Japan 'Deeply Worried' by China-Vietnam Maritime Spat
by Naharnet Newsdesk
08 May 2014, 08:50
Japan said Thursday it was "deeply worried" by China's behavior in a spat with Vietnam over contested waters, and urged Beijing to rein in its "provocative" actions.
The comment comes after Hanoi said Chinese vessels rammed its patrol ships and turned water cannon on them near a controversial drilling rig in a disputed patch of the South China Sea.
It also comes as Japan and China continue to face off in their own territorial row over a small island grouping in the East China Sea and amid claims that Beijing is becoming increasingly assertive.
"We have strong concerns as there is information that many Vietnamese vessels were damaged and some people were injured," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo.
"We are deeply worried as regional tensions have risen with China unilaterally starting rigging activities in disputed waters" in the South China Sea, the top government spokesman said.
"We recognize this incident is part of China's unilateral and provocative maritime activities," he said.
Suga said China should explain to Vietnam and the international community the basis on which it was acting and added Japan strongly wants China to refrain from provocative moves and "act in a self-restrained manner".
Hanoi said Wednesday that Chinese ships protecting a deep-water drilling rig in disputed waters had used water cannon to attack Vietnamese patrol vessels and had repeatedly rammed them, injuring six people.
Tensions between the communist neighbors have risen sharply since Beijing unilaterally announced last week it would relocate the rig -- a move the United States has described as "provocative".
Vietnam deployed patrol vessels after the China Maritime Safety Administration issued a navigational warning on its website saying it would be drilling close to the Paracel Islands -- which are controlled by China but claimed by Vietnam.
The two countries, who fought a brief border war in 1979, have been locked in a longstanding territorial dispute over the waters, and frequently trade diplomatic barbs over oil exploration, fishing rights and the ownership of the Spratly and Paracel Islands.
China claims sovereign rights to almost the whole of the South China Sea, leading to disagreements with other countries that surround the sea, chiefly with the Philippines, which has proved willing to stand up for itself.
Beijing's dispute with Japan is one of the more volatile flashpoints in regional relations, with both sides deploying paramilitary vessels -- backed at a distance by naval ships -- to the contested Senkaku islands, which China calls the Diaoyus.
The disputes have given common cause to Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam, with Manila particularly welcoming of Tokyo's moves to toughen up its defense stance, which it sees as offering a counterbalance to growing Chinese power.
World Powers Join Search for Abducted Nigerian Schoolgirls
by Naharnet Newsdesk
08 May 2014, 06:53
World powers, including the United States and China, have joined in the search for the more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram Islamists who have also killed hundreds in the country's northeast this week.
Amid global outrage over the kidnapping of the teenagers, the United States, Britain and France are sending specialist teams to Nigeria.
China promised to supply "any useful information acquired by its satellites and intelligence services" to Nigeria.
The police on Wednesday offered $300,000 (215,000 euros) for information leading to the rescue of the girls.
The latest insurgent attack targeted the town of Gamboru Ngala on the border with Cameroon, where gunmen this week razed scores of buildings and fired on civilians as they tried to flee.
Area Senator Ahmed Zanna put the death toll at 300, citing information provided by locals, in an account supported by numerous residents.
Zanna said the town had been left unguarded because soldiers based there had been redeployed north towards Lake Chad in an effort to rescue the kidnapped girls.
Nigeria's response to the kidnappings has been widely criticized, including by activists and parents of the hostages who say the military's search operation has been inept so far.
President Goodluck Jonathan's administration has sought to appear more engaged with the plight of the hostages in recent days, especially after Boko Haram chief Abubakar Shekau released a video threatening to sell the girls as "slaves".
In a second kidnapping, 11 more girls aged 12 to 15 were seized Sunday from Gwoza, an area not far from Chibok and also in Boko Haram's Borno base.
The group's five-year uprising has killed thousands across Africa's most populous country and top economy, with many questioning whether Nigeria has the capacity to contain the violence.
Islamist fighters riding in armored trucks and on motorcycles stormed Gamboru Ngala after midday on Monday.
The extremists overran the town, making it too dangerous for locals to immediately return, survivors said.
When the militants left, residents discovered their town "littered" with dead bodies, Musa Abba, a witness, told AFP.
"All economic and business centers have been burnt. The market in the town which attracts traders from all over the area... has been completely burnt," the senator said.
Gamboru Ngala has been attacked repeatedly in the past but Abba said "this (was) the worst Boko Haram attack (the town) has seen".
The Cameroonian military has reinforced security in the town of Fotokol on the Nigerian border, a medical official told AFP by phone, requesting anonymity.
"The toll is very heavy. We believe there are more than 200 dead," the source said, adding that 2,000 Nigerians, including soldiers had fled to Cameroon.
"Some of the bodies were charred. It was horrific. People had their throats slit, others were shot," the source added.
In a fresh attack, suspected Boko Haram militants Wednesday killed seven people in Buji-Buji, also in Borno state, the village head, Mohammed Garba told journalists.
"Gunmen numbering about 20 invaded our village around 3:00 am (0200 GMT) while most people were sleeping... The gunmen opened fire on people as they attempted to escape from the ravaging fire.
"Seven persons died on the spot, while so many others were injured," he said.
U.S. President Barack Obama has described the Chibok abductions as "heartbreaking" and "outrageous", and announced that a team of military experts had been sent to help Nigeria's rescue mission.
Michelle Obama expressed sympathy for the schoolgirls, in a personal message on Twitter.
"Our prayers are with the missing Nigerian girls and their families. It's time to #BringBackOurGirls," said the U.S. First Lady on her @FLOTUS account, with a picture of her solemnly holding a sign saying #BringBackOurGirls" scribbled in black on white paper.
The tweet was signed "mo," meaning she wrote it herself, and it was retweeted more than 8,500 times in just a few hours.
British Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the kidnappers as "pure evil" and said a small team of planning and coordinating specialists would head to Nigeria as soon as possible.
Britain is expected to send Abuja-based liaison officers from the SAS special forces to help the rescue mission, the Times reported Thursday.
France and China also pledged assistance.
As well as mounting pressure over the kidnappings, Nigeria has been hit by a spate of bombings.
Just a few hours before the mass abduction in Chibok, a car bombing at a bus station on the outskirts of Abuja killed 75 people.
A copycat bombing at the same station killed 19 people on May 1.
Jonathan had hoped that a World Economic Forum summit which opened in Abuja Wednesday would highlight Nigeria's economic progress.
Meeting Jonathan in Abuja ahead of what has been dubbed "Africa's Davos", Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pledged stronger cooperation with Nigeria, Africa's top oil producer, but public focus has remained fixed on Boko Haram.
Nigeria Says Girls Kidnap a Turning Point in Boko Haram Conflict
by Naharnet Newsdesk
08 May 2014, 14:43
Nigeria's president said Thursday that Boko Haram's mass abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls would mark a turning point in the battle against the Islamists, as world powers joined the search to rescue the hostages.
President Goodluck Jonathan's administration has struggled to contain Boko Haram's bloody five-year uprising and experts have questioned whether Nigeria can end the violence without help.
"I believe that the kidnap of these girls will be the beginning of the end of terror in Nigeria," Jonathan told delegates at the World Economic Forum, thanking Britain, China, France and the United States for their offers of help to rescue the hostages.
The four world powers have pledged varying levels of assistance to track down the girls whose April 14 mass abduction from Chibok in northeastern Borno state has sparked global outrage.
Jonathan's comments echoed those of U.S. President Barack Obama earlier in the week.
Obama said the Chibok kidnappings "may be the event that helps to mobilize the entire international community to finally do something against this horrendous organization that's perpetrated such a terrible crime".
In the latest massacre by the Islamists, hundreds of people were killed this week in the town of Gamboru Ngala, which like Chibok is in northeastern Borno state, Boko Haram's historic stronghold.
Most of the insurgents' recent attacks have targeted the remote and deeply impoverished northeast, but two car bombings on the outskirts of the capital Abuja in the last month underscored the grave threat the Islamists pose.
Jonathan had hoped that the World Economic Forum would highlight Nigeria's economic progress and its recent emergence as Africa's top economy, but headlines have remained focused on Boko Haram.
Holding the summit in Abuja despite the recent violence amounted to victory over the extremists, the Nigerian leader said.
"You are supporting us in winning the war against terror," he told the more than 1,000 delegated from over 70 countries.
"If you had refused to come because of fear the terrorist would have jubilated," he added, saying the conference going ahead was "a major blow to the terrorists."
Nigeria has typically resisted security cooperation with the West, which analysts say has hampered efforts against the militants who have killed thousands since 2009.
American officials have acknowledged that the U.S. military had relatively weak ties with Nigeria and unlike many other African states, the government in Abuja has shown little interest in major training programs.
"In the past, the Nigerians have been reluctant to accept U.S. assistance, particularly in areas having to do with security," said John Campbell, former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria.
"Whatever assistance we might provide and might be welcomed by the Nigerian side is likely to be essentially technical," Campbell said.
Some have voiced hope that collaborating on the hostage rescue may improve Nigeria's broader capacity to defeat Boko Haram.
Washington plans to send a team of fewer than 10 military personnel as well as specialists from the Justice Department and the FBI, US officials said.
Britain said it will send experts in planning and coordination, France has offered a specialist team, while China said it would make available "any useful information acquired by its satellites and intelligence services".
As concern grew worldwide over the fate of the 223 girls being held hostage and the rescue mission ramped up, the Islamists carried out another massacre near the northeastern border with Cameroon.
After storming Gamboru Ngala in armored vehicles after midday on Monday, the gunmen burnt traders alive in their stalls and murdered entire families.
"We have been collecting bodies from all over the town, on the streets and in burnt homes," resident Musa Abba said. "Nine members of a family were burnt alive in their home."
Area Senator Ahmed Zanna put the death toll at 300, citing information provided by locals, in an account supported by other witnesses.
Zanna said the town had been left unguarded because soldiers based there had been redeployed north towards Lake Chad in an effort to rescue the schoolgirls.
Nigeria's military has been repeatedly accused of leaving unarmed civilians to fend for themselves during the uprising, which Boko Haram says is aimed at creating an Islamic state in mainly Muslim northern Nigeria
"Some bodies are burnt beyond recognition," Babagana Goni, another resident said. "Some of the bodies were shot while others had their throats slit, which made me sick. I couldn't continue the count."
Real Threat in a Known Market for Children
By RICK GLADSTONE
MAY 7, 2014
When the leader of the Boko Haram extremist group threatened to sell hundreds of kidnapped Nigerian girls “in the market” in a rambling online video posted this week, he was not necessarily making an irrational boast.
Doing just that is entirely possible in parts of Nigeria and elsewhere in the developing world, human rights investigators and researchers of child trafficking, sexual slavery and forced marriage said. However egregious it may sound, in some areas the buying and selling of women and children, particularly young girls, has long been an underlying problem.
“It is very well documented,” said Benjamin N. Lawrance, a scholar at the Rochester Institute of Technology who has spent much of his academic career studying and writing about human trafficking. In Africa in particular, he said Tuesday in a telephone interview, “there has never been a period of time where child slavery didn’t take place.”
Professor Lawrance said that if he were to visit any number of West African countries, for example, “I would have no difficulty, within a matter of hours, in finding a place to procure children.”
While the imagery of a slave market conveyed by the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, may have been aimed partly at attracting attention, Professor Lawrance said, “it is not a stretch of the truth to imagine where you could buy children, sitting and waiting to be sold.”
Child trafficking is considered such an insidious problem that the United Nations Human Rights Council has assigned special rapporteurs to investigate it for nearly 25 years.
The last rapporteur, Dr. Najat Maalla M’jid, a Moroccan pediatrician who specializes in the protection of vulnerable children, said in a report to the council in March that they were more at risk than ever to sexual slavery. “Millions of girls and boys worldwide are victims of sexual exploitation, even though this issue in recent years has gained increased visibility,” she said.
In a report she issued in December, Dr. Maalla M’jid said that cases of child trafficking represented 27 percent of all detected human trafficking in 2007-10, up from 20 percent in 2003-6, according to statistics from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. In recent years, the increase has been greater for girls. In Africa and the Middle East, the report said, more than two-thirds of the detected victims of trafficking were children, and globally, trafficking for sexual exploitation represented 58 percent of the total of detected cases.
Rights advocates say many cases go undetected. Susan Bissell, the chief of child protection at Unicef, said Wednesday in a phone interview that there were 1.2 million known cases a year of child trafficking globally, “and that’s a gross underestimate, because of situations in this context; it’s totally clandestine.”
Ms. Bissell also said that for every 800 victims, one person is convicted, a powerful indicator of why traffickers often operate with impunity. Groups like Boko Haram, she said, “are functioning in a part of the country where there just doesn’t seem to be any rules.”
Rights groups have conducted numerous studies documenting the trafficking of girls and women in Africa, which is often done through deceptive means. In a 2010 report, for example, Human Rights Watch found networks in Ivory Coast and Nigeria that systematically trafficked in Nigerian women who had thought they were being recruited as apprentice hairdressers or tailors. The report said that many were minors, and that victims “said repeatedly that ‘bad things’ would happen to them or their families if they escaped, but were too afraid to provide further details regarding the precise threats or the person who would hurt them.”
Free the Slaves, a Washington-based advocacy group, documented systematic forced marriage in the Democratic Republic of Congo in a report issued last June, which broke the practice down to four classifications: “marriage by rape, marriage by sale, marriage by kidnapping and child marriage.”
Ms. Bissell said part of the enforcement problem lay in many victims’ lack of official identities — 230 million children do not have birth certificates, which makes them virtually impossible to trace. “This is 2014, and we have the technological capacity and we’re interconnected, and yet we can’t seem to protect our children,” she said.
#BringBackOurGirls focuses world's eyes on Nigeria's mass kidnapping
Twitter hashtag tweeted more than 1m times with Michelle Obama the latest high profile politician to offer her support
• Nigeria's mass kidnapping: the vital questions answered
Sam Jones, Emma Howard and agencies
The Guardian, Thursday 8 May 2014
Three weeks after 257 girls were snatched from their school in Chibok, a fortnight after #BringBackOurGirls first appeared on Twitter, and a day after Barack Obama described the kidnapping as both heart-breaking and outrageous, the eyes of the world are finally and firmly fixed on events in the remote reaches of north-eastern Nigeria.
Michelle Obama has become the latest high profile name to tweet her support and in cities as far apart as Abuja, Washington, Los Angeles, Dublin and London, demonstrators have put on red T-shirts to draw attention to the girls' plight, demand their release, and to vent a deepening sense of anger.
Further protests are due to be held over the next few days in countries including the UK, the US, South Africa, Jamaica and Switzerland.
The hashtag, which started trending in Nigeria two weeks ago, has now been tweeted more than one million times. It was first used on 23 April at the opening ceremony for a Unesco event honouring the Nigerian city of Port Harcourt as the 2014 World Book Capital City. A Nigerian lawyer in Abuja, Ibrahim M Abdullahi, tweeted the call in a speech by Dr Oby Ezekwesili, vice-president of the World Bank for Africa to "Bring Back the Girls!"
A global "social media march" has also been organised asking supporters to use their networks to promote the campaign for 200 minutes on Thursday and there are also Bring Back Our Girls and a Wear Red
The campaign has reignited the debate over the value of online campaigning or "slacktivism" as it is called by its critics. The hashtag has been used by different organisations to expose the story further online. Amnesty International and Unicef have backed the campaign, as have politicians and celebrities, including Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Wyclef Jean and Chris Brown. Actors Sean Penn, Ashton Kutcher, Justin Timberlake and Bradley Cooper have thrown their weight behind a parallel hashtag: #RealMenDontBuyGirls.
The US first lady said on Twitter: "Our prayers are with the missing Nigerian girls and their families." She packaged her tweet with a photo of herself in the White House holding a white piece of paper with the message "#BringBackOurGirls" written in black, capital letters.
The Nigerian author Chibundu Onuzo, writing for the Guardian, said: "We have discovered the power of the hashtag over the last week. The simple, emphatic demand #BringBackOurGirls has moved across the Twitter timelines of the famous and the unknown, uniting Nigerian housewives and the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton."
On Tuesday, 100 red-clad men and women gathered outside the Nigerian defence headquarters in Abuja to beg the authorities to find the girls amid claims they were to be sold into slavery, a protest that continued into Wednesday.
The chief of the Chibok community in the capital, Hosea Sambido, said the uncertainty had left mothers in his home town unable to eat and had forced fathers into the bush in desperate searches for their daughters.
"Please, we are begging the federal government of Nigeria, please, we are begging our army, which we depend on, please intervene into this matter for us, intervene into this matter for us," said Sambido.
"Our community is relatively small. If a generation of the same age – 276 – are out, in the future where are we? Who cares? Can our girls go to school now? Help us. Please. Please."
In Washington, about 75 protesters wearing "Bring Back Our Girls" T-shirts rallied outside the shuttered Nigerian embassy this week to accuse the Nigerian government of failing to protect its young females.
"We are tired of the government putting its head in the sand," said Omolola Adele Oso, a 35-year-old Nigerian immigrant from Bowie, Maryland. "These girls could be beaten and burned into subservience. The government wants this problem to disappear, but it will not disappear."
Most – but not all – of the demonstrators were Nigerian immigrants. Amy Thomson, 43, of Chevy Chase, Maryland said she had come to the rally "because I'm a mother and I would feel the same if my daughter were in danger." Thomson was accompanied by her 11-year-old daughter Emma, who said she had been inspired by the efforts of Malala Yousafzai, the teenage activist from Pakistan who was shot and nearly killed by the Taliban for promoting girls' education.
"Boko Haram said Allah told them to take the girls," said Emma. "But I read about Malala, and she said that is not her Allah."
Yousafzai herself has lent her support to the campaign to free the schoolgirls. In a black-and-white picture posted on the Twitter account of her educational fund, she holds up a piece of paper inscribed with the now-familiar plea: "#BringBackOurGirls".
Amnesty: S.Sudan War Escalating into 'Cycles of Revenge'
by Naharnet Newsdesk
08 May 2014, 12:15
Civil war in South Sudan is spiraling into cycles of revenge far from the control of political leaders, Amnesty International warned Thursday, as pressure builds on commanders to stem the brutal conflict.
"The ethnic dimensions of the conflict are deepening as fighters engage in reprisal attacks, continuously escalating the cycle of violence," Amnesty said in a report, documenting scores of grim testimonies of war crimes in the world's youngest nation.
"The longer ethnic rivalries are allowed to deepen and fester, the more fragmented South Sudan will become, making reconciliation and sustainable peace much more difficult to achieve," it added.
President Salva Kiir and rebel chief Riek Machar are due to meet for talks slated for Friday in Ethiopia, although Machar has already said he will likely not reach Addis Ababa in time.
But the report warns the leaders will struggle to stop the war on the ground even if a deal on paper is reached.
Researchers said they had documented "dozens of mass graves", including five in the war-ravaged town of Bor containing over 500 bodies.
"Horrific atrocities" have been committed by all sides "constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity," the report said.
"Habitual impunity for human rights violations, including international crimes, is a central factor behind repeated cycles of violence," Amnesty said, adding that both sides had "shown total disregard" for the most basic of human rights.
Gunmen on both sides have "deliberately killed civilians (and) executed captured fighters", as well as raping women, burning down homes, destroying medical facilities, and looting food stores and humanitarian aid, it added.
Testimonies in the report describe civilians including children executed by the side of road "like sheep", gang raping of women using sticks, and other victims "grotesquely mutilated" with their lips sliced off.
Fierce fighting continues, and the United Nations has warned of the risk of famine and genocide.
Although starting as a personal rivalry between President Kiir and Machar, the conflict has seen armies divide along ethnic lines and fighting pitting members of Kiir's Dinka tribe against Machar's Nuer.
Those affected feel the "only way to ensure perpetrators are punished and to prevent future abuses is to take the law into their own hands and engage in reprisal attacks," it added.
The United States this week unveiled its first sanctions in response to the "unthinkable violence", targeting one military leader from each side.
The move against presidential force commander Marial Chanuong and rebel general Peter Gadet follows a visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to Juba last week, where he called on both sides to lay down their arms.
But Amnesty warned more was needed.
"Those up and down the chain of command on both sides of the conflict who are responsible for perpetrating, ordering or acquiescing to such grave abuses... must be held accountable," it said.
France to Deploy 3,000 Soldiers in Sahel
by Naharnet Newsdesk
08 May 2014, 11:51
France said Thursday it will deploy 3,000 soldiers to combat Islamist violence in the vast and largely lawless Sahel region of Africa.
"Our role is to pursue counter-terrorism in north Mali, the north of Niger and in Chad," Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a television interview.
"We are reorganizing our contingent so that 3,000 French soldiers are in that zone."
Le Drian said France was "in the process of ending its frontal war phase" in Mali but added that 1,000 French soldiers will remain, based near the town of Gao in the insurgency-hit northeast of the country.
France launched a military operation in January 2013 to support the Malian army and drive back Islamists advancing on the south. They evicted the rebels from northern Mali towns seized in the wake of a coup in Bamako in 2012.
The French deployment peaked at 5,000 troops, but Paris had pledged to reduce its presence to 1,000 troops by early 2014.
"A certain number of jihadist groups still want to regroup in the North," said Le Drian.
"There are far fewer of them but they have nothing to lose, they have abandoned their lives, so we must fight with extreme precision against any attempt to regroup."
But he said the conflict had entered "a different phase" with U.N. forces now present in the country and the Malian army rebuilding itself.
Underlining the continued threat in the region, a French soldier was killed by a roadside bomb overnight, the French presidency said.
The death brings the number of French soldiers killed in Mali to eight.
President Francois Hollande expressed his "profound sadness" at the death and added that he had "total confidence in the French forces engaged on the side of Malians and the United Nations forces to continue the fight against armed terrorist groups."
Le Drian said northern Mali remains a "zone of danger, of trafficking of all types".
"We will stay there as long as it takes. There is no time limit."
Earlier this week, Malian military sources told AFP that the rebels in northern Mali have set up a commando unit that has executed alleged collaborators accused of helping French troops and Tuareg rebels.
"At least 11 people accused of being informers for (French military operation) Serval or the (Tuareg) MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) have been slain in the past 11 months by the Islamists," the source said.
Three main groups -- al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Ansar Dine (Defenders of Islam) -- occupied much of northern Mali for nine months in 2012 and carried out brutal acts against civilians in the name of Islamic sharia law.
Woman Runs for President in Islamic Mauritania
by Naharnet Newsdesk
07 May 2014, 21:13
A woman has put forward a rare bid for the presidency of Mauritania, a west African nation run under strict Islamic law, the country's Constitutional Council said Wednesday.
"Lalla Mariem Mint Moulaye Idriss dropped off a file at the Constitutional Council containing her candidacy for the June 21 presidential elections," the body said in a statement.
Idriss, 57, an independent candidate, is only the second woman to ever seek election in a presidential poll in Mauritania, following the candidacy of Aicha Mint Jedeine who ran in 2003.
Women are weakly represented in the Islamic country, occupying only 20 percent of elected posts, and calls for equality in politics have grown.
Idriss, married with four children, is the head of the governing body of the Mauritanian news agency AMI.
Two other candidates had filed their intention to run as the midnight deadline loomed.
They are President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz -- who is seeking reelection -- and Boidel Ould Houmeid the head of the moderate El-Wiam party which currently counts seven lawmakers in the 147-seat parliament.
The radical National Forum for Democracy and Unity (FNDU) opposition coalition said on Monday it was boycotting the vote after what it said was a breakdown in dialogue with government.
The FNDU combines the Islamist movement Tewassoul and 10 parties allied in the Coordination for a Democratic Opposition, which boycotted parliamentary and municipal elections last year.
South Africans vote in first election for 'born free' generation
People born after apartheid ended will vote for first time as ANC looks likely to win another victory
David Smith in Johannesburg
theguardian.com, Thursday 8 May 2014 07.58 BST
Wrapped up against the early morning chill, millions of South Africans queued on Wednesday to vote in the country's first general election to give the "born free" generation a say.
But while some of those who have no memory of racial apartheid, which ended in 1994, seized their chance of a democratic voice, others preferred to use the public holiday to stay at home or socialise.
"I'm feeling awesome. It's going to be my first time," said Lindiwe Zulu, 20, on her way to vote in Katlehong on the East Rand. "I got the opportunity to be free and to say whatever I want to say. I have a lot of freedom in everything, not just my culture but my personal opinions as well. This country has done a lot for us, especially the '1994s'."
Zulu said she would vote for the governing African National Congress (ANC), which looks on course for another convincing victory under the controversial president, Jacob Zuma. "It is the first party that has opened up opportunities for us. It has gone through a lot for us. I'm proud to vote for it."
But of 1.9 million voters aged 18-19, only one in three is registered to vote. Among those staying away is Mpho Masuku, a student from Springs near Johannesburg who turned 20 last week.
"It makes me sad," he said. "I haven't found a political party that really convinces me to vote for them. I think the ANC are really criminals and I don't like them. They have stolen from us and all of them support the man [Zuma] who has actually stolen from the poor. The whole nation does not want that man."
Masuku also rejected the firebrand leftist Julius Malema and his Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF): "I read the EFF manifesto and I found some pretty good darned stuff there but they are so radical and so violent, they actually sound racist. They sound like they want to kill white people.
"It's 20 years after democracy and we haven't found any political party capable of running this country. The rainbow nation is still a theory."
Opposition politicians also expressed concern at the "born free" generation's relative lack of impact on the outcome. Voting at a church in Soweto township, Mmusi Maimane of the Democratic Alliance said: "It is disappointing. This is also their future. I've reflected long and hard about this. We have to ask why young people are not more engaged and find new ways to engage them in the future."
Maimane has been accused of imitating Barack Obama in a bid to woo the youth vote in Gauteng province. "If that's the worst the ANC can accuse me of, it certainly beats allegations of corruption," he said. "I think the ANC will come out bruised after this election. They won't be as dominant as they think."
But opinion polls predict the ANC will cruise to around 64% of the vote, only a slight dip since the last election in 2009. "Do it for Madiba, vote ANC!" read some campaign posters, referring to the former president Nelson Mandela by his clan name, although few commentators believe that the statesman's death at the age of 95 last December has been a significant factor.
On Thursday morning results released by the national election commission showed the ANC firmly in front with about 58% of the vote and the opposition Democratic Alliance holding 28.5%, based on about 3.6m votes counted. The Economic Freedom Fighters grouping was on 4% with one-third of about 22,000 voting districts counted and turnout just over 70%.
Many among the country's 25 million registered voters – about half the total population – lined up before the 22,263 voting stations opened at 7am on Wednesday at schools, places of worship, tribal authority sites and hospitals. The army has deployed 1,850 troops across the country.
Zuma cast his vote in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal province, where a scandal over the spending of taxpayer millions on security upgrades at his homestead did not prevent crowds greeting him enthusiastically and ululating.
"I feel very good," said Zuma, wearing a grey jacket. "I have been very enthusiastic for this date to come. As you know, all political parties have been canvassing voters for a number of weeks. I feel good that I've just voted, and I hope that all voters will cast their votes free without any problem because this is our right that we fought for.
"Among the rights that we have, this is one of the most important rights, to vote for the government, and I hope all people will do so, because it is absolutely important."
Asked whom he voted for, Zuma joked: "It's a secret," and burst into laughter.
It is the fifth multiracial election since the end of white minority rule in 1994 and incidents of political violence are generally in decline. But on the eve of the ballot in Bekkersdal, near Soweto, protesters threw rocks and set fire to a polling station.
On Wednesday, however, residents were undeterred and determined to cast their vote. Nosihle Zikalala told AFP: "I'm here to vote for my future. I don't care about what happened here yesterday. I won't allow it to turn me away."
While some early tallies may trickle in on Wednesday evening, the full result is not likely to be known before Friday. Simon Freemantle, an economist at Standard Bank in Johannesburg, told Reuters: "Overall, the election is reassuringly boring. We know who's going to win and we know there are not going to be any radical policy changes. That is reassuring."
Syria crisis: Aleppo hotel used by Assad forces 'levelled'
State media and activists report that huge blast hit Carlton hotel and other buildings in government-held area
Associated Press in Beirut
theguardian.com, Thursday 8 May 2014 10.34 BST
A "huge explosion" in northern Syria has levelled a hotel that government troops used as a military base, along with several other buildings in a government-held area, state television and activists reported.
Syrian state television said the explosion on Thursday had struck on the edge of a contested old neighbourhood in Aleppo. The television report identified the hotel as the Carlton, next to the city's ancient citadel.
A local activist group called the Sham News Network also reported the blast, saying President Bashar al-Assad's troops were based in the hotel.
Another activist group, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the explosion had struck a government-held district in Aleppo's Old City, next to rebel positions. The Observatory said the rebels belonging to the Islamic Front group had planted a huge amount of explosives in a tunnel they dug below the Carlton hotel, detonating it remotely.
It said the hotel was completely destroyed in the blast and there were casualties among the troops.
Aleppo, the country's largest city and former commercial hub, has been carved up into rebel-held and government-held areas since the rebels launched an offensive there in mid-2010, capturing territory along Syria's northern border with Turkey.
In recent months, government aircraft have relentlessly bombed rebel-held areas of the city. Opposition fighters have hit back, firing mortars into government-held areas. The rebels have also detonated car bombs in residential areas, killing dozens of people.
Meanwhile, more rebels are expected to leave the central city of Homs as the evacuation of opposition fighters moves into its second day. Homs is Syria's third largest city and has been known as the capital of anti-Assad revolution since the uprising against his rule erupted in March 2011.
The Homs governor Talal Barazi told Syrian state TV late on Wednesday that the evacuation process was being conducted in a "positive atmosphere". He said Homs would be declared a "secure" city once the army moved in later on Thursday.
The Observatory, which has been documenting Syria's three-year-old conflict through a network of activists on the ground, said about 250 opposition fighters remained in the old districts of Homs, holed up under a crippling government siege for more than two years. The Observatory's head, Rami Abdurrahman, said more than 960 had left the city on Wednesday.
The rebels agreed to a ceasefire deal on Friday, leading to their evacuation.
In exchange for the rebels' safe departure from Homs, the opposition fighters have released 70 people who had been held by gunmen in various areas, including in Aleppo and in the costal province of Latakia, Barazi said. Among those released were 17 women and five children, he said.
Syria's uprising began with largely peaceful protests and has evolved into a civil war with sectarian overtones, pitting largely Sunni Muslim rebels against Assad's government, which is dominated by Alawites, a sect of Shia Islam.
Islamic extremists, including foreign fighters and Syrian rebels who have taken up hardline al-Qaida-style ideologies, have played an increasingly prominent role among fighters, dampening the west's support for the rebellion to overthrow Assad.
Illegal logging and fishing prolongs poverty in Africa, says Kofi Annan
$17bn lost to loggers and $1.3bn to fishing fleets a year, estimates Africa Progress report to launched by former UN chief
Larry Elliott, economics editor
The Guardian, Thursday 8 May 2014
Billions of pounds a year is being plundered from Africa through illegal logging and fishing that is prolonging poverty in the world's poorest continent, the former head of the United Nationssaid on Thursday.
Kofi Annan's annual update on Africa says that money needed for a green revolution in agriculture and to improve infrastructure is being lost to illicit logging and unregulated fishing.
The Africa Progress report, which will be launched by the former UN secretary general in Londonon Thursday, estimates that the losses from logging amount to $17bn (£10bn) a year, while fishing fleets flouting international conventions are costing West Africa at least $1.3bn a year.
The report from a panel of experts including Tidjane Thiam, the chief executive of the Prudential, Michel Camdessus, ex-managing director of the International Monetary Fund, and Sir Bob Geldof, says that despite strong growth since the turn of the millennium, progress in poverty reduction has been slow and that by 2030 Africa will account for 80% of the world's poor.
Annan says that Africa imports $34bn of food but could feed itself within five years if agricultural productivity improved. Almost $50bn a year needs to be found for roads, railways and other public investment projects.
"Investing in infrastructure will certainly be expensive", Annan says. "But at least some of the costs of filling Africa's massive infrastructure financing gap could be covered if the runaway plunder of Africa's natural resources is brought to a stop. Across the continent, this plunder is prolonging poverty amidst plenty. It has to stop, now.
"Last year's Africa Progress Report showed how illicit financial flows, often connected to tax evasion in the extractives industry, cost our continent more than it receives in either international aid or foreign investment. This year's report shows how Africa is also losing billions to illegal and shadowy practices in fishing and forestry."
Annan says that problems are being stored up for the future "While personal fortunes are consolidated by a corrupt few, the vast majority of Africa's present and future generations are being deprived of the benefits of common resources that might otherwise deliver incomes, livelihoods and better nutrition. If these problems are not addressed, we are sowing the seeds of a bitter harvest."
The report draws parallels between the plunder of logging and fishing resources with the money lost to Africa through tax evasion.
"In each case, Africa is being integrated through trade into markets characterised by high levels of illegal and unregulated activity. In each case resources that should be used for investment in Africa are being plundered through the activities of local elites and foreign investors. And in each case African governments and the wider international community are failing to put in place the multilateral rules to combat what is a global collective action problem."
The report says unregistered industrial trawlers unloading illegal catches are the economic equivalent of mining companies evading taxes and offshore tax havens. "The underlying problems are widely recognised. Yet international action to solve those problems has relied on voluntary codes of conduct that are often widely ignored. The same is true of logging activity, with the forests of West and Central Africa established as hotspots for the plunder of timber resources."
Annan's panel says there needs to be a collective global agreement to ensure a "blue revolution" for ocean management. All governments should ratify and implement the 2009 Port State Measures Agreement to tackle illegal unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and establish a global register of fishing vessels. African governments should increase fines on IUU vessels, support artisanal fishing, increase transparency, and provide full disclosure of the terms on which commercial fishing permits are issued.
On forests, the report calls for all commercial logging concession contracts to be subject to full disclosure, along with the beneficial ownership structures of the companies involved. Concessions should be provided with the informed consent of the communities involved.
Brazilian cops: 24-hour strike in World Cup cities could be just the beginning
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, May 7, 2014 19:22 EDT
Brazilian police demanding better conditions and more pay went on strike Wednesday, just 37 days before the country hosts the World Cup, threatening to do so again during the football extravaganza.
Federal police walked off the job in several cities hosting World Cup games and in Rio, which hosts seven matches including the July 13 final, they held a peaceful protest just as Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari unveiled his World Cup squad.
In the capital Brasilia — another city staging games — striking police surrounded their headquarters and prevented colleagues from entering, Globo’s G1 news portal reported.
They also went on strike in several provincial cities including Fortaleza, Natal and Porto Alegre — all World Cup hosts.
“This is a 24-hour strike which has been well supported,” federal police union leader Andre Vax de Mello told AFP.
“We have provided a minimum service for the public, notably at airports, but we are going to stop during the World Cup if the government doesn’t provide a satisfactory response,” he warned.
“Salaries have been on the slide,” de Mello added, saying that of the 13,000 federal police employed countrywide “250 per year leave and take exams to gain entry to other, better-paid public bodies.”
The police are paid between 7,500 and 12,800 reais ($3,200 to $5,800) a month before tax and social security contributions.
At Terezina, capital of the northeastern state of Piaui, strikers also gathered outside their headquarters, eyes masked in symbolic protest at what they say is the authorities’ inability to improve their conditions, G1 reported.
Last month, troops were forced to patrol the streets of Salvador de Bahia after a wave of looting and murder erupted amid a police strike in the World Cup host city.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
U.S. scientists have created an entirely new lifeform using artificial DNA
By Ian Sample, The Guardian
Wednesday, May 7, 2014 20:47 EDT
Organisms carrying beefed-up DNA code could be designed to churn out new forms of drugs that could otherwise not be made
The first living organism to carry and pass down to future generations an expanded genetic code has been created by American scientists, paving the way for a host of new life forms whose cells carry synthetic DNA that looks nothing like the normal genetic code of natural organisms.
Researchers say the work challenges the dogma that the molecules of life making up DNA are “special”. Organisms that carry the beefed-up DNA code could be designed to churn out new forms of drugs that otherwise could not be made, they have claimed.
“This has very important implications for our understanding of life,” said Floyd Romesberg, whose team created the organism at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. “For so long people have thought that DNA was the way it was because it had to be, that it was somehow the perfect molecule.”
From the moment life gained a foothold on Earth the diversity of organisms has been written in a DNA code of four letters. The latest study moves life beyond G, T, C and A – the molecules or bases that pair up in the DNA helix – and introduces two new letters of life: X and Y.
Romesberg started out with E coli, a bug normally found in soil and carried by people. Into this he inserted a loop of genetic material that carried normal DNA and two synthetic DNA bases. Though known as X and Y for simplicity, the artificial DNA bases have much longer chemical names, which themselves abbreviate to d5SICS and dNaM.
In living organisms, G, T, C and A come together to form two base pairs, G-C and T-A. The extra synthetic DNA forms a third base pair, X-Y, according to the study in Nature. These base pairs are used to make genes, which cells use as templates for making proteins.
Romesberg found that when the modified bacteria divided they passed on the natural DNA as expected. But they also replicated the synthetic code and passed that on to the next generation. That generation of bugs did the same.
“What we have now, for the first time, is an organism that stably harbours a third base pair, and it is utterly different to the natural ones,” Romesberg said. For now the synthetic DNA does not do anything in the cell. It just sits there. But Romesberg now wants to tweak the organism so that it can put the artificial DNA to good use.
“This is just a beautiful piece of work,” said Martin Fussenegger, a synthetic biologist at ETH Zurich. “DNA replication is really the cream of the crop of evolution which operates the same way in all living systems. Seeing that this machinery works with synthetic base pairs is just fascinating.”
The possibilities for such organisms are still up for grabs. The synthetic DNA code could be used to build biological circuits in cells which do not interfere with the natural biological function; scientists could make cells which use the DNA to manufacture proteins not known to exist in nature. The development could lead to a vast range of protein-based drugs.
The field of synthetic biology has been controversial in the past. Some observers have raised concerns that scientists could create artificial organisms which could then escape from laboratories and spark an environmental or health disaster.
More than 10 years ago, the scientsist Eckard Wimmer, at Stony Brook University, in New York, recreated the polio virus from scratch to highlight the dangers.
Romesberg said that organisms carrying his “unnatural” DNA code had a built-in safety mechanism. The modified bugs could only survive if they were fed the chemicals they needed to replicate the synthetic DNA. Experiments in the lab showed that without these chemicals, the bugs steadily lost the synthetic DNA as they could no longer make it.
“There are a lot of people concerned about synthetic biology because it deals with life, and those concerns are completely justified,” Romesberg said. “Society needs to understand what it is and make rational decisions about what it wants.”
Ross Thyer, at the University of Texas, in Austin, suggested the synthetic DNA could become an essential part of an organism’s own DNA. “Human engineering would result in an organism which permanently contains an expanded genetic alphabet, something that, to our knowledge, no naturally occurring life form has accomplished.
“What would such an organism do with an expanded genetic alphabet? We don’t know. Could it lead to more sophisticated storage of biological information? More complicated or subtle regulatory networks? These are all questions we can look forward to exploring.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2014
Epic computer model recreates the 14 billion years of history since the Big Bang
By Ian Sample, The Guardian
Wednesday, May 7, 2014 15:46 EDT
Researchers have created the most detailed simulation of the history of the universe, complete with exploding gas clouds, swirling galaxies, ravenous black holes and countless stars – born to die in violent supernovae that blast the chemical elements for planets and life out into the cosmos.
Described as one of the most complex computer models ever created, the simulation was crunched on supercomputers that took six months to complete calculations that would have taken an average desktop computer 2,000 years to process.
The simulation draws on the laws of physics and theories for the formation of galaxies and stellar evolution to recreate a large part of the universe from 12m years after the big bang until today, nearly 14bn years later. It will help scientists test how well their theories of the universe work, by comparing the appearance of the virtual cosmos with observations made using telescopes and other instruments. The details have been published in the journal Nature (if you’re reading on a mobile device, click here to view the Nature video).
“We have this problem in astrophysics that we can’t go and do experiments in the lab to test our theories,” said Mark Vogelsberger at MIT, who worked on the simulation. “The only way to test them is to compare our models with the best observations out there.”
The computer model simulates the behaviour of dark matter, the invisible material that coalesced in the early universe to form a cosmic web, and dark energy, the mysterious force that drives the expansion of the cosmos.
As the universe evolves, the first galaxies form with fledgling suns and supermassive black holes at their centres. Huge expanses of tenuous gas fill the spaces between the galaxies. At first, the only elements are hydrogen and helium. Heavier elements, such as carbon and oxygen, are forged inside stars, before being ejected into space when the stars explode.
The simulation models what happens in a volume of space 350m light years across. One light year – the distance light travels in one year – is roughly 10 million million kilometres. The simulation is the first to show both large-scale structures such as the distribution of gas, and small-scale features such as the number and chemical signatures of stars in each galaxy.
The scientists checked their simulation against images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and found remarkable agreement. But discrepancies between observations and the simulation show where scientists need to rethink their explanations of how the universe evolved.
Vogelsberger said they have already found disagreements between the simulation and the real universe that need exploring. Their model gets the proportions of galaxies right, but the stars in low mass galaxies – those about 100 times less massive than the Milky Way – are older than they should be. “That means the simulation is forming those low-mass galaxies too early, so the stars are too old compared to the ones in the real universe,” Vogelsberger said.
Michael Boylan-Kolchin, an astrophysicist at the University of Maryland, said: “I’m impressed at their audacity and that they were able to make it work. This will help us with a number of open questions. What were the first galaxies in the universe like? Where are their remnants today? The better the simulations, the better we can answer these questions.”
Vogelsberger said that the smallest features the simulation showed were around 1,000 light years across. In 10 years, that might improve to show features a few light years across. To get beyond that, and recreate the individual planets and stars, becomes much harder because the calculations are so large.
One of the major hurdles facing the researchers now is how to share the simulation so that others can study it. “If people want to work on it, we have to copy it over to their institutions, and that takes a few months even if you have a fast internet connection,” said Vogelsberger.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2014
Click to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SY0bKE10ZDM
In the USA...United Surveillance America
Protesters set up camp at net neutrality rally outside FCC headquarters
Occupy-style protest against proposed 'open internet' rules that protesters say will give control of the web to major corporations
Dominic Rushe in New York
theguardian.com, Wednesday 7 May 2014 17.52 BST
Protesters set up camp outside the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) on Wednesday to fight plans they say will create a two-tier internet and hand control of the web to major corporations.
The rally – reminiscent of the Occupy-style rallies that started in 2011 – started outside the FCC’s Washington headquarters at noon with protesters from Fight For the Future, Popular Resistance and others unfurling banners reading “Save the Internet”.
Protesters then announced they intend to camp out outside the FCC until 15 May when the regulator is expected to announce new rules for the internet that will formalise plans for higher speed internet for those able to pay for it. On Wednesday Google, Facebook and Amazon joined around 100 other technology companies in signing a letter to the FCC rejecting "individualised bargaining and discrimination" for internet traffic.
"[The FCC must] take the necessary steps to ensure that the internet remains an open platform for speech and commerce," the letter says.
Public interest groups have become increasingly concerned that the new rules will end “net neutrality” – the concept that all internet traffic should be treated equally on the web. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has defended his plans for what he calls the “open internet”.
The future of net neutrality has effectively been in limbo since a federal court struck down most of the FCC’s open internet order in January in a case brought by Verizon. The loss paved the way for fast lanes that have the major broadband providers have lobbied hard for, and for which they plan to charge extra to their biggest users.
"We don’t have armies of paid lobbyists at our disposal but we can not let the freedom of the internet be hijacked by giant monopolies,” said Evan Greer of Fight For The Future.
More than a million people have now signed petitions to the FCC calling for them to enshrine net neutrality rules and prevent a tiered system.
A group of 86 organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Free Press and Reddit, are asking the FCC to reclassify broadband companies as "telecommunication services", which would give the commission the authority to impose net neutrality rules on them.
Wheeler has said the FCC’s new rules will protect net neutrality.
“The Internet will remain like it is today, an open pathway,” Wheeler wrote in a FCC blogpost in April. “If a broadband provider (ISP) acts in a manner that keeps users from effectively taking advantage of that pathway then it should be a violation of the Open Internet rules.”
Critics charge, however, that cable firms will successfully challenge any new rules to tie their hands unless the FCC’s regulatory control over them is increased and point out cable firms have already effectively created a two-tier system. After the FCC lost to Verizon in January, a tiered system has already started to emerge with Netflix and others striking deals for a faster service with cable firms.
“The internet is as necessary to our society as shelter and water, people should have equal access to it,” said Greer. “We have seen an unbelievable amount of support from people since these new rules emerged. It may seem technical but it affects everyone’s life and people are not going to just stand by and let this happen.”
Doctors say NRA gun lobby taking political blackmail ‘to a new level’
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, May 8, 2014 8:03 EDT
A leading US medical journal hit out at the powerful American gun lobby for opposing the nomination for the post of top doctor, calling it a new form of “political blackmail.”
At issue is the nomination to the post of surgeon general of a Harvard medical school physician named Vivek Murthy, whose parents were born in India.
Murthy “has lived the American dream,” said the editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine, noting his role in expanding HIV education, broadening access to healthcare and fighting childhood obesity.
His nomination awaits a vote in the US Senate, but that vote may be postponed or his candidacy withdrawn, amid reports that as many as 10 Senate Democrats would vote against him, enough to keep him out of the post.
The National Rifle Association has sent letters to lawmakers and to members over the past two months, urging them to oppose Murthy based on his views on guns.
“Dr. Murthy’s record of political activism in support of radical gun control measures raises significant concerns about his ability to objectively examine issues pertinent to America’s 100 million firearm owners,” said one NRA letter to lawmakers, sent to AFP by the NRA press office.
A separate email alert to NRA members described Murthy as someone who agrees with President Barack Obama’s “radical anti-gun agenda” and who has “advocated on many occasions for the banning of lawfully owned firearms.”
“It’s clear that Dr. Murthy would be a prescription for disaster for America’s law-abiding gun owners,” the email said, urging NRA members to contact their senators to express their opposition.
The editors of the New England Journal of Medicine said Murthy has stood for “reasonable and mainstream forms of gun regulation, including an assault weapons ban, a limit on ammunition sales, and required safety training.”
These views are “unsurprising” given the more than 30,000 firearm deaths in the United States each year, the editorial said.
It also pointed out that Murthy has said that if confirmed, his principal focus would be on preventing obesity in America.
“This is the first time that the NRA has flexed its political muscle over the appointment of a surgeon general,” the editors wrote.
“By obstructing the president’s nomination of Vivek Murthy as surgeon general, the NRA is taking its single-issue political blackmail to a new level.”
The authors concluded by calling on US senators to confront the NRA and vote according to their conscience.
“Dr. Murthy is an accomplished physician, policymaker, leader and entrepreneur. He deserves the president’s continued backing and should be confirmed.”
05/07/2014 04:21 PM
Shot in Missoula: The Tragic Death of a German Exchange Student
By Karin Assmann, Marc Hujer, Fidelius Schmid and Andreas Ulrich
Diren D., a German high school student from Hamburg, wanted to get a taste of American freedom during an exchange year abroad. Instead, he ended up dead. Are American gun laws to blame?
Diren D. was always the first to choose his team when playing the Xbox video game FIFA, and he always picked the Galatasaray Istanbul football team. He often played late into the night, and would dance through the living room of his American host family when he won. A 17-year-old German from Hamburg, Diren was spending a school year in Montana as an exchange student, and he was proud of his Turkish heritage.
He also played a few games on that fateful evening in late April when Germany and the United States would discover just how great the gulf separating them can be -- here in Missoula, a small city in the Rocky Mountains.
A friend who was supposed to pick Diren up on the way to a party in the next town never showed up. So he spent the evening with Robby, an exchange student from Ecuador who became Diren's best friend during his nine months in Missoula. They played video games for hours, until about midnight when they stepped out for a bit. Maybe they wanted to get a bit of fresh air -- or they were looking for a bit of adventure. Or perhaps they just wanted a beer. But half an hour later, Diren was dead.
Two-hundred meters away, Markus Kaarma, 29, had just climbed out of his whirlpool with his partner Janelle Pflager. They made themselves comfortable on the couch and put the movie "Lincoln" into their DVD player. Just two months before, the couple had moved from the state of Washington to Missoula and since then, their home had been broken into twice, according to the police report produced later. Their house, at 2607 Deer Canyon Court, is a large one, with four bedrooms, three baths and a two-car garage. Kaarma keeps his front lawn neatly mowed, in keeping with the upper-middle class neighborhood. He and Pflager have a 10-month old son -- and the feeling that they can't count on the police. That they have to take care of themselves.
Which is why they had prepared their garage in the event of an intruder. Pflager had set up a motion sensor and a baby monitor and placed her handbag on a refrigerator in the garage. Inside the bag were personal items that she had catalogued, including a pill bottle with her name on it so as to provide evidence in the event of theft. They left the garage door open.
'I See You!'
Robby and Diren headed out for a walk. They left Prospect Drive and turned down Deer Canyon Court. They had almost passed house number 2607 when Diren turned around.
It was pitch black; there were no streetlights. And why should there be? The neighborhood is safe, a place where children can play on the streets. That, at least, is what Diren's host mother had always told him. Robby wasn't wearing his glasses and couldn't see very clearly. When Diren said that the garage door was open and he wanted to go in and look around, Robby turned around, shook his head and kept going. He said later that he had hoped Diren would follow him. But when he turned around again, Diren was nowhere to be seen.
It was shortly after midnight when the motion detector beeped inside Markus Kaarma's house. Kaarma grabbed his shotgun and headed out to the garage while his wife flipped on the outside lights. Robby heard somebody shout: "I see you!" It was the voice of Markus Kaarma, as Robby would subsequently learn. Kaarma then fired four shots in two seconds with his shotgun, as he later testified.
Robby heard the four shots and started running -- back to the home of Diren's host family. He hoped that Diren had maybe cut through the backyard and headed home, but he had a feeling that wasn't the case.
Along with Diren, a dream died on that night in Missoula: the dream that many young Germans have of experiencing the great freedoms of America for a year.
Diren spent nine months as a foreign exchange student in the Rocky Mountain town of Missoula, population 70,000. He was in the 11th grade at Big Sky High School, played soccer for the Missoula Strikers, spent time in the mountains, had fun in the snow and enjoyed the friendliness of the people there -- people who are proud to live in a place where a handshake still means something.
But Diren's death laid bare the dark side of this idyll. And it raises the question as to who or what is to be blamed for the tragedy: America's loose weapons laws that promote a culture of vigilantism? Or the strict rules that make it almost impossible for young men and women to safely test the boundaries, leading them to take stupid risks?
A Death Sentence
The tragedy sheds light on a side of America that will likely always remain foreign to many Europeans. It reveals a country where freedom is more important than anything else. And that includes the freedom to defend one's own property -- with violence if necessary. For Diren D., who grew up in the St. Pauli district of Hamburg, this misunderstanding was a death sentence.
The news of Diren's death reached his family at midday on the last Sunday in April. His father, Celal D., was on the road in his taxi at the time, a job that he had had for several years. He enjoys the work, but had always hoped that Diren would make more of himself. Something like "international business manager," his father says. Diren was a good student and attended gymnasium, the top tier of Germany's three-level high school system. In his free time, he played soccer for the club SC Teutonia v. 1910. He had done everything right in his life. Until that fateful night in Missoula.
Celal D. had been on the road since 5 a.m., but his early shift was just coming to an end. He was in the process of dropping off his last fare of the day when his wife called, telling him to hurry home. By the third or fourth call, all she could do was wail into the phone. At home, Celal D. found his wife and his youngest daughter. They told him that someone from the exchange organization had called, but that he had been difficult to understand because he only spoke English. They only understood one thing: that Diren was dead.
Diren's father listened, but he didn't want to believe what they were telling him. "When somebody is shot for real, then you don't just call," he said. "You send somebody." He grabbed the telephone, first calling the exchange organization before dialing the police in Missoula and then the hospital. They all told him the same thing: Diren was dead. But his father still refused to believe it and sent his son a message via WhatsApp telling him to get in touch ASAP.
News of Diren's death spread quickly and the family's small apartment was soon full of people. Family members, friends and neighbors gathered, some forced to stand on the street outside. Diren's mother sat in the bedroom wailing in grief.
Everybody liked Diren, his oldest sister Basak says. "We were already preparing for his return on June 12. We wanted to welcome him back at the airport with friends and signs." She says her brother had so many plans: to get his driver's license and learn how to ride a motorcycle -- and he wanted to go to Spain for a year after finishing school to improve his Spanish.
Bringing Home His Son
She had talked to him on the phone just a few hours before his death and he had told her about the party he wanted to go to that evening and that there would be a big camp fire. "Life in America is so wonderful," he told her.
Then Basak asks the question that nobody has an answer for: "How can you shoot someone just because he comes into your garage?"
Shortly afterwards, Celal D. traveled to America for the first time in his life to bring his dead son home. He wore black: trousers, sport coat, Nikes and mirrored Ray-Bans. If it had been up to him, he says, his son would never have gone to America. For him, America stands for violence and crime -- but when he arrived in Missoula, Diren's father was overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape and of the sky. Missoula, he says, is like Blankenese, a wealthy section of Hamburg, with its nice homes surrounded by well-kept yards. But exactly that is the problem, he says. You get careless. "You feel totally secure and then something happens."
In Missoula, he met with his son's friends, with the local imam and with the undertaker. Diren's host family invited him to their home. They had treated his son like their own, driving him to soccer practice and taking him shopping. "But they didn't do the most important thing," Diren's father says. "They didn't tell him that there is a law in this country that allows you to shoot someone when they are just messing around."
Montana has some of the most liberal weapons laws in the country. Any US citizen who is over the age of 18 and has been living in Montana for at least six months can get a permit from the sheriff for the purchase of a weapon. There are even firearm safety courses for seventh graders held at Big Sky High School.
Since 2009, an additional far-reaching law has been in effect. It is modelled after the "Castle Doctrine," which allows you to shoot intruders on your property should you feel threatened. "The doctrine says that a person's home is their castle," says Gary Marbut, President of the Montana Shooting Sports Association. But when is somebody threatened? That is often open to interpretation. A study from 2012 found that the number of killings has risen by 8 percent since the introduction of the Castle Doctrine. That is 600 additional deaths each year.
Searching for an Explanation
It is with some discomfort that Diren's American friends have now been reading the outraged reports on the killing coming from Germany, many of which have pointed to US weapons laws as a factor. Is Missoula a violent place? It has been a common accusation in the German press in recent days.
One reason is the fact that Markus Kaarma can hope for leniency from the court, or even for acquittal. Just a year and a half ago, a similar case wasn't even brought to court. Markus Kaarma's lawyer, Paul Ryan, has confirmed that his client will invoke the Castle Doctrine in his defense. But does the doctrine really apply, or was Markus Kaarma overeager to attract and kill an intruder? In other words, would Diren D. have been killed even in absence of the law?
But Diren's death also says something about Germany. His family hasn't just received support from the public, they have also been confronted with hostility. The Hamburg football club FC Teutonia 05, which many have confused with Diren's club due to the similarity of its name, had to turn off the comment function on its website after a multitude of xenophobic postings. Diren's friends, who have been collecting donations, have been told by passersby that "the Turk" deserved to be shot to death. What, after all, was he doing in that garage?
People in Montana are also searching for an explanation. Jay Bostrom, Diren's Spanish teacher and soccer coach on the Big Sky High School team says he isn't just furious with gunman Kaarma. He is also frustrated with an American society which limits the freedoms of young people. Teenagers, he says, hardly have the opportunity to live a normal life, to meet up and hang out, to party together and maybe to have the occasional drink. And, he says, nobody talks about a trend that has been present in American towns and suburbs for years: garage hopping.
As a rule, it involves going into neighbors' garages to steal beer out of refrigerators many Americans keep there for alcoholic beverages. And for underage adventure-seekers like Diren, it is often the only chance they have to access alcohol. Garage hopping is also something of a test of bravery. "Diren was a center back, on the playing field and in life," Bostrom says. "Of course he would take on a challenge like that."
'He Still Looks Great'
Diren's friends in Missoula said that even their parents had engaged in similar activities in their day. Diren didn't drink much, they said, but he was up for a beer every now and then. Particularly because, coming from a Muslim family, he wasn't allowed to drink at all back home in Hamburg.
Chance Maes was one of Diren's closest friends. He says that the Turkish-German exchange student was well-liked, but that he didn't totally understand America. And he didn't recognize that dangers inherent in a place where almost everyone possesses a weapon. "It's not something that he comprehended," Maes says. "It is culturally just so different."
When Diren's father visited his son's high school last Wednesday, he was received by his son's friends and acquaintances and by the entire soccer team. They were wearing their jerseys and they led him through the halls to their classroom. Before entering, Celal D. suddenly turned around. "Now that I have you all in one place, I want to tell you something," he said. "These games you play, they kill. The games are over now."
For a moment, it was silent. Did he really just say that? Were they all really partly to blame for Diren's death?
Soon after the shooting, bouquets of flowers began piling up in front of his host family's home. The parents, Randy Smith and Kate Walker, made sure that they had enough water. On their front lawn, someone had formed Diren's initials using empty Sprite bottles because he liked to drink Sprite so much. And they were eager to demonstrate that suspicions about Missoula being a violent place simply weren't true. "This is not who we are as a country, as a state, as a neighborhood," Smith says.
On Sunday, funeral services were held in Hamburg before Diren's body was flown to the Turkish city of Bodrum on the Mediterranean coast for burial. His parents own a house there where Diren spent his summers. It was his favorite place. His best friends accompanied him to his final resting place.
It wasn't easy for Diren's father to look at his son in Missoula one final time before he was washed and shrouded according to Muslim custom. A shotgun blast is difficult to ignore. And Celal D. had to swallow hard when his wife called him shortly afterwards and asked: "Will I still recognize him?"
He was silent for a moment. Then he said: "He still looks great."
Translated from the German by Charles Hawley
Ted Cruz Champions Nuremberg-Style Laws for Gays and Lesbians
By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Thursday, May, 8th, 2014, 6:54 am
Friday, President Robert B. Sloan Jr., of Houston Baptist University, said gays and lesbians were like arsonists or alcoholics. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who appeared with Sloan at “Faith in the Public Square,” and always in lockstep with religious extremists, asserted that Christians should not have to do business with gay people.
Everyone has to reconcile their own faith with how they interact with others, and that’s a choice you’ve got to make based on your understanding of biblical teachings and based on the best understanding you can come to it.
I’m very much a believer that the scripture teaches that you hate the sin and love the sinner, and so, you know, from my perspective I am perfectly willing to interact with anybody. Look, I work in the U.S. Congress. But at the same time, I don’t think the law should be forcing Americans to violate their religious faith.
Never mind that Cruz himself has already violated the religious faith of Americans with his anti-gay marriage bill, the State Marriage Defense Act of 2014, introduced in February. As one denomination has pointed out, banning gay marriages violates their religious freedom to perform such marriages.
If all this seems eerily and disturbingly familiar, it should. It was the Nazis who said, “Don’t Buy from Jews!” (Kauf nicht bei Juden!). The Religious Right is saying, “Don’t Sell to Gays!” But we’ll get to that later.
From here, Cruz launched into the popular Christians are being forced to pay for contraceptives meme:
The Obama administration is litigating against the Little Sisters of the Poor, trying to force them, trying to extract millions of dollars of fines to force them to pay for contraceptives and abortion-providing drugs for others.
Now, these Catholic nuns don’t want to do so, and the idea that the federal government would be going after Catholic nuns, trying to force them to violate their religious faith, really demonstrates how utterly unmoored we have come from the constitutional liberties this country was founded on.
Liberties which, apparently, require non-Christians to listen to Christian prayers at council meetings. Liberties which, apparently, give employers the right to make healthcare decisions for their employees, decisions which amount to a claim of ownership over those employees – slavery, in other words. Yes, that’s religious liberty.
The thing is, even though slavery is legal in the Bible (Old and New Testament), it is not according to the Thirteenth Amendment, and the U.S. Constitution, not the Bible, is – so far anyway – the law of the land. Your employer can no more own your soul or your mind than your body. But Hobby Lobby is arguing that it can. And the Republican Party, Ted Cruz not least among them, agrees.
Of course, the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, are not paying for anything. They are incorporated. The corporation pays for the contraceptives. But the Supreme Court has already ruled that corporations are people and therefore have the same free speech rights as the rest of us. It does not seem much of a stretch given recent SCOTUS decisions, that corporations will be found to have freedom of religion as well.
Which means, by extension, a diminution of those rights for individuals.
The ironic thing is that free birth control leads directly to lower abortion rates. For a group that wants to do away with abortion to be so myopic in the name of ideology is truly staggering. And for doing something that will directly reduce abortion (as opposed to say, oh, the utter futility of abstinence education) President Obama is called the “abortion president.”
It really isn’t contraceptives or even abortion that these patriarchal fascists are concerned with, however, but with control. Control over women and their sexuality.
All of this is absurd, of course. What if a business owner suddenly decided he did not believe in the germ theory of medicine. Will his employees be forced to forgo all prescription medications? To have exorcisms instead for the little demons making him sick?
This is not a slippery slope, as has been suggested. It is a precipice, off which we may well be pushed by the Supreme Court when it makes its decision in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius come the end of June.
What Republicans want, in essence, as shown by the so-called “religious liberty” laws in Kansas and Arizona and elsewhere, but also by Sloan’s and Cruz’s speeches, are their very own Nuremberg Laws, which in 1935 essentially banned Jews from German civic life, much as the fifth century Theodosian Code banned Pagans from Roman civic life. Bryan Fischer is far from alone in insisting that “sexually immoral behavior” be against the law, and that such laws are justified.
In fact, a German propaganda tract from 1935, “Our Battle Against Judah,” sounds very much like Republican rhetoric about gays and gay-rights supporters:
There are two causes for the fact that the Jewish element is increasingly showing itself in public nearly everywhere. First, as already noted, the increasing activity of the Jewish element is undoubtedly the result of the patience the National Socialist state has shown to this foreign body amidst the German people. Second, one must also, unfortunately, conclude that the behavior of many people’s comrades had enabled or encouraged the Jews. True, the National Socialist state, its lawgivers, and the relevant offices have the task of keeping the Jews in their appropriate place through the appropriate measures, and they will fulfill this task, in as far as it is within their power. Such measures have already been taken in a variety of areas. One need only be reminded of the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, the Aryan Paragraph in the Wehrmacht and in sports, and the cleansing of the state, film, press, etc.
Justice substitute “gay” for “Jew” and “American” for “German.” How often have we seen Religious Right leaders and Republican politicians call for a “cleansing” of America? How often have you seen “gay sympathizers” blamed for the emboldening gays and lesbians to demand equal rights? Rafael Cruz, Ted Cruz’s father, a Cuban who asserts the U.S. is a Christian nation, has said that marriage equality is a government conspiracy, which reminds one of all the Nazi talk of Jewish conspiracies. No one has loved conspiracies more than Nazis – except for our current crop of Republicans.
In February, Cruz said,
They just want to use brute power to force the states to take down marriage laws that have been in place for centuries and that’s inconsistent with the Constitution, it’s not right and it’s heartbreaking.
He says marriage equality is inconsistent with the Constitution, but the Constitution does not mention marriage equality (or, for that matter, the Bible or Christianity or the Ten Commandments). Yet he says that that theocracy, which the Constitution DOES forbid, isn’t inconsistent with the Constitution.
To understand the absurdity – and danger – of the Republican position, think about their case put in reverse: non-Christians refusing to do business with Christians. Suddenly it is Christians who are second class citizens. Imagine storefronts: No Christians need apply. What if New Ages shops automatically directed anyone wearing a cross out the door? Or Muslim butchers or Jewish? Or atheist? What came out of Religious Right mouths then would be quite different than what we are hearing now.
That is because this is not about religious liberty at all, but quite the opposite. This is about theocracy. This is about bending the American people to their will and forcing their own distorted and demonstrably anti-biblical and anti-constitutional views on 300 million Americans.
Disgusted Democrat Slams Republicans for Running the House Like a Political Circus
By: Sarah Jones
Wednesday, May, 7th, 2014, 7:17 pm
What a day. It started with Republican water carrier Chuck Todd calling the Republican IRS witch hunt what it is on MSNBC: A partisan stunt. So things aren’t going as planned for Republicans.
And then, as Republicans geared up to pass a resolution calling for a Special Counsel to investigate the IRS — because there’s never too many ways to waste taxpayer money for “small government” Republicans when it comes to their campaign sound bites — a disgusted and fed up Sandy Levin (Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-MI)) called them out on turning the House into a circus.
Rep. Levin (who’s been ON FIRE lately) started off his floor statement by calling out that Republicans were turning the Institution into a political arm of the GOP.
“This Institution must not be turned into an arm of either political party. That’s what House Republicans are doing here. It’s been a year since multiple committee investigations began into the IRS handling of 501 c 4 organizations – and Republicans are no closer to finding evidence to back up their baseless allegations of a ‘White House enemies list’ or a ‘White House culture of cover-up,’ as Republicans said on Day 1.”
In February, it was determined that the Republicans’ IRS witch hunt had already cost taxpayers at least $14 million. In early May, Speaker John Boehner also announced that he was appointing a select committee to investigate Benghazi, so that’s more money being wasted trying to drum up some Republican campaign ad sound bites. Meanwhile, Republicans have already been busted trying to use their fake, ginned up IRS scandal in order to protect their dark money sources like Karl Rove’s Crosssroads.
Levin laid it out:
· More than 250 employees at the IRS have worked more than 100,000 hours and sent nearly 700,000 pages of documents to Ways and Means in response to Republican requests.
· More than 60 interviews have been conducted.
· $14 million in taxpayer money has been spent by the IRS responding to the Congressional Investigations.
“And here is what we know:
· Documents show that the IRS used inappropriate criteria to treat progressive groups as they did for Conservative Groups.
· There was never any evidence of White House involvement. Nada.
· There was never any evidence of political motivation. In fact, before the flawed audit was published last May, the IG’s head of investigations reviewed 5,500 pages of documents and determined that there was ‘no indication that pulling these selected applications was politically motivated.’ Instead, the head of investigations said the cases were consolidated due to ‘unclear processing directions.’
“So the Republicans say they want an independent investigation – but they really want to do is to interrupt the investigation going on and pre-empt it with their own political theatre.
And finally…. Levin slammed Republicans for running the House like a political circus, “This is the House of Representatives, not a political circus.”
This was no doubt a deliberate slam against Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) who swore that this investigation would not be a circus, in the middle of his impeachment wind up games, “This is all about getting to the truth. This is not going to be a sideshow. This is not going to be a circus. This is a serious investigation. Our system of government depends on transparency and accountability.”
That’s accountability for Obama, but none for House Republicans, in case anyone is keeping track. The media isn’t too interested in how House Republicans are abusing their power, wasting taxpayer money, working less days and achieving record lows, while failing to legislate in order to do what Republicans do when they lose power – go McCarthy.
The IRS doesn’t need this crap, especially not for doing their jobs, and especially after Republicans defunded them to the extent that they can barely function. The IRS needs funding, not phony partisan witch hunts. Republicans need to pack up their desperate circus act and take it on the road with their tent revival meetings, where it belongs.
The House is supposed to be a place of legislating the people’s business, not conducting investigations for the sole purpose of providing easily cherry picked sound bites for Republican 2014 campaigns. Republicans lost Chuck Todd, and that should be Clue Number 1 that it’s time to give up on their fake IRS scandal fantasies.
John Boehner Joins The Impeachment Crowd By Claiming Obama is Lying About Benghazi and the IRS
By: Jason Easley
Wednesday, May, 7th, 2014, 2:03 pm
At a press conference that supposedly about jobs, Speaker of the House John Boehner joined the impeachment Obama crowd by claiming that Obama is lying about Benghazi, Fast and Furious, and the IRS.
Boehner first promised that the Republican Benghazi investigation would not be a circus, “This is all about getting to the truth. This is not going to be a sideshow. This is not going to be a circus. This is a serious investigation. Our system of government depends on transparency and accountability.”
Later he turned around and claimed that President Obama is lying about everything, “Who’s been fired over the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS? No one that I’m aware of. Who’s gone to jail for violating the law? When is the administration going to tell the American people the truth? They’ve not told the truth about Benghazi. They’ve not told the truth about the IRS. They’ve not told the truth about Fast and Furious. Now, only one would have to guess. If they’re not willing to tell the American people the truth, it must not be pretty.”
So much for House Republicans holding a fair and open minded investigation that is interested in the truth. The point of these “investigations” is to drum up a case for impeachment. If Republicans can smear the Obama administration with a scandal, they think they can derail Hillary Clinton’s run in 2016. Boehner threatened the president with impeachment in January over his use of executive orders.
Speaker Boehner has already determined that the Obama administration is lying and breaking the law without an investigation. If Republicans can trump up something that they can call an impeachable offense, don’t expect John Boehner to be stand in the way, and be the voice of reason. Boehner sounds just like Rep. Darrell Issa now, and the Benghazi impeachment circus is getting ready to come to town.
206 House Republicans Scramble for 7 Spots on Benghazi Committee
By: Keith Brekhus
Wednesday, May, 7th, 2014, 10:11 pm
Nearly 90 percent of the House Republican caucus members want a spot on the House Benghazi select committee. Congressman Lynn Westmoreland reportedly told journalist David Drucker that 206 of the House’s 233 Republican members have requested consideration for being placed on the select committee. The committee, once it is chosen, will consist of seven Republican and five Democratic members of Congress.
As Republican members of Congress pursue their mad dash to join Fox News in pursuing an unproductive partisan witch hunt that has been rehashed over and over for months, it becomes crystal clear that the GOP lacks a substantive legislative agenda.
Suddenly, the very same House Republicans who have not made any effort to pass significant legislation in months, are highly motivated to take part on a committee whose sole purpose is to try to score partisan political points by exploiting a terrorist attack that killed four Americans in Libya. Based on the numbers, it appears that nearly every House Republican is eager to jump on the Benghazi exploitation bandwagon.
While, in an election year, there is little doubt that reviving the Benghazi dead horse and beating it time and again may rally the hardcore GOP base, there is also little question that the investigation is not likely to lead to anything more substantial than the facts that have already been uncovered. Those facts, while not exactly flattering for U.S. officials, hardly reveal any pattern of criminal behavior, or any ethical breaches worthy of the effort being expended to habitually restate what we already know.
The fact that a majority of GOP Representatives can think of no better use of their time than to revisit a string of Benghazi conspiracy theories, yet one more time, is more an indictment on the House Republican caucus than it is a blemish for the Obama administration. While the Benghazi incident could certainly have been handled better by the White House and the State Department their conduct is not nearly as disturbing as the behavior of the GOP lawmakers who continue to try to exploit the four murders for cheap partisan political theater.
Republicans React to Climate Change Report With Denial and Hatred
Wednesday, May, 7th, 2014, 8:18 pm
Empiricism emphasizes evidence in the formation of ideas as discovered in experiments over the absurd notion of innate ideas or religious traditions. Empiricism is a fundamental part of the scientific method that all hypotheses and theories must be tested against observations of the natural world rather than resting solely on a priori reasoning, intuition, religious superstition, or revelations from god. Empiricism is the polar opposite of tradition, superstition, or something a person wants to believe is true, or is told is true by interests attempting to mitigate empirical data for profit, power, and control. Republicans, the dirty energy industry, and evangelical Christians detest empiricism like it was Satan or bubonic plague because it eviscerates their strongly held “beliefs” whether they are borne of religion, economic fallacy, or greed. It is why Republicans, evangelical extremists, and dirty energy hates science and spends an inordinate amount of time and money portraying science and scientific research as inherently evil.
One area religious sycophants, the dirty energy industry, and Republicans are in complete agreement and denial over is global climate change, and why America as a global leader in science and technology should continue discouraging clean and renewable energy sources and oppose actions to reduce emissions responsible for climate change. When the White House released a regularly-scheduled scientific report awash in empirical data that climate change is a real and present man-made danger, it was little surprise that the Republican and Koch brothers’ media outlet Fox News disparaged the report as a distraction from Fox and Republicans’ debunked Benghazi distraction. It is not the first, or the last, time Fox dutifully dismissed climate change as part of its contractual commitment to perpetuate whatever GOP and Koch lies will scam their audience. One thing is clear though; they may have difficulty convincing some Americans who experienced the very real consequences of climate change that the scientific report detailed and warned will get much, much worse is a hoax.
What the White House report revealed that other scientific research only predicted was the effects all Americans experienced from extreme weather events whether it is extreme droughts, extreme flooding, extreme rains, and intense heat devastating major areas of America. The report also detailed rising sea levels, melting glaciers and Arctic sea ice, and increased ocean acidity, but those Earth shattering effects are outside the cognitive abilities of the people most likely to claim global climate change is a hoax. What is not a hoax are the economic consequences Americans have already felt from extreme weather events like more powerful tornados and hurricanes, extreme heat, and devastating droughts that are predicted to drive food and drinking water costs out of reach of many Americans.
One of the purposes of The National Climate Assessment compiled by the US Global Change Research Program is revealing the economic as well as environmental threats to America now and in the future; White House special advisor John Podesta hoped the latest assessment would convince Republicans to take the climate change threat seriously. Podesta’s hope is altruistic, but he confuses Republicans with politicians that care about the economic, environmental, and health concerns of the people because Republicans will not change. Republicans are conservatives that are innately resistant to change; particularly when their evangelical voting bloc and dirty energy funding machine demands they continue thwarting efforts to reduce global climate change’s effects on Americans.
Obviously, the dirty energy industry could not care less about the effects of global climate change and in fact, go to extreme lengths to oppose measures to reduce carbon and methane emissions responsible for the warming oceans. At the behest of the Koch brothers and ALEC, House Republicans passed a bill that strictly forbade the Environmental Protection Agency from inspecting or regulating dirty energy polluters in the states. The Kochs have spent tens-of-millions of dollars, and ALEC has written hundreds of pieces of model legislation, to eliminate clean and renewable energy standards in the states and provided funding for ballot initiatives in California to eviscerate the state’s environmental protections and clean air standards. It is not that the Kochs, or any dirty energy interest, cannot afford to meet clean air standards, they just want unimpeded profits; destroying the climate and environment is a consequence they are happy to live with. For the religious right, reducing the effects of climate change has nothing to do with money and everything to do with god.
The religious right fully understands that man-made climate change is a serious threat to the economy, environment, and well-being of Americans; especially those in the bible-belt that have felt climate change’s full effects the scientific study reported were already happening. However, one faction is convinced that either god controls the climate and climate scientists are apostates to claim extreme weather is man-made, or that god will destroy the Earth on his own terms during end times just over the horizon. In fact in a study last May entitled “End-Times Theology, the Shadow of the Future, and Public Resistance to Addressing Global Climate Change,” researchers found that support for governmental action on climate change is woefully lacking because “believers in Christian end-times theology are unlikely to support policies designed to curb global warming than are other Americans.” The study’s authors provided empirical evidence that evangelical fanatics resist policies trading short-term costs for hypothetical long-term benefits because god is destroying the Earth shortly so why bother.
Overall, Americans are less inclined to care about global climate change than residents of the top 13 richest developed nations in the world according to a Pew Research Study finding the majority of Americans (60%) are skeptical that climate change is a dire issue or a threat to the nation. This is in spite of the effects of human-induced climate change being felt in every corner of America with severe droughts and water scarcity, torrential rains in wet regions, severe heat and longer summers becoming commonplace, increasingly worse wildfires, and entire forests dying from drought and heat loving insects. Only 40% of Americans think climate change is an issue worth addressing and it certainly is a result of the dirty energy industry, Republican, and religious right’s perpetual harping that climate change is an atheistic America-hating hoax perpetrated by godless scientists and socialists panting to destroy the dirty energy industry and by extension the United States of America.
According to the climate change report, empirical data proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” and there are no Americans who have not experienced, firsthand, the effects the research reported is already affecting the country economically and environmentally. It hardly matters whether it is evangelical freaks waiting for god to smite Earth, dirty energy sycophants demanding an end to environmental protections, or inherently stupid Americans unable to reconcile what they experience with empirical data proving climate change is the culprit, this country will do nothing to reduce climate change.
Despite the religious right or profit-driven dirty energy industry climate change deniers culpability in obstructing attempts to reduce the effects of climate change, it is Americans’ arrogance that because America is exceptional, it has no accountability or responsibility to reduce the damage this country is responsible for. If nothing else, the simple fact that the devastating report was issued from the White House with a Black man in residence will automatically incite the entire conservative movement to dismiss it out of hand and redouble their efforts to thwart any attempt to save this country from environmental devastation that man made and god cannot rectify.
Bill Nye Drops Climate Change Truth Bombs All Over CNN’s Crossfire Set
By: Becky Sarwate
Wednesday, May, 7th, 2014, 9:18 pm
In my opinion, it’s never a good day to be CNN Crossfire co-host and conservative commentator, S.E. Cupp. While she stops short of the unironic anti-feminist parody that is Ann Coulter, she does her own fair share of leveraging perceived sex appeal to promote a dangerous agenda. But in a certain way, Cupp outdoes Coulter in disingenuousness. I’m referring to the moderator’s tendency to offer opinion polls as “evidence” of a liberal guest’s misinformation on a given issue.
This week was a particularly challenging one for the hapless Cupp. And frankly she got what she deserved – from a mild-mannered, brilliant scientist wearing a bow tie. It was sort of majestic, and definitely inspiring.
Cupp was quick and repetitive in demonstrating the annoying trait described above on Tuesday night’s broadcast devoted to the climate change debate. She opened the show by turning to beloved scientist, engineer and TV personality Bill Nye (“The Science Guy”) to ask:
“Even if what Van and the White House are saying [about the National Climate Assessment update] is all true, the scare tactics have not worked.”
And how do we know that the liberal tendency to engage scientific fact in order to promote revisions in environmental policy is a loser? Well, as Cupp said, “Only about 36 percent of Americans think global warming is a serious threat to our way of life.”
That is a neat trick of rhetorical acrobatics that has been appallingly effective for the GOP: promoting voter ignorance as an argument for party stupidity. It disrespects both the public and the political establishment simultaneously, yet the diehards eat it right up. One of the more confounding phenomena of our time.
Sadly, this is nothing new and many of us who enjoy critical thinking and the prospect of planetary continuity have become inured to the constant anxiety, depression and helplessness. We are used to the dread that accompanies awareness. We understand that the human race is careening toward a ditch in a car driven by global Big Business and its government lackeys, but we can’t get half of our fellow citizens to acknowledge we’re even moving. Simple science.
Thankfully Bill Nye is in possession of the type of feistiness that liberals (and yes, I acknowledge grief that environmental common sense has become partisan) are going to need in order to have a prayer of saving humanity. The discursive blows were delivered fast and furious to an outmatched Cupp and her cohort, Nick Loris of the Heritage Foundation (who might as well have stayed home). In only his second full sentence of the broadcast, Nye demolished Cupp’s smug misuse of statistics by asking, “So, how do you want to get public consensus, by saying that it’s not happening, that it’s not serious, that shorelines aren’t flooding?”
This was only the beginning of one of the most entertaining installments of the rebooted opinion show to date. Check out this beautiful exchange roughly halfway through the show:
“Cupp: You can look at entitlement reform, which will bankrupt this country long before climate change destroys us.
Heart disease kills seven million a year worldwide. 870 million suffer from hunger. I want you to look me in the eye and tell me in good conscience that climate change is our most urgent, No. 1 priority right now.
Nye: Climate change is our most urgent No. 1 priority right now.
Cupp: That’s what I thought you would say.”
I was ready to invoke the slaughter rule but Nye wasn’t finished by a long shot. He even gave those of us who fervently seek to address climate change, post-talking stage, a polite but tough slogan: “I think the scientific community has been very patient.”
We can’t afford to play nice anymore. Nothing less than the planet and human existence are at stake. And the more people we have like Bill Nye committed to the cause – armed with facts, backbone and most importantly, ideas – the better our shot at survival.
Republicans Freak Out as Some In FEC Want Fox and Conservative Media Treated Like PACs
By: Jason Easley
Wednesday, May, 7th, 2014, 3:33 pm
Republican FEC Chairman Lee Goodman is sparking a right wing freak out by claiming that some in the FEC want to treat conservative media such as Drudge and Fox News like political action committees.
In a piece that’s dripping with paranoia and hysteria, Goodman told the Washington Examiner:
I think that there are impulses in the government every day to second guess and look into the editorial decisions of conservative publishers.
The right has begun to break the left’s media monopoly, particularly through new media outlets like the internet, and I sense that some on the left are starting to rethink the breadth of the media exemption and internet communications.
The picking and choosing has started to occur. There are some in this building that think we can actually regulate, then I am concerned about disparate treatment of conservative media.
The truth that Goodman doesn’t want to face is that conservatives already control the media. Newscasts are now corporate owned and monetized for profit. The top cable news network is Republican mouthpiece Fox News. The Sunday morning shows are all heavily biased towards Republicans. Talk radio is dominated by conservatives. The only media where liberal have an advantage is the Internet.
Conservative media is mainly funded by the same people and corporations that fund the Republican Party. Conservative media should be treated as PACs because they are involved in daily partisan political activity. In contrast, PoliticusUSA does not accept any funding from any individual or organization, nor do we donate to/endorse any candidates.
The FEC is composed of six commissioners, who are appointed by the president. By law, no more than three commissioners can come from the same political party. At least, 4 votes are required for passage, but the commission is split between three Republicans and three Democrats, so there is a lot of deadlock.
What conservatives are most terrified of is the return of the Fairness Doctrine. Short of the FCC restoring the Fairness Doctrine, conservatives fear that the facade will be blown off of their propaganda machine, and they get treated like the political operatives that they are.
Fox News, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh aren’t news outlets. They are partisan talking point factories that are overtly involved in political activity. It’s simple. Any media outlet on the left or right that takes money to promote a political agenda, endorses candidates, raises money for/donates to candidates should be treated as a PAC.
If they are ever forced to report facts, it will be the end of conservative media. Conservative media is slowly dying of old age, but the end could come much sooner if their propaganda machines were held accountable.
Pig Putin SNORTS 'All-Conquering' Russian Patriotism at Victory Parade
by Naharnet Newsdesk
09 May 2014, 10:41
Thousands of Russian troops marched through Red Square on Friday as Moscow put on a powerful show of patriotism and military might following its annexation of Crimea.
As Ukraine's crisis rumbled on with pro-Moscow rebels pushing ahead with independence votes, President Pig V. Putin snorted praise on the Russian patriotism and loyalty to the state.
"This is a holiday when all-conquering patriotic force triumphs, when we all feel especially strongly what it means to be true to the Motherland and how important it is to be able to stand up for its interests," Pig snorted to the massed troops to shouts of "Hurrah! Hurrah!"
Russia's annual parade celebrating victory over the Nazis held special resonance this year amid the crisis in Ukraine, which has seen Russia annex Crimea and fighting in pro-Moscow areas in the east where separatists are threatening to break away.
Similar Victory Day celebrations were planned for later Friday in Sevastopol, with Russian media reporting that Pig could make a triumphant appearance at the Crimean port.
As dozens of helicopters and planes soared in the bright blue sky over Moscow, thousands of troops marched alongside tanks, mobile missile systems and armoured vehicles to the sound of a brass band.
In contrast to the display of military hardware on Red Square, Ukraine planned muted Victory Day celebrations in a bid to avoid violence.
The head of Kiev's city council banned large-scale public gatherings or parades in the capital, fearing that the veterans could be attacked by "Russian provocateurs".
Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said he fears recent softer snorts from Pig are a prelude to provocation.
"I am concerned about Pig Putin's snort. It caused a bad feeling. They say one thing and do another. After this statement, I asked law enforcement officers to strengthen security measures on May 9," Yatsenyuk told Ukrainian television.
On Wednesday, the Kremlin strongman stunned the world with an abrupt U-turn on Ukraine, calling on pro-Russian separatists in the east to delay independence referendums planned for this weekend and welcoming a May 25 presidential election.
But the rebels holed up in more than a dozen towns and cities in eastern Ukraine defied his plea and vowed to press ahead with referendums this Sunday that are bound to stoke tensions.
If Pig does head to Sevastopol, it will be his first visit to Crimea since the Black Sea peninsula was annexed by Moscow in March.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday warned Pig against making the visit, saying it would be a "pity" if he went to the region.
The crisis in Ukraine, which kicked off after the ouster of the country's pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovych in February, has sunk Russia's relations with the West to their lowest point since the Cold War.
The United States and European Union have imposed a series of sanctions on Pig and his inner circle and EU ministers are to meet on Monday to consider further measures.
Fears of war on Europe's doorstep have been fired by fighting pitting Ukrainian troops against pro-Moscow gunmen in the east of the country, mainly around the town of Slavyansk.
Ukraine has lost 14 troops and three helicopter gunships with 66 servicemen injured in assaults on the rebels. The fighting has also claimed the lives of more than 30 insurgents.
Clashes that resulted in a horrific inferno in the southern port city of Odessa last week claimed another 42 lives, most of them pro-Russian activists, pushing the death toll over the past week to nearly 90.
The violence has prompted many Western politicians to warn that the country of 46 million people is slipping towards a civil war that would imperil peace in Europe.
The Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany has long been a source of great pride throughout the ex-USSR, which lost some 30 million citizens during World War II.
But this year's celebrations have exposed the deep divisions between Russia and Ukraine.
Ahead of the events, Kiev has cast Russia as an aggressor bent on sowing chaos in Ukraine, while the Kremlin has accused its neighbor’s pro-Western authorities of siding with "fascists" and ultra-right groups.
Fueling tensions is the hugely controversial legacy of the nationalist movement in western Ukraine, which was occupied by the Soviet Union and whose Ukrainian Insurgent Army collaborated with Nazi Germany.
Animosity between the two Slavic nations has reached such levels that Ukraine decided to drop the black-and-orange Saint George ribbon, which Russians cherish as a symbol of Victory Day, instead adopting the red poppy as its symbol of remembrance.
In Odessa, Home-Grown Combatants Keep Pro-Russia Forces in Check
By ANDREW E. KRAMER
MAY 8, 2014
ODESSA, Ukraine — In a basement headquarters behind a home electronics store, Ruslan Forostyak pored over a map of the city’s defenses against pro-Russian militants: roadblocks, zones of responsibility, strategic sites to defend.
But Mr. Forostyak is no police chief or general. He is a marine radio salesman, only recently turned leader of Odessa’s loose organization of pro-Ukrainian street fighters who see their role as defending their city against pro-Russian activists.
While a call by the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, to delay a referendum on sovereignty may have lowered passions for the moment, neither Mr. Forostyak nor his group, the Council for Civil Security, is taking any chances. Their rivals have a permit to stage a march Friday for Victory Day, the annual celebration of the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany, and the council’s 3,000 members have vowed to head off any trouble through their 12 roadblocks, telephone hotline and militant wing armed with legally registered hunting rifles.
That would be in keeping with what they have done ever since pro-Russian militants began overrunning public buildings throughout southeastern Ukraine, an area that has far greater historical and cultural ties to Russia than does Odessa. While militants had no trouble seizing control in those cities, Odessa has been a different story.
“We did what the government should have done,” said Mr. Forostyak, still in his salesman’s synthetic suit, sweating and working two constantly ringing cellphones. “We understood we had to organize ourselves. The police are barely observing neutrality. They are barely holding back from helping the Russian side.”
Though the city is predominantly Russian speaking, a fierce grass-roots anti-Russian movement now has de facto control of the streets, owing to careful organization over the past two months. Pro-Russian activists, who tried to mimic their counterparts in the southeast, were routed by pro-Ukrainians last Friday, with 46 people — most of them pro-Russian — dying in a horrific fire.
Odessa, a Black Sea port city of colonnaded facades, cobblestone streets and an elegant old opera house, founded by the Russian empress Catherine the Great in the 18th century, is a multiethnic port inhabited by Ukrainians, Russians, Bulgarians, Greeks, Romanians, Tatars and Jews where Russian is the lingua franca.
Both sides in the recent fighting were Russian speaking, divided not by language but politics, some supporting the interim government, others secession. Local political observers say supporters of the interim government outnumber pro-Russians, though most of the population lies in a passive neutral group in the middle.
As pro-Russian groups tried to spread their movement west and south, the street fighting here defined a geographic limit; further advances into areas of mixed loyalty are likely only to become more chaotic and bloody.
This seems to be true even though much of the administration and police leadership in Odessa was staffed by appointees of the former government of Viktor F. Yanukovych and leaned toward the pro-Russian movement, led here by two brothers, Anton and Artyom Davydchenko. Anton is now in prison and Artyom was wounded in the fighting Friday.
With popular support but little police backup, pro-Ukrainian civilian groups confronted the pro-Russian activists storming government buildings and protesting on Kulikovo Square in central Odessa.
Mr. Forostyak said the model of the Council for Civil Security was an anthill. Each volunteer specializes in one task, aiding the overall effort. The headquarters seethed with activity this week, ahead of Victory Day.
For those taking part in it, the street fighting between neighbors has become intensely personal, a civil war in the purest sense. Men never know when an opponent met unexpectedly in the city will just walk past, or open fire.
Vitaly Kozhukhar, a leader of a pro-Ukrainian group called Maidan Self-Defense, which operates under the umbrella of the security council, cut through one such tense situation with a joke. On Friday, he hobbled into a hospital after being struck on the shin by a hurled cobblestone, only to find three of his injured opponents — two policemen and a pro-Russian activist — also awaiting a doctor.
The four sat silently for a while. “It was very tense,” Mr. Kozhukhar said. “It wasn’t clear what would happen. So I told them, ‘Guys, don’t worry, hospitals and graveyards make equals of us all.’ ”
The pro-Russian man chuckled, but pulled off his red armband and stuffed it into his pocket.
Mr. Kozhukhar said he and other leaders of the self-defense groups on both sides spoke often in recent months, meeting in cafes or talking on cellphones in an effort to avoid clashes, until Friday. It remains unclear, he said, why this unofficial truce broke down Friday.
Whatever the reason, it was the bloodiest street fighting in Ukraine since the overthrow of the government in February, and the deadliest locally since five days of fighting between Reds and Whites and supporters of Ukrainian independence in 1918, which killed 118 people.
The speaker of Russia’s Parliament, Sergei Naryshkin, has called the fire a genocide, Interfax reported. “We are dealing with a real genocide, a genocide of Russian and Ukrainian people in the 21st century,” he said.
The leaders of the pro-Ukrainian groups say that they tried to save those trapped by the fire by putting scaffolding on the side of the building to help them climb out. Pro-Russian groups say people who tried to jump or run from the building were beaten.
In another illustration of the nature of the conflict in this city, in Hospital No. 1, two young men lay in adjacent rooms. Both were ethnic Ukrainian but Russian speaking.
Valentin Volchok, 18, lay on his side, trying to ease the pain from the lacerations on his back where nails from an improvised hand grenade had struck him. He said he belonged to Patriots of Ukraine, a Ukrainian nationalist group. Down the hall, Yevgeny Makarenko, 30, a pro-Russian activist, lay stiffly on his back, his left cheek and both hands blackened with burns, and slathered in a yellow cream to prevent infections.
Mr. Makarenko was barely communicative, and it was unclear whether Mr. Volchok was healing so much as nursing a grudge.
“We feel that we are a majority here, and they should fear us,” he said of his opponents. But he said he was not angry at Mr. Makarenko in the next room. “We’re all people and all need the hospital when we’re hurt,” he said.
Ukraine: siege mentality pushes south-eastern region to precipice of civil war
In the town of Konstaninovka, an uneasy atmosphere of threats and violence is building ahead of a vote on independence
Shaun Walker in Konstantinovka
The Guardian, Thursday 8 May 2014 20.42 BST
Sergei Chertkov leafs through a stack of documents with a heavy sigh. In the regional administration building in Konstantinovka paper has replaced emails in recent days; the computers have been stored in a safe place so that they cannot be looted if the building is seized by armed rebels.
The mayor fled the town (officially on "sick leave") after the town hall was seized by the fighters of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic a week ago, while Chertkov and his regional administration are still standing, for now. But the situation in Konstantinovka is a microcosm of what has happened across south-east Ukraine in recent weeks.
After a week in which dozens of people died in clashes between the separatists and the Ukrainian army, the region is standing at the precipice of full-blown civil war. On Thursday the separatists insisted they would go ahead with a referendum on independence planned for Sunday, despite Russian president Vladimir Putin's surprise call to postpone it.
Konstantinovka, a town of about 75,000 people 40 miles away from the regional centre of Donetsk, has, like most towns in the area, been engulfed by the uprising that swept the region following the February revolution in Kiev, which led to President Viktor Yanukovych fleeing Ukraine and the formation of an interim government that Moscow has labelled as "neo-fascist".
The town hall was seized 10 days ago and is now surrounded by several barricades and occupied by a motley assortment of Kalashnikov-wielding rebels. The police have melted away; some of them have even joined the opposition. Roadblocks have been set up around the town, a siege mentality has taken hold, and dissident voices have either been violently silenced or melted away in fear. "A month ago, nobody could ever have imagined this would happen," says Chertkov, shaking his head in disbelief.
There are real issues that worry the local population. The interim government blundered when it repealed a Yanukovych-era language law that gave Russian special status in certain regions, and even though the move was soon rescinded the damage had been done. The horrific deaths in Odessa last week of more than 40 pro-Russian protesters, in a fire that came after violent clashes with pro-Ukrainians, have been portrayed as a fascist massacre by Russian television, and used to enhance grievances in the region.
But the economic situation has also provided fertile ground for fear and discontent. Unlike many of the coal-mining towns elsewhere in the Donbas region, Konstantinovka has always been known for its glass production. At their peak, during the Soviet period, the town's three glass factories employed more than 15,000 people between them. They produced the red stars that stand atop the Kremlin towers in Moscow, and the glass for Vladimir Lenin's sarcophagus, housed in his Red Square mausoleum. In the late 1980s the factories produced over 150m glass bottles a year, to package sweet Crimean imitation champagne and send them far and wide to celebrate birthdays and weddings across the Soviet Union.
But the party is long over. Now, the factories lie in ruins around the outskirts of town. Just a few workshops are still operational, employing a mere 600 people. Even the centre of town is decaying. The asphalt on the roads is cracked, and huge weeds sprout across the pavements. The stone models of a bright yellow camel and of Snow White and the seven dwarfs in the central park look somewhat sinister, surrounded by knee-high grass that has not been cut for months. Remove the people and it might be Pripyat, the Ukrainian city that was evacuated in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster and is now a ghost town.
Unemployment is high, and on a weekday morning many people are drinking. A lot of the town's menfolk have gone to Russia to make money. "For 23 years we have been living on what we got from the Soviet Union," says Chertkov, who like most politicians in the region is a member of Yanukovych's Party of Regions. "Nothing new has been built, nothing has been modernised. Many people are upset and angry with their fate."
Alexander Melanchenko, a doctor and previously a pro-Ukrainian member of the local parliament, who has left the town, says that local officials themselves started the panic in the town back in December, when the Maidan protests started in Kiev. "They started whipping up fear about Ukrainian nationalists and fascists coming from western Ukraine, in order to solidify their own support base; they had no idea that the whole thing would be seized on by the Russians and blown out of all proportion. Now they too are scared. They don't want to lose all the money they have amassed."
"This is a region of workers, a region where people traditionally think in a collectivist way, and it is very easy for myths to take hold here," says Yuri Temirov, a history professor at Donetsk National University. "The Party of Regions started to create tension starting from the end of last year, telling all these scary tales of fascists. This set the tone, and everything was seized by a well-organised campaign bigger than anyone could have imagined."
On Thursday, outside the local administration building, some of the fighters are dressed in camouflage while others wear hoodies and balaclavas. All carry guns – a mixture of pistols and Kalashnikovs.
Konstantinovka A pro-Russian separatist stands guard outside the town hall. Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images
"You are a lying fascist supporter," one of the men tells a reporter, delivering a recurrent message in an unusually polite way. "We only give information to Russia Today and perhaps the Chinese. We know who you are and who you work for."
Eventually a group of fighters agree to speak, though they do not give their names. They insist that everyone inside the building is local, and say nobody has come from Russia. Their commander, they say, is a local lathe operator, who in turn takes his orders from the headquarters of the Donetsk People's Republic. They refuse to say where they got their weapons, but sources in the town said they were seized from, or donated by, the local police force.
"The referendum will go ahead whatever, and we can never again live with Ukraine," says one. "We lost too many friends in the fighting in Slavyansk for us to go back to where we were before."
The barricades around the occupied town hall are adorned with signs decrying the lying western media and politicians. The men do not allow entry into the building, but it is possibly a smaller version of the rebellion's headquarters in Donetsk, housed in an 11-storey building which has everything from a press service to a cell where a number of hostages are believed to be detained. In Donetsk, the walls in the stairwell are plastered with similarly sinister messages. Some depict the Ukrainian interim government as prostitutes or Nazis, while others display the photographs of pro-Ukrainian activists in the city, giving their social network pages and often phone numbers or addresses.
Conversations between fighters outside the headquarters in Konstantinovka also suggest a situation of vigilante justice in the region, as the police have effectively ceased to function. "Brought a junkie in last night, and put him down on his knees. He shouldn't give you any trouble now," one Kalashnikov-toting fighter said to another with a smile.
There has been little fighting in the town, although there was a gun battle when the Ukrainian army retook the local television tower, and many of the fighters spend their days at roadblocks, of which there are dozens in the town and on surrounding roads, fashioned out of stacked walls of tyres, sandbags, tree trunks and barbed wire.
Just who happens to be manning a road block at any given time is a matter of pure luck, and for drivers akin to playing Russian roulette. A checkpoint that one day is guarded by ex-soldiers who may carry automatic weapons but handle themselves politely and professionally can the next day be manned by wild-eyed youths in tracksuits, wielding baseball bats.
After nightfall, the checkpoints become dangerous as their guardians are gripped by intoxication and anxiety. Passing through Konstantinovka one evening earlier this week, US journalist Simon Shuster was stopped at a roadblock, and when one of the men on duty spotted a flak jacket in the boot, Shuster was pulled out of the car without a word, cracked on the skull with the butt of a pistol and kicked, before being driven off to a detention facility in another city covered in blood.
Damaged fuel tanker blocks road in Konstantinovka A damaged fuel tanker blocks a road in Konstantinovka. Photograph: Evgeniy Maloletka/AP
After those with authority among the separatists realised a journalist had been injured, Shuster was freed. Reassuringly, the man who had inflicted the damage was even tracked down and detained; less reassuringly, Shuster was invited to witness or participate in some kind of retribution against the rogue element. He declined to attend.
Since the unrest started there has been an uneasy atmosphere of threats and violence. A fortnight ago – even before the town hall was seized – the offices of the local newspaper Provintsia were attacked at night with molotov cocktails. The next week the journalists still managed to put the paper out, but the entire print run was seized by armed separatists. Their crime was to print articles sceptical about the Donetsk People's Republic; the newspaper was denounced as pro-fascist.
Two members of Svoboda, which is indeed a far-right Ukrainian movement, were kidnapped from their homes in Konstaninovka more than a week ago by armed men who smashed down the doors to their homes, beat them, threw them into the boots of cars and drove off. Nothing has been heard from them since, though it is believed that they are being kept in the seized security services building in Slavyansk. "They were members of Svoboda, but they did not lead an active political life or threaten anyone in any way," says Melanchenko. There is a witch-hunt for the few independent journalists and activists, say several people who have fled the town – they hope only temporarily – and who did not want to be named. Given the distinct lack of any actual fascists descending on Konstantinovka, a fifth column within the town had to be found. Receiving the message loud and clear, everybody else with doubts decided to keep quiet.
"Many people in Konstantinovka are horrified with what is happening, but they are scared to speak out. Because a few people are shouting loudly, you can get a false impression that they are the majority," says Melanchenko.
Nevertheless, events in Odessa, Ukrainian military operations and the designation of the separatists as "terrorists" have all brought more and more people over to the side of those fighting. On Thursday a steady stream of locals brought donations of food to the occupied town hall; an elderly lady gave what she said was her last 10 hrivnya (50p) to the cause.
The rhetoric on both sides has become disturbingly uncompromising, with the dehumanisation and humiliation of the enemy that usually precedes civil wars. Both Russian and Ukrainian media report outrageous rumours about the other side as fact. Among ordinary people Ukrainians are routinely described as fascists, while Ukrainians insist that there is no civil war, only a Russian-sponsored terrorist movement – ignoring the depth of feeling among large swaths of the population who support the armed opposition.
Ukrainian social media have started calling the pro-Russian protesters koloradiki, referring to the orange and black stripes of the colorado beetle, the same colours as Russians wear to commemorate the second world war victory, which have become a symbol of the uprising.
And while the pro-Russians have taken hostages in the most disturbing fashion, the behaviour of pro-Ukraine forces is exacerbating the situation. On Tuesday, pro-Ukrainian forces detained Igor Kakidzyanov, the self-proclaimed "defence minister" of the Donetsk People's Republic. A day later, radical Ukrainian politician Oleg Liashko posted photographs on his blog of him personally interrogating Kakidzyanov, who had been stripped to his underwear and had his hands tied behind his back. Human Rights Watch castigated official Kiev for making no comment on what it called an "outrageous situation".
On Friday Ukraine will be on high alert as eastern Ukraine celebrates Victory Day, a commemoration of the losses suffered by the Soviet people during the war, which has been turned into something of a national rallying idea by Putin in Russia. In Donetsk region it has added piquancy this year, given the supposed fascist threat from Kiev.
In the village of Ilyicha, a former collective farm named after Vladimir Leninjust outside Konstantinovka, the local head, Irina Bondar, was organising an early celebratory lunch for local war veterans. One 93-year-old veteran, and more than a dozen "war children", sat at a long table laid with cold cuts and bottles of vodka, and were serendaded with wartime songs by local children dressed up in their smartest clothes.
On her way to her lunch, Bondar had encountered a tricky situation with the separatists – early on Thursday morning they decided to build yet another roadblock on the road that runs through her village. Bondar, a jovial matriarch who invariably embraces her interlocutors, hurried to the spot and told them she would have no such thing in the middle of her village.
"We are working people here, everyone works hard, you can't make it harder for them to get to work," she scolded them, and the rebels demurred immediately, moving their checkpoint and their weaponry elsewhere.
Nevertheless, Bondar, like most others in the village, sympathises with the so-called resistance movement. "They are good lads; they are our lads. They are normal people who want to defend us."
Despite Putin's comments, she says the referendum will take place in the village on Sunday. There will be no polling station, due to the threat of "provocations from Kiev", she says. Instead, urns will be carried from house to house. "I am for a united Ukraine, but what has been happening there recently is out of control. I think we would be better off with Russia."
After the singing and the vodka toasts a local nurse, who is the village representative of the opposition, tells the assembled veterans that the region again faces the threat of fascists, and again will win. Everyone stands, and sings rousing victory songs.
Some of the elderly are overjoyed at being the centre of attention, others seem overwhelmed.
Nadezhda Makarova was five years old when Russia began fighting Nazi Germany in 1941. Now almost blind, hardly able to walk, and with shaking hands, the 78-year-old sits through the performances with tears rolling down her cheeks.
"Will there be another war?" she asks repeatedly, every few minutes. "I am scared. On television it's war, war, war. Everyone is talking about war, and I am scared there will be another one. Let God stop it, please, nothing is worse than war."
With Putin's surprise call to postpone their referendum there was relief in the west that Ukraine might return from the brink. But many in the east feel there is now no way back, and it is possible that the anger stirred up here will be very hard to dampen again.
"We are on the brink of an uprising of poor against rich, of chaos, of a terrifying rebellion," says Chertkov, the regional administration head. "America, Russia, Europe, the politicians in Kiev, everyone has tried to play their games here, and they have played so hard that now we are on the brink of catastrophe."
Ukraine rebels defy Russia's call to delay secessionist referendum
Separatist leaders in Donetsk say vote to establish republic will go ahead, as Nato finds no proof of Russian troops' withdrawal
Harriet Salem in Slavyansk and Ian Traynor in Brussels
The Guardian, Thursday 8 May 2014 18.31 BST
Pro-Russian separatists occupying public buildings in eastern Ukraine have pledged to press ahead with a referendum on Sunday to establish their own "republic" despite Russia calling for the vote to be postponed.
"The referendum will happen on May 11," said the leader of the separatists' self-styled Donetsk People's Republic, Denis Pushilin. "The date of the referendum will not be postponed."
A separate secessionist referendum has been called for the neighbouring eastern region of Luhansk.
In Brussels, the EU denounced the plebiscite plans, while Nato said there was no evidence to support Vladimir Putin's announcement that up to 40,000 Russian troops had been withdrawn from Ukraine's eastern border.
The eastern rebel-held town of Slavyansk was in a state of confusion following Russia's apparent U-turn on the referendum. Putin has until now offered his tacit support to the Donetsk separatists and has repeatedly pledged to intervene to protect Russian speakers in Ukraine's east if they come under threat.
The rebel leaders were adamant on Thursday that the referendum would go ahead.
"If we don't have a referendum on the 11th then we will lose the trust of the people," a spokesperson said. "We face the choice: referendum or war, and we choose the peaceful way."
It remains unclear how the voting will take place since the rebels control only pockets of the regions. Militia fighters in Slavyansk, where gunfights with the Ukrainian army have become an almost nightly occurrence, reacted angrily to the news of Russia's postponement request. "He [Putin] is a coward," said Ruslan, a militia guard standing in front of the city's rebel headquarters.
About a dozen rebel fighters are thought to have died in clashes with the Ukrainian army over the last week in Slavyansk, as well as three civilians caught in crossfire.
While Putin's remarks on Wednesday appear to have brought an element of calm to a situation that seemed to be spiralling out of control, tensions were high ahead of Friday's Victory Day events, the annual Russian and post-Soviet festival marking Moscow's defeat of Nazi Germany. Given the rise in rival Russian and Ukrainian nationalism in recent weeks, the commemorations could spark ugly scenes.
Some local authorities have cancelled rallies, including in Kharkiv, which neighbours rebel-controlled regions. Three people were killed in the city centre during clashes between pro-Russia and pro-Ukraine protesters last month.
The Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, said Nato was treating Putin's new stance with caution. "The Nato assessment, in line with ours, is that we should approach President Putin's statement with great caution," Tusk said. "This is not yet the moment when we can announce with enthusiasm that the crisis is over. We both hope that perhaps Putin's words indicate some kind of a more optimistic scenario, but today it is too early for us to confirm that."
As Moscow said the Kiev government had assembled up to 15,000 troops on its eastern borders, Nato contested Kremlin statements about Russian troop withdrawals.
"Let me assure you that if we get visible evidence that they are actually pulling back their troops, I will be the very first to welcome it," said the Nato secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. "I have to repeat that while we have noticed the Russian statements that they have started to withdraw troops, so far we haven't seen any, any indications that they're pulling back."
The US deputy secretary of state, William Burns, said on Thursday that Russia was heading down a "dangerous and irresponsible path" over Ukraine and that Washington and its partners would steadily step up pressure on Moscow until it changed course.
After talks with Kazakh president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, in Astana, Burns said the situation in Ukraine was "extremely combustible".
"We do not seek confrontation with Russia … but so long as Russia continues down its current dangerous and irresponsible path we will continue to work with our international partners to apply steadily increasing counter-pressure," he said.
Asked about the prospects for resolving the crisis in Ukraine, Burns said: "The short answer is: 'We'll see.'"
Don't Forget Crimea, Tatar Leader Appeals to West
by Naharnet Newsdesk
08 May 2014, 18:03
The spiritual leader of Crimea's Tatars appealed to the international community Thursday not to forget the Black Sea peninsula, annexed by Russia, as attention has turned to growing violence in eastern Ukraine.
"We are concerned that because of Russia's recent actions, the issue of Russia's occupation of Crimea has become secondary in light of the potential threat of Russian forces invading across the eastern border of Ukraine," Mustafa Dzhemilev, spiritual leader of the ethnic Tatar community in Crimea, said in Vienna.
"We are in favor of being part of the Ukrainian nation, we reject this annexation," he said.
"We are hoping that the international community will not forget about the occupied territories of Ukraine," he added in a meeting with the European security body OSCE, which has been monitoring the situation in Ukraine.
Following Russia's formal annexation of Crimea in March -- a move condemned by Kiev and Western capitals -- the local population has been given the choice of taking Russian citizenship.
But Dzhemilev insisted that Crimean Tatars, who make up about 12 percent of the peninsula's population and mostly back the government in Kiev, were being effectively forced from their homes.
"There is an emerging trend to evict those Crimean Tatars out of Crimea who refuse to recognize the annexation. Crimean Tatars are being forced into the situation where they would rather leave their homeland."
"The indigenous people of Crimea have become foreigners in their own homeland," he concluded.
Tatars had been subject to mass deportations to central Asia ordered by Stalin in 1944. Nearly half of them died of starvation and disease, while the rest only began returning to Crimea in the late 1980s.
Amid rumors that Moscow plans to disband the Mejlis, the Tatar assembly, Dzhemilev said there were no specific signs yet but "you can expect everything from the occupying power."
A Ukrainian lawmaker and hugely respected figure among the Tatars, he has lately been banned from entering Crimea by local authorities.
An attempted return last weekend prompted clashes at the border between Tatars and Crimean authorities.
But Dzhemilev said Thursday he would keep trying to reenter the Black Sea peninsula: "We will not let the occupiers enjoy peace."
U.S. Warship Arrives in Georgia amid Ukraine Crisis
by Naharnet Newsdesk
08 May 2014, 15:41
A U.S. warship arrived on Thursday in Georgia's port of Batumi, the U.S. embassy said, sending a message of support to NATO allies amid the spiraling crisis in neighboring Ukraine.
The USS Taylor's "presence in Georgia reaffirms the United States' commitment to strengthening ties with NATO allies and partners like Georgia, while working toward mutual goals of promoting peace and stability in the region," the embassy said in a statement.
The U.S. 6th Fleet frigate arrived in Georgia for three days of exercises with the country's coastguard in the Black Sea after completing joint live-fire exercises and an anti-submarine warfare scenario along with Romanian ships.
"Allied ships, planes, exercises show vigilance and resolve from the Baltic to the Black Sea. We'll keep reinforcing NATO security," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.
Events in neighboring Ukraine's standoff with Russia have alarmed Tbilisi which fought and lost its own war with Moscow in 2008, and says it is still exposed to a Russian threat.
Casualties as Fighting Breaks out in Ukraine Port City of Mariupol
by Naharnet Newsdesk
09 May 2014, 13:48
Fighting broke out Friday in Ukraine's southeastern port city of Mariupol, causing casualties, according to reports by Ukrainian and Russian media.
An online Ukrainian news website, Insider, said eight pro-Russian militants had been killed.
Russia's Interfax news agency said Ukrainian troops used large caliber weapons as they tried to take an occupied government building in the city.
Members of a crew from Britain's ITV News in the city said on Twitter that they saw heavy guns being used and smoke from burning tires rising above Mariupol.
"Just filmed serious fighting downtown Mariupol. Snipers everywhere. Heavy guns. A man got shot just next to me. Black smoke over the city," wrote cameraman Daniel Demoustier.
Ukrainian military armored vehicles were seen in the center of Mariupol.
The fighting occurred as Ukraine commemorated Victory Day celebrations marking the Soviet defeat of German forces in World War II.
Kiev held low-key ceremonies while Russia -- which the West accuses of fomenting Ukraine's insurgency -- put on a display of military might in Moscow's Red Square.
Russian Deputy PM in Moldova for Victory Day
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
MAY 9, 2014, 6:38 A.M. E.D.T.
CHISINAU, Moldova — Russia's deputy prime minister urged people to fight fascism and offered support to separatists during a visit Friday to a pro-Russian separatist region of Moldova to celebrate Victory Day.
Dmitry Rogozin told 2,000 people gathered for a military parade in the Trans-Dniester capital, Tiraspol, that "the plague of fascism is thriving." He referred specifically to the deaths of mainly pro-Russians in Odessa, Ukraine, last week.
"Russia will do everything possible for Trans-Dniester not to be isolated," he said later. The region is not internationally recognized but is supported by Russia, which residents voted to join in a 2006 referendum.
His private visit to Trans-Dniester, which borders Ukraine, comes as the West and Russia are battling for influence in Eastern Europe. Moldova's pro-European government had asked him to not to make the visit.
"Russia has taken on the role of a guarantor of security, and depending on developments we will take concrete steps in this way," the Novosti PMR news agency quoted Rogozin as saying. He did not clarify what he meant, but Russia opposes plans by Moldova's government to sign an accession agreement with the European Union later this year.
Russia has 1,500 troops in Trans-Dniester, deployed after the region broke away from Moldova in 1990.