Being Muslim Under Narendra Modi
By BASHARAT PEER
APRIL 21, 2014
AHMEDABAD, India — Late last month I bought an Indian comic book online. I hadn’t bought one since the mid-80s, when I was a boy and would walk to the bookstore in my hometown in Kashmir to pick up copies of D.C. and Marvel Comics, or Amar Chitra Katha, a series based on the lives of major contemporary, historical and mythological figures in India. My latest purchase, “Bal Narendra” (“Boy Narendra”), was styled after Amar Chitra Katha.
I turned the pages with a mixture of anticipation and foreboding. The book purports to tell stories from the childhood of Narendra Modi, the longtime chief minister of Gujarat, one of the richest states in India, and the polarizing Hindu nationalist candidate for prime minister in the ongoing election. The tales are part of Mr. Modi’s high-octane campaign effort to present himself as a bearer of good governance, growth and efficiency.
Bal Narendra, the son of a tea-seller in a small town of Gujarat, embodies many virtues: courage, wit, diligence, fairness, compassion. He sells tea at a village fair to raise money for flood victims. In devotion to the religious tradition of his village, he swims across a lake full of crocodiles and hoists a flag on top of a temple on an island. When some bullies rough up a weaker child at school, he marks them by throwing ink from his fountain pen on their shirts and denounces them to the principal.
The publishers of the comic book — available exclusively from Infibeam, an Amazon-like online retailer run by a Gujarati entrepreneur close to Mr. Modi — would have you believe that now that he is all grown up, Bal Narendra is just as brave, clever and just. If anything, however, Mr. Modi’s public record paints the picture of a leader unapologetically divisive and sectarian.
It was on his watch as chief minister that more than 1,000 people, many of them Muslims, were killed throughout Gujarat in 2002, when rioting erupted after some 60 Hindus died in a burning train in Godhra. A Human Rights Watch report that year asserted that the state government and local police officials were complicit in the carnage.
Mr. Modi has not visited the camps of the Muslims displaced by the violence or apologized for his government’s failure to protect a minority. Instead, he has described the reprisal killings of Muslims that year as a simple “reaction” to an “action,” namely the deaths of the Hindu train passengers — and has said he felt as sad about them as would a passenger in a car that accidentally ran over a puppy. His only regret, he once told a reporter for this paper, was failing to manage the media fallout.
Even as candidate for prime minister, Mr. Modi has not given up his sectarian ways. Nor has his party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. Of the 449 B.J.P. candidates now running for seats in the lower house of Parliament, all but eight are Hindu. The party’s latest election manifesto reintroduces a proposal to build a temple to the Hindu god Ram on the site of a medieval mosque in the northern town of Ayodhya, even though the destruction of that mosque by Hindu extremists and B.J.P. supporters in 1992 devolved into violence that killed several thousand people.
Amit Shah, a former Gujarat minister and Mr. Modi’s closest aide, is awaiting trial for the murder of three people the police suspect of plotting to assassinate Mr. Modi. (Mr. Shah calls the charges a political conspiracy.) He has made speeches inciting anti-Muslim sentiment among Hindu voters, including in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India, despite an outbreak of sectarian violence there last September.
The problem isn’t just about rhetoric. Judging by the evidence in Gujarat, where Mr. Modi has been chief minister since 2001, a B.J.P. victory in the general election would increase marginalization and vulnerability among India’s 165 million Muslims.
Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city, has become a wealthy metropolis of about six million people and three million private vehicles. Office complexes, high-rise apartments, busy markets and shopping malls have replaced the poor villages that once dotted the land. The city has a mass transit system called People’s Path, with corridors reserved for buses.
But Ahmedabad ceases to swagger in Juhapura, a southwestern neighborhood and the city’s largest Muslim ghetto, with about 400,000 people. I rode around there last week on the back of a friend’s scooter. On the dusty main street was a smattering of white and beige apartment blocks and shopping centers. A multistory building announced itself in neon signs as a community hall; a restaurant boasted of having air-conditioning. The deeper we went into the neighborhood, the narrower the streets, the shabbier the buildings, the thicker the crowds.
The edge of the ghetto came abruptly. Just behind us was a row of tiny, single-story houses with peeling paint. Up ahead, in an empty space the size of a soccer field, children chased one another, jumping over heaps of broken bricks. “This is The Border,” my friend said. Beyond the field was a massive concrete wall topped with barbed wire and oval surveillance cameras. On the other side, we could see a neat row of beige apartment blocks with air conditioners securely attached to the windows — housing for middle-class Hindu families.
Mr. Modi’s engines of growth seem to have stalled on The Border. His acclaimed bus network ends a few miles before Juhapura. The route of a planned metro rail line also stops short of the neighborhood. The same goes for the city’s gas pipelines, which are operated by a company belonging to a billionaire businessman close to Mr. Modi.
“The sun is allowed into Juhapura. The rain is allowed into Juhapura. The wind is allowed into Juhapura,” Asif Pathan, a 41-year-old resident, said with sarcasm. “I get a bill for water tax and pay it, but we don’t get piped water here.” The locals rely on bore wells, which cough up salty, insalubrious water.
Mr. Pathan has been living in Juhapura since 1988, when his father, a retired district judge, bought a house here from a Hindu man. “My father said, ‘When the storm comes, you don’t get more than 10 minutes to run,"’ Mr. Pathan explained, referring to the threat of sectarian violence. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Juhapura was a mixed Hindu-Muslim neighborhood, but with the string of sectarian clashes in Gujarat — in 1985, 1992 and 2002 — more Muslims began to move here, seeking relative safety among people like themselves. Prejudice begets riots, and riots only exacerbate prejudice, and so the population of Juhapura has almost doubled since 2002.
After the 2002 riots, Mr. Pathan, a teacher, began tutoring children in Juhapura. Then he quit his job and, with his father’s support, bought a large patch of land by the highway that runs through Juhapura. In 2008 he started his own school. Now, around 1,300 children there attend classes in both Gujarati and English in airy classrooms. “We simply have to help ourselves,” Mr. Pathan said.
But self-help only goes so far, in Juhapura, and elsewhere. A large chunk of Narol, an area on the southern edge of Ahmedabad, was once a patch of uninhabited brushland that belonged to a wealthy political family. After Mr. Modi’s government refused to help relocate victims of the 2002 riots, several secular and Islamic organizations and small-time Muslims developers got involved. They bought land, cleared it, and built tenement houses, asbestos-lined roofs and all. About 120 homes were assigned by lottery to Muslims displaced from Naroda Patia, in northeast Ahmedabad. The cluster is called Citizens’ Nagar, or Citizens’ City, and wherever you stand in the self-made neighborhood you can see, half a mile away, a big brown mountain: the largest garbage dump in Mr. Modi’s boom city.
When I walked around Citizens’ Nagar last week, the brown mountain was burning into thick gray clouds under a harsh afternoon sun. The wind pushed pungent fumes toward the tenements. I struggled to breathe and feared I would vomit.
“Every year we have lived here I feel weaker,” said Mohsin Syed, a wiry 25-year-old from Naroda Patia who now works as a carpenter in a factory nearby. “I can’t run like I used to. I don’t eat like I used to.” He complained of pain in his joints, said he needed surgery for kidney stones, and added, “This place, this pollution, takes a decade off one’s life.”
His father, Najeebudin Syed, a large man with a short beard, told me that the many petitions he has sent to local authorities describing living conditions in the area have been ignored. “Once a week, they bring garbage from the Ahmedabad hospitals — bandages, medicine, refuse of all kinds. The smell is so foul, so bitter, that we know in a minute it is from the hospitals,” he said.
Some days, the carcasses of dead animals are brought to the dump.
That evening, back in my hotel room, I read another story from the comic book “Bal Narendra.” The boy is at a camp of the National Cadet Corps — the Indian version of the Eagle Scouts — when he notices a pigeon in a tree entangled in the strings of a kite. Holding a razor blade between his teeth, he climbs up, cuts the lines and frees the injured bird. I remembered Juhapura’s putrid water and the carcasses on the brown mountain, and wondered how a Prime Minister Narendra would wield that blade.
Basharat Peer is the author of “Curfewed Night,” a memoir of the conflict in Kashmir.
Another member of Gandhi dynasty weighs into bitter Indian election battle
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, seen as more charismatic than brother Rahul, gives speech calling for power 'in the hands of the people'
Jason Burke in Delhi
theguardian.com, Monday 21 April 2014 17.01 BST
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the youngest adult member of south Asia's most powerful political dynasty, weighed into India's increasingly bitter election campaign on Wednesday with a speech in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
Gandhi Vadra, 42, is the sister of Rahul Gandhi, the public face of the incumbent Congress party's bid to retain power for a third term, and the daughter of Sonia Gandhi, the Congress party's president.
"You have to decide whether you want politics where strength and power lies in the hands of the people or is vested in just one man," Gandhi Vadra told a crowd in the impoverished rural seat of Rae Bareli.
A series of opinion surveys have put the opposition Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), led by a controversial Hindu nationalist, Narendra Modi, far ahead of the Congress party. A poll earlier this week indicated that the BJP may even achieve a majority, which would be a crushing defeat for the centre-left party led by the Gandhis.
Critics say Modi, who is chief minister of Gujarat, has authoritarian tendencies and is prejudiced along sectarian lines. Modi rejects both charges.
The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has ruled India for most of the period since independence in 1947 but is increasingly unpopular even in its heartlands. A series of corruption scandals, flagging economic growth and rising food prices have sapped support for the Congress party after a decade in power.
A Congress minister said, on condition of anonymity, that Gandhi Vadra, who is not standing for parliament, was not seeking to upstage her elder brother but was simply "lending a hand".
"She has a formidable intellect and is working hard and loyally because her brother is travelling so much he cannot attend to every and all things at once," the minister said.
There have been reports that Congress is planning a more public role for Gandhi Vadra, with suggestions that she might even stand as a Congress candidate against Modi, 63, in the hugely significant seat of Varanasi, the northern holy city. The party eventually picked a "local" candidate.
In contrast to her older brother Rahul, Gandhi Vadra is seen as charismatic, decisive and a good orator. But she has repeatedly said she will only campaign in the constituencies of her mother, Sonia, and her brother.
"The media is trying to make a big issue of it," said a Congress party spokesman, Shakeel Ahmed. "She has said so many times her role is limited to the two constituencies. We should respect that decision."
Gandhi Vadra is often compared to her grandmother, the immensely powerful and polarising prime minister Indira Gandhi, to whom she bears a striking resemblance. Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her bodyguards in 1984 and her son, Rajiv, who was Gandhi Vadra's father, was killed in a suicide bombing in 1991.
Political analysts say Gandhi Vadra is mediating between an "old guard" within the Congress party that is resisting reforms pushed by 43-year-old Rahul Gandhi, and a younger generation of parliamentarians and unelected officials who believe the party must change radically if it is to regain power.
Rasheed Kidwai, a journalist who has written a biography of Sonia Gandhi, said portrayals of the two siblings as rivals were wrong. "It's not a question of Rahul or Priyanka. It will probably be Rahul and Priyanka, given the scale of the challenge that the Congress faces in the election and beyond," he told Reuters.
The BJP has dismissed Gandhi Vadra's efforts, saying the Congress party's faith in one dynasty was its undoing. "The family charisma has faded away ... The real solution to the problem is to make Congress a more structured party. The Congress party solution is [that] if one incumbent in the family fails, the alternative can only be another member of the family," Arun Jaitley, a senior leader of the party, wrote in a blog.
Myanmar Army Says 22 Dead in Clashes with Rebels
by Naharnet Newsdesk
20 April 2014, 11:05
Fighting between the military and ethnic minority rebels in northern Myanmar has left at least 22 people dead this month, the army said Sunday, dimming hopes of a nationwide peace deal.
Bloodshed in the state of Kachin, the scene of the last major active civil war in the former junta-ruled country, has uprooted tens of thousands of people and tempered optimism about sweeping political reforms.
Eight government soldiers, including one officer, have been killed in clashes this month, according to a military statement carried by the army-owned Myawaddy newspaper.
The military also retrieved the bodies of 14 Kachin Independence Army (KIA) fighters along with weapons, it added.
There was no immediate comment from the KIA, one of the country's largest rebel armies.
Kachin sources said thousands of villagers were taking refuge along the border with China.
According to the U.N., about 100,000 people have been displaced in remote, resource-rich area since a 17-year ceasefire between the government and the rebels broke down in June 2011.
The total death toll from the conflict is unknown.
The military said fighting flared up earlier this month after one of its officers was killed in an ambush by the KIA, prompting it to deploy troops to clear areas along supply lines.
President Thein Sein's reformist government has struck a series of tentative peace deals with major rebel groups in the country, which has been wracked by civil conflict since independence from Britain in 1948.
After numerous rounds of talks, the government and Kachin rebels signed a seven-point plan in May 2013 aimed at ending hostilities.
At the time the agreement was hailed as a breakthrough by the government, which is now seeking to ink a nationwide ceasefire with a coalition of rebel groups to burnish its reform credentials as it woos foreign donors and investors.
Another round of peace talks is scheduled for early May although it could be delayed because of the fresh unrest, according to a person close to the talks who did not want to be named.
Since decades of outright military rule ended three years ago, former general Thein Sein has won international praise by freeing hundreds of political prisoners, easing censorship and letting opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi enter parliament.
But optimism has been marred by the Kachin conflict, several outbreaks of deadly Buddhist-Muslim strife around the country and concerns about continued repressive laws.
Sex claim shows desperation of Malaysia's rulers, says top opponent
Ten years after being jailed, Anwar Ibrahim faces renewed charges of sodomy as regime clamps down on opponents
theguardian.com, Sunday 20 April 2014 21.24 BST
The last time Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia's opposition leader, was sent to prison, he read the complete works of Shakespeare, (five times), wrote essays and treatises, gave interviews and strategised about how best to lead the opposition party to victory against the ruling party, which has governed this south-east Asian nation for nearly 60 years.
Ten years later, he once again faces imprisonment on sodomy charges, which he claims are politically motivated.
His case has gripped Malaysia in its range from the absurd to the bizarre. Charged in 2008 with sodomising a former male aide, Anwar was cleared in 2012 on lack of evidence. But an appeals court overturned the acquittal last month on the eve of a byelection in Malaysia's richest state, Selangor, where he was tipped to become chief minister.
Not only did the conviction rely on a witness of doubtful testimony, the appeal was led by the government and the lead prosecutor suddenly did an about-face and switched to Anwar's defence team.
"It's a sign of desperation on the part of the government," said Anwar of his conviction, in an interview in London, where he is visiting his friend and former American vice-president Al Gore, after being granted a stay of sentence. "They think because the [next general] elections are four years away they can literally get away with murder."
Anwar, 66, is Malaysia's longest-suffering political opponent and greatest threat to the incumbent Umno government, led by the prime minister Najib Razak, whose Barisan Nasional (National Front) alliance has ruled the country since independence.
Anwar is a polarising figure in a conservative nation of 30 million, where his political career has spanned formidable highs and lows: once serving as the deputy prime minister and finance minister, he was courted by international media and graced the cover of Newsweek, then fell out spectacularly with the premier Mahathir Mohamad.
Anwar has long contended that all the charges against him were politically motivated, with the sodomy convictions based on an archaic colonial law rendering sex between men a punishable offence, even if consensual. Very few sodomy cases ever make it to court and Anwar and his supporters believe his charges to be a political ploy to keep him out of politics in a conservative nation built on family values. He first spent six years in prison, mostly in solitary confinement, until his release in 2004.
This second sodomy charge followed a stellar performance by Anwar's three-party opposition coalition in the 2008 general elections, at which the opposition made huge gains against the Barisan Nasional – and was overturned in 2012 by Malaysia's high court.
Analysts believe there was "no coincidence" regarding the overturning of that acquittal last month, with human rights groups, the US state department and UN all questioning the legality of the court decision.
"This trial was all about knocking Anwar Ibrahim out of politics, pure and simple," said Phil Robertson, of Human Rights Watch. "The Malaysia judiciary … has shown how hard it is to get a free and fair trial when political issues are at play."
Yet it is not just Anwar the government seems to be targeting, say civil rights groups, who point to the arrest and conviction of other prominent opposition MPs, such as Karpal Singh, who was convicted of sedition, under another ill-used colonial-era law, as a means to thwart an opposition that has had big gains in the last two general elections, as well as in the byelections last month.
"What's alarming is the extent to which this government, which is supposed to have won the election, is going to undermine the opposition," said Ambiga Sreenevasan, a lawyer and former chair of Bersih, the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections. "This is really without a doubt a clear-cut case of selective – I'm going to call it persecution – not prosecution."
Anwar's conviction could once again be overturned, pending a federal court hearing expected within the next month. But in a nation where the definition of justice depends on "what the government of the day feels like doing", said Ambiga, it was unclear just how far Malaysia would go to silence its opposition.
As for Anwar, who could well choose to never return to Malaysia, life in his home country, whether behind bars or atop rally stages, seems the only option for fighting for a democracy that he says will one day prevail.
"There is no benefit to going back to Malaysia," he said. "[But] I decided a long time ago that I wanted to go back because it is my conviction, it is my firm belief, that Malaysia has to mature as a vibrant democracy that has no corruption, abuse of power or leadership that has been squandering billions of dollars.
"It's tough when you consider my wife and children suffer, but they know, and I discussed it with them, they support me even though they are not happy for me to endure this again. But we have to weather the storm. I am always optimistic."
A mass rally backing Anwar is planned for 1 May in Kuala Lumpur, where other rallies in support of Bersih, calling for clean and fair elections, have attracted hundreds of thousands of Malaysians to take to the streets in recent years.
"Tyrants, authoritarian leaders, are not permanent features. They are racing against time. Over the temporary setbacks, the clamour for reform or democracy is irreversible," Anwar said.
Japan risks angering China with military expansion
Planned construction of radar station near Taiwan is latest twist in row over disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands
theguardian.com, Saturday 19 April 2014 15.01 BST
Japan began its first military expansion in more than 40 years on Saturday, breaking ground on a radar station on a tropical island off Taiwan to resist China's claims of ownership of nearby islands.
The move risks angering China, which in dispute with Japan over the Senkaku islands – known in China as the Diaoyu islands – which they both claim.
The Japanese defence minister, Itsunori Onodera, who attended a ceremony on Yonaguni island to mark the start of construction, suggested the military presence could be enlarged to other islands in the seas south-west of Japan's main islands.
"This is the first deployment since the US returned Okinawa in 1972 and calls for us to be more on guard are growing," Onodera said. "I want to build an operation able to properly defend islands that are part of Japan's territory."
The military radar station on Yonaguni, part of a longstanding plan to improve defence and surveillance, gives Japan a lookout just 93 miles from the Japanese-held islands claimed by China.
Building the base could extend Japanese monitoring to the Chinese mainland and track Chinese ships and aircraft circling the disputed crags.
The decision by Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, to put troops on Yonanguni shows Japan's concerns about the vulnerability of its thousands of islands and the perceived threat from China.
The new base "should give Japan the ability to expand surveillance to near the Chinese mainland," said Heigo Sato, a professor at Takushoku University and a former researcher at the National Institute for Defence Studies. "It will allow early warning of missiles and supplement the monitoring of Chinese military movements."
Japan does not specify an exact enemy when discussing its defence strategy but it makes no secret it perceives China generally as a threat as it becomes an Asian power that could one day rival Japan's ally in the region, the United States.
Japan, in its national defence programme guidelines issued in December, expressed "great concern" over China's military buildup and "attempts to change the status quo by coercion" in the sea and air.
China's decision last year to establish an air-defence identification zone in the East China Sea, including the skies above the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islets, further rattled Tokyo.
Japanese and Chinese navy and coastguard ships have played cat-and-mouse around the uninhabited islands since Japan nationalised the territory in 2012. Japanese warplanes scrambled against Chinese planes a record 415 times in the year through to March, the defence ministry said last week.
The United States, which under its security pact with Tokyo has pledged to defend Japanese territory, has warned China about taking any action over the disputed islets, but has not formally recognised Japan's claim of sovereignty over the territory.
Japan Warns over China Ship Seizure
by Naharnet Newsdesk
21 April 2014, 09:57
Tokyo on Monday warned that the seizure of a Japanese ship in Shanghai over pre-wartime debts threatened ties with China and could undermine the basis of their post-war diplomatic relationship.
Authorities in Shanghai seized the large freight vessel in a dispute over what the Chinese side says is unpaid bills relating to the 1930s, when Japan occupied swathes of China.
The move is the latest to illustrate the bitter enmity at the heart of Tokyo-Beijing ties, with the two sides embroiled in a spat over the ownership of a small archipelago and snapping at each other over differing interpretations of history.
Shanghai Maritime Court said Saturday it had seized "the vessel 'Baosteel Emotion' owned by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines... for enforcement of an effective judgement" made in December 2007.
"The arrested vessel will be dealt with by the law if Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Ltd. still refuses to perform its obligations," the Maritime Court said.
Chinese and Hong Kong media said the seizure was related to a verdict by a court in Shanghai that said Mitsui had to pay about 2.9 billion yen ($28 million) in relation to the leasing of two ships nearly 80 years ago.
Reports said in 1936, Mitsui's predecessor, Daido Shipping Co. rented two ships on a one-year contract from Zhongwei Shipping Co.
However, the ships were commandeered by the Imperial Japanese Navy and were sunk during World War II, reports said.
A compensation suit was brought against Mitsui by the descendants of the founder of Zhongwei Shipping Co., and in 2007, a Shanghai court ordered Mitsui to pay about 2.9 billion yen in compensation.
Mitsui appealed against the court's decision, but in December 2010, the Supreme People's Court turned down their petition for the case to be retried.
Mitsui has argued that it is not liable for paying compensation given that the ships that Daido rented were requisitioned by the Japanese military during the war, Kyodo said.
On Monday, Japan's chief government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga said the seizure undermined the 1972 joint communique that normalised ties between Japan and China, in which Beijing agreed to renounce "its demand for war reparation from Japan."
"It could also intimidate Japanese companies doing business in China as a whole and hence Japan is deeply worried and strongly expects China to take appropriate measures," he said.
The case appears to be the first time the assets of a Japanese company have been confiscated in a lawsuit relating to wartime or occupation compensation, Japan's Kyodo News reported.
But it comes as a set of lawsuits related to wartime forced labour in Japan have been filed in China against Japanese corporations.
China has long maintained a policy of not accepting such civil lawsuits. But a Beijing court for the first time has agreed to hear a lawsuit by Chinese citizens demanding compensation from Japanese firms over forced labour, their lawyer said last month.
"Including this incident, China's set of policies on this issue could shake up in a profound way the spirit of normalising diplomatic ties between Japan and China, that is inscribed in the 1972 joint communique," Suga said Monday.
The value of Japanese companies' investment in China dropped by half in the first quarter of this year from a year earlier to about $1.21 billion, Chinese government data said.
Japan PM Makes Offering to War Shrine, but Skips Visit
by Naharnet Newsdesk
21 April 2014, 07:25
Japan's Shinzo Abe offered a gift to the controversial Yasukuni war shrine Monday, but reportedly plans to stay away during the spring festival, in an apparent compromise between not angering Asian neighbors and playing to his nationalist base.
The unapologetically nationalist Abe donated a sacred "masakaki" tree to coincide with the start of a three-day festival, a shrine official said, two days ahead of the arrival of U.S. President Barack Obama.
The sending of a gift has been seen as a sign that Abe does not intend to visit, as he did on December 26, sparking fury in Asia and earning him a diplomatic slap on the wrist from the United States, which said it was "disappointed".
Yasukuni Shrine honors Japan's war dead, including some senior military and political figures convicted of serious crimes in the wake of the country's World War II defeat.
That, and the accompanying museum -- which paints Japan as a frustrated liberator of Asia and victim of WWII -- makes it controversial, especially in China and South Korea, where it is seen as a symbol of Japan's lack of penitence.
Abe and other nationalists say the shrine is merely a place to remember fallen soldiers. They compare it with Arlington National Cemetery in the United States.
- Abe cautious ahead of Obama visit -
Masaru Ikei, an expert on Japanese diplomacy and professor emeritus at Keio University, said with Obama due to arrive on Wednesday for a state visit, Abe was always likely to stay away.
"The prime minister does not want to worsen ties with China and South Korea before President Obama's visit, but he does want to maintain his creed that he should pray for the war dead," he told Agence France Presse.
Ikei said Washington's very public and slightly unexpected rebuke after his last visit meant Abe "will not be able to visit the shrine again for a while".
Japan's chief government spokesman Yoshihide Suga on Monday sought to play down Abe's shrine gift.
"I'm aware that the prime minister offered Masakaki (sacred tree)," he told reporters.
"The offering was made in his capacity as a private person, and so the government should not comment on such an act by him."
Asked about possible ramifications on the upcoming meeting between Abe and Obama, Suga said: "It won't affect the summit at all."
Many conservative lawmakers are expected to go to the shrine to mark the spring festival on Tuesday.
Two of Abe's cabinet ministers have already visited, saying they did not want the visits to interrupt their official duties.
Ties with South Korea have shown slight signs of improvement recently, following a three-way summit between Abe, Obama and President Park Geun-Hye and the visit to Seoul last week of a senior Japanese diplomat.
But relations with China remain sour.
In a further sign of their parlous state, Japanese shipping giant Mitsui O.S.K. Lines said China had seized one of its ships in a row over what Beijing says are unpaid damages relating to events in the 1930s.
That came after Japan began building a military installation in the far southwest of its long island chain, near the disputed Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims as the Diaoyus.
The facility will bolster its ability to surveil China and is likely to further irritate Beijing, which regularly warns that Japan is re-militarizing, while ramping up its own military spending and capacity.
Obama on Mission to Quiet Asia Skeptics
by Naharnet Newsdesk
21 April 2014, 07:14
Five years after refashioning U.S. foreign policy to emphasize Asia, President Barack Obama will face questions over his strategy's content and staying power in the region this week.
Obama will counter the impression that events, including carnage in Syria and the East-West showdown over Ukraine have dragged his administration’s attention elsewhere.
He will argue in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines that the "rebalancing" policy -- of withdrawing U.S. military, economic and human resources from Middle East wars and deploying them to emerging Asia -- remains on track.
Obama will embark on his fifth visit as president to Asia when he lands in Japan on Wednesday.
This journey, the first of two to the region this year, will make up for the embarrassment of skipping regional summits in November because of domestic political battles.
He seeks progress in tough talks with Japan over the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, hung up over auto and agricultural market access. The TPP would cement Obama’s legacy in Asia, but talks on the 12-nation pact lost momentum last year.
Obama must also walk a fine line, bolstering alliances with nations which see the United States as a counterweight to powerful China, while avoiding angering Beijing.
He will also press on with efforts to ease the dispute between U.S. allies South Korea and Japan, insist North Korea will get no reward for belligerence and complete a revival of U.S. relations with Malaysia.
- Can Obama deliver? -
U.S. officials now prefer the term "rebalancing" of U.S.-Asia policy rather than the previous buzzword "pivot," which implies a departure and caused consternation among U.S. allies in Europe.
But some wonder if the policy has been stronger on rhetoric than on delivery since Obama, born in Hawaii and raised for four years in Indonesia, declared himself America's "first Pacific president" in Japan in 2009.
"Unfortunately, the White House has not been able to make the notion of 'rebalance' stick and give it operational coherence," said Kenneth Lieberthal, a Clinton administration Asia policy specialist.
"Countries on this visit will be looking for evidence of President Obama's security commitments and his related tactical skill, the ability to judge and manage issues in a way that establishes reachable goals and a good strategy to get there," said Lieberthal, of the Brookings Institution.
The administration insists the strategy has had tangible results and revitalized American alliances.
A small U.S. Marine detachment is already in Darwin, Australia, building up to a permanent rotation of around 2,500 troops.
With an eye on North Korea, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sent two more destroyers to Japan. Several Littoral Combat Ships have been based in Singapore and the U.S. Navy eventually envisages a 60-40 split between assets in the Pacific and elsewhere.
Washington was also prominent in luring Myanmar out of isolation, though the country’s reform drive is beset by challenges.
But uncertainty lingers over U.S. intentions.
"The U.S. needs to first and foremost clearly define what 'pivoting' or 'rebalancing' exactly means, especially in the current high-tension environment in East Asia,” said Oh Ei Sun, an international relations specialist at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
"Is pivoting just a military and security issue, in which case it may be gaining traction regionally due to China's increasingly strident posture, or is it something more, entailing an economic dimension as well?"
- U.S. politics a factor -
Obama’s no-show in Brunei and Bali last year led some in Asia to conclude Washington lacks energy for Asia.
Sequester spending cuts and talk of reducing the size of the U.S. aircraft carrier fleet meanwhile posed the question: Can America even afford the pivot?
Some Asian governments doubt Obama has the political leverage to pilot a TPP through Congress, especially in a mid-term election year when protectionist fever runs high.
Obama’s last-minute decision to abort strikes on Syria last year to punish chemical weapons use meanwhile sparked debate on whether U.S. red lines in Asia would also get blurred.
Some critics question whether U.S. strategy is too reliant on military and economic tools and lacks sustained engagement once Air Force One takes off for home.
"The pivot is like a stool that has two legs and is missing one," said Bridget Welsh, of Singapore Management University.
"The rebalancing is without balance."
Welsh also raised the idea, heard often in Washington and in Asia, that Secretary of State John Kerry is less consumed by Asia than his predecessor Hillary Clinton, as he chases a Middle East peace deal and locks horns with Russia.
The White House denies any loss of commitment.
"There should be no question that where we have alliance commitments and treaty obligations in the Asia Pacific region or anywhere else in the world, we will uphold those obligations willingly and definitively," said National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
"I've not heard unease expressed."
Report: Thousands in China Protest after Officials Beat Vendor, Passer-by
by Naharnet Newsdesk
20 April 2014, 17:24
Thousands took to the streets of a Chinese city to protest at the beating of a vendor and of a passer-by who took photos of the incident, reports said Sunday.
The incident at Lingxi city in Cangnan county in the eastern province of Zhejiang is the latest instance of public outrage triggered by the behavior of China's "chengguan," quasi-police officials who enforce local regulations and have a reputation for brutality.
Five chengguan were injured in the protest, with two in critical condition, the state-run China Daily newspaper reported Sunday. The passer-by, a man surnamed Huang, was in stable condition.
According to an account posted by the Cangnan government on its official microblog Saturday night, the incident began when several chengguan in Lingxi demanded that a vendor stop "illegally" selling gas stoves and other items, which they said were blocking the sidewalk.
Huang, who happened to be passing by, began taking photos, and "after the officers demanded he stop, to no avail, both sides clashed," the official report said.
Huang was injured in the altercation and taken to hospital, the Cangnan government said.
The official account stated that Internet rumors about "urban management workers beating a man to death" began circulating in the afternoon, triggering a mass gathering of onlookers during which five officers were "besieged and beaten."
A report in the Southern Metropolis Daily on Sunday quoted several eyewitnesses who said Huang, 36, was beaten by more than a dozen officers, some uniformed and others in plainclothes.
One local resident told the paper that the vendor who triggered the incident was a young woman and that her stoves "were not blocking the road; she just placed them in front of the store."
After Huang declined to hand over his phone, the officers punched him to the ground, then kicked him for more than a minute until he was vomiting blood, eyewitnesses said.
The uniformed officers fled after the incident, while the plainclothes men got inside a yellow van but were soon surrounded by angry onlookers, some of whom burst the vehicle's tires to prevent an escape, the paper reported.
It said some protesters smashed the vehicle's windows with bricks and others overturned an ambulance.
The incident follows reports earlier this month that urban management officers in the eastern city of Fuzhou beat an old man to death, an episode that triggered national outrage online.
Central African Republic on 'Brink of Genocide', Warns Tutu
by Naharnet Newsdesk
20 April 2014, 19:38
Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu warned Sunday that the Central African Republic was "on the brink of genocide," as he urged warring sides to reconcile their differences and "re-learn to live together."
"Over the past 13 months, the nation's seemingly incessant struggles for political power and resources have degenerated into anarchy, hatred and ethnic cleansing -- the country stands on the brink of genocide; some would say it has already commenced," Archbishop Emeritus Tutu said in a statement released by his peace foundation.
The former French colony, one of the poorest countries in the world, plunged into a crisis after a coup by the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels in March last year.
After seizing power, some of the rebels went rogue and embarked on a campaign of killing, raping and looting.
The abuses prompted members of the Christian majority to form vigilante groups, unleashing a wave of brutal tit-for-tat killings, leaving thousands dead and close to a million displaced.
In his message, Tutu called on people on all sides of the conflict -- Christian, Muslim and Atheist -- to "rekindle the spirit of tolerance."
"When we forgive we liberate ourselves and sow a seed for a new beginning; it has a powerful multiplier effect," he said.
"It is the people of the Central African Republic who hold the key to sustainable peace. It is the people who must re-learn to live together," he said.
With the humanitarian crisis in the country spiraling, he said the deployment of a new U.N. peacekeeping force -- which will see 12,000 troops on the ground -- was a "massive relief" and would help "protect the people from themselves".
"They will assist to restore broken systems, including policing and justice," he said.
Nigeria Gunmen Raze Teachers Residence at Girls School
by Naharnet Newsdesk
20 April 2014, 21:07
Gunmen in northern Nigeria set fire to a staff residential building at a girls' secondary school on Sunday but the 195 students sleeping in their nearby dormitories were unharmed, police and a teacher said.
The attack in Bauchi state came less than a week after Boko Haram Islamists kidnapped 129 teenage schoolgirls from the Chibok area of Borno state in the northeast. Forty-four of those girls have since escaped.
"At about 2:30 am (0130 GMT), unknown gunmen carried out coordinated attacks in Yana town," Bauchi's police spokesman Haruna Mohammed said.
They burnt "several buildings including a staff quarters of a girls' secondary school, an eight-block police quarters, a sharia (Islamic law) court and the local government secretariat," he told Agence France Presse.
Mohammed said it was not clear who carried out the attack and provided no details on casualties.
Boko Haram, an extremist group fighting to create a strict Islamic state in northern Nigeria, has attacked Bauchi many times in an insurgency that has killed thousands since 2009.
A teacher at the school who requested anonymity said the attackers appeared to have deliberately avoided the student residential buildings.
"The gunmen only attacked the teachers' quarters but did not go near the girls' hostels," he said.
"We have 195 students staying at the hostels who are writing their (end-of-term) exams, but none of them were affected," he continued.
"It is a great relief, considering what happened in Chibok."
The Monday attack in Chibok, unprecedented in Boko Haram’s uprising, has sparked global outrage.
With 85 girls still missing, locals have urged the military to launch a more robust rescue mission, claiming that the effort made so far is inadequate.
Parents have scoured the bushlands surrounding Chibok in a desperate attempt to rescue their daughters.
Locals have also urged Boko Haram to show compassion and release the girls who are likely being held in a forest area where the Islamists are known to have well fortified camps.
Boko Haram translates as "Western education is forbidden," and school attacks have featured prominently in its five-year uprising.
In a report released this month, the International Crisis Group described the Islamists as more divided than ever, with various factions pursuing different interests.
The attackers in Bauchi may have been members of a less hardline Boko Haram cell, one not prepared to commit a mass abduction like in Chibok.
Boko Haram's leader, Abubakar Shekau, has claimed responsibility for the deadliest attack ever in Nigeria's capital, a bomb blast that killed at least 75 people on the outskirts of the city during morning rush hour on Monday.
France backs claims that Syrian forces have used chemical weapons recently
François Hollande says France has 'information' that toxic gases have been used against opposition in recent attacks
Martin Chulov in Beirut
theguardian.com, Sunday 20 April 2014 16.25 BST
Allegations that Bashar al-Assad's forces used chemical weapons in recent attacks gained traction on Sunday when France said it had "information" of toxic gases being used against opposition targets.
The claim, by the French president, François Hollande, follows accusations by the exiled Syrian opposition and rebel groups in the west and south of the country that gas has been used nine times in the past two months, killing more than 10 people and affecting hundreds more.
Hollande was not specific about the basis for his claims, which he said had not been proved. However, France has remained in close contact with opposition leaders and previously used its own government laboratories to verify that sarin had been used in a mass attack near Damascus last August.
The French leader told Europe Radio 1 that whatever had taken place was "much less significant than those in Damascus … but very deadly".
France, the US and Britain vehemently blamed the Syrian regime for that attack, which killed between 355 and 1,400 people in rebel-held suburbs of the capital and led Barack Obama to threaten a military strike against Assad.
At the time, each government based its assessments on signals intelligence, which tracked rocket launches on the night of the attack, as well as intercepts of frantic conversations between field commanders and senior officials in the immediate aftermath.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was tasked with removing Syria's chemical weapons arsenal, which Assad surrendered in a deal brokered by Russia to avoid being bombed. It later found that samples taken from where the rockets landed matched those of the regime's supply of sarin.
The OPCW last week said 80% of Syria's chemical weapons had so far been handed over for destruction. The organisation told the Guardian recently that it would not investigate the new claims unless they were referred to it by a signatory state.
Syria has acknowledged that casualties in at least two recent attacks showed symptoms of being gassed. However, as was the case in the mass chemical strike, it blamed the al-Qaida-aligned rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra.
The Syrian National Coalition called for an international investigation after the most recent incident. It said samples of blood and clothing from people reporting symptoms of gassing had been transferred to Turkey for analysis. It also said it had passed on information to the United Nations and the OPCW.
Before the mass chemical weapons strike, opposition groups in frontline areas of Damascus had regularly alleged that fighters and citizens were dying of gas-like symptoms. The precise substance was never identified. However, British and US officials believed a diluted form of sarin, or industrial strength pesticides and chemicals such as chlorine, were likely culprits.
Residents of areas struck in recent months have reported a strong smell of a chlorine-like substance. In two cases they recorded video of a large bomb dropped from a helicopter exploding as it hit the ground and emitting a large grey cloud that was deemed to be unusual. Residents reported symptoms of nausea and respiratory distress in the hours afterwards.
Israeli defence officials also said this month they believed chemicals had been used in a recent attack near Damascus. However, they offered no details.
Pressed on what he could add, Hollande said: "What I do know is what we have seen from this regime is the horrific methods it is capable of using and the rejection of any political transition."
Assad made a rare public appearance on Sunday in the Christian town of Maaloula, which was captured from rebels last week. One returning resident told Reuters the village had been destroyed in the fighting. "The houses are totally destroyed, the whole village was destroyed. I can't describe the amount of damage to the village," said the villager, who gave her name as Lorain.
Besieged and terrified … and the food is about to run out for Damascus refugees
Syrian blockade of Yarmouk refugee camp raises fears for 18,000 people left starving inside, with some already resorting to eating leaves and animal feed
Martin Chulov in Kilis on the Turkey-Syria border
The Observer, Saturday 19 April 2014 20.54 BST
The desperate residents of a besieged district of Damascus are expected to run out of food on Sunday, leaving 18,000 people facing starvation and leading relief agencies to declare the crisis "unprecedented in living memory".
Food packages have not been delivered to the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp for 10 days, and Syrian authorities are not expected to allow food trucks in over the Easter weekend. Residents have resorted to eating leaves and animal feed. Some say they cannot get access even to scraps, as a desperate blockade by government forces, in place for nearly 18 months, continues to cut off supplies.
Syrian officials have allowed only sporadic access to Yarmouk, to relief groups led by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), since the first pleas for help from residents early last year.
"It is unprecedented in living memory for a UNRWA-assisted population to be subject to abject desperation in this way and the sheer humanitarian facts cry out for a response," organisation spokesman Chris Gunness told the Observer. "Without that, the humanity of all of us must be seriously questioned.
"It is an affront to all of us that in a capital city of a member state, women are dying in childbirth for lack of medical care, there are incidents of malnutrition among infants and people are resorting to eating animal feed."
Once the biggest Palestinian camp in Syria, and held up as a beacon of the regime's support for the Palestinian cause, Yarmouk is now a husk, its bombed-out buildings home to an ever-decreasing number of desperate residents and opposition fighters. Several thousand Syrian citizens are also living among the Palestinians. They also remain without access to food supplies.
To keep the remaining residents from starving, UNRWA says it needs to deliver at least 700 food parcels per day, each of which feeds five to eight people. It has only managed to get in 100 per day on average since the start of the year. However, conditions have drastically worsened in recent weeks, with all supplies stopped amid regime demands that rebel groups inside surrender.
An agreement to allow unfettered access to Yarmouk, brokered in January between all sides including a Palestinian faction that supports the Syrian government, broke down last month. Ever since, Syrian troops have been on the offensive near the camp, which weaves into the south-western suburbs of Damascus.
"We've got nothing," said Abu Issa, 60, a resident of Yarmouk. "No food, no money. We are sharing the animals' food by living on grass we get from the gardens. The Syrian army do not allow anything to get in unless the rebels leave the camp and the rebels refuse to leave and we are stuck between. I have three sons, they were desperate to leave the camp by any means. A smuggler promised to take them out and then outside of Syria, but they were arrested at the first checkpoint and I know nothing about them, if they're dead or alive."
The crisis in Yarmouk is unfolding as new UN documents appear to support a widespread opposition claim that the regime of President Assad is using starvation tactics as a weapon of war. The documents, obtained by Foreign Policy magazine, track the success of the UN's world food programme in the two months since the UN security council passed a resolution demanding immediate humanitarian access to aid workers.
The documents show that more food parcels have reached those in need than before the resolution was passed, but that was due to families fleeing to regime-controlled areas where food is more readily available. Food has also remained critically short in other opposition-held parts of the country, including the Old City area of Homs, which has been under an unrelenting attack for six months.
Before the war, food and water were abundant in all parts of the country. However, areas far from the Turkish, Jordanian and Lebanese borders – which are still enjoying some cross-frontier trade – are now reporting increasing scarcity in places that rely solely on regime supply lines, including Homs. Indicators of malnutrition have risen substantially in recent months.
The UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs, Valerie Amos, has told the security council that 240,000 people remain besieged across Syria. Most have little access to essentials.
Staggering numbers continue to define the Syrian violence, which is now into its fourth year and shows little sign of abating. More than 9 million people are in need of constant humanitarian assistance, a similar number have been internally displaced, and more than 2 million have fled across borders. In addition, more than 150,000 people have been killed and large parts of the country destroyed.
The UN has made a series of strident statements, but the security council has remained largely unable to shape events, with Syrian allies Russia and China opposing measures to limit the regime's influence.
"Hundreds of people are killed with chemical weapons and the security council is able to adopt a robust approach," said Gunness. "Let us hope that when thousands are facing the threat of malnutrition and worse that the security council can be equally robust."
Syria's starving civilians struggle to survive in bombarded cities
Relentless bombardment has destroyed opposition strongholds. For those trapped inside, the choice from Assad is stark: submit or die
Martin Chulov in Kilis, Turkish-Syrian border
The Observer, Saturday 19 April 2014 20.54 BST
The routine has become familiar. An approaching whump of rotor blades, then the piercing plummet of a giant bomb as it shreds the sky above.
The few who have stayed behind in east Aleppo know exactly what to do. "We run to the basement and we stay still, very still," said Mahmoud al-Duri, a resident of the city's ancient heart. "Then we wait." For the past three months, large rudimentary explosives have rained down on the battered city's eastern half day and night, destroying much of what lay beneath and forcing most remaining residents to flee with their families.
The bombing campaign, the most brutal and relentless to have been launched anywhere in the country since the war began, has laid waste to the opposition stronghold in Syria's largest city. Activists and military officials say that 60% of the eastern half has been destroyed in recent months. Damage until then had been sparse.
From just across the frontline it would be difficult to know. Held by President Bashar al-Assad's regime, west Aleppo has neither the look nor feel of a city at war, its residents say. Life goes on there without deprivation or destruction from above. Food and water is plentiful and electricity, which for more than one year in the east has been a fleeting gift, is nearly always on.
More than three years into Syria's civil war, the country is split into the "haves and the have nots". Those who live in areas controlled by the state are not going without. Residents of opposition areas, however, are in an increasingly desperate battle for survival.
In opposition-controlled areas of Homs, more than 200km (124 miles) to the south, and in Damascus the scourge is not bombs but starvation. Food, which is not in short supply in most areas of the country, is desperately needed, especially in districts where rebel groups and anti-regime communities hold out.
The Old City of Homs and the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in the capital are two such areas that are close to being starved into submission. The United Nations Relief Works Agency says its efforts to feed the 18,000 Palestinians who have stayed in the camp, which 18 months ago was home to more than 250,000 people, are close to failing catastrophically. Residents already eating leaves and animal fodder to survive have for the past 10 days been denied access to essential food supplies. If they are not delivered by today, there will be no food in Yarmouk.
Implicit in their suffering is a choice: those who want to eat can leave for the government-held side, but to do so involves the risk of detention. "I have three sons, they were desperate to leave the camp by any means," Abu Issa, 60, told the Observer. "But they were arrested at the first checkpoint and I know nothing about them, if they're dead or alive."
A new UN report has chronicled efforts to get food to those in need since a security council resolution passed in February demanded humanitarian access to suffering communities. The report, obtained by Foreign Policy magazine, found that, while those able to be reached had risen from 3.7 million to 4.1 million, the increase was caused by more people crossing to regime-controlled areas where the Syrian authorities allowed delivery.
In opposition districts of Homs, which have been under relentless attack since the start of the year, activists and aid officials report a similar story of food in return for submission. In Damascus and Hama, locally brokered ceasefires have at times taken on the feel of surrender. Food has been allowed into areas that have agreed to hand over weapons and raise the Syrian flag. Tired, desperate and war-weary communities have complied, their will to fight having ebbed by constantly going without.
On battlefields across the country, the regime's tactics are working. Turning eastern Aleppo into Leningrad has allowed its forces, led by Iraqi paramilitaries and Hezbollah, to advance around the city's eastern edge. This while the opposition had been battling the enemy within – a virulent, al-Qaida-inspired group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis), which has tried to turn the fight to oust Assad into a push to re-establish a caliphate.
In recent weeks the opposition groups have managed to remove Isis from the Idlib and Aleppo countryside. But the price has been immense, with more than 2,000 fighters killed and a power vacuum left behind that local warlords, bandits and opportunists are filling. Looting is now rampant in eastern Aleppo, and the under-equipped local police can do little about it.
"What can we do? We are military police," said one officer on Saturday. "We can't save the whole city. The people in Aleppo don't come to us when they see a house being robbed. Only if it is theirs. We just don't have the numbers to chase them."
Ahmed Fatoul, 30, from the Myessa suburb on the eastern edges, said he was trapped in his house by a constant barrage of high-explosive bombs and the menace of lawlessness.
"I can't leave for Turkey because I don't have enough money," he said. "I cannot make money there. I have three children, how can I provide for them? The best thing for me is to stay in my home. We will die here.
"Yes, I am scared, but there are lots of gangsters in the street. They rob the houses at night."
Mohammed al-Ahmed, 65, said: "My son was killed by an airplane three days ago. He was a taxi driver. He was killed and the car was destroyed. He had 20,000 lira in his pocket. I can't leave his seven children. I can't leave my country. We are in God's hands. And that has been the way since this started."
Those who remain in eastern Aleppo hunker down under candlelight, drawing water from a mosque well. The war is slowly picking them off. "Every day I have 30 to 40 people injured and so many bodies," said a doctor at a nearby hospital. "We do what we can here and we send the rest to Turkey. We don't have enough doctors or staff."
Many of those now fighting the war in Aleppo and Homs say they are travelling to the frontlines with a sense of resignation. "The war isn't yet lost," said a commander of the Liwa al-Tawheed militia, which was battered during the fight with Isis. "But it is on life support."
Once a power player in the north's most powerful opposition unit, the commander is now wary of roads weaving through rural Aleppo that can no longer offer safe passage. Morale among his men has slipped with his authority, as an already fractured opposition splinters under new strains. "But while it is difficult, the regime can't win either," he said. "This is the tragedy. Any victory by either side from here will be a false one. The price is too high."
Farther to the east on the Mediterranean coast, Syria's political opposition leader, Ahmed Jabbar, made a rare foray into a battle zone last week to laud advances made by opposition groups towards Latakia. The groups seized the Armenian Christian town of Kasab. Those responsible included Jabhat al-Nusra and unaligned foreign fighters, Syrians were few among them. Days later, many seem to be questioning the strategy of taking a town that does little to advance the opposition's interest.
"They are claiming any victory they can," said a member of the Syrian Martyrs battalion, comprised only of Syrian nationals. "This is what the war has become."
Growing up behind bars: 1,500 children being raised by parents in Bolivian jails
Inmates keep children inside with them fearing they will fall victim to abuse in homes on the outside
Sara Shahriari in La Paz
theguardian.com, Sunday 20 April 2014 19.24 BST
Rosy is a young working mother who drops her two daughters off at school each morning before scouring the markets for ingredients to make the meals she cooks and sells later in the day. Every afternoon she picks her daughters up from school and they head home to San Pedro, Bolivia's most notorious prison.
"In the beginning I was afraid. I thought that anything could happen here, but the days went by," Rosy says, of raising her children behind bars. "Everything depends on the parents, how we organise to protect and take care of the children. Outside it's the same."
According to official figures, 1,500 Bolivian children live with a parent behind bars, but the total could be much higher – especially during school holidays when children visit incarcerated parents.
Hundreds of women and children living alongside prisoners, pass out through the metal gates every day for work or school.
According to national law, children must leave prison by the time they turn six, but many stay much longer with parents who do not want to let them go. They fear their children will be abused in homes and do not trust extended-family members, many of whom are extremely poor, to provide for them. That leaves some parents feeling that growing up in prison is a child's best – or only – option.
International organisations, including the UN, have criticised the presence of children in Bolivian prisons. Although its jails are relatively less violent than those in other Latin American countries, terrible things do happen.
Marina Quispi lives in a cell with her husband and children Marina Quispi lives in a cell with her husband and their five children, including the two-week-old on her back, in the San Pedro men's prison.
Last year, a girl was raped by several men in a family in San Pedro and a child died in Palmasola jail, Santa Cruz, as fighting inmates ignited a fire that killed dozens. Those events prompted renewed efforts to remove children from prison, especially those aged 11 and over.
"No matter how good the family is, no prison is favourable for the positive development of a child," said Lidia Rodriguez, of Bolivia's human rights office.
Rodriguez said it could be difficult to find relatives outside jails willing to take care of a child, but some incarcerated parents were not motivated by their children's wellbeing. Instead, she said, they kept children with them because they hoped it would lead to early release.
San Pedro sits in the heart of the city of La Paz. Past the crumbling adobe exterior and through a barred iron gate is a patio boiling with activity, as men call to their lawyers and receive papers and packages passed through the door. There are well-dressed men in collared shirts with slick hair, and men with bleary eyes wearing stained sweatpants. There are murderers and petty thieves, people sentenced to 30 years and many more who have yet to see trial.
The prison is a world unto itself, a citadel of rickety stairs and passageways that police rarely enter, where inmates buy small cells that they enter and leave at will, and a council elected by the prisonersgoverns almost all aspects of life.
It's also a place where hundreds of women and children live alongside prisoners, passing out through the metal gate every day for work or school.
Rosy says that when her husband was jailed for assault four years ago she could not pay rent and utilities on her own. Though she admits it is not an ideal place to raise a child, she moved her family to prison.
"Necessity obligated us, because outside there are so many expenses, and it's not possible to get by alone," she says.
Rosy's husband, Juan, purchased a small cell for about £600. Prisoners are not charged for electricity and water, and receive one meal a day. Food is also provided for children under six. With those basics covered, the £60 a month Rosy can earn selling food to inmates and visitors while her husband cares for the children are enough to get by.
Many of the men inside San Pedro, however, say that the children are a big part of their parents' rehabilitation, and that staying connected to family is what makes prisoners want to get out and carry on with life.
For Rosy's daughter Nancy, five, prison is the only home she's ever known. Nancy said she liked living in San Pedro because she spent lots of time with her father, had plenty of friends and it was "fun".
Across town from San Pedro is the Obrajes women's prison, an overcrowded maze of rooms set around two small patios.
Andrea first passed through its doors as a child with her convicted mother and now, at 31, is serving time for dealing drugs. Two of her five children live with her, while the oldest are with relatives or in children's homes. Her family members cannot take on more children and she fears letting the youngest, who are five and nine, go. "We've seen on the news that children have been raped in the homes," Andrea said.
Indeed, while there are some excellent facilities across the country, dozens of accusations of sexual abuse in homes have hit the press in recent years, fuelling parents' fears.
Rodriguez, of the human rights office, said efforts would continue this year to remove children, particularly from men's prisons such as San Pedro. But how to assure that those children find significantly safer lives and better opportunities outside remained a problem.
"Anywhere that you might trust, anything can happen, even within a family," Rosy says. "It would be better with even more help inside, not outside – because outside you don't know what will happen."
Riot Police, Protesters Clash in Venezuela
by Naharnet Newsdesk
21 April 2014, 08:59
Fresh clashes erupted in Venezuela's capital on Sunday, with hooded anti-government protesters hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails at riot police who returned fire with rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon.
Four people were reported injured in the unrest that erupted in Caracas's upscale Chacao neighborhood, a hotbed of anti-government opposition.
Oil-rich Venezuela has been rocked by two months of deadly protests, with at least 41 people killed since a wave of demonstrations against the leftist government of Nicolas Maduro broke out in early February.
Some 600 people have also been injured in the protests, and around 100 have been detained.
Maduro, the hand-picked successor to the late leftist icon Hugo Chavez, was narrowly elected to office in a controversial election one year ago.
A former bus driver and union leader and the self-proclaimed "son" of Chavez, Maduro was elected after Chavez died from cancer and was sworn in April 19, 2013, pledging to carry on his mentor's socialist legacy.
- Easter 'resurrection of democracy'-
Hundreds of anti-government activists marked Easter Sunday in Chacao by holding a peaceful march calling for the "resurrection of democracy."
With Venezuelan flags fluttering in the wind, the crowd marched to the offices of the United Nations in Venezuela, where more than a month ago students set up some 120 tents and began to camp out seeking support against the Maduro administration.
The Sunday demo was organized by Voluntad Popular (Popular Will), an anti-government group whose outspoken leader, Leopoldo Lopez, has been jailed since February 18.
Also attending the protest were opposition legislator Maria Corina Machado and former mayor Antonio Ledezma, both of whom, along with Lopez, support a strategy known as "The Exit," which aims to push Maduro from office through continuous protests.
At the end of the peaceful march hooded activists blocked a main Chacao thoroughfare and nearby streets with debris that included an uprooted bus stop shelter and sewer grates.
Some were protected by gas masks and construction helmets. Others hid their identity with scarves and Guy Fawkes masks.
After police and rioters clashed, Chacao Mayor Ramon Muchacho said in a Twitter message that there were no bullet injuries.
- Burning of Judas -
In a separate Easter tradition, effigies of Maduro and top government officials were set ablaze, a Venezuelan tradition known as the burning of Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus Christ.
"I'm tired of the abuses of the government," said Genesis Reveron, a 20 year-old student who was dragging along a Maduro effigy to burn.
She blamed Maduro for the country's high inflation and soaring crime rate.
Inflation now flirts with 60 percent, there is an acute shortage of foreign currency reserves, and basic goods ranging from meat to toilet paper are seeing recurrent shortages.
Most economic analysts blame the country's problems on a decade of rigid currency and price controls, as well rising dependence on imports and debt costs -- a lackluster record for a country that hosts the world's largest oil reserves.
Mexican Troops Free 60 Migrants
by Naharnet Newsdesk
21 April 2014, 07:16
Mexican troops Sunday released a group of 60 migrants trying to reach the United States who were being held captive in a home in northern Mexico, authorities said.
"Troops rescued 60 migrants who were being held against their will," in Tamaulipas state near the U.S. border, a group of local officials said in a statement.
Police rescued the large group in the town of Gustavo Diaz Ordaz on an anonymous tip; they said three people were arrested and weapons were seized in the operation.
The migrants were from several countries, but officials did not immediately identify them. Most of the roughly 140,000 migrants who try to enter the United States illegally each year through Mexico are from Central American nations.
Scientist warns that the robot apocalypse really is coming unless steps are taken now
By Scott Kaufman
Friday, April 18, 2014 13:22 EDT
From HAL 9000 to the Terminator — all those Hollywood movies in which artificially intelligent robots end up turning on their human masters might not be too far from the truth.
Noted artificial intelligence researcher Steve Omohundro published a paper in the April edition of the Journal of Experimental & Theoretical Artificial Intelligence in which he argued that, “unless they are carefully designed,” the “rapid development of autonomous systems” will lead to machines that “are likely to behave in anti-social and harmful ways.”
In “Autonomous technology and the greater human good,” Omohundro argues that “autonomous systems” — by which he means any in which the designer has not predetermined all possible responses to changing operating conditions — are capable of “surprising their designers” by behaving in ways that are both unexpected and undesirable. He claims that “military and economic pressures are driving the rapid development of autonomous systems,” and that these pressures are causing the designers of these systems to pay inadequate attention to unintended consequences.
A 2010 report from the United States Air Force, for example, states that t]he early systems are used to model human values and governance structures. They are also used to construct proofs of safety and other desired characteristics for more complex and less limited successor systems. In this way, we can build up the powerful technologies that can best serve the greater human good without significant risk along the development path.”
Chilean mountain-top telescope will allow us to observe planets outside our solar system
By Robin McKie, The Observer
Saturday, April 19, 2014 18:33 EDT
Cerro Armazones is a crumbling dome of rock that dominates the parched peaks of the Chilean Coast Range north of Santiago. A couple of old concrete platforms and some rusty pipes, parts of the mountain’s old weather station, are the only hints that humans have ever taken an interest in this forbidding, arid place. Even the views look alien, with the surrounding boulder-strewn desert bearing a remarkable resemblance to the landscape of Mars.
Dramatic change is coming to Cerro Armazones, however – for in a few weeks, the 10,000ft mountain is going to have its top knocked off. “We are going to blast it with dynamite and then carry off the rubble,” says engineer Gird Hudepohl. “We will take about 80ft off the top of the mountain to create a plateau – and when we have done that, we will build the world’s biggest telescope there.”
Given the peak’s remote, inhospitable location that might sound an improbable claim – except for the fact that Hudepohl has done this sort of thing before. He is one of the European Southern Observatory’s most experienced engineers and was involved in the decapitation of another nearby mountain, Cerro Paranal, on which his team then erected one of the planet’s most sophisticated observatories.
The Paranal complex has been in operation for more than a decade and includes four giant instruments with eight-metre-wide mirrors – known as the Very Large Telescopes or VLTs – as well as control rooms and a labyrinth of underground tunnels linking its instruments. More than 100 astronomers, engineers and support staff work and live there. A few dozen metres below the telescopes, they have a sports complex with a squash court, an indoor football pitch, and a luxurious 110-room residence that has a central swimming pool and a restaurant serving meals and drinks around the clock. Built overlooking one of the world’s driest deserts, the place is an amazing oasis. (See box.)
Now the European Southern Observatory, of which Britain is a key member state, wants Hudepohl and his team to repeat this remarkable trick and take the top off Cerro Armazones, which is 20km distant. Though this time they will construct an instrument so huge it will dwarf all the telescopes on Paranal put together, and any other telescope on the planet. When completed, the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) and its 39-metre mirror will allow astronomers to peer further into space and look further back into the history of the universe than any other astronomical device in existence. Its construction will push telescope-making to its limit, however. Its primary mirror will be made of almost 800 segments – each 1.4 metres in diameter but only a few centimetres thick – which will have to be aligned with microscopic precision.
It is a remarkable juxtaposition: in the midst of utter desolation, scientists have built giant machines engineered to operate with smooth perfection and are now planning to top this achievement by building an even more vast device. The question is: for what purpose? Why go to a remote wilderness in northern Chile and chop down peaks to make homes for some of the planet’s most complex scientific hardware?
The answer is straightforward, says Cambridge University astronomer Professor Gerry Gilmore. It is all about water. “The atmosphere here is as dry as you can get and that is critically important. Water molecules obscure the view from telescopes on the ground. It is like trying to peer through mist – for mist is essentially a suspension of water molecules in the air, after all, and they obscure your vision. For a telescope based at sea level that is a major drawback.
“However, if you build your telescope where the atmosphere above you is completely dry, you will get the best possible views of the stars – and there is nowhere on Earth that has air drier than this place. For good measure, the high-altitude winds blow in a smooth, laminar manner above Paranal – like slabs of glass – so images of stars remain remarkably steady as well.”
The view of the heavens here is close to perfect, in other words – as an evening stroll around the viewing platform on Paranal demonstrates vividly. During my visit, the Milky Way hung over the observatory like a single white sheet. I could see the four main stars of the Southern Cross; Alpha Centauri, whose unseen companion Proxima Centauri is the closest star to our solar system; the two Magellanic Clouds, satellite galaxies of our own Milky Way; and the Coalsack, an interstellar dust cloud that forms a striking silhouette against the starry Milky Way. None are visible in northern skies and none appear with such brilliance anywhere else on the planet.
Hence the decision to build this extraordinary complex of VLTs. At sunset, each one’s housing is opened and the four great telescopes are brought slowly into operation. Each machine is made to rotate and swivel, like football players stretching muscles before a match. Each housing is the size of a block of flats. Yet they move in complete silence, so precise is their engineering.
Building the four VLTs, which have been named Antu (Sun), Kueyen (Moon), Melipal (Southern Cross) and Yepun (Venus) in the language of Mapuche people of Chile, was a formidable challenge, needless to say. Each has a giant mirror that is 8.2 metres in diameter but only 17cm thick: any thicker, and the mirror would be too heavy to move and point. Such thinness leaves the mirrors liable to deform as temperatures and air pressure fluctuate, however, and so each has 150 actuators fitted to its unpolished side. These push the mirrors to keep them within a few billionths of a centimetre of their proper shape. In addition, ESO astronomers use a laser-based system known as adaptive optics to measure turbulence in the upper atmosphere and to change each telescope’s internal mirror configuration to compensate for any disturbance they can measure.
The result is a cluster of astronomical devices of incredible power and flexibility, one that has been involved in an astonishing number of critically important discoveries and observations over the past decade, as ESO astronomer Olivier Hainaut explains. “Perhaps the VLT’s most spectacular achievement was its tracking of stars at the centre of the Milky Way. Astronomers followed them as they revolved around… nothing. Eventually they were able to show that something incredibly small and dark and massive lay at the centre of this interstellar waltz. This was the first time, we now know, that scientists had directly observed the effect of the supermassive black hole that lies at the heart of our galaxy.”
The VLTs also played a key role in providing observations which showed, from the behaviour of distant supernovae, that the expansion of the universe was actually accelerating thanks to the action of a force now known as dark energy. This discovery later won Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt and Adam Riess the 2011 Nobel prize for physics. And in 2004 the telescopes were used to make a direct observation of an exoplanet – a planet that orbits around a star other than our Sun. It was another astronomical first. Until then scientists had only been able to infer the existence of exoplanets from the way they affected the movement of their parent star or its light output. “This was history-book material, a discovery of the same quality as Galileo’s drawings of the mountains on the moon or the satellites of Jupiter,” says Hainaut.
These discoveries have only whetted astronomers’ appetites for more, however. Hence the decision to build the £800m E-ELT – whose British funding will come through a £88m investment from the UK Science & Technology Facilities Council. Engineers have now completed a road to the mountain from Paranal and on 16 June are set to begin blasting to remove the top from Cerro Armazones. Then they will start to build the E-ELT using 798 hexagonal pieces of mirror to create a mammoth device that will be able to collect a hundred million times more light than the human eye. When completed in around 2025, the 2,700-tonne telescope will be housed in a 74 metre high dome and operated by astronomers working 20kms away in Paranal. It will be the world’s biggest eye on the sky.
An indication of the E-ELT’s potential is provided by ESO astronomer Linda Schmidtobreick. “There are fundamental issues that only a telescope the size of the E-ELT can resolve,” she says. “Its mirror will have a surface area 10 times bigger than any other telescope, which means it will take a 10th of the time to collect the same amount of light – ie the same number of photons – from an object compared with these other instruments.”
For Schmidtobreick, this ability to collect light quickly is crucial to her research. She studies stars known as cataclysmic variables: pairs of stars in which one is pulling vast amounts of gas, mainly hydrogen, from its companion, a process that can trigger gigantic thermonuclear eruptions, sometimes within 30 seconds or so. “With current instruments, it can take minutes or hours to collect light from these objects, which is too long to resolve what is happening,” says Schmidtobreick. “But with the E-ELT, we will be able to study many, many more cataclysmic variables because we will be able to collect significant amounts of light from them in seconds rather than minutes or hours and so will be to resolve their behaviour.”
Simone Zaggia, of the Inaf Observatory of Padua, is another frequent visitor to Paranal and has a very different reason for backing the E-ELT. He believes it will play a vital role in the hunt for exoplanets – in particular, exoplanets that are Earth-like and which could support life. “At present, our biggest telescopes can only spot really big exoplanets, giants that are as big as Jupiter and Saturn,” he says.
“But we really want to know about the smaller worlds that make up the solar systems in our galaxy. In other words, we want to find out if there are many Earth-like planets in our part of the universe. More importantly we want to find out if their atmospheres contain levels of oxygen or carbon dioxide or methane or other substances that suggest there is life there. To do that, we need a giant telescope like the E-ELT.”
This point is backed by Gilmore. “We can see exoplanets but we cannot study them in detail because – from our distant perspective – they appear so close to their parent stars. However, the magnification which the E-ELT will provide will mean we will be able to look at them directly and clearly. In 15 years, we should have a picture of a planet around another star and that picture could show its surface changing colour just as Earth does as the seasons change – indicating that vegetation exists on that world. We will then have found alien life.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2014
[Photo courtesy of NASA]
In the USA...United Surveillance America
Witness the corrupt corporate media in America ...
David "I am not a used corporate condom" Gregory And Bob Corker's Hard Ons To Scare Pig Putin
By Nicole Belle April 20, 2014 1:50 pm
David "I am not a used corporate condom" Gregory is really hot to show Putin who is in charge. And Bob Corker thinks Obama doesn't really care if people die, as long as he's not 'embarassed'. Does anyone inside the Beltway understand foreign policy at all?
I'm trying to wrap my head around what the media elites think foreign policy is supposed to be. Clearly, there's a distinct disregard for human lives, be it Russian, Ukranian or American. The overarching need appears to be dick-swinging to prove who has the biggest one hanging. Seriously, it's a Freudian wet dream to listen to these guys.
So that's why Dancin' Dave "I am not a used corporate condom" Gregory is so worried that Pig Putin isn't learning the "right lessons" by our lack of military aggression towards him. What are these lessons, Dave? That we're packing bigger 'guns'? And what does that mean? That every country should concede we are the "big man" on the global campus? Why? I'm still confused as to why we should feel obligated to be involved in what's happening in Ukraine. It's not for the sake of global peace to hear Gregory speak about it. It's all about being the alpha dog and establishing dominance.
Ahem...that's not global peace, you nimrod.
And as for Pig Putin feeling no penalty for his actions, I'm more concerned by the consequences that we don't apply in this country and what that means for the continued existence of this republic. Entities like the Bush administration and Wall Street have done more to devastate the lives and well-being of Americans than Vladimir Putin could ever do with his actions in Ukraine, and they've not only gotten off scot-free, they're lauded as supermen by the Beltway elites.
And then there's Bob Corker. To Corker, Obama's reticence for bombing Putin's troops to kingdom come is not concern about loss of life, but because he only cares about not being "embarrassed".
David, I had some degree of difficulty hearing everything that you said. But, again, I think the administration is basically saying to Russia, "Look, don't do anything overt. Don't come across the border with 40,000 troops. Don't embarrass us in that way. But you can continue to undermine the sovereignty of Ukraine by doing the things that you've done."
And, again, I've urged in every way that I can for this administration to go ahead and, again, push back now. It's going to be too late. Just like we did in Syria, where in essence, let's face it, (I hate to say such a crass thing on Easter Sunday morning) the wisest thing that Assad did really was to kill 1,200 people with chemical weapons. Because, in essence, we said, "Don't embarrass us anymore that way. You can go ahead and kill another 60,000 people with barrel bombs and by other means, but don't embarrass us."
And I think that's what we're saying to Russia today by the actions that we're not taking: "Don't embarrass us, but you can continue the black ops activities. You can continue the other things that you're doing. We know that over time you're going to reach the goals that the prime minister so eloquently laid out before. You're going to reach those, but don't do it in a way that embarrasses us."
Again, the world is watching. Our allies in Europe are watching. Our N.A.T.O. friends and others know that this is where we are. And I think we need to step on out and do the things that we've threatened because I don't think Pig Putin will respond to anything else, other than us overtly doing the things that we've laid out.
Forget that we've practiced five decades of short-sighted foreign policy that has resulted in us eventually fighting against forces we armed years earlier. Forget that there appears to be sizable support for Russian annexation both globally and amongst the people there and nakedly manipulative anti-Russian propaganda from nebulous sources are making it hard to get good intelligence on the ground. Never mind that our troops are strained and overworked already from ill-advised occupations in the Middle East. Ignore completely that American corporations are openly telling Putin that they will bypass any sanctions. (There's that lack of penalty again, David. Gonna speak up about that? Didn't think so, you fascist.)
That's much too nuanced for the conservative mind looking for anything possible to criticize the president (remember when that was un-American and unthinkable to do in the time of war?).
And how telling that David "I am not a used corporate condom" Gregory doesn't give the Democratic politician Chris Murphy, there to pretend that this is a bipartisan discussion, a chance to respond to Corker, but reframes his question to force Murphy to defend the health of American corporations rather than the tricky nuance and foresight that smart foreign policy requires.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz Guts David "I am not a used corporate condom" Gregory’s GOP Cheerleading On Meet The Press
By: Jason Easley
Sunday, April, 20th, 2014, 12:24 pm
David "I am not a used corporate condom" Gregory’s endless cheerleading for Republicans was gutted with a dose of reality from DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) on Meet The Press today.
DAVID "I am not a used corporate condom" GREGORY: We’ve been talking about health care, and here’s the challenge. The president’s out there making the case that, “Run on this. Make the argument. Accuse the Republicans of trying to take this away.” But you have vulnerable Democrats who are saying something else. They’re basically saying, “The law is flawed and we should fix it.”
This is Jeanne Shaheen in a radio news interview in New Hampshire. She said, in part, the following: “I think there are important things about the Affordable Care Act that are working, and working very well. I think we need to fix the things that are not working, and that’s what I’m committed to. I would have designed it differently if I had been designing it; unfortunately I wasn’t the person who was writing the law. I think hindsight is always 20/20. You always know that you could have done better.” To me, that’s not a ringing endorsement to get people out there to vote.
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, that’s Legislation 101. I mean, that is how we have handled laws and their evolution throughout American history. The president is right, and Jeanne Shaheen is right. We have a law that is working: 8 million people have gained health care coverage as a result of signing up for the Affordable Care Act plans. 129 people with pre-existing conditions no longer have to be worried about being dropped or denied coverage; I’m one of them, as a breast cancer survivor. You have millions of seniors who are paying lower costs on their prescription drugs.
And these are the things that Republicans are obsessed with taking away, and focused on doing everything they can to block President Obama at every turn, even if it means hurting the middle class. While, at the same time, you have our candidates, our incumbents, like Jeanne Shaheen, like Mary Landrieu, who understand that this is a law that’s working for millions of people. And as we discover there are problems, we should work together–
DAVID "I am not a used corporate condom" GREGORY: But you’re making an argument–
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: –to solve those problems.
DAVID "I am not a used corporate condom" GREGORY: –on the merits, as the president is doing. But what you’ve got is something that’s opaque, as David Shribman was saying, the publisher in Pittsburgh. A lot of people simply don’t understand it, and they don’t understand fully what the impact is going to be. Jonathan Martin, writing in The New York Times this morning, writes this: “Democrats could ultimately see some political benefit from the law. But in this midterm election, they’re confronting a vexing reality: Many of those helped by the health care law, notably young people and minorities, are the least likely to cast votes that could preserve it.
“Even though millions have gained health insurance and millions more will benefit from some of its people, provisions, quote, ‘The angry opponents are more mobilized than the beneficiaries,’ said David Axelrod, long-time advisor to Mr. Obama.” Midterm fall off, sixth year of his presidency: This has got to be an urgent issue for you, as the chair of the party, making sure Democrats get out and vote, who are excited about this law.
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, there are millions of people who understand the benefits of the health care law, particularly women who I’ve spoken to who are breast cancer patients, who no longer have to choose between the chemotherapy or the radiation.
DAVID "I am not a used corporate condom" GREGORY: You’re arguing the merits, Chairman–
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: No, I’m–
DAVID "I am not a used corporate condom" GREGORY: –which I understand. But do you not have a turnout problem that you’re worried about?
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Every election it is critical that we turn out vote out. And I would, and will, match up ground game and our turnout operation, which ran circles around the Republicans in 2012 and in 2008, any day of the week. We have senators across this country, House members– there’s 14 open seats in the House, 11 of which Democrats have an advantage; only three of which you would lean more to the G.O.P. in terms of advantage.
You have the Republican Party who is strangled by the Tea Party. They are weighed down by Republican primaries in which the Tea Party candidates are the likely winners. And we have countless elections now that Democrats have won because the Republicans have nominated extremists that their voters reject.
DAVID "I am not a used corporate condom" GREGORY: Do you–
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: And that’s the advantage we will have going into this election.
DAVID "I am not a used corporate condom" GREGORY: Right. But do you have an historic disadvantage? Because a president in his second term, in midterms, historically has a difficult time. You have a president with a low approval rating. And, let’s be honest, you have vulnerable Democrats who are, in effect, running against this White House.
David "I am not a used corporate condom" Gregory repeatedly told Rep. Wasserman Schultz that he wasn’t interested in facts, or the merits as he called them. Gregory made it clear that he was only interested in pushing the Republican fantasy that Democrats are doomed because of Obamacare.
Wasserman-Schultz put him in his place by explaining reality. Millions of people do understand the ACA, because they now have health insurance, or they aren’t getting dropped because they have a preexisting condition. As far as the 2014 electoral map is concerned, Democratic Senate incumbents are leading in places like Arkansas and Louisiana, and they could easily pick up two more seats in Kentucky and Georgia.
The sleaziest part of the whole segment was "I am not a used corporate condom" Gregory’s quoting of a radio interview with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) from nearly 4 MONTHS AGO. To David Gregory, the 8 million signups never happened. The increasing public approval of the ACA isn’t real. Nobody cares about how the ACA is helping people.
This kind of lazy one sided interviewing is what has made Meet The Press unwatchable. There is a reason why Meet The Press has sunk to third place in the Sunday show ratings, and that reason’s name is David "I am not a used corporate condom" Gregory.
Pasty GOP Media Tools Chuck Todd and David Brooks Decide That Obama Has a Manhood Problem
By: Jason Easley
Sunday, April, 20th, 2014, 4:30 pm
David Brooks and Chuck Todd revived one of the Republican Party’s favorite smears against President Obama on Meet The Press. Brooks claimed that Obama has a manhood problem.
CHUCK TODD: And isolating Pig Putin, but also just sort of containing this issue, because there is this fear, as you know. He doesn’t want this to become the rest of his presidency, you know. But in many ways, he is being tested here in some way on how he handles Ukraine.
So, for instance, I’m about to hop on a plane in two days. We’re going on this Asia trip. And, oh, by the way, Japan has an issue with islands with China; Korea has some territorial issues. There are a lot of countries in Asia that have territorial issues with China. Where is the United States going to sit when this decides to raise its head and become an issue there? So that’s why this does matter globally, sort of how the White House responds to this. And they have no interest right now in doing sectoral things.
DAVID BROOKS: I mean, basically since Yalta, we’ve had an assumption that borders are basically going to be borders. And once that comes into question, if in Ukraine or in Crimea or anywhere else, then all over the world, you know, the tokens–
CHUCK TODD: All bets are off.
DAVID BROOKS: All bets are off.
CHUCK TODD: It is open.
DAVID BROOKS: And, let’s face it, Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have a (I’ll say it crudely) but a manhood problem in the Middle East: Is he tough enough to stand up to somebody like Assad, somebody like Pig Putin? I think a lot of the rap is unfair. But certainly in the Middle East, there’s an assumption he’s not tough–
The only people who having this discussion about President Obama’s manhood are Republicans who constantly try to make up for their own inadequacies by talking tough and starting wars. “Manhood” is not going to win the peace, especially the Republican definition of manhood that Todd and Brooks subscribe to.
Real manhood means making the tough decisions that keep the country out of wars. Real leaders don’t have to send our troops off to die in some foreign land in order to prove their toughness. A real man is a good husband and father. He is a role model, and a leader.
Obama’s problem is not one of manhood. His problem is middle aged conservatives who think that only white swaggering fake cowboys like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush are capable of being real men. Brooks said that a lot of the rap that Obama gets is unfair, but that didn’t stop him from repeating the Republican claim that Obama has a manhood problem.
Barack Obama is a real man in ways that Chuck Todd, David Brooks, and little boys in the Republican Party who desperately want to fire their guns will never understand.
How The Media Distorts Numbers And Provides False Information To Fool Low-Wage Workers
By: Dennis S
Sunday, April, 20th, 2014, 9:01 pm
Saturday, I emailed my reaction to two stories, in slightly stinging prose, to a popular local newspaper column. I expressed concern about some mistakes and what I considered the misleading politicizing of income numbers. My offering didn’t make it into the maximum circulation Sunday edition. If history is any guide, there’s little chance of making any edition.
To the great distaste of my local paper, I’m convinced, I wrote of one particular issue where print and electronic media outlets need to take responsibility for their troubling parroting of Republican “facts” that are, in fact, pure propaganda. There also seems to be a journalistic epidemic of misinformation based on the lack of familiarity with the subject matter, little research by reporters and, in many cases, severe under-staffing.
This contribution roughly reflects what I wrote for Upstate South Carolina consumption. It involves two separate stories published days apart in the newspaper. In their content are elements that you must recognize as both uninformed and politically sneaky. The stories involve presentations to the City Council that have little to do with economic development, but do involve wages and certain definitions that are both confusing and what appear to be intentionally misleading. Part one of this questionable journalism involves two terms that are often used interchangeably when describing earnings levels. The terms are average and median. Workers can be making a certain income, couched as either the ‘average’ income of that worker or the ‘median’ income of said worker.
The paper cited the same wage numbers, alternately using both ‘average’ and ‘median’ without changing the numbers. In other words, city residents earned an ‘average’ income of $33,098. In another article, the same exact income was characterized as the ‘median’ income. Whoa Nellie! Can’t be. Average income is adding all incomes from a given area (say, a city) together and dividing them by the number of workers included in that average. Whereas you arrive at the ‘median’ number by arranging each income in ascending order. You then find the exact 50% above/50% below mid-point of those incomes. That’s the ‘median’ income. There is no way that the local average and median could have been the same. Somebody at the paper should have caught these obvious errors. In checking the source of these figures, the numbers were all median.
What rankles me is what I believe to be the distortion of these numbers. And this is something you must be aware of every time you read or watch similar stories in your local media. It’s interesting that these are really economic development numbers that were delivered by the head of another unrelated department who may have been duped into leaving out critical definitions.
Here’s what was done and why. My county is, all the sudden, being targeted as the economically idyllic epicenter of the latest manufacturing or service-center colossus. The newspaper in particular goes nuttier at each prospect (ad space) than a sophomore on his first Spring Break. Enormous headlines greet each new gigantic widget-making interloper. The new manufacturer will allegedly spend initial billions, dump more ongoing billions into the local economy, hire all willing workers within a 100 mile radius, ad nauseam. Anything resembling the economic truth is not particularly welcome in Upstate South Carolina.
If Aeschylus were around today, he would slightly alter his famed quote, “In war, truth is the first casualty.” He would more likely opt for, “In economic development, truth is the first casualty.” You see, when the big boys come galloping in from either the U.S. or, as is just as likely these days, from far off lands, their sudden, disruptive and often polluting presence has to be sold to the proletariat as corporate saviors that are going to fill worker pockets with greenbacks. Of course, the movers and shakers need the numbers to back up those claims; otherwise, workers might just push for unions in a vehemently anti-union state.
In all candor, many of these new outfits bring lots more greenhouse gases than they do greenbacks for their low wage laborers. Publicizing that fact is antithetical to attracting even more outside union-haters. So here’s how the numbers are represented, and I quote directly’ “The average income for city residents is $33,098…well below the state’s average income of $44,623 and ***County’s average income of $43,421. Now we’ve already established that these are median figures, not average, but the real red propaganda flag is in the term “city residents and the county’s average income.” Anybody reading either article where the same ‘city residents’ terminology is used would assume that the wages referenced are those earned by a single city worker.
That’s what you’re supposed to think, that all of these new giants are paying mid-40′s income to each county worker and a not real high but livable $33,000 and change, for city workers. Not even remotely the fact. I went to the U.S. Census Quick Facts 2012 website (see for yourself) and discovered that these are not individual or per capita figures; these are HOUSEHOLD INCOME numbers. Household income means the total wages of everybody in your household who works. Household size is mentioned, but never in the context of household income. The per capita income in the city is a pathetic $20,761, nearly $13,000 less than you’re being led to believe. It’s even worse in the county. Per capita numbers are $22,019. That’s $21,402 less when the full story is told. No per capita numbers were presented in the paper. Eschewing the critical terms household (as applied to income) and per capita is deception, pure and simple. The high percentage of city residents living below the poverty line is noted, so how could you not mention per capita?
I’m not anti-corporation, not even anti-mega corporation. I just make two demands of these behemoths. Be possessed of a soul and a conscience. Don’t just put down roots because you know you can pay hard working residents a pittance or you can pollute to your heart’s content or you can work the local and state governments for money, tax and infrastructure perks that a small or medium-size businessman or woman could only dream about. Take care of the people who are giving of their time and loyalty. It’s much like the sons or daughters of aging parents. When the kids were younger, the parents attended to their every need, just like workers attend to the manufacturer’s every need. Pay your people a decent wage. Sacrifice 10 million of your CEO’s 30 million dollar salary and spread it among the workers. You’re filthy rich. Be a good citizen. Not the phony board membership baloney that you plug your wealthy top dogs into for show. Be a good citizen by welcoming unions or, at the very least, worker’s councils.
Honor what’s best about capitalism. Reestablish the union-created vanishing middle-class. A middle-class that was able to send their children to college, who, as graduating young adults, contributed enormously to the success of your big business. As for the workers, give them the respect they deserve for contributing nearly 20,000 of their precious hours a decade to your brand.
That’s the least you can do.
CREW Study Reveals Huge Discrepancies in Corporate Political Donation Disclosures
By: Adalia Woodbury
Sunday, April, 20th, 2014, 1:29 pm
Now that the Supreme Court has paved the way for a billionaire tsunami of cash, most of which will benefit the Republican Party, we can look forward to full disclosure of the candidates and political causes that money is buying, right? After all, transparency is a good thing because it prevents corruption. Big donors won’t mind, because some companies voluntarily disclose their political activities.
It’s a great marketing ploy because it gives the appearance that the corporation is willing to be upfront with its shareholders and customers. The best part for corporations is they can cherry pick which of their political donations will help promote the brand, while keeping those that might offend customers or and alienate shareholders under wraps.
If, however, the objective of such disclosures is transparency, then voluntary disclosure isn’t working very well simply because the disclosure tends to be selective.
Obviously people want to know, and have a right to know, what their investments are buying and what causes they are being associated with as shareholders. Also, consumers should have a right to decide for themselves if they want to buy products from companies that use their revenues to reduce their customers’ purchasing power, promote discrimination or reduce women to little more than chattel of their husband/masters.
The CREW study reviewed 60 companies. Microsoft, Pfizer and Prudential were among them. In short, CREW found that under voluntary disclosure, many of the companies disclosures didn’t jive with the tax filing of 527 organizations.
Here are some of CREW’s key findings as stated in the Executive Summary.
For 25 of the 60 companies included in the study, there were significant discrepancies between companies’ reports and the 527 organizations’ tax forms
527 organizations reported receiving contributions from 20 companies that failed to disclose those contributions despite either having claimed to disclose such contributions or having claimed not to make such contributions at all.
The discrepancies between the amounts companies voluntarily disclosed contributing and the amounts 527 organizations reported receiving to the IRS totaled more than $3.1 million between 2011 and 2013.
You really should check out this eye opening report.
Obviously, corporations that have a liberal brand don’t want their conservative causes outed.
Corporate conservatives realize that policies designed to maintain a social order in which white men are kings with everyone else as their unwilling subjects are unpopular in 21st century America. Disclosure of their financial backing for such policies could hurt their bottom line and thus retard their ability to finance policies that reduce women to arm candy and birthing machines, and the “undeserving” struggling for survival in poverty wage jobs.
So what does the whine percent do now that their money can be a political tsunami? In short, they want secrecy in the name of protecting corporate conservatives from Americans making their purchases from businesses that aren’t trying to reduce their purchasing power.
Naturally, they want to have their political tsunami and secrecy too, unless of course cherry picked disclosures can improve the bottom line As Paul Waldman pointed out, conservatives will couch it in the paranoia that works so well for them.
Here’s a sign of what’s to come. Charles Krauthammer, the most influential conservative pundit in America, has published a broadside against campaign disclosure, in which he says he used to favor the combination of no limits on contributions and full information on who’s donating. “This used to be my position,” Krauthammer says. ”No longer. I had not foreseen how donor lists would be used not to ferret out corruption but to pursue and persecute citizens with contrary views. Which corrupts the very idea of full disclosure.
Naturally, Krauthammer is banking on people believing Darrell Issa’s failed attempt to prove the IRS is doing this already despite silly things like facts and evidence that disprove Issa’s claims. It’s a more saleable argument than admitting that full disclosure might hurt the bottom line and with it the corporate conservative clique’s ability to impose its agenda on an unwilling populous. It also means they hope to keep the inevitable corruption that comes with secret and unlimited influence pedaling in the closet.
Supreme Court Justice Commits Sedition By Telling People to Revolt Over Income Taxes
By: Jason Easley
Saturday, April, 19th, 2014, 9:33 pm
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is now actively calling for disobeying the government, as during a recent speech he told students that if taxes get too high, they should revolt.
According to CBSDC:
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told a crowd of law school students that if taxes in the U.S. become too high then people “should revolt.”
Speaking at the University of Tennessee College of Law on Tuesday, the longest-serving justice currently on the bench was asked by a student about the constitutionality of the income tax, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports.
Scalia responded that the government has the right to implement the tax, “but if it reaches a certain point, perhaps you should revolt.”
When a sitting Supreme Court justice tells anyone to revolt against their government, that’s a problem. It is difficult to tell if Scalia was snarky or serious, but with his record, and loyal service to the Koch brothers it’s likely that he was serious.
Last year, Democrats introduced a bill that would have opened the door to impeachment for Justices Scalia and Thomas. Democrats are seeking mandatory ethics rules for all Supreme Court justices. Scalia and Thomas have been frequently featured guests at Koch conferences. Their conflict of interest involving campaign finance laws has been obvious, but neither justice has felt the need to recuse themselves from these cases.
Justice Scalia puts his partisan views ahead of the Constitution. He has written opinions that favor criminalizing gay sex, “Many Americans do not want persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children’s schools, or as boarders in their home. They view this as protecting themselves and their families from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive.”
Scalia has defended torture, “I am astounded at the world reaction to Guantanamo,” he declared in response to a question. “We are in a war. We are capturing these people on the battlefield. We never gave a trial in civil courts to people captured in a war. War is war and it has never been the case that when you capture a combatant, you have to give them a jury trial in your civil courts. It’s a crazy idea to me.”
Scalia is a partisan hack who is serving a lifetime appointment on the highest court in the land. He may be the worst Supreme Court justice in the history of the nation, and now he is calling for people to disobey their government.
Antonin Scalia has got to go.
Fox Conspiracy Theory: Hillary Is 'Too Old' To Run So She 'Planned' Chelsea's Pregnancy
By David April 20, 2014 1:25 pm
Fox News media analyst Lauren Ashburn speculated on Sunday that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have "planned" her daughter Chelsea's pregnancy to coincide with a 2016 presidential bid.
Fox News media analyst Lauren Ashburn speculated on Sunday that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have "planned" her daughter Chelsea's pregnancy to coincide with a 2016 presidential bid.
After the younger Clinton announced that she was expecting a child last week, so-called "Chelsea Truthers" in the conservative media began dropping hints that the timing may not have been a coincidence.
During a Sunday panel segment on Fox News' Media Buzz, host Howard Kurtz asked, "Are we perhaps over-analyzing, over-thinking what ought to be a routine, joyous occasion?"
"You've been in this town for how many years, and you don't have a cynical bone in your body?" Ashburn quipped. "I think a lot of reporters think maybe this was planned."
"Maybe this was planned!" Kurtz exclaimed. "You don't think that Chelsea Clinton and her husband are entitled to try to have a baby whenever they want? And by the way, if it was going to be planned, it would be planned for next year when the campaign might actually be underway!"
Fox News contributor Jim Pinkerton offered the theory that the pregnancy "was a happy providential event, and then the mainstream media, trying to help Hillary Clinton 2016 campaign, decided to make this baby the royal baby."
"Ah!" Ashburn observed. "We have to realize that this is Hillary Clinton, she's most likely running for president, it hasn't been good for her. A lot of people say she's too old. And so, there is coverage."
Kurtz pointed out that former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was a grandfather when he ran in 2012.
"But people didn't say he was too old to run!" Ashburn replied.
"Isn't this kind of sexist?" Kurtz wondered. "Come on."
"Are you baiting me? What is that called? Sex baiting?" Ashburn shot back, adding, "No, of course it's not."
"You're wrong," Kurtz concluded.
Elizabeth Warren Steps In For Hillary Clinton and Becomes a Force for Democrats
By: Jason Easley
Saturday, April, 19th, 2014, 3:43 pm
While Hillary Clinton is finishing work on her latest book, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has stepped up to raise millions of dollars for Senate Democratic candidates in 2014.
According to The Hill:
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has emerged as one of the top fundraisers for Senate Democratic candidates in the midterm election campaign, filling a void left by the absence of Hillary Clinton.
Warren, who was elected to her first term in 2012, has already raised more than $2.3 million for Senate Democratic candidates this election cycle, according to her staff. She has also transferred $100,000 from her campaign account to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC).
“She’s the biggest draw so far,” said a Senate Democratic campaign aide, referring to Warren’s knack for getting donors to open up their checkbooks.
“She’s stepping into a vacuum, which politics abhors,” said Peter Ubertaccio, a political science professor at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass. “Clinton is the leading woman in her party. Warren is someone who is competing for that role.
“Warren has become a much greater factor in the Democratic Party than anyone could have foreseen just a couple of years ago,” he added.
It is an incorrect statement to say that Warren and Clinton are competing to lead women in the Democratic Party. According to a 2012 Pew study, 57% of the Democratic base is women. Sen. Warren and former Sec. Clinton aren’t competing to lead women. They are leading the Democratic Party.
What this means for Warren is that she is helping to get other Democrats elected, and becoming a force within the party. Warren is much more liberal than Clinton is, but the party needs both kinds of leadership. Sen. Warren has said repeatedly that she is not running for president in 2016, but this doesn’t mean that she is going to sit on her hands in the Senate.
Warren is on the way up, and everyone should be able to agree that a future led by Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren will be a bright one for Democrats.
Following Kansas shootings, CNN wonders if the Ku Klux Klan can successfully ‘rebrand’
By Tom Boggioni
Sunday, April 20, 2014 18:46 EDT
In the wake of last Sunday’s shooting in Overland Park, Kansas, when a white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan member shot and killed three people and shouted “Heil Hitler” after being arrested by police, CNN decided to take a look to see if the KKK could shed it’s violent past and rebrand itself.
Last week, Frazier Glenn Miller Jr. shot and killed a teenage boy, his grandfather , and a female teacher at a Jewish Community Center and assisted living facility in Kansas. Following the shooting, it was reported that Miller had a well documented history of violence and racism while serving as member of several white supremacist groups and paramilitary organizations.
In light of these revelations, CNN’s Ashley Fantz, sought out a Ku Klux Klan leader, as well as marketing experts, wondering if the Klan might have an insurmountable problem with their image.
Imperial Wizard Frank Ancona of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan spoke with both USA Today and CNN saying, “What this guy just did set back everything I’ve been trying to do for years.”
Contacted through Twitter, Arcona told CNN: “I believe in racial separation but it doesn’t have to be violent. People in the Klan are professional people, business people, working types. We are a legitimate organization.”
Arcona claimed that Miller had gone “rogue.”
Ancona who, like Miller, also lives in Missouri, said the new Klan is “about educating people to our ideas and getting people to see our point of view to … help change things.”
Wondering if this was working, Fantz contacted marketinge experts and asked if such a ‘rebranding’ is possible.
“They stand for hatred; they always have,” Atlanta-based brand consultant Laura Ries told CNN. “Maybe they don’t believe in shooting up a center for Jewish people, but they still support beliefs that are beyond the scope of understanding for most people and certainly the freedom and equality our country believes in.”
Fantz points out that from “a sheer marketing perspective,” the KKK has a problem with their lack of a central figurehead.
Ries compares it to the Catholic Church.
“The KKK doesn’t have a Pope. Look at what that guy has done. You have to have a leader like that to make people believe a change has happened,” she said.
Fantz also interviewed a marketing expert who said that rebranding and advertising will probably always be out of reach for the Klan despite modern tools like Facebook and Twitter.
“Disney is happiness. Nike is you’re proud you ran the race. The Ayran Brotherhood — that’s somewhere on the spectrum of rage and outrage,” said Dan Hill. “We are talking about an emotion that leads to violence. If you use that rhetoric, you can’t say you didn’t expect that kind of reaction.”
Fantz concludes: ‘That’s a lesson history keeps trying to teach.’