Lebanon's refugee schools provide hope for Syria's lost generation
'Despite the suffering, children have an amazing ability to recover,' says Unicef as some of the 400,000 child refugees in Lebanon begin to receive education
Martin Chulov in Bekaa Valley
theguardian.com, Monday 5 May 2014 19.36 BST
Each morning at 8am, Ahmed stirs from his blanket on the soil and walks about a mile to the morning shift. Sometimes his two sisters go with him. More children soon join him from nearby potato fields and tents, on their way to the first of the day's three school sessions. A second wave of small children carrying oversized blue school bags appears at noon, and another in the late afternoon.
Ahmed is usually met with a bear hug from a Lebanese social worker, Maria, who for the past two years has been part social worker, part disciplinarian and, more often than not, mother figure for him and the other Syrian children who attend this makeshift school house in the heart of the Bekaa Valley.
All the children are refugees, most have lost at least one parent, and every one has a story of deprivation and loss. But all seems to be forgotten for a few hours in this school among the crops and tents where the children of war come to learn.
Syria's civil war is trampling on its children as easily as it is killing its adults. The 400,000 child refugees now in Lebanon represent a lost generation; many who have fled here have been denied an education for three years. Poverty is not their only constraint. Until recently, enrolling Syrian refugees in Lebanese schools was close to impossible, and getting any form of education at all was almost as difficult.
Things are slowly changing for some. Since early this year, the Lebanese government has allowed double shifts in state primary schools, meaning refugee children can attend the second shift in some schools. Syrians enrolled in the Lebanese system receive formal qualifications when they graduate. But not all are as fortunate.
Schools such as Ahmed's are considered informal and not recognised by the government.
Syrian teachers are allowed to teach here, but they must stick to a Lebanese curriculum and, at the end of the year, the progress of children is not recognised. That means they cannot advance to secondary schools or be accepted into the state system.
For the eager students in this school though, it clearly doesn't matter. A group aged between five and eight are sitting outside around a table as their teacher, a businessman from Homs who lost his home and livelihood two years ago, teaches them how to paint.
"Life was different before this," he says. "But I have found dignity in the therapy of art. I love these children."
The children watch in silence as he etches small white geese on to a landscape on a wood panel. Then all the children take turns, including Fatima, whose mother died during a winter storm four months ago and who, like Ahmed, receives extra attention from the always-hovering Maria.
So enthusiastic are children to learn that the school sometimes runs triple shifts.
They are often greeted by a traditional storyteller. Dressed in a gown and a red box hat known as a tarboush, his role is to maintain a connection between the children and their lost land just across the border. "He talks about the streets and the castles, the rivers and the marketplaces," said Maria. "The children love it. And we also give them a lot of psycho-social support to help them learn to love their new country."
The storyteller also plays another role, often drifting into the fraught issues of geography and modern history. Even primary school children seem well aware that who did what in the Levant before the war is a touchy subject. Since March 2011, the narrative has been more bitterly contested than ever.
Both the storyteller and the teachers receive $6 (about £3.50) an hour. Most live among their students in the informal refugee camps that dot the area. Ahmed lives in one of them with his five siblings. His older brother Nimr, 15, is acting as head of the family, and takes the lead in caring for Kamel, who has not been the same since he pulled his mother's body from the rubble of their family home in Idblib early last year.
Shortly afterwards, the family's father, Mohammed, drove his five children to the Lebanese border, waved them goodbye, then left.
They have not heard from him since, and have long ago used the small amount of money they had to rent a tent space and buy food.
"We ran away from problems and problems followed us," said Nimr, squatting on the floor of the tent he now shares with his new wife, Fatima, also 15. "It would have been better if we all died with my mother. It would have been easier," he said. Fatima's family, who live in the camp, have helped the young orphans with a concrete path and food.
Kamel nodded, but said nothing, his eyes fixed permanently on the middle distance. "I feel I am not up to this responsibility," said Nimr, pointing at his siblings. "I cannot feed them." He holds up a debt book with a long list of IOUs that he cannot possibly repay.
His youngest sister, Hala, sits restlessly alongside him, a cropped hat covering what hair she has left; the rest has fallen out in recent months. Hala, 11, used to go to school with Ahmed, but was bullied because of her appearance and behaviour. Her distress is not as visible as Kamel's but is never far away. Hala too runs for Maria when she appears in the tent's doorway, clinging to the leg of the surrogate mother who tries to entice her back to school.
"Lots of these children have suffered so much," she said. "The stories they all tell are heart-breaking. All of them."
The scale of suffering faced by Syria's children is a reflection of a society in terminal decline. More than 150,000 people have been killed since the war began, and close to half the country's 22 million population is now on the move; at least 6.5 million are internally displaced, and almost 3 million have made it into neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, where staying alive takes precedence over learning.
Nonetheless, the fear of a lost generation is an increasingly dominant theme among humanitarian bodies which are having more luck reaching vulnerable communities who have made it to exile than in reaching those left behind.
"We need to prevent losing a whole generation of children from Syria. Giving them opportunities to learn, developing their skills and healing the wounds of the conflict is vital for the future of these children and for Syria," a Unicef spokesperson said.
"Children who have fled Syria to Lebanon have witnessed and experienced things no child should. But despite the suffering, children have an amazing ability to recover and heal. They want to learn – they want a better future."
Sisi says Muslim Brotherhood will not exist under his reign
Egypt's former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issues warning as country prepares for presidential elections on 26-27 May
Louisa Loveluck in Cairo
the Guardian, Tuesday 6 May 2014
Egypt's former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Monday night that the Muslim Brotherhood – the group he removed from power last year – will not exist if he is elected president later this month.
The comments, in an interview broadcast on two Egyptian television stations, were the clearest indication yet there was no prospect for political reconciliation with the Islamist group that propelled Mohamed Morsi to the presidency in 2012.
"There will be nothing called the Muslim Brotherhood during my tenure," Sisi said on Egypt's privately-owned CBC and ONTV television channels.
The Brotherhood has been subject to an aggressive state-led crackdown in the months since Morsi's overthrow. The movement was formally blacklisted as a terrorist organisation on Christmas Day and continues to be blamed for bomb attacks across Egypt, although many have been claimed by militant groups, including the al-Qaida-linked Ansar Beit el Maqdis.
Sisi said he had survived two assassination attempts in the months since Morsi's ousting in July last year.
The former field marshal's claims appeared to vindicate the tight security measures that have dominated his campaign. Instead of taking to the campaign trail like his sole opponent, Nasserist candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi, Sisi will reportedly be sending emissaries to his rallies across the country.
A kingmaker in Egypt's post-Morsi politics, Sisi remains a prime target for a domestic militant insurgency which has targeted the army and police force in retaliation for their roles in Morsi's overthrow and their subsequent crackdown against the Brotherhood and other political opponents.
Egypt's presidential elections, scheduled for 26-27 May, will take place against a backdrop of deep societal divisions. At least 16,000 people have been imprisoned and more than 2,500 killed in the crackdown.
Yet Sisi remains popular, with many Egyptians arguing that he is the only leader capable of restoring security and enough confidence to steady the country's faltering economy. He is expected to win by a landslide.
During the course of the interview, Sisi also addressed allegations, often levelled by critics, that his ascent to power was part of a long-term plan.
"I took the side of millions not because I was interested in power," he said, claiming that he had only taken the decision to run for president in late February after a public show of support from Egypt's supreme council for the armed forces. He has cast his decision as a patriotic duty that was necessary to rescue the nation.
Highlighting the series of challenges that Egypt's next president must face, Sisi said his priorities in power would be security and stability. He described Egypt's high rate of unemployment as "shameful".
According to a recent survey by the Egyptian polling centre Baseera, 72% of those who intend to vote in the elections say they will back Sisi, with 2% supporting Sabahi.
Burglars raped my wife, Jacob Zuma says as he defends home improvements
South African president seeks to justify 246m rand (£13.73m) of public funds spent on security at his Nkandla homestead
David Smith in Johannesburg
theguardian.com, Monday 5 May 2014 18.48 BST
Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa, has described how his wife was raped by burglars more than a decade ago as he sought to justify the use of public funds to upgrade security at his private home.
Critics seized on the remarks, describing them as inappropriate in a country where millions of women have no protection from sexual violence.
Zuma gave a long, testy and unapologetic speech defending the 246m rand (£13.73m) of state funds spent on his homestead in Nkandla in the impoverished KwaZulu-Natal province – a political scandal that has done little to dent his confidence of victory in elections on Wednesday.
Responding to a question from the Guardian during a media briefing in Johannesburg, he said the African National Congress had provided him with security throughout his career as a provincial official, deputy president and president so there was nothing out of the ordinary.
"There were issues that had called for security, particularly in my homestead," he elaborated. "My homestead was burned twice during violence. And secondly my wife, criminals came, raped my wife during the time I was still the MEC [member of the executive council]... [or] probably I had become deputy president.
"So the issue of security at Nkandla has not been a theoretical issue. Further, there was a court case about it. So those who say you need security, it's not because it's just a normal thing. Two serious incidents had happened to my home. One, burning it, not once, twice.
"Second, break in by criminals, raping my wife, they were arrested, charged, convicted. And people who are in government, once Zuma became the president, they had to raise the level of security to that one of a president. I don't think there's anything abnormal about it."
The rape incident was known to many South African journalists but not made public because of laws protecting the identity of rape victims. But in 1998, the national broadcaster SABC did report that Zuma's wife was sexually assaulted when a group of men broke into their home before stealing with some of the family's belongings.
A traditional Zulu polygamist, Zuma did not say which of the four wives he had at the time was the victim. One has since committed suicide, while he has divorced fellow politician Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, now chairperson of African Union. Zuma himself was tried and acquitted of rape in 2006.
The president's revelation just before an election was condemned as opportunistic and cynical in some quarters. Natasha Joseph, a journalist at South Africa's City Press newspaper, tweeted: "Rape is a horrific crime – I sincerely hope President Zuma does not use it to justify huge HUGE tax money spend on his home."
William Gumede, a political academic and biographer, said: "We want the president to talk about the high level of violence but this is not the right way. He is saying the right thing for the wrong reason.
"Only the president gets protection but the ordinary grassroots members and supporters don't. Instead of saying: 'I will fight for the ordinary voter in townships and informal settlements,' he's saying: 'I need protection.' I think it's inappropriate."
Mark Peach, communications director of Agang SA, a party led by struggle stalwart Mamphela Ramphele, said: "What is disturbing is the possibility that Zuma is using rape – a serious problem in this country – to try to generate some sympathy for what is clearly a massive case of maladministration and in some instances, corruption, in his government."
In March, a report by South Africa's public protector found Zuma had unduly benefited from the security upgrades. It accused him of unethical conduct and told him to repay the costs of a swimming pool, amphitheatre, visitor centre, cattle enclosure and chicken coop at the homestead.
French Forces Come under Fierce Attack in C. Africa
by Naharnet Newsdesk
06 May 2014, 11:40
French troops had to call for air backup to fight off an assault by well-armed militants in the Central African Republic on Monday in clashes that left several gunmen dead, the military chief of staff in Paris said.
Around 40 heavily-armed militants riding motorcycles and pick-up trucks attacked the French peacekeepers on a road leading to the village of Boguila in the northwest of the strife-torn country, a spokesman told AFP.
"Faced with the aggressiveness of this adversary, the French force resorted to heavy arms, mortars and anti-tank missiles," said Colonel Gilles Jaron. "There was air backup from fighter jets from N'Djamena," which are permanently based in neighboring Chad.
The battle, which lasted for about three hours and stopped as night fell, wrecked vehicles in the militant convoy and left several of the attackers dead, while others made off in the dark, the army chief said.
No casualties were reported on the French side.
The night was calm in the district, patrolled by troops from the 2,000-strong French Operation Sangaris, which was first deployed last December to back up the African Union-led MISCA military force.
No MISCA troops were in the area, where former rebels of the Seleka alliance that seized power for 10 months in a March 2013 coup are known to have fallen back after defeats in the south.
Throughout the region, the mainly Muslim ex-rebels are accused of atrocities against civilians and humanitarian personnel. Armed members of the local Fulani community are also accused of violence.
The raid on the French soldiers followed a brutal attack on Saturday against a Boguila hospital run by the international charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF), in which 16 people were slaughtered, including three MSF workers. Six other people were killed nearby.
MSF said Monday that it would cut back its activities in the CAR for a week, apart from "emergency medical care", in protest not only at the killings, but the failure of the transitional government and spokesmen for armed groups to condemn them.
In a statement, the charity also condemned what it called "an indifferent reaction from the international community and peacekeeping forces".
The latest conflict in the landlocked and deeply poor CAR was triggered when many ex-Seleka fighters went rogue, targeting civilians and their property in vicious attacks that displaced hundreds of thousands.
In response, vigilante forces known as "anti-balaka" were formed in mainly Christian communities to kill and terrorize Muslims. The ferocity of the conflict in a country where the two religious communities previously lived peacefully together has led to international warnings of a potential genocide.
Brazil's 'chainsaw queen' takes on environmentalists
Ambitious politician Kátia Abreu leads agricultural lobby in loosening controls on Amazon deforestation
Jonathan Watts in Brasilia
theguardian.com, Monday 5 May 2014 22.20 BST
Outside the political hothouse of Brasilia, there are probably few who can name the head of Brazil's powerful agricultural lobby, yet the woman in question, Kátia Abreu, is rapidly becoming the country's most interesting, important – and dangerous – politician.
The senator and rancher from Goiás was an influential force in the weakening of Brazil's forest code blamed by many for the recent rise in Amazon deforestation. Her support – in parliament and in an acerbic newspaper column – for more roads through the Amazon, congressional control over demarcation of indigenous reserves, more efficient monocultures and genetically modified "terminator seeds" has earned her the wrath of environmentalists who have called her "Miss Deforestation", "chainsaw queen" and the "face of evil".
Abreu, however, is defiant, saying she is preparing to run for president one day and wants to help Brazil overtake the US as the world's biggest food producer. "Running for president is not a plan – it is fate. I'm getting ready for that, preparing in case it is my destiny," she said in an interview at her office in Brasilia. "Criticism from radical environmentalists is the best form of endorsement. It gives me satisfaction. It shows I am on the right track and playing the right role."
A psychology graduate who took over a ranch after her husband died in 1987, Abreu has become the staunchest defender of agribusiness in Brazil. She heads the Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock and leads its political lobby, which claims more than 250 senators and members of congress.
Her primary objective is to boost agricultural output, which accounts for a big (23%) and growing share of Brazil's economy. Harvests of soy and other products have surged in recent years, putting the country – according to Abreu – on course to surpass the US even without further deforestation. "We have all the essential elements: abundant water, advanced technology and plenty of land for production. Based on this, we can become number one without cutting down trees."
Her bullish business message is underpinned by flag-waving nationalism and attacks on any group accused of trying to slow the growth of Brazilian agriculture. This include environmentalists, indigenous groups and landless peasants, all of whom she alleged – without evidence – were working for foreign interests. "I don't have concrete proof of this but I get a very strong impression that this is the case," she said.
Abreu's uncompromising rhetoric and style are reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher. When I mention the comparison, the congresswoman lights up.
"Thank you! Margaret Thatcher had one of the greatest liberal political minds. She built a set of principles that changed the world. I'm only sorry that I didn't have the opportunity to meet her."
Like Thatcher in the 1980s, Abreu is engaged in a potentially world-changing struggle. While the British prime minister's battle against the miners in the 1980s ushered in a period of social division and runaway capitalism, Abreu is taking on the environmental movement with enormous potential consequences for the global climate and food supply. She appears to be winning. As the economy has become more dependent on agribusiness, the influence of its lobby in parliament has increased to the point where it can almost make or break the government agenda.
Abreu said its success was partly a result of the lifestyle improvements the industry has given to Brazilian people. "Forty years ago, the average Brazilian spent 50% of his or her income on food. Now the proportion is about 18%."
The situation looked very different a decade ago, when former environment minister Marina Silva introduced a series of measures that slowed deforestation and promised more territory for indigenous groups and landless peasants.
Abreu said the tables had now turned. "For many years, environmentalism reached an extreme pitch and we in the agribusiness sector were treated like criminals," she said, but now "our agribusiness sector can influence the choice of kings and queens in Brazil. In the past, we only exercised economic influence. Now we also have political power."
In the presidential election in October, Abreu said she would back the incumbent, Dilma Rousseff, whom she described as "more interested in agriculture" than her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Although they are ostensibly on opposite sides of the ideological divide, Abreu said she was willing to work with Rousseff for a price: "I just want her to be willing to understand our situation, to have a grasp of the problems that the agriculture sector faces, and to help solve those problems so we can keep growing and so that Brazil can be number one for food production."
That is likely to mean further erosion of indigenous rights, weaker environmental laws and loser restrictions on genetically modified terminator seeds – all of which are currently being pushed in congress by Abreu's lobby.
"We cannot rest on our laurels. There are many things holding back progress – the environmental issue, the Indian issue and more. But even with these problems we keep producing high levels of productivity. Imagine how high it might be without those obstacles," she said.
Monitors Charge President Meddled in Panama Vote
by Naharnet Newsdesk
06 May 2014, 06:57
International monitors voiced concern Monday at "interference" by Panama's presidential office in weekend elections.
Conservative Juan Carlos Varela easily defeated President Ricardo Martinelli's hand-picked successor, Jose Domingo Arias, whose runningmate was Martinelli's wife.
Varela, Panama's vice-president and a former Martinelli supporter, won a clear majority -- 39 percent -- of the vote, according to the Electoral Tribunal.
"With special concern the (OAS electoral monitoring) mission has witnessed visible interference by the executive branch in the vote, in several ways," Organization of American States monitoring mission spokeswoman Lourdes Flores said in reading out a statement.
Martinelli's party's supporters "benefited throughout the campaign by using public funds," she added.
While the OAS mission acknowledged the election was "carried out successfully," it stressed that there were issues "that cannot be ignored, and that need to be addressed urgently."
Government interference, it charged, created "deeply unequal conditions in the race."
And the mission "has witnessed with concern the barely regulated campaign finance area," where there are "no limits on donations and no monitoring of private donations."
Archaeologists hunt for ancient pyramids and temples in Sudan
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, May 5, 2014 7:56 EDT
Little by little, the deserts of northern Sudan slowly reveal the secrets they have held for 2,000 years and more.
With wheelbarrows, pulleys and shovels, sweating labourers have unearthed the remains of pyramids, temples and other ancient monuments.
But much of the country’s rich archaeological heritage still remains hidden, and what has been discovered remains little known to outsiders.
An unprecedented $135 million project funded by the Gulf state of Qatar aims to change that.
“Archaeologists had a dream that this site would attract more interest,” Abbas Zarook said at the Napatan ruins of El-Kurru, about 300 kilometres (190 miles) northwest of the capital Khartoum.
He heads a Sudanese-American mission excavating the site.
Zarook said the Qatari funding, a five-year project announced in March, will support further discoveries at El-Kurru, and elsewhere.
“Without the Qatari donation, no one knows how long this knowledge would have been hidden,” he said.
El-Kurru and more than two dozen other archaeological projects, spread over hundreds of kilometres along the Nile Valley, will benefit from Qatar’s support, officials say.
“I don’t think we will find everything hidden in five years, so we hope this funding will be extended,” Zarook told journalists invited to see some of the sites that will benefit from the new funding -– the largest ever for Sudanese antiquities.
It will support projects by several foreign and Sudanese teams in northern Sudan, where the first archaeological digs took place only about 100 years ago. That was much later than in Greece or Egypt, whose pyramids are grander and much better known.
- World Heritage -
Last year, fewer than 600,000 tourists visited war-torn Sudan, where El-Kurru and other ancient cemeteries are among the few attractions.
By comparison, the much older monuments at Luxor, on the banks of the Nile in southern Egypt, have drawn millions of visitors annually.
The Napatan civilisation, which emerged after 900 BC, extended its influence north to Luxor and then briefly conquered all of Egypt.
A royal burial site, including remains of a pyramid for the powerful Napatan king Piangkhi, is part of a vast UNESCO World Heritage site that includes El-Kurru.
Zarook’s Sudanese-American team is still unravelling El-Kurru’s mysteries, about a century after the first excavations.
“We are trying to preserve what has been found before, and to discover what remains hidden,” Zarook said at the site near a farming village.
During the excavation season which ended in March, workers removed tonnes of sand and other debris from El-Kurru’s largest pyramid, which archaeologists believe was about 35 metres (115 feet) high.
It is located next to Piangkhi’s pyramid, perhaps because of a family connection, said Geoff Emberling, assistant research scientist at the University of Michigan’s Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.
Emberling and his Sudanese colleagues are also digging out a nearby building with more than 20 columns. They think it was a mortuary temple dedicated to the worship of a dead king.
“It’s a beautiful and well preserved building, but we have not yet found conclusive evidence of the date of its construction,” he told AFP.
- Chance of ‘major discoveries’ -
Closer to the Nile they are excavating an ancient city wall, hoping to find the settlement which was associated with the royal cemetery.
“Sudan presents some interesting and rewarding opportunities for archaeologists now. In some ways we know less about the archaeology of the Middle Nile and surrounding areas than about other major ancient civilisations, and there are real opportunities to make major discoveries,” Emberling said.
El-Kurru includes strikingly preserved hieroglyphics but the site is guarded only by a lone policeman.
That is typical for Sudan’s archaeological heritage in the remote desert, where the stonework of some relics has collapsed, and there are no explanatory signs to assist visitors.
Qatar’s funding will help restore some monuments, while also protecting the fragile archaeological sites and improving information for tourists.
The National Museum in Khartoum will be modernised, and two presentation and conference centres built at Gebel Barkal and Meroe, whose pyramids and temples are on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.
Claude Rilly, director of the French archaeological mission in Sedeinga, north of El-Kurru, is a world expert in the ancient Meroitic language, whose numerous inscriptions have been found in Sedeinga’s tombs.
The language is little understood, and his efforts to decipher it will be another beneficiary of Qatar’s support.
Since work began at Sedeinga in the 1960s, around 250 pyramids have been excavated.
The main part of the necropolis dates from 400-300 BC, at the end of the Napatan era, which was followed by the 700-year reign of the Meroe kingdom.
The deserts yielded fresh surprises during the French team’s latest Sedeinga mission, which finished in December.
They found “very beautiful” architectural detail, including a mysterious, massive square block in the middle of the remains of one pyramid, Rilly said.
“We have no explanation for that”, although it may have been a way of reinforcing the structure, he said.
The pyramid is one of four whose remains they unearthed at the vast necropolis last season, and which confirmed “an incredible diversity” among Sudanese pyramids that distinguishes them from their Egyptian cousins.
“No pyramid has ever been found in Sudan with this kind of architecture,” Rilly said.
In the USA...United Surveillance America
It’s All Too Easy to Relate To The Documentary ‘The Brainwashing of My Dad’
By: Deborah Foster
Monday, May, 5th, 2014, 9:49 pm
How many liberals have politically noxious relatives who were once reasonable people until they turned on Rush Limbaugh for their commute to work or ran across Fox as they flipped through their cable channels? Robert Sobel, writing for the Examiner, asked the question, “Why do Americans vote against their own interests?” He concluded that too many Americans are caught in the right wing misinformation echo chamber, whether it is listening to right wing radio, watching Fox News, or reading the conservative blogosphere. Recently, an upcoming documentary, “The Brainwashing of My Dad,” has been gaining attention. For this documentary, Jen Senko traces the history of her father’s transformation from mild-mannered Democrat to angry, racist Republican. As one might guess, this metamorphosis occurred following a change in his routine where he ended up having a long commute to work and tuned into Rush Limbaugh. His seething, bitter personality change only worsened as he dove deeper into right wing media. In her documentary, when it is completed, she intends to show her efforts to “de-program” her father. No doubt everyone will be curious to see how that works out.
Personally, in my family, the worst offenders in terms of personality deterioration following heavy doses of the right wing propaganda mill have been my grandfather and uncle. My late grandfather was a retired chiropractor, had no TV, and sat around his house much of the day listening to the radio. Somewhere along the way, he tuned his radio into Rush Limbaugh in the early 1990s. He was positively relentless from that time forward in his attempts to draw me into listening as well, and the fact that this went on for well over a decade fits well with a brainwashing model. Initially, I pointed out flaws in Rush's logic, blatant examples of racism, sexism, etc., and my grandfather sort of acknowledged my opinion. (Pardon the appearance of the text, he slanted lines in his typewriter)
Initially, I pointed out flaws in Rush’s logic, blatant examples of racism, sexism, etc., and my grandfather sort of acknowledged my opinion. This example of Rush’s wisdom shows why listeners begin to show racist tendencies. Excerpt from 1993 letter. (Pardon the appearance of the text, he slanted lines in his typewriter)
Where he was once more supportive of women’s rights, suddenly he was using terms like, “feminazi” in his letters to me, which came frequently. Since letters had always been his primary means of contact with me, I can actually line them up in chronological order to see my conservative, but evenhanded grandfather go from a supportive man who supported women’s rights to one who began to constantly degrade poor people, even my own family who had the misfortune to need government assistance.
Rush is not the ogre done
My grandfather began to adopt Rush’s language and thoughts in every letter. He mentioned him in every letter. Excerpt from 1996 letter.
It was hurtful, and I told him so. He relented for a bit, but forgot his emotional impact, and then started in again with another Limbaugh-inspired rant.
We had always had a respectful relationship. Suddenly, my grandfather began name-calling for this first time. He knows I am a liberal, yet degrades them. Excerpt from 2000 letter.
As he cast his Republican vote each time, he voted against his interests, because after that vote he promptly went right to the Salvation Army to eat lunch as he did every day, given that Social Security was his only income. Unfortunately, he struggled with financial problems because he also spent a lot of his money getting swindled by the conservative scam industry which has been built up in this country.
Dishearteningly, this man became a lesser person, a meaner person, and his hours of Limbaugh listening were directly to blame. But if my grandfather softened his rightwing rhetoric when I reminded him that he was actually enraged and bitter about “those” people, and one of “those” people was a group his granddaughter belonged to, not so with my uncle. His hatred knows no bounds. His venom and toxicity is so beyond the scope of my ability to cope, I had to completely shut down that relationship. For example, he railed against the fact that 30 years ago children who received free lunch were eligible to attend a three-day music camp for free in my hometown, so I got to go. Somehow, he had held onto this memory all these years and he spewed out his complaint that his son never got offered a “free ride” to camp. This particular uncle spent time on food stamps in the 1970s, and eventually built a small, but successful trucking magazine business, which he sold for over a million dollars. As one might guess, he spends all of his free time in retirement absorbing Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and the rest of right wing media. I hear his nasty comments secondhand through my mother now, and I never understand how she takes his constant abusive comments about lazy, parasitic poor people, which by extension are also directed at her. I guess everyone’s gotta have a crazy uncle.
Sadly, like an epidemic, the brainwashing spread from one family member to family member until it was nearly impossible to find someone who wasn’t a right-wing conservative with a deep-seated resentment toward minorities, the poor, and even my nuclear family, their own flesh and blood. It is for this reason that I am eager to see Ms. Senko’s film with a particular eye on whether she is successful with deprogramming her father. In all honesty, I have my doubts. Perhaps, she hires a real deprogrammer of cult fame, but they aren’t always successful either, and her father’s had decades to harden his belief system.
To explain her father’s conversion, and the political mutation of so many Americans for the “The Brainwashing of My Dad” documentary, Senko has interviewed cognitive, linguistic, and media experts like Jeff Cohen, George Lakoff and Noam Chomsky. She also intends to interview other experts. No doubt they will all speak of a singular theme: the media has become overly consolidated in the hands of corporations that have a political agenda in their coverage of public affairs. It began with the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine, deregulation of the airwaves with the neutering of the FCC, and brings us to today’s rampant media consolidation (the decision about whether to allow Time-Warner and Comcast to merge into another mammoth media corporation is still pending). The experts will also likely speak to methods of propaganda. Many of these have been highlighted in the documentary, “Outfoxed,” as well. Somehow Americans need to become aware of the manipulative effects of “puppeteer media,” media designed to get people to follow unquestioningly fact-free infotainment and punditry with the purpose of getting them to vote against their best interests. There’s been a mass brainwashing in this country. Since so many of us have watched our loved ones get sucked into this message machine, often with personal harm to our relationships, it has to be a priority to learn how to overcome the effects of well-moneyed misinformation noise.
Fox News Unequivocally Declares That Benghazi Is The Only News Story Worth Covering
By: Justin Baragona
Monday, May, 5th, 2014, 7:40 pm
Ever since it happened, Fox News has tried to turn the tragic events that occurred at Benghazi in September 2012 into a massive scandal that will destroy the Obama presidency. The ‘news’ channel has gone out of its way to display tins of fake outrage over the supposed cover up by the White House when it comes to talking points given by then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice on the Sunday talk shows after the protests that happened in the Middle East and the attack that occurred at Benghazi. Fox News has also done its best to push the idea that the White House and State Department are perhaps directly responsible for the deaths of four Americans by shouting from the rooftops that Hillary Clinton and/or President Obama gave a ‘stand-down’ order. Of course, nothing like that remotely happened.
Anyway, Fox News just cannot let this story go. Despite four investigations completed by Congress and numerous hearings that have revealed no actual scandal but have provided Republicans ample opportunity to grandstand incessantly, the ‘Fair and Balanced’ network has insisted on pushing the narrative that there was some foul and dastardly dealings going on within the White House when it comes to Benghazi. With the recent release of more emails from the White House, the network, along with other conservatives, feel they have a ‘smoking gun’ that finally reveals the White House did…uhhh, something, I guess. Whatever it is, this is a VERY IMPORTANT STORY. It MUST be covered!
It is with that mindset where we now see Fox News anchors pull away from press conferences from the White House and tell the audience that they will not go back unless somebody mentions Benghazi. This happened last week when German Chancellor Angela Merkel was visiting with President Obama and they held a joint press conference. It didn’t seem to matter that both world leaders may touch on many pressing and important matters. Fox News was only concerned with this press conference if POTUS brought up Benghazi or a reporter asked him a question about it.
On Monday, we saw this happen again, with the addition of snark from Fox News anchor Jon Scott. During the White House press briefing, White House counselor John Podesta stepped up to the podium to discuss energy policy. Scott, showing his complete lack of knowledge on who Podesta is, acted as if Podesta is one of White House Spokesman Jay Carney’s “understudies.” Podesta was a Chief of Staff under President Bill Clinton and has joined the current White House staff as a special counselor. He is not one of Carney’s helpers.
Below is video of Scott courtesy of Talking Points Memo:
Did you catch how dismissive Scott was on the point of that part of the press briefing? He basically turned his nose up at the idea that the White House would use their time today to talk about energy policy.
“Talking about energy efficiency, of all things, right now. But if they get to some questions about this House select committee, how it will work, we will take you back there live.”
Yeah, how dare the White House think about discussing actual policy matters when the only thing that should be talked about right now, and forever more, is Benghazi? Who cares if taxpayers have spent $14 million on the numerous investigations on this matter and the attack happened 20 months ago? Fox News, and desperate Republicans, have moved all in on Benghazi and they’ve decided that they don’t want to talk about anything else. They are only interested in finding some way to get this story to stick with average Americans, despite not even really knowing what the outrage is supposed to be about anymore.
CBS News Asks for Transcript of Their Bogus 60 Minutes Benghazi Report Deleted
By: Jason Easley
Monday, May, 5th, 2014, 1:30 pm
While Republicans are trumping up their Benghazi hysteria, CBS News had the transcript of Lara Logan’s untrue 60 Minutes Benghazi report deleted from the Lexis Nexis database.
According to Think Progress, “CBS deleted the story and transcript from its website and searching the Lexis Nexis database will yield no results for a transcript of the report — that’s because, according Lexis Nexis, both the introduction to the story and the report itself have been “deleted at the request of CBS News due to legal or copyright reasons.”
We also know now, thanks to a lengthy piece in New York Magazine which Republican was behind Logan’s 60 Minutes story:
Benghazi had been thoroughly politicized from the beginning. But rather than steering clear of the political battle, Logan headed right toward it, consulting with Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a strong critic of the administration’s handling of the incident whom she’d met once in Afghanistan. “I really didn’t know her until she started doing this piece on Benghazi,” he told me.
The two met two or three times to talk about the Libya attack, with Graham telling Logan that from his point of view, it was “a fair thing to say” that there was a “build-up of Al Qaeda types” in the area—a major talking point for the right in arguments that the Obama White House tried covering up alleged terrorist links.
Graham declared Logan’s report the “death blow” to the Obama administration’s narrative about Benghazi.
The 60 Minutes piece along with Jon Karl’s Benghazi emails for ABC News were both examples of Republicans trying to turn a false story into a legitimate news piece through media manipulation.
If Benghazi is such a big earth shaking story, why did CBS News have transcript deleted? The truth is that there is nothing to see here. Benghazi is another manifestation of the desperate Republican attempts to destroy President Obama.
The only thing more bogus than the Benghazi conspiracy theory is the attempt by Republicans to sneak their propaganda on to legitimate news outlets.
Obama critic Trey Gowdy tapped to lead latest House panel on Benghazi
Tuesday, May 6, 2014 6:32 EDT
A former prosecutor and critic of the Obama administration’s handling of the 2012 Benghazi attacks was picked on Monday to head a Republican-led congressional investigation of the assault that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.
South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, a member of the House of Representatives Oversight Committee, will lead a new panel investigating the attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
“I know he shares my commitment to get to the bottom of this tragedy and will not tolerate any stonewalling from the Obama administration,” House Speaker John Boehner said in announcing Gowdy as his pick as chairman of the select committee.
Asked by Fox News interviewer Greta Van Susteren how the panel would differ from all the other congressional hearings on Benghazi, Gowdy said the investigations so far had been fragmented.
“You can’t draw conclusions if you don’t have all the facts, and what this committee is going to do is once and for all lay out all the facts,” Gowdy said.
Boehner had announced he was forming the panel on Friday, the same day the Oversight Committee announced a rare subpoena of a Cabinet official, Secretary of State John Kerry, to testify about Benghazi.
The State Department said on Monday it was still looking into whether Kerry would appear on May 21 as demanded. He is scheduled to be in Mexico on that date.
Republicans accuse President Barack Obama’s administration of doing too little to repulse the attack and then misleading Americans out of fear Benghazi would tarnish his record as he ran for re-election in November 2012.
A White House spokesman declined to answer directly whether it would cooperate with the Gowdy panel.
While saying the White House had in the past cooperated with “legitimate” probes, spokesman Jay Carney told a news briefing it was highly questionable whether the most recent inquiry was legitimate.
Democrats accuse Republicans of using the incident for political purposes, with an eye toward discrediting then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, considered a likely Democratic presidential candidate in 2016.
Eight different congressional committees have investigated the events in Benghazi, holding more than a dozen hearings and 50 briefings, and examining 25,000 pages of documents.
Representative Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said on Monday that Democrats had not yet decided whether they would participate in the special committee because they had not received details of the Republicans’ plans.
He said, however, that his party’s leaders would vote against the resolution to form the committee and urge members to vote no.
“We’re going to spend taxpayer money for something that they’ve already spent taxpayer money to do, and that is investigate the circumstances surrounding the tragic loss of life of four Americans, including a very respected ambassador. That was appropriate to do,” he said.
“Our view is that we’ve done that. We don’t believe the administration covered up and we believe that this is political only,” Hoyer added.
Gowdy urged Democrats: “At least, let us have a hearing before you judge it. At least, let the committee be constituted and the rules be adopted before you declare it to be a political exercise.”
The NRA Escalates Their Campaign of Murder Behind the Disguise of Self Defense
Monday, May, 5th, 2014, 11:18 am
A reason is a statement presented in justification or explanation of a belief or action, and often depends on who is attempting to justify an action or belief. When the Founding Fathers included the 2nd Amendment in the Bill of Rights that one right of the people was to keep and bear arms, they wisely included the reason to avoid any misinterpretation then or in the future; “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State.” However, for gun fanatics, anti-American extremists, and the National Rifle Association, the reason for the 2nd Amendment is everything from overthrowing the United States government to intimidating other citizens or to stalk and kill young African American males. There is a troubling new justification for the right to keep and bear arms the NRA supports and it is entrapping suspected burglars and gunning them down in cold blood with impunity as part of the NRA-written and ALEC proposed “stand your ground” or “Castle Doctrine” laws.
Last week in Montana, a German exchange student was gunned down and killed after a man set a trap for intruders by deliberately leaving his garage door open with a purse in plain sight. The man-hunter, Markus Kaarma, set up motion detectors in the garage and upon after they detected someone in the garage, Kaarma calmly grabbed a shotgun and walked to the front of the garage and fired four times in a sweeping motion hitting 17-year old Dirin Dedes twice killing him instantly. The man was rightly charged with first degree murder and he immediately invoked a new NRA-backed Montana Stand Your Ground defense However, Kaarma may not succeed in convincing a jury that firing indiscriminately into his garage was defending himself especially with no clear idea there was anyone inside, or if they presented a clear and present danger. The idea of vigilantes setting traps for human beings is an increasing use of the NRA’s so-called self-defense laws meant to make gun fanatics into judge, jury, and executioner.
The Montana vigilante is not the first, and certainly will not be the last, to claim he was justified in murdering a human being after setting a trap. Last week a Minnesota jury rejected another man’s assertion he was “standing his ground” when he went to great lengths to make it appear his home was unoccupied and waited in what the prosecutor likened to “deer hunting from a tree stand” in his basement with a supply of food and water until two unarmed teenagers descended the stairs where he executed them. The “hunter” made an audio recording of the killings that depicted him toying with the dying victims after he shot them. Prosecutors asserted that the man appeared to take pleasure in murdering the two teens, and the 15-minute clip of the shooting included the sounds of the 17-year old boy and 18-year old girl getting gunned down and the man firing into the wounded teens saying “you’re dead” before dragging their bodies in a tarp to prevent his carpet from getting blood-stained. The man did not tell his neighbors he murdered the teens until a day passed; likely reveling in the human trophies before turning the bodies over to the coroner.
The Montana vigilante’s entrapment and subsequent murder of the German teenager provoked state Representative Ellie Hill to propose legislation to repeal parts of the NRA’s Defense of an Occupied Structure statute that was added in 2009. The NRA championed House Bill 228 because it “expanded the circumstances under which anyone can use a firearm for deadly force and call it “self-defense;” code for indiscriminate murder. Hill said “What the castle doctrine has done in this country is it has created a culture of gun violence and vigilante justice, and it’s created a culture that it’s OK to shoot first and ask questions later.” Montana’s NRA law granted the use of lethal force to anyone who believes shooting will stop an intruder from entering an occupied structure, even if it is an unoccupied garage with the door open.
Before the expanded stand your ground defense was enacted, a person could only use lethal force against an intruder if the assailant acted in a “violent, riotous, or tumultuous manner” that the man writing stand your ground laws claims was too confusing, and gun owners needed a simpler justification for killing. The new law allows an individual to use deadly force if they “reasonably believe” force is necessary to prevent assault or a forcible felony, and automatically presumes the shooter is innocent and shifts the burden on the dead victim to prove they were not intending to assault the shooter or commit a felony. It is an NRA license to kill.
The father of the 17-year-old German exchange student shot dead departed America on Thursday after criticizing the nation’s gun culture saying, “America cannot continue to play cowboy.” The distraught father, Celal Dede, told the German news agency dpa he never imagined his son could be shot and killed for simply entering somebody’s property. Dede said he hoped Kaarma would receive a fair punishment and that he would not have allowed his son to participate in the exchange at Big Sky High School if he had known “that everyone here can kill somebody just because that person entered his backyard.” His son was due to leave for home in a few weeks after the school year was finished. Obviously, Mr. Dede has not kept abreast of American gun culture or the preponderance of gun fanatics looking for any reason to open fire; even in an darkened and open garage without even knowing if someone was inside or if they were threatening someone’s life. The attorney for the murderer said his client was afraid for his life even though he admitted not knowing if the teenagers was armed, his intentions, or if anyone was inside.
There is no end to the myriad justifications gun fanatics find for using firearms to kill other unarmed citizens, at least according to the National Rifle Association. They claim vehemently that gunning down other Americans, whether they are posing a threat, unarmed, or entrapped into entering a wide-open garage is precisely the reason the Founders wrote the 2nd Amendment; or for waging war against the government, or for stalking and killing unarmed African American boys. Doubtless, the NRA will marshal support from other gun zealots for the Montana man who set a trap for Dirin Dede, and pressure Montana legislators to oppose rolling back any part of the expanded stand your ground statutes. Because no matter the circumstances, including vigilante justice, the NRA will never run out of justifications for gun-wielding Americans to shoot unarmed citizens and they have their handy copy of the 2nd Amendment to prove it.
NJ man shoots 11-year-old nephew dead while demonstrating laser sight on his forehead
By David Edwards
Monday, May 5, 2014 12:51 EDT
An 11-year-old New Jersey boy was shot dead over the weekend when his uncle was showing off a number of guns that he thought were unloaded, and pointed one with a laser sight at the child’s forehead.
The Pocono Record reported that State Police responded to reports of shots fired in a gated community in Delaware Township at around 5:35 p.m. on Saturday.
According to a police report, the 11-year-old child was visiting the home of his grandfather. The boy allegedly asked his uncle, 34-year-old Chad Olm, who lives in the basement, to see his gun collection.
Olm told police that he opened his security safe and began showing his weapons to the nephew, and his son, who was also present. He insisted that he did not keep the guns loaded.
After letting the boys handle three handguns — a .357 Magnum revolver, a .22 revolver and a 9 mm — he then pulled out a Glock 27 .40-caliber handgun that was equipped with a laser sight.
Olm stated that he did not check to see if there was a round in the chamber, but said that the handgun did not have a magazine in it. Olm said that he pointed the laser at the walls and ceiling. And then he pointed it at his nephew.
“Look, you have a red dot on your forehead,” Olm recalled one of the boys saying.
Olm said that when the nephew reached out for the gun, he pulled the trigger. A single bullet struck the child above the eye, causing him to start bleeding and fall over.
“It’s horribly tragic. The family is devastated,” Blooming Grove State Police station commander Lt. Chris Paris pointed out. “It goes to show that the safe handling of firearms is a must. The family has lost something that they can never replace.”
Police arrested Olm on charges of criminal homicide, recklessly endangering another person and endangering the welfare of children. He was being held at Pike County Correctional Facility in lieu of bail.
WNEP identified the boy as Hunter Pedersen, a fifth grader in the Wallenpaupack Area School District. Counselors were expected to be available to talk to students during Monday classes.
Russia Quietly Tightens Reins on Web With ‘Bloggers Law’
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
MAY 6, 2014
MOSCOW — Russia has taken another major step toward restricting its once freewheeling Internet, as President Pig V. Putin quietly signed a new law requiring popular online voices to register with the government, a measure that lawyers, Internet pioneers and political activists said Tuesday would give the government a much wider ability to track who said what online.
The Pig's action on Monday, just weeks after he disparaged the Internet as “a special C.I.A. project,” borrowed a page from the restrictive Internet playbooks of many governments around the world that have been steadily smothering online freedoms they once tolerated.
The idea that the Internet was at best controlled anarchy and beyond any one nation’s control is fading globally amid determined attempts by more and more governments to tame the web. If innovations like Twitter were hailed as recently as the Arab uprisings as the new public square, governments like those in China, Pakistan, Turkey, Iran and now Russia are making it clear that they can deploy their tanks on virtual squares, too.
China, long a pioneer in using sophisticated technology to filter the Internet, has continually tightened censorship. It has banned all major Western online social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google, though it seems not to be bothered by Alibaba, its homegrown e-commerce site, which has filed the paperwork for what could be the biggest public stock offering ever.
Nevertheless, even Beijing’s own social media champion, Weibo, valued at $3.6 billion in a public stock offering this year, has come under mounting censorship pressure as the government fine-tunes its policing of expression.
Under the pressure of a corruption scandal, Turkey recently imposed bans on Twitter and YouTube over tapes alleging corruption by the country’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Although the YouTube ban remains, Twitter service was restored in April only after the Constitutional Court overturned the ban.
During protests against the government in Venezuela in February, there were reports that the government there was blocking online images from users. In recent years, Pakistan has banned 20,000 to 40,000 websites, including YouTube, saying they offend Muslims. Facebook was blocked for a while in 2010, but is now accessible.
The level of challenge is rising, but “we also see the amount of resources going into censorship increasing greatly,” Jonathan Zittrain, a professor at Harvard Law School who specializes in Internet law, said in a telephone interview.
Widely known as the “bloggers law,” the new Russian measure specifies that any site with more than 3,000 visitors daily will be considered a media outlet akin to a newspaper and be responsible for the accuracy of the information published.
Besides registering, bloggers can no longer remain anonymous online, and organizations that provide platforms for their work such as search engines, social networks and other forums must maintain computer records on Russian soil of everything posted over the previous six months.
“This law will cut the number of critical voices and opposition voices on the Internet,” said Galina Arapova, director of the Mass Media Defense Center and an expert on Russian media law. “The whole package seems quite restrictive and might affect harshly those who disseminate critical information about the state, about authorities, about public figures.”
Pig has already used the pliable Russian Parliament to pass laws that scattered the opposition, hobbled nongovernmental organizations and shut down public protests. Now, riding a wave of popular support after hosting the Winter Olympics and annexing Crimea, he has turned his attention to regulating the Internet, as well as burnishing his credentials as the worldwide champion of conservative values.
Aside from the Internet law signed Monday, the Russian leader signed a new profanity law that levies heavy fines for using four common vulgarities in the arts, including literature, movies, plays and television.
Speaking in St. Petersburg in late April, Pig snorted his suspicions about the Internet, even while noting that it had become a public market of huge proportions.
“You know that it all began initially, when the Internet first appeared, as a special C.I.A. project,” he said in remarks broadcast live nationally, before adding that “special services are still at the center of things.” He specifically thanked Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor granted asylum in Russia, for revealing to the world how efficient the N.S.A. was at collecting information.
The Pig snorted that someone writing online whose opinion affects thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people should be considered a media outlet. He continued to snort that he was not talking about a ban, only acting “the way it is done all over the world.”
Russian Internet pioneers despaired that Pig was really talking about the Chinese model of curtailing any political discussion online.
“It is part of the general campaign to shut down the Internet in Russia,” said Anton Nossik, an early online media figure here. “They have not been able to control it until now, and they think they should implement the Chinese model. But they don’t understand how it works. The Chinese model also stimulates the development of local platforms, while the Russian laws are killing the local platform.”
Russia is among a growing list of countries that have sought to shut down Internet voices circumventing a subservient national news media. Many leaders see the Internet as the key tool behind antigovernment demonstrations and are determined to render it ineffective.
Yet polls conducted in 24 countries last spring by Pew Research found that most people are against government censorship of the Internet, including 63 percent in Russia and 58 percent in Turkey.
Another Russian Internet law, one that went into effect on Feb. 1, gave the government the power to block websites. It immediately used the law against its most vocal critics, like Alexei Navalny and Garry Kasparov, as well as online news sites that reported on demonstrations and other political activity.
In April, Pavel Durov, the 29-year-old founder of Vkontakte, Russia’s popular version of Facebook, said he had fled the country because he feared the consequences of refusing to turn over information the government requested about activists in Russia and Ukraine. Critics said he had fled after cashing out, and United Capital Partners, the owner of a 48 percent stake in the company, posted a lengthy statement online saying he was trying to divert attention from legal issues surrounding his running of the company.
Aleksandr Zharov, who runs Roskomnadzor, the government agency that supervises the Internet, told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency last month that the law was necessary because people need to be held responsible for what they say on the web. “What he would never say face to face, he often allows himself online,” Mr. Zharov was quoted as saying.
The lack of transparency in Russia creates a kind of fog around countless issues, and the Internet is no different. Many critics and even some supporters of the new law said it was too vague to understand.
The Internet needs to be regulated by law just like publishing, said Robert A. Shlegel, among the youngest members of Parliament from United Russia, the Pig's party. But Internet savvy among legislators is weak, he added. “The law, as it is, is so raw,” he said. “It is clear that the person who wrote it just doesn’t understand.”
The law does not specify how the government will count the 3,000 daily visitors, for example. Even before Pig signed it, two of the largest blogging platforms, Yandex and LiveJournal, announced that henceforth their publicly visible counters would stop below 3,000.
Ms. Arapova said other murky issues included who would be considered a provider. For instance, will large international social media or search sites like Google, Twitter and Facebook have to keep their data in Russia or face fines and possible closing?
In California, both Twitter and Facebook said they were studying the law but would not comment further.
Ms. Arapova said the law would undoubtedly have a chilling effect in terms of who would go online. Whistle-blowers who work for corrupt government agencies, for example, would theoretically no longer be able to post anonymously.
The actual impact of the law will not be measurable until after it goes into effect on Aug. 1, Ms. Arapova said. Punishments start at fines that can reach up to $142,000 or the temporary closing of the blog, if the law is actively enforced.
Like the Internet law, the ban on four vulgar words was met with a combination of dismay and derision among artists. (The words, not mentioned in the law either, are crude terms for male and female genitalia, sex and a prostitute.) Many people thought it would be widely ignored, but the very idea that the Kremlin was trying to censor the arts rankled.
“We feel like we are back in kindergarten again when they said, ‘Don’t pee in your bed and don’t eat with your hands and don’t use that word,’ ” said Viktor V. Yerofeyev, a popular writer. “On the one hand, the Russian government says the Russian people are the best. On the other hand, it doesn’t trust the people.”
Russia demands $3.8bn security deposit from Visa and Mastercard
Kremlin imposes unprecedented requirements on global payment systems operating in Russia in response to US sanctions
Alec Luhn in Moscow
theguardian.com, Tuesday 6 May 2014 20.02 BST
International credit card companies face a "severe impact" on their operations in Russia following a strict new law Moscow has adopted in response to Visa and Mastercard freezing service to banks under US sanctions.
Visa described the regulations as "unprecedented" and Mastercard said it could experience difficulties, the Russian magazine Snob reported, after Vladimir Putin signed a law on Monday to create a rival national payment system.
The law stipulates the creation of a homegrown system to facilitate cashless transactions by 1 July, but also imposes stiff new requirements on international payment systems operating in Russia.
The legislation was spurred on by Visa and Mastercard's decision on 21 March to stop servicing payments for clients of Rossiya Bank, as well as its daughter company Sobinbank. Rossiya Bank was included in the first round of US sanctions over the Ukraine crisis because it is owned by Pig's associate Yury Kovalchuk and is the "personal bank for senior officials of the Russian Federation," the US Treasury said when announcing the sanctions.
Visa and Mastercard also blocked operations for cards issued by SMP Bank, which is owned by the brothers Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, who are old judo buddies of Putin's.
The new law forbids international payment systems from cutting off services to Russian clients and obliges them to base their processing centre in Russia. To ensure their good behaviour, international operators will have to place a security deposit in Russia's central bank equal to the average value of two days' worth of transactions.
Visa and Mastercard together processed $1.9bn (£1.12bn) in transactions per day last year – 90% of all cashless payments in Russia – equal to a $3.8bn security deposit, the Moscow Times reported.
The security deposit will be due in eight quarterly payments starting on 1 July. The law states that if a payment system unilaterally freezes operations for a Russian client, it is liable for a fee totalling 10% of its security deposit for each day without service.
Snob reported that Visa's representatives believed the security deposit to be too large. Visa did not comment on the report but said in a later statement that it was prepared to cooperate with Russia to solve issues related to the new law.
"Several provisions in the law are unprecedented and will have a severe impact on the payments market in Russia – particularly cardholders, financial institutions and merchants," the statement said. "We intend to work closely with the government in order to resolve these issues."
Vladimir Tikhonov, an analyst at Otkritie investment bank, said the creation of an internal payment system has been undertaken in Australia and will make Russia's financial system "more stable from outside threat" – not only sanctions, but also cyber-attacks. But even if Russia also creates its own replacement payment cards, agreements would need to be signed with foreign payment systems for these cards to work abroad, he added.
"The creation of a national payment system is not a replacement for Visa and Mastercard," Tikhonov said. "If Visa and Mastercard leave Russia, it will of course be a serious blow for both citizens and for businesses."
Russia is fomenting disorder in Ukraine to disrupt election, says William Hague
UK foreign secretary accuses Moscow of failing to take action on Geneva accord and denies extremists are dominating Ukraine
Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent
theguardian.com, Wednesday 7 May 2014 09.51 BST
Russia is deliberately fomenting disorder in Ukraine to disrupt the presidential elections in the former Soviet republic later this month, the British foreign secretary, William Hague, has said.
As the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said pro-Russia rebels in the east of the country should be included in talks on an equal basis to the government in Kiev, Hague accused Moscow of failing to take action to implement the Geneva accord.
Hague, who has been meeting civic and political leaders in Ukraine before elections on 25 May, denied that extremists were dominating the country. "The idea that some extremists have taken over here is far, far wide of the mark," he said, pointing out that he had met Mykhailo Dobkin, the presidential candidate of the former governing Party of the Regions. The foreign secretary said Dobkin wanted the elections to take place on 25 May and was opposed to any further annexation of Ukrainian territory by Russia.
The foreign secretary told BBC Radio 4's Today programme "They [Ukrainians] cannot be bullied out of having their elections by disorder that is deliberately fomented and co-ordinated from another country – in this case from Russia. They are entitled to have their democratic choice, to choose their own president. Hopefully that new president will be a unifying figure who can clear out corruption, who can set a good economic programme and who can bring about this de-escalation."
Hague was speaking after his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, warned that "we are not far from a military confrontation" amid an intensification of fighting in the south and east of Ukraine. Moscow called for rebels in control of much of the south and east to be included in talks on an equal basis.
The foreign secretary accused Moscow of disruptive behaviour amid fears that Russia is going out of its way to block the elections or to ensure they have little credibility in a disjointed country. He said of the Geneva accord agreed on 17 April: "Russia took not a single action, not one action we can identify to implement that agreement.
The foreign secretary added that the possibility of the permanent presence of larger numbers of Nato forces in eastern Europe should worry Russia. "It is moving forward in a way that should worry Russia in the long term … There will be Nato countries that increase their defence expenditure, that see a revitalised role for Nato. Yes, we will reduce our energy dependence on Russia in western European countries. We will exclude Russia from the G8 and the OECD. Taken over the next decade these events will have a major effect on Russia."
Ukraine crisis worsens amid intense fighting and warnings of civil war
Casualties on both sides as Kiev attempts to regain control of east and Russia insists that rebels be included in talks on equal terms
Harriet Salem in Slavyansk, Howard Amos in Odessa and Shaun Walker in Donetsk
The Guardian, Tuesday 6 May 2014 19.32 BST
A day after intense fighting in eastern Ukraine, the region remained on the brink of civil war as a diplomatic initiative to end the confrontation floundered, with Russia insisting that the rebels holding much of the south and east of the country should be included in talks on equal terms with the Kiev government.
The French president, François Hollande, warned that "chaos and the risk of civil war" were looming in Ukraine, while the German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said "we are not far from a military confrontation".
Nato's top commander, General Philip Breedlove, said that Nato will have to consider permanently stationing troops in eastern Europe as a result of the increased tension. "I think this is something we will have to consider and we will tee this up for discussion through the leaderships of our nations to see where that leads." He added it was important to note that these measures were defensive and not intended to provoke Russia.
The Ukrainian army's attempts to regain control of the east of the country, termed an "anti-terrorist operation", is partly meant to prevent a referendum on secession from going ahead on Sunday in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, but has already led to casualties on both sides in Slavyansk, the most fortified rebel stronghold.
In Slavyansk, shocked locals picked their way through the mess outside their homes, discovering broken windows, pools of blood and bullet-riddled fences a day after vicious fighting.
"They just came and started shooting at us. There was no warning," one Slavyansk resident said. "Look, everything is destroyed." Most residents appear to blame the Ukrainian army for the violence. "They [the rebels] are peaceful people, they never shot anyone and now these fascists come and try to kill us," one woman said.
Four Ukrainian soldiers were killed during the confrontation. Rebels also reportedly shot down a helicopter, the third to have been felled in the past three days.
A spokesperson for Slavyansk's self-appointed people's mayor, the local rebel leader Vyacheslav Ponomarev, said the militia body count stood at 10, with another 17 seriously wounded.
One bystander was reported to have been shot and killed in the crossfire while smoking a cigarette on her balcony on Monday. The civilian death follows that of 21-year-old nurse Yulia Izotova, who died after being hit by a stray bullet during clashes three days ago.
Slavyansk residents are now bracing for what seems to many an inevitable war on their doorsteps. "We are very anxious," said 27-year-old Aleksander as he visited his local shop to stock up on provisions with his three-year-old daughter. "Shops are selling out of food. People can't work. Life has stopped."
But as the Ukraine army edged forward into Slavyansk, the pro-Russia militia groups appeared to be making gains on another front. In nearby Donetsk, the regional administrative headquarters, gunmen are now operating openly on the street, a distinct change from a week ago. Nearly all state buildings and some private businesses in the city have been seized.
With most of the state security buildings in the region captured by local militia there was no resistance from law enforcement officials. On Monday, a group of armed men appeared to attempt to seize a local military training school but later withdrew after some negotiations. A cache of arms might be stored inside.
In Odessa, the number of fatalities during last week's violence looked set to rise, with local media speculating that the final death toll could be over 100.
The official figure for those killed in the clashes between pro-Ukraine groups and pro-Russia activists currently stands at 46. Local police refused to rule out that more deaths could be confirmed. An investigation with the assistance of experts from Europe and Israel was ongoing, said Odessa's new police chief Ivan Katerinchuk.
The government in Kiev intensified its efforts to reassert control, with the appointment of a new governor and the arrival of national guard units from Kiev.
Ukraine border guards keep guns trained in both directions
Moscow threat recedes but soldiers at sleepy crossing fear armed separatists on their own side of the border
Shaun Walker in Dovzhanske and Alec Luhn in Moscow
The Guardian, Tuesday 6 May 2014 20.39 BST
Dovzhanske is a sleepy border crossing between Russia and Ukraine where, normally, there is very little activity. But these are not normal times. At the checkpoint, located between the Ukrainian city of Donetsk and the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, several Ukrainian border guards in green berets keep their Kalashnikovs and binoculars trained in both directions – at the road into Ukraine, which is under the control of armed separatists, and at the Russian border post just a few hundred metres away. Danger could come from either side.
If the long-feared Russian invasion of Ukraine occurred this would be one of the many border crossings its troops could roll through. As the threat of a full-blown invasion seems to be receding, the border guards also fear what might come from the Ukrainian side, with the separatists of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic making attempts in recent days to seize Ukrainian border posts, possibly to allow weapons or fighters in from Russia.
Many in Kiev fear that Russian-backed "diversionary" groups have already infiltrated through the borders, and on Tuesday Ukrainian social media were running a video that claimed to show two trucks of heavily armed Russian Cossacks arriving in the town of Antratsyt, having crossed the border at Dovzhanske late on Monday.
In Antratsyt the Cossacks denied that anyone had come from Russia, and said the footage showed local fighters returning to the town after fighting with Ukrainian forces in Slavyansk on Monday. Andrei, one of the Cossacks, said that while there were about 100 Cossacks from the region based in Antratsyt, "almost nobody" had come from Russia.
"We are defending our own land, why do we need Russia?" he asked.
At Dovzhanske, the border guards said they were not authorised to speak with the media, but one said that the supposed crossing of Cossacks from Russia "did not happen and could not happen in principle".
Alexander Trokhimet, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian border service, also said there had been no incidents of en masse unauthorised crossings of Russians in recent days, though he said there had been a "very tense situation" where a group of armed separatists had arrived at another border crossing from the Ukrainian side and demanded the border guards disarm and give up control. The group eventually departed after a tense standoff where both sides threatened to shoot.
While Ukrainian border posts are on high alert over such incidents the threat of a full-scale Russian intervention appears to have diminished in recent days. In March, Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, sought and was granted permission from his country's upper house of parliament to use the army in Ukraine, and since 13 March Russia has held military exercises with an estimated 40,000-plus combat troops along its border with Ukraine.
Pro-Ukrainian sources in Donetsk say that Kiev has put them on high alert because of intelligence of a Russian invasion six times in past weeks, most recently on Monday night.
But the rhetoric from Moscow seems to have moved away from thinly veiled threats and towards demands for dialogue, suggesting that a decision not to invade has been taken.
Pavel Felgenhauer, a defence analyst and columnist at the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, said Russian forces had been on a brink of invading on 24 April but had stopped "yards short" of the border after Ukrainian forces took up positions outside the militia-held city of Slavyansk but did not enter the city.
"They stepped back from ready to go, going in, and returned to their temporary bases where up to 12 hours' notice may be needed to deploy, but they're not withdrawing from the region or ending this standoff," Felgenhauer added.
After Vitaly Yarema, Ukraine's deputy prime minister, announced on 23 April that the military would resume the "active phase" of its "anti-terrorist operation" to take back control of the east, Russian troops increased movements and came nearer the border, US officials said. But the imminent invasion never came. On 28 April the defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, announced that Russian troops had pulled back from the border to their "home bases," though Nato officials later said they had not seen any evidence of such a withdrawal.
Felgenhauer said the window was closing for Russia to invade owing to the Ukrainian presidential election planned for 25 May and the need for the Russian army to focus on its annual draft.
Putin had to "make up his mind" because he could not "keep troops on such high alert indefinitely", Felgenhauer said.
Anton Lavrov, a Russian independent defence analyst who monitors troop activity using social networks, video uploads and other open sources, said that the situation on the ground confirmed the promises of the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, that Russia was not planning to deploy troops to Ukraine. On Tuesday, Lavrov reiterated that Russian troops along the border were carrying out legitimate exercises not forbidden by any international agreements.
Lavrov said that there had been no large-scale movements over the past few days despite 43 people being killed in violence last weekend in the south-east city of Odessa, and despite the military operation around rebel-held Slavyansk, in which 30 pro-Russian rebels and four Ukrainian soldiers died, Kiev said on Tuesday.
"It was a big bluff," Lavrov said of the possible Russian invasion. "If there was a desire to deploy troops, you couldn't have found a better excuse."
Although Nato has estimated that more than 40,000 Russian troops are massed near the Ukrainian border, Lavrov said the number was likely to be between 15,000 and 20,000. Russia had only 500 troops in the unrecognised republic of Transdnistria on Ukraine's western border near Odessa, and any troop buildup there would be obvious as it would involve military flights.
One brigade of up to 500 men has withdrawn to its home base in Samara in the Volga region, Lavrov said. Otherwise, Russian forces were located at military testing grounds within a few dozen kilometres from the Ukrainian border, and their battle readiness remained high, he said.
While the border guards at Dovzhanske might not be able to see the Russian soldiers through their binoculars, those troops could still arrive at the border within hours if mobilised.
05/07/2014 05:19 PM
Trans-Atlantic Supplicant: Merkel Chooses Unity over NSA Truth
By SPIEGEL Staff
There was a time when Angela Merkel was committed to investigating the extent of NSA spying in Germany. Now, though, the chancellor has made an about face. Trans-Atlantic unity is her new priority, and the investigation has been left to languish.
In the world of diplomacy, moments of candor are rare, obscured as they are behind a veil of amicability and friendly gestures. It was no different last Friday at the meeting between US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Washington.
Obama welcomed Merkel by calling her "one of my closest partners" and a "friend" and took her on a tour of the White House vegetable garden as part of the four hours he made available. He praised her as a "strong partner" in the Ukraine crisis and thanked her many times for the close cooperation exhibited in recent years. The birds in the Rose Garden sang happily as the president spoke.
But then Obama made clear who had the upper hand in this wonderfully harmonious relationship. When a reporter asked why, in the wake of the NSA spying scandal, the no-spy deal between Germany and the US had collapsed, Obama avoided giving a clear answer. He also dodged a question as to whether Merkel's staff is still monitored. Instead, he stayed vague: "As the world's oldest continuous constitutional democracy, I think we know a little bit about trying to protect people's privacy." That was it.
Merkel, when asked if trust had been rebuilt following the NSA revelations, was much less sanguine. "There needs to be and will have to be more than just business as usual," she said.
If accepting defeat with a smile on one's face is part of political theater, then Angela Merkel delivered a virtuoso performance. As recently as January, she delivered a sharply worded speech to parliament on the tactics used by US intelligence. "An approach in which the end justifies the means -- one which employs every technical tool available -- violates trust. It sows distrust." She added: "I am convinced that friends and allies should also be able and willing to cooperate when it comes to defending against outside threats."
Cooperation? When Merkel left for the US last Thursday, she had received no promises whatsoever -- not even for the no-spy treaty, an agreement that the US had initially proposed in response to German outrage over revelations that the NSA had scooped up vast amounts of telecommunications data in Germany and monitored Chancellor Merkel's mobile phone. Had Merkel adhered to the common practice among top politicians of avoiding trips abroad when no concrete result can be expected, she would have stayed in Berlin.
The Berlin-Washington Relationship
But there is a kind of special relationship between Berlin and Washington at the moment -- special in that the Chancellor wants to do everything to avoid a conflict with the US. She had every reason in the world to veer from diplomatic politesse. Her very own cell phone, after all, had been targeted by the NSA. But instead, she brought along a valuable gift for Obama: The promise that whistleblower Edward Snowden would not be coming to Germany to give testimony in the ongoing parliamentary inquiry into NSA spying practices.
Merkel still gets animated when talking about American surveillance, but only when the cameras are off. In the Rose Garden last week, she remained just as vague as Obama did, preferring to speak of "differences of opinion." But there are to be no immediate consequences.
The reason is not difficult to pinpoint: The Ukraine crisis. With the situation continuing to escalate, Merkel is eager to demonstrate unity with Obama and the two threatened Russia with further economic sanctions. But the solidarity comes at a price: Merkel has had to back away from some of her own convictions.
Shortly before Merkel took off for Washington, her government in Berlin took steps which will make the work of the NSA investigative committee in parliament that much more difficult. It was only in March that Merkel's conservatives, in conjunction with their coalition partners from the center-left Social Democrats, committed to learning as much about the NSA's practices in Germany as possible. But now, the lofty aims of the investigation have been recalibrated -- and drastically lowered.
That became obvious last week when Merkel's government made clear to the investigative committee what it thinks of the original plan to interrogate Edward Snowden in Germany: namely, not much. In a 30-page report, the government emphasized the "fundamental importance" of the trans-Atlantic relationship "in foreign policy and security questions." The desire for a Snowden deposition in Germany had to take a back seat.
Disempowering the Bundestag
The repudiation even caught domestic policy and legal experts from her own party by surprise. Previously, the discussion had focused on the legal question as to whether Germany would be forced to extradite Snowden to the US should he come to Berlin to give testimony.
But that debate is now passé. Merkel's government, complains Konstantin von Notz, the senior committee representative from the opposition Green Party, has prioritized foreign policy interests and intelligence cooperation ahead of the interests of Germany's own parliament. "It is an attempt to disempower the Bundestag," he says. Should a majority of committee members share his opinion when it meets on Thursday, von Notz adds, then the parliamentary body will have no choice but to challenge the government at the Federal Constitutional Court, Germany's highest judicial body.
As things currently look, Snowden's deposition won't likely be the only issue the court will have to address. Internally, Merkel's government has agreed to provide the parliamentary investigative committee with only limited access to its NSA files. Information regarding the negotiations over the no-spy agreement, for example, is to be kept from the lawmakers. Because the negotiations over the deal are ongoing, one high-ranking government representative told SPIEGEL, information cannot be passed along. Furthermore, he added, the issue touches on "a core area of executive privilege" that is protected by the constitution.
The parliamentary investigation poses a direct threat to the activities of German intelligence services and to security strategists in the Chancellery. The country's foreign and domestic intelligence agencies both maintain a "close and trusting cooperation" with the NSA and its British counterpart, the GCHQ, according to a classified government document. Information is also regularly exchanged with the FBI, the CIA, US Homeland Security, Britain's MI5 and several other British and American intelligence agencies. The cooperation has become even closer in recent years and is essential for Germany when it comes to combatting the dangers posed by Islamist terror. There is a concern that an aggressive parliamentary investigation could harm that close cooperation.
"We are afraid that all of our trade secrets will be exposed in the committee," said one intelligence official. To prevent that from happening, the Merkel government has begun erecting hurdles. The so-called "Third Party Rule," for example, is being applied; the rule states that before information acquired by a foreign intelligence agency can be passed along, that agency must first grant its permission. The rule, of course, applies to both the NSA and GCHQ -- meaning that the agencies suspected of having perpetrated large-scale spying in Germany have significant influence over the committee charged with investigating that spying.
Opposition politicians from the far-left Left Party and from the Greens have spoken of "sabotage." They were also nonplussed when they learned last week that the government has based its position in part on legal guidance provided by an American law firm.
The expertise came from the Washington DC-based firm Rubin, Winston, Diercks, Harris & Cooke and essentially means that anyone who has anything to do with Snowden, even journalists, is a potential criminal. "We are of the opinion that if Snowden provides classified information or documents to the Bundestag or to German diplomats who interview Snowden, such acts give rise to criminal exposure under the laws of the United States. The United States would have jurisdiction to prosecute these acts regardless of where they occur," writes firm partner Jeffrey Harris. It is an interpretation that also applies to SPIEGEL and other media outlets that have seen and reported on large numbers of documents provided by Snowden.
The document clearly notes that German politicians do not enjoy the same rights in the US as they do in Germany nor are they protected to the degree that American lawmakers are.
Snowden's American lawyer Ben Wizner says that such a conclusion -- that US officials might seek to hold German politicians criminally liable -- is "beyond absurd." In addition, he notes, Snowden "didn't offer to reveal as a witness new surveillance activities that have not been disclosed yet by journalists."
Whether the NSA investigative committee will now be able to fulfill its mission seems uncertain. And it doesn't look as though other institutions are prepared to shine much light on the affair either. At the beginning of the year, German prosecutors were considering launching a criminal investigation into the monitoring of Merkel's mobile phone. But that plan seems to have been shelved. Such an investigation, according to the explanation, would have little hope of success without legal assistance from the US.
That view marks a significant climb-down. Politicians from both sides of the aisle had hoped to stand up to US intelligence, even if only symbolically. Particularly for the SPD it is a question of credibility. It wasn't all that long ago that Peer Steinbrück, as the SPD chancellor candidate in last fall's elections, accused Merkel of having broken her oath of office by failing to protect Germans from being spied on by the Americans. Party head Sigmar Gabriel said: "I expect from the chancellor in her discussions that she represent the German constitution in America and not the interests of American intelligence services in Germany."
Yapping Dog or Supplicant
But that was before last September's general election -- eons ago politically. Now, even Gabriel believes that being nice to the Americans should be a priority, and seems to have forgotten his stated position that a free-trade agreement with the US can only be concluded if America respects Germans' democratic rights.
But not all Social Democrats have such a poor memory. "Snowden, in addition to others, remains an important witness for the investigative committee," says Rolf Mützenich, deputy floor leader for the SPD in parliament. SPD treasurer Dietmar Nietan agrees that it is a mistake to play down the conflict with the US. "There has been a serious drifting apart and we shouldn't sugarcoat it," he says.
Many among Merkel's conservatives also believe it is unwise of the chancellor to position herself so close to Obama. Several CDU lawmakers are currently on the campaign trail ahead of the European Parliament election later this month and are often asked why Germany is prepared to slap sanctions on Russia in response to the Ukraine crisis when the Americans seem just as uninterested in international law.
"I have noticed in my public appearances for some time now that Germans' critical approach to the US is unfortunately greater than it has been in the past," says CDU lawmaker Wolfgang Bosbach. "There is disappointment about the fact that Obama has seamlessly continued Bush-era policies when it comes to national security issues."
Merkel, of course, is aware of the mood, but she refuses to yield to it. She is convinced that Russian President Vladimir Putin can only be reined in if Europe and the US stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the Ukraine crisis and she is even prepared to sacrifice the NSA investigation to that end. That also means applying a double standard. It is hardly credible to threaten Putin with consequences for breaking international law while ignoring Obama's own violation. Merkel likes speaking of a community of values to which both the US and Germany belong. But what is it worth when Obama's commitment to those values is guided by expediency?
Prior to her trip last week, Merkel and her staff insisted that one had to look at things pragmatically. No matter how loudly Berlin protested, the Americans would have ignored it because they know that Germany is dependent on them, Merkel advisors argue. "We were somewhere between being a supplicant and a yapping dog," says one Chancellery official. Now, Merkel would seem to have chosen her preferred role: as a supplicant.
BY HUBERT GUDE, HORAND KNAUP, ROLAND NELLES, RENÉ PFISTER, JÖRG SCHINDLER, FIDELIUS SCHMID and HOLGER STARK
05/07/2014 05:59 PM
The Wrong Impression: Schröder's Russia Ties Are Bad Politics
By Ralf Neukirch
With his close ties with Vladimir Putin, former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has the potential to create serious problems for his country's foreign policy. Many are questioning whether his Social Democrats are overly loyal to Russia.
Guests from the worlds of business and politics waited for more than an hour last Monday night at St. Petersburg's Yusupovsky Palace wondering if the Russian president would make an appearance. Officials at Nord Stream AG had gathered to celebrate the 70th birthday of former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, head of the shareholder committee of the company, which operates a natural gas pipeline between Russia and Germany.
The Kremlin had indicated that Vladimir Putin would be late because of events relating to the Ukraine crisis and possibly wouldn't be able to make it at all. But then his limousine pulled up -- and Schröder was there immediately to greet the president. The ensuing embrace couldn't have been more heartfelt.
The photo quickly made its way through the media. The West has done all it can to censure Putin since Russia's annexation of Crimea: His invitation to the G-8 summit was rescinded and he is no longer a welcome guest in European capitals. The US and EU also imposed travel bans on his closest associates. The message sent by Schröder in St. Petersburg, however, was that Putin isn't really isolated as it seems and that the West is divided. It was precisely the impression that the German government had sought to avoid last week.
In Angela Merkel's Chancellery, officials are convinced that the only way Moscow can be swayed by way of a united trans-Atlantic front. That's the reason Merkel said little about the NSA affair during her visit to Washington last week and instead drew a new red line for Putin together with President Barack Obama. In the event that Russia sabotages Ukraine's planned national election on May 25, the two agreed, further economic sanctions will be applied against Moscow.
In addition, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walther Steinmeier traveled to the Baltic countries and contacted his Polish counterpart Radoslaw Sikorski. European cohesion is his top priority: Putin must see that the West is united in its stance against Russian aggression.
With his embrace, Schröder thwarted precisely these policies and also created considerable difficulties for Steinmeier.
Evidence of the SPD's Russia Sympathies?
Some political observers abroad consider the former chancellor's behavior to be evidence that Germany's center-left Social Democratic Party, to which Steinmeier belongs, still hasn't abandoned its traditionally pro-Russian policies. Schröder's decision to meet with Putin and "embrace him in a bear hug sent an unacceptable signal that some prominent Europeans are willing to ignore Mr. Putin's brutish ways," the New York Times wrote in an editorial. "Schröder's appearance will have political consequences," Chancellery sources in Berlin said, expressing their concern.
This doesn't apply exclusively to foreign policy either. The diplomatic task facing Steinmeier is not only to maintain European cohesion during the Ukraine crisis, but also to prepare his own party for a new political course. Dialogue may soon have to be replaced by painful sanctions.
Within the core of the SPD, there is little understanding for taking a tougher approach to Moscow. Much of the criticism from the party's grass roots is instead being directed at the United States. "There are many within the party who share Schröder's view of Russia," says one member of the SPD's national committee. "The appearance didn't do Steinmeier any favors."
Steinmeier has had to modify the pro-Russian stance he held prior to the outbreak of the latest crisis in Ukraine. For seven years, he served as Schröder's closest confidant as chief of staff of the Chancellery. During his first term as foreign minister, from 2005-2009, he declared a strategic partnership with Moscow -- a move for which he was labelled naive and uncritical by many in Eastern Europe and the United States. Schröder's meeting with Putin has also sowed doubts in both of those regions about whether Steinmeier has in fact altered his position.
The foreign minister remained fittingly tight-lipped in his own remarks about his friend's appearance in St. Petersburg. "Mr. Schröder isn't part of the government," Steinmeier said, and it is his choice as a private citizen to decide with whom, where and when he wants to celebrate his birthday.
But the meeting in St. Petersburg wasn't completely private. In addition to Putin, the official portion of the celebration was also attended by the German Ambassador to Russia Rüdiger Freiherr von Fritsch, the German consul general in St. Petersburg and E.on board member Bernhard Reutersberg. Schröder greeted the Russian president with the words: "Even when there are differences of opinion, friendship remains."
A Conundrum for the SPD
Putin answered with a 20-minute birthday speech, speaking German at great length. Some of the Germans present said he sounded like a man cornered by the West and pursued by the US.
He also spoke with Fritsch, who explained Berlin's position to him, before heading to a restaurant with Schröder and a handful of other guests including Philipp Missfelder, the foreign policy spokesman of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, former Hamburg Mayor Henning Voscherau and some industry representatives. Over a dinner of fish and crab, they spoke about the crisis in Ukraine and the captivity of seven OSCE observers at the hands of pro-Russian separatists. It was geo-politics in miniature.
One day later in Minsk, Putin said that he hoped the OSCE observers would soon be released. And the hostage-takers in Slovyansk seemed suddenly prepared to abandon their demands that separatists held by Ukrainian authorities be released in exchange.
SPD criticism of Schröder's St. Petersburg birthday party has been muted. SPD floor leader Thomas Oppermann said last week that he is certain Schröder did what he could to secure the release of the OSCE hostages.
Foreign Minister Steinmeier, also of the SPD, has tried to keep his own relationship with the former chancellor out of the public debate. The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Steinmeier had not met with Schröder either before or after his meeting with Putin. Given Berlin's own efforts to secure the hostages' release, that is astounding. A brief meeting to find out what Putin had to say about the incident would have made sense. And it isn't as though Steinmeier doesn't speak with Schröder. The two have spoken several times since the Ukraine crisis got underway.
The difficulties presented to Steinmeier by Schröder's friendship with Putin could get worse. Should Merkel and the rest of Europe decide to impose tough economic sanctions on Moscow, Steinmeier will have to convince his party to go along. Schröder hasn't made that task any easier.
Translated from the German by Charles Hawley and Daryl Lindsey
05/06/2014 05:51 PM
Cold Turkey: How Germany Could End Russian Gas Dependency
By Frank Dohmen and Alexander Jung
The crisis in Ukraine has made painfully obvious just how dependent Germany and other European countries are on Russian natural gas. There are serious alternatives for supplying the vital natural resource, but they all come at a price.
At the edge of the moorlands east of Bremen, an oil derrick juts into the sky. The site, known as Völkersen-Nord 24a, belongs to the oil and natural gas production company RWE Dea and taps into natural gas reserves located 5,000 meters (16,500 feet) below the earth's surface. At the tip of the steel derrick, a German flag flutters in the breeze. But the black, red and gold banner seems out of place.
RWE Dea was just sold to the Russian oligarch Mikhail Fridman five weeks ago for €5.1 billion ($7.1 billion). With the purchase, the 50-year-old multibillionaire now controls a fifth of German natural gas production and a quarter of the country's oil production. His holdings in Germany now also include the oil platform Mittelplate in Wattenmeer National Park on the North Sea coast. It is "an attractive portfolio," Fridman said of his purchase when he signed the contract in Hamburg at the end of March.
Alexey Miller, head of the Russian energy giant Gazprom, likewise finds Germany to be an attractive market. This summer, Gazprom's purchase of Wingas -- the Kassel-based trading company that controls a fifth of the German natural gas market -- is scheduled to be finalized. The acquisition will grant Gazprom authority over a 2,000 kilometer (1,243 mile) long pipeline network in addition to several natural gas storage facilities, including Western Europe's biggest, located in Rehden. It is large enough to supply some 2 million households for an entire year.
The timing of the purchases is awkward. Just as all of Europe is looking nervously at the escalating crisis in Ukraine, a significant portion of Germany's energy infrastructure is being sold to Russian buyers -- even as Moscow already plays a key role in meeting the country's energy needs.
Almost 39 percent of Germany's natural gas comes via pipeline from Russia. Thus far, at least. But what happens if Moscow turns off the tap? It is a concern plaguing many politicians in Berlin, and the rhetoric has become sharper in recent days.
Andreas Mattfeldt, a parliamentarian from Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats who was born in Völkersen, says that RWE Dea's sale to a Russian oligarch makes him "more than uneasy." He says the deal has "extremely troubled" Germans in his Lower Saxony constituency, adding that, given Germany's existing dependency on Russian natural gas, he himself finds the transaction "very alarming." The country's energy security, he says, is "enormously imperiled."
The scenario of natural gas flows being intentionally reduced by Moscow had long been considered unlikely. Even in the chilliest days of the Cold War, the Soviet Union proved itself to be a reliable supplier. In the years immediately prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, West Germany got fully half of its natural gas from Russia, via pipelines optimistically named "Brotherhood" and "Union."
A quarter century later, the world has become more complicated and foreign policy less predictable. The conflict in eastern Ukraine looks as though it could explode at any moment, injecting yet more uncertainty into the situation. And Russia has warned of potential delivery interruptions, a reaction to European threats of additional economic sanctions.
The issue has become a major focus of international diplomacy, with negotiators from Moscow, Kiev and Brussels meeting last Friday to discuss Russian gas deliveries to Ukraine. This week, G-7 energy ministers are meeting in Rome to discuss ways to wean themselves off of dependency on Russian natural gas.
Among the proposals on the agenda is a Polish idea to further integrate the gas supply grids of European Union member states so as to prevent shortages. Warsaw envisions the creation of a single European body that could coordinate or direct gas deliveries to and from large storage facilities on the Continent as well as make purchases. The proposal also calls for billions of euros to be made available for natural gas exploration on the Continent.
Germany too has once again begun discussing energy policy. In 2011, Merkel turned the country away from nuclear power and accelerated the development of renewable energy sources in a policy move known as the Energiewende. Now, though, geopolitical factors have suddenly become paramount in the debate over the country's future energy supply. Should Berlin increase its focus on exploiting domestic energy sources? How can Germany expand its supply network? And last but not least: What does all this mean for the environment?
Pursuing Liquefied Natural Gas
One potential solution to Europe's energy policy conundrum can be viewed at the very edge of the Port of Rotterdam, right where ships sail out into the open sea. There, a consortium has constructed GATE, a terminal on several acres of reclaimed land equipped to handle ships carrying liquefied natural gas (LNG). The tankers sail in from Norway, Qatar and Nigeria and are unloaded here. Some of the vessels carry enough natural gas to supply 60,000 households for a year.
LNG is cooled to a temperature of minus-162 degrees Celsius (minus-260 degrees Fahrenheit), which shrinks its volume to 1/600th of its original. The gas is pumped out of the ships at the Rotterdam terminal and into vast, 55-meter (180-foot) tall tanks, with walls of concrete and steel that are two meters thick. Excess heat from a neighboring coal-fired power plant is then used to re-vaporize the gas before it is fed into the pipeline network.
The facility in Rotterdam cost some €900 million to build and it can handle up to 200 tankers per year. So far this year, however, only seven have arrived. Indeed, since Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands cut the red ribbon opening the facility in 2011, a total of only 40 LNG ships have docked at the port.
The Rotterdam LNG port's slow start is primarily a function of the lack of sufficient liquefaction facilities in natural gas production countries. With several such facilities currently in the works, it seems likely that the situation will improve by the end of the decade.
There is, however, no shortage of LNG reception terminals. In Europe, there are already 22 LNG ports with more under construction. Indeed, the EU theoretically has the infrastructure capacity to cover two-thirds of its natural gas needs with LNG.
But there is another factor which has kept liquefied natural gas from playing a greater role in satisfying European energy needs: Price. For large exporters such as Qatar, it is much more lucrative to sell LNG in the Far East than to ship it to Europe. Suppliers are able to charge more than $15 per million British Thermal Units (BTUs) in Asia whereas the price in Europe is around $10. Since the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima in 2011, the price difference has become even larger as a result of Japan's increased need for natural gas.
As such, while it is certainly conceivable that LNG could become a greater part of the mix in Europe, it would mean higher energy prices. And the construction of further LNG terminals, such as the one that had been planned for Wilhelmshaven, Germany, seems unnecessary for the moment.
Exploiting Shale Gas
In the northwestern corner of Lower Saxony, on National Highway 75, the Bötersen Z 11 drilling site, belonging to American energy giant ExxonMobil, can be found. "Z" stands for "Zechstein," a term describing a sedimentary layer found in the European Permian Basin, which underlies a significant portion of northern Europe. The site was constructed almost three years ago.
At the time, everything was prepared, with technicians planning to inject a liquid deep into the ground at 450 bar (5,525 psi). The procedure would have lasted about an hour. But it didn't happen. Public protests against the procedure had become too intense to allow the project to go ahead. Today, a human-sized plug valve seals the drill site.
Aside from nuclear energy, no other technology is currently as controversial in Germany as fracking. Critics fear incalculable environmental damage, particularly to aquifers. Producers counter by claiming that the procedure is well-tested. And indeed, fracking has been employed in Germany since 1961, but only in conventional repositories in porous sandstone, which is comparatively easy to unlock.
The conflict over fracking is more rancorous when it comes to shale. Deposits in such sedimentary rock are much more difficult to access and the procedure is considered to be riskier. Though experts believe that the potential for the technology is great in Germany, shale fracking has not yet been carried out here.
The US energy expert Daniel Yergin estimates that by 2040, Germany could cover some 35 percent of its own natural gas needs were it to aggressively exploit shale gas. That amount is roughly equal to what Germany currently imports from Russia.
But Yergin's optimism is not widely shared. Germany's Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources recently concluded in a study that "it cannot be expected that shale gas in Germany will become the 'game changer' it has in the US." German shale gas, the study noted, "doesn't play a central role" relative to deposits elsewhere in the world.
The region surrounding the Caspian Sea, which is believed to have immense natural gas reserves, is a logical first place to look in the attempt to reduce dependency on Russia. Several gas fields are already being developed, including Shah Deniz, located around 70 kilometers (43 miles) southeast of Baku. Countries like Azerbaijan are indeed very willing to deliver gas to Europe. The only problem at the moment is that there's not a single pipeline in the area that isn't controlled by the Russians.
It's a problem a consortium of international energy companies now says it wants to tackle. The investors include German energy utility company E.on, Norway's Statoil and Britain's BP. The project foresees the expansion of an existing pipeline from the Caspian Sea through Azerbaijan and Georgia, the construction of a pipeline across Turkey and another that would then carry gas through Albania and Greece to Italy. The project, known as the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, is targeted for completion by 2019 and envisions around 10 billion cubic meters of gas being transported to Europe each year. But with banks proving hesitant, it remains uncertain whether the project will ever be carried out.
Indeed, a similar project, the Nabucco pipeline, collapsed in 2013, despite the participation of major energy companies like Germany's RWE. Even the European Commission had offered its backing for the project. But in the end, the consortium threw in the towel in frustration after years of planning.
One factor in the failure was interference by Gazprom CEO Miller, who felt the undertaking threatened his lucrative business model. Gazprom is able to sell its gas in Europe at comparably inexpensive prices due to decades of significant investment in a pipeline system stretching over thousands of kilometers. Nord Stream, the pipeline directly connecting Russia with Germany and completed in 2011, even makes it possible for Miller to circumvent countries he views as politically unreliable, including Poland and Ukraine.
An alternative pipeline from Azerbaijan has the potential to challenge his entire system. In fact, Miller is now pressing ahead with the construction of his company's own pipeline for Caspian Sea gas. When completed, the South Stream pipeline will traverse the Black Sea through Bulgaria and into Austria. Last Tuesday, Miller and Austrian oil and gas producer OMV reached an agreement to extend the planned pipeline into Austria.
Miller isn't just planning to use the pipeline to transport Russian gas to Europe. He also wants to pass along natural gas purchased by Gazprom in the Caspian region -- from the same areas where the Western Europeans are currently seeking to exploit reserves.
The Biogas Option
Given that gas isn't found exclusively beneath the ground, other alternatives are also available. For example, plants rich in pulp like corn or sorghum can also be used to produce natural gas. Around 40 kilometers northwest of Berlin, in the city of Oranienburg, KTG Energie operates one of its 21 biogas plants.
At the plant, a shovel loader dumps slightly sulfuric smelling organic compounds into a steel tank at regular intervals. A spiral conveyor belt then transports the mass up into the fermenter. "The way we feed the plant is like fattening geese," company CEO Thomas Berger says, grinning.
KTG Energie is majority owned by KTG Agrar which, with around 40,000 hectares (98,842 acres) of farmland, is one of Europe's largest agricultural companies. The company uses grass and other low-value grains to produce energy around the clock. Two combined heat and power units transform some of the biogas into electricity, producing enough to provide the needs of around 4,000 homes. But a much larger share of the biogas is purified in order to make it compatible with natural gas and is then fed at high pressure into the network of the local gas supplier.
Currently, the volume of biogas being produced in Germany is equivalent to about 20 percent of what the country is importing from Russia. Berger estimates that modern technology could be used to double that figure in a very short time. "Only a few months would be required to increase production," he says.
An expansion like that also wouldn't automatically have to mean that plant operators would suddenly have to increase the tonnage of corn they use, one of the important points of criticism in biogas production, since it puts gas in competition with food production. KTG Energie works primarily with so-called catch crops like grass or sorghum that are seldom used in food production, Berger explains. "We're creating a solution for the gas tank and the dinner plate." He says that organic waste can even be used to produce biogas.
He argues that there's only one hitch: Plans by German Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel to phase out federal subsidies for biogas. The latest amendment to the country's Renewable Energy Law (EEG) already introduces reductions to the current feed-in tariff -- particularly for highly efficient plants. With it, Gabriel is seeking to set an upper ceiling for subsidies. "It punishes performance," Berger says.
Though this change may help to contain the escalating costs of Germany's subsidies for renewable energies, it is unlikely to do much to reduce its dependence on Russian gas.
Alternatives Possible, But More Expensive
Nevertheless, reducing independence is a goal that would still be entirely possible with the help of modest efforts, including increased biogas production, additional LNG imports, the exploitation of domestic reserves and the prospect of importing gas from the Caspian Sea region. Of course, none of these alternatives will be available overnight. Most importantly, higher costs are an inevitability.
There's also another alternative that could be put into place relatively quickly. Germany could establish a strategic natural gas reserve. The country has plenty of gas storage facilities, and the German Economics Ministry also has plans ready which would enable it to order the operators to maintain minimum reserves of gas.
The question is who would pay for this storage. Would the costs be picked up by the natural gas companies or passed on to consumers or taxpayers?
The German government already made this decision years ago in regard to another important energy source. Following the price crisis of 1973, it required national suppliers to create reserves in their storage facilities for crude oil and oil products to ensure a minimum of a 90-day supply in the event of an emergency. Since then, the costs have been passed on to consumers, who are required to pay 0.27 cents per liter of gasoline for the service. That's the price of a little more independence.
Translated from the German by Charles Hawley and Daryl Lindsey
Norway criticised over snub to Dalai Lama during Nobel committee visit
No representatives of Norwegian government will meet spiritual leader when he visits after row with China over Nobel prize
Tone Sutterud and Elisabeth Ulven
theguardian.com, Tuesday 6 May 2014 17.11 BST
The Norwegian government is facing increasing pressure over its decision to snub the Dalai Lama when he arrives in the country on Wednesday, despite the fact that he has been invited by the Nobel committee to mark the 25th anniversary of his Nobel peace prize.
When the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader arrives in Norway on a three-day visit, he will not meet any representatives of the Norwegian conservative-led coalition government. The decision stems from the repercussions of the 2010 peace prize awarded to the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, which angered the Chinese government to such an extent that it imposed an unofficial partial trade embargo on Norwegian salmon and froze trade talks.
In 2010 Norway enjoyed almost a monopoly on salmon exports to China, with a market share of 92% worth over 450m Norwegian kroner (£45m) a year. Over the following three years this fell to 29%.
"It's a big challenge doing business here after the shutdown from the Chinese authorities," said Sigmund Bjørgo, director of the Norwegian Seafood Council in China. "The Chinese population is expected to increase their salmon consumption by 30% per year. Sashimi is a growing trend which is becoming increasingly fashionable, and salmon is an important part of that. Though not the Norwegian kind."
The foreign minister, Børge Brende, announced last month that no representatives of the Norwegian authorities would officially meet the Dalai Lama during his visit, citing "the extraordinary situation where there is no real political contact between Norway and China".
Critics have accused the government of cowardice in the face of the seeming benefits of trade with China.
On Monday, the prime minister, Erna Solberg, defended her position, arguing that it was more important to keep the door open for dialogue with China. "It has been a difficult situation that we have not been able to work internationally with China for four years. Before 2010 we had a running dialogue with China about human rights issues. Norwegian experts were helping the Chinese to develop a better justice system. After 2010 we haven't been able to do this," she said.
Audun Lysbakken, the leader of the Socialist Left party, said: "We can't be dictated to by China in the sense of exchanging human rights for salmon. I am strongly in favour of improving relations with China, but this has to be founded on mutual respect."
An unofficial reception in a meeting room at the parliament on Friday is expected to be standing room only.
Local Policies Help an Indian Candidate Trying to Go National
By ELLEN BARRY
MAY 6, 2014
AHMEDABAD, India — To anyone familiar with the quagmire that typically engulfs large building projects in India, the reconstruction of the Sabarmati riverfront — championed for the last decade by Narendra Modi, the leader here in the state of Gujarat — is a startling sight.
Slum neighborhoods have been bulldozed off the riverbank, leaving behind vacant land to be sold to developers. A broad, modernist concrete promenade extends in either direction. And the seasonal droughts that left the Sabarmati dry for much of the year? Those, too, have been taken care of, by rerouting torrents of water from a nearby canal.
To admirers of Mr. Modi, currently the front-runner in the race for prime minister, few things recommend him more than his ability to push through the projects he supports, brushing aside the political and regulatory blockages that stall infrastructure improvements and factory construction in other parts of India.
To a country that once flirted with growth rates that rivaled China’s but has slipped into the doldrums, Mr. Modi is promising an economic jump start, pointing to his record in Gujarat as proof that he can deliver. Gujarat’s economy has grown 10 percent a year, higher than the Indian average, for much of the last decade.
But an examination of some of Mr. Modi’s methods in Gujarat suggests that his successes owe much to his personal power, which is amplified by a federal system that puts land use in the hands of state leaders rather than the prime minister. Among his projects are some that show little understanding of market conditions, relying heavily on government allocations. And some in Gujarat question whether his penchant for grand, earth-moving building projects makes sense when the state is still struggling with social problems like infant mortality and malnutrition.
Still, Mr. Modi’s record as a builder has done much to shape his image. His political life began under a shadow when, months after he took office as chief minister in 2001, religious riots broke out in Gujarat. More than 1,000 people died, most of them Muslims. Blamed by many for failing to take steps to stop the violence, Mr. Modi turned to development to create a new public persona. Business leaders warmed to him quickly, in large part because he took care of them.
A story often told to illustrate the so-called Gujarat Model dates to 2008, when Tata Motors, the Indian automaker, ran into trouble in the state of West Bengal. Tata had bought land to produce its new low-cost car, the Nano, but farmers were protesting, claiming that they had been underpaid or forced from their land. Exasperated by two years of mounting resistance, Tata announced that it was pulling out of West Bengal.
Within a few hours, Mr. Modi sent a text message to Ratan Tata, the company’s president. It consisted of one sentence, Mr. Modi later told an interviewer: “Welcome to Gujarat.”
Gujarat transferred land to the company within a few days. The plot was mostly on unused government property, so it was not as miraculous as it might have seemed, but it sent a powerful message. Over the next several years, Ford, Peugeot and Maruti Suzuki followed suit with their own plans to build factories in Gujarat. Mr. Modi began to market speedy land acquisition — “no red tape, only red carpet,” as he put it — to investors as one of his state’s selling points.
Reams of academic work, positive and negative, have been devoted to defining Mr. Modi’s recipe for development, but experts say he has not made substantial changes to laws governing land use. Much of it boils down to personal control over a bureaucratic system notorious for delays and corruption.
Arvind Panagariya, a Columbia University professor whom Mr. Modi may choose as his chief economic adviser if he becomes prime minister, said Mr. Modi “certainly, on any of the major projects, gets involved and sees to it that the necessary permissions get granted.” He described one occasion in which an applicant jumped the line for project clearances, presumably by paying someone off, and reached Mr. Modi directly.
“He said, ‘I will clear your project, but only if I know how you got here,’ ” Dr. Panagariya said. Once the applicant told Mr. Modi who had helped him, “he goes back and punishes the person who tried to mess up the system.”
Critics say that concentrated power has created problems as well, allowing Mr. Modi’s less sound ideas to go unchallenged.
One case study can be found around seven miles from the airport in Ahmedabad, the largest city in Gujarat, where two modern office buildings stand in the middle of a dry, empty field. This is GIFT City, short for Gujarat International Finance Tec-City, intended as an international finance center. The project was introduced to fanfare in 2007, after Mr. Modi was inspired on a visit to Shanghai.
The initial plans, drawn up by a Chinese design institute, were grandiose, calling for the simultaneous construction of 125 glassy skyscrapers, the highest reaching 1,000 feet, with underground roadways and midair pedestrian bridges.
But the plan ignored market conditions. R. K. Jha, director of the project since 2010, said it needed to be radically scaled down, and reduced the first phase of construction to two 29-story office buildings, the tallest structures in Gujarat. So far, there are only four tenants, including the state electricity commission and the development company behind the project.
Last year, Mr. Modi oversaw the drafting of a new city plan by the Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority. Reminded that land should be set aside for low-income housing, Mr. Modi suggested creating a belt for that purpose around the city’s periphery, near its ring road, two people familiar with the plan said.
The flaws in the idea were apparent to planners — the city’s poor would be forced to commute great distances to their jobs, and private developers would be reluctant to build there — but those who were present kept their reservations to themselves, and the belt was added.
“The problem is that his style of operation is to put the fear of God into people, so he does not even hear the truth,” said a person who has observed Mr. Modi’s management at close range, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Mr. Modi was deeply impressed, after becoming leader of Gujarat, by visits to the manufacturing economies of Southeast Asia. Goh Chok Tong, the former prime minister of Singapore, has been described as one of his mentors.
In Gujarat, Mr. Modi has resisted the notion of subsidies, rolling out policies that would pass the Margaret Thatcher test. He built gates and imposed entry fees for one of Ahmedabad’s most popular parks, in an effort to prove that the poor would be willing to pay for superior products. He introduced a health insurance system for the poor, hoping to steer them toward private hospitals instead of public clinics.
Economic advisers hope he will go further along this free-market road by privatizing major state firms and scaling back national welfare programs, though they acknowledge that those moves would almost certainly meet with resistance.
“This is a country where, for most people, Barack Obama is a right-wing economic thinker,” said Ashok Malik, a columnist who supports Mr. Modi. The candidate, he added, “is not Milton Friedman, but he is as right as one can get in the Indian political class. He is selling this as a manufacturing economy, that we should make things in India. He would say, ‘Jobs, jobs, jobs.’ ”
Already during the campaign, Mr. Modi, the candidate of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, has come under heavy criticism from the ruling Indian National Congress party for the incentives he has offered in an effort to attract manufacturers.
Gujarat has had impressive growth over the last decade, and its roads, electricity and water services are excellent. But critics argue that Gujarat had performed well on these measures for many years before Mr. Modi took office, and note that the state still lags on social indicators, in particular infant mortality and child malnutrition.
Gyanshyam Shah, a political scientist in Ahmedabad, said those shortfalls reflected the priority Mr. Modi put on the middle class. So, he said, does the Sabarmati riverfront project, which displaced around 10,000 poor families.
“These projects are meant for the middle class,” Mr. Shah said. “Those who are living on the bank of the river and working as laborers in various sectors, they are pushed behind, far behind.”
There are also serious questions about whether Mr. Modi can replicate at a national level the success he has had bringing manufacturing to Gujarat, a state with the advantages of a long coastline and expanses of vacant land.
India’s federal system makes land use a state issue. Mr. Modi’s advisers hope he will find ways to wield influence from the center, perhaps by creating a “union government” that includes state leaders to oversee projects. But it will be hard to use his Gujarat model in New Delhi, they admit.
“There is a much more entrenched bureaucracy at the national level, and there’s going to be much more stiff resistance,” said Eswar S. Prasad, a professor of trade policy at Cornell University. “Trying to limit red tape — that immediately cuts at the purse strings that politicians have access to. So this is a very tricky issue for him.”
Tibetans-in-exile divided over right to vote in Indian elections
Rule change gives up to 50,000 ethnic Tibetans voting rights, but some fear stronger ties to India will dilute decades of struggle
theguardian.com, Wednesday 7 May 2014 05.00 BST
The Indian election reaches the de facto capital of Tibetans-in-exile on Wednesday as members of the community in Dharamsala are given the right to vote for the first time.
But the decision to grant voting rights to all people of Tibetan origin born in India between 1950 and 1987 has divided the exile community. While some have welcomed the move and registered to vote, many see it as a blow to more than 50 years of struggle that could diminish their chance of returning to their homeland.
Tenzin Tsundue, an exiled Tibetan poet and activist, said: "We are not immigrants, but political refugees waiting to return home. We cannot settle in exile; our rights are in Tibet, not in India. Indian citizenship may be personally beneficial, but it will leave us divided, culturally diluted and finally get us killed by complacency."
Narendar Chauhan, chief electoral officer for Himachal Pradesh, which includes Dharamsala and votes on Wednesday, said that just over 1,200 people of Tibetan origin had registered to vote, though the number in the state who applied to vote but failed to meet the conditions was three times that. Around 48,000 out of an estimated 120,000 – one-third resident in Himachal Pradesh – were made eligible to vote by the rule change.
For the past 55 years, Tibetans born in India were legally recognised as foreigners and needed a permit renewed every year, or in some cases every five years. They were not allowed to own land, deprived of professional job opportunities and some even faced imprisonment for participating in anti-China protests.
The community of exiles began when India offered a haven to the Tibetan spiritual leader, the 14th Dalai Lama, after he and thousands of his followers fled after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. In recent years, there has been a growing debate within the community about whether or not Tibetans born in India should accept Indian citizenship, something to which they are entitled by birth.
In February, India's chief election body directed all Indian states to include Tibetans and their offspring born in India in the electoral rolls. This followed a 2013 court order that granted Indian citizenship to Tibetan refugees born in India after 26 January 1950 and before 1 July 1987.
"I feel good about it as I finally got to some identity from no identity – not to be confused with my Tibetan identity, which will not be affected," said Lobsang Wangyal, a 1970-born exiled Tibetan entrepreneur living in McLeod Ganj, the Tibetan-dominated suburb of Dharamsala.
But many Tibetans in India have not taken up their new right to vote and the self-proclaimed Tibetan government-in-exile, which has its own elections for Tibetans in India, has taken a neutral stance on the subject. Tashi Phuntsok of the Dharamsala-based Central Tibetan Administration said: "It is entirely up to the individual Tibetan to avail of the rights as obtained under any Indian law."
The voting rights debate also highlights the contradictions within Indian policy towards the Tibetans. India's home ministry (MHA) recently expressed its reservations on giving voting rights to Tibetans, citing important strategic and security considerations that could have a serious impact on diplomatic ties with China. The MHA has written to the foreign ministry (MEA) asking it to challenge the poll panel's order in the supreme court.
"There is often a tension between MEA and MHA over Tibetans where the former has a more accommodative approach and the latter a sceptical one," said associate professor Dibyesh Anand of the department of politics and international relations at London's Westminster University.
"Individual Tibetans have had to fight at every level through the court system to get limited rights and recognition within India and this issue is part of that struggle for recognition," he added.
Eligible first-time Tibetan voters are already debating which candidate of the two major national parties they would like to vote for. Lobsang said: "What amazes me about the Indian elections is that some 800 million voters will cast their ballots and all that unfolds is the true celebration of democracy. My vote will go to a party that embraces diversity and plurality, and fosters the secular fabric of India."