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« Reply #11835 on: Feb 10, 2014, 07:25 AM »


Rio: Brazil's silicon beach

The digital economy has been a key driver of change in Rio de Janeiro, extending power to those living in the favelas

Jonathan Watts in Rio de Janeiro
The Observer, Sunday 9 February 2014        

Anyone doubting Rio de Janeiro's techward shift need only look at the famous pavement mosaics that mark the promenade along Copacabana beach. The black and white patterns have traditionally resembled the waves across which early settlers and modern tourists travelled. Last year, however, that antique, analogue design has been partly reconfigured to reflect a digital future with the addition of tiled QR codes for smartphones.

The pavement symbols link to online maps and tourist websites. That should be useful to the throngs of visitors expected in this resort during this year's World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, but the significance goes far beyond the mega sporting events.

The tiled codes are a small part of an attempted makeover of party-town Rio into a Latin-American technology hub. Driven by multinational tech companies, local startups and city universities, the mayor, Eduardo Paes, is trying to shape a future for this resort that is as much about being smart as having fun. This is partly an attempt to ride a nationwide trend. Brazil – which is vying with France and Britain to be the world's fifth biggest economy – is belatedly embracing wireless technology and social networks. Thanks to a surge in recent years, there are now more mobile phones (268.4m) in this country than people. Tablet sales have jumped from 220,000 at the beginning of 2012 to more than 5m today. And Facebook use has increased to the point where Brazil is now second only to the US in terms of the number of users.

More infrastructure and incentives are being developed. Telecom providers are now launching 4G networks in Rio and other World Cup host cities before the start of the tournament in June. The government has also launched a programme, Start-Up Brazil, that offers up to $100,000 in support to local entrepreneurs. Multinational investors are keen to invest in a growing market that will be in the global spotlight like never before. The city of Rio – which benefits from a stunning location, a cluster of universities and being host of the World Cup final and Olympics – aims to be the biggest beneficiary.

Several big tech companies are now moving in. Microsoft has announced a new $100m technology centre in the city that will house a development platform for the Bing search engine and a business incubator for local startups. Cisco Systems plans a $500m innovation centre in Rio that will include a venture-capital fund and co-development of new technologies.

The lure of significant offshore oil finds has also attracted global engineering firms. General Electric has opened its first research and development centre at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro's $500m technology park, which also includes Siemens, Haliburton and Schlumberger among its tenants.

Inequality, poor transport systems and excessive bureaucracy remain major obstacles but at the grass roots technology is arguably being used in the most innovative ways to address social problems. The expansion of wifi and 3G networks into the favela shantytowns has widened the access of residents to information, as well as providing a means for shantytown dwellers to inform the outside world of some of the problems they face.

A digital mapping programme uses cameras on kites to record areas of poor sanitation or pools of murky water where dengue-carrying mosquitoes breed. And a citizens group, Meu Rio, set up a CCTV camera outside a school threatened with demolition so activists could quickly be alerted if bulldozers arrived.

Its social network campaign, which attracted tens of thousands of followers, forced authorities to change their plans and showed how technology is being used by a wide range of government and non-government actors to influence policy.

Started in 2011, Meu Rio uses technology to mobilise Cariocas (residents of Rio) to influence public policy. Leonardo Eloi, who was among the founder members, says the group is building a decentralised network of lawyers, developers and other specialists who can help activists and NGOs to improve society.

"I want to create a community that is hacking for good," he says. "A community of thinkers that provide technology at a low cost."

Far more than just a click-and-forget campaign website, Meu Rio's team analyses public policy proposals and helps connect members with city officials and focus email petitions. Designers and developers help to explain and amplify the message with videos, animation and infographics. The group also has a blog, which acts as a municipal watchdog by sending representatives to every city council meeting — something that most mainstream media organisations can no longer afford to do.

The organisation has successfully campaigned for greater government transparency and blocked a bill that would have allowed the government to secretly choose which business and infrastructure projects required environmental impact assessments. Famously, they also mobilised opposition to the planned closure of a public school, which was due to be demolished so that a new car park could be built for the Maracanã football stadium.

The city government has complained that Meu Rio is a tool for couch criticism rather than constructive governance. To prove them wrong, Eloi recently participated in a municipal "hackathon" competition to find technological applications that improve governance. Entering under his own name rather than Meu Rio, he was selected as the winner of the Grand Jury prize with a mobile phone app that helps drivers find parking spaces and alerts citizens when their cars are at risk of being towed away.

The software also allows them to notify police when their cars are broken into or scratched by flanelinha parking extortionists. Officials, drivers and pedestrians all stand to benefit from the savings in costs, time and pollution.

"It is all about collaboration. The crowd has its own intelligence," says Eloi, who believes diversity is the city's greatest asset.

"This is an important moment in Rio with lots of decision to be made. It's time for citizens to be included in the decision-making process. This is a city with so much beauty, so many resources and awesome people. It would be perfect if it had a public policy that was really made by people for people. It's much smarter to have 7 million minds and brains working on solutions instead of just the government."

Using technology to address social problems is the goal of Robert Muggah, a Canadian who has found fertile ground in Rio de Janeiro's increasingly wired and pacified favelas.

He is the founder of the Igarapé Institute, which is working with city authorities on a "smart policing" project using mobile-phone technology to make public security more transparent and accountable.

Following agreement with the Rio State police, Igarapé is helping to design an android app that will record every movement and conversation of police officers when they step out of their cars. On a routine patrol the data will be downloaded at the end of the day and saved on the cloud. In crisis situations, the information will be streamed live to headquarters. Police chiefs are enthusiastic about having such extra surveillance and personnel management tool.

Favela communities will be more interested in the potential to reduce police abuses in a city that suffers an alarmingly high rate of killings by officers in the course of their duties.

Pilot programmes are now underway in Rocinha, the city's biggest favela. If authorities approve, these will be scaled up in the coming weeks and the system could be introduced citywide later this year. Talks are also underway with authorities in Nairobi and Cape Town to adopt the system.

The project exemplifies the core goal of Igarapé, a non-profit organisation that works with partners from around the world, including Google Ideas, to use mobile technology to achieve socially useful ends.

Muggah is perhaps best known for his data-visualisations of the global trade in small arms and its link to murder rates and other crimes. He is also working with epidemiologists on a child security index that will analyse government data on young people's experiences of violence in low-income communities. Other projects in development include a "big data" analysis of Twitter and Facebook postings before a recent wave of street protests to establish who are the prime movers, and a visualisation of data on money laundering and, eventually, timber extraction from the Amazon.

"Rio is an exciting place to test new technologies. Many people in government, the private sector and civil society are committed to evidence-based policy and action, and technology can help make this the norm.

"With so much going on – not least the World Cup and Olympics in the next few years – the city is a real-life laboratory," Muggah says. "Young Cariocas [Rio residents] are increasingly digitally literate and enthusiastically pushing for social change. We have an unprecedented opportunity to help improve public security in the city. Technology will have a major role in making the city safer for us all."

Clubinho de Ofertas (Offers Club) is the idea of Grasiela Camargo, who has built a network for businesses, primarily run by mothers who want to promote their services and search for reasonably priced activities they can do with their children.

Her online model has similarities with Groupon, but it is more intimate, more local and focuses on entertainment for families.

"This is super cheap," says Camargo, 34, who lives in Rio. "I find small businesses that don't have money to spend on advertising, and through our model we bring them big results. They pay with their service or their product."

Since she and her husband launched the site in 2011, it has attracted more than 20,000 users in Rio. Although Groupon has five times that number of local users, Clubinho sometimes outsells its multinational rival because it says it is closer to its customers.

Until now, most of the business has come from theatres, shops and playgroups – many of which do not have the technical knowledge and marketing skills to promote themselves online. Camargo, who has learned website design and database management as she goes along – is now planning to expand into party services and an online children's guide to Rio.

"Rio is a great city! There are lots of activities and culture, theatre and shows that are important for the educational development of the kids," she says. "And there are lots of spots for startups, meeting groups where people exchange ideas, angel investors. There's a big start-up movement in Rio." As well as running a startup, Camargo takes pride in helping others – especially entrepreneurial mothers – to build their businesses. In addition to providing an online advertising platform and building a network, she advises clients on customer relations.

"We transformed the lives of the businesses – they learn from us how to sell," she says. "One theatre was empty when we first went there. Now we can sell it out."

BRAZIL BY NUMBERS

The World Bank states that Brazil's gross national income (GNI) per person has increased by 21% over five years, from $9,520 in 2007 to $11,530 in 2012.

At over $2,252 trillion, Brazil has the 7th highest gross domestic product (GDP) in the world.

40 million Brazilians have entered the middle class in the last 10 years. Fast-growing professions include ICT and e-commerce, energy, public services and environmental management.

With 200.7 million citizens, Brazil holds 2.8% of world population. Rio de Janeiro is the second most populous city (behind São Paulo) with almost 6.4 million inhabitants.

It is estimated that 90% of the population live in urban areas. Many of the large cities are in the coastal regions of south and south-eastern Brazil.

The median age in Brazil is 30.3 years; young compared with the UK's median age of 40.3 years.

Brazil has the 4th highest internet usage in the world with 86 million users.

E-commerce is estimated to be worth $12 billion annually.

Between 2000 and 2010 the presence of computers in Brazilian households tripled to 38.3%.

An estimated 5.8 million tablets were sold in Brazil last year, up on the 3.1 million sold in 2012. Of these 88% were for domestic use, 12% were corporate, 77% ran the Android OS and 50% cost less than $205. More tablets are now purchased than personal computers.

There are more mobile telephone subscriptions than people in Brazil, with over 125 per 100 inhabitants.

Sources: CIA World Factbook; IBGE (The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics); World Bank

Compiled by Rebecca Gale


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« Reply #11836 on: Feb 10, 2014, 07:29 AM »

Indonesia seeks to protect ancient 'Kajang' tribe

AFP
02/10/2014

TANA TOA (Feb 5): Deep in a remote forest in the Indonesian archipelago, the Kajang tribe lives much as it has done for centuries, resisting nearly all the trappings of modern life.

Their lifestyle has drawn comparisons with the Amish in the US, but they live in even more basic conditions, residing in houses on stilts and dressing only in black sarongs and headdresses.

It is in stark contrast to even many rural areas of Southeast Asia's biggest economy, where the rapid growth of the middle class has led to an explosion in the number of vehicles on the streets and people with smartphones.

But fears have been growing in recent years that the traditions of the Kajang, who live in a densely forested area called Tana Toa on the central island of Sulawesi, are increasingly vulnerable.

Officials worry there is little protection for the forests considered sacred by the tribe in a country where environmental destruction is rampant and that a sudden influx of technology could overwhelm their way of life.

Now the local government in Bulukumba district is hoping it can use a recent ruling by the Constitutional Court of Indonesia as a launchpad to grant the Kajang the right to manage their own forests, instead of it being owned by the state.

Tribal rights group AMAN said it would be the first area in Indonesia to use the court ruling to grant an indigenous group such autonomy -- a milestone in the fight for the rights of the country's approximately 70 million tribespeople.

'Make this earth last longer'

The attempt to help the Kajang is driven by outsiders and the tribe itself harbours some suspicions about any sort of external interference in their affairs.

However the so-called "ammatoa", or chief, Puto Palasa said he did not object as long as the effort did not change the tribe's traditional ways, and recognised the attempts to help his beloved forest.

"Preserving the forest will make this earth last longer," Palasa, who has never set foot outside the Kajang's tribal heartland and has received no formal education, told AFP.

"Leaves invite the rain to fall, roots are home to springs, the forests are the world's lungs," he added in his native language called "Konjo".

Signs of modernity are undoubtedly creeping in to the land of the Kajang, who number around 5,000, with the majority strictly following the tribe's traditions, according to a local government official.

On a recent visit to Tana Toa, AFP saw some of the young Kajang clutching mobile phones while others were wearing sandals -- the most ardent followers of tribal tradition prefer to go barefoot.

Nevertheless much remains as it has done for centuries. Scores of men were seen lifting enormous tree trunks to build a traditional house while candlenuts, an oily nut which burns for a long time once lit, are the only lights at night.

The Kajang even has its own mini-government, made up of 37 "ministers", including an agriculture minister who tells people when and where to plant their crops by studying the stars.

They dole out punishments -- which include fines and caning -- for infringements of their rules, such as removing a tree that has fallen naturally or catching shrimps from rivers, activities the tribe believes create imbalances in the ecosystem.

Little is known about the tribe's origins or how long they have been around but they claim to be one of the first peoples on earth, and say they are duty-bound to protect their ancestral lands. Their religion is a mix of tribal beliefs and Islam.

Their total land covers around 760 hectares (1,900 acres), while the area of forest considered "sacred" -- the tribe's heartland -- covers some 330 hectares, according to research group the World Agroforestry Center.

Controlling destiny

Bulukumba officials fear this ancient way of life could be wiped out if the Kajang are not given the right to manage their own lands, a move they believe would encourage the tribe to preserve its traditions.

They hope to use the court ruling passed in May as the basis for a local bylaw to give the Kajang this right.

The ruling said that indigenous people owned forest on their ancestral lands. Previously the state claimed ownership of all the country's forests.

As with many such rulings made centrally in Indonesia, it still needs to be applied locally. Bulukumba officials argue the decision gives the Kajang the right to manage all their densely-forested land.

The latest draft bylaw seen by AFP says that the land can be only traded among the Kajang. Officials hope it will be passed in the coming months.

As well as giving the Kajang more control over their destiny, the bylaw would also overturn an official decision taken in the 1990s to allow some logging on their land.

In reality the only logging in the area since then has been carried out by the Kajang themselves, who allow small numbers of trees to be cut down in certain areas for purposes such as building homes.

Officials fear this could change at any moment -- many tribes across Indonesia have lost their rainforest homes due to logging.

Bulukumba forestry chief Misbawati Wawo says that in areas of the district outside the Kajang's lands, there has been widespread logging to make way for clove, cocoa and coffee plantations.

"Our concern is if we don't make a written bylaw to protect these people, who can guarantee their traditions will still exist in 20 to 30 years?" she told AFP.


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« Reply #11837 on: Feb 10, 2014, 07:34 AM »


Snowden used simple technology to mine NSA computer networks

• Press report says whistleblower used ‘webcrawler’ software
• Revelation raises new doubts about failure to detect activities

Rory Carroll in Los Angeles
theguardian.com, Sunday 9 February 2014 18.54 GMT      

The National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden used inexpensive and widely available software to plunder the agency’s networks, it has been reported, raising further questions about why he was not detected.

Intelligence officials investigating the former contractor, who leaked thousands of documents to media outlets including the Guardian last year, determined that he used web crawler software designed to search, index and back up websites to “scrape” highly classified files, the New York Times reported on Sunday.

The unusual activity triggered a brief challenge from agency officials but Snowden persuaded them it was legitimate and continued mining data.

“We do not believe this was an individual sitting at a machine and downloading this much material in sequence,” an unnamed official told the Times. The process, the official said, was “quite automated”.

Web crawlers, also known as spiders, move from website to website, following links embedded in each document, and can copy everything they encounter. Snowden is believed to have accessed about 1.7 million documents.

The NSA has a mandate to deter and rebuff cyber attacks against US computer systems but Snowden’s “insider attack” was relatively unsophisticated and should have been detected, investigators said, especially since it came three years after Chelsea Manning used a similar technique to access State Department and military data which was then passed to Wikileaks.

Snowden was a technology contractor working at an agency outpost in Hawaii that had yet to be equipped with modern monitors which might have sounded the alarm. The NSA’s headquarters in Ford Meade, Maryland, had such monitors, raising the question whether Snowden was “either very lucky or very strategic”, said one intelligence official.

According to The Snowden Files, a new book by Guardian journalist Luke Harding, Snowden moved to a job in Honolulu with security company Booz Allen Hamilton because it afforded even greater privileges.

Some members of Congress have accused Snowden of being a spy for Russia, where he has been granted asylum. He has denied the allegation.

Michael McFaul, the US ambassador to Moscow, declined to be drawn on the subject in an NBC interview on Sunday.

“What I can say,” he said, “is we want Mr Snowden to just come home, face the charges against him, and have a court of law decide what he has and has not done.”

************

First Look Media to launch with Snowden-themed online magazine

New journalism outlet funded by Pierre Omidyar will start publishing next week, as company announced new hires

Tom McCarthy in New York
theguardian.com, Thursday 6 February 2014 23.30 GMT      

First Look Media, a new journalism outlet funded by Pierre Omidyar, the billionaire founder of eBay, will begin publishing an online magazine next week, according to a statement released Thursday.

The first stories will be based on classified government documents obtained by Edward Snowden, the statement said.

The publication will be led by Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras – journalists who have worked directly with Snowden – and by Jeremy Scahill, the investigative journalist and co-author of the film Dirty Wars. Greenwald broke the first revelations based on Snowden’s documents when he worked at the Guardian.

First Look plans to publish a “family of new digital magazines,” the company said, “each with its own editorial voice, its own look and feel.

The organization also announced a spate of new hires on Thursday, including Marcy Wheeler, the national security journalist who writes the emptywheel blog; Peter Maass, the investigative journalist; Scottish journalist Ryan Gallagher. Andy Carvin, the social media innovator formerly of National Public Radio, announced earlier this week that he was joining First Look.

The company said it would launch its flagship general-interest website later this year.

*************

Snowden revelations of NSA spying on Copenhagen climate talks spark anger

Documents leaked by Edward Snowden show NSA kept US negotiators abreast of their rivals' positions at 2009 summit

John Vidal and Suzanne Goldenberg   
theguardian.com, Thursday 30 January 2014 17.54 GMT   
   
Developing countries have reacted angrily to revelations that the United States spied on other governments at the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009.

Documents leaked by Edward Snowden show how the US National Security Agency (NSA) monitored communication between key countries before and during the conference to give their negotiators advance information about other positions at the high-profile meeting where world leaders including Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and Angela Merkel failed to agree to a strong deal on climate change.

Jairam Ramesh, the then Indian environment minister and a key player in the talks that involved 192 countries and 110 heads of state, said: "Why the hell did they do this and at the end of this, what did they get out of Copenhagen? They got some outcome but certainly not the outcome they wanted. It was completely silly of them. First of all, they didn't get what they wanted. With all their hi-tech gizmos and all their snooping, ultimately the Basic countries [Brazil, South Africa, India and China] bailed Obama out. With all their snooping what did they get?"

Martin Khor, an adviser to developing countries at the summit and director of the South Centre thinktank, said: "Would you play poker with someone who can see your cards? Spying on one another like this is absolutely not on. When someone has an upper hand is very disconcerting. There should be an assurance in negotiations like this that powerful players are not going to gain undue advantage with technological surveillance.

"For negotiations as complex as these we need maximum goodwill and trust. It is absolutely critical. If there is anything that prevents a level playing field, that stops negotiations being held on equal grounds. It disrupts the talks," he said.

The NSA would keep US negotiators abreast of their rivals' positions, the document says. "Leaders and negotiating teams from around the world will undoubtedly be engaging in intense last-minute policy formulating; at the same time, they will be holding sidebar discussions with their counterparts, details of which are of great interest to our policymakers … Signals intelligence will undoubtedly play a significant role in keeping our negotiators as well informed as possible throughout the negotiations," it reads.

The document shows the NSA had provided advance details of the Danish plan to "rescue" the talks should they founder, and also had learned of China's efforts to coordinate its position with India before the conference.

The talks – which ended in disarray after the US, working with a small group of 25 countries, tried to ram through an agreement that other developing countries mostly rejected – were marked by subterfuge, passion and chaos.

Members of the Danish negotiating team told the Danish newspaper Information that both the US and Chinese delegations were "peculiarly well-informed" about closed-door discussions. "They simply sat back, just as we had feared they would if they knew about our document," one source told Information.

British negotiators at the summit declined to say whether their negotiating positions had been informed by US intelligence. "It is a longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters," said a spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the UK government department that led the negotiations in Copenhagen.

Ed Miliband, who as energy secretary led the political negotiations for Britain, declined to comment. However, at the time, he was furious that the Danish text which the US had received advance information about, had been leaked to the Guardian.

But one key negotiator for the G77 group of 132 developing countries, who asked not to be named, said at the time that he strongly believed that the US was eavesdropping on his meetings and would only talk in a secure back room that he thought was not bugged. "I was well aware that they seemed to know what our position was before we did," he told the Guardian.

But Ramesh said that he had no idea that the US was spying on him. "I didn't get a sense that I was being followed. I didn't get a sense that my phones were tapped," he said.

Civil society groups from around the world condemned the US. "The UN climate talks are supposed to be about building trust – that's been under threat for years because of the US backward position on climate action – these revelations will only crack that trust further," said Meena Raman, negotiations expert from the Malaysian-based Third World Network.

"Fighting climate change is a global struggle, and these revelations clearly show that the US government is more interested in crassly protecting a few vested interests," said Brandon Wu, senior policy analyst with development organisation ActionAid in the United States.

US climate activist and founder of 350.org, Bill McKibben, called the spying revelations "insane and disgusting".

US diplomatic cables made public by WikiLeaks in 2010 showed that the CIA had sought intelligence from UN diplomats about the negotiations in advance of the summit, and Snowden documents published last year revealed the US had spied on Indonesia at the Bali climate summit in 2007.


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« Reply #11838 on: Feb 10, 2014, 07:37 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

It Is Absurd To Have Republicans In Congress Who Intend to Do Absolutely Nothing

By: Rmuse
PoliticusUSA
Sunday, February, 9th, 2014, 8:01 pm   

The overriding aspect of conservatism is its adherents’ resistance to change, and since Americans first elected Barack Obama as President, Republicans began their obstructionist ways and since then have dug in their heels to oppose anything the President proposed and spent the past three years taking from the American people. In fact, over the past five years Republicans have proposed absolutely nothing to help the people and worked tirelessly to look for new ways and excuses to take more as well as keep government stagnating in its current state. There were three items in the news this past week that expose the Republican agenda has not changed despite their deplorable approval ratings that should remind Americans that Republicans hate America and its people as much as they hate the African American President.  Subsequently, because there is another scheduled 10 days off for Congress, Republicans will spend February doing what they have done for five years; absolutely nothing.

First, Republicans have come up with every and any reason to reject extending unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed despite overwhelming public support to help out-of-work Americans. On Thursday, Democrats fell one vote short to overcome Republicans’ filibuster in the Senate to move a three-month extension forward for the long-term unemployed that makes it unlikely Congress will ever approve the measure for the sole purpose of undercutting a key aspect of President Obama’s economic recovery plan. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, “We’ve given them everything they wanted. Paid for,” and pledged that Democrats would keep pushing to extend the benefits which sent 1.3 million Americans into poverty at the end of December that has grown to more than 1.7 million as of Friday, and will reach about 4.9 million by the end of 2014. Doubtless, Republicans are excited that their barbarism will add nearly 5 million families to the poverty ranks just by refusing to help Americans who lost their jobs because Bush-Republicans created the Great Recession, but their real delight is thwarting the President’s economic recovery plan.

Republicans claim Democrats are attempting to help the long-term unemployed as  an election-gimmick. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said, “We know it’s a political game. We know they’d like to bring it up every three months and bash Republicans with it.” The White House said, “We cannot allow one vote to stand in the way of supporting these Americans as they struggle to find work. Both sides of the aisle have worked together to prevent this kind of hardship in the past.” However, in the past an African American was not in the White House and like everything driving Republican obstruction and intransigence, race is a primary motivating factor. Even if Senate Republicans found a conscience and decided to help millions of long-term unemployed Americans, House Republicans will not pass an extension because as Oklahoma Republican James Lankford said, even though “‘Times are tough. We should make times tougher on our kids to make it easier on us, and then feel better. That’s just not a philosophy I’m willing to support.” Harry Reid and Senate Democrats paid for an extension relieving Lankford’s “kids” from having it too tough, but the philosophy Republicans are unwilling to support is doing anything President Obama supports to help the people, including staffing the nation’s judiciary.

Republicans obstructed President Obama’s judicial nominees from confirmation votes for nearly five years before Harry Reid and Democrats ended the automatic filibuster against judicial nominees last fall.  However, eliminating the procedural hurdle has not changed recalcitrant Republicans who found a new method to obstruct the President and keep the federal judiciary at a breaking point. As of Friday, there were 96 judicial vacancies around the country, many which are designated “judicial emergencies” because caseloads have surged at short-handed courts. Since December, there has not been one single vote on a district court nominee and the only nominee confirmed thus far is one judge on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that Republicans successfully blocked for months and was only approved after filibuster reform. There are 32 of the President’s nominees ready and waiting for a confirmation vote that is not going to come because Republicans refuse to give their “consent” for nominees to get an up or down vote.

In a normal environment, both parties typically acquiesce to “unanimous consent” to let a batch of nominees receive votes, but Republicans are still angry their obstruction of choice, the filibuster, was changed so they found another tactic to keep “judicial emergencies” clogging up the judicial system indefinitely. Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander said as much when he objected to Harry Reid’s request for consent to let a bloc of nominees get a vote. Alexander said, “The Democratic majority changed the rules of the Senate in a way that creates a Senate without rules, so until I understand better how a United States senator is supposed to operate in a Senate without rules, I object.” Alexander’s objection is not to a rule change, but to the President filling court vacancies. It is unlikely the nominees will get a vote anytime soon because the Senate is only in session for two days next week and in recess the following week so it will be at least until the end of February  until some other Republican senator “objects” to a fully staffed judiciary working for the people.

On Friday Treasury Secretary Jack Lew sent a letter to congressional leaders that said the “extraordinary measures” the federal government uses to fund the government after the nation has reached the debt ceiling will not “last beyond Thursday, February 27.” House Republicans were allegedly working on a bill that would raise the debt limit until the first quarter of 2015, while fixing the Medicare reimbursement rate for nine months and reversing recent changes to some military retirement benefits. The Republicans would pay for those items with an extra year of cuts to mandatory spending (the sequester) and change public sector employee pension contributions. The President has warned Republicans he is not going to negotiate a debt ceiling increase, but it is unlikely to have any effect on “true conservatives” who are not going to vote to raise the debt limit under any circumstances; even for an extra year of draconian sequester spending cuts and pillaging public sector employee pensions.

House Republicans have very little time to come to grips with raising the debt limit unconditionally like they did during the Bush administration, because they are only in session for two days next week and are in recess the following week. They return from their unwarranted break from doing absolutely nothing two days before the nation begins defaulting on its debt obligations and they were still “working out a deal” amongst themselves as of Friday. Republicans, especially in the House, have spent the past two months passing an anti-woman “rape audit” bill, investigating the Darrell Issa-created IRS  scandal, and planning a lawsuit against the President for issuing executive orders while being African American. What have they done for Americans since the beginning of the year? Nothing whatsoever. It is true they reluctantly passed a farm bill after two years of obstruction, but only because it cut food stamp funding and gave the Kochs and corporate agribusiness incredibly generous subsidies and neutered the EPA’s ability to enforce the Clean Water Act.

It is getting absurd to have Republicans serving in Congress when they have no intention of doing the work the people sent them to Washington to do. They have already squandered a month attacking women’s right to choose and opposing extending unemployment benefits they strongly implied they would address at the beginning of the year, but because it is part of the President’s economic recovery plan, it is not going to happen. What is offensive to the American people is that Republicans claim Americans are lazy sloths, and yet they have accomplished next to nothing and are taking their second “recess” to plot more obstruction on issues the American people support like raising the minimum wage, extending unemployment benefits, or passing jobs bills the President all but begged Republicans to address. Nothing has changed for Republicans and although it is part and parcel of being a conservative, they continue to expose their hatred toward the nation and its people for twice electing an African American who is working every day for the people as leader of the Executive Branch.


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« Reply #11839 on: Feb 11, 2014, 07:12 AM »

Awaiting Russia’s Next Move in Ukraine

By CELESTINE BOHLEN
FEB. 10, 2014
IHT

PARIS — Deadlines, like hangings, help concentrate the mind, which explains the frantic pace of recent diplomatic activity in Kiev, where a tag team of Western envoys has been trying to cobble together a financial and political package to pull Ukraine out of its crisis.

The assumed deadline in this case is the end of the Sochi Winter Games, when President Pig V. Putin of Russia will no longer have to play the congenial Olympic host and can turn his attention to scoring a Russian “win” in Ukraine.

Exactly what Russia will do when Mr. Putin takes off his hockey gloves is unknowable — since this, like so much that passes for Russian diplomacy in its “near-abroad,” is probably lurking somewhere inside Mr. Pig Putin’s head.

In fact, the deadline was always a bit phony. It seems Russia did not wait for the opening of the Games on Friday to work its mischief, with a leaked diplomatic telephone conversation — dated Jan. 25 — that had a top American official dismissing the European Union with a crude expletive. The United States State Department openly hinted at Russian responsibility for the leak, which makes sense since it would require expert listeners to troll through three-week-old tapes to find the four-minute segment where an American official says rude things about the European Union.

Sowing discord among Western allies is a tactical maneuver, straight out of the Soviet playbook. What worries Western diplomats is the possibility of more aggressive moves by Russia once the Sochi Games are over.

What might be Russia’s options? Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, lists four: a trade war, a gas war, covert actions, and threat of military force.

Most experts, Mr. Aslund included, dismiss the possibility of military force, which would involve a reversion to the Soviet-era Brezhnev doctrine. Anyone tempted to follow that scenario would need psychiatric treatment for “trauma caused by loss of empire,” as the Russian newspaper Vedomosti put it recently.

Mr. Aslund says another gas war — a rerun of the 2005 and 2009 disputes that led to a cutoff of gas supplies to Europe — is also unlikely. He argues that the Russian gas giant Gazprom, which has seen a decrease in its European exports, is in a much weaker position today than it was five years ago. “A third time would be too much,” he said.

There is some evidence that the other two options are already in the works. According to The Kyiv Post, an English-language Ukrainian newspaper, two trade associations have complained that Ukrainian exports are once again facing delays at the Russian border, a repeat of the mini-trade war that preceded the decision by Ukraine last November to cancel a broad agreement with the European Union, which detonated the crisis.

As for covert activities, they are by definition impossible to prove but entirely possible. So far, 36 protesters in Kiev have been reported missing, amid accusations of kidnapping and torture by mysteriously well-informed thugs.

Given the long history and the long border shared by Russia and Ukraine, there are other cards at Moscow’s disposal — including muffled separatist rumblings in Crimea, a Ukrainian region that is close to the Russian heart.

What is clear is that Russia will have a role in Ukraine, overt or covert, no matter what the West has to offer in terms of aid or advice. Disregarding Russia’s interest in its neighbor’s future will only strengthen Mr. Putin’s view that the play for Ukraine is a zero-sum game.

All sides agree that the stakes are high in what is sounding more and more like an eerie replay of the Cold War. A Russian official has accused the United States of “crudely interfering” in Ukrainian politics, while an American diplomat, in the taped conversation, warned that the Russians would surely “be working behind the scenes to torpedo” any agreement brokered in Kiev by the West.

When the Olympics end, the competition over the future of Ukraine will still be going on. The question that will remain is how leaders in Russia and the West choose to play it out.


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« Reply #11840 on: Feb 11, 2014, 07:15 AM »

Berlusconi Bribery Trial Opens in Italy

by Naharnet Newsdesk
11 February 2014, 11:32

Silvio Berlusconi's latest trial opened in Naples on Tuesday, this time for allegedly bribing a senator in 2006 to join his party in a move aimed at destabilizing a rival center-left government in power at the time.

The trial is the third ongoing case against Berlusconi, who is appealing a prison sentence for having sex with an underage 17-year-old prostitute and abuse of office and another for leaking a confidential police wiretap.

The 77-year-old billionaire tycoon last year was also convicted for tax fraud -- his first ever definitive conviction -- and has been ejected from the Italian Senate and lost his parliamentary immunity.

Berlusconi, who regularly protests his innocence by accusing prosecutors of engineering a left-wing political plot against him, was not at the hearing and is not obliged to attend under Italian law.

He is accused of giving 3.0 million euros ($4.1 million) in 2006 to Sergio De Gregorio, then a senator from the anti-corruption Italy of Values party, to join his People of Freedom party and help undermine the center-left government in power at the time.

A former Berlusconi aide, Valter Lavitola, is also on trial for being the alleged intermediary for the bribe.

The trial is being held in Naples as it was the seat occupied by De Gregorio, who is working with investigators.

Among the issues on the table at the first hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday will be a request from Senate speaker Pietro Grasso to be considered a plaintiff in the trial -- a move that has proved hugely controversial among Berlusconi's supporters.

A new judge is also due to be named as the current one has declared a conflict of interests -- she is married to a prosecutor who worked in the trial against Berlusconi for underage sex and abuse of office.

The list of witnesses for the trial includes former prime minister and former European Commission president Romano Prodi, as well as two former senators expected to say they were offered bribe money by Berlusconi.

De Gregorio has told investigators that he received two million euros in cash and one millions euros for his political movement "Italians in the World".

Berlusconi unrepentant

Berlusconi's lawyers Michele Cerabona and Niccolo Ghedini are expected to argue that corrupting the senator would have been impossible since every lawmaker can vote freely, whatever their party affiliation.

Berlusconi this year will also be appealing his prostitution and abuse of power convictions, as well as one for leaking a confidential police wiretap in an attempt to damage a center-left political rival.

The three-time former prime minister was forced out of parliament for the first time in his 20-year political career in November following a tax fraud conviction.

While Berlusconi does not have to go to prison because of his age, a court in April will decide whether he has to do a year of community service or house arrest for that crime.

Although he is banned from parliament, it has not prevented Berlusconi from seeking to remain a powerful force, although it could impose limits on his ability to campaign.

While some of his former proteges have switched to the New Center-Right party in a ruling coalition with Prime Minister Enrico Letta, Berlusconi is rallying support for his re-founded Forza Italia (Go Italy) party.

Forza Italia is in second place in opinion polls behind the center-left Democratic Party with 25 percent.

The gaffe-prone media magnate is unrepentant despite his frequent run-ins with the justice system and still enjoys the support of million of Italians.

But after 20 years of "Berlusconism" and a two-year economic crisis, there are indications that the attention in Italy is shifting away from Berlusconi.

The main political interest now is on the center-left -- the rivalry between Letta and the ambitious new head of the Democratic Party, 39-year-old Matteo Renzi.

************

Italy, U.S. Arrest 26 in Anti-Mafia Raids

by Naharnet Newsdesk
11 February 2014, 11:19

Italian and U.S. officers arrested dozens of people on Tuesday in a joint operation that exposed alleged drug trafficking links between New York's Cosa Nostra Gambino family and the 'Ndrangheta mafia in Italy.

Andrea Grassi, a police chief in charge of the two-year investigation, told Italian news channel SkyTG24 that 26 people were arrested and 40 more placed under investigation in Italy and the United States.

Eight of the people arrested are alleged members of the Gambinos -- one of the "five families" that have traditionally controlled the mafia in New York.

Other arrests were carried out in the Calabria region in southern Italy, the bastion of the 'Ndrangheta mafia which plays a lynchpin role in the global cocaine trade.

"The charges range from mafia association to international drug trafficking to money laundering," Grassi said.

"This investigation reveals a criminal relationship between a 'Ndrangheta family and the Gambino family in New York," he said.

The investigation found that drugs from South America transited through the container port of Gioia Tauro in Calabria, hidden in cans of fruit.


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« Reply #11841 on: Feb 11, 2014, 07:16 AM »

Cypriot Leaders Seeking Settlement 'as Soon as Possible'

by Naharnet Newsdesk
11 February 2014, 13:47

Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Dervis Eroglu Tuesday pledged to work towards clinching agreement on ending the island's division "as soon as possible", a joint statement said.

The statement, issued after the leaders relaunched a peace drive after an almost two-year break, said the status quo in Cyprus was "unacceptable" and affirmed a settlement would have a "positive impact" on the entire region.

"The leaders expressed their determination to resume structured negotiations in a results-oriented manner," said the statement.

"The leaders will aim to reach a settlement as soon as possible and hold separate simultaneous referenda (in both communities) thereafter," it added.

Anastasiades and Eroglu also agreed a settlement would be based on a "bi-communal, bi-zonal federation with political equality ... with constituent Greek and Turkish Cypriot states".

The joint declaration was finalized last week after protracted haggling over the text delayed a relaunch of peace talks originally earmarked for November.

Turkish Cypriots suspended the last round of talks in mid-2012 when Anastasiades's internationally-recognized Republic of Cyprus assumed the European Union's rotating presidency.

Cyprus has been divided since Turkish troops invaded and occupied its northern third in 1974 in response to an Athens-engineered coup aimed at uniting it with Greece.

A breakaway state which Turkish Cypriot leaders declared in 1983 is recognized only by Ankara.


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« Reply #11842 on: Feb 11, 2014, 07:18 AM »

NATO Gets First U.S. Destroyer for Missile Shield

by Naharnet Newsdesk
11 February 2014, 14:29

The first of four U.S. high-tech destroyers arrived in Spain Tuesday to form a key part of a ballistic missile shield for Europe which Russia says directly threatens its security.

The USS Donald Cook took up station in the southern port of Rota from where it will operate as an anti-missile platform and take part in other tasks such as maritime security and NATO deployments, a statement said.

"For the first time, a ship of the United States Navy equipped with the Aegis ballistic missile-defense system is permanently based in Europe" NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.

"The arrival of the USS Donald Cook marks a step forward for NATO, for European security, and for transatlantic cooperation," Rasmussen said.

Three other Aegis destroyers will be deployed over the next two years as the missile shield takes form after NATO agreed its deployment at a summit in 2010.

The system is designed to "protect all NATO European populations and territory," the statement said.

Supporters cited a major concern as being the threat to Europe from Iranian missiles, especially if Tehran were to acquire nuclear weapons.

Russia however says the system directly threatens its security and the issue has become a major bone of contention with Washington which in turn insists that Moscow's fears are groundless.

The Aegis ships will operate in tandem with land- and other air- and space-based systems to monitor for possible hostile missile launches and then direct missiles to destroy them.


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« Reply #11843 on: Feb 11, 2014, 07:20 AM »


Norwegian voting patterns are a warning to leftwing parties elsewhere

If the number of voters in an election increases, new rightwing groups do better – but new left groups fare worse

Henning Finseraas and Kåre Vernby for EUROPP, part of the Guardian Comment Network   
theguardian.com, Tuesday 11 February 2014 09.05 GMT   
   
Low levels of citizen participation in politics have long been seen as a serious democratic problem, and a possible relationship between turnout and election outcomes is a prominent topic of discussion in political science. The most frequent claim is that left-of-centre parties benefit from higher levels of turnout since many of them are disproportionately supported by groups on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale, such as the unemployed or low wage earners.

In a recent study, we showed that Norway is one country in which changes in turnout are likely to be a mixed blessing for the left. In Norway, the anti-immigration Progress party on the right competes with Labour for support from those in lower socioeconomic groups, while the voter profile of the Socialist Left fits the "new left" label. Thus, we would expect that a sudden shift in voter turnout due to more voters from lower socioeconomic groups showing up at the polls would benefit the Labour party and the Progress party, while the Socialist Left party would suffer.

In two-party systems, this relationship between turnout and election outcomes has received some empirical support, yet the evidence is not conclusive. In multiparty systems, the evidence is less clear and a potential relationship is likely to depend on the specifics of the party system and party competition in each country. In particular, most western European countries have witnessed the establishment and subsequent growth of new left and new right parties. Electoral support for new left parties does not come primarily from the lower socioeconomic groups that have been the main constituency of traditional social-democratic parties. By contrast, support for hard right parties often does. Thus, to the degree that increases in turnout imply that more people from lower socioeconomic groups are voting, we would expect some left-of-centre parties to benefit, while others would suffer, and similarly on the right.

The key empirical challenge in this type of research is to isolate the effect of turnout from the myriad other factors that operate in an election. In order to do so, we study the introduction and removal of a reform of early voting, which made it possible to vote early at the local post office. The reform reduced the costs of voting and led to a massive increase in early voting. In fact, survey data estimates suggest that the reform increased total turnout by about two percentage points.

The reduction in the costs of voting was larger in rural areas, and in line with this we found that increases in turnout were larger in rural areas. Moreover, we found that individuals with lower levels of education were mobilised by the reform, in particular in rural areas. The characteristics and the geographical impact of the reform allows for a research design where we examine the trends in turnout and election outcomes before and after the reform, and how the trends depend on the type of municipality. Since the reform affected turnout more in rural areas, but had little impact in urban population centres, we can use this variation to estimate the impact of turnout on party vote shares.

The empirical results are consistent with several of our expectations. In particular, the trends in the vote share of the Labour party and the Progress party were significantly stronger in areas where turnout increased. Compared with the average municipality, Labour's vote share decreased by about 0.8 percentage points more in municipalities where turnout did not increase, compared to the most rural municipalities. The Progress party's vote share trend was negative, yet this trend was a lot more pronounced in urban municipalities where there were no positive effects of the reform on turnout.

Similarly, our results for the Socialist Left party are also as expected. They deviated negatively from the municipal trend in those areas where the reform had the most impact on turnout. In particular, their vote share increased about 0.4 percentage points more in urban areas with no increase in turnout, compared with the most rural areas. When we use the reform-induced geographical variation in turnout to estimate the effect of turnout, we find that a one percentage point increase in turnout causes the vote share of Labour to rise by an estimated 0.9 percentage points. The corresponding figure for the Progress party is about 0.8 percentage points. The Socialist Left and the Conservative parties, on the other hand, suffer if turnout increases.

How open to generalisation are our results? Since our research strategy builds on the geographical variation in our estimates, they are directly informative about the effects of changes in turnout on election outcomes in rural areas. Translation to urban areas depends on how different the rural and urban non-voters are. The reform led to a broad decrease in the cost of voting and in this sense it is similar to other reforms that alter the costs or benefits for a broad segment of the population, such as motor voter programmes or compulsory voting.

What about external validity beyond the Norwegian context? The Norwegian case is similar to most other western democracies in that voter turnout is biased against the participation of lower socioeconomic groups. It is also similar to other western multiparty democracies in that there exists a new right party as well as a new left party. Indeed, we find suggestive evidence from the most recent parliamentary elections in western European countries are consistent with some of the patterns we find in the Norwegian case: new right parties do better in elections with a high level of turnout, while new left parties do worse.


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« Reply #11844 on: Feb 11, 2014, 07:22 AM »


British and Dutch authorities claim £5.3bn over Iceland banking crash

Claim against deposit insurance fund relates to money lost by savers who held accounts run by Icelandic bank Landsbanki

Jill Treanor and Simon Bowers   
The Guardian, Tuesday 11 February 2014   

British and Dutch authorities have filed a claim of up to £5.3bn against Iceland's deposit insurance fund over money that their savers lost when the country's banking system collapsed in 2008.

The Icelandic Depositors' and Investors' Guarantee Fund said the claim, lodged by the UK's Financial Services Compensation Scheme and the Dutch Central Bank, was filed last year at the district court of Reykjavik. The fund added that its coffers are incapable of meeting the compensation claims if their suit is successful.

The claim relates to money lost by British and Dutch savers who held Icesave accounts run by the Icelandic bank Landsbanki, which collapsed in late 2008. The savers were compensated by the British and Dutch governments, who have since been trying to recoup the money from Iceland.

While there is little hope of these latest claims bringing in meaningful sums, they are a further indication of just how sour relations with Iceland remain. The British and Dutch governments, supported by the EU, had attempted to force the Icelandic state to stand behind the nation's deposit guarantee scheme, taking a claim to the Efta court in Luxembourg. The ruling, however, went in Iceland's favour.

Earlier, Iceland's previous government had twice agreed a diplomatically negotiated Icesave settlement with the UK and the Netherlands only for the agreement to be defeated both times in referenda. One of the leaders of the "no" campaign, Sigmundur Davíd Gunnlaugsson, is now Iceland's prime minister. In office, he has continued to take an aggressive position on foreign creditors.

The Icelandic deposit guarantee fund, which operates under the acronym TIF, said it would struggle to guarantee the deposits of Icelandic savers if the suit was successful. "Should their claims be successful it is clear that the TIF will have difficulties in fulfilling its primary obligation of guaranteeing deposits in Iceland in the future. It should be noted that both the DNB and FSCS disbursed funds to depositors in their countries on their own initiative and without a request or consent of the TIF," said TIF.

During some of the toughest days of the banking crisis, Alistair Darling used anti-terrorism powers to freeze the UK assets of Landsbanki in an attempt to protect the £4.5bn deposited in its online savings account, Icesave. There had been hopes that money would be recovered from the Icelandic state in the event that there were insufficient funds in the country's banking deposit scheme and the estate of the collapsed bank.

The deposit scheme was set up in accordance with European rules to cover bank deposits but failed to pay out anything when Landsbanki failed. The legal action by the FSCS and its rival in the Netherlands is the latest twist in this case. The FSCS has paid out £4.5bn to savers of the bank which had attracted "hot" savings money into the run up to the crisis.

The FSCS - funded by banks and building societies and other deposit taking institutions - recovered £2.4bn from the estate of Landsbanki five years after its collapse. On 1 September last year the UK's banks

made a payment of £363m - the first of three installments - to try to cover the gap. Excluding interest and costs, the UK and Dutch authorities are seeking ISK556bn (£2.95bn), with the UK demanding ISK452.1bn and the Dutch ISK103.6bn.


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« Reply #11845 on: Feb 11, 2014, 07:23 AM »


Sluggish French growth figures pile more pressure on François Hollande

Bank of France forecasts economy will grow 0.2% in January-March compared with the final quarter of 2013

Reuters
The Guardian, Monday 10 February 2014 21.14 GMT   

France will eke out meagre economic growth in the first three months of 2014, a spokesman for the central bank said on Monday, as the eurozone's second-biggest economy struggles to avoid falling further behind the pack.

Data on Monday indicated that French industrial production dropped 0.3% in December by comparison with November, falling short of expectations, although the figure for the fourth quarter as a whole was positive.

The weakness of France's recovery is adding to pressure on President François Hollande to deliver faster growth. The deeply unpopular Socialist leader has embarked on a shift to more business-friendly policies to bring down near-record unemployment.

In its first estimate of first-quarter GDP, the Bank of France forecast that the economy would grow 0.2% in January-March compared with the final quarter of 2013. That would mark a slowdown from October to December, when the central bank has estimated the €2tn (£1.7tn) economy expanded 0.5%. The UK economy grew 0.7% over the same period.

By contrast, Germany is preparing to slightly raise its official 2014 growth forecast to 1.75% as exports and domestic demand pick up. France's official statistics agency, INSEE, will publish fourth-quarter GDP data on Friday.

"Surveys released in January confirmed that November/December might have been only a temporary soft patch and that 2014 should start on a better foundation," said Fabrice Montagne, an economist at Barclays. He forecast growth would edge up from 0.2% in the fourth quarter to 0.3% in the current three months.


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« Reply #11846 on: Feb 11, 2014, 07:26 AM »


Switzerland faces 'difficult talks' with EU after immigration referendum

Surprise vote in favour of quotas for migrants from EU delights far-right but threatens open access to Europe's single market

Ian Traynor in Brussels
theguardian.com, Monday 10 February 2014 19.19 GMT   

Switzerland's key neighbours have warned that the country's close relationship with the European Union hinged on how it coped with the decision to scrap free movement for EU citizens.

Berlin and Paris voiced dismay over Sunday's Swiss referendum, which decided by a thin majority to introduce quotas for migrants from the EU, scrapping a longstanding agreement with Brussels guaranteeing freedom of movement.

The verdict shocked the European and Swiss elites as it overturned the key pact governing links between the EU and Switzerland, meaning a package of accords partly integrating the country in the EU without being a member could unravel.

A spokesman for the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said the vote's surprise outcome created "substantial problems". France's foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said the EU would need to review its relations with Switzerland because of the vote to curb EU citizens' rights.

As anti-immigration campaigners across Europe took delight in the Swiss backlash against newcomers, it was clear that the government in Berne faces a dilemma. The fallout from the vote affects a range of agreements with Brussels that allow the Swiss open access to Europe's single market on everything from selling cheese to competing for public tenders to civil aviation, transport and research.

The strongest warning to the Swiss came from Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany's foreign minister. "Cherry-picking with the EU is not a sustainable strategy. The Swiss have damaged themselves with this result. The fair co-operation we have had in the past with Switzerland also includes observing the central fundamental decisions taken by the EU," he said.

Freedom of movement is one of the four keystones of the single market. Switzerland's access to the market – the EU takes 60% of Swiss exports – is based on seven bilateral agreements from 1999, including the free movement pact. The package of seven agreements are interlinked, including guillotine clauses, which means that if one agreement is ditched, the whole package collapses.

For Brussels, said a European commission spokeswoman, free movement is a "sacred liberty. The ball is in the Swiss court. They have to decide what consequences to draw."

Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said there would need to be "difficult talks" with the Swiss.

Markus Spillmann, editor of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung in Zurich, said:"The relationship between Switzerland and the EU is now completely open. There will certainly be no good for the economy and for prosperity in this country," he wrote. "Inward-looking Switzerland has won. That's not good for a small, open, resources-poor country."

Sunday's referendum, which passed by 50.3% of votes, was mounted by the populist conservative anti-immigration campaigners of the Swiss People's party. Mainstream politicians, the business community and most urban voters all opposed the immigration caps and were defeated.

The EU and Switzerland are supposed to open negotiations on Wednesday on a new updated framework agreement regulating relations, which have been fraught in recent years because of disputes over banking secrecy and taxation.

The referendum result obliges the Swiss government to cap immigration, but it does not stipulate how and Berne has three years to turn the voters' verdict into law, giving it time to negotiate with Brussels and other EU capitals.

"The referendum did not specify how these measures will be implemented. It only calls for upper bounds on immigration in order to fulfil economic needs," said Reto Föllmi, professor of international economics at the University of St Gallen. "If there is any chance of getting the EU to agree to this, Switzerland must make huge concessions in the other fields of the bilateral negotiations."

But it is difficult to see Brussels diluting freedom of movement to satisfy the Swiss while also allowing Berne preferential access to the single market.

Credit Suisse warned of a negative impact on Swiss growth prospects, foreign investment and job losses, adding that there would be problems finding the right staff for highly qualified jobs.

There are several hundred thousand EU nationals living and working in Switzerland, mainly from Italy, Germany, Portugal and France, while some 450,000 Swiss also live and work in EU countries.

One hundred days before elections to the European parliament, in which immigration will be a central issue, the populist right hailed the Swiss verdict as a template for the rest of the EU.

Geert Wilders, the rightwing Dutch populist, called the Swiss result "fantastic'' and called on the Netherlands to follow suit.

Marine Le Pen, leader of France's National Front, said the same about France. "This Swiss victory will reinforce the will of the French people to stop mass immigration," she said.

In Germany, where Euroscepticism is much weaker, the new anti-single currency party, Alternative for Germany, demanded a referendum on immigration.

And in Austria, Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of the far-right Freedom party, which is currently nudging the top of the opinion polls, called for the same.

If mainstream leaders across Europe are alarmed at the implications of the Swiss vote, analysts said, it is also because they know similar results could be expected in several countries across the EU if single-issue plebiscites were held.

Analysis

Swiss voters have asked a big question of their country's place in Europe. They want fewer Europeans coming to live and work in their country. But the timing and the verdict of Sunday's plebiscite mean that for once Switzerland's direct democracy will echo well beyond its Alpine peaks and valleys.

It will be heard particularly clearly in Britain where David Cameron has been proposing very similar measures to those supported by the Swiss – a cap on migration within the European Union and a dilution of one of the EU's basic liberties, the free movement of labour.

Nowhere will the ensuing wrangle between Brussels and Berne be followed more closely than in London, because of the implications for Cameron's EU referendum and new-deal-for-the-UK campaign.

On the EU side, in trying to resolve the Swiss conundrum an uppermost consideration will be to avoid any concessions on freedom of movement that would encourage British chutzpah in seeking to bend the EU to its will.

No cherrypicking, can't have your cake and eat it, got to take the rough with the smooth. Such were the mantras from Brussels and Berlin on Monday following the Swiss shock. The message might as well be directed at Britain's Conservatives as at the Swiss.

The two cases are very different. Britain is a (relatively) big country in Europe. Switzerland is small, if highly successful and wealthy. Switzerland is not in the EU. Britain is. But the same freedom of movement rules apply to both. Berne will now need to renegotiate the terms of its integration with the EU, just as Cameron insists he wants to renegotiate the terms of Britain's EU membership in order to put a winnable proposition to a Swiss-style plebiscite in 2017 if he is re-elected next year.

Freedom of movement goes to the heart of the single market, the bit that Britain likes most about the EU. It is founded on four freedoms – of goods, services, capital, and labour. Britain has always been the single market's foremost champion, Margaret Thatcher to the fore. It remains so. But it wants to dilute one of its central premises.

There is little evidence to suggest EU migration to Britain over the past decade has done anything but mildly boost economic performance and help the fiscal balance. Swiss economic analysis on Monday reached the same conclusion about the impact of the vote – that it would depress growth, hurt outside investment, damage exports.

The main message from Brussels to the Swiss was that reversing freedom of movement inevitably entails rewriting the entire complex gamut of the confederation's legal relationship with the EU, not to Switzerland's advantage.

The precedent is not a happy one for a Conservative party committed to free trade and the single market. But the popular Swiss verdict also feeds into the European zeitgeist, of hostility to foreigners, of scapegoating, of fears of jobs being lost to outsiders (in a country with the lowest jobless rate in Europe), of social services being abused by non-natives.

The Swiss experience, over the next couple of years, may turn out to be salutary and chastening for a Britain and a Cameron government mulling its European options.

Ian Traynor, Europe editor


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« Reply #11847 on: Feb 11, 2014, 07:27 AM »


Spanish judge seeks Tibet genocide charges for former Chinese leaders

Judge cites universal jurisdiction to issue orders for detention of former president Jiang Zemin and ex-premier Li Peng

Reuters in Madrid
theguardian.com, Monday 10 February 2014 18.53 GMT   

A Spanish judge is seeking the arrest of China's former president and premier over eight-year-old accusations of genocide in Tibet.

High court judge Ismael Moreno asked Interpol to issue orders for the detention of former Chinese president Jiang Zemin, ex-premier Li Peng and three other officials for questioning on charges brought by Tibetan rights groups in Spain.

However, the case may not progress as Spain's ruling People's party is pushing rules to limit judges' ability to pursue cases under universal jurisdiction – the principle that crimes against humanity can be prosecuted across borders.

This is the same concept used by former judge Baltasar Garzón to bring about the arrest of Chile's ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet in London in 1998. Pinochet was eventually allowed to return to Chile for health reasons.

"Jiang exercised supervisory authority over the people who directly committed abuses, which makes him responsible for acts of torture and other major abuses of human rights perpetrated by his subordinates against the people of Tibet," Moreno wrote in the order, citing lawyers for the Tibetan plaintiffs.

Moreno asked Interpol to issue the arrest order seeking Jiang's detention for genocide, torture and crimes against humanity. He issued similar orders for Li and other Chinese officials in the 1980s and 1990s.

Interpol, the international police organisation, issues "red notices" for wanted persons, based on judicial orders from courts in its 190 member countries. Police in member countries can detain wanted persons on their soil based on the alerts.

China's foreign ministry called on Spain to prevent further lawsuits that seek to investigate alleged rights abuses in Tibet.


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« Reply #11848 on: Feb 11, 2014, 07:29 AM »


Anglo Irish Bank trial: executives lied before bailout, Sean Quinn tells court

Bankrupt businessman says bosses told him bank was in 'rude health' soon before it was bailed out by taxpayers

Henry McDonald in Dublin
The Guardian, Monday 10 February 2014 16.57 GMT   

A bankrupt ex-billionaire whose fortune was wiped out by the near-collapse of Anglo Irish Bank has told a Dublin court that executives at the institution assured him the bank was in "rude health" just before it was bailed out by taxpayers.

The one-time wealthiest man in the Irish Republic, Sean Quinn, said the bank's bosses asked him to halt legal action against them in September 2008 and instead they should "come to a gentlemen's agreement where we will all live happily ever after". Quinn added that he had been a fool for getting involved in buying shares in the bank.

The businessman was giving evidence on Monday at the trial of three Anglo Irish executives – Sean FitzPatrick, Pat Whelan and William McAteer. The trio have pleaded not guilty to charges that they unlawfully provided finance to 16 individuals including Quinn. Their trial is set to be the longest in Irish legal history and one of the biggest financial crime cases in Europe.

In his testimony inside Dublin's central criminal court, Quinn told the jury that Anglo Irish executives arranged for a meeting with him in September 2008 in order to persuade him to halt legal action against the bank. Quinn had already been forced to sell a proportion of his shares in Anglo Irish during the summer – a situation the tycoon said he was "not very happy about".

Although he was assured at that meeting that the bank was still in "rude health", Anglo Irish was bailed out with billions of euros from the Irish taxpayer and nationalised by the state to prevent its complete collapse shortly afterwards.

Quinn, who told the court that he had employed more than 6,000 people, said he once regarded Anglo Irish Bank as a "marvellous institution" and even when its share price fell by 40% in September 2007 he still sought to buy more shares in it.

He then described how relations between himself and bank bosses deteriorated. He said they had refused to let him hold a full meeting with the bank's board at the end of March 2008 when the share price was collapsing and to discuss his financial situation.

The lawyer for Pat Whelan, Brendan Grehan, suggested in court that Quinn had been trying back in 2007 to intimidate the bank into loaning him millions more by referring to a hole in his businesses' accounts.

Referring to a meeting with the former CEO of the bank, David Drumm, Grehan said: "You were scaring him into giving you more money."

Quinn denied the charge and countered by saying that Drumm and Anglo Irish agreed to loan him €500m to buy more shares in the bank. He had originally asked for €400m, Quinn told the court.

Rejecting suggestions he had Anglo Irish "over a barrel", Quinn said: "He [David Drumm] had him over a huge barrel. It was taking €400m to sort out the problem and fill the hole."

Quinn said of his shares in Anglo Irish: "After throwing billions of pounds to support and then going and giving them away, it just didn't make any sense. I was furious and I'm still furious. Anglo had lent all of this money for the purchase of these positions. We lost €3.2bn through the Anglo fiasco. I was a fool."

Grehan then said to Quinn: "I am not here to see you beat yourself up." Quinn replied: "I've got a right beating these last few years."

The case continues.


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« Reply #11849 on: Feb 11, 2014, 07:33 AM »


Anger in Bosnia, but this time the people can read their leaders' ethnic lies

Protesters were carrying three flags side by side – Bosnian, Serb and Croat, brought together by a radical demand for justice

Slavoj Žižek   
The Guardian, Monday 10 February 2014 16.07 GMT          

Last week, cities were burning in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It all began in Tuzla, a city with a Muslim majority. The protests then spread to the capital, Sarajevo, and Zenica, but also Mostar, home to a large segment of the Croat population, and Banja Luka, capital of the Serb part of Bosnia. Thousands of enraged protesters occupied and set fire to government buildings. Although the situation then calmed down, an atmosphere of high tension still hangs in the air.

The events gave rise to conspiracy theories (for example, that the Serb government had organised the protests to topple the Bosnian leadership), but one should safely ignore them since it is clear that, whatever lurks behind, the protesters' despair is authentic. One is tempted to paraphrase Mao Zedong's famous phrase here: there is chaos in Bosnia, the situation is excellent!

Why? Because the protesters' demands were as simple as they can be – jobs, a chance of decent life, an end to corruption – but they mobilised people in Bosnia, a country which, in the last decades, has become synonymous with ferocious ethnic cleansing.

Before now, the only mass protests in Bosnia and other post-Yugoslav states were about ethnic or religious passions. In the middle of 2013, two public protests were organised in Croatia, a country in deep economic crisis, with high unemployment and a deep sense of despair: trade unions tried to organise a rally in support of workers' rights, while rightwing nationalists started a protest movement against the use of cyrillic letters on public buildings in cities with a Serb minority. The first initiative brought a couple of hundred people to a square in Zagreb; the second mobilised hundreds of thousands, as had an earlier fundamentalist movement against gay marriages.

Croatia is far from being an exception: from the Balkans to Scandinavia, from the US to Israel, from central Africa to India, a new Dark Age is looming, with ethnic and religious passions exploding and Enlightenment values receding. These passions were lurking in the background all the time, but what is new is the outright shamelessness of their display.

So what are we to do? Mainstream liberals are telling us that when basic democratic values are under threat by ethnic or religious fundamentalists, we must all unite behind the liberal-democratic agenda of cultural tolerance, save what can be saved and put aside dreams of a more radical social transformation. Our task, we are told, is clear: we must choose between liberal freedom and fundamentalist oppression.

However, when we are triumphantly asked a (purely rhetorical) question such as "Do you want women to be excluded from public life?" or "Do you want every critic of religion to be punished by death?", what should make us suspicious is the very self-evidence of the answer. The problem is that such a simplistic liberal universalism long ago lost its innocence. The conflict between liberal permissiveness and fundamentalism is ultimately a false conflict – a vicious cycle of the two poles generating and presupposing each other.

What Max Horkheimer said about fascism and capitalism back in the 1930s (that those who do not want to talk critically about capitalism should also keep quiet about fascism) should be applied to today's fundamentalism: those who do not want to talk critically about liberal democracy should also keep quiet about religious fundamentalism.

Reacting to the characterisation of Marxism as "the Islam of the 20th century", Jean-Pierre Taguieff wrote that Islam was turning out to be "the Marxism of the 21st century" prolonging, after the decline of Communism, its violent anti-capitalism.

However, the recent vicissitudes of Muslim fundamentalism can be said to confirm Walter Benjamin's old insight that "every rise of fascism bears witness to a failed revolution". The rise of fascism is, in other words, both the left's failure, and simultaneously proof that there was a revolutionary potential, a dissatisfaction, which the left was not able to mobilise. And does the same not hold for today's so-called "Islamo-fascism"? Is the rise of radical Islamism not exactly correlative to the disappearance of the secular left in Muslim countries?

When Afghanistan is portrayed as the utmost Islamic fundamentalist country, who still remembers that 40 years ago it was a country with strong secular tradition, including a powerful Communist party which took power there independently of the Soviet Union?

It is against this background that one should understand the latest events in Bosnia. In one of the photos from the protests, we see the demonstrators waving three flags side by side: Bosnian, Serb, Croat, expressing the will to ignore ethnic differences. In short, we are dealing with a rebellion against nationalist elites: the people of Bosnia have finally understood who their true enemy is: not other ethnic groups, but their own leaders who pretend to protect them from others. It is as if the old and much-abused Titoist motto of the "brotherhood and unity" of Yugoslav nations acquired new actuality.

One of the protesters' targets was the EU administration which oversees the Bosnian state, enforcing peace between the three nations and providing significant financial help to enable the state to function. This may seem surprising, since the goals of the protesters are nominally the same as the goals of Brussels: prosperity and the end of both ethnic tensions and corruption. However, the way the EU effectively governs Bosnia entrenches partitions: it deals with nationalist elites as their privileged partners, mediating within them.

What the Bosnian outburst confirms is that one cannot genuinely overcome ethnic passions by imposing a liberal agenda: what brought the protesters together is a radical demand for justice. The next and most difficult step would have been to organise the protests into a new social movement that ignores ethnic divisions, and to organise further protests – can one imagine a scene of enraged Bosnians and Serbs demonstrating together in Sarajevo?

Even if the protests gradually lose their power, they will remain a brief spark of hope, something like the enemy soldiers fraternising across the trenches in the first world war. Authentic emancipatory events always involve such ignoring of particular identities.

And the same holds for the recent visit of the two Pussy Riot members to New York: in a big gala show, they were introduced by Madonna in the presence of Bob Geldof, Richard Gere, etc: the usual human rights gang. What they should have done there was to express their solidarity with Edward Snowden, to assert that Pussy Riot and Snowden are part of the same global movement. Without such gestures which bring together what, in our ordinary ideological experience, appears incompatible (Muslims, Serbs and Croats in Bosnia; Turkish secularists and anti-capitalist Muslims in Turkey, etc), protest movements will be always manipulated by one superpower in its struggle against another.


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