Twitter Still Blocked in Turkey Despite Court Order
by Naharnet Newsdesk
03 April 2014, 13:02
Turkey's government faced growing pressure Thursday to quickly implement a top court order to unblock Twitter, which it had banned after corruption claims went viral on the social media site.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered the block on March 20 in the lead-up to last Sunday's key local elections, in which his party won sweeping wins despite the damaging online leaks.
On Wednesday Turkey's Constitutional Court ruled that the Twitter ban breached free speech, and ordered the communications ministry and telecoms authority to reverse it "with immediate effect".
The U.S.-based micro-blogging service reacted quickly to the ruling, tweeting: "We welcome this Constitutional Court ruling and hope to have Twitter access restored in Turkey soon."
But although the ruling by the country's highest court was published Thursday morning in Turkey's Official Gazette, by mid-morning the service still remained unavailable in Turkey.
Sezgin Tanrikulu, a lawmaker for the secular main opposition Republican People's Party, said he would lodge a complaint unless the government abides by the court ruling, warning that defying it "would mean an abuse of power".
Tanrikulu -- who was among the group that had lodged the initial challenge with the Constitutional Court -- warned that the ruling is "binding for everyone, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who does not recognise the law".
President Abdullah Gul, a regular Twitter user, also said the bans on the micro-blogging service as well as on video-sharing service YouTube should be reversed.
"The bans on Twitter and YouTube now need to be lifted. I've expressed this to the minister and to the authorities," Gul was quoted as saying by Hurriyet newspaper on Thursday, while on a visit to Kuwait.
- 'We will evaluate verdict' -
A U.S. State Department spokeswoman had told a regular Washington media briefing: "If there has been a court decision, we think it needs to be implemented quickly, as quickly as possible".
EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule tweeted: "Good news for freedom of expression in Turkey: Constitutional Court orders lifting of Twitter ban. Looking forward to swift enforcement!"
But a lawmaker from Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) suggested Thursday that the court ruling may not be implemented immediately.
"It is only about individual complaints to the Constitutional Court," Mustafa Sentop told CNN-Turk television, suggesting that the ban may only be lifted for the three individuals who had launched the court complaint.
"We will evaluate the verdict."
Telecoms regulator TIB declined to comment when contacted by AFP.
Since December, Twitter had been used to anonymously release a spate of audio recordings that purported to expose corruption involving Erdogan's relatives and allies.
The ban has been widely circumvented by Twitter users, who have instead sent tweets via text message or by adjusting their Internet settings.
Polling has shown that the Twitter and YouTube bans, despite widespread condemnation from NATO allies and human rights groups, had little effect on Erdogan loyalists at Sunday's elections.
Research center Ipsos found that only 3.6 percent of AKP supporters said they had been affected by the Internet blocks, and three quarters said the corruption claims had "no effect".
Millions of Turks approve of Erdogan, despite criticism of a growing authoritarianism, because of the strong economic growth seen during his 11-year rule, analysts say.
"The Turkish economy is betting on Erdogan as an anchor of stability, and so are the people," said Michael Meier of German think-tank the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation.
"The corruption allegations are there, but at times of economic growth voters are pragmatic. That's because there's still enough left of the cake to go around."
Meier added that "Erdogan has been able to touch the Turkish soul and pride ... To many he embodies the dream of rising from a poor Istanbul neighborhood to head of government."
Turkey's Top Court Rules Twitter Ban Violates Rights
by Naharnet Newsdesk
02 April 2014, 18:19
Turkey's top court ruled Wednesday the government violated people's rights by banning Twitter, ordering authorities to unblock the site used to spread corruption allegations against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The Constitutional Court unanimously ruled that the ban was a breach of free speech safeguarded by the constitution, sending a statement both to the country's telecommunications authority and the communications ministry to "do what's necessary", Turkish television reported.
The government blocked Twitter on March 20 after the social media site was used to spread audio recordings that allegedly implicated Erdogan and his inner circle in a corruption scandal.
Shutting down the site ahead of crucial March 30 local elections sparked condemnation at home and abroad and earned Turkey a strong rebuke from rights groups and its Western allies.
But the ban has been widely circumvented by Twitter users, who have kept tweeting via text message or by adjusting their Internet settings.
The court case was brought by academics Yaman Akdeniz of Bilgi University in Istanbul and Kerem Altiparmak of Ankara University, as well as opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) lawmaker Sezgin Tanrikulu.
They took to Twitter to welcome the court's ruling.
Tanrikulu called the decision "a turning point of the public opposition".
"If (we) want, we can succeed," he tweeted.
Akdeniz, a professor of cyberlaw, used Twitter to attach a copy of the court verdict, which found the ban "violated Article 26 of the Constitution safeguarding freedom of expression".
The U.S. ambassador to Turkey, Francis Ricciardone, also welcomed the decision via the embassy's Twitter account.
The ruling follows another by an Ankara administrative court last month that also found the Twitter ban restricted freedom of expression, after the Turkish Bar Association launched a legal challenge.
The government appealed that verdict, and the ban remained in place.
Experts say the latest verdict could set a precedent for future cases and, if respected, could deter the government from imposing further blanket bans on social media, frequently used by Turkey's youth amid claims of government pressure on the mainstream media.
Erdogan's government said Twitter, which hired a lawyer in Turkey to challenge the ban, had failed to abide by hundreds of court orders to remove content deemed illegal.
The government also shut down YouTube after the popular video-sharing network leaked a high-level security meeting last month where officials discussed war plans against neighboring Syria.
Erdogan's Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) won Sunday's local polls, a sweeping victory that came despite the corruption claims and Internet clampdowns.
After 11 years in power, Turkey's strongman premier is seen by critics as increasingly authoritarian for introducing bans on the Internet and tightening his grip on the judiciary.
Erdogan labelled Twitter "menace" for helping to organize mass street protests against his government last year.
The ban has sparked concerns about basic freedoms and rights in a country that has jailed more reporters than any other country, including serial offenders Iran, China and Eritrea.
Opposition leader warned after Erdogan's party won the local polls that more pressure were on the horizon.
"You'll all see pressure on the media, civil society, political parties... will increase," said Kemal Kilicdaroglu of the secular Republican People's Party.
Pakistan to Tighten Bborder for Afghan Elections
by Naharnet Newsdesk
03 April 2014, 13:07
Pakistan will increase security along its border with Afghanistan, the foreign ministry announced Thursday, as its neighbor heads into presidential elections this weekend that Taliban militants have vowed to disrupt.
Deadly violence has surged in Afghanistan in the run-up to the election, the first round of which begins Saturday. Afghan officials have hinted at Pakistani involvement in recent attacks, a suggestion vehemently denied by Islamabad.
"Pakistan will beef up security along the border during the elections," Tasnim Aslam, spokeswoman of Pakistan's foreign ministry, told reporters Thursday.
"Beefing up security means there will be more vigilance. At this stage I can't say what measures would be taken, but we would like to make sure that there are no unauthorized crossings."
The vote will be Afghanistan's first-ever democratic transfer of power, as Hamid Karzai steps down after serving the maximum two terms in office.
It comes after a U.S.-led military campaign which has radically changed the country, but failed to defeat the Taliban.
Militant attacks and electoral fraud are the main threats to the vote. A repeat of the violence and massive cheating that marred Karzai's re-election in 2009 would undermine claims that a decade of coalition fighting and billions of dollars of aid have helped establish a functioning state.
Karzai has sustained complex relations with Islamabad, often accusing it of failing to play a role in bringing peace in Afghanistan.
Pakistan is seen as crucial to securing peace in the country as it was a key backer of the hardline 1996-2001 Taliban regime in Kabul, and is believed still to shelter some of the movement's leaders.
The first round of the election comes as the final 53,000 NATO combat troops head home this year, leaving Afghan forces to fight the fierce insurgency that erupted after the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001.
Aslam said Pakistan was looking forward to a stronger Afghanistan after the elections.
"We congratulate the people and government of Afghanistan on this milestone," she said.
"This is an historic moment for the people of Afghanistan in their democratic journey. We hope the Afghan nation will emerge stronger and more unified as a result of the forthcoming elections."
She said she hoped Afghans would be able to overcome security challenges to vote.
"We also hope that despite the threats by extremists groups, voters will cast their votes in record numbers," she said.
War and Unrest Provide for a Scarred Campaign Trail in Afghanistan
By MATTHEW ROSENBERG and AZAM AHMED
APRIL 2, 2014
Before Saturday’s presidential election, Afghan candidates campaigned under tight security amid worries of violence and voter fraud.
KABUL, Afghanistan — There is much about Afghanistan’s presidential campaigns that Americans would probably find familiar. Chartered jets carry candidates to corners of the country where they would ordinarily never set foot, political operatives try to spin skeptical reporters, and rich men hand over bundles of cash to curry favor with their next potential president.
But this is Afghanistan, where democracy must be conducted in wartime. Forget the discreet handguns favored by a typical Secret Service detail — the guards accompanying Afghan presidential candidates step onto planes with AK-47s as their personal items, and sometimes rocket-propelled grenades make it as carry-on baggage.
All that is perhaps fitting for a campaign that began with election officials asking presidential hopefuls to please leave their gunmen at home when they registered their candidacies. Given the Taliban’s threats to disrupt the election, however, security concerns have been no joke. Though the Taliban managed to strike a voter registration center and the election commission’s headquarters before the official campaign period ended Wednesday, the campaigns themselves have emerged largely unscathed.
Still, there are parts of Afghanistan, some within an hour or two of Kabul, where the Taliban are firmly in charge. No campaigns ventured to those rural districts, where even Afghan soldiers rarely leave their bases, and in many areas there will most likely be no voting come Saturday.
Kabul, meanwhile, has been subjected to repeated Taliban attacks, and Afghan officials fear there are more to come before Saturday.
On Wednesday, cracked streets normally snarled with traffic and broken sidewalks often choked by pedestrians were wide open. Shops were closed, markets empty. Many of Kabul’s residents apparently decided it was a good time to stay home.
Those who did venture out had to contend with myriad checkpoints manned by police officers (easy), soldiers (a bit tougher) and Afghan intelligence operatives (lots of questions).
“They stop you every few hundred meters; all these armed uniformed men on the streets and checkpoints give you the creeps,” said Mohammed Taqi, 32, who was walking with his wife and their young daughter. “Everyone wants to get home as soon as possible. Things do not look good.”
But beyond Kabul, in cities that have seen far less Taliban violence this election season, campaign rallies have lured tens of thousands to stadiums, contrasting sharply with the last presidential election in 2009, when smaller sites were favored because of security concerns.
This year, the stadium rallies have often proved to be the best entertainment on offer, breaking up the monotony in places where there are no movie theaters, few televisions and precious few parks.
That this is the first election in Afghan history with no obvious front-runner has helped further draw out the curious. With President Hamid Karzai, the sole elected leader Afghanistan has ever known, at the end of his second and final term, Afghans are getting their first taste of a wide-open campaign.
Barring a last-minute catastrophe, Afghans will vote on Saturday in the first election in the nation’s modern history with the potential to bring a peaceful change of leadership.
The country is also confronting serious issues, and many voters appeared eager to hear what the candidates planned to do to address the situation. American-led combat forces are leaving at the end of the year, taking home their advanced weaponry and high-spending ways and raising the prospect of an economic calamity and Taliban advances.
A paucity of credible polling makes it anyone’s guess which of the eight candidates will win. But in a country where most people are conservative and religious, each of the three presumed front-runners would probably be more at home at an embassy cocktail party than a village shura meeting.
Ashraf Ghani is a reedy technocrat with a doctoral degree from Columbia who has served as finance minister and as a senior adviser to Mr. Karzai. He is this election’s policy wonk, peppering his conversation with words like tranches and sequencing.
But, as in any country, displaying a common touch is essential, and Mr. Ghani, who is in his mid-60s, has showed up at rallies clad like a Pashtun chief in a heavy turban and thick robes that dwarf his slight frame.
His main rival for Pashtun hearts and minds is Zalmay Rassoul, who is in his early 70s, a nephrologist by training and most recently the foreign minister. Mr. Rassoul’s campaign staff members often describe him as understated, and he has shown some discomfort speaking to crowds at nearly every rally, from the moment he begins reading his written speech. Still, two of the candidates who bowed out of the race, including Mr. Karzai’s older brother Qayum, endorsed Mr. Rassoul’s campaign and offered their support.
Then there is Abdullah Abdullah, 53, whose base of support is mostly among ethnic Tajiks in northern Afghanistan. He is the most natural politician in the race, appearing at ease in front of crowds and always stylishly dressed in slim-cut coats and blazers.
Should a photographer appear, Mr. Abdullah is ready with whatever pose fits the moment — thoughtful, dashing or determined. He is, after all, a man whose passport lists his occupation as “eminent personality.”
Northern Afghanistan, where security is somewhat better, is Mr. Abdullah’s sweet spot. Last week, his rally in the prosperous city of Mazar-i-Sharif appeared to at least be a contender for the biggest of the campaign, as he had predicted it would be. Many in the crowd were enthusiastic, of course. But there were still holdouts. When one speaker chastised the crowd for not enthusiastically chanting slogans, a man standing near the stage muttered, “That’s because you didn’t feed us.”
Hospitality counts with Afghans, and to be fed lunch is as close to a natural right as anything here.
Despite consistently large and determined turnouts at rallies around the country, there were also instances of arm-twisting to pad the candidates’ numbers.
One case was evident at a rally for Mr. Rassoul in Kandahar, the largest city in the Pashtun heartland of southern Afghanistan.
Hajji Malak Kakko, an old farmer with a weathered face and little time to waste, said the police had lined up 18 buses in his outlying district and told people to climb aboard. He dutifully complied, but his fields needed tending, and he started getting antsy to leave the rally the moment he arrived.
“I hope no one will notice that I am escaping,” he said.
And at some rallies for Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah, talk among the crowd indicated that some had been paid to attend.
If there has been plenty of material in the Afghan campaign season for cynics to seize on, there has been at least as much to hearten optimists. Afghan and Western officials say they have put in place new measures like bar-coded ballots, trying to avoid a repeat of the fraud-filled vote in 2009. Voter registration and interest were undeniably high.
And women have played a larger role in the campaign than ever before. At rally after rally, thousands of people have turned out to hear Habiba Sarobi, a woman and the former governor of Bamian Province who is one of Mr. Rassoul’s two running mates.
“This is our time,” said Habiba Sultan, 22, a student who was attending a rally for the Rassoul campaign in the northern city of Pul-e-Khumri. “We are changing the mind-set of Afghanistan.”
In Bullet-Ridden Afghan Districts, Free Vote Seems an Empty Promise
By AZAM AHMED
APRIL 2, 2014
CHARKH, Afghanistan — One of the few polling centers in this part of Logar Province is the government’s district headquarters, a building so devastated by rocket attacks and Taliban gunfire that it looks more like a bomb shelter than an administrative office.
As the body count for security forces has risen over the past few days in this embattled district, a stretch of dusty farmland surrounded by mountains, it has become clear that no one here is going to vote on Saturday, either for president or for provincial council delegates.
So far, that has not stopped security officials from proclaiming the district open for voting: It is not among the roughly 10 percent of 7,500 total national sites shut down as too dangerous to protect. The Charkh district center has been pumped full of security forces to keep the vote a nominal possibility, but residents know that within a day or two after the elections, the guards will be gone and the Taliban will remain.
“The government has no meaning here,” said Khalilullah Kamal, the district governor, who was shot two times in the stomach a few months back while speaking in a mosque. “If there is no expectation that we will arrest people who break the law, then how do we expect the people to come and vote?”
Barring a last-minute catastrophe, Afghans will vote on Saturday in the first election in the nation’s modern history with the potential to bring a peaceful change of leadership.
Security is the cornerstone of the Afghan government’s promise to deliver a free and fair election, and this time around the entire operation rests on the country’s security forces. They are facing a Taliban campaign of violent disruption that has repeatedly struck at Western and government targets, including on Wednesday, when a suicide bomber killed six police officers at the gate of the Interior Ministry in Kabul, the capital.
Despite that, many early reports have been favorable. Afghan and Western officials alike believe that more people will vote on Saturday than in the Western-secured 2009 elections. The violence in Kabul still grabs headlines, but officials say that elsewhere, attacks are down since the last election. And generally, Afghans in Kabul and other major population centers have been enthusiastically engaged in the campaign.
But the reality in some rural and contested parts of Afghanistan is far different. In Charkh and similar districts in pockets of the south and east, the Taliban’s threat is more real than the government’s promise. Their allotted ballots will not add to any Kabul administration’s credibility, and worse, there is real fear that the government’s presence will be completely driven out after Western troops are gone.
For now, Afghan forces are struggling to keep these districts on the electoral map.
Officials say that security in major population centers has improved to the point that some districts where no real voting was possible in 2009, particularly around the southern city of Kandahar, are more likely to count this time. The Afghan Army has deployed an extra 60,000 soldiers across the country in recent weeks, focusing heavily on the areas that sit on the bubble of insecure and just secure enough.
That technically includes Charkh. But the truth is that the insurgents have held sway here for years, including when American forces were present.
Then, the dirt road leading into the district was riddled with explosives, the villages armed with machine guns, the residents determined to expel foreigners from their midst. When Afghan forces took over, the assumption was that the district would quickly fall to the Taliban. But the security forces proved resilient, willing to go after the insurgents or at least hold their ground.
Still, before a recent surge of operations that began two weeks before the election, the road was deadly, laced with bombs. Large mud compounds flank the street, offering ample cover for Taliban fighters. When soldiers venture into the communities to find the shooters, they find women and unarmed farmers instead.
The administrative building, a pink three-story structure constructed by the Americans in 2006, sits at the center of the main road’s path through the district — itself a link in a major thoroughfare of insurgent traffic across a broader region of the country’s east. Every surface within the battered maze of Hesco barriers and concrete walls used to secure the building has been gouged by repeated fire, leaving the impression that the entire compound is suffering a lethal bout of chickenpox.
Before Saturday’s presidential election, Afghan candidates campaigned under tight security amid worries of violence and voter fraud.
The Afghan soldiers and police officers here try not to walk around too much, but that is little protection — just last week, two men were killed when a grenade was fired into the fortified government building. Another two were killed the next day while on an increasingly rare operation outside the district center.
The polling site is in the lobby on the main floor, and metal containers used for storage have been riddled by sniper shots. The third floor, once an elegant room with a view of Logar’s snow-capped mountains, is now a firing position stacked with sandbags and covered in bullet holes.
“It was like a river of rockets,” said a soldier deployed to the district for the elections, describing an attack on the base one recent night. “You couldn’t even count them all.”
More than 550 security force members, soldiers and police officers have been operating in Charkh over the last few weeks, trying to shore up security enough for civilians to get out and vote if they choose to. Along the main road, army Humvees appear every hundred meters, watching for insurgents trying to bury bombs. The forces have set up positions in mosques also designated as polling places, and are even constructing new outposts to gain a better vantage over the highway.
After the elections, however, their numbers here will dwindle to about 150, the majority from the army. Even the most optimistic security officials acknowledge that the road will again become impassable.
“When the operations slow down, the Taliban will resume control,” said Lt. Col. Gul Zaman, the battalion commander responsible for the operation in Charkh.
Residents say they feel besieged — both by the Taliban, who rule with an iron fist, and the government, which has shown a heavy hand in the last few weeks as it hassles drivers in an effort to ferret out suicide bombers.
“The villagers are fed up with the government and the Taliban,” said Mohammad Nafi, a teacher, as he was searched for the fifth time in an hour. “I don’t think a single person will come out and vote.”
His friend Mohammad Isa put it more bluntly, “We will be very, very happy to see the Afghan forces leave this area.”
Other villagers who are more enthusiastic about the government acknowledge that there is nothing it can do about Taliban control. Abdul Malik, a tribal elder in the district, said that no matter how much security the government provided, it meant nothing if officials could not govern.
“The Taliban has a district center,” Mr. Malik said, sitting in a circle of military commanders he had come to visit Wednesday morning. “We have a government district center, too, but nobody cares about it, and they definitely don’t want to be seen there. So they go to the Taliban district center instead.”
Iran’s Choice for U.N. Post Fuels Tension With U.S.
By SOMINI SENGUPTA and THOMAS ERDBRINK
APRIL 2, 2014
UNITED NATIONS — Six months after President Obama made a groundbreaking telephone call to his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, the administration has made clear that expectations of a complete thaw in relations between Iran and the United States are premature.
The latest reminder is the appointment of Hamid Aboutalebi, a veteran Iranian diplomat who is Tehran’s choice of envoy to the United Nations and who once played a still-mysterious role in the 1979 hostage crisis.
“We think this nomination would be extremely troubling,” a State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, told reporters on Wednesday. “We’re taking a close look at the case now, and we’ve raised our serious concerns about this possible nomination with the government of Iran.”
Mr. Aboutalebi’s visa has been pending for at least two months. For the last 35 years it has been customary for the United States to disallow anyone known to have been affiliated with the Iranian student movement that held Americans hostage for 444 days.
The visa holdup, first reported by Bloomberg News this week, is one of many efforts by Washington to put pressure on Iran, even as it negotiates with the government of Mr. Rouhani over its contentious nuclear program. The United States supported last week the renewal of a United Nations human rights monitor for Iran. It has pressed a separate United Nations committee to investigate reports that Iran is supplying weapons to militants in Gaza. Samantha Power, the American ambassador to the United Nations, said at a congressional hearing on Wednesday that the Iranian economy “is in the vise of sanctions,” which the Obama administration, she said, has no plans yet to lift.
“We share your skepticism,” she told a House Appropriations Committee hearing. “We share your lack of trust.”
Mr. Aboutalebi’s connections to the group responsible for the hostage-taking, known as the Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line, have been impossible to keep secret in the Internet age. His picture is part of an online photo gallery of members.
Mr. Aboutalebi said in an interview in early March that he was an occasional interpreter for the group but was otherwise uninvolved. “Once or twice I helped in translation in English or French,” he told the website Khabar Online.
A former leader of the hostage-taking group, Ibrahim Asgharzadeh, said Mr. Aboutalebi was not among the leaders of the group that took over the embassy — “the den,” he called it — nor among its stable of regular interpreters. Mr. Asgharzadeh has become a reformist politician since then and has served brief stints in jail for speaking out against Iran’s hard-liners.
“On the whole, I think the hard-liners are trying to hold up the progress of President Rouhani’s diplomatic team and make obstacles by making up the story that Mr. Aboutalebi was one of us hostage takers,” Mr. Asgharzadeh said by telephone from Mashhad, his hometown in Iran. “And I have heard Mr. Aboutalebi is a well-versed career diplomat, and I think he was honest when he said that he only was invited to do some translation assignments and nothing more.”
Mr. Aboutalebi, 56, studied at the Sorbonne and served as Iran’s ambassador to Australia, Belgium and Italy before joining the political office of Mr. Rouhani last October. He was part of his government’s delegation to the United Nations General Assembly meeting in 1994. The State Department is obliged to let even its most strident critics come to United Nations meetings — which explains the visits of Mr. Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — but visa rules for diplomats based in New York fall under different rules.
In a measure of the wide gulf that remains between Iran and the United States, an Iranian lawmaker, Mehdi Bazrpash, said on Wednesday that the visa delay represented the latest American insult against Iran.
“It is not fitting for our country that our chosen envoy to the United Nations is not accepted by America,” he said, according to the Fars news agency.
At the same time in Washington, Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, who has led congressional expressions of outrage this week over Mr. Aboutalebi’s appointment, introduced legislation that his office said was meant “to prevent known terrorists from obtaining visas to enter the United States as ambassadors to the United Nations.”
If Mr. Aboutalebi has sought to cast himself as a bit player in 1979, his prospective job here is among the most important for his government. Iran’s permanent mission to the world body, on the 34th floor of a high-rise on the east side of Manhattan, is the country’s only diplomatic outpost in the United States.
A former State Department official who specialized in the region said that even if Mr. Aboutalebi’s visa cleared, his conversations with Americans would necessarily be “toxic.” Mr. Aboutalebi’s nomination may also reflect Iran’s failure to grasp American sensitivities over 1979, the former official said, requesting anonymity because relations with Iran are politically delicate.
Thomas R. Pickering, a retired American ambassador to the United Nations now involved with the Iran Project, a group that seeks to improve relations between Iran and the United States, wondered if Mr. Aboutalebi’s appointment represented Tehran’s attempt to push the envelope. “Maybe they want to see how far the U.S. will go,” he said.
Gary G. Sick, a former State Department official, now at Columbia University, who was the principal White House aide for dealing with Iran during the hostage crisis, said the issue over Mr. Aboutalebi’s visa reflected the pressures facing the Obama administration in negotiating over Iran’s nuclear program. The Iranians contend the program is peaceful, an assertion that has never been trusted by the United States and its allies.
“It is in its interest to show that Iran is not getting a free pass,” he said, adding that the United States cannot be seen as letting up pressure on sanctions, human rights or visas before it secures a deal. “They’re doing a whole bunch of things to show we are not giving anything away to Iran.”
Survey Shows Indonesia Opposition to Top Legislative Polls
by Naharnet Newsdesk
03 April 2014, 09:18
Indonesia's main opposition party is set to win a convincing victory at legislative elections next week, boosted by the nomination of the popular Jakarta governor as their presidential candidate, a poll showed.
The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) will take 37 percent of the vote at Wednesday's election, a survey of 2,000 people by private pollster Roy Morgan Research suggested.
The poll put the corruption-mired Democratic Party of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in fourth place with 10 percent.
The Golkar party, the former political vehicle of late dictator Suharto, came second in the survey with its support declining to 17 percent, while the Gerindra party of ex-army general Prabowo Subianto was in third with 14 percent.
The PDI-P had been expected to top the elections for some months, but it has seen an increase in popularity since the nomination of governor Joko Widodo as its candidate for the presidential elections in July.
Roy Morgan Research reported a ten percent jump in the party's popularity after Widodo, known universally by his nickname of "Jokowi", was chosen in mid-March, compared to a previous poll.
His humble demeanour and common touch -- he regularly heads out to meet people in the capital's poorer districts -- has endeared him to a nation sick of aloof, political leaders with deep roots in the Suharto era.
The survey showed the percentage of people saying they would vote for Widodo in the presidential polls rising to 45 percent from 35 percent in a survey before his nomination.
His main rival for the presidency is seen as Subianto but he lagged far behind in the survey with only 15 percent saying they would pick him as head of state.
Roy Morgan Research is an Australian company which has an Indonesian office. The survey was released late Wednesday.
Some 186 million voters are eligible to cast ballots in the legislative elections in the world's third-biggest democracy, with 12 parties competing for 560 seats in the national parliament.
China puts railways and houses at heart of new stimulus measures
Policymakers opt for more finely tuned economic relief rather than the massive spending and borrowing after 2008 crisis
theguardian.com, Thursday 3 April 2014 09.24 BST
China's leaders have unveiled a mini-stimulus aimed at shoring up sputtering growth in the world's second largest economy.
Under the measures announced by Premier Li Keqiang, small businesses will get bigger tax breaks, social housing will be built to replace shantytowns and railway construction will be sped up.
Li, China's top economic official, announced the new measures on Wednesday evening after a regular meeting of the state council, China's cabinet.
It comes amid signs that China's economy continues to slow, raising fears it may expand less than the 7.5% that the country's leaders have targeted. Factory data released this week showed that business conditions in the first quarter remained mostly weak. China's economy has been decelerating after a decade of double-digit growth as its communist leaders try to shift the economy's focus to domestic consumption instead of trade and investment.
The stimulus announcement "means policymakers don't want to take the risk of seeing growth slipping to below 7%", HSBC economists Qu Hongbin and Sun Junwei said in a report. "The government is clearly signalling that it intends to follow up with real policy actions to maintain growth."
China's growth rates remain high compared with the recent sluggish standards of western countries, but last year's expansion of 7.7% was the slowest in two decades.
China's policymakers are opting for smaller, more finely tuned economic relief measures rather than the massive spending and borrowing they unleashed following the 2008 financial crisis. The sweeping stimulus helped China's economy recover rapidly but also led to a credit boom that leaders are now trying to rein in.
Parts of the package are aimed at financing the construction of public housing and railways, two important parts of China's broader urbanisation drive.
The latest measures call for slum clearance to be accelerated. To support redevelopment projects, the China Development Bank, the country's biggest policy lender, will set up a special agency to issue home financing bonds.
To finance railway construction, authorities will create a special fund worth 200bn-300bn yuan (£120bn-£180bn) a year. They will also issue up to 150bn yuan of bonds annually and encourage bank loans.
Li reiterated that China plans to build 4,000 miles of railway this year, about 620 miles more than was built last year. About 80% of that will be in China's central and western regions.
Existing tax breaks for small companies will be extended until the end of 2016 and the threshold for smaller companies to pay tax will be raised, although the new level was not specified. Li's statement had few other specific details and did not give the overall cost of the package.
South Sudan on Verge of Africa's Worst Famine since 1980s, Says U.N.
by Naharnet Newsdesk
03 April 2014, 15:26
War-torn South Sudan could become the scene of the worst famine catastrophe in Africa in decades without more aid and a ceasefire to let farmers reach their fields, the U.N. warned Thursday.
"If we miss the planting season, there will be a catastrophic decline in food security," Toby Lanzer, the U.N.'s top aid official in the country, told reporters in Geneva.
"What will strike that country, and it will hit about seven million people, will be more grave than anything that continent has seen since the mid-1980s," he warned, referring to the massive famine in Ethiopia that shocked the world's conscience.
South Sudanese farmers usually plant their fields in April and May, but they have been unable to start this year amid a raging civil war.
"We've got 3.7 million people who are already at severe risk of starvation," Lanzer said.
If people can't make it to their fields in the next two months, he said, "it doesn't take much to imagine what will happen when the harvest is due in November and December: There won't be one".
Making matters worse, the violence has meant U.N. agencies are having huge difficulty pre-positioning food stocks before the onset of the rainy season, when downpours will make already challenging roads even more difficult to navigate, he said.
The violence in South Sudan erupted last December between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and fighters loosely allied to former vice president Riek Machar.
A ceasefire signed in January is in tatters.
More than 800,000 people are displaced inside South Sudan, while almost 255,000 have ?ed to the neighboring countries of Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Sudan, the U.N. says.
Lanzer insisted on the need to quickly ensure enough security for people to feel it is safe to head to their fields, and to bring in far more aid in the form of seeds and tools to help get things started.
He said that donations so far had fallen far short of needs, with a U.N. appeal for nearly $1.3 billion for aid to the country only a quarter funded.
The world body needed $232 million to ensure only the bare minimum of humanitarian aid in South Sudan through the end of May, he said.
Lanzer said the U.N. was working hard to prevent the existing catastrophe from metastasizing, stressing that "if that were to happen, it's going to cost people a whole lot more."
"We are facing certainly one of the gravest humanitarian challenges that I have every seen," said Lanzer, who has also served in East Timour, Darfur and the Central African Republic.
"And it could get a lot worse."
U.N. Mission in DR Congo Prepares Withdrawal
by Naharnet Newsdesk
02 April 2014, 21:41
The U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo said Wednesday it is preparing a gradual withdrawal from the country despite the continued presence of dozens of armed groups.
Late last month, the U.N. Security Council renewed the mandate for one more year of its stabilization mission in DR Congo (MONUSCO) and its intervention brigade charged with "neutralizing" foreign and domestic armed groups.
The latest resolution (2147) contains "a new idea ... to prepare for the departure of MONUSCO, to prepare for ... a strategy of withdrawal," mission chief Martin Kobler told a press conference in Kinshasa.
"We will not leave tomorrow. It's a gradual process. But it's clear that we should define the parameters, the criteria that must be achieved before MONUSCO leaves the country," he said.
Since late 2013, most of MONUSCO's 20,000 troops have been based in the east where armed groups have been particularly prevalent.
According to Resolution 2147, U.N. Secretary General Ban ki-Moon must present recommendations for the redeployment of peacekeeping forces by the end of the year.
Despite increasing troop numbers and a broadening mandate since a U.N. peacekeeping mission was first sent to the country in 1999, the "blue helmets" and the Congolese army have struggled to bring peace to a country the size of western Europe.
MONUSCO had a budget of $1.5 billion (1.1 billion euros) per year, although this has been halved under the latest resolution.
U.N. missions have long faced criticism for failing to protect civilians in the DR Congo, although perceptions have improved since an offensive by the Congolese army, supported by the United Nations, defeated the M23 rebel group in November.
Middle East peace talks edge towards collapse despite Kerry's frantic efforts
The US secretary of state has seemed more engaged than either side during eight months of bickering and brinkmanship
Peter Beaumont in Jerusalem
The Guardian, Wednesday 2 April 2014 19.22 BST
It is a truism of the Middle East that the US cannot be more invested in the peace process than the sides themselves. But with the current round of peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis on the brink of collapse, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, it seems, has fallen foul of just this old dynamic.
After Tuesday's announcement from Mahmoud Abbas that Palestine intends to bypass the official US-steered peace negotiations and unilaterally to seek recognition from 15 UN bodies, Kerry's team has made a handbrake turn, with the secretary of state cancelling his scheduled visit to the Middle East. Officials indicated that Kerry had gone "as far as he can" as a mediator.
Palestinians have insisted they are not abandoning Kerry. "We hope that Kerry renews his efforts in the coming days. We don't want his mission to fail," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, after the delivery of letters of accession to 15 international conventions signed by Abbas on Tuesday to officials including Robert Serry – the UN's special co-ordinator in the region.
Conciliatory words have done little to appease the White House. Off-the-record briefings – given separately by US officials to the New York Times and Washington Post – reflected what Kerry had said in Brussels only a few hours before: "Facilitation is only as good as the willingness of leaders to actually make decisions when they are put in front of them."
In the last few weeks it has been Kerry, as he has shuttled frenetically back and forth looking for a breakthrough, who has seemed the most engaged. When the case of Jonathan Pollard – the Israeli spy serving a life sentence in a North Carolina jail – was injected into the combustible mix this week, many wondered if he was too invested.
In reality, Pollard's case has no bearing on the peace process and yet his long-sought release was raised as a possible key to breaking the deadlock on the Israeli side – Pollard from the US in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners and a vague commitment to show restraint in some settlement building from Israel. It was hoped the Palestinian side would commit to extending talks.
Waved as a carrot in front of the government of the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, the gesture was symptomatic of a process that has been distracted from its purpose to the brink of failure. Some of that distraction has been deliberate. As the Israeli columnist Chemi Shalev presciently noted last month, Netanyahu – once nicknamed the magician, or hakosem in Hebrew, for his political skills – is a master of misdirection.
Eight months ago, he signed up to a US-sponsored agreement to release 104 long term Palestinian prisoners in a quid pro quo that would stop the Palestinian application to membership of a raft of UN bodies in exchange for talks. Then at the last moment, Netanyahu introduced new conditions for the last group to be released.
In truth, the last eight months have been a case study in how not to run a peace negotiation. Rather than seeking compromises between the parties, the process has been compromised by the caprices of bickering leaders.
Kerry's deadline of 29 April – set last July after a three-year gap in negotiations as a target for a final status deal – has rapidly diluted into a deadline for a framework agreement supposed to inform the shape of a final deal. Faced with little progress, even on these limited terms, talks about talks have dissolved into tit-for-tat negotiation over whether talks should be extended.
The Associated Press's diplomatic writer Matt Lee, who has been travelling with Kerry, sharply mocked the secretary of state's efforts on Twitter as the "The Incredible Shrinking #Mideast Peace Process".
With no prospect of an agreement on the core issues of settlement building, future borders of a Palestinian state and the status of Jerusalem being addressed in a substantive way, it is perhaps unsurprising that the process has devolved into brinkmanship.
On the Palestinian side, the complaint that Netanyahu's effort to attach new conditions to a deal he had already signed up for is legitimate – reneging on a confidence-building measure so early in the game has undermined the trust required for negotiation.
But Abbas's push for recognition by the UN bodies is risky to the point of provocation, not least because the move is so strongly opposed by the US. Abbas's gamble is that piecemeal recognition by international institutions will in the end build a state through the slow accretion of legitimacy – an untested proposition.
And while some have remarked admiringly on the degree of latitude that the US president, Barack Obama, has given Kerry to conduct the talks, the absence of Obama from a process which has historically been propelled by the direct involvement of American presidents may have suggested to the participants that, for all of Kerry's efforts, the White House is not engaged.
What happens next is hedged with unknowns. Abbas's request for accession to the Geneva conventions and various human rights treaties – but not the international criminal court – will be processed. Israel has not responded to the move, but on Monday it renewed a call for contractor bids on 708 homes in Gilo, an Israeli settlement in Palestinian east Jerusalem.
What is clear is that the incremental approach of inching towards a framework agreement appears as much a bust as efforts to get the sides talking directly on key issues. Given that these talks were presented, not least by Obama, as a last chance for a two-state solution, their failure will pose stark and dangerous new challenges.
• This article was corrected on 3 April 2014. The sentence: But despite the agreement, Netanyahu has refused to release the fourth group of prisoners unless the Palestinian Authority recognises Israel as a Jewish state", should have said: "Then at the last moment, Netanyahu introduced new conditions for the last group to be released". The error was made during the editing process.
Argentine Leader Says Falklands a NATO Nuclear Base
by Naharnet Newsdesk
02 April 2014, 19:50
Argentine President Cristina Kirchner claimed Wednesday that the Falkland Islands serve as a nuclear base for the NATO alliance in the South Atlantic.
Argentina, which calls the archipelago the Malvinas, claims the British overseas possession as its own, and fought a brief but bloody war for it in 1982.
The islands, she said, "constitute a NATO military nuclear base in the South Atlantic -- this is the truth that they can't continue to hide."
She alleged the archipelago is "among the most militarized areas in the world," saying some 1,500 soldiers and 2,000 civilian military personnel are stationed there amid a population of just 1,000.
Kirchner, who has a track record of controversial statements about the islands, said the British military manages its entire South Atlantic deployment and its electronic intelligence systems from there.
Kirchner made the claims during a ceremony honoring the Argentine dead on the 32nd anniversary of the start of the conflict.
Argentine forces invaded the islands on April 2, 1982 but were forced to surrender 74 days later after a British expeditionary force recaptured them.
The fighting that left 649 Argentine soldiers -- many of them conscripts -- dead, along with 255 British personnel and three civilian islanders.
Church Accuses Venezuela Govt. of Seeking 'Totalitarian' Regime
by Naharnet Newsdesk
02 April 2014, 20:59
The Roman Catholic Church in Venezuela on Wednesday accused the leftist government of President Nicolas Maduro of seeking to impose a "totalitarian government," blaming it for the protests shaking the country.
Monsignor Diego Padron, the president of the conference of bishops, denounced the abuse of force, torture of detained protesters, and the persecution of opposition mayors and lawmakers.
"The government is mistaken in wanting to resolve the crisis by force. Repression is not the way to go," he said.
The protests were caused, he said, by "the attempt by the official party and the authorities of the Republic to install the so-called Plan of the Fatherland, behind which hides the imposition of a totalitarian government."
The scathing assessment follows suggestions that the Vatican act as mediator in a dialogue between the government and the opposition after nearly two months of unrest that have left at least 39 dead.
Padron expressed support for Vatican mediation in a future "sincere dialogue," and the government also has indicated it would be willing to engage in such talks.
But Caracas Archbishop Jorge Urosa Savino said the Vatican has not received official notice from the government inviting it to take part in a dialogue.
Speaking at a news conference, Padron expressed regret over the country's deepening polarization.
The crisis is "extremely serious both for its magnitude (...) as well as for its duration, violence and the disastrous consequences for our present and our future."
This device could revolutionize childbirth. It was created by a car mechanic
Wednesday, April 2, 2014 8:24 EDT
How an Argentine's basic bottle cork trick led to an invention experts say will save mothers' lives around the world.
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Jorge Odon is sitting behind a desk in his Buenos Aires home. Wearing a striped shirt and metal-rimmed reading glasses, he gives off a schoolmasterly air as he arranges the papers in front of him.
It’s hard to believe that Odon, age 60, is a car mechanic by trade, used to getting his hands greasy at an auto shop down the road since he was 15. Now he's also the most unlikely inventor of a device with the potential to revolutionize childbirth around the world.
A few months ago he gave up his original job, handing over the reins to his son, to spend more time in the white-collar world of his air-conditioned office.
"All this has surprised me," Odon says with a serious look. "I pray to God that this doesn't change me. I just want everything to stay the same."
But things have undeniably changed. It’s been 7 1/2 years since that August night when he had his friend Carlos Medina and his wife over for dinner. He showed his old companion a trick that a couple of employees had demonstrated earlier that day in the workshop — a way to pull a cork from a wine bottle by slipping a plastic bag inside the bottle, inflating it slightly and then pulling it back out, bringing the cork with it.
He challenged Medina to remove the cork using only the implements on the table, from the metal cutlery to a small plastic shopping bag. Medina failed miserably and Odon thought nothing more of it until a brain wave in the middle of the night.
"At 3 a.m. I woke up with the idea [for the device]," he says. "I have several inventions registered, all related to mechanics. And I'm used to waking up in the middle of the night with the solutions to problems I've had at the workshop."
Odon's thought was to apply the same cork-in-a-bottle science to creating a childbirth device that might be able to replace the cruder forceps, a metal-hinged instrument, or ventouse, a suction mechanism that’s placed on the baby's head. The idea involved incorporating a similar plastic bag inside the womb to ease pressure on a birth with complications.
The original device was crude, assembled with a glass uterus at home and using one of his children's dolls, subsequently refined with the help of medical experts. Odon got several key people on board, from an initially skeptical Carlos Medina, who ended up becoming his business partner, to gynecologists to help with the fine-tuning.
"Initially I was completely surprised by the [bottle] trick that Jorge showed me," recalls Dr. Javier Schvartzman, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at SEMIC teaching hospital in the Argentine capital who is leading testing.
"I thought it was a joke," he adds, explaining that he suspected he was being set up for a hidden-camera TV show.
The inventor, too, recalls the initial meeting with a wry grin, saying that the doctor was originally baffled by a mechanic explaining a new invention to him.
"I think an idea like this can only come from a mechanic like Jorge because he thinks differently from doctors," Dr. Schvartzman explains, speaking to GlobalPost from the same consultancy room where he met Odon. "He isn't tied to the rules like us — we have to follow protocols and procedures."
His view is shared by Professor Andrew Weeks, a specialist in women's health at the University of Liverpool in the UK. "Training is fantastic but it leads you down a certain way of thinking," he says via telephone. "There's great benefit from getting some thinking from completely outside the box."
That thinking has been endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO), which has also received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the US Agency for International Development, among others.
The WHO backed the initial phase of prototype testing, which has been successfully tried on 30 Argentine mothers, with another 100 due to take part in trials in Buenos Aires and the surrounding province during the course of 2014. A second phase will take the device to developing countries such as China, South Africa and India.
The organization approached US company Becton, Dickinson and Company (BD) to develop the product and make it market ready. But there’s still a long way before it’s finished and BD can start to apply to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), alongside other international regulatory bodies, for approval.
Yet BD’s executive vice president, Gary Cohen, says he’s “excited” by the prospect of the device and the impact it might have. “Mothers and newborns are dying needlessly from preventable causes related to obstructed labor during childbirth,” he adds.
Indeed, other procedures have their risks, particularly when applied incorrectly. The FDA issued a warning in 1998 about the potential dangers of ventouse after several reported infant deaths from subsequent hemorrhages.
The new device promises to be easier to use and administer, according to Schvartzman. That could help bring down maternal deaths in the developing world, 4 to 12 percent of which are the result of prolonged or obstructed labor, according to the WHO.
It could also have a key role to play in Africa and Asia where HIV is rampant. "Another theory is that the device can protect against the virus in vertical transmission between mother and babies," Schvartzman explains. "This is because the device fits completely around the fetal head and protects the baby against vaginal fluids, the moment when the baby is in contact with the HIV virus."
With the US National Center for Health Statistics saying that cesareans had risen to almost a quarter of all births in the US, Schvartzman suggests the device might be able to lower this figure, freeing up money and resources that could be better spent in other areas.
Major gynecology inventions are few and far between and rarely make it out of their conception phase, experts say.
"But the Odon Device keeps passing all these tests — and the closer it gets the more excited we all get that it will prove to be what we've been hoping for," Professor Weeks says.
Back in Banfield, a suburb just outside the city limits, Odon remains determined to keep his feet on the ground, despite the potential financial rewards. He continues to attend a rotary club he's been a member of for the last two decades and has no intention of leaving his neighborhood anytime soon.
"I have a big family of five children and two grandchildren," he says. "What better way than to be able to help them all?"
New ‘geologic clock’ resets date for moon’s formation
Wednesday, April 2, 2014 15:44 EDT
By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) – Earth’s moon started forming up to 65 million years later than some previous estimates, according to a study released on Wednesday that uses a new way to calculate the birthday of the 4.47 billion-year-old planet’s only natural satellite.
The mega-asteroid that smashed into Earth, launching debris that later became the moon, happened about 95 million years after the birth of the solar system, research in this week’s issue of the journal Nature showed.
The finding disputes, with a 99.9 percent degree of accuracy, some previous estimates that the moon-forming impact occurred as early as 30 million to 40 million years after the solar system’s formation, some 4.58 billion years ago.
The new study is based on 259 computer simulations of how the solar system evolved from a primordial disk of planetary embryos swirling around the sun. The programs simulate the crashes and mergers of the small bodies until they meld into the rocky planets that exist today.
By that geologic clock, Earth’s last big chuck came from a Mars-sized body that hit about 95 million years after the solar system’s formation, the study showed.
“We think that the thing that hit Earth and ended up forming the moon, the lion’s share of it stayed on Earth. A small fraction of its mass and some material from Earth was pushed off into space to form the moon,” astronomer John Chambers, with the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC, said in an interview.
“That was probably the last big event,” he added.
The previous assessment was based on measuring the naturally occurring radioactive decay of telltale atoms inside lunar rocks. The same process, however, also led to findings that the impact happened between 50 million and 100 million years after the solar system’s formation.
“Our new method … is independent of radiometric techniques and so we break through the controversy,” lead researcher Seth Jacobson, with Cote d’Azur Observatory in Nice, France, wrote in an email.
The results also open another even bigger mystery about why some planets, like Mars, form relatively quickly, while others, like Earth and possibly Venus, take far longer.
Analysis of Martian meteorites and the computer simulations indicate Mars was finished in just a few million years.
There are no known Venus meteorites, and spacecraft so far have not been dispatched to either Mars or Venus to collect samples.
“Discovering that the moon-forming impact occurred late is surprising … because we know from Martian meteorites that Mars formed relatively quickly. How this discrepancy arises is another big question for the future,” Jacobson said.
In the USA...United Surveillance America
Senators Clear Path for Release of Detention Report on C.I.A.
By MARK MAZZETTI
APRIL 2, 2014
WASHINGTON — Two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday announced their support for declassifying parts of a long-delayed report on the C.I.A.’s defunct detention and interrogation program, all but assuring that the committee will approve the report and send it to President Obama for eventual release.
The announcement by Maine’s two senators — Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent — effectively ended any suspense about whether the committee’s chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, will have enough votes to declassify the voluminous report’s conclusions and executive summary, which are said to make up about 400 pages of the 6,300-page report. The committee’s other Republicans oppose the conclusions of the report, but support from Ms. Collins and Mr. King for releasing the report will give a veneer of bipartisanship to the committee’s vote.
The vote on the report, scheduled for Thursday afternoon, will bring at least partial closure to the years of partisan jousting on the committee about the report, which sets out to tell the history of what is perhaps the most controversial response by the administration of George W. Bush to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
People who have read the report say it is unsparing in its criticism of the C.I.A.’s brutal interrogation methods, and makes the case that the spy agency repeatedly misled Congress, the White House and the public about the value of the program.
Ms. Feinstein has said that when the committee approves the report, she will send it directly to the White House for declassification. Mr. Obama has said he supports the report’s public release, but it is uncertain how long the declassification process could take.
Thursday’s vote will come in the midst of a public dispute between the C.I.A. and the Intelligence Committee over whether the agency conducted an unlawful search of computers used by committee staff members who were examining documents for the report at a C.I.A. facility in Northern Virginia. For their part, C.I.A. officials believe that the committee gained unauthorized access to restricted parts of the agency’s computer network. The Justice Department is reviewing the charges made by both sides in the dispute.
In their announcement, the two senators said the report’s findings “lead us to conclude that some detainees were subjected to techniques that constituted torture” and raise “serious concerns about the C.I.A.’s management” of the detention program, which Mr. Obama ended in 2009.
“Torture is wrong, and we must make sure that the misconduct and the grave errors made in the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program never happen again,” the statement said.
But the two senators also challenged the way the report was compiled, criticizing it for relying solely on documents and for not also incorporating the views of either C.I.A. or other executive branch officials. It is partly for this reason that Republican members of the committee stopped participating in the detention investigation and have criticized the report as a one-sided attempt to smear the C.I.A. and the Bush administration.
The committee is also expected Thursday to vote to declassify both the Republican dissent from the report’s conclusions as well as the C.I.A.’s response to the detention investigation, which the C.I.A. director, John O. Brennan, personally delivered to the Intelligence Committee last June.
In its investigation, the committee scrutinized a number of case studies to test claims made by Bush administration officials that the C.I.A. interrogation methods yielded valuable information that disrupted terrorist plots and led American spies to other operatives of Al Qaeda.
President Bush himself made one of the most detailed public cases about the value of the C.I.A. program during a speech in September 2006, when he announced that the C.I.A.’s prisoners had been transferred to the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. During the speech, Mr. Bush said it was only by using the brutal interrogation methods that the C.I.A. was ultimately able to track down Qaeda militants such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.
The Intelligence Committee report is said to directly challenge these claims, as well as provide new details about the questioning of prisoners in a number of C.I.A. prisons in Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
Human rights advocates have pledged to exert pressure on Mr. Obama to ensure that the report is swiftly made public.
“I place responsibility in the hands of the president,” said Andrea J. Prasow, senior national security counsel for Human Rights Watch.
“If the president wants it to happen, he could make it happen,” she said.
Dick Cheney Lies: Claims Not A Single Case Of NSA Abusing Its Authority
Wednesday, April 2, 2014 8:55 EDT
At the bottom of a Mother Jones article covering a "behind-closed-doors talk" by former Vice President Dick Cheney -- in which he talked up (to applause) the idea of bombing Iran and whined that President Obama was too weak in the Middle East -- the authors mention that actually much of his speech was devoted to defending the NSA. Apparently, he did this by flat out lying.
There is the belief, he said, "that we have created in the National Security Agency this monster bureaucracy that's reading everybody's mail, listening to everybody's phone calls, infringing upon our civil liberties and civil rights. Hogwash." He claimed that there has not been a single case of NSA abusing its authority.
Well, except an internal NSA audit that was reported on months ago actually found that the NSA abused its authority thousands of times per year. And, really, a big part of the complaints aren't necessarily that the NSA abused its authority, but that even if they didn't "abuse their authority" that the ability to collect all this information was legal in the first place. Meanwhile, we also know that there are also a bunch of cases where the NSA has admitted analysts willfully abused their powers. And, while the NSA claims that it's caught all of those involved, a large percentage of them involved "self-reporting," which suggests many cases of abuse slipped under the radar. And, of course, there were many other known abuses as well, including many years in which the NSA flat-out ignored the FISA court's rules on handling metadata, allowing it to be shared widely, despite rules and promises not to do so.
This also ignores the fact that both a federal judge and the federal government's privacy and civil liberties oversight board (PCLOB) found the program unconstitutional and illegal. Yes, others have found that the program is legitimate, but to ignore the still open-ended question as to the legitimacy of the program to argue that there's been "no abuse" of authority is ridiculous. Hell, even the famed rubber stamping FISA court came close to shutting down the program and elsewhere discussed how the so-called privacy protections within the program was "so frequently and systematically violated" as to mean that they have "never functioned effectively."
I don't know about how Dick Cheney defines "abuse their authority," but it seems like there's fairly strong evidence of pretty widespread abuse -- much of it taking place while Cheney was in power. Of course, since his definition of "abuse" seems to be "doing something that Dick Cheney personally doesn't like," then, I guess he'd be correct. But, given the rather clear -- and flat-out admitted -- cases of abuse, combined with significant claims that the entire program is abusive -- it would appear that Cheney is simply lying.
Fighting SCOTUS’ Shameful Freedom to Corrupt Ruling
By: Adalia Woodbury
Wednesday, April, 2nd, 2014, 7:43 pm
The Koch Court drove another dagger into democracy today with a ruling that gives greedy old plutocrats license to buy even more Paul Ryan clones than Citizens United made possible. The ruling only cautions them to be creative when it comes to the inevitable corruption this ruling will unleash.
By Chief Justice Roberts’ “reasoning“, the greedy old plutocrats need only steer clear of the quid pro quo variety of corruption, or the appearance of it. In the spirit of the majority’s simplistic definition of corruption, the court did leave the limit on donations to individual candidates in place. Though, if Clarence Thomas had his way, that would be gone too.
In collectivity, this Supreme Court’s rulings on campaign finance places shackles on the First Amendment by opening the doors of corruption that we used to associate with third world dictatorships.
The lopsideness of campaign financing was already evident following Citizens United.
According to Demos, stats based on 2012 election contributions;
It would take 322,000 average-earning American families giving an equivalent share of their net worth to match the Adelsons’ $91.8 million in Super PAC contributions
By giving Greedy Old Plutocrats free rein to corrupt the election process, the Supreme Court also savaged everyone else’s First Amendment rights. As the dissenting opinion explains,
Corruption breaks the constitutionally necessary “chain of communication” between the people and their representatives. It derails the essential speech-to-government-action tie. Where enough money calls the tune, the general public will not be heard. Insofar as corruption cuts the link between political thought and political action, a free marketplace of political ideas loses its point.
Americans who believe in We the People still have options. While the Supreme Court has ruled that the voices of average Americans are 1/322,000th of one Sheldon Adelson, our votes remain equal.
If you haven’t registered to vote in this year’s election, do it now. If you have the misfortune of living in a state where showing proof of citizenship is required to register make sure you have your documents with you. Encourage the single women in your life to register and vote. If you are recently married and you have changed your married name in any way, make sure your registration and Voter ID match your married name exactly. If you are married and still believe in small “d” democracy, make sure you’re registered and make sure you vote.
If, for whatever reason, you still believe Republicans care about you, your children, your family, or American, stay home at election time. Yes, I will go there because I’m tired of biting my tongue every time a Republican idiot claims freedom for women is marrying a greedy old plutocrat, checking your brain at the marital home door and being reduced to an existence of cooking, cleaning, procreating and blinking and folding your arms while saying “yes master.”
Also, the Supreme Court may very well decree that money is speech, but we have every right to demand disclosure of where that money is going. We can begin by signing this petition. We can also vote with our purchases by boycotting corporations who choose to keep their donations secret.
A constitutional amendment limiting big money is a long term goal, but first we have to vote the greedy old plutocrats out.
Five Republican Supreme Court Justices Want America Ruled by the One Percent
By: Keith Brekhus
Wednesday, April, 2nd, 2014, 3:58 pm
The McCutcheon v Federal Election Commission ruling which eliminates overall campaign contribution limits, merely confirms what Americans already know. The five Republican appointed Supreme Court justices (Roberts, Alito, Kennedy, Thomas and Scalia) are little more than party operatives for the GOP, intent on putting the country under the control of the uber-wealthy. This was abundantly clear after the landmark Citizens United ruling, and reiterated after the court once again struck a blow against campaign finance laws by lifting the cap on contributions. In the eyes of the five justices appointed by Republican presidents, free speech is anything but free. The person who can buy the most political influence is entitled to the best representation.
Chief Justice John Roberts sided with Sheldon Adelson, the Koch Brothers and other mega-donors by arguing that:
Spending large sums of money in connection with elections, but not in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties, does not give rise to such quid pro quo corruption…There is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders...There is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders.
Of course in his obtuse argument he pretends that bankrolling a political candidate, since it is not a bribe for specific legislation, is therefore not a form of political corruption. In a blistering dissent, Clinton court appointee Stephen Breyer rejected that naive notion arguing that:
Speech does not exist in a vacuum. Rather, political communication seeks to secure government action.
He added that the Court’s ruling:
fails to recognize the difference between influence resting upon public opinion and influence bought by money alone.
The McCutcheon ruling illustrates the sharp and clear partisan divide on the ostensibly non-partisan court. The five justices appointed by Republican presidents showed that their loyalties are firmly aligned with America’s super rich. By contrast the four dissenting justices, all appointed by Democratic presidents, aligned themselves with the American people, and not with the corporate elite. This latest Supreme Court decision not only demonstrates the ruling majority’s allegiance with the one percent, but the case also serves as a reminder that which party holds the White House also determines the future direction of the Supreme Court. America is still paying the price for having electing two George Bushes. The Bush legacy is an ideologically reactionary Supreme Court that favors an aristocracy of the wealthy over a representative democracy where a voter’s worth is not measured by the depth of his or her pockets.
A Fed Up Bernie Sanders Obliterates The Koch Fueled Supreme Court Majority
By: Jason Easley
Wednesday, April, 2nd, 2014, 12:03 pm
After the Supreme Court handed down a decision that wiped out all individual campaign donation limits today, a fed up Bernie Sanders took aim at the 5 Koch conservatives in the court’s majority.
In a 5-4 ruling, the conservative majority on the Supreme wiped out all legal limits on individual campaign donations. This decision opens the door for wealthy individuals to give as much money as they want to political campaigns, and it is clear that the nation’s top champion for getting the money out of our politics has had enough.
In a statement Sen. Sanders said, “Freedom of speech, in my view, does not mean the freedom to buy the United States government…What world are the five conservative Supreme Court justices living in? To equate the ability of billionaires to buy elections with ‘freedom of speech’ is totally absurd. The Supreme Court is paving the way toward an oligarchic form of society in which a handful of billionaires like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson will control our political process.”
Over the past two election cycles Republicans have not been able to buy elections at the federal level, so their answer is to pollute the electoral process with even more money.
There is a reason why Bernie Sanders refers to the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson when he discusses this problem. Charles and David Koch spent $400 million in 2012. The Kochs spent twice as much as the top ten unions combined. The vast majority of the money is coming from conservative billionaires who are trying to buy the government, so that Social Security and Medicare can be killed, their taxes can be lowered, and regulations gutted.
Their one and only desire is to control every level of government. Today’s ruling illustrates the fact that they already control the Supreme Court. The Ryan budget and the House agenda show that they control the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. In 2014 they are coming for the Senate, and in 2016, they want the White House.
Sen. Sanders is fed up, and the American people should be too. Now is the time to join the fight, and support the Vermont senator’s efforts to overturn Citizens United. In the meantime, there is one important thing that every concerned citizen can do.
Get out and vote. The 2012 election demonstrated that the Koch brothers can buy lots of ads, but they still can’t buy your vote.
Republicans Shame America as U.N. Human Rights Committee Condemns US Treatment of the Poor
Wednesday, April, 2nd, 2014, 1:53 pm
Cruelty and inhumanity can best be defined as willfully causing pain and suffering to others and feeling no concern about it because the type of person creating hardship is motivated by malice toward other human beings. For most Americans, the idea of being labeled cruel and inhumane would be a humiliating accusation unless they are Republicans who have supported some of the most cruel and inhumane policies targeting poor and middle class Americans. Whether they are losing the pensions they paid into, struggle feeding and housing their families on poverty wages, or face certain death due to lack of medical care, tens-of-millions of Americans know for a fact that when Republicans are allowed to control government spending, America is cruel and inhumane to its own citizens. As of last Thursday, the entire world knows America is cruel, inhumane, and degrading to its poor because the United Nations Human Rights Committee condemned the wealthiest nation in the history of the world for mistreating its poor that is common knowledge in America.
The U.N. Human Rights Committee (HRC) condemned (Section 19) the “very exceptional” United States last week for criminalizing homelessness they called “cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment” and a violation of America’s obligation to adhere to international human rights treaties. The HRC conducted a review of America’s compliance with a treaty on human rights ratified in 1992 and called on the government to take corrective action to be in compliance. The Chairman of the committee, Sir Nigel Rodley, stated at the end of the review that “I’m just simply baffled by the idea that people can be without shelter in a country, and then be treated as criminals for being without shelter. The idea of criminalizing people who don’t have shelter is something that I think many of my colleagues might find as difficult as I do to even begin to comprehend.” Obviously, Sir Nigel has not spent much time in and around America, or paid any attention to Republicans’ crusade to incorporate cruel and inhumane into their permanent party platform as their distinguishing brand.
The HRC probably conducted its review on the plight of the homeless due to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP) submitting a report about Republican cruelty due to the cruel and inhumane death of a mentally ill homeless Veteran last month in a New York jail. The homeless Veteran was escaping the bitter cold by taking refuge in a stairwell in a Harlem public housing project that got him arrested, arraigned, and a $2,500 bail he could never post. The 56-year old Veteran, Jerome Murdough, was sent to Riker’s Island jail where he was left unattended and, according to a prison official; “he basically baked to death” in his cell. The executive director of the NLCHP, Maria Foscarinis, said in a statement that “We welcome the (U.N.) Committee’s Concluding Observations and call on our government to take swift action to solve homelessness with homes, not jails and prisons.” Like the U.N.’s Sir Nigel, Foscarinis must never get out much or has not paid any attention to Republicans’ cruel and inhumane austerity measures responsible for the growing number of homeless Americans; many, many of them returning Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans who cannot find decent jobs.
In 2012 alone, Republican policies were responsible for keeping well over 640,000 American citizens without housing and their precious sequester will increase those pathetic numbers for nine more years. In Paul Ryan’s cruel and inhumane Path to Prosperity austerity budget released yesterday, those numbers will explode as domestic spending is set to take barbaric cuts to fund incredibly incomprehensible tax cuts for the rich and corporations Republicans claim will help the poor and middle class like they have since their man-god Ronald Reagan was president. Ryan and Senator Patty Murray just worked out a two-year budget the President signed into law, but as this column warned last December, Republicans were dissatisfied they had not wreaked enough havoc with Draconian austerity measures targeting the poor, seniors, children, Veterans, and the middle class. In Ryan’s latest budget obscenity, the wealthy elite and corporations are slated to get a 14.9% tax cut Republicans claim will “create jobs, grow our economy, and put more money back into people’s pockets.” Republicans are still selling the absurd concept that giving the richest 1% more money from 99% of population is going to put more money back into 99% of the population’s pockets.
One thing giving the rich greater tax cuts is not going to do is help the homeless find good jobs that pay them enough to afford permanent shelter or increase housing assistance funding for those earning poverty wages. Ryan’s budget is wrought with devastating domestic spending cuts that, if anything like the Republican sequester, will bring an abrupt end to assistance finding shelter for minimum wage full-time workers who cannot afford fair-market rent for an apartment anywhere in the U.S. according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The homeless Veteran who “basically baked to death” in a New York jail is one of 62,000 (13% of homeless Americans) homeless veterans who put their lives on the line for their country that men like compassionate conservative Paul Ryan calls “takers” and proposed a barbaric budget that will send more Americans, and Veterans, on the streets because they cannot find work, more than minimum wage jobs, affordable housing, or assistance finding shelter because funding has been slashed by Republicans.
America is supposed to be a world leader in human rights and regularly condemns violators as monsters and despots, but when the U.N. Human Rights Commission rightly condemned this cruel and inhumane nation for mistreating its own poor citizens, they exposed this country as anything but a human rights leader. Republicans driving America’s human rights violations began their crusade thirty years ago when their primary motivation became shrinking the government to prevent it from assisting people in need through no fault of their own. It is impossible to believe that even one locality will decriminalize homelessness, or petition their state or federal government representatives to appropriate funding for homeless shelters or expand access to housing assistance regardless the entire world now comprehends America is cruel and inhumane to its poor and not only because of homelessness.
Over the past five years leading up to today Republicans intend on increasing their assault on domestic programs despite the cost in Americans’ lives or condemnation of the world’s leading human rights watchdog. Republicans are not humiliated at the United Nations’ condemnation and it is highly likely that, like their racist supporters in the Southern United States, they consider being labeled “cruel, inhumane, and degrading to the poor” as a badge of honor and what it means to be a “real American.” There is nothing as really American as citizens in the richest country in the history of the world to be without a job, decent healthcare, or housing while Republicans kill jobs, affordable healthcare, and housing assistance to fund tax cuts for the rich. The U.N. condemnation makes official what tens-of-millions of poor Americans have known all along; real America with Republicans holding the nation’s purse strings is cruel and inhumane to every American who is not a member of the wealthy elite; not just the homeless.
Sarah Palin Complains That Paul Ryan’s Cruel Budget Isn’t Cruel Enough
By: Justin Baragona
Wednesday, April, 2nd, 2014, 10:13 am
On Tuesday afternoon, after Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) revealed his latest budget proposal, former half-term Alaskan Governor and 2008 Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin took to Facebook to share her opinions of it. It turns out that Palin is not too fond of the the Republican ‘idea’ man’s vision for America. Considering that it calls for gutting the ACA and Medicaid, turning Medicare into a privatized voucher system, slashing SNAP even more than it has been recently, reducing Pell Grants and firing government employees while also cutting their pensions, perhaps Palin thinks this budget goes too far in terms of hurting everyday Americans.
Well, think again.
My Own Final Four Bracket For America’s Future
Holy Moly! Are you kidding? You’d think one who is representing the mighty Badgers, who made it to the Final Four based on sacrificial work ethic and discipline that obviously pays off in the end, he who represents the great state of Wisconsin that hosts this underdog celebrated college basketball team, would understand that future success depends on hard work and sacrifices. The latest Ryan (R, Wisconsin) Budget is not an April Fool’s joke. But it really IS a joke because it is STILL not seeing the problem; it STILL is not proposing reining in wasteful government overspending TODAY, instead of speculating years out that some future Congress and White House may possibly, hopefully, eh-who-knows, take responsibility for today’s budgetary selfishness and shortsightedness to do so. THIS is the definition of insanity. Do we still not understand how dangerous it is to allow government to grow unchecked as we shackle ourselves with massive debt – a good portion of which is held by foreign nations who don’t necessarily like us? If we can’t balance the budget today, what on earth makes us think it will happen at some future date? The solution is staring us in the face. We need to rein in spending today, and don’t tell me there is nothing to cut when we know every omnibus bill is loaded with pork and kickbacks.
Reading the article linked below gave me the same reaction that my daughter just caused when she punked me with a very unfunny April Fool’s Day announcement. As my Dad would say after these April Fool’s announcements, “This would kill a lesser man.” This out-of-control debt is killing our economic future.
- Sarah Palin
Here’s the article:
Yep. Palin feels that Ryan’s budget doesn’t cut ‘wasteful’ spending enough and relies too heavily on decisions down the road. Basically, in her view, the only way she’d get behind a budget is if it reduced spending all the way down in order to get a surplus NEXT YEAR. However, she won’t support additional revenue to get there. In fact, she wants taxes cut even more than their current historically low levels. And, don’t touch the military budget. Because, ya know, she supports the troops.
If it were up to Palin, she would completely dismantle every program that constitutes the social safety net immediately. SNAP? Gone. Medicaid? Gone. TANF? Gone. HUD? Gone. Medicare and Social Security? Privatize. Obamacare? Repeal! Repeal! Repeal! Basically, anything that doesn’t have to do with the Military Industrial Complex or providing subsidies to oil and gas corporations needs to be slashed to the bone or completely dismantled.
What is especially infuriating about Palin is that she wants most Americans to ‘pull up their bootstraps’ and make hard choices in their lives, all so we can get a balanced budget. Meanwhile, she wants to make sure that the top tax rates are extremely low, which would, of course, benefit her personally. There are no sacrifices needed from Palin. Ever since 2008 when she hit the spotlight, she’s moved from one grift to the other, figuring out a way to swindle money from political organizations, PACs, news channels and reality show producers.
Palin’s agenda is to do and say whatever can get Palin attention in order to keep her in the spotlight. That way, she can maintain her high standard of living by convincing people she is relevant and is worth spending money on. She is perfectly happy staying on the sideline and tossing bombs left and right, criticizing anyone that doesn’t adhere to her Tea Party fantasyland views. She prefers to not have any responsibility whatsoever. It is far easier to build a ‘brand’ centered on continuous outrage over the evil government.
Wendy Davis’ Republican Opponent Gets His Education Policy From a White Supremacist
By: Adalia Woodbury
Wednesday, April, 2nd, 2014, 11:16 am
Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott believes in pre-K for a select few in Texas. Democratic state Senator and gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis pointed out that Abbott is fighting for a $20 million dollar cut in Texas’ pre-K program, while promising to “improve” the program on the campaign trail.
Since then, teachers have weighed in with conclusions similar to Wendy Davis – namely, that Abbott wants to restrict pre-K to a select few, while Davis wants to expand pre-K to all the children in Texas.
TSTA president Rita Haeker’s comments in a speech Tuesday, reflect the sentiments of teachers who are backing Wendy Davis’s pre-K proposal.
Long before Greg Abbott tried to defend the status quo with his mythical “gold standard” that would provide pre-K funding for only a select few, Wendy Davis offered a “Great Start” plan that recognizes every child is worth his or her weight in gold.
Indeed, Abbott’s policy is based on a compilation of right wing assumptions about gender, race and class with intellect based in part on the mythical musings of Charles Murray, the co-author of “The Bell Curve.” As Christy Hoppe reports in her piece on Abbot, Murray and pre-K, Murray works for the right wing belief tank, the American Enterprise Institute.
Check out page 2 of Abbott’s pre-K policy proposal:
Family background has the most decisive effect on student achievement, contributing to a large performance gap between children from economically disadvantaged families and those from middle-class homes.
That’s code for saying that the poor are poor because they are intellectual inferior. Same goes for Blacks, Latinos and of course, woman. Abbott backs that up with a citation of Charles Murray’s “Real Education” though he displayed his intellectual supremacy by misspelling it,”Read Education”
Laura Basset, who also reported on the link between Charles Murray and Greg Abbott’s pre-K program, offered this assessment of Murray as a source for an education plan.
Murray is a very problematic source of inspiration for an education plan. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes him as “one of the most influential social scientists in America, using racist pseudoscience and misleading statistics to argue that social inequality is caused by the genetic inferiority of the black and Latino communities, women and the poor.
Indeed, the SPLC quotes some of Murray’s “work” in their profile of him.
A huge number of well-meaning whites fear that they are closet racists, and this book tells them they are not. It’s going to make them feel better about things they already think but do not know how to say.
There is no way for Greg Abbott to spin his way out of citing a known white supremacist to bolster the Republican candidate’s beliefs about the influences on a child’s achievement in the education system.
When Wendy Davis says that Abbot’s goal is to restrict pre-K to a select few, she isn’t kidding and neither is Abbott. Needless to say, Abbot envisions a Texas in which pre-K prepares young white boys for 21 century jobs, while women and the increasingly brown and black communities in Texas know their place.
It’s more than obvious that Greg Abbott is working very hard to win over the white supremacist vote in Texas. Palling around with white supremacist and gun nut, Ted Nugent, didn’t pan out as well as Abbott hoped. One can conclude that since some Texas communities were willing to pay Nugent to stay away.
Now he is trying to sell Texans on his pre-K policy by citing a man who wrote a book to make racists to feel better. Not that he is fooling anyone – except the white supremacists.
President Obama Calls Mitch McConnell an Old Man Telling Kids To Get Off His Lawn
By: Jason Easley
Wednesday, April, 2nd, 2014, 4:51 pm
President Obama took aim at Senate Minority Leader McConnell today. During his speech on raising the minimum wage today, the president compared McConnell to an old man telling kids to get off of his lawn.
President Obama said:
You would think this would be a no brainer. Politically, you would think that people would be rushing to do this. Nearly three in four Americans support raising the minimum wage. Nearly three in four. Here’s the problem. Republicans in Congress, not Republicans in America, because some of them get paid the minimum wage, so they want to see it raised. Republicans in Congress don’t want to vote to raise it all.
In fact, some want to scrap the minimum wage. One House Republican said its outlived its usefulness. No, that’s what he said. No, no. Don’t boo, organize. That’s what you need to do. They may not hear the boos, but they can read a petition, and they can see votes.
You got some Republicans saying we shouldn’t raise the minimum wage because, they said this, because, well, it just helps young people.
Now, first of all, I think it is pretty good to help young people. I don’t know what’s wrong with helping young people. Folks who say that probably the thing you know, they’ll say get off my lawn!
I think it’s okay to help young people, but the fact is most people who would benefit from a higher minimum wage are not teenagers taking on their first job. The average age of people getting paid the minimum wage is 35. A majority of lower wage jobs are held by women. May of them work full time often to support a family, and by the way, what’s wrong with helping young people to get ahead?
President Obama never mentioned his name, but on the January 26, 2014 edition of Fox News Sunday, Sen. Mitch McConnell said, “Yes. But, of course, the minimum wage is mostly an entry level wage for young people. We have a crisis in employment among young people right now, and generation 18 to 30, people that got out of college, are finding there are no jobs for them. The last thing we want to do is have even fewer jobs for younger people.”
Without naming names, the president basically called Sen. McConnell a grouchy old man who doesn’t want to help young people. That pretty much sums it up. The Republican members of Congress have no interest in helping people in general, unless they are wealthy.
The president’s basic argument for raising the minimum wage is a powerful one, and making Mitch McConnell the face of the Republican Party is a brilliant move. McConnell represents everything that the American people don’t like. He has obstructed progress at every turn. He actively works against what the majority of the American people want, and he is completely owned by big money special interests.
Obama hit the nail on the head. Mitch McConnell does sound like an old man who is closer to telling those dang kids to get off of his lawn than doing anything productive in the United States Senate.
The president likely hasn’t forgotten McConnell’s statement that his top priority was to make Obama a one term president. The political worm has turned, as it looks more and more likely today that Obama is out to make sure that Mitch McConnell doesn’t get reelected.
Pity The Billionaires: Charles Koch Edition
By karoli April 2, 2014 11:18 pm
Where I respond to Charles Koch's cheesy whine about "collectivists" and "liberty."
Pity The Billionaires: Charles Koch Edition
Aw, poor Charles Koch. He wants everyone to know he's being persecuted by mean "collectivists" around the country for being a really good guy, so he ran to the Wall Street Journal and put an op-ed out so we could all know what evil Alinsky-ites we are and how he's really, really the good guy who is fighting to restore a free society.
His first mistake was expecting those he's aiming his message at to actually read or pay attention to the Wall Street Journal. If he really cared about his message, he'd go live on the Rachel Maddow show.
But let's hear him out anyway. I'll quote his complaint and respond below.
I have devoted most of my life to understanding the principles that enable people to improve their lives. It is those principles—the principles of a free society—that have shaped my life, my family, our company and America itself.
Principles laid out by none other than the John Birch Society. You forgot to note that part. Your father was a founder, and you were steeped in their principles from a very young age. Call it whatever you want, but these vaunted principles were spawned in the living rooms of fearful white folks across the country, led by Jack Welch.
Unfortunately, the fundamental concepts of dignity, respect, equality before the law and personal freedom are under attack by the nation's own government. That's why, if we want to restore a free society and create greater well-being and opportunity for all Americans, we have no choice but to fight for those principles. I have been doing so for more than 50 years, primarily through educational efforts. It was only in the past decade that I realized the need to also engage in the political process.
What dignity, respect and equality are you referring to, White Rich Man? The dignity of being turned away at the doctor's office for lack of health insurance? The respect given by a government who thinks it's perfectly fine for people to die in the street, or to starve children rather than give food stamps? The equality of suppressing some people's votes in order to make sure your 'principles' are the ones that win? The liberty to work for a wage below the living standard?
Or would it be the dignity, respect and equality granted to us by your Almighty Markets, gamed by Those Who Have to make sure more of us are Have Nots?
Or perhaps it's the dignity, respect and equality granted to our first African-American president, who you seem to think should walk around with a target painted on his back and spitballs lobbed at him at every turn?
If that's dignity, equality and respect, I'll take the alternative.
A truly free society is based on a vision of respect for people and what they value. In a truly free society, any business that disrespects its customers will fail, and deserves to do so.
Well, except for the businesses that disrespect gay people, or black people, or brown people. You were perfectly fine with funding groups obsessed with making sure those groups were disrespected and humiliated at every turn.
The same should be true of any government that disrespects its citizens. The central belief and fatal conceit of the current administration is that you are incapable of running your own life, but those in power are capable of running it for you. This is the essence of big government and collectivism.
If you're speaking of the government who tells women they can't make their own health decisions with regard to contraception and abortion, you'd be right. But wait -- those are the people you pay the big bucks to, so they can't be the ones, right? You send millions to organizations who support not only banning women's right to make their own decisions, but actually criminalizing their behavior in the process. That's not collectivism, though. It's dictatorial discrimination and conceit on a scale equal to your ego.
If, on the other hand, you're speaking of the government that opens the doors to millions to have access to affordable health care, who regulates Wall Street sharks and who protects our natural resources and environment, then it's you who are the failure, not "collectivists".
Is this what your little rant is all about? You know you've lost the war on Obamacare, and so now it's all about "collectivism?"
More than 200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson warned that this could happen. "The natural progress of things," Jefferson wrote, "is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground." He knew that no government could possibly run citizens' lives for the better. The more government tries to control, the greater the disaster, as shown by the current health-care debacle. Collectivists (those who stand for government control of the means of production and how people live their lives) promise heaven but deliver hell. For them, the promised end justifies the means.
I'm suppressing the urge to scream "neener neener neener" in your face. It really is about health care! Wow, you're truly angry that I have access to affordable health care. Too damned bad.
You've just confirmed everything Harry Reid said about you. You are really upset that my family and my friends' families are able to buy health insurance that is now regulated by the federal government.
Bite me. Get over yourself.
Instead of encouraging free and open debate, collectivists strive to discredit and intimidate opponents. They engage in character assassination. (I should know, as the almost daily target of their attacks.) This is the approach that Arthur Schopenhauer described in the 19th century, that Saul Alinsky famously advocated in the 20th, and that so many despots have infamously practiced. Such tactics are the antithesis of what is required for a free society—and a telltale sign that the collectivists do not have good answers.
Rather than try to understand my vision for a free society or accurately report the facts about Koch Industries, our critics would have you believe we're "un-American" and trying to "rig the system," that we're against "environmental protection" or eager to "end workplace safety standards." These falsehoods remind me of the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan's observation, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts." Here are some facts about my philosophy and our company:
He who criticizes should first clean his own house. Shall we talk about Americans for Prosperity, where you spent millions on ads that were lies? Or how about the millions sent to your 60 Plus Association for "education", which was then laundered through other organizations in order to kill proposals to raise taxes to pay for schools in California and bust unions? How about all of the millions you and your pals spent to defeat campaign finance around the country?
Those things you claim "collectivists" do are really what you do. So spare me the tears and shaken fists.
Koch companies employ 60,000 Americans, who make many thousands of products that Americans want and need.
Not so much. I've boycotted your products for years and don't miss them.
About one-third of our U.S.-based employees are union members.
Give it time. In five years you'll have that number whittled down to around one-tenth.
Koch employees have earned well over 700 awards for environmental, health and safety excellence since 2009, many of them from the Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Safety and Health Administration. EPA officials have commended us for our "commitment to a cleaner environment" and called us "a model for other companies."
That's how it rolls when you own the EPA. I'm guessing those awards were granted between 2001-2008.
Far from trying to rig the system, I have spent decades opposing cronyism and all political favors, including mandates, subsidies and protective tariffs—even when we benefit from them. I believe that cronyism is nothing more than welfare for the rich and powerful, and should be abolished.
Sure you have. Tell us more. Are you willing to end Subchapter S corporation status right now? Because I'm pretty sure if you did you'd have some tax issues that you're dodging right now.
Koch Industries was the only major producer in the ethanol industry to argue for the demise of the ethanol tax credit in 2011.
That wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that ethanol competes with Koch Industries' primary products, would it?
Instead of fostering a system that enables people to help themselves, America is now saddled with a system that destroys value, raises costs, hinders innovation and relegates millions of citizens to a life of poverty, dependency and hopelessness. This is what happens when elected officials believe that people's lives are better run by politicians and regulators than by the people themselves. Those in power fail to see that more government means less liberty, and liberty is the essence of what it means to be American. Love of liberty is the American ideal.
Ah, liberty. That thing you buy, but the rest of us have to earn. I have tasted the liberty of having my bank account depleted to pay for my family's health needs. I have eaten the fruit of the liberty tree that told me it was fine for me to lose my home, my savings, my retirement and my health. I have tasted the liberty that says I'm too old, too female, too costly to fill even the most menial jobs. That's the same liberty that demands expensive unsubsidized college educations with years of indentured servitude to follow.
That's the liberty you speak of? That liberty strands people in a life of inescapable poverty, dependency and hopelessness. Thanks, but no thanks.
If more businesses (and elected officials) were to embrace a vision of creating real value for people in a principled way, our nation would be far better off—not just today, but for generations to come. I'm dedicated to fighting for that vision. I'm convinced most Americans believe it's worth fighting for, too.
At least seven million of us see liberty in a different light. That's 7 million who won't be fighting for your flavor of liberty, because they've been freed from the bondage of second-class citizenship.
You're a billionaire, but you're just one person. There are millions of us, and our votes count just as much as yours does. So dry your tears and run along. The Obamacare battle is done. We won; you lost. That's how it works sometimes. You can't buy everything, no matter how much you're willing to throw away.