressed to reform Senate rules.

But the fever is hardly gone. The rule change lowered to a simple 51-vote majority the threshold to clear procedural hurdles on the way to the confirmation of judges and executive nominees. But it did nothing to streamline the gantlet that presidential nominees run. Republicans may not be able to muster the votes to block Democrats on procedure, but they can force every nomination into days of debate between every procedural vote in the Senate book — of which there will be many.

And legislation, at least for now, is still very much subject to the filibuster. On Thursday afternoon, as one Republican after another went to the Senate floor to lament the end of one type of filibuster, they voted against cutting off debate on the annual defense policy bill, a measure that has passed with bipartisan support every year for decades.

“Today’s historic change to Senate rules escalates what is already a hyperpartisan atmosphere in Washington, which is already preventing Congress from addressing our nation’s most significant challenges,” said former Senator Olympia Snowe, a Republican, and former Representative Dan Glickman, a Democrat, in a joint statement from the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Republican senators who were willing to team with Democrats on legislation like an immigration overhaul, farm policy and a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act will probably think twice in the future.

“We’ll have to see, but I think it was certainly unfortunate,” said Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who has often worked with Democrats.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, made clear that he hoped to exact the ultimate revenge, taking back control of the Senate and using the new rules against the Democrats who made them. “The solution to this problem is at the ballot box,” he said. “We look forward to having a great election.”

David Axelrod, a former top adviser to Mr. Obama, said retaliation by Republicans against the president’s broader agenda would end up hurting them more than Democrats. “If their answer is, ‘Oh yeah, we can make it even worse,’ I think they do that at great risk,” Mr. Axelrod said. “They have to make a decision about whether they want to be a shrinking, shrieking, blocking party, or if they are going to be a national party.”

From the moment Mr. Obama took office, the president who proclaimed that there was no red America and blue America, only the United States of America, has strained to maintain some pretense of bipartisanship — through protracted and fruitless efforts to woo Republicans on his economic stimulus plan and health care law, through dinner dates with some handpicked Republican “friends,” through the nomination of Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator, to lead the Defense Department.

In the raucous and dysfunctional House of Representatives, any bill, no matter how inflammatory, has been dubbed bipartisan so long as it attracts a handful of Democratic votes. While Senate leaders have held up for praise any legislation that has secured strong bipartisan majorities — a farm bill, an immigration overhaul, a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act — Democrats have seethed as one presidential nominee after another fell to procedural blockades and major initiatives like gun control collapsed when they could not reach the 60-vote threshold.

Then on Thursday, before a solemn, almost funereal gathering on the Senate floor, the pretense came to an end.

“It became clear even to reluctant members that their strategy of gridlock helped them more than us because we are the party that believes government has to be a force for good,” said Charles E. Schumer of New York, the third-ranking Senate Democrat.

At the White House, officials from the president down came to the same conclusion.

“Enough is enough,” Mr. Obama said after the votes in the Senate. “The American people’s business is far too important to keep falling prey day after day to Washington politics.”

If Harry Reid or future majority leaders extend the new rules to curb filibusters on legislation, a core group of moderates could emerge with new muscle. The Senate is usually narrowly divided, and it would not take a large coalition in the center to hold partisan legislation hostage.

Already, a group of former governors, led by Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, Senator Alexander and Senator Tom Carper, Democrat of Delaware, have begun banding together.

Mr. Obama expressed hope that a bipartisan spirit “will have a little more space now.” And White House officials said it was still in the interest of Senate Republicans to find a way to legislate, rather than to simply obstruct for the rest of Mr. Obama’s term.

For now, with legislative progress in the House all but doomed by Republican opposition, officials said the president could at least get a full team in place so that he can move forward with executive action, when possible, when Republicans block his agenda in Congress.

That’s what Republicans fear.

“This is nothing more than a power grab in order to try to advance the Obama administration’s regulatory agenda,” Mr. McConnell said.

Michael D. Shear contributed reporting.


November 21, 2013

Health Law Is Dividing Republican Governors


SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Republicans are planning to use the troubled health law against Democrats in next year’s midterm elections, but the Affordable Care Act is increasingly dividing their party, too.

At the annual meeting here of the nation’s Republican governors, the ones who are eyeing presidential runs in 2016 say they oppose the health care law. But there is sharp disagreement among those who have helped carry out the law and those who remain entrenched in their opposition.

These early divisions reveal not only the difficult calculations of ambitious Republican politicians as they look to the next presidential campaign, but also the complexities of being a governor rather than a lawmaker at a time when the party’s base is hostile to those who cooperate with Democrats.

The governors who refused the Medicaid expansion money that is part of the health care law — believing they had found a wedge issue — are already boasting about it.

“I said no,” Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin said, “because if I took the Medicaid expansion I’d be dependent on the same federal government that can’t get a basic website up and going even after two and a half years to come through with payments for Medicaid in the future when they start weaning off paying for 100 percent of coverage.”

Under the new law, the federal government pays the entire cost of Medicaid expansion for three years and 90 percent after that.

Mr. Walker, who is seen as a candidate who can potentially bridge the differences between the Tea Party and the Republican establishment, said conservatives would have long memories on how the law was carried out.

“I don’t think it’s a deal-breaker, but I think it’s pretty high on the importance list for a lot of voters out there,” he said.

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who also turned down the Medicaid money and is thought to be considering a second presidential run, used even more vivid language. “It’s like putting 1,000 more people on the Titanic when you knew what was going to happen,” he said.

He also said in an interview between sessions of the Republican Governors Association meeting that it would matter in a political context.

“I think it’s a factor; I think it’s a philosophical position,” Mr. Perry said of Medicaid expansion, noting that even President Obama had called Medicaid — which is financed by both the states and federal government — part of “a broken system.”

“Whether somebody took it or didn’t, I’ll leave it up to them to justify to their constituents why,” he said of the federal money.

That is not to say that Mr. Perry would not use the issue to his advantage in a presidential primary race. It is not difficult to project how it could play out in the 2016 campaign, said Republican strategists, noting that the governors who accepted the Medicaid expansion could easily be pegged in television ads and mailers as having effectively approved the president’s health care law.

Mr. Walker and Mr. Perry are not the only ambitious Republicans to sound a “Where were you on Obamacare?” line of attack. Senator Rand Paul said this week that Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, perhaps the leading 2016 contender among establishment Republicans, would have to answer for his decision to take the Medicaid money.

“On the case of the New Jersey governor, I think embracing Obamacare, expanding Medicaid in his state is very expensive and not fiscally conservative,” Mr. Paul said.

He added, “Many Republican governors I would say are conservative did resist expanding and accepting Obamacare in their states.”

Mr. Paul’s criticism underlines one of the challenges governors face as they contemplate presidential campaigns. House members and senators do not face the same dilemma: While members of Congress vote on legislation, bills can be passed without their support. But governors face decisions that affect the residents of their states.

Gov. John Kasich of Ohio expressed this political fact of life, becoming animated as he was questioned at a meeting with reporters here about his decision to expand Medicaid.

“I always try to put myself in the shoes of somebody else to say: ‘How would I feel if I didn’t have health insurance? Are you kidding me?’ ” said Mr. Kasich, who has been mentioned as a 2016 hopeful, his voice rising. In defending Medicaid, he spoke at length about the scourge of drug addiction and challenges faced by those with mental illnesses.

“It’s going to save lives,” he said. “It’s going to help people, and you tell me what’s more important than that.”

The issue is a particularly delicate one among Republican governors, not only because they have disagreed on whether to take the Medicaid money, but because Mr. Christie, already a leading figure in the party, formally took over the Scottsdale meeting as the association’s chairman.

Gov. Nikki R. Haley of South Carolina has made much of her decision to turn down the Medicaid expansion, frequently boasting that “we didn’t just say no, we said never.” But she took a more restrained position here when sitting next to Mr. Christie at a news conference.

“I don’t think that the people of South Carolina will make a decision on one issue,” said Ms. Haley, whose state holds the South’s first presidential primary.

But when asked if she was suggesting that the health law would not be a factor in 2016, Ms. Haley clarified “it is going to be an issue, certainly,” but would not be “the sole issue.”

Some of the Republican governors are still determining how to handle Medicaid expansion. They include Mike Pence of Indiana, who said he would like to take a middle course on the issue, using the new federal money to cover more low-income Indiana residents but do so through a state-run program.

“I believe it could be a pilot program for the kind of health care reform that is grounded in the principles of consumer-driven health care,” Mr. Pence said.

As to whether he would be vulnerable in a presidential primary because he accepted money provided through the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Pence demurred. “The circumstances of each state with regard to Medicaid are different,” he said.

Former Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi made same argument in discussing why conservatives ultimately would not punish governors who took the Medicaid money. “Some people may try to make it an issue, but I think they’re going to find out it’s not the kind of issue they expect it to be,” he said.

Mr. Kasich, asked if taking the funding could hamper his own presidential prospects, shot back, “Is that how you’re going to make a decision?”

But then he offered a prediction that might have been rooted in his hopes: “I think all things kind of fade over time.”


November 21, 2013

U.S. Unveils Letters Insurers Must Send About Health Plans


WASHINGTON — President Obama said last week that the Affordable Care Act would not stop Americans from keeping their health insurance plans, even if those plans did not meet minimum standards set by the health care law.

But he did not promise to say nice things about them.

On Thursday, the federal government unveiled sample letters that insurance companies will be required to send to anyone seeking to renew one of those policies.

The letters are blunt, declaring that the insurance that is about to be renewed “will NOT provide all of the rights and protections of the health care law.” Renewal letters sent by insurance companies will have to list all the deficiencies in the policy.

The letters, among other things, will have to warn that policies might not:

¶Meet standards for premiums, allowing companies to charge more based on factors like gender or a pre-existing condition.

¶Guarantee the policy’s renewal.

¶Prevent discrimination based on a customer’s health status.

¶Cover essential health benefits or limit annual out-of-pocket spending.

The letters must also make it clear that consumers can still voluntarily switch to a plan offered by the new federal or state insurance marketplaces.

“The Marketplace allows you to choose a private plan that fits your budget and health care needs,” the letters will have to say. “You may also qualify for tax credits or other financial assistance to help you afford health insurance coverage through the Marketplace.”

The letters will be required to give the website address and the toll-free number for the federal insurance marketplace.

Under Mr. Obama’s new policy, announced last week, some insurers may still prevent some customers from renewing their policies. In that case, officials said Thursday, companies are urged to include a letter referring such customers to the marketplaces.

“You may shop in the Health Insurance Marketplace, where all plans meet certain standards to guarantee health care security and no one who is qualified to purchase through the Marketplace can be turned away or charged more because of a pre-existing condition,” the letters may say.


Here’s How the Media Helps Republicans with Their Sabotage of ObamaCare

By: Sarah Jones
Thursday, November, 21st, 2013, 10:19 am      

The media follows Republican direction, even after they’ve been lied to repeatedly by Republicans (Benghazi emails, IRS Tea Party targeting, etc).

A perfect example of just how closely they fall in line with GOP talking points can be seen in a Republican memo outlining their attacks on ObamaCare, via the New York Times.

From providing sample op-eds (nothing says grassroots like a sample op-ed) to instructions to use social media to spread the message, the document lays out a shock and awe campaign against ObamaCare. The main messages are: “Because of Obamacare, I Lost My Insurance”, “Obamacare Increases Health Care Costs” and “The Exchanges May Not Be Secure, Putting Personal Information at Risk”.

They order their troops to “Continue Collecting Constituent Stories” — aka, provide anecdotal backup to the claims they are making so the media has someone to parade in front of the public.

These instructions read exactly like a script for an ad campaign, except the difference is that our media is passing the script off as news. We’ve already seen the news pick up on all three of the Republican ObamaCare narratives, and this is after they got taken in by Republican media plants concern trolling about the website, when it turned out they never even tried to use the website.

Republicans are doing anything they can to sabotage ObamaCare. They’ve sabotaged the website rollout and the website itself by refusing to run the state exchanges and then refusing to fund the federal exchange to handle the added burden. Then they spread instructions on how to DDOS the website, while decrying its lack of safety and instability.

Steve Benen rounded up the Republicans’ scary movie talking points designed to sabotage a law and all of these fit right in with the script:

    The quotes from House GOP leaders are rather remarkable. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said health care reform may lead to identity theft; Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) falsely claimed “premiums are going right through the roof”; Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) warned that consumers who visit may become victims of fraud; and Caucus Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said vulnerable constituents may be put “on the casualty list.”

All they need to make this a news story is a person willing to say that this happened to them. They have plenty of those, and the media doesn’t bother to vet them to see if they even tried to use the website or if they can get a cheaper plan via the exchanges.

The media hops from one outrage to the next while never turning on the GOP to ask a question about why these stories feed their political agenda and so consistently turn out to be lacking in credibility. That’s not to say there aren’t problems with the rollout — but there is no need to waste space discussing something that was already repeating what any sane person would have expected.

This is a coordinated effort to sabotage a law. Republicans aren’t hiding their efforts, but why should they? Instead of fact-checking Republicans or even showing an ounce of skepticism no matter how many times they are burned by Republican aides leaking a false story to them, the media laps up the GOP’s drama-filled tales.

Each one of these talking points has been a news narrative.

While I can understand why they fell for the IRS and Benghazi fictions, to fall for sabotaging a law is different. And this is a law, not an event or a bill. It’s already been debated, vetted, and double vetted.

The nasty contempt with which the media reports on the alleged failures of this law has been stunning. The sneering reports of failure, the craven jumping from one talking point to another as soon as the first collapses with no accountability while declaring themselves to be the arbiters of accountability reveals just how closely the media falls in line with Republican talking points.

All they need is an actor to get a few quotes from and they’re off to round out the edges of their GOP narrative. That is the formula — the GOP slips them a “story” and an anecdotal actor — with the IRS story, the anecdotal actor turned out to have been a group already found guilty of illegally helping Republicans — but the media still ran with them as the example of Tea Party groups being targeted.

Take that formula and apply it to an already confusing change (all big change is confusing, by the way — see Medicare Part D, which wasn’t nearly so big a change). Groups that wanted to help explain the law to the public were threatened by the Republicans not to get involved or they’d be investigated. The media is totally uninterested in investigating this abuse of power, as they sift through ObamaCare crumbs to see if what stray piece of negativity might have been missed.

Not to worry, media, you’ve only to wait for Republicans to craft your next story and hand it to you on a silver platter so you can feed it to the masses as proof that you really didn’t fail us under Bush. You are very, very important people who take pushing back on a law designed to help protect the people from corporate greed very seriously. We know.

We don’t need the media anymore. Why not just go straight to the source and pass out GOP talking points every morning as the news.


November 21, 2013 07:00 PM

Obamacare Continues to Outpoll Bush's Medicare Rx Launch

By Jon Perr

While Republicans and their media echo chamber have been quick to pronounce the Affordable Care Act "dead on arrival" and its troubled launch "Obama's Katrina," polling suggests the American people have reached no such conclusion. A Reuters/Ipsos survey conducted last weekend found that 41 percent of respondents approve of the ACA, little changed from a month before. Meanwhile, the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll found that less than two in five support the law's repeal, "virtually unchanged since last summer."

But lost in the flurry of polls is a helpful bit of context to another major health care program that cost Washington hundreds of billions of dollars and impacted over 40 million people. As it turns out, the numbers show that President Bush's Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, a program that now enjoys 90 percent approval from America's seniors, was far more unpopular during its launch than Obama's Affordable Care Act is now.

The charts from the Kaiser Family Foundation above tell the tale. Since its passage in March 2010, support for and opposition to the Affordable Care Act has been largely unchanged. But KFF's polling of seniors' views of the Bush Medicare drug plan showed it consistently more unpopular than the ACA, with disapproval spiking during its launch in the fall of 2005. And that dismal performance was for a program for which enrollment was voluntary and the coverage fully paid by Uncle Sam.

The headlines in late 2005 and early 2006 explain why. The launch of the enrollment period for 43 million seniors to use their new drug benefit to purchase prescription coverage from private insurers was met with stories like "Medicare prescription drug plan stump seniors" (USA Today), "Officials' pitch for drug plan meets skeptics" (New York Times), "Medicare drug plan still not generating much enthusiasm" and "majority of Americans say drug plan is not working" (Gallup). As Sarah Kliff explained in June, "Part D was less popular than Obamacare when it launched":

    Eight years ago, the federal government rolled out Medicare Part D, a prescription drug benefit. For the first time ever, Medicare was launching a benefit administered exclusively through private health insurance plans. The benefit was not popular: In the spring of 2005, when enrollment efforts ramped up, polls showed Medicare Part D to be less popular than the Affordable Care Act. Fewer Americans felt they understood how it worked, too...

    Neither was especially popular in the months prior to their launch. Part D was even less liked: 21 percent of the public had a favorable opinion of the program in April 2005 compared to 35 percent in April 2013 for the Affordable Care Act.

Americans' disdain for the Medicare drug plan was understandable, giving its disastrous launch. As I explained previously:

    The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) ruled that some of the administration's ads promoting the new program were illegal while others were misleading. GAO investigators also found that the White House illegally withheld data from Congress on the cost of the new law. The Congressman who crafted the bill soon left Capitol Hill for K Street, where he made millions of dollars annually as a heath care lobbyist.

    The new federal web site allowing people to compare plans and prices was delayed by weeks, while just 300 customer service reps manned the phones to help new enrollees. Yet over six million people immediately lost their coverage, while hundreds of thousands more would be refused treatment because of malfunctions in the computer systems linking providers and insurers. In response to the mushrooming crisis, governors in mostly Democratic states spent billions to continue coverage for their residents, while the President pleaded with insurance companies not to cut off their current policyholders. Nevertheless, the White House sided with insurers and rejected bipartisan calls to delay the enrollment deadline even as public approval plummeted to 25 percent. It's no wonder John Boehner called the rollout of the President's signature domestic policy achievement "horrendous."

But despite its catastrophic rollout, President Bush's Medicare prescription drug plan slowly but surely gained popularity over time. One key reason is that, despite their opposition to a program that was needlessly expensive and a giveaway to private insurers and pharmaceutical companies, Democrats on Capitol Hill and in the states helped make the program a success. Part D also had one other thing going for it. It was better than the alternative: nothing.

So Republicans now tap-dancing on Obamacare's grave would do well to put their celebration on hold. If Medicare's experience is any indication, a year--or two or three--from now the polling numbers will be looking much positive for the Affordable Care Act.


November 21, 2013

California Encouraged by Health Plan Enrollment


Nearly 80,000 people have enrolled in health plans through California’s online marketplace, at a rate of several thousand a day in November — a sizable increase over a month ago, state officials said on Thursday.

Especially encouraging, officials said, was the enrollment of young people, who are considered essential to the success of the Obama administration’s health care law.

Shortly after the numbers were released, the board of Covered California, the state exchange, voted against going along with a proposal by President Obama to consider renewing previously canceled plans, saying the move would undermine the state marketplace’s growing success.

California joins at least seven other states that have declined to go along with the proposal, which Mr. Obama made after a wave of cancellations across the country created a furor and led to complaints that he had reneged on his promise to let consumers keep plans they liked.

“Delaying the transition is not going to solve a single problem, it just pushes the problem down the road,” Susan Kennedy, a member of the five-person board, said just before the vote. “I actually think it’s going to make a bad situation worse by complicating it further.”

The state’s enrollment figures represent a rare bright spot in the unfolding story of the Affordable Care Act. Its rollout has been troubled by technical problems with the federal health care website, lower-than-expected enrollment and a public outcry over its role in the cancellation of millions of insurance plans.

Officials said 18- to 34-year-olds made up 22.5 percent of the nearly 31,000 Californians who selected a private health plan in October. The same age group makes up 21 percent of the state’s population.

The enrollment of young people is important to insurers because their relative good health offsets the costs for people with serious medical conditions.

“Enrollment in key demographics like the so-called young invincibles is very encouraging,” Peter V. Lee, the executive director of Covered California, said in a statement.

Young Invincibles, a health care advocacy group for young people, said in a statement that the news out of California shows “that young adults are engaged and excited about their new options even at this very early stage in the enrollment process.” It noted that California was a crucial state for recruiting young people because 31 percent of those living there lacked health insurance.

Officials said that over 10,000 applications for coverage were now being completed each day, with more than 360,000 applications having been completed through Tuesday. Those numbers include people who are also eligible for Medi-Cal, California’s no-cost health insurance program for the poor.

Like many of the 16 states and the District of Columbia that are operating their own marketplaces, California’s health insurance website has run far more smoothly than the federal website, which handles the online enrollment for 34 states that declined to set up their own exchanges. In November, roughly 2,700 people were enrolling each day, California officials said. That is up from 700 people a day when the site opened last month.

The federal site has been plagued by technical problems since it opened on Oct. 1. In contrast to California, only about 27,000 people enrolled in private plans through the federal website in October, although enrollment reportedly picked up in the first half of November.

People who did not qualify for a subsidy enrolled in significantly higher numbers than those who did. The state reported that 4,852 people who selected a private plan in October were eligible for tax credit subsidies, which are based on income, compared with 25,978 who did not qualify.

Timothy S. Jost, a health care expert at Washington and Lee University, said the same pattern emerged in the federal marketplace statistics released for October. “I suspect this is reasonably well-off people who are losing coverage in the individual market and have found good coverage on the exchange,” he said.

That may be one reason for the California board’s decision against allowing people to renew plans that had been canceled in the state. California had required all carriers that were participating in the exchange to cancel any existing plans that did not comply with the new law by Jan. 1.

The state’s insurance commissioner, Dave Jones, lambasted the Covered California board’s decision as a “disservice to California’s consumers.”

Mr. Jones took issue with the board’s reasoning, saying, “Allowing them to renew as the president has called for will not harm the exchange or the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in California, nor will it harm the individual market risk pool.”

Several of the other states that most enthusiastically supported the new health care law, including Massachusetts and New York, have also resisted the president’s proposal, also contending that the move could jeopardize their fledgling state insurance marketplaces.


Poll Fishing: How Today’s Media Distorts Data to Drive Ratings

By: Trevor LaFauci
Thursday, November, 21st, 2013, 4:23 pm   

In this country today, there are at least 550 people who disapprove of the way our president is doing his job.

And that, my friends, is national news.

As today’s media gathers more and more moss on its “Obama is falling apart” stone, they have been using any and all means to paint this president as one who is teetering on the brink of collapse.  His pride and joy, the Affordable Care Act, is broken beyond repair.  Never mind the fact that the rollout is extremely similar to that of Medicare Part D.  Or that initial enrollment numbers mirror those of Massachusetts in that younger people are most likely not to enroll until late January or February.  Focusing on these issues wouldn’t give a national audience a sense of urgency that is needed to sell the news.

Plus, those stories just aren’t that sexy.

And so, here we are nearly a month and half into the most comprehensive piece of social legislation in a generation and the media has yet to say a single positive thing about the new law.  Nothing about the new or first time enrollees.  Nothing about the state exchanges and how many states that have created their own exchanges are on pace to dramatically increase their enrollment numbers in November.  And we certainly haven’t heard anything about how Republican governors like Rick Perry have flat-out refused free federal money for the Medicaid expansion, by putting politics ahead of the health and well-being of the people of their own states.

The latest attempt to smear the Affordable Care Act, and more specifically Barack Obama, has come to us via The Washington Post.  In a poll released Tuesday, the Post showed that Barack Obama’s approval rating at an all-time low 42%, a reflection of both the cancelled health policies as well as rocky start to the health care website.  CNN’s bottom line ticker today illustrated that President Obama’s approval rating has slipped 8% since October 1st.  This was the ticker that was on the screen, for all viewers to see, while they they were waiting for an Obama’s press conference where he wasn’t asked about his approval rating a single time.

But again, the headline draws you in.

Here’s the problem with the media distortion that is so prevalent in 2013:  It creates a false narrative.  Right now, the major overlying issue in this country is not whether or not the American people approve or disapprove of the president of the United States.  In fact, the opinions of people in this country don’t even matter to our elected representatives.  We saw this when our government ignored the will of 90% of the American people and refused to pass gun legislation after Newtown.  Barack Obama does not make political decisions based on whether or not 42% or even 52% of the American people approve of the job he is doing.

To prove this point, let’s look at the poll from The Washington Post, that is currently at the center of the media news cycle.  The 42% number sticks out above all others.  However, that number still more than four times better than Congress.  In looking at this poll, we have to be critical of exactly who is polled and how they were polled.  According to this particular poll, 1,006 random adults were polled by telephone from November 14-17.  This statement alone should draw red flags from more critical readers about the validity of this, or any, poll that ends up making national news.

The first issue is the fact that it was random adults who were surveyed.  This can be voters or non-voters.  It can be high school seniors or it can be elderly couples.  Therefore, it’s important to remember that not everybody surveyed will end up voting in future elections.  Next, the fact that this survey was done by telephone is a huge red flag.  The overwhelming majority of millennials were not contacted for this poll, seeing as they are largely cell phone users.  Millennials overwhelmingly support Barack Obama and therefore were not accurately represented.  The last issue to consider is who exactly takes the time to respond to a phone poll these days.  Most people tend to ignore phone calls from an unidentified number or immediately hang up once a robotic voice comes on.  Chances are, the only people who responded to this poll were older, affluent, and were those that had strong opinions about the job the president was doing.  In other words, the people who are most upset about Barack Obama’s leadership.

And when people are angry, this shows that the story is worthy of national attention.

This is how today’s media operates.  They thrive on controversy.  They go for the stories that have sharp divisions between the two dominant political ideologies of the day.  They refuse to recognize successes and instead focus on failures.  They base every single decision they make not on what is important but what will ultimately create the most buzz on social media.  The more buzz, the more advertising dollars.  The more advertising dollars, the richer the network executives become.  The richer the network executives, the richer the CEOs of major corporations.  In other words, the rich get richer.

And, after all, isn’t that the real purpose of news?


This is your brain on poverty: Sanders and Warren probe insidious consequences of being poor

By Travis Gettys
Thursday, November 21, 2013 15:32 EST

While most Americans think of poverty in material terms, said the senate’s lone independent, its effects were more insidious and long-lasting.

The U.S. Senate subcommittee on primary health and aging met Wednesday morning to discuss the effects of poverty and stress on children, communities and health in America.

“Stress and poverty, wondering how I’m going to feed my family tomorrow, pay my bills get the income I need to survive, takes a toll on human life,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Recent studies have shown that stress caused by poverty can influence brain development in children and lay the groundwork for physical health problems that show up later in life.

“Lack of choice and the increased stress that low-income people experience increases their level of cortisol (the primary stress hormone), and we know that higher levels of cortisol are correlated with cardiovascular disorders and other chronic illnesses, including diabetes,” said Michael Reisch, a professor of social justice at the University of Maryland.

Another witness testified before the panel that the poor tend to engage in riskier behavior – such as smoking, drinking and eating unhealthy foods – but stress tended to trigger some of those bad habits.

“It’s very clear that behavioral pathways are only part of that,” said Lisa Berkman, director of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies.

The effects of poverty on health and learning were much greater in the U.S. than other developed countries that had stronger safety nets, testified Dr. Steven Woolf, director of the Center on Society and Health and professor of family medicine and population health at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“Obviously they have poverty in other countries, too, but there appears to be more programming and policies in place in those other countries to buffer the impact of material deprivation on families so that in effect children growing up in poor families in these other countries are more protected from the adverse effects than American children are,” Woolf said.

He also noted a Yale University study that found that other countries spent more on social programs and less on health care than the U.S., yet people in those countries tended to live longer and lead healthier lives.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) agreed that the U.S. wastes “far too much money treating people after they become sick,” rather than spending money on preventative measures.
“Healthy people have stable, safe, clean housing, they live in safe neighborhoods with sidewalks (and) they have lots of outdoor spaces,” Warren said.

“Health people can afford nutritious food, healthy people have clean air to breathe (but) for many Americans, these necessities of good health are luxuries they can’t afford,” she said.

Click to watch:


Warren: We’re in this mess because Washington has ignored the middle class for a generation

By David Ferguson
Thursday, November 21, 2013 10:27 EST

On Wednesday night, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) stopped by “The Rachel Maddow Show” to discuss economic populism, wealth inequality and possible ground games for the Democratic and the Republican Parties in the coming years.

Maddow began the segment by discussing the recent decisions to raise the minimum wage in New Jersey and Massachusetts. In New Jersey, voters overwhelmingly agreed to raise the minimum hourly wage in the state to $8.25. The Massachusetts state Senate voted to increase that state’s minimum wage to $11 an hour.

This week, Sen. Warren made a floor speech about how the time has come to stop threatening the popular and successful Social Security program with budget cuts and privatization.
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« Reply #10171 on: Nov 22, 2013, 08:35 AM »


Maddow welcomed Warren to the show and asked her why people in Washington are so dead set against talk of expanding Social Security.

Warren replied that it’s because the interests of the middle and working classes have been off the table in Washington for a generation.

“Adjusted for inflation,” she said, “the wages for a middle class family have gone down” for decades, and yet basic costs of living have all increased. Housing, energy and food prices have all increased steadily during that same period of time.

“Families cut back as best they could,” Warren said. “They sent two people into the work-force if they had a two-person household.”

And yet, she said, they have found that they still can’t get by.

“So they stopped saving and went into debt,” she continued. “And now as they’re starting to hit their retirement years, what we’re seeing is seniors who are really in a financial squeeze.”

Now, she said, there are fewer workers with pension plans and other workers who thought they had pension plans are seeing those monies raided and confiscated by Wall Street hedge funds.

All many of these people have, Warren said, is Social Security. “This is no time — this is the last time we should be talking about cutting Social Security.”

“This is about what kind of people we are,” she said, “and what kind of country we are trying to build. I believe fundamentally that we are a people who believe that anyone should be able to retire with dignity. And that’s what Social Security is about.”

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« Reply #10172 on: Nov 23, 2013, 06:31 AM »

Russia 'blackmailed Ukraine to ditch EU pact'

Yulia Tymoshenko calls for Ukrainians to take to the streets as President Yanukovych comes under pressure from Kremlin

Ian Traynor, Europe editor, Friday 22 November 2013 17.18 GMT

The European Union and Russia traded charges of blackmail on Friday over the future of Ukraine.

The Kremlin threatened the country with trade losses worth billions and costing hundreds of thousands of jobs if it signed up to a strategic pact with the European Union, senior Lithuanian officials said.

President Pig Putin of Russia said the EU was putting pressure on Kiev and organising mass protests against President Viktor Yanukovych.

A week before a critical EU summit in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, that was to be capped by the Brussels-Kiev pact, Yanukovych abruptly pulled out of the deal on Thursday, leaving EU policy in shreds and Putin relishing victory in the contest for Ukraine's future.

The volte face was a result of Russian blackmail, the Lithuanian president's office said as senior officials in Brussels said Yanukovych was sacrificing the hopes and wishes of most of his countrymen on the altar of Russian money and contracts.

Yulia Tymoshenko, the imprisoned former prime minister and arch-rival of Yanukovych, whose release and transfer to Germany has been the central condition for the EU pact, pleaded with the president to reverse his decision.

In a letter to Yanukovych from prison, she renounced the release condition and pledged she would stay in jail in Ukraine if Yanukovych relented. Fear of facing Tymoshenko in a 2015 presidential battle is believed to be one of the main reasons for the president's rebuff of the EU.

"I give you my word that, if you make a decision to sign the [EU] agreement, on the same day I will appeal to European leaders asking them to sign the agreement without fulfilling all criteria including the part regarding my release. I don't know if they will listen to my appeal but I will do everything possible for the signing of the agreement even as I continue to sit in prison," said Tymoshenko. "This is the only chance for you to survive as a politician," she told Yanukovych. "Because now, when you are killing the agreement you are making the biggest mistake of your life."

The thunderbolt from Yanukovych brought pro-European protesters on to the streets of central Kiev before what promises to be a weekend of campaigning climaxing in a large rally on Sunday. Around 1,500 took to the streets waving EU flags on Thursday evening. Organisers expect tens of thousands to join protests on Sunday. Jovita Neliupšiene, foreign policy aide to President Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania, said Yanukovych had called her before announcing he was ditching the EU pact, arguing that the pressure from Moscow was irresistible.

Yanukovych and Putin had a secret meeting last week. The Ukrainian and Russian prime ministers then met in Saint Petersburg on Wednesday.

"Ukraine could not withstand the economic pressure and blackmail. It was threatened with restricted imports of its goods to Russia, particularly from companies in eastern Ukraine, which accommodates the greater share of its industry and employs hundreds of thousands of people. Calculations suggest this would lead to billions in losses. These causes behind the decision were specified by President Yanukovych in the telephone conversation with the president earlier this week," Neliupšiene told a Baltic news agency.

Eastern Ukraine, traditionally pro-Russian, is also Yanukovych's power base.

With Moscow and European capitals locked in rancour and recrimination over Ukraine, Pig Putin let fly at the EU: "We have heard threats from our European partners towards Ukraine, up to and including promoting the holding of mass protests. This is pressure and this is blackmail."

With the Ukrainian economy in critical condition, the rebuff to Europe could cost it dearly in terms of EU financial support and the prospects of loans from the IMF.

The Vilnius summit was seen as a critical juncture, deciding whether Ukraine would opt for further integration with the EU or see its future in closer ties with Russia. Kiev has been pursuing the trade deal and political association agreement with the EU for the past five years, only to drop it at the last minute. Armenia did the same in September, yielding to Russian pressure and instead joined a Russia-centred Eurasian customs union.

"They are not going Wwest. I don't think they are going Eeast. I feel they are going down," said Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister, who has campaigned strongly for Ukraine's European option. "That's roughly where we are because of the economic problems."

Official reaction in Brussels was one of disappointment, pleading with Yanukoviych to reconsider, and emphasising that no doors were being closed. Privately, however, senior officials were stunned and conceded that the EU's policy towards the post-Soviet states to the east had been set back years. The two EU envoys on the issue – Ireland's Pat Cox, a former European parliament president, and Aleksander Kwaśniewski, a former Polish president – voiced "deep disappointment at the unilateral decision of the Ukrainian government … we appeal to the president in this difficult situation.

"The people of Ukraine should be reassured by the leaders of the EU that the door will not be shut on the European hopes and aspirations of Ukraine."

The US state department accused Yanukovych of passing up a "historic opportunity". It hinted at economic and financial consequences for Ukraine, as did Catherine Ashton, the EU's top foreign policy official.

"This is a disappointment not just for the EU, but, we believe, for the people of Ukraine," she said. "The signing of the most ambitious agreement the EU has ever offered to a partner country would have sent a clear signal to investors worldwide as well as to international financial institutions that Ukraine is serious about its modernisation pledge and becoming a predictable and reliable interlocutor for international markets. It would have provided a unique opportunity to reverse the recent discouraging trend of decreasing foreign direct investment in Ukraine and would have given momentum to negotiations on a new standby arrangement with the IMF."

Michael Leigh, a former senior EU official and co-architect of the policy, said: "People in Ukraine want their country to become more democratic and more prosperous. This opportunity … may not come again."

Michal Baranowski, the Warsaw director of the German Marshall Fund thinktank, said: "Geopolitical competition in the region is back. The EU should be ready for a long game."

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« Reply #10173 on: Nov 23, 2013, 06:37 AM »

11/22/2013 04:57 PM

'Fat Cat' Backlash: Swiss Executive Pay Debate Gets Ugly

By Christian Teevs

Switzerland votes this weekend on whether to limit executives' pay at twelve times that of their lowest-paid worker. In the run up to the referendum, the issue has become a national talking point, with both sides stoking public resentments and fears.

In Switzerland's current, polarized debate about executive salaries, Bern businesswoman Pia Tschannen could be considered a defector -- a woman in cahoots with the Young Socialists, the Social Democrats and the trade unions -- because she is campaigning for the 1:12 initiative, which is being put to referendum on Sunday.

The initiative's aim is to ensure managers cannot earn more in a month than a normal employee earns in a year. It would mean that nobody would be able to earn much more than 500,000 Swiss francs (€400,000) annually. "Ever higher salaries for managers imply that a company's success depends solely on one person. I don't believe that," says Tschannen.

In comparison, board members at Commerzbank, Germany's second biggest bank, were outraged at the government's insistence their pay be limited to €500,000 when the bank was bailed out with government money. Given Switzerland's historical association with Calvinism -- which is supportive of economic success -- the campaign has gathered surprisingly widespread support beyond the traditional left-wing. For a while, polls suggested advocates of the initiative were in a dead heat with their rivals, though support has now dropped.

War on the 'Fat Cats'

The referendum campaign focuses on what the young Socialists call "the fat cats" -- extremely well-payed managers in the business world. These include Daniel Vasella, former head of pharmaceuticals giant Novartis, who was scheduled to receive an exit payment of 72 million Swiss franc (€58 million) in spring 2013. Despite having waived the money following the outcry, Vasella is still seen as an archetypal greedy manager and his notoriety has fed the popularity of the 1:12 campaign, which would have had no chance of succeeding just a few years ago.

Public anger about golden handshakes -- clauses in executives' employment contracts allowing for generous severance -- has already lead to a tightening of the legislation regulating executive pay. A two-thirds majority of Swiss voters supported a ban on excessive exit and signing bonuses. Furthermore, shareholders will now be able to decide executive salaries.

The Young Socialists are already presenting the campaign as a success, irrespective of Sunday's outcome, because they have managed to break a taboo: Discussing salaries was long seen as inappropriate in Switzerland. Now citizens have been discussing executive pay for months and the Young Socialists' campaign has proven so effective that business groups have had to reply with a high-profile counter-campaign.

Fearmongering Counter-Campaign

"The arsonists from the Young Socialists want to ruin Switzerland's successful economic model," warns the Swiss Trade Association (SGV) in a pamphlet distributed to all the country's households. The front page features a photograph of stone-throwing anarchists in front of burning barricades. The Young Socialists' idea is a "socialist experiment," they say: Communists playing with fire.

The "arsonists" work from a trade union office in Bern, all six of them. Marco Kistler, one of the campaign's strategists, is working with his colleagues on using social media such as Facebook and Twitter to mobilize support during the final spurt of the campaign. They connect with their supporters in all 26 of the country's cantons via live stream as the music from Johnny Depp's "Pirates of the Caribbean" plays in the background. "We've assembled all of the worst communists here," one of them jokes.

In truth none of the young activists look like class warriors. Twenty nine-year-old Kistler looks more like a shy computer science student. He answers questions briefly and deliberately, without a trace of revolutionary rhetoric.

"Obviously it's not funny being accused of being a Soviet communist," he says. "But the fact that we're being attacked this way proves our idea is really making people think" Why are Swiss voters now so critical of high executive pay? Kistler believes it can be tied to the financial crisis, "which showed that exorbitant salaries had nothing to do with performance." Major Swiss bank UBS paid bonuses despite the fact that it had needed to be bailed out by the Swiss government to the tune of 70 billion francs (€57 billion).

An Economic Model at Risk?

Kistler's opponent, Hans-Ulrich Bigler, head of the SGV, rejects these arguments. "The 1:12 initiative would only affect the salaries of about 4,000 people, but the consequences for the Swiss economy would be catastrophic." Bigler points to projected losses in tax and social security payments. "Citizens, as well as small- and medium-sized companies would feel the difference." It remains unclear what the revenue losses would be. "But whatever scenario you choose, the damage to society is there," says Bigler.

You get the sense from Bigler that he's a little embarrassed by the crude scaremongering about communists and arsonists. Bigler's arguments are nuanced and he himself sees the dangers of economic elites disconnected economically from society. Nevertheless he defends his counter-campaign, "In a political debate you always sharpen arguments." He believes Switzerland is in an enviable position: "Our economy is growing strongly. We have low government debt and almost full employment."

But he believes this success would be threatened if the state were to limit economic freedoms. Next year, voters decide on whether to tax large inheritances and use that money to support the state pension system. The trade unions also want to introduce a minimum wage of 22 francs (€18) per hour, which would result in a 4000 franc (€3,200) monthly minimum wage for a full-time job.

SGV head Bigler warns that a minimum wage set by the state would also damage Swiss companies' competitiveness. Pia Tschannen, however, is not worried, "our staff already earn that much as it is." Around 280 people work for Tschannen's consultancy and cleaning business. The vast majority of her staff are cleaning ladies.

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« Reply #10174 on: Nov 23, 2013, 06:39 AM »

11/22/2013 06:12 PM

Campfire Kids: Going Back to Nature with Forest Kindergartens

By Rupert Neate

Radical back-to-nature forest kindergartens where children are allowed to climb trees and play with fire have spread across the country. Will the concept of the Waldkindergarten become Germany's next export success?

It's a chilly November morning, and half a dozen children are sitting in a circle singing songs and playing games. Pretty standard kindergarten fare the world over, but these children are sitting on logs in a forest around a campfire. This no ordinary day care center, this a Waldkindergarten.

Every morning, whatever the weather, 21 children arrive at Die Kleinen Pankgrafen, in Karow, a town just north of Berlin, one of more than 1,500 Waldkindergärtens across Germany. The movement is also spreading overseas with forest kindergartens in most continental European countries, big demand in Japan, South Korea and fledgling interest in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

The thermometer is only just edging above freezing on this particular morning and biting easterly winds are making it feel more than a few degrees below zero. But Thorsten Reinecke, the head of Die Kleinen Pankgrafen, laughs at the reporter's concerns about the children's welfare. "This is nothing," he says. "'Whatever the weather' is not just a saying -- we stay out until it gets to -28 degrees Celsius (-18.4 degrees Fahrenheit). The children never get cold. They, and their parents, know how to dress. They're like little onions -- they're wrapped up in layers and layers of clothes."

If it does get exceptionally cold, the children (and teacher) can seek respite in the camp teepee (which also has a campfire) or a small wooden classroom -- but Reinecke insists the vast majority of time is spent outdoors, even in three feet of snow.

Letting Children Teach Themselves

Last winter, it snowed so much the children built themselves an igloo. It hasn't snowed yet this year so the igloo construction will have to wait, and on this day the fire is the main focus of the children's attention. But it's not, necessarily, that of the camp's four teachers. At times, the children are left unattended and when the fire dampens down slightly, four-year-old Finn adds fresh logs to the fire. Other children poke the fire with twigs.

If the teachers notice, they aren't showing any concern. "Maybe I don't have that much control and I can't always see them, but I know where they are," Reinecke says. "Not being there all the time allows them to assess risks better. The idea is for children to learn by themselves, learn from each other and learn from their experiences and their mistakes," he explains. This philosophy extends to the fire.

Another teacher, Nihal Öz, recalls a time when a boy stood in the fire "to see what would happen." "He came over and said 'look my feet didn't burn'," she says. "So we sat everyone down and told them about fire and showed them what happens if things stay in the fire." Discussions like that are as close as the Waldkindergarten gets to a lesson. There's little by way of structured activities beyond snack time at around 11 a.m. when the teachers bring out freshly cut fruit eaten directly from the bowl with the children's hands caked in mud from a morning of catching snails and building tree houses.

Toughening Children Up

After snack time some of the children wonder off to visit the camp's donkeys while others go climbing. There are no monkey bars at the kindergarten because, as Reinecke says, "every tree is there for climbing." The children are allowed to climb whenever they want, and go as high as they want. The only rule is that teachers can only help children get down, not up.

"It makes them much more cautious and careful because they have to trust themselves," Öz says. "The only times children have fallen out of a tree is when their parents are here and they think 'daddy will be there to save me'."

Ute Schulte-Ostermann, president of the German Federation of Nature and Forest Kindergartens (BVNW), says there have been no serious injuries beyond the occasional broken leg in the organization's 20-year history. "There are far fewer accidents than at regular indoor kindergartens because we have fewer walls and softer floors -- leaves and mud," she says.

Schulte-Ostermann, who is also a teacher trainer at Kiel's University of Applied Sciences, says life outdoors toughens the children up, reducing incidents of colds and flus. Head lice outbreaks are also significantly reduced because the children are not confined in an enclosed space. There is however, a much greater risk of contracting Lyme disease from tick bites.

A Journal of Investigative Dermatology research paper in 2006 found that Waldkindergarten children are 2.8 times more likely to get bitten by ticks and are more than 4 times as likely to suffer from Lyme disease than children at indoor kindergartens.

'Massive' Mental and Physical Benefits

Schulte-Ostermann says the risks are outweighed by the "massive" mental and physical benefits of playing outside. "Children who have attended a Waldkindergarten have a much deeper understanding of the world around them, and evidence shows they are often much more confident and outgoing when they reach school."

She says Waldkindergärten may have started with hippies and academics -- indeed, the movement originated in Denmark in the 1950s, with the first kindergarten in Germany opening during the 1960s -- but parents now come from all sorts of different backgrounds. They include everyone from shop workers to doctors, nurses and, in one instance, even the offspring of a German punk band. "We have more enquiries than we can deal with, and there are not enough places even though more are opening up all the time."

With the German movement progressing at a rapid pace, Schulte-Ostermann has set her sights on the rest of the world by holding the inaugural International Waldkindergärten Congress in Berlin this week for more than 350 delegates to discuss ways to spread the philosophy to even more countries, particularly in the US and the UK which have so far been the most hesitant to embrace outdoor kindergartens.

The first US Waldkindergarten, the Mother Earth School, opened in Portland, Oregon, in 2007. There are just a handful in the UK, including the Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery in Fife, Scotland, which runs for 49 weeks of the year and has 40 children enrolled.

Schulte-Ostermann says she thinks the US and the UK's obsession with health and safety and regulations may have slowed adoption of the idea, but points out that forest kindergartens have proved very popular in Japan, which is also known for its red tape bureaucracy.

"Our biggest achievement was to set it (Waldkindergärtens) up in Japan, where education is so regulated," she says in the staff room of the inner city Berlin school used for the conference. "We have helped them take it out of the authorities' hands and give education back to the people."

An Escape from Strict Rules

Hiroe Kido, a Japanese student writing her postdoctoral thesis on the forest kindergarten movement, says there are more than 100 Japanese Waldkindergärten following the German model -- a number that is expected to double by next year. "They are very, very popular in Japan because they are an escape from the strict rules in Japanese society," she says. "Some parents are worried that Japan is becoming too stressed and high tech and there is not time to communicate with nature, so they really like waldkindergärtens."

Kido says nearly all Japanese waldkindergärtens are oversubscribed despite parents being forced to cover all the costs. In Germany, however, waldkindergärtens are subsidized at the same level as traditional kindergartens, meaning parents pay no more than €80 ($108) a month to place their kids at Die Kleinen Pankgrafen.

Japanese demand for places spiked even higher following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. "Fukushima made the Japanese think again about our lives, and realize that we need to get back to nature more," she says. "Life is very extreme sometimes in Japan."

Schulte-Ostermann, who has just returned from a tour of Japan and South Korea, says that if Japanese people can realize the need for nature in children's lives then she might be one step nearer to her rather ambitious goal of turning all of the world's indoor kindergartens into waldkindergärtens.

With additional reporting by Nicholas Connolly

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« Reply #10175 on: Nov 23, 2013, 06:41 AM »

November 22, 2013

Europe at Ease With Eyes in the Sky


GROSSMITTEL, Austria — Deep within a secluded Austrian military training ground here, an odd, shark-shaped machine hovered just above a stand of windswept pines.

Guided by the keystrokes and joystick commands of a pair of pilots in a nearby trailer, the unmanned helicopter, about the size of a large motorcycle, traced a precise path, aiming its high-definition camera over an expanse of grassland. The throbbing of its main rotor seemed to go unnoticed by the wild deer that roam the site, where the Austro-Hungarian army first experimented with missiles two centuries ago.

Despite the military setting for the demonstration flight, this flying drone — called a Camcopter S-100 — is not meant for monitoring combat zones or tracking terrorists. Instead, its Austrian maker, Schiebel Aircraft, is finding a market among civilian customers in industries like oil and gas, electric utilities, mining, shipping and agriculture. Schiebel is one of more than 400 small and midsize European companies developing new types of unmanned aerial vehicles, or U.A.V.'s, most of them for civilian uses. It has sold more than 150 of its drones to customers worldwide.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the stigma of military drones and European sensitivities to electronic surveillance — not to mention serious safety concerns — European aviation officials so far seem less likely to impede development of the civilian drone industry than regulators in the United States.

In Washington, the Federal Aviation Administration has effectively grounded development of commercial drones, pending the planned publication of rules expected early next year for licensing them and integrating them into civilian airspace starting in 2015.

While the European Union is also trying to map out such rules, individual countries are taking their own approaches to civilian U.A.V.'s, in many cases even encouraging their development. That is a reason that nearly 1,000 unmanned vehicles are currently authorized to fly commercially in and around a dozen European countries. They are led by Britain, France and Germany, which have also provided funding for research and have, as in the case of Austria and Schiebel, made military facilities available to companies for flight testing.

“Five years ago, everybody was convinced that defense was going to be 80 percent or more of the market” for remotely piloted aerial systems, said Chris Day, a top engineer at Schiebel, which will produce about three dozen Camcopter drones this year at a factory in nearby Wiener Neustadt. “I have a fair amount of confidence today that within the next five years, civil will overtake the military in terms of new users.”

The rush to develop the technology, however, has also raised safety concerns, particularly in light of some recent, well-publicized accidents. Last spring, a U.A.V. being used to film parts of an episode of the British television show “The X Factor” lost control while flying over central London and tumbled into the Thames. Two years ago, a surveillance drone used by the police in Merseyside, in northwest England, crashed during a training mission and was not replaced.

Schiebel’s drones, for example, sell for $3 million to $4 million, depending on the type of cameras or sensors they carry, a lot less than the $10 million or more for weaponized drones for the military. And some of the new civilian drones being developed by others are designed to sell for $100,000 or less.

The declining cost and widening availability of sophisticated components like high-definition cameras and infrared sensors continues to lower the business barriers for smaller companies looking to break into an international market — a field that analysts and industry groups say could reach more than $11 billion a year by 2025 and might create as many as 100,000 highly skilled jobs worldwide over the next decade.

An estimated one-third of all new U.A.V. systems in development are being made in Europe. Of those, about 80 percent are being developed either exclusively or primarily for civilian purposes, according to UVS International, an independent consulting firm in Paris.

“The whole thing is being driven by the nonmilitary applications,” said Peter van Blyenburgh, president of UVS International. “There’s been a huge profusion of small companies coming out of the woodwork.”

The burst of activity in Europe comes as a similar-size crop of American start-ups — equally eager to market their remote-controlled wares — face new regulatory hurdles at home.

As American aviation officials review proposals to create as many as a half-dozen commercial U.A.V. test sites in the country, their decision has been delayed by privacy groups, who worry about the potential for drones to eavesdrop on the public in all sorts of new ways, not to mention the safety hazards posed by new swarms of flying hardware.

European regulators, too, are devising a uniform set of guidelines for the safe operation of unmanned systems in their skies, as well as rules governing the use of the data they collect. In June, the European Commission, the Brussels-based administrative arm of the European Union, published a “road map” that aims to gradually open the skies of the 28-member bloc to remotely piloted aircraft starting in 2016.

But unlike the United States, where Congress and the F.A.A. are the ultimate arbiters of what types of vehicles are allowed to fly and where, the reach of Brussels has been limited. Drones weighing less than 150 kilograms, or about 330 pounds, are not subject to oversight by the European Aviation Safety Agency; individual member states have been free to set their own rules and authorization procedures. Most of the U.A.V.'s now flying in Europe weigh less than 70 pounds — no bigger than a large microwave oven — and fly at altitudes below 1,000 feet, well away from urban areas and airports used by conventional aircraft.

Schiebel, founded 60 years ago as a maker of mine and metal detectors, began experimenting with U.A.V. technology in the mid-1990s but did not sell its first Camcopter, which weighs 242 pounds, until 2005. The company now employs 200 people.

Mr. Day, 54, joined the company a year ago, after three decades in the British military and later at the Thales Group of France, working on large unmanned systems like the Watchkeeper, which is used by the British military for surveillance and intelligence gathering.

Schiebel’s first paying customers were governments and militaries in the Middle East, which use the drones for surveillance and patrolling borders, harbors and territorial waters. Schiebel has since diversified, with just 30 percent of new business coming from such clients. Schiebel’s civilian customers include large farmers in Brazil, the Russian Coast Guard, and Transpower, the state-owned operator of New Zealand’s electricity grid.

The company is still trying to find buyers in Europe, though. Mr. Day conceded that the relatively high cost of its machines still put such technology out of reach for many smaller users.

“For them, the cost has to be significantly lower than a manned aircraft alternative,” he said. “Otherwise, there’s no market.”

Seeking to develop that low-cost niche, Cyberhawk Innovations, based in Livingston, Scotland, started in 2008 as an aerial inspection and surveying company specializing in the oil and gas industries.

The company uses a souped-up version of the same multirotor drones favored by hobbyist fliers, selling them for $15,000 to $30,000 each to perform scheduled monitoring of offshore oil and gas platforms for leaks and structural problems — work that has typically been done by human inspectors rappelling by rope from towering derricks. About 50 percent of the company’s clients are in Europe, including energy giants like BP, Shell, Statoil and Total.

Malcolm Connolly, Cyberhawk’s 34-year-old founder and a former rope-access rig inspector, said he had been inspired by seeing remote-controlled submarines used to inspect the underwater platform structures. “It is a natural idea after you see that,” he said. “The biggest driver is industrial safety. The other is saving money.”

Because certain parts of an oil or gas platform must be shut down during inspections, any time spent offline involves lost revenue.

By deploying a U.A.V., Cyberhawk can reduce a weeklong shutdown to just three or four days, Mr. Connolly said, potentially saving his clients tens of millions of dollars.

Industry executives and analysts said the applications offered by companies like Schiebel and Cyberhawk represent the easy, early targets for up-and-coming U.A.V. companies. But a recent European Commission study said the technology had the potential to create new markets “in the same way the iPad created an entirely new and unpredicted market for mobile data services.”

Of course, mobile devices do not fly around overhead the way drones do, which is why critics are less enthusiastic.

Chris Cole, an activist who runs the website Drone Wars UK, said the reliability of even the most mature U.A.V. systems operating in war zones was unacceptably low for use in Europe’s crowded civilian skies. He said Drone Wars had verified more than 100 crashes since 2008 of large combat and reconnaissance drones, like the General Atomics Predator or the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk, from an active military fleet of about 6,000 U.A.V.'s.

“The smaller ones crash so often it’s even harder to track,” Mr. Cole said.

European officials also acknowledged that so far there has been little public debate about the effects on privacy and civil liberties of so many new platforms for aerial data and image gathering. But it may still be ahead.

“It’s vital to gain public support and indeed the support of politicians,” Frank Brenner, the head of Eurocontrol, the Brussels-based agency that coordinates air traffic management across the region, told an industry conference in Cologne, Germany, last month. “I receive letters from the public that make me believe there will be a big wave of public concern ahead of us.”

Sophie in’t Veld, a Dutch member of the European Parliament and vice chairwoman of its committee on civil liberties, justice and home affairs, said new civilian drone applications were developing so quickly that legislators were struggling to keep up.

“Data protection rules are meant to be technology neutral and context neutral, so in that sense normal, existing rules should apply,” Ms. in’t Veld said. “The unanswered question is, can they be properly applied and enforced across these new platforms?”

Mr. Day at Schiebel said he understood Europeans’ unease. The region’s civilian drone industry is partly to blame for its “quiescence,” he said, in the face of opposition from “a small community that are growing ever more vocal.”

But the bigger worry might be market demand. He looked out at Schiebel’s gleaming hangar, filled with a half-dozen Camcopters in various stages of completion, all destined for customers abroad.

Despite the flurry of new European players in the civilian drone market, Mr. Day said he was doubtful there would be sufficient domestic demand in the coming years to sustain them all.

“We still have to earn our spurs,” Mr. Day said. “But for now, we’ll have to earn them overseas.”

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« Reply #10176 on: Nov 23, 2013, 06:45 AM »

Warsaw climate change talks falter as EU and developing countries clash

EU chief chastised for expressing frustration with failure to agree timetable on emission cuts and attempts by some to opt out

Fiona Harvey in Warsaw
The Guardian, Friday 22 November 2013 19.58 GMT   

United Nations talks on climate change were on the brink of breaking down on Friday as a group of developing countries launched a furious attack on the European Union over plans to set out a timetable towards a global deal on greenhouse gas emissions.

Rows over whether rich countries should pay compensation to the poor for the effects of climate change, and over how governments can move to a historic global deal on emissions, have disrupted the fortnight-long talks, which have been marked by walk-outs and recriminations.

As the talks dragged on into the night, the EU's climate chief, Connie Hedegaard, expressed frustration with the failure to agree a timetable on emissions cuts, and with attempts by a small number of developing countries to opt out of the proposal.

In a dramatic intervention late on Friday, Venezuela's head of delegation, representing a group of "like-minded countries" including China, India, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, accused the EU of "damaging seriously the atmosphere of confidence and trust in this process". Claudia Salerno said: "We are shocked by the brazen attack against our group by Hedegaard – it is incredible that she has chosen to accuse our group of blocking progress."

Talks had been inching towards a conclusion, with participants reporting "productive" meetings and "modest progress". The negotiations were meant to lay the groundwork for a crunch meeting in Paris in late 2015, at which governments are supposed to sign a new global treaty on climate change, to come into force from 2020, which would be the first to include commitments on emissions from both developed and developing nations.

Before this can happen, it is crucial thatall countries set out national targets on emissions well in advance of the Paris talks, so that other participants can assess the targets – which would lay out cuts into the 2020s and beyond – and can see whether they are sufficiently ambitious to head off dangerous levels of climate change.

The US, the EU and many other rich and poor countries see such a programme as essential. But as the talks dragged on into extra time in Poland's national football stadium on Friday night, there was still no consensus.

Salerno's outburst underlined the fractious nature of the talks, and the new divisions between some rapidly emerging economies, some of them with large fossil fuel interests, and other developing countries that have more to lose from the effects of climate change.

The spokesman for Hedegaard said some countries wanted to portray the talks as divided between the developed and developing world. "It's not like that. It is the willing versus the unwilling."

The EU and US are also anxious to ensure that rapidly growing economies – especially China, which is now the world's biggest emitter of C02 and second biggest economy – take on responsibilities for their emissions, which they did not under the Kyoto protocol.

In another strand, the highly contentious issue of "loss and damage", by which developing countries stricken by the effects of severe weather would receive assistance, was moving towards compromise.

That would involve a mechanism for channelling funds to vulnerable countries when they suffer natural disasters related to global warming. This is very different from the "compensation" that some developing countries want from the rich world, and which rich countries have ruled out, but they may accept this compromise as it would allow them to receive funding when disaster strikes.

Ed Davey, the UK's energy and climate secretary, said: "I think we will be able to reconcile these views."

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« Reply #10177 on: Nov 23, 2013, 06:46 AM »

Paris shootings: mystery of 'voluble fantasist' held by police

Abdelhakim Dekhar, who is thought to have spent 13 years in UK after 1990s jail sentence, claimed he was a secret agent

Kim Willsher in Paris and Peter Beaumont in London, Friday 22 November 2013 20.25 GMT   

A man who allegedly shot and seriously wounded a photographer at the French newspaper Libération was described in a psychiatric evaluation as a "voluble fantasist" and compulsive liar in thrall to his own sense of importance.

The evaluation – seen by Le Monde – has emerged amid a wealth of new details about Abdelhakim Dekhar, who is thought to have spent much of the last 13 years living unobtrusively in Britain.

The assessment was prepared by a psychiatric team in 1996 before Dekhar's trial and conviction for his role in another high-profile shooting incident, when he supplied a shotgun used by two young French anarchists during an infamous 1994 murder spree in Paris that left five people dead.

The evaluation gives a picture of Dekhar, who is suspected of causing panic in Paris this week, as an often troubled individual who spent time in care as a teenager before briefly joining the French army.

If the story of 48-year-old Dekhar is in some respects a hangover from a bygone era – a man who first came to public attention at the lingering end of a European revolutionary movement that embraced violence – it has more modern aspects too.

Not least of these is Dekhar's more recent attachment to a DIY ideology – (as French analysts have noted) – shot through with strands of narcissism, whose acts of violence appear to have had as much to do with grandiose self-invention as political grievance.

Dekhar was arrested on Wednesday after police found him in a "semi-comatose" state after an apparent suicide attempt in a car park six miles north of Paris.

It was in the mid-1990s, however, that Dekhar first came to the attention of the French authorities as the man who supplied one of the guns used by two young French radicals, Florence Rey and Audry Maupin, for which Dekhar was tried and sentenced to four years in prison. At the time of his trial for his role in the Rey-Maupin affair – which is sometimes described as France's "Bonnie and Clyde" moment – Dekhar compared himself to Nelson Mandela.

Known in radical circles as "Toumi", Dekhar was suspected by prosecutors of a much greater involvement, although it was never proved.

After prison Dekhar dropped off the map with some of his old radical colleagues believing he had gone to Algeria where his family originally came from. The reality, it has emerged, was more prosaic. Dekhar had moved to Britain where he married – twice by some accounts, once to a 27-year-old Turkish student in 2000 – and worked, at least for a while, in a restaurant in Ilford.

It was an unidentified friend and co-worker from that period who named Dekhar as a suspect in the shooting of the photographer at Libération and a gun attack on the offices of Société Générale bank.

When French police and media looked into his background after the Rey-Maupin shootings, they found long gaps and evidence of complex fantasies that he had built. The question of Dekhar's sanity was extensively investigated at the time of his trial with psychologists concluding that while he did not possess a "grain of madness" he was a voluble and compulsive fantasist.

According to his 1996 psychological report, doctors concluded: "Most of his statements take the form of a logical but fantastical construct centred around one main theme in which he is a shadowy agent, tasked with a definite political mission in service of the cause of Algerian democracy." The report, prepared by doctors Henri Grynszpan and Daniel Zagury, added he had a "constant tendency of overestimating his options … openly compar[ing] himself to Nelson Mandela…"

The report's authors addedIt said: "It is quite unrealistic to unravel right from wrong with him

… As soon as one tries to question or raise the slightest doubt over one of the points of his argument, he immediately falls back on the line of persecution and is capable of showing, on occasion, great verbal aggression."

None of this was news to his former colleagues in the radical movement. As one anonymous leader told Libération in 1996, Dekhar "behaved like a secret agent … who would not disclose his mobile number, supplied a false name for his girlfriend" and who came across as "a solitary but loudmouthed" figure "who liked to provoke meetings" he attended and disdained others in the movement for their "wishy-washy" commitment to bringing about real social change.

What is perhaps most odd is not that Dekhar, who left behind two rambling and confused letters before attempting suicide last week, popped up again as a suspect in a violent attack, but that he appears to have lived a relatively normal life in Britain in the intervening years.

If some preoccupations had not changed in that time, including his belief in his own victimisation and wider society by the elite, the precise focus had been transformed. Indeed the letters recovered last week apparently suggested his conspiratorial belief in a "fascist plot" in which Dekhar accused the media of "participating in the manipulation of the masses" and referred to western conflicts in the Middle East.

Born in 1965 in Moselle, the third child in a family of 11, his childhood was evidently troubled. Dekhar ran away from home and spent a short period in care. At 17 he joined the 9th parachute regiment based in Pamiers in the far south of France, but appears not to have served for long.

More than a decade later he would tell a judge that his military service was cut short ostensibly by problems with his eyesight but in reality because he was an agent of the Algerian secret services. He claimed to have been sent to infiltrate radical circles suspected of supporting armed Islamist terror. Nobody believed him.

If the web of dissimulation that he spun then obscured what really drove him, what he did in the intervening years in London is equally opaque.

His sister Farida Dekhar-Powell, a French teacher who lives in Essex, told journalists this week she had stopped talking to him 20 years ago after the Rey-Maupin shootings.

"He is not part of my life and that's how it stays," she said.

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« Reply #10178 on: Nov 23, 2013, 06:50 AM »

John Kerry and William Hague fly to Geneva to try to seal Iran nuclear deal
Final few sticking points believed to be dwindling as officials note 'a strong will to find common ground'

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    Julian Borger and Saeed Kamali Dehghan in Geneva
    The Guardian, Saturday 23 November 2013   

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
US secretary of state John Kerry in Washington on Friday. Later in the day, he boarded a plane to Geneva. Photograph: Sipa USA/Rex

John Kerry arrived in Geneva on Saturday morning to join William Hague and other foreign ministers in negotiations on Iran's nuclear programme.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov arrived on Friday afternoon for talks with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammed Javad Zarif.

France's Laurent Fabius also arrived on Saturday morning, where Germany's Guido Westerwelle and China's Wang Yi were expected to join him in what is hoped will be a final push towards a deal that has eluded diplomats for over a decade.

They are also expected to use the weekend for preparations for a Syrian peace conference in Geneva next week.

The presence of so many foreign ministers did not guarantee a nuclear agreement with Iran was ready to be signed, diplomats at the talks cautioned.

The same ministers took part in the Geneva talks two weeks ago but fell short of a deal despite three days of intense and complex negotiations.

But a senior European diplomat told reporters that the foreign ministers would come to Geneva only if there was a deal to sign, Reuters reported.

"We have made progress, including core issues," the diplomat said.

Fabius, who spoke out against a draft deal floated at the 7-9 November negotiating round, appeared guarded on arrival in Geneva, Reuters reported.

"I hope we can reach a deal, but a solid deal. I am here to work on that," he said.

A French diplomatic source urged caution, saying: "It's the home stretch, but previous negotiations have taught us to be prudent."

Announcing Kerry's departure from Washington late on Friday night, after the secretary of state had been to visit the grave of John F Kennedy, the state department said he would fly to Switzerland – not necessarily to clinch a deal – but "with the goal of continuing to help narrow the differences and move closer to an agreement".

A US official said: "Kerry's not going to wait to see if there is an agreement and then take 10 hours to get here. He wants to get here and help push it along."

However, there was growing hope in Geneva on Friday night that the last remaining obstacles to a deal were in the process of being ironed out.

In Paris before his departure, Fabius said: "You know our position ... it's a position based on firmness, but at the same time a position of hope that we can reach a deal."

China's state-run Xinhua news agency quoted foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei as saying the talks had "reached the final moment", Reuters reported.

The EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, who chairs the talks, held discussions with the Iranian delegation late into the night.

If a deal is reached, it would fend off the threat of a new war in the Middle East and buy six months for diplomacy aimed at a long-term settlement to the long-running and perilous international standoff over Iran's nuclear aspirations.

To that end, the draft deal on the table on Saturday will exchange curbs on Iran's nuclear activity for limited sanctions relief for the six-month period.

Iran would get access to some frozen bank accounts and could start trading again in gold, petrochemicals, vehicle and aircraft parts. In exchange, Iran would stop or reverse different parts of its nuclear programme.

Agreeing on exact terms has so far taken three rounds of talks in Geneva since a reformist president, Hassan Rouhani was elected in Iran.

Officials have consistently said there was a strong will to find common ground on all sides but that decades of distrust and the extreme complexity of the nuclear issue had hampered progress.

There were unconfirmed reports on Friday night that one of the most intractable of the outstanding issues, the question of Iran's right in principle to enrich uranium, had been resolved with the drafting of a form of words in the draft agreement that satisfied both sides.

Sources said the most important remaining obstacle was the extent to which work should be allowed to continue at a heavy water reactor in Arak, which would produce plutonium when completed.

"Yesterday we talked about the issues we don't agree on and naturally delegations needed to consult their capitals. In some cases, we have had results," the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who leads the country's delegation, said.

"In some cases a number of phrases have been added [to the text] and we still need to do some work in other cases. We are dealing with an issue that was the subject of difference for 10 years."

Reza Marashi, a former US state department official now at the National Iranian American Council, said: "If Iran does not get wording on the right to enrich, then the deal is unbalanced in the west's favour. They get verifiable limits and roll-back on every single critical element of the Iranian programme, and Iran would just get access to its own money."

According to sources at the talks, a compromise deal on the Arak heavy water reactor had been written into the text of the draft agreement at the last Geneva round which ended on 10 November.

Under that compromise, Iran would cease work on making fuel rods but would continue other elements at the long-delayed project.

However, on French insistence, the paragraphs on Arak were put back into brackets, meaning they were open to negotiation again. In response, Iran asked for concessions elsewhere to "rebalance the deal".

Earlier on Friday, Britain's ambassador in Washington urged the US Congress not to impose new sanctions on Iran while delicate nuclear negotiations are making progress in Geneva.

Peter Westmacott made his appeal as the latest round of talks entered its third day.

"The deal currently under negotiation would be a meaningful first step, immediately improving our national security and that of our partners in the region. This is, therefore, a critical week for diplomacy," Peter Westmacott wrote in the Washington political website The Hill.

"Many gaps between the parties have been bridged altogether; those that remain have narrowed considerably.

"But further sanctions now would only hurt negotiations and risk eroding international support for the sanctions that have brought us this far."


Iran nuclear deal talks remain difficult, says William Hague

As major powers meet in Geneva for talks, UK foreign secretary says 'narrow but important' differences between sides remain

Julian Borger in Geneva, Saturday 23 November 2013 11.40 GMT   

William Hague has warned that difficult issues remain in the way of securing a deal on Iran's nuclear programme as he joined foreign ministers from major world powers for talks in Geneva.

The British foreign secretary said that he and his counterparts from the US, France, Germany, Russia and China had come together to try overcome the last sticking points, not because there was already a deal to sign.

The negotiations remain stuck on "the same areas of difficulty" that stymied a breakthrough agreement at the last round of negotiations a fortnight ago.

"The foreign ministers have come to support these negotiations and to be able to confer together easily and quickly if we need to make fresh decisions of any kind," Hague said. "They remain difficult negotiations. I think it's important to stress that. We're not here because things are necessarily finished. We're here because they're difficult."

Those areas of difficulty are known to include disputes between western states and Iran over how far a written agreement should endorse Iran's right to enrich uranium, and how far a stopgap deal should go to shut down construction work on a heavy water reactor Iran is building in Arak.

"They are narrow gaps but they are important gaps, and its very important that any agreement here is thorough, that it is detailed, that it is comprehensive, and that its a deal in which the whole world can have confidence that it will work," Hague added.

"The same areas of difficulty remain," Hague said. "That means there are many areas of agreement. There is a huge amount of agreement and it remains the case that there has been a huge amount of progress being made in recent weeks."

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, and his French and German counterparts, Laurent Fabius and Guido Westerwelle, arrived earlier on Saturday. The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, flew in on Friday and his Chinese opposite number, Wang Yi, is expected later on Saturday. Iran is represented by its foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and the talks are chaired by the EU foreign policy high representative, Catherine Ashton.

The same ministers took part in the Geneva talks two weeks ago but fell short of a deal despite three days of intense and complex negotiations.

After arriving at dawn, Kerry held meetings with Ashton, Fabius and Lavrov, in an effort to maintain a common front among the six nations mandated by the UN security council to handle the negotiations.

At the previous round which ended on 10 November, differences among the western states, with France insisting on a tougher line than its allies, complicated the talks.

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« Reply #10179 on: Nov 23, 2013, 06:53 AM »

Pakistani doctor who helped CIA find Bin Laden faces murder charge

Shakil Afridi faces allegations over operating on boy in 2006, who died after surgery

Associated Press in Islamabad, Friday 22 November 2013 14.24 GMT

The lawyer for a Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden says his client has been charged with murder.

Samiullah Afridi said on Friday that Shakil Afridi was charged with murder, in a case involving a boy who died after the doctor operated on him for appendicitis in 2006, in Pakistan's Khyber tribal area.

The boy's mother filed a complaint against the Afridi, saying he was not authorised to carry out the surgery because he was a physician, not a surgeon.

The lawyer said the case had no merit because too much time had passed. Afridi is currently in prison.

He was convicted of "conspiring against the state" in May 2012 and sentenced to 33 years in prison.

His sentence was overturned in August and a retrial ordered

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« Reply #10180 on: Nov 23, 2013, 06:55 AM »

November 23, 2013

U.S. Upset by Karzai’s Claim About Civilian Deaths


KABUL, Afghanistan — American officials reacted with anger and exasperation Saturday after President Hamid Karzai, in the midst of a grand council debating a long-term security agreement, publicly accused American special forces of killing civilians in a raid on an Afghan home.

The question of whether to ban such home raids had been the major sticking point in the proposed agreement, which sets the conditions for American troops to remain in Afghanistan after 2014, for up to 10 more years. The issue was resolved only after President Obama sent the Afghans a letter saying such tactics would only be used as a last resort to save American lives.

President Karzai read that letter to the opening of a loya jirga, a council called to ratify the agreement, and recommended its acceptance, while at the same time criticizing America as untrustworthy. The loya jirga is deliberating through at least Sunday.

On Friday night a statement was posted on the president’s website saying that Mr. Karzai “condemned in the strongest terms an operation of American soldiers that killed two innocent civilians.” Quoting the governor of eastern Nangarhar Province, Mr. Karzai said that “U.S. Special Forces raided a house of twin brothers in Bati Kot District on Tuesday, martyring both the brothers.” He described the two men as a mason and a plumber.

“While condemning this operation, President Karzai said that he has been asking for a halt in such operations on Afghan houses since many years and one of the reasons to convene the loya jirga is so they could take care to decide about raids on Afghan homes and other arbitary operations of American forces, as well as decide on the presence of their forces in Afghanistan,” the statement said.

A spokesman for the American-led International Security Assistance Forces, John D. Manley, denied there were any civilian casualties in the incident, which took place Tuesday, two days before the jirga began.

“Afghan national security forces and a coalition adviser engaged and killed two armed insurgents after being fired upon in Bati Kot District,” he said.

Coalition forces similarly denied Mr. Karzai’s assertion.

“Unfortunately some people are using allegations of civilian casualties for political purposes,” an ISAF official said, speaking on condition of anonymity as a matter of official policy. “The statement goes directly to asserting this was a unilateral operation,” the official said, referring to Mr. Karzai’s statement.

“It was not,” the official said. " It was Afghan-led with 100 Afghan National Security Force personnel and 17 coalition advisers.” The official noted that Mr. Karzai had linked the incident to the loya jirga.

U.S. officials worried about the impact of Mr. Karzai’s remarks.

“Misleading statements like this do not help in finalizing the Bilateral Security Agreement as soon as possible this year, which is essential to the future of Afghanistan and the confidence of the Afghan people,” a United States official here said, also speaking on condition of anonymity as a matter of policy.

Afghan officials were not backing down. “On this incident, the local people’s and local officials’ accounts differ from the one the U.S. military gives,” Aimal Faizi, a spokesman for Mr. Karzai, said on Saturday.

This is the second controversy to arise between the Americans and Mr. Karzai since the two sides announced Wednesday that they had reached a last-minute agreement on the wording of the security agreement, paving the way for it to be submitted to the loya jirga for ratification the next day.

During his opening speech before the council, Mr. Karzai announced that even if the council approved the agreement, he would not sign it until after the Afghan presidential elections, which are now scheduled for next April. American and NATO officials have responded that the agreement must be signed this year or there will not be adequate time to plan for the American military role in Afghanistan in 2014.

“We’re already way behind schedule,” the senior Western official said. “The Americans have made it clear there won’t be any agreement unless it is signed this year.”

On this issue too, Afghan officials signaled that Mr. Karzai did not intend to back down.

Mr. Faizi said that the Afghan president had spoken by telephone to the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday night about the timing of his signature on the security agreement. During what Mr. Faizi said was a long conversation, Mr. Kerry insisted on signing within one month, before the end of the year.

“President Karzai insisted on the Afghan stance that no more U.S. military operations” be carried out on Afghan homes, Mr. Faizi said.

He said the Afghan president would explain this position in his speech to the final day of the loya jirga, now scheduled for Sunday.
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« Reply #10181 on: Nov 23, 2013, 06:56 AM »

November 22, 2013

Editor in India, Known for Investigations Into Corruption, Is Accused of Rape


NEW DELHI — The police in the coastal state of Goa filed charges of rape and sexual assault on Friday against Tarun Tejpal, the editor of a liberal-minded magazine that has influenced a generation of young Indian journalists with its exposés of corruption and abuse of power.

The police were expected to interview Mr. Tejpal on Saturday, and they said they had footage from surveillance cameras of what happened. Kishan Kumar, the director general of police in Goa, where the attack is alleged to have taken place a week ago, would not say whether Mr. Tejpal would be arrested.

“Let us leave it to investigating officers,” Mr. Kumar said at a news conference. “It is a process under law which has logical consequences.”

The case burst into view late on Wednesday after the magazine’s managing editor, Shoma Chaudhury, sent an announcement to her staff that “there has been an untoward incident” and that Mr. Tejpal had apologized and would “recuse himself” for six months. A remorseful letter from Mr. Tejpal, which was leaked to other publications, described “a bad lapse of judgment, an awful misreading of the situation.”

An account in an email posted on a social media site shortly afterward, evidently written by the victim, described two episodes of assault that took place when she was cornered in a hotel elevator.

Many journalists and activists fumed over Ms. Chaudhury’s treatment of the episode as an internal matter, especially because the magazine, Tehelka, has pushed for Indian society to confront hidden cases of sexual violence.

The matter swiftly took on political significance because of Tehelka’s institutional stature. The magazine’s investigations have captured senior officials who were taking bribes or consorting with prostitutes, ending political careers. An investigation in Gujarat implicated state officials, including the chief minister, Narendra Modi, in sectarian riots that took place there in 2002.

The young woman, who worked at the magazine, has not made a complaint to the police, but officials in Goa said the account on social media had provided evidence of a crime.

“I am not saying someone is guilty, but the girl’s email is explicit,” the chief minister of Goa, Manohar Parrikar, said Friday, according to The Times of India.

Mr. Tejpal defended himself on Friday, urging the police to examine footage from the security camera in the elevator “so that the accurate version of events stands clearly revealed.” He said that he had apologized at the insistence of Ms. Chaudhury, “as desired by the journalist,” but that his apology did not reflect “the complete truth.”

The investigation commanded extraordinary attention in journalistic and political circles, more accustomed to seeing Mr. Tejpal as the accuser than as the accused. Arun Jaitley, a leader of Mr. Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, argued on Friday that Mr. Tejpal should be prosecuted, even if the woman did not complain to the police.

“A criminal offense is a crime against a victim. It is also a crime against society,” Mr. Jaitley wrote on Facebook. “This is precisely why the state pursues a criminal action. The public exchequer pays for it. There is a larger public interest in punishing a criminal.”

Some of the toughest criticism on Friday came from colleagues of Mr. Tejpal and Ms. Chaudhury, who said journalists bear an extra burden to handle sexual assault cases transparently. Siddharth Varadarajan, former editor of the newspaper The Hindu, wrote that the case offered “unsettling insight” into why a public discussion of rape prompted by a brutal attack in December had not reduced sexual violence.

“The disturbing answer is because the friends, relatives and colleagues of men accused of violence against women are often prepared to make excuses for the perpetrators. Or to find some way to minimize the enormity of the crime,” he wrote in an essay published on the website of NDTV, a television station “Allowing Tejpal to ‘atone’ for what he has been accused of doing is part of the same process of erasure.”

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« Reply #10182 on: Nov 23, 2013, 06:58 AM »

China imposes airspace restrictions over Japan-controlled Senkaku islands

China says it is exercising self-defence right but experts say move will exacerbate tension between the two nations

Staff and agencies, Saturday 23 November 2013 10.58 GMT   

China has tried to establish its authority over Japanese-controlled islands in the East China sea by demanding that all aircraft flying in the region obey its rules or face "emergency defensive measures".

The East China sea air defense identification zone came into effect from 10am local time on Saturday when the Chinese defence ministry issued a map of the area, which includes the uninhabited East China sea islands.

The ministry said all aircraft entering the zone must notify Chinese authorities and warned they would be subject to emergency military measures if they did not identify themselves or obey orders.

It said it would "identify, monitor, control and react to" any air threats or unidentified flying objects coming from the sea.

"China's armed forces will adopt defensive emergency measures to respond to aircraft that do not cooperate in the identification or refuse to follow the instructions," it added.

Any military dispute between China and Japan over the islands would involve the United States because of the terms of the second world war settlement with Japan.

Both China and Japan claim the island, which the Japanese call the Senkakus and the Chinese call the Daioyu.

"This is a necessary measure taken by China in exercising its self-defence right," a Chinese defence ministry spokesman said in a statement. "It is not directed against any specific country or target. It does not affect the freedom of overflight in the related airspace."

But Narushige Michishita, director of the security and international studies programme at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo, said: "China is playing a dangerous game here. It is certainly an escalatory action and might prolong and exacerbate the ongoing tension."

Patrol ships from both countries have been shadowing each other near the islets, raising fears that a confrontation could develop into a clash.

There have also been several incidents involving military aircraft flying close to each other. In October, Chinese military aircraft flew near Japan three days in a row, and Japan scrambled fighter jets each time in response.

Protests erupted throughout China last year to denounce the Japanese government's purchase of the islands from private ownership.

In recent years, China has been embroiled in rows with several neighbouring countries including the Philippines and Vietnam over islands in the East and the South China seas. South Korea and Taiwan also claim the Senkaku islands.

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« Reply #10183 on: Nov 23, 2013, 07:07 AM »

Unspeakable horrors in a country on the verge of genocide

Militias in the Central African Republic are slitting children's throats, razing villages and throwing young men to the crocodiles. What needs to happen before the world intervenes?

David Smith in Bossangoa
The Guardian, Friday 22 November 2013 15.14 GMT      

A massacre of the innocents is taking place in the heart of Africa as the world looks the other way.

One man describes how his four-year-old son's throat was slit, and how he saw a snake swallowing a baby. A woman explains that she is caring for a young girl because her mother went searching for medicine and was bludgeoned to death with Kalashnikov rifles. A young man tells how he was bound and thrown to the crocodiles, but managed to swim to safety.

This is the world of horrors that the Central African Republic (CAR) has become. Thousands of people are dying at the hands of soldiers and militia gangs or from untreated diseases such as malaria. Boys and girls as young as eight are pressganged into fighting between Christians and Muslims. There are reports of beheadings and public execution-style killings. Villages are razed to the ground.

Never much more than a phantom state, the CAR has sucked in thousands of mercenaries from neighbouring countries and, France warned on Thursday, now stands "on the verge of genocide". Yet many would struggle to find the country on a map, despite the clue in its afterthought name.
Link to video: The Central African Republic: a country abandoned to its fate

The humanitarian emergency in the CAR, a landmass bigger than France where the average male life expectancy is 48, remains a blind spot for most of the international community. Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, noted recently that the situation in the CAR has been referred to as "the worst crisis most people have never heard of".

That is nothing new for a country that stands as one of the most profound indictments of European colonialism, a contrivance that since independence in 1960 has endured five coups, infrastructure run on a shoestring and a self-declared emperor whose lavish coronation was inspired by Napoleon. Rich in gold, diamonds, timber and uranium, the CAR has proved irresistible to warlords such as Joseph Kony, the leader of a cult-like militia who the government claimed this week is finally negotiating surrender.

The latest eruption began in March when the unpopular president, François Bozizé, fled by helicopter with five suitcases after being overthrown by a loose coalition of rebels, bandits and guns for hire known as the Seleka, meaning "alliance" in the local language. One of its leaders, Michel Djotodia, declared himself president — the first Muslim to rule this majority Christian nation of 4.6 million people. What Médecins sans Frontières termed "a crisis on top of a crisis" for the population accelerated considerably in September when Djotodia officially disbanded the Seleka. Many of the rebels refused to disarm and leave the militias as ordered but veered further out of control, killing, looting and burning villages. They also systematically stripped administrative offices down to the light fittings and destroyed public records.

The US estimates that nearly 400,000 people have been displaced – many hiding in the jungle without access to malaria or HIV treatment – and 68,000 have gone to neighbouring countries.

The Seleka are playing judge, jury and executioner without regard even for Djotodia. Last Saturday, when a prominent judge was assassinated by men on motorbikes in the ramshackle capital, Bangui, the Seleka rounded up three suspects and offered his family the chance to kill them; when the family refused, citing the judge's dedication to due process, the Seleka shot the suspects dead outside their front gate. The family still do not know if they were the real culprits.

Two days later and 185 miles away in the town of Bossangoa, Jislain Ngangaguende was among five men accused of plotting against the Seleka who were tied up, beaten with guns and thrown off a bridge into a river with perils including crocodiles and hippos. "I started to drink water so I brought my head up, but a soldier saw me and tried to shoot me," recalls the 24-year-old, multiple sticking plasters on his head. "I stayed down for minutes and when I came up they were gone. I bit on a branch and moved up the river but my hands were still tied behind my back. I thought I was dead but the power of God made me get out."

Fear of the Seleka's brutality can be seen in ghost villages that line a rutted dirt road running north of Bangui through a vast sprawl of lush green African bush. Mudbrick houses with thatched roofs stand empty beneath the trees, raising the question of where the residents have fled. The answer can be found in Bossangoa, where about 34,000 people have sought refuge at the St Antoine de Padoue Cathedral.

Inside, the white-walled church remains immaculately clean. Two delicate chandeliers hang from a wood-beam ceiling and, beyond the rows of empty pews, flowers grace the altar and a fresco depicts the sun, a golden chalice and two angels against a blue sky. But the serenity mocks the monumental human tragedy manifesting itself outside the padlocked gate.

The Catholic mission compound is a melee of men, women and many children, their colourful T-shirts and dresses wearing a layer of grime, some carrying bowls of food or firewood on their heads, some even restarting their lives with barber shops, cooking pots, food stalls, sewing machines and livestock. Washing lines hang between row after row of blue and white tarpaulin tents marked Unicef. It is a sanctuary of sorts, with a constant hubbub of voices, but the cramped conditions leave women sleep rough in corridors, children playing in the dirt, waste piling up and worries about an outbreak of cholera.

Everyone here has a sad story to tell. Zita Nganamodei, 26, has a baby girl tied to her back who is not her own. Yesterday, she says, her neighbour, Josephine Kolefei, brought the baby for medical treatment without realising she was crossing an arbitrary boundary that the Seleka had just imposed. The 35-year-old was beaten with a Kalashnikov and taken to hospital, where she died. "I went to site and found the baby on the ground," says Nganamodei, who has two children of her own. "I brought her to the hospital to be treated."

She says she will now take care of the girl, 18-month-old Arethas Demba, but will one day have to explain how her mother died. "I do not know why they had to kill her. I ask that justice be done for this killing. I don't know what will happen in the future if these killings continue."

Meanwhile a 35-year-old first aid worker who wants to be known as Papa Romeo claims that, on 8 November in the village of Bombi Te, the Seleka were outrun by motorcyclists carrying weapons and took revenge on the population. "My wife was in the field with our four-year-old, Richide," he says. "The Seleka took her money and gold and told her to leave and not come back.

"They started to attack my son. They tried to shoot him but the gun was not working. So they slit his throat instead. What threat does this child pose to the Seleka? He is just a child. My heart is right here: if Michel Djotodia was here, my heart would destroy him."

More than 30 people have been killed in the village of around 5,000, situated near a gold mine about 30 miles from Bossangoa, Romeo estimates. "I went to the field where my wife was and found a boa constrictor eating a baby because its mother had been killed. Then I saw a woman shot in the leg with a child whose intestines were falling out."

What started as a political movement against the corrupt and autocratic Bozizé is now taking on an ominously religious character. Nearly all the Seleka are Muslim, including mercenaries from neighbouring Chad and the notorious Janjaweed from Sudan's Darfur region. An "us and them" mentality of mutual distrust and paranoia is taking root, with some Christians taking up arms in vigilante militias known as "anti-balaka" — meaning anti-sword or anti-machete — and committing atrocities of their own, giving the Seleka a pretext for yet more aggression. The spiral of violence has become a recruiting sergeant for thousands of child soldiers.

Everyone at the Catholic mission in Bossangoa is Christian; internally displaced Muslims are gathered in a part of town including about 450 at a school, where wood desks and benches lie abandoned under trees and the blackboards are frozen at 2 August 2013. It is a stark physical separation. Romeo adds: "We have never seen religions tensions like this in the CAR before. The CAR is not a Muslim country; it is a Christian country. We have never seen so many Muslims in the country before. They have come from other countries." Like many in the CAR, he feels it is being ignored and abandoned to its fate. "International leaders should open their eyes to what is going on. Children are sleeping on the floor like goats. Is it because we have black skin?"

The Seleka are also torturing suspected enemies, according to a 47-year-old who gives his name only as Laurent. When they accused him of trying to pass on fake money, he claims, they jailed him and tortured two of his adult sons with a pepper paste rubbed into the armpits and legs to create a burning sensation. "They put it in the ears and nose of one of my sons and forced him to inhale it, then hit him so he almost asphyxiated. He was bleeding from his ears and mouth. I asked them to kill me and let my children go."

Eventually they were released. The son, 24, spent two days in hospital and still has breathing difficulties. Laurent, who has 12 children in all, adds: "The Seleka are criminals. In the beginning, the relations between Christians and Muslims were good here but the Muslims followed the Seleka and now things have changed."

The Catholic mission is presided over by Father Frédéric Tonfio, struggling to cope with the influx and working with a local imam to keep the peace across the sectarian divide. "The Christians feel betrayed by the Muslims and are starting to feel vengeances in their hearts," he warns. "This is a very big challenge for the church."

Tonfio is pleading for global intervention before it is too late. "I have only been able to count on my colleagues in the church. The silence of the international community is like they are accomplices allowing this to happen. It's almost as if the Sekela is stronger than the international community. Everyone knows what is going on here. Every day that we delay, more people die."

The local Seleka commanders, officially now part of the national army, deny responsibility for what Amnesty International has called human rights violations on an "unprecedented scale" and claim Tonfio is being obstructive. A Chadian colonel named Saleh says: "He says one thing and does something else. We said to everyone at the church they can return to their homes but they refused. Civilians need to return home because we will take care of their security.

"We don't say this is Christian or this is Muslim. We work for everybody. Even if someone who's Muslim is wrong, we will put him on the right path."

The atmosphere remains tense and unpredictable here and in other towns. Bouca, to the east, has been destroyed in heavy fighting in recent days, with around 3,000 people – more than half of them children – again seeking sanctuary at the Catholic mission there. Lewis Mudge, a Human Rights Watch researcher, says he witnessed a Seleka colonel telling them: "If there are people here tomorrow at eight o'clock in the morning, we will shoot and burn the mission. If you are still here, you will see what we do."

The arrival of African regional peacekeepers neutralised that threat for the time being, but their 2,500-strong force is still too small and ill-equipped to carry out its mandate of protecting civilians. French armoured vehicles could also be seen patrolling north of Bangui again this week but their contingent of 400 troops can do little more than protect the airport and other assets. The UN security council meets on Monday to discuss a possible peacekeeping mission.

Headline-grabbing claims of mass rapes or infiltration by Islamist militant groups such as Boko Haram from Nigeria or al-Shabaab from Somalia are currently unfounded, according to Mudge and humanitarian sources working in the area. One said of the Seleka: "These guys are not Islamic fundamentalists. They are Muslim-lite. They are here for prosperity and power; they are not here to change anyone's confession."

Nor, says Mudge, should this be called a genocide – yet. It is too chaotic for that, meaning that the international community still has time to prevent another Rwanda. Six thousand peacekeepers would be a start, Mudge says. "The world needs to find the CAR on the map and start paying attention on humanitarian grounds. It's still early enough to avert a crisis in this country. It's not a genocide and it's not a civil war but it's certainly trending in that direction."

The Central African Republic

Population 4.6 million (UN, 2012)

Capital Bangui

Area 622,984 sq km (240,535 sq miles)

Life expectancy 51 years for women 48 years for men (UN)

Religion Christian 50%, Muslim 15%, indigenous beliefs 35%

1894 Area named Ubangi-Chari and set up as a dependency by the French

1910 Integrated in the Federation of French Equatorial Africa

1958 The territory gains self-government within French Equatorial Africa and Barthélemy Boganda becomes PM

1960 David Dacko becomes president of now independent Central African Republic

1962 President makes the country a one-party state. The Movement for the Social Evolution of Black Africa, or Mesan, becomes the only legal party

1965 Army commander Jean-Bédel Bokassa gains power

1976 Bokassa crowns himself emperor in the renamed Central African Empire

1988 Bokassa sentenced to death for embezzlement and murder

1993 Military rule ends with the election of President Ange-Félix Patassé

2003 Patassé is ousted by rebel leader François Bozizé who declares himself president

2007 Three rebel groups ‚ the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity (UFDR), the Union of Republican Forces (UFR) and the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP)‚ form an alliance called Seleka. After an accord with the government, they join the CAR army

2012 Some rebels take up arms once more and gain control of the north and centre of the country

2013 Seleka rebels seize power in the capital, Bangui, and Bozizé flees. Rebel leader Michel Djotodia becomes president Luc Torres


Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony 'in talks' with Central African Republic

First official contact since 2008 with rebel leader on the run with his Lord's Resistance Army

Monica Mark, Thursday 21 November 2013 17.56 GMT      

The Central African Republic has held talks with the Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, one of the world's most wanted men, urging him to surrender after eight years on the run in the bush of east Africa.

The negotiations between Kony and Michel Djotodia, the interim president of the Central African Republic (CAR), are the first official contact with the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) led by Kony, since a round of doomed peace talks in 2008; then the Ugandan government failed to reach an agreement with Kony, who feared he would be turned over to the International Criminal Court to satisfy an arrest warrant against him.

"It's true, Joseph Kony wants to come out of the bush. We are negotiating with him," Djotodiatold the Guardian from Bangui, capital of the CAR. "He asked for food supplies and the government took care of that," added Djotodia, whose Seleka rebels seized the capital earlier this year.

The UN is debating whether to send troops to the country, which has slipped into near-lawlessness and whose 4.6m-strong population is policed by just 200 officers.

Kony, a self-declared mystic who claimed spirits had ordered him to seize power and rule Uganda according to the biblical Ten Commandments, has led the LRA for two decades, in which the group has terrorised communities across northern Uganda. His forces, who held sway through a potent mix of mysticism and brutal tactics of forcibly recruiting children and chopping off limbs, were reduced to just a few hundred fighters after being chased across the Nile in 2005.

Although its ranks have been depleted – with many commanders killed by Kony himself in fits or paranoia and rage – dense jungle and desert terrain have allowed the group to evade capture repeatedly.

Boosted by around 100 US special forces, a 5,000-strong African Union army has been combing the forests straddling the CAR, south Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the LRA has continued to ambush civilians while poaching elephants for ivory.

US officials expressed doubt that the new talks represented a long-awaited breakthrough. The US State Department said the LRA's top commanders had used "any and every pretext to rest, regroup and rearm, ultimately returning to kidnapping, killing, displacing and otherwise abusing civilian populations".

Francisco Madeira, the African Union's special envoy on the LRA, told the UN Security Council on Wednesday Kony was using the talks as a smokescreen to shift many of his fighters to the fragile north-eastern CAR. "Heightened [military] pressure forced the LRA to try [its] time-tested tricks of buying time by duping the CAR authorities into 'negotiations' to purportedly allow Kony and his LRA to 'surrender' and resettle in Nzako, CAR," he said.

"Many reports indicate that he is suffering from some serious illness, uncharacterised illness," Madeira added.

Earlier this year, a former child soldier who was part of Kony's inner circle told the Guardian the warlord had descended into a spiral of paranoia in recent months.

In the Ugandan district of Gulu, once the heartland of the brutal insurgency, news of the talks was met with scepticism and fear. "If [capturing Kony] means more former soldiers like me can come back home, then it is good. Otherwise he is a dangerous man; it is better if people forget him," one former child soldier said.

Regional activists have spent years trying to bring Kony and his commanders to justice, but his success in eluding capture has recently been the cause of much international lobbying.

Last year, the US advocacy group Invisible Children released a highly emotional Kony 2012 video, which went viral but prompted fierce criticism in Uganda.

Most recently, journalist-turned-explorer Robert Pelton asked for voluntary donations for his Expedition Kony – in which he pledged to track down the warlord, while keeping viewers updated with reality-TV style updates.


Raped, plundered, ignored: central Africa state where only killers thrive

The Central African Republic is all but lawless, with just 200 police to guard 4.6m people from rebel gangs who attack women, kill men and recruit children at will. Despite repeated warnings, the international community has done little, even as arms continue to flood into the country

Mark Townsend   
The Observer, Saturday 27 July 2013 19.00 BST   
The Observer's Mark Townsend journeys into the remote and dangerous north of the country, into the heart of the rebel stronghold, to uncover fresh allegations of summary executions, disappearances and mass rapes Link to video: The Central African Republic: a country abandoned to its fate

It was dusk when armed Seleka rebels dragged the teenager from the road leading north towards Kobe. They pulled her into the jungle and raped her for several hours. She was abandoned near Route Nationale 10 and, after stumbling into the town of Kaga-Bandoro, was taken to hospital. "There were five of them raping her until they tore her vagina. Her family paid the [hospital] expenses until she got well," said her friend, Lisa Moussa, 17.

Moussa was more fortunate. As soon as she saw the rebels, she began running. They tried to kill her, shooting until she stumbled and fell. The gang caught her and frogmarched her to a police station and threatened to rape her until her father paid 6,000 Central African francs (£7.90) for her release.

Moussa lives in the Camp Fleur district of Kaga-Bandoro, a town deep in the jungle of the CAR, which was tipped into anarchy when the Seleka rebels overthrew the government and seized power four months ago. The UN has declared the entire 4.6 million population to be victims and the country among its most dangerous destinations. Its refugee agency has called it the "most neglected crisis in the world". Médecins Sans Frontières warns that the country had been effectively "abandoned to its fate".

Although lootings and killings have been widely documented in the capital, Bangui, reports detailing the extent of the atrocities being committed in the country's vast hinterland remain scant, particularly in the north, where the Seleka uprising began.

Roads are impassable due to banditry and the rainy season. Kaga-Bandoro, 300km north of the capital, can only be reached via a mud airstrip, landing straight into a rebel stronghold where the rule of law has collapsed completely. Evidence of human rights abuses in the far north are clear. Seleka rebels have repeatedly mass-raped the region's women, say locals. Women are said to have been killed for refusing to have sex or surrender their food. Men have been summarily executed, tortured or have simply disappeared, witnesses say. Children have been recruited and, according to witnesses, provide a substantial proportion of the armed gangs. The Seleka rebels, it seems, are becoming more numerous and more violent. In the remote north, war crimes against civilians continue to be committed.

Events in Kaga-Bandoro were not only foretold but could have been prevented. Yet the international community refused to heed the escalating security warnings or answer requests for increased humanitarian funding. Europe's arms companies, with Britain a principal player, continued to flood the country, which has the world's second-lowest life expectancy, with military hardware.

Even inside Kaga-Bandoro's hospital they were not safe. The Seleka stormed the grounds in mid-April and, according to hospital worker Henrietta Kiringuinza, 44, began raping patients. Staff fled as the rebels destroyed the hospital's three ambulances and looted everything, including lamps, refrigerators, medicine – even hospital beds. Farmer Philippe Benezon, 63, recently carried one of his six daughters, who was heavily pregnant, 10km from the village of Botto to the hospital. "There was no ambulance. We were bringing her by foot, but her baby died on the way. When we got to the hospital they took the baby from her belly."

Women appear to be the main target of the rebels. "Most of the time women are the victims of the atrocities. They attack them, sexually abuse them, rape them," said Thibault Ephrem, 25, who lives in Kaga-Bandoro. He had heard that women who refused their advances had been hacked to death with machetes. "If they want them or to get food and the woman says no, then she can be killed."

The Seleka seem to attack most frequently at night, prowling the streets of Kaga-Bandoro to abduct women and girls. "In our Abdala neighbourhood, if you go anywhere late at night when you are on your way back home they capture you or shoot you," said Moussa.

Kiringuinza said the rebels would melt away, only to suddenly return, beating people randomly and shooting throughout the night so "we are unable to sleep". Albert Vanbuel, the town's Catholic bishop, said Kaga-Bandoro's 26,000 population were trapped in a state of terror. Vanbuel says they have been utterly abandoned by the international community, allowing the Seleka to commit war crimes against civilians with impunity.

"There is nobody to help the population. There are no authorities, no militaries. When you resist, they kill you," he said.

It is impossible to verify how many people have been killed in Kaga-Bandoro, though Vanbuel believes the figure to be between 50 and 100. Ephrem says he knows of about 100, pointing to a looted petrol station whose owner was dragged on to the forecourt and shot. Benezon described how men were shot in the chest at close range and tortured. He had found bodies killed by the rebels, but how many lie undiscovered in the jungle is unknown. Similarly, how many have disappeared, taken into the jungle to never return, is impossible to ascertain. "We don't see them again, they just take them," said Vanbuel, who believes 60,000 of the region's 130,000 may now be hiding in the jungle.

It is also unclear how many have perished from illness, succumbing to a diet of roots and the leaves of manioc plants. At night the tens of thousands decamped within the jungle are impossible to locate – the CAR is regarded as the least light-polluted country in the world, its darkness due to its lack of development. By day, the exodus has rendered Kaga-Bandoro strangely silent. Outlying villages lie deserted, torched to the ground. Even the sprawling UN compound 3km from the town has been looted, its food stores pillaged. Mother of seven Marguerite Mallot, 57, said: "They burned my son's house that he uses for selling some things, everything is burned."

Attacks continue. "They are still taking people's sheep, food and any other stuff by force. If you try to say anything, they point a gun at you," added Mallot. "They break into your house and take your stuff and if you say anything they beat you and tie you up," said Kiringuinza.

Anyone whose task was to monitor events in the CAR knew the atrocities were close to inevitable. The UN security council was first briefed last December over a rebel offensive involving a coalition called Seleka operating from the settlements north of Kaga-Bandoro. During the next six months it would be briefed seven times over Seleka's evolving threat. No effective action was agreed.

In the UN field office in Bangui, however, officials were becoming acutely concerned over the effectiveness of a plan to pay off fighters who agreed to disarm. Exactly one year – on 14 December 2011 – before the UN security council received its initial assessment on Seleka, officials in Bangui told the security council that a lack of funding to complete the disarmament process could push the country "to the brink of disaster".

On 4 April 2012, and evidently starting to panic, the UN office in the republic hastily organised a donors' conference. According to a security council report pledges were made by just two countries: Luxembourg offered £67,000 and Australia £134,000, despite £14.2m being required to complete the disarmament and reintegration process.

When questioned last week, the UN said that around 5,000 former fighters were disbanded under the programme. Yet the Observer has learned that practically none were Seleka. The lack of money meant that the entire north-east – where Seleka drew their fighters – was left untouched. "The disarmament process for the north-east could not start because no fund was available," the UN confirmed. Further pleas from the UN office in Bangui followed: the country was at a "critical juncture" and needed outside help. Tensions among the thousands of fighters amassed in the north were growing, voicing frustrations that promises made under a peace deal had not materialised. Late last year five rebel groups elected to amalgamate forces: Seleka was born.

Still, the international community did nothing. Interest in the CAR remained negligible, a malaise perhaps symbolised by the fact that the Twitter following for the UN office in Bangui stands at 14. Britain, along with the CAR's colonial owner France, is among those accused of neglecting the country. A Foreign Office source said he could not recall if a UK minister had ever visited the country. The British ambassador is based in Cameroon, 500 miles away. In January the Africa minister, Mark Simmonds, told parliament the UK was "active" on the ultimately ineffectual security council discussion on the CAR. What he didn't say was that the UK cuts its annual aid to the republic from £2.7m to £1.29m two years ago, though an emergency £5m package is expected to be announced by the Department for International Development this week.

Fundraising attempts have been characterised by failure. A UN request for £129m of aid received £40m. A recent Unicef emergency appeal outlined a need for £21m, but received under £6m.

Swimming against the tide is Kristalina Georgieva, the European commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis response, who admitted being motivated by "guilt" and a sense that the world had turned its back on the CAR. Georgieva, who recently visited the country, has secured an emergency £4m aid package and says a "much more forceful contribution from the international community" is needed. "I pray that other donors will follow suit," she added. There is a darker narrative rarely mentioned by ministers or commissioners, however. Bangui-based Pascal Hounier, of the European Commission's humanitarian department, said: "Arms are flooding into the country. There were many AK47s, now there are rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weaponry. If someone wants to buy a weapon in CAR, it's very easy, $10 to $20." A study of the UK arms export licences revealed that eight months ago an unknown quantity of cryptographic equipment was sent from Britain to CAR. Earlier orders include an official consignment of military vehicles. One UK export to CAR for explosives and "bombing devices", used an open licence, meaning the actual amount of hardware sent is unknown.

Since 2005 the UK has been the fourth largest European exporter of arms to the CAR. Equally alarming is the role of Britain as the key supplier of arms to the increasingly unstable region of central Africa. Britain is Europe's largest arms exporter to Uganda and the third largest to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, both CAR neighbours. The Seleka rebellion has been boosted by large numbers of foreign fighters and warlords from Chad and Sudan. Britain is the fourth largest supplier of arms to Chad and the second largest to Sudan, both officially classified as "countries of concern" by the Foreign Office. Almost £670,000 of mainly tanks and vehicles have been sent to Chad, while the UK government last year approved £7.6m of military export licences to Sudan including weapon sight mounts. The UK has emerged as the second largest exporter of arms to the volatile, embryonic state of South Sudan – and its sole supplier of explosive devices.

To the east another threat is starting to emerge. Below the canopy of forests that smother eastern CAR, the cult-like militia of Joseph Kony is on the move. Attempts to catch the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), once the focus of the world's largest manhunt, have become clouded with doubt. Seleka have refused to cooperate, compromising the efforts of 100 US special forces and 3,000 mainly Ugandan troops to capture the warlord, who is accused of abducting tens of thousands of children and hacking off civilians' limbs, lips and noses.

"The threat is moving north. For weeks we have seen an increase in attacks. If we have a state in crisis who cannot push back the LRA, we can expect more attacks. If CAR becomes a safe haven, then it's a real problem for the country and the region," said Hounier.

Kony's reliance on child soldiers has been mimicked by Seleka. Witnesses in Kaga-Bandoro describe youngsters involved in the killings. The concern is that a state with no functioning schools and minimal employment prospects will lead to a generation of youngsters joining the rebels. Hounier added: "More children are joining and it gets more difficult to get them back. There has been a lot of recruitment." Signs indicate that the Seleka are mushrooming into a significant force, their fighting strength of 5,000 now thought to have quadrupled.

Scores of child soldiers have been rescued and are being rehabilitated in a centre near Bangui. Papy Kabwe of the centre confirmed that every Seleka chief had an allocation of children that they used in the recent killings.

In Bangui, the atmosphere remains tense. Despite assurances that armed militia have been removed from the streets, convoys of gangs can be seen speeding through its suburbs and are blamed for looting and indiscriminate shootings. The country's infrastructure has been effectively demolished. Human rights groups say the justice system has been dismantled, the prisons destroyed. The army has been disbanded. Just 200 policemen are left in the entire country.

But it is away from the capital where the crisis is most pronounced. Malnutrition rates have skyrocketed and malaria cases have risen by 30% since the Seleka assumed control. Latest assessments reveal 484,000 people at risk of food insecurity, with more than 206,000 people displaced . Georgieva warns of a "multi-headed monster" of armed groups running amok in a state the size of France, free to plunder as they wish.

The likes of Moussa can do little but wait for the rebels to return.

10 December 2012

First attacks are launched by the Seleka alliance against several towns in the north of the Central African Republic, one of the poorest countries in the world.

14 January 2013

Seleka rebels agree to a ceasefire with President François Bozizé on the grounds that political prisoners are released and fighters paid.

12 February

Initial reports of looted and empty villages in rebel-held territory in the CAR, with residents describing intimidation by armed groups.

24 March

Seleka rebels, left, capture the capital, Bangui, the president flees to Cameroon, and Michel Djotodia is named the new president. Warlords from Chad and Sudan are prominent among the governing militia.


Humanitarian groups voice concern at the deepening crisis inside the country. With the infrastructure destroyed, health officials note a 30% increase in malaria cases. Food insecurity and malnutrition rise. At least 70% of HIV-positive patients and half of TB sufferers no longer receive their medication.

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« Reply #10184 on: Nov 23, 2013, 07:09 AM »

11/22/2013 05:14 PM

Migrant Abuse: MEPs Plan Qatar Trip after Damning Resolution

Amid ongoing criticism over the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar, the European Parliament has announced it will send a delegation to the 2022 World Cup host. On Thursday, MEPs issued a resolution condemning conditions for these workers in the Gulf state, though Doha called the resolution "premature."

The European Parliament is expected to send a delegation to Qatar next spring after passing an emergency resolution condemning the treatment of migrant workers in the Gulf state. The issue has come to a head as major construction work gathers pace ahead of the soccer World Cup in 2022, which the country will host.

In addition to the Qatari government, which has dismissed the resolution as "premature," MEPs are also looking to the world and European governing soccer bodies, FIFA and UEFA, for answers.

The center-right European People's Party (EPP) bloc, however, ensured that Thursday's resolution stopped short of calling for an end to the "kafala" system of sponsorship, whereby workers are tied to their employers and not allowed to leave the country without permission. This has led some, including footballer Zahir Belounis, to become stuck in Qatar.

"The European Parliament is concerned about the situation of the migrant workers in Qatar," the resolution said. "MEPs call on the Qatari authorities to stop detaining individuals for 'running away' from their employers."

It also noted that at least 500,000 more migrant workers are expected to go to Qatar as the World Cup preparation work accelerates, adding to the 1.7 million already there out of a combined-native-and-foreign population of just over 2 million. The resolution additionally called on FIFA and the European companies involved in construction work to ensure that working conditions are "in line with international human rights standards."

Ready for Talks

The issue hit the headlines last month when Britain's Guardian newspaper reported that 70 Nepalese workers have died since the beginning of 2012 after working in allegedly slave-like conditions on Qatari construction sites.

Despite Doha's criticism of the resolution, a spokesman from the Qatari foreign ministry said that it is ready for talks with Brussels. Those discussions will address the possible delegation, according to Green Party politician Barbara Lochbihler, chair of the European Parliament's subcommittee on human rights, which is also planning a hearing on Qatar. Representatives from FIFA, UEFA and the International Labour Organization (ILO) are set to join the delegation.

"Qatar takes the allegations that have been made concerning the construction sector extremely seriously," the foreign ministry spokesman said, adding that accusations about working conditions have generally been exaggerated. The government in Qatar has appointed the Anglo-American law firm DLA Piper to conduct an independent investigation, which has reportedly been given top priority.

The resolution sends an important signal to Qatar and to the footballing bodies, Green MEP Lochbihler said, and "highlights the fundamental laws of (the kafala) system".

Lochbihler also called for FIFA -- currently led by president Sep Blatter -- to use criteria when selecting future World Cup host nations that take into account the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Blatter had said earlier this week that the matter needed to be addressed urgently, and Lochbihler said she was pleased he had now publicly acknowledged the human rights problems.

"It is not too late for FIFA and UEFA to at last shoulder their responsibility," Lochbihler said. "Together with the active support of its European members, FIFA must send a clear message to Qatar to take immediate steps to address the human-rights situation of migrants."

There was much controversy when Qatar, a small, desert state, was selected to host the 2022 World Cup, including allegations of corruption. Likewise, there have been concerns about infrastructure, the treatment of visiting gay fans and the effect of the scorching summer heat on players and spectators.

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