Brazilian President Rejects Criticism Over World Cup
By SIMON ROMERO
JUNE 3, 2014
BRASÍLIA — The year was 1970. Agents of Brazil’s military dictatorship had arrested Dilma Rousseff, then a member of a fledgling urban guerrilla group, the Palmares Armed Revolutionary Vanguard. Inside the prison where she was being held in São Paulo, a debate raged among the inmates: Should they support Brazil in that year’s World Cup?
“At that time, many people opposed to the government initially questioned whether we would be strengthening the dictatorship by rooting for Brazil’s team,” Ms. Rousseff, 66, who is now Brazil’s president, said in an interview here on Tuesday. “I had no such dilemma.”
She said resistance dissipated among the jailed guerrillas in the period leading up to Brazil’s victory over Italy in the championship match, which took place in Mexico City.
With Brazil’s government facing widespread discontent over its preparations for the World Cup, Ms. Rousseff made the rare public reference to her imprisonment decades ago, when interrogators tortured her during three years in jail. Sipping orange juice and nibbling on cashews at a spacious circular table in her office, she defended loans from state banks for new stadiums for the soccer tournament and insisted that Brazilians planning to shun the event were a “small minority.”
As the start of this year’s World Cup on June 12 approaches, Ms. Rousseff is grappling with a wave of strikes, a sluggish economy and a presidential race pitting her against rivals who have climbed in public opinion polls. While she is still viewed as a favorite in the October elections, her government has come under criticism over delays in finishing World Cup construction and an array of other stalled public works projects.
A survey released on Tuesday by the Pew Research Center found that 72 percent of respondents were dissatisfied with the way things were going in Brazil, up from 55 percent just weeks before huge street protests in June 2013 shook Brazilian cities.
The survey, based on 1,003 face-to-face interviews with Brazilian adults in April, also found that two-thirds said Brazil’s economy was in bad shape, and that 61 percent thought hosting the World Cup was a bad idea because it took resources away from public services, including health care and education.
The glum mood, which follows an economic boom that culminated in 7.5 percent growth in 2010, has been compounded by scandals at Brazil’s national oil company, Petrobras, and a multiyear slowdown in economic growth. The economy grew only 0.2 percent in the first quarter of 2014, slower than the 0.4 percent expansion reported in the previous three months.
Still, Ms. Rousseff, a member of the leftist Workers Party that has governed Brazil since 2003, vigorously defended her economic record in an hourlong interview at the presidential palace in the modernist capital, Brasília. She insisted that various measures showed that life had generally improved in Brazil.
Citing antipoverty projects that have pulled millions of people into the middle class over the last decade, she said incomes for poorer Brazilians had risen well above the rate of inflation, making Brazil’s progress in reducing poverty comparable to Spain’s experience after the death in 1975 of the dictator Francisco Franco, which ushered in a transition to democratic government.
Emphasizing that inequality had fallen in Brazil while growing in the United States and parts of Europe, Ms. Rousseff, an economist by training, spoke glowingly of the work of Thomas Piketty, the professor at the Paris School of Economics whose sweeping studies of inequality have gained widespread attention.
“I think he’s done a fantastic job,” Ms. Rousseff said of Mr. Piketty, who has stood by his conclusions about the evolution of wealth inequality after The Financial Times attacked his data.
Ms. Rousseff said that rising incomes in Brazil had created new challenges, reflected in the large demonstrations that have given way to smaller protests, often led by housing activists or anti-establishment groups. She said that many of the protesters’ complaints about the poor quality of services, whether from governments or private companies, were understandable.
“Services grew less than income,” she said, noting as an example the surging access to air travel in Brazil, which has left many travelers fatigued at the mere thought of dealing with the country’s swamped airport infrastructure. Brazil’s larger middle class, she said, has “more desire, more longings, more demands.”
“This forms an intrinsic part of the human being in the society in which we live,” she said. “He obtains something, but he wants more, which is very good.”
Beyond the challenges her government faces before the World Cup, with security forces bracing for a possible return of large-scale protests against spending on the tournament, Ms. Rousseff said the event offered an opportunity to strengthen Brazil’s position on the global stage.
She also said she was prepared for a thaw in relations with the United States, after a souring last year over revelations that the National Security Agency had spied on Ms. Rousseff and her inner circle of senior aides. She noted her plans to meet with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. when he visits Brazil this month to watch the United States soccer team play Ghana.
“I’m certain we can pick up our relations where we left off,” Ms. Rousseff said. She said she was prepared to consider rescheduling a state visit to Washington, which she had postponed in September in response to the N.S.A. revelations.
In other matters, Ms. Rousseff said she expected Brazil to continue raising its diplomatic and economic profile in Latin America and the Caribbean. She singled out Cuba as a country where Brazilian companies were making inroads. “We’re betting much more on a policy of investment than a blockade,” she said, referring to the United States’ trade embargo against Cuba, which began in 1960.
In one example of Brazil’s strengthening ties with Cuba, the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht has carried out a $900 million upgrade of Cuba’s Mariel port. Ms. Rousseff said that overhauling Cuba’s economy required the application of “more market forces, not less.”
Helping Cuba to open its economy also reflects on Brazil’s, and Ms. Rousseff’s, political evolution since military rule ended here in 1985. While Brazil now has a president who was a Marxist guerrilla in her youth, it stands out among its neighbors for a law under which perpetrators of rights abuses during the dictatorship are shielded from prosecution.
Brazil’s highest court has upheld the amnesty law, meaning that Ms. Rousseff’s torturers remain free even as commissions examine the politically motivated crimes of that era.
Ms. Rousseff said that as president, she respected the law, despite her personal views. “I don’t believe in vindictiveness, but I also don’t believe in forgiving,” she said.
“It’s a question of the truth,” she added. “It’s extremely important for Brazil to know what happened, because that will mean it won’t happen again.”
Brazil builds nuclear submarine to patrol offshore oil fields
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, June 3, 2014 19:18 EDT
Brazil is building five submarines to patrol its massive coast, including one powered by an atomic reactor that would put it in the small club of countries with a nuclear sub.
The South American giant is in the process of exploring major oil fields off its shores that could make it one of the world’s top petroleum exporters.
The new submarines aim to protect that resource, said the navy official coordinating the $10-billion project, Gilberto Max Roffe Hirshfeld.
“The nuclear-propelled submarine is one of the weapons with the greatest power of dissuasion,” he told AFP.
“Brazil has riches in its waters. It’s our responsibility to have strong armed forces. Not to make war, but to avoid war. So that no one tries to take away our riches.”
The new submarines, which will replace Brazil’s aging fleet of five conventional subs, are being built at a sprawling 540,000-square-meter (135-acre) complex in Itaguai, just south of Rio de Janeiro.
The project is a joint venture between the navy, Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht and French state defense firm DCNS.
Brazil and France signed a deal for the project in 2008 under which DCNS is providing building materials and training while Brazil builds up its own submarine industry.
Brazil is developing the nuclear reactor and enriched uranium itself.
The first submarine, a conventional sub called SBR1, is 45-percent complete and scheduled to launch in 2017. The second is in the early stages of construction and is due to launch in 2019.
Work on the nuclear sub, SNBR, is supposed to start in 2017, with a launch target of 2025, the year the project wraps up.
Workers are assembling the submarines in a massive 38-meter-tall (125-foot) hangar, putting together the giant sheets of steel that will form the hulls.
When complete, the nuclear submarine will measure 100 meters long and weigh 6,000 tonnes. Its conventional cousins will be slightly smaller, at 75 meters and 2,000 tonnes.
- Strategic patrols -
Currently the only countries to design and build their own nuclear submarines are the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus India, which has completed one and is in the process of building more.
nlike conventional submarines, which run on electric or diesel engines and have to resurface every 12 to 24 hours to refuel, nuclear submarines run on atomic power and can stay immersed indefinitely.
They can also be outfitted to launch nuclear warheads — though under Brazil’s constitution and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the country is barred from developing atomic weapons.
Its five new submarines will be equipped with conventional torpedos.
Brazil’s navy says the conventional submarines will patrol ports and other strategic points along the country’s 8,500-kilometer (5,300-miles) coast.
The SNBR will patrol farther away, around the country’s “pre-salt” deepwater oil reserves — estimated at up to 35 billion barrels — and the so-called Blue Amazon, a biodiverse area off the coast with minerals including gold, manganese and limestone.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Brazil had one of the world’s 15 largest defense budgets in 2013, at $31.5 billion.
In the USA...United Surveillance AmericaObama defends prisoner swap as GOP calls for hearings: ‘We get an American soldier back’
Wednesday, June 4, 2014 6:40 EDT
President Barack Obama defended on Tuesday the prisoner swap deal that freed a U.S. soldier from Taliban captivity in Afghanistan, and the Army pledged to investigate the circumstances of his capture after fellow soldiers said he had deserted.
Trying to defuse concerns of members of Congress who said the president broke the law by not giving them advance notice of the agreement, Obama told a news conference in Warsaw: “Regardless of the circumstances, whatever those circumstances may turn out to be, we still get an American soldier back if he’s held in captivity. Period. Full stop.”
Top White House officials also tried to tamp down outrage in the Capitol by calling key lawmakers to apologize personally for failing to fill them in on the administration’s plans before last weekend’s prisoner swap.
Obama said the five Afghans released into the custody of the Gulf emirate of Qatar would be closely monitored there. Under the terms of the deal that freed 28-year-old U.S. Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl after being held for five years, the Taliban leaders must remain in Qatar for a year.
A senior Gulf official said on Tuesday the men had been moved to a residential compound in the capital, Doha, and can “move around freely within” Qatar. (Full Story)
The White House tweaked some Republican lawmakers for their criticism. It pointed reporters to Senator Kelly Ayotte’s remarks two weeks ago urging the Pentagon to “redouble its efforts” to return Bergdahl to his family and Senator John McCain’s comment in February saying he might support a prisoner swap.
Lawmakers from both political parties are concerned about the terms of the prisoner exchange, questioning how closely the released Taliban leaders would be monitored and whether it would set a precedent. The five Afghans had been held at the much-criticized U.S. military base of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Congress is required to be given 30 days notice for any transfer of prisoners from there.
Senator Richard Durbin, the chamber’s second-ranking Democrat, emerged from a meeting with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and presidential adviser John Podesta saying there were questions about the required 30-day notification.
Durbin also said, “until I know the circumstances in Qatar, it’s kind of hard” to give an opinion about the prisoner swap. (Full Story)
HAGEL INVITED TO HEARING
California Republican Howard “Buck” McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said on Tuesday he had invited Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to testify on June 11 at a hearing on the Taliban detainee transfer.
House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner endorsed a call for congressional hearings to look into the administration’s handling of the prisoner swap, as did Majority Leader Harry Reid of the Democratic-dominated Senate. (Full Story)
Reid said he had been told Obama did not violate the law requiring 30-day notice of Congress before transferring Guantanamo prisoners, but Boehner said the “administration has invited serious questions into how this exchange went down.”
An aide said the first call from the Department of Defense to Boehner came at 11:52 a.m. EDT on Saturday, when the news was already being made public. The caller acknowledged that the administration’s action was inconsistent with the law requiring a 30-day notification.
But Senator Carl Levin, the Democratic head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the president put Congress on notice on Dec. 23, 2013, that he would “act swiftly” regarding detainee transfers if necessary.
“Given that notice, members of Congress should not be surprised that he acted as he did in the circumstances that existed,” Levin said.
Bergdahl is in a military hospital in Germany, undergoing physical and mental assessments. Obama said Bergdahl was not being interrogated by military authorities and had not yet seen his family.
Bergdahl’s release has unleashed criticism from former comrades about the circumstances of his disappearance and capture. According to some online accounts of soldiers, Bergdahl left his unit quietly, without his flak jacket and heavy fighting equipment. Several soldiers were killed in searches for Bergdahl, according to some of these accounts.
The Pentagon has said it was unable to confirm media reports that six troops died in searches for Bergdahl. It said the circumstances surrounding his June 2009 disappearance were unclear.
After Bergdahl failed to show up for roll call, U.S. officials picked up radio communication between Taliban insurgents who said “an American soldier with a camera is looking for someone who speaks English,” according to U.S. diplomatic cables.
Josh Korder, a former U.S. Army sergeant who served with Bergdahl, told NBC he was “quite upset” about the sergeant’s release because his unit had worked hard to track down Taliban leaders like those released in exchange for him.
“You’re just going to let these guys go for somebody you’re already saying you know walked away?” Korder said on NBC’s “Today” program. “That’s just not right.”
Facing a flood of questions, the U.S. Army said on Tuesday it would further investigate, but not until after the initial stages of the reintegration process.
“Our first priority is ensuring Sergeant Bergdahl’s health and beginning his reintegration process. There is no timeline for this, and we will take as long as medically necessary to aid his recovery,” Army Secretary John McHugh said in a statement.
******************Hillary Clinton Lays Out Republicans For Wanting to Leave Soldiers Behind
By: Jason Easley
Tuesday, June, 3rd, 2014, 1:41 pm
Hillary Clinton isn’t messing around. When asked about the Bergdahl rescue, former Sec. of State Clinton suggested that the Republican opposition to the deal that brought an American soldier home was like wanting to leave a soldier behind.
According to the AP, the former Secretary of State said:
This young man, whatever the circumstances, was an American citizen — is an American citizen — was serving in our military. The idea that you really care for your own citizens and particularly those in uniform, I think is a very noble one.
You don’t want to see these five prisoners go back to combat. There’s a lot that you don’t want to have happen. On the other hand you also don’t want an American citizen, if you can avoid it, especially a solider, to die in captivity. I think we have a long way to go before we really know how this is going to play out.
The great hypocrisy is that the “controversy” over Bergdahl is being whipped up by many of the same conservatives who were calling for his release by any means necessary. Of course, when conservatives say any means necessary, they mean military force and bloodshed.
Click here to read 'by any means necessary': http://littlegreenfootballs.com/article/43450_Flashback
Republicans are trying to smear Sgt. Bergdahl because his release was obtained by President Obama. If a Republican president had made the same deal, conservatives would be waving the flag while dancing in the streets over the release of an “American hero.”
Former Sec. Clinton is correct. Until we know the terms and restrictions placed on the five prisoners that were sent Qatar, everything is guesswork and speculation. However, the idea that an American citizen and soldier should be left to die in captivity is repulsive.
Clinton had nothing to do with this decision, but the debate over whether or not the US government should try to free soldiers and citizens from captivity isn’t one that Republicans should want to have. Everything is anti-Obama politics for Republicans, but this bit of hypocrisy will come back to bite them on the backsides if they insist on playing this game with Hillary Clinton.
**************Republican Bergdahl Scandal Falls Apart as White House Discussed Swap With GOP in 2011
By: Jason Easley
Tuesday, June, 3rd, 2014, 4:01 pm
The Republican Obama scandal machine has been stopped before it could ever get started as it is being reported that the White House informed congressional Republicans on numerous occasions about the prisoner swap that brought Sgt. Bergdahl home.
The idea that Republicans had no knowledge of the prisoner swap that freed Sgt Bow Bergdahl was dealt a severe blow today.
The Washington Post reported:
Obama administration officials first discussed with senior House Republicans the possibility of swapping five terrorism detainees from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in late November 2011, according to senior GOP aides.
The possible prisoner exchange was discussed again during a briefing on Jan. 31, 2012, after senior House Republicans sent two letters to the Obama administration seeking more information on the possibility of the swap, said the aides, who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
The outlines of the proposed Bergdahl swap had been public since the spring of 2012. Several news organizations, including The Washington Post, had learned of the proposal much earlier but refrained from reporting on it at the request of the Pentagon, which argued that public disclosure that Bergdahl was a subject of a negotiation between the Taliban and the United States could put his life at risk.
Republicans are outraged that President Obama acted on information that they knew about for three years. It is also information that has been public knowledge for the last two years. It comes as no surprise that the man who is leading the media campaign to smear Sgt. Bergdahl is a former Bush administration official.
According to BuzzFeed, “A former Bush administration official who was hired, then resigned, as Mitt Romney’s foreign policy spokesman played a key role in publicizing critics of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the released prisoner of war. The involvement of Richard Grenell, who once served as a key aide to Bush-era U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton and later worked for Romney’s 2012 campaign, comes as the Bergdahl release has turned into an increasingly vicious partisan issue.”
John Boehner and House Republicans are calling for an investigation into something that they have known about for years, while a former Bush administration official is leading the media effort to build this partisan show into a full blown scandal. This behavior is straight out of the Republican scandal making playbook. They can’t run on Obamacare. Benghazi has been a bust, so they are turning their efforts towards portraying bringing a U.S. soldier home after five years of captivity as a bad thing.
This is another bogus scandal attempt that is going to blow up in the face of the Republican Party. Republicans could try to take President Obama to court for notifying them of the swap, but courts have ruled for decades that a president has broad powers as commander in chief.
By the GOP’s own definition, Bergdahl was a prisoner of war. President Obama had the constitutional authority as commander in chief to take the actions the action that he did.
Republicans are making it look to the American people like they oppose bringing an American soldier home. They are setting themselves up for another self-inflicted political disaster as their obsession with President Obama continues to destroy the Republican Party.
******************Ted Cruz Helps Republicans Self Destruct While Getting Caught In a Huge Lie About Obama
By: Sarah Jones
Tuesday, June, 3rd, 2014, 4:52 pm
Might as well put this conclusion on repeat. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) spoke and PolitiFact found him “Mostly False”.
After President Obama announced that we negotiated for America’s “only prisoner of war”, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, to be safely returned to us, Republicans freaked out like they do every time Obama is successful at something. Don’t remind them that he got Osama, that sends them into severe shriek mode.
So Republicans accused Obama of negotiating with terrorists. National security adviser Susan Rice explained on This Week that the US was at war with those who held Bergdahl. Republicans apparently hate it when Susan Rice is allowed to speak on TV, so this really got under their skin.
Ted Cruz was so bothered that he puffed, “Ambassador Rice basically said to you, ‘Yes, U.S. policy has changed. Now we make deals with terrorists.’” The Republican Senator later clarified, “The reason why the U.S. has had the policy for decades of not negotiating with terrorists is because once you start doing it, every other terrorist has an incentive to capture more soldiers.”
PolitiFact pointed out that many previous Presidents have negotiated with terrorists under Cruz’ definition, and furthermore, former President Bush negotiated with his self-dubbed “Axis of Evil” Iran and North Korea:
Here’s a few, according to Reiss’ book:
After the North Koreans captured the U.S.S. Pueblo in 1968, President Lyndon Johnson apologized for spying as part of negotiations to secure the release of 83 American prisoners.
In 1970, President Richard Nixon pressured Israel, Switzerland, West Germany and Britain to release Palestinian prisoners after two airlines were hijacked by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
During the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 to 1981, President Jimmy Carter agreed to unfreeze $8 billion in frozen Iranian assets after more than a year of negotiations with the Iranian revolutionaries.
In perhaps the most famous swap, after seven Americans were captured in Beirut, Lebanon, President Ronald Reagan agreed to send missiles to Iran in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal.
President Bill Clinton’s administration sat down with Hamas in attempts to negotiate peace with Israel. His administration also worked directly with the Taliban nearly two decades ago on several occasions to see if the group would hand over Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders.
Reiss also noted that President George W. Bush engaged in negotiations with Iran and North Korea even after decreeing them part of the “Axis of Evil.”
There are those in the know who contend that the Taliban are not conventional terrorists like al-Quaida. But that’s really not the point. The point is that Ted Cruz doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but he’s still talking with all of the unearned hubris and “wacko-birdness” he inflicts upon the Senate.
It was Bush who started the “War on Terror”, so that terrorism became the new enemy. It was Republicans who changed the definition of war under Bush, thus giving a President the kind of constitutional power to do what Obama just did.
Thus just like we negotiated for our troops return from previous enemies, so too we negotiate on this new frontier for our troops return. This is not the same thing as negotiating with terrorists, like say, those who would shut down the entire United States government in order to override the Constitution and democracy, so they could pretend that they won an election they lost. No, the person who did that is Ted Cruz.
Cruz earned a Mostly False because, “Cruz said Obama changed “decades” of policy of not negotiating with terrorists when he brokered the deal that brought Bergdahl home. Even though presidents and officials often say “we do not negotiate with terrorists,” it has not proven to be a hard-and-fast rule. Obama’s actions so far do not signal a change in policy, but rather the latest in a long line of exceptions presidents have made throughout recent history.”
A long line of exceptions, but the screeching only started when this president did it. Yes, there is a difference in that Obama “traded” Gitmo detainees for a prisoner of war, but weren’t missiles that armed many worse than Gitmo detainees, if it’s national security that’s the issue? See Reagan, but first stop by the empty “logic” square where hyperventilating Republicans are busy Romneying their previous positions on Sgt. Bowe Bergdah, just so they can criticize Obama.
Republicans are so worried that President Obama might get credit for doing something good that they are willing to troll the troops.
****************House Republicans Refuse to Discuss Climate Change Because They Aren’t Scientists
Tuesday, June, 3rd, 2014, 10:11 am
Only incredibly stupid human beings refuse to heed experts’ statements that indicate certain impending danger or some other extremely unpleasant situations just because they are not experts themselves. In the month leading up to the terror attacks on 9/11, Republican George W. Bush’s administration was warned more than once that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were planning to hijack commercial airliners and fly them into American buildings. It is old news today, but Bush and company ignored the warnings as a hoax and likely did not want to discuss it because they were not intelligence experts. Not much has changed for Republicans.
Over the past twenty years, at least, climate scientists have perpetually warned that carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels was warming the Earth’s climate and would create devastatingly extreme weather events, severe droughts, flooding, wildfires, melt the polar ice-caps and raise the sea-level. Republicans and their fossil fuel campaign donors claimed the warnings were a hoax perpetrated by liberal scientists, and refuse to even acknowledge man-made climate change or its damage to America because as John Boehner told a group of reporters last week, he would not discuss climate change on the grounds he was not a scientist. Other Republicans have refused to talk about the issue on the same grounds including Florida Governor Rick Scott, “I’m not a scientist,” Marco Rubio, “I’m not a scientist,” and until a month ago, Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) said “I’m not sure, I’m not a scientist.” It is true, none of the Republicans are scientists, but they are beholden to the fossil fuel industry and will not discuss climate change because they cannot possibly deny the reality it is genuine and is devastating America.
Actual climate scientists say the tactic is irresponsible, dangerous, and ignores mountains of credible scientific information that is readily available for anyone to see, but by avoiding acknowledging or denying the reality of climate change, Republicans can continue doing the Koch brothers bidding and fight every regulation to stop it. The malice so evident in Republicans sidestepping the issue is not just that they will go to extreme measures to protect the profits of their campaign donors, but that they have utter contempt for the health and safety of the American people.
Thankfully, President Obama heeded the warnings of 97% of scientists and announced he was directing the Environmental Protection Agency to begin imposing regulations to cut coal-fired carbon emissions by 30% by 2030. Predictably, before the President even announced the EPA would begin imposing regulations to cut carbon emissions for Americans’ health and to reduce climate changes’ damage, several Republican states took pre-emptive action to prohibit federal interference in their handiwork to increase carbon emissions driving the devastating effects of global climate change. The Republicans claim the regulations are unfair and will cut into the profits of the fossil fuel industry and hurt electrical power providers too greedy to transition to renewable solar and wind power.
In the House of Representatives, Republicans signaled to the world that not only are they not discussing the veracity of man-made climate change, they signaled to the world they are smarter than climate scientists and officially denied that what 97% of climate scientists say is wrong and that there is no climate change threat. The House just passed, on a strictly party line vote, an amendment sponsored by Rep. David McKinley of West Virginia to prevent funds going to the Defense Department to address how climate change affects national security.
McKinley’s amendment says, “None of the funds authorized to be appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used to implement the U.S. Global Change Research Program National Climate Assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report, the United Nation’s Agenda 21 sustainable development plan, or the May 2013 Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order.” McKinley’s amendment is in response to yet another Department of Defense warning that “the threat of climate change impacts a very serious national security vulnerability that will enable further terrorist activity.” The warning was in the very latest Defense Department 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, and accordingly Republicans took action to ensure the threat reaches fruition and America is vulnerable to a “very serious national security threat.”
Republicans are certainly not scientists, but they know man-made climate change is real and that their constituents have been feeling its devastating effects whether they want to discuss it or not. Most of the Republicans’ constituents are not scientists either, but results from a new Yale University poll released three days before President Obama’s announcement on Monday revealed that 65% of Americans support strict regulations on the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from existing coal-fired power plants in order to fight global warming and improve public health.
At this point in the “discussion,” no conscious American can deny man-made climate change is real or that its effects are wreaking havoc across the nation. For dog’s sake, even a 2012 Koch-funded comprehensive study found that “global warming is real, on the high side, and all due to man-made carbon emissions,” and yet they, their conservative think tanks, and Republicans not only refuse to acknowledge or discuss it because they are not scientists, they are actively fighting any attempt to stop it. However, it is the Republicans’ bovine excrement excuse that “I’m not a scientist so I can’t discuss it” that defines them as pure evil and without one shred of regard for national security, the American people, or the welfare of this nation.
The distinguished professor of atmospheric sciences, lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2013 report and the most recent (2014) National Climate Assessment detailing the current and very real effects of climate change, Donald J. Wuebbles said, “I don’t think it proper for any American to use that argument.” According to Wuebbles, the preponderance of climate change reports were written by scientists and other experts specifically so members of Congress could understand climate change and how it affects the country. Apparently, they cannot understand, or see with their own eyes the extreme droughts, flooding, wildfires, increased incidents of childhood asthma, or severe storms, so scientists made that report readily available and accessible for morons just so climate change could be “readily understood by any policymaker.” Wuebbles said, “The assessment represents the latest understanding of the science and is the most comprehensive report ever prepared for the American people on climate change. The report itself was done for Congress under a law passed by Congress.”
The effects of man-made global climate change are beyond refute and even for non-scientists, the increase in extreme weather events such as super-storms, severe flooding, wildfires, and particularly the extreme droughts affecting the entire the Western and Southwestern United States cannot be denied. Still, Republicans are taking pre-emptive action to thwart the President’s efforts to reduce the cause of climate change to protect the fossil fuel industry’s profits; the American people’s health, welfare, food source, and water be damned. It is the ultimate affront to the American people and yet in the Yale poll, 35% oppose any efforts to regulate carbon emissions and it is not because they are not scientists, but because they are bible stupid and too cognitively challenged to comprehend climate change. One wonders if, as they are washed away in floods, driven out of their homes by wildfires, or forced to suck rocks because they lack water, they will still doubt climate change’s reality and refuse to discuss it on the grounds they are not scientists or just die waiting for Jesus to save them.
***************Obama Says He Is In a Strong Position To Amend The Constitution and Repeal Citizens United
By: Jason Easley
Tuesday, June, 3rd, 2014, 7:00 pm
According to a new book by Ken Vogel, President Obama told Democratic donors that he believes he is in a strong position to lead the movement to ratify a constitutional amendment to repeal Citizens United.
In his newly published book, Big Money: 2.5 Billion Dollars, One Suspicious Vehicle, and a Pimp—on the Trail of the Ultra-Rich Hijacking American Politics, Ken Vogel reports on a 2012 fundraiser where President Obama had some interesting remarks for Democratic donors on his future plans to get rid of Citizens United:
“The Supreme Court made a constitutional ruling that was absolutely wrong, and that I said was wrong in a State of the Union speech. In front of the Supreme Court justices,” he said,1 smiling slyly, as he recalled chastising the justices on live television a week after Citizens United. “Because I foresaw what was going to happen,” he told the donors. “I mean, this just basically eliminated all the rules.” He went on, “Because it’s a constitutional ruling—a ruling on the First Amendment—we can’t overturn it legislatively, and there are limits to what we can do administratively. There are some things that probably would comport with the ruling in terms of requiring disclosure.”
But, he added, referencing Charles and David Koch, “the disclosure is not a sufficient deterrent for a lot of these folks who are writing checks.” No, Obama continued, “the only way we’re going to do it effectively, I think, is with a constitutional amendment.” Since Citizens United, some of the goo-goos who opposed big money in politics had reached the same conclusion. “Now, I taught constitutional law,” Obama continued to Gates et alia. “I don’t tinker with the Constitution lightly. But I think this is important enough that citizens have to get mobilized around this issue, and this will probably be a multiyear effort. After my reelection, my sense is that I may be in a very strong position to do it.”
The president’s remarks are exactly why Republicans like Sens. Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz are freaking out and claiming that Democrats want to repeal the First Amendment. The process to amend the Constitution takes years, but with the political landscape tilting more to the left, Democrats could have a real chance to see a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United ratified someday.
A popular mobilization on the issue should scare the heck out of Republicans. The income inequality issue is on the minds of most Americans. If Democrats and the left could ever successfully make the argument that Citizens United is perpetuating an inequality of democracy, Republicans and the Koch Brothers would both be in big trouble.
Republicans don’t want the American people to understand the extent of the damage that Citizens United is doing. The hyperbole has become so delusional that during his Senate testimony today, Mitch McConnell compared the Koch brothers and other right-wing billionaires to Benjamin Franklin.
The issue is not about free speech. The question is whether or not wealthy political donors should have the ability to buy the government. The Koch brothers don’t spend hundreds of millions of dollars on speech. They are spending their money to buy Republican politicians who will carry out their agenda.
Citizens United is an attack on the principle of one person, one vote. It is undemocratic for the wealthy to be able to buy the government that is supposed to represent all of the people. President Obama is in a good position to lead the charge against Citizens United. The time to act is now. Nothing less than our future as a representative democracy is at stake.
Pig Putin reaches out to G7, offers to meet new Ukrainian president
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, June 4, 2014 18:47 EDT
Russian President Pig Putin held out a hand to the west Wednesday just as leaders of the Group of Seven powers met in Brussels to hammer out a joint message to Moscow on Ukraine.
With Russia banned from the summit for the first time since the 1990s, the Pig snorted he was ready to meet Ukraine’s president-elect, while scathingly dismissing U.S. claims of military intervention in the country.
“I don’t plan to avoid anyone,” the Pig snorted when asked by French media if he would meet and shake hands with Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko at World War II ceremonies attended by a host of world leaders in Normandy on Friday.
He also signalled an apparent willingness to talk to Barack Obama in France, despite the US showing no signs of wanting a meeting.
“There will be other guests, and I’m not going to avoid any of them. I will talk with all of them,” Putin told French television TF1 and radio Europe 1.
The Pig will hold meetings with French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron in France on Thursday and Friday, indicating a possible thaw.
A draft communique from the G7 summit in Belgium seen by AFP called on Russia to “enter into a frank and open dialogue, principally with Ukraine.”
The worst East-West crisis in decades dominated the G7 talks, a summit due to have been hosted by Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi but switched to Brussels in the anger that followed Moscow’s March annexation of Crimea.
- ‘Dark tactics’ -
At a visit in Poland ahead of the talks, Obama drove home a hawkish warning, condemning Moscow’s “dark tactics” in Ukraine and promising years of U.S. support for ex-communist NATO states.
“How can we allow the dark tactics of the 20th century to define this new century?” Obama asked in a speech marking 25 years of Polish democracy after the Cold War.
Earlier, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced in Brussels a review of “the U.S. force presence in Europe”, in a sign that Washington is not backing down.
But the Pig dismissed allegations of Russian military meddling in eastern Ukraine.
“Proof? Let’s see it!” he squealed. “The entire world remembers the U.S. secretary of state demonstrating the evidence of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, waving around some test tube with washing powder in the UN Security Council.”
The G7 leaders discussed Ukraine over dinner on Wednesday, and looked set to hold out the carrot of talks against the stick of further sanctions.
“Tonight, the G7 should send a clear message of support to Ukraine and a united message to the Pig that he needs to engage with the Ukrainian government to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron as he went into the talks.
“And that’s what I’ll be saying to the Pig myself tomorrow,” he added.
- ‘Sanctions on the table’ -
EU president Herman Van Rompuy said while wider sanctions were still under preparation, there were “some diplomatic possibilities to see if Russia is ready to engage more”.
Even as hundreds of Ukrainian rebels battled government forces Wednesday, European diplomats stressed there was a “window of opportunity” after the relatively smooth election of chocolate tycoon Poroshenko on May 25.
But German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated a warning that Russia could face stepped-up sanctions if it does not stop destabilisation in eastern Ukraine.
“Sanctions remain on the table,” Merkel said on arrival.
In the latest violence in Ukraine, three government soldiers were injured in a massive all-night attack carried out by hundreds of pro-Russian insurgents armed with rocket launchers and mortars in the nation’s restive east.
Obama met Poroshenko days before his inauguration and declared himself “deeply impressed” by the businessman Ukrainians chose on May 25 to lead them back from a political and economic precipice.
He said the United States was “absolutely committed” to supporting Ukraine for “the coming years.”
NATO defence ministers Tuesday agreed a series of steps to bolster protection in eastern Europe after the Ukraine crisis, but insisted they were acting within the limits of a key post-Cold War treaty with Moscow.
Obama meanwhile proposed a one-billion-dollar fund to finance new U.S. air, naval and troop rotations through Eastern Europe.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
06/04/2014 01:33 PM
'A European War': The Fight for Ukraine's East Gets Bloodier
By Florian Gathmann and Christian Neef
Fighters from Russia's Caucasus region have joined the separatists in eastern Ukraine, while Kiev has intensified its efforts to win back control of the region. Just 10 days after the presidential election there, the conflict is quickly turning into a war.
The man with the full, black beard looks satisfied, sitting on his wooden chair. He is wearing a white-striped baseball cap and his Kalashnikov sits on the table beside him. Fighters refer to him respectfully as "Komandir." His casual hand signals determine who is allowed into the headquarters of the regional administration of Donetsk and who is not. In response to questions, the Komandir answers in Russian, with a strong Caucasian accent.
Is he the boss here? "Yes, apparently." But he's not from here? "As you can see." Then, his mobile phone rings and he speaks in a Caucasian language. Is it Chechen? "Why do you want to know, my friend?"
After months of obfuscation, Russia's direct involvement in eastern Ukraine is becoming visible. And last week, it became clearer than ever that Russian and Chechen mercenaries are supporting the separatists in Donetsk, fighting side-by-side with Ukrainians against troops sent by Kiev. At first, the presence of Russian fighters was but a rumor, but then, last Thursday, a column of vehicles carrying 34 coffins draped with red cloth left Donetsk heading for the border. Two-thirds of the some 50 rebels who died in heavy fighting 10 days ago were Russian citizens.
Some of the fighters in Donetsk openly told journalists that they came "on the orders of Kadyrov." The Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov would only say on his Instagram page: "If any Chechen has been seen in the conflict zone, that's his personal business."
At the beginning of last week, it seemed as though the troops from Kiev, after weeks of hesitation, might finally be gaining the upper hand. The army was able to quickly regain control of the Donetsk airport, which had been occupied by the separatists. But the eastern flank remained open: On the drive from the Russian border to Donetsk, not a single Ukrainian soldier could be seen; at the edge of the city were fighters from the separatist battalion called Vostok, or East, their Kalashnikovs at the ready.
Serious Territorial Conflict
The battalion is now the leading power in Donetsk. It may only consist of a few hundred fighters, but they are armed with anti-tank guns, machine guns and anti-aircraft weaponry. And what began in April as the occupation of the regional administration building has since become a serious territorial conflict.
This week has seen heavy fighting in eastern Ukraine as Kiev launched an offensive against pro-Russian rebels in the area of Sloviansk, north of Donetsk, on Tuesday morning. The move followed an attack on rebel positions in Luhansk, located near the Russian border, on Monday. There were reports of several casualties on both sides.
"What is happening in the east is a repeat of the October Revolution," Yuri Lutsenko, an advisor to Ukrainian president-elect Petro Poroshenko, says in Kiev, 600 kilometers (373 miles) away. "At the beginning, the barricades were manned by adventurers, criminals and people from the lumpenproletariat who had no work. Just like in Petrograd in 1917. At the beginning, Viktor Yanukovych paid every fighter $400 per day, just as the German generals once paid money to Lenin's people. But now, there are mercenaries and Russian weapons."
Lutsenko, 49, was a pioneer of the Orange Revolution. Under Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, he twice headed up the Interior Ministry. But after Yanukovych came to power, Lutsenko was locked up for "abuse of office," only to be freed in April 2013 following European pressure. Now, he is working for Poroshenko, who will enter office at the end of this week. It is thought that Lutsenko will be tapped to head Ukraine's National Security Council and he is to help develop Poroshenko's Solidarity Party, which had played but a minimal role in Ukrainian politics prior to the May 25 election, into a solid power base.
Until then, though, he is working from the offices of the think tank he founded in the Kiev district of Podil. On the wall hangs an oil painting called "Pershy," The First. It shows an exhausted Ukrainian with his eyes closed as though he is trying to gather what remains of his strength. For Lutsenko, it is symbolic of the Maidan demonstrations, which led to the overthrow of Yanukovych in February.
'A European War'
"Keep a close eye on what is now happening in the east," Lutsenko says. "The separatists have long since ceased calling for federalism or for an improved status of the Russian language. They want to divide the wealth of the oligarchs among themselves, in this case, that of billionaire Rinat Akhmetov." He grabs a piece of paper and draws the outlines of Russia and Ukraine. "The Pig doesn't want the Donbass region. He has other goals. First, he wants to sow anarchy in the region because it is extremely important for our economy and without it, the Ukrainians will never get back on their feet," Lutsenko says. "And secondly, he wants the separatists to gain so much independence that they will be able to veto any decision coming from Kiev. That would paralyze the state and would mean it was de facto governed from Moscow."
Lutsenko leans back, takes a deep breath, and says: "We have no choice. If we abandon Donetsk, Pig Putin will soon be in Odessa. He is in the process of establishing a cordon sanitaire around Russia. And Ukraine is now, just as Poland once was, a buffer to Europe. It is not a local war, it is a European war."
And yet, despite the use of artillery and air strikes, Kiev's military does not appear to be able to regain control of the separatist regions. According to Lutsenko, some 12,000 pro-Russian militants are now fighting against Kiev government forces in the area of Donetsk with an additional 5,000 in the Luhansk region. And these men are better organized and better armed than the army, secret service and police. Just on Thursday of last week, the rebels managed to shoot down a National Guard transport helicopter, killing at least 12.
The army has no money and no fuel, says Lutsenko, adding that it hardly even exists as a fighting force. They need helicopters for the fight against the separatists, but the generals sold most of them to Africa. The few Russian helicopters that they still possess are poorly armed and can be shot down like balloons, he says. "We don't even have any more stun grenades to move against fighters in the city -- we can't go into Sloviansk with tanks." Poland, he adds, has at least sent over a supply of grenades. The Ukrainian National Guard on Wednesday said that it had abandoned a fight in Luhansk after running out of ammunition following a 10-hour battle with pro-Russian militants.
The May 25 vote did, however, bring some change: Petro Poroshenko was elected to the presidency with a surprisingly strong result of 54.7 percent, a strong mandate. Even his rival Tymoshenko backed down. She had planned to send 50,000 followers onto the streets in order to contest the results, but with a gap of 42 percentage points between her result and his, accusing him of electoral fraud seemed far-fetched.
In addition, the election result also disproved Moscow's claim that the country is hopelessly divided. Even in regions such as Odessa or Zaporizhia, places where residents tend to be pro-Russian, 40 percent of the vote went to Poroshenko.
But the tasks facing the new president are immense. There is no functioning police force, no tax authority, no effective border control and no judiciary to speak of. The natural gas ultimatum issued by Russia has expired, though Russian state-owned gas company Gazprom on Monday allowed Kiev six more days in ongoing negotiations in Berlin. And Maidan is to be cleared and parliament dissolved. On Wednesday, the president-elect met with US President Barack Obama in Warsaw and plans to fly to D-Day commemoration events in Normandy on Friday. His inauguration is scheduled for Saturday. And then he is planning on flying to the Donetsk region, where the military operation is underway.
"Poroshenko wants to lead them more effectively," says his advisor Lutsenko. "He wants to integrate the National Guard, the secret service and the army into a single chain of command." The president is also hoping for weapons, fuel and cheap food from the Americans, calling it a new "lend-lease act" in reference to the aid US President Franklin D. Roosevelt's provided to allies in World War II.
But it will be awhile before any such plan takes shape, which is why Poroshenko is currently leaning on Rinat Akhmetov, who employs some 300,000 people, most of them in eastern Ukraine. The oligarch has already said his workers would establish an unarmed civic defense force, but Akhmetov remains in Kiev and is wary of returning to Donetsk.
There, the power is lying on the street, as a Russian adage would have it, and the "Donetsk People's Republic" is doing what they can to harness that power. The 11-floor headquarters of the regional administration, which had become a shelter for both criminals and the homeless since its occupation, was "cleaned up" by the Vostok militia last Thursday, as self-proclaimed "premier" Alexander Borodai put it. On the same day, bulldozers cleared away the barricades in front of the structure. The time of chaotic revolution has passed, Borodai says. "As of today, this is the official government seat of the Donetsk People's Republic."
Most of the shops in the city center remained closed in the days following the battle for the airport, with much of the population shocked by the violence. The referendum held in May sent a clear message to the "fascist junta in Kiev," at least according to Russian propaganda. But now, a war is being fought in their city.
People who are opposed to their hometown's transformation into an independent people's republic are only willing to speak in private, "just like in Soviet times," says Alexander, a 30-year-old electrician. A few days previous, he saw a truck filled with "bearded Caucasians" driving through his city, he says. "Why is this riffraff here," he wonders? A father of two children, Alexander says he doesn't see a future for his family in the "Donetsk People's Republic."
Translated from the German by Charles Hawley
G7 Warns Russia to Curb Ukraine Unrest or Face More Sanctions
by Naharnet Newsdesk
05 June 2014, 06:39
World leaders urged Pig Putin on Wednesday to stop destabilizing Ukraine or face further sanctions as they met without a Russian president for the first time since the 1990s.
The Pig reached out a hoof despite being banned from the Group of Seven summit following Russia's annexation of Crimea in March, saying that he was ready to meet Ukraine's president-elect.
But G7 leaders said that while they still hoped for "constructive" talks with the Pig on the sidelines of D-Day commemorations in France on Friday, Moscow could face further punitive measures.
In a joint communique they said the Pig must recognize the results of Ukraine's May 25 presidential election, won by Petro Poroshenko, stem destabilization in the east of the country, and pull Russian troops back from the border.
"Actions to destabilize eastern Ukraine are unacceptable and must stop," the group said.
"We stand ready to intensify targeted sanctions and to implement significant additional restrictive measures to impose further costs on Russia should events so require."
U.S. President Barack Obama earlier hit out at Russia's "dark tactics" in Ukraine in a hawkish speech in Warsaw that harked back to some of the darkest days of the Cold War.
Obama has shown no signs of wanting a meeting with Putin despite the fact that both will be in Normandy to mark the 70th anniversary of the World War II D-Day landings in Europe.
- 'Be constructive' -
Other G7 leaders whose economies are more exposed to Russia than Washington took a softer tone.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that European leaders would "take stock" of Russian actions at a summit end June and "reflect which further sanctions are necessary".
But Merkel, who is due to meet the Pig in France, said that "the main thing is to be constructive" and that further sanctions would take effect only if there had been "no progress whatsoever".
French President Francois Hollande -- who is scheduled to have separate dinners with both Pig and Obama in Paris on Thursday -- agreed that "dialogue and deescalation must be encouraged".
British Prime Minister David Cameron said he would be taking a similar message to Putin when he meets him also on Thursday.
The Pig snorted that he could meet both Poroshenko and even Obama, saying "I don't plan to avoid anyone".
But he taunted the United States and waved away allegations of Russian military meddling in eastern Ukraine.
"Proof? Let's see it!" he squealed. "The entire world remembers the U.S. secretary of state demonstrating the evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, waving around some test tube with washing powder in the U.N. Security Council".
- 'Dark tactics' -
The worst East-West crisis in decades dominated Thursday's G7 talks, a summit due to have been hosted by the Pig in the Black Sea resort of Sochi but switched to Brussels in the anger that followed Moscow's wresting of Crimea from Ukraine in March.
The crisis began when then Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych rejected an association deal with the EU late last year, triggering protests that ended in his downfall in February and were followed by months of clashes between the new government and pro-Moscow rebels.
Obama earlier promised years of U.S. support for Ukraine and for ex-communist NATO states, plus a $1 billion fund for new military rotations through Eastern Europe.
"How can we allow the dark tactics of the 20th century to define this new century?" Obama asked in his Warsaw speech marking 25 years of Polish democracy after the Cold War.
Earlier, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced in Brussels a review of the U.S. forces' presence in Europe in a sign that Washington is not backing down.
Obama met Poroshenko three days before his inauguration and declared himself "deeply impressed" by the chocolate tycoon Ukrainians chose to lead them back from a political and economic precipice.
On the second and last day of the G7 summit Ukraine is again expected to dominate the talks, with Europe's gas dependency and energy security, climate change, an ambitious EU-U.S. trade pact and the global economy also high on the agenda.
Leaders will meet again from 07:30 GMT. Their talks will be followed by a press conference scheduled for 1215 GMT.
As D-Day Commemoration Approaches, Leaders Maneuver Over Ukraine
By ALAN COWELL
JUNE 5, 2014
LONDON — Veterans began gathering on Thursday on the Normandy beaches — some of them perhaps for the last time at such a major commemoration — to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings of World War II, even as their political leaders grappled anew with the conflict’s legacy of East-West division.
On June 6, 1944, almost 160,000 Allied troops crossed from England to storm five beaches in northern France for an invasion that turned the fortunes of war against Nazi Germany. The huge operation was billed as history’s biggest amphibious assault.
Among British veterans of the landings, some 650 former military personnel planned on Thursday to retrace their route aboard a British warship to attend a ceremony at the easternmost of the five beaches, which was code-named Sword. The others, from west to east, were known in military planning as Utah, Omaha, Gold and Juno.
At a time when American attention has been focused on the fate of a single soldier captured in Afghanistan, the commemoration is likely to recall the vast scale and the huge, human odds at play during D-Day.
“It was a killing field,” Harry Billinge, an 88-year-old British veteran, told the BBC, “I hope they will not forget the poor devils that died here.”
Thousands of American, Canadian, British and German soldiers died as the Allied forces established the crucial bridgehead that began Operation Overlord — the invasion of northwestern Europe as the Soviet Red Army pushed on Berlin from the east. French civilians also sustained heavy losses.
The defeat of Nazism led to Europe’s division into hostile ideological camps, and to the Cold War — the rivalry between Moscow and Washington that many analysts depict as having been revived by the crisis in Ukraine.
World leaders set to attend the 70th anniversary celebrations on Friday include President Obama, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, President Pig Putin of Russia and Queen Elizabeth II of Britain alongside the country’s prime minister, David Cameron.
While some Western leaders, including Mr. Cameron, Ms. Merkel and President François Hollande of France, have scheduled meetings with the Pig during the anniversary, there is no immediate plan for Mr. Obama to meet the Russian leader.
On Wednesday, the Pig offered to meet Mr. Obama during the celebrations, which begin Thursday evening with a series of dinners in France, Reuters reported. “There is no reason to think President Obama does not want to talk to the Russian president,” the Pig squealed. “It’s his choice. I am ready for dialogue.”
According to news reports, Mr. Hollande will keep the American and Russian leaders apart in Paris on Thursday evening by holding separate dinners with each of them. Mr. Hollande also plans to try to broker a first encounter between the Pig and Ukraine’s president-elect, Petro O. Poroshenko.
Mr. Obama, visiting Europe this week, has been seeking to persuade allies in Central and Eastern Europe that the United States is being tough enough with Russia over its activities in Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists are fighting government forces in the east and Moscow has annexed Crimea in the south.
Mr. Obama has also been trying to convince Western allies, most of which have powerful economic bonds with Moscow, to maintain pressure on Russia over the Ukraine crisis.
U.S. to Review Europe Troop Presence to Reassure Allies
by Naharnet Newsdesk
04 June 2014, 16:47
The United States will review its troop presence in Europe as it seeks to reassure allies they will not be left unprotected after Russia's intervention in Ukraine, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday.
President Barack Obama's $1 billion U.S. “reassurance plan” for eastern Europe announced Tuesday is a key part of such efforts and will involve Washington "reviewing the U.S. force presence in Europe," Hagel said.
"In light of the new regional security environment, it would be irresponsible for us not to," he added, in an apparent reference to Ukraine.
This is a sensitive issue at the heart of the NATO-Russia treaty that formalized the end of the Cold War and set the parameters for security in Europe with Moscow.
The 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act said the West, led by the United States, would not permanently deploy troops or arms, including nuclear weapons, in former communist states ruled by Moscow in eastern Europe.
Both sides also agreed that neither should treat the other as an "adversary", within a new cooperative security framework.
But Russia has warned that recent NATO rotational deployments of additional planes and troops in states such as Poland and the Baltic countries -- described as a gesture of reassurance -- amounts instead to a breach of the treaty.
NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen insisted Tuesday that NATO's response was entirely within the limits of the Founding Act and it was Russia that was in "blatant breach" of the treaty for its actions in Ukraine.
Hagel said all NATO member states must do everything possible to bolster and strengthen the alliance, including finding the extra money needed to meet the new threat posed by Russia.
Defense budgets have fallen in Europe, meaning the United States has taken on a disproportionate burden and there would be a "threat to NATO capabilities unless we reverse" these trends, he said.
This will be a key issue for a NATO leaders summit in Britain in September, he added.
Rasmussen, speaking before Hagel, made similar points about the alliance's future and noted that Georgia was making "real progress" towards NATO membership.
Georgia, which was offered NATO membership in 2008 along with Ukraine, has pressed ahead with the democratic and other reforms required of member states, he said.
While "more remains to be done, Georgia has made real progress ... and is on the right track," he said.
NATO leaders agreed at a 2008 summit shortly after Georgia fought a brief war with Russia that it could join the military alliance but only at an unspecified future date.
06/04/2014 01:28 PM
Merkel's Mobile: Germany Launches Investigation into NSA Spying
By Hubert Gude, Jörg Schindler and Fidelius Schmid
After extensive review, Germany's federal prosecutor has announced he is launching formal investigative proceedings into allegations that the NSA monitored Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone. The claims have burdened trans-Atlantic relations for months.
Following widespread speculation that the move was imminent, German Federal Prosecutor Harald Range on Wednesday announced he is launching a formal investigation into allegations that the NSA spied on Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile telephone communications.
SPIEGEL had reported on Monday that the federal prosecutor was close to opening formal proceedings. On Wednesday, Range informed the Legal Committee of the Bundestag, Germany's federal parliament, of the pending investigation.
The move marks the next significant chapter in the spying scandal surrounding America's signals intelligence authority, the National Security Agency. It is also the first formal act taken by a German government agency in response to the revelations made public by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The probe could further exacerbate trans-Atlantic relations that have been deeply burdened by the scandal.
The Federal Prosecutor's Office in Karlsruhe opened two "monitoring processes" last year to review the allegations. The first focused on the mass spying of Germans' data by the NSA and the second targeted allegations -- first reported by SPIEGEL in October -- that Merkel's mobile phone had been tapped.
Sources close to the federal prosecutor told SPIEGEL that Range has concluded that there are insufficient reasons for opening an official investigation into the mass spying, although the office still has the option of initiating proceedings at a later date.
Chancellor Merkel is said to still be furious about the tapping of her phone and she complained directly to US President Barack Obama. That complaint helped convince prosecutors that the allegations of spying on her phone are credible. In addition, following a visit with Keith Alexander -- who was NSA chief at the time -- in Washington, Elmar Brok, a German member of the European Parliament with Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said that when he asked if the chancellor's mobile phone was being spied on, Alexander responded, "Not anymore." Merkel also appears in the NSA's Nimrod database, which contains the names of important NSA targets. SPIEGEL itself provided a copy of the entry to the German government in October.
Range has been the subject of massive criticism in recent weeks because the Süddeutsche Zeitung and public broadcasters NDR and WDR reported that he would not launch a formal investigation into the NSA scandal. Range did, however, face massive internal resistance to the initiation of proceedings after suggesting early on that he would likely pursue an investigation.
Range's own staff experts on espionage expressed skepticism about taking on the case because they didn't believe in prospects for success in any proceedings against the NSA for its mass surveillance practices. They argued internally that the US would not cooperate with a request for mutual legal assistance and that the effort would prove futile. Besides, there are open questions about who would even be the focus of the investigation? Obama? Or would it be Snowden himself, who told Germany's Stern magazine last week that he had been "personally involved with information stemming from Germany." Evidence had been stronger for pursuing allegations of spying against Merkel.
But German Justice Minister Heiko Mass of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) said no pressure had been exerted on Range. "From the very beginning, I placed great importance on the federal prosecutor, as the head of the investigative authority, making this decision on his own -- properly and according to law," Mass told German public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk on Wednesday morning. The minister added he was certain Range would do that.
Anger Outweighs Concerns
Political support for an investigation appears to be broad. In the Chancellery, it appears that anger over the spying has outweighed concerns about the negative effect proceedings might have on Berlin's relationship with Washington. Despite several hours of talks with Obama at the beginning of May in Washington, Merkel remains indignant about the spying. During a joint press conference with Obama at the time, she said there could not and would not be a return to business as usual.
Indeed, the German government not only appears ready to deal with anger from the US -- it has also quietly been paving the way for the investigation behind the scenes. In confidential talks, the ministers at the helm of the justice, foreign, interior and economics ministries as well as Merkel's chief of staff at the Chancellery agreed to give free hand to Range if he decides to open preliminary proceedings. It would also be difficult to imagine Range opening an investigation without official support, given that the Justice Ministry can issue orders to the Federal Prosecutor's Office.
'We Should Stir Up as Much Trouble as Possible'
But it doesn't appear that anyone in the Justice Ministry is interested in hindering Range in any way. Instead, officials in Maas' ministry have indicated to the federal prosecutor that he shouldn't be concerned about a provision of German law that permits the federal prosecutor to abstain from launching an investigation if it could have "serious adverse effects" for the country. Justice Ministry officials also signaled it would be disconcerting if federal prosecutors avoided an investigation out of fear that it might end unsuccessfully.
There was some initial criticism on Wednesday over the fact that Range has thus far limited his investigation to the spying on Merkel's mobile phone. Hans-Christian Ströbele, the Green Party representative on the Legal Committee, said "the primary violation at issue is the mass spying."
But the prosecutor's office has made little progress on that aspect of NSA surveillance in recent months. Officials wrote letters and requested information from the Chancellery, Germany's BND foreign intelligence service, the Federal Office for Information Security and the federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which is in charge of counterintelligence measures. The requests produced little, and the government offices failed to deliver anything that would justify opening formal proceedings.
In February, Edward Snowden's lawyer in Germany, Wolfgang Kaleck, even offered assistance from the whistleblower in the event of criminal proceedings. But the Federal Prosecutor's office responded coolly, saying only that it was seeking to determine if there were grounds to launch proceedings and that there was "no scope" in that process to question witnesses. However, the office told the lawyer, Snowden would not be hindered if he wanted to "express himself, either directly or through your office in writing." Kaleck hasn't sent anything so far. The reserved response by the prosecutor's office suggested to some that it wasn't really interested.
But Range can be sure of high-level support for his decision announced on Wednesday, and not just from within the opposition.
"We should stir up as much trouble as possible for domestic policy in America," said Armin Schuster, the man responsible for domestic policy in parliament for Merkel's Christian Democrats. "The effect that could be unleashed with proceedings by the federal prosecutor would be much greater than what parliament can do with its (NSA) investigative committee."
Meanwhile, the SPD's domestic policy point person in parliament, Michael Hartman, said prior to Range's announcement: "With all due respect for the federal prosecutor, it wouldn't be a bad message if he were to at least open preliminary proceedings to show that Germany isn't willing to just put up with anything at all."
06/04/2014 03:50 PM
Cameron's Empty Threat: Britain Risks Losing an Ally in EU Feud
By Carsten Volkery in London
It appears David Cameron's strategy has backfired. His campaign to derail Jean-Claude Juncker's appointment as the next EU Commission president is failing and the British prime minister may soon suffer a loss of face. Angela Merkel is his only possible savior.
In his 18 years as a participant at European Union summits, Jean-Claude Juncker has witnessed a battle or two. But never in his dreams would he become the focal point of a showdown between Germany and Britain.
On the one side in the battle over the former prime minister of Luxembourg stands a very broad coalition in Germany that includes politicians and media running the full spectrum, from left to right. This unusual alliance is demanding that the victor in the elections for European Parliament be appointed as the next president of the European Commission, the EU's powerful executive.
On the other side stands a no less determined British public, which considers a man who is the Brussels insider incarnate to be completely out of the question. The very idea that Juncker was elected by European voters is, to them, laughable.
British Prime Minister David Cameron is actively seeking supporters among the 28 leaders of the EU member states to block Juncker's appointment in the European Council. Last week, Cameron declared to fellow leaders that if Juncker, a federalist, is appointed Commission president, the chances would increase that the British people would vote to leave in a planned 2017 referendum on EU membership.
That is a common opinion in the United Kingdom, but it appears that Cameron has underestimated the effect his words would have. The threat could in fact ultimately cost him a decisive ally: Angela Merkel. For days now, furious politicians and the editorial pages of newspapers have called on Merkel to not put up with this "blackmail." Merkel feels forced to repeatedly ensure her support for Juncker, as she did again in parliament on Wednesday in an address in which she also reaffirmed her committment to Britain staying in the EU.
The German public's suddenly passionate enthusiasm for Juncker caught Cameron off guard. How, his strategists are asking, could the country Britain views as its most important partner when it comes to EU reforms, have fallen for this representative of the status quo?
The fact that even the tabloid Bild has thrown its impassioned support behind Juncker was a "real shock," said Mats Persson, the director of the Open Europe think tank. He says the debate in Germany has developed in ways that are very unfavorable to Cameron.
The British government emphasizes that the country isn't alone, noting that Sweden, Hungary and the Netherlands also want to prevent Juncker from becoming Commission president. But that wouldn't be enough to establish a blocking minority in the European Council. If a vote were to be held, the Juncker faction would likely win.
Merkel Wouldn't Risk Personal Defeat for Cameron
Merkel could tip the balance against Juncker, and in the immediate wake of the election, she seemed willing. But after the intense debate of recent days, ditching Juncker would now be seen as kowtowing to the Brits. As much as she would like to protect Cameron from a loss of face, she would probably not do so if it meant a personal defeat for her.
As such, it very much looks like Cameron has backed himself into a corner, left with no leverage to convince Merkel to change course. Tory members of the European Parliament have, to be sure, threatened to invite Germany's euro-skeptic AFD party to join their group in European Parliament should Merkel stick with Juncker. Cameron famously withdrew his party from the center-right European People's Party, of which Merkels Christian Democrats are members, five years ago to appease his Tories' EU-skeptic wing in a move that deeply angered the German chancellor.
But Cameron likely has little interest in magnifying the already significant differences between his party and Merkel's Christian Democratic Union. In the long term, he is dependent on Merkel's help should he move ahead with plans to renegotiate Britain's position in the EU.
Even the threat to leave the EU looks hollow upon further inspection. There is no doubt that installing Juncker as Commission president would be wind in the sails of EU opponents in the country. "Those who are in favor of leaving the EU are praying that Juncker will be named," Charles Grant of the Centre for European Reform told the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Gideon Rachman, columnist for the Financial Times, wrote that the idea that the native of Luxembourg could become Commission president "evokes a strange, irrational rage in the British."
But that could also be said of José Manuel Barroso or Herman Van Rompuy. The probability that a new face in Brussels could even minimally influence British attitudes toward the EU is very low. Indeed, the majority likely doesn't care at all who becomes EU Commission president. It is hard to imagine the result of the referendum being influenced by this at all.
Some EU veterans believe Cameron's categorical opposition to Juncker to be a significant tactical error, with many saying that he misinterpreted the situation in Brussels. "If I were Mr. Cameron, I would go to Juncker and say: These are my conditions," says Richard Corbett, a Labour Party member who was just elected to the European Parliament and who previously was EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy's chief of staff. In his view, Juncker could adopt a reform mandate by the Council. If Cameron wanted.
06/05/2014 01:15 PM
Immigration to Germany: 'Better Qualified than the Domestic Population'
Interview by Maximilian Popp
In recent years, Germany has begun attracting large numbers of highly qualified immigrants. Demographics expert Reiner Klingholz says that the development could be vital to the country's future, despite ongoing problems with integration.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Klingholz, in your study "New Potential," which was presented on Tuesday, you point to a paradox: Even as Germany becomes a country of immigration, many problems relating to integration remain unsolved.
Klingholz: German companies are now attracting immigrants who are, on average, better qualified than the domestic population. In 2010, more than a third of the immigrants from Southern Europe were university graduates. They are making significant contributions to the good state of our economy. Those who came to Germany as guest workers in past decades generally had few qualifications. That means that today, these people frequently have poorly paid jobs, no work at all or low pensions. In addition, their children are often educationally disadvantaged. Only one in four children of Turkish immigrants graduates with a diploma from a university prep high school (eds. note: Gymnasium). Among children of native parents, the rate is 43 percent.
SPIEGEL: Why do children and grandchildren of Turkish immigrants have such a difficult time in school and on the labor market?
Klingholz: Across the entire German population, the educational level of the parents has an immense influence on their children's success in school. As such, it is no surprise that children of Turkish guest-worker families are among those that have the most difficulties. In addition, such households have often had negative experiences when it comes to integration. They are discriminated against on the job market due to their backgrounds, even if they have the necessary qualifications. The result is often the attitude: Even with more education we won't be able to climb the social ladder.
SPIEGEL: Just recently, thousands of Turkish-Germans feted Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Cologne. Is that a sign that they still don't feel totally at home in Germany?
Klingholz: There are a variety of reasons for the cheering. People of Turkish backgrounds from all social strata took part. But those here who have limited opportunities and don't feel accepted certainly yearn for strength and their homeland. For these people, Erdogan represents an economically successful and strong Turkey, even if there are significant problems there in reality.
SPIEGEL: How could integration be made more successful for immigrants from lower social classes?
Klingholz: Children should be put in German-speaking daycare at an early age. Everything that can't be offered at home must be provided by public early childhood education. And they need positive examples. Young immigrants have to be shown that people from their group can climb the ladder, but that personal initiative is necessary. Even someone as good as (German professional football star) Mesut Özil can't get to where he is without effort.
SPIEGEL: Chancellor Angela Merkel's government is proud of having taken steps toward easing rules on dual citizenship. With good reason?
Klingholz: The draft law is sensible because it allows children born in Germany to foreign parents to maintain both citizenships after a few years. For immigrants, though, dual citizenship is only reserved for people from certain countries -- EU member states, for example. That is incomprehensible.
SPIEGEL: Currently, questions pertaining to integration are dealt with by the Interior Ministry. Does that make sense?
Klingholz: Questions related to domestic security play a large role at the Interior Ministry. But with immigration, the primary focus is on German companies' needs for qualified workers. As such, the Economics Ministry would seem to be a better home for the issue.
SPIEGEL: Germans have a great fear of poverty immigrants from Eastern Europe.
Klingholz: And yet, a larger than average number of highly qualified people come from Eastern Europe, like doctors and engineers. In 2010, for example, more than 40 percent of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants between the ages of 30 and 64 held university degrees. Many of the poorly qualified people who come from these countries are seasonal workers. There is a need for both groups on the labor market. There are, of course, always those immigrants who burden the social welfare system. The unemployment rate for Romanians and Bulgarians in Germany in 2010 was 10 percent.
SPIEGEL: According to your study, Germany is dependent on immigration.
Klingholz: Baby-boomers, those born in years when childbirths were up, are now approaching retirement age. Around the year 2030, twice as many people will retire annually as the number of young people entering the labor market. Neither will companies be able to survive without immigration nor will it be possible to finance social welfare systems.
SPIEGEL: Can immigration put a stop to the significant demographic changes that are taking place?
Klingholz: No, but it can cushion the blow. It is true that immigrants tend to be between the ages of 20 and 30 when they arrive and they tend to have slightly more children on average than natives -- they make the entire population younger. But they get older too, and the birthrate among immigrant groups tends to drop to the low rate present here within one generation.
Translated from the German by Charles Hawley
Ireland: Orphanage’s Mass Grave
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
JUNE 4, 2014
A researcher says that 796 children may have been buried in a mass grave beside a former orphanage for the children of unmarried women. The researcher, Catherine Corless, says her discovery of death records for the Catholic nun-run home in Tuam, County Galway, suggests that a former septic tank is the final resting place for most, if not all, of the children. Church leaders in Galway said they would support marking the spot with a plaque listing all 796. County Galway records showed that the children, mostly babies and toddlers, died — often of disease — in the orphanage, which operated from 1926 to 1961. Ireland had one of the worst infant mortality rates in Europe, with tuberculosis rife. Church-run orphanages often buried their dead in unmarked graves, reflecting how unmarried mothers were ostracized. Tuam locals found the tank in 1975 and believed the remains were mostly those of famine victims.
Inquiry Urged on Site Called Mass Grave of Irish Babies
By DOUGLAS DALBY
JUNE 4, 2014
DUBLIN — The government and the police are coming under increasing pressure to open an investigation into allegations that a Roman Catholic religious order secretly buried up to 796 babies and toddlers born to unmarried mothers in a septic tank over several decades.
Speaking in the Irish Parliament on Wednesday, the minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, called the discovery of what is described as an unmarked grave as “deeply disturbing and a shocking reminder of a darker past in Ireland when our children were not cherished as they should have been.”
The burials are believed to have taken place on the site of a so-called mother-and-baby home in Tuam, County Galway, from 1925 to 1961. The institution, which was run by the Sisters of Bon Secours, was subsequently demolished, and a housing development now sits adjacent to the site.
The Sisters have declined to comment. They were reported to be meeting with the local bishop. They have neither denied nor confirmed the practice.
Suspicions first arose as long ago as 1975 when two 12-year-old boys, Francis Hopkins and Barry Sweeney, peered into a hole in a concrete slab while they were playing. According to their accounts, it was “filled to the brim with bones.” However, most local people had apparently believed that the remains dated from a workhouse that had been on the site before the mother-and-baby home, or perhaps even as far back as the famine of the 1840s.
The allegations of a more recent origin are based on research by a local historian, Catherine Corless, who discovered from state records that up to 796 children had died at the home from a range of ailments including malnutrition, measles, tuberculosis, gastroenteritis and pneumonia. When she cross-referenced the names with those in local graveyards, she found none had been buried in any of those cemeteries.
Based on mapping of the former home and strong anecdotal evidence, she concluded that the only possible resting place for the corpses had to be the site specified by the two boys almost four decades ago. The site is situated at the edge of the grounds of the former home.
The police, called the garda, said in a statement on Wednesday that there were no grounds for starting an investigation.
“These are historical burials going back to famine times,” the statement said. “There is no suggestion of any impropriety and there is no garda investigation. Also, there is no confirmation from any source that there are between 750 and 800 bodies present.”
Politicians across the political spectrum are demanding an investigation. Speaking on national radio, Colm Keaveney, who represents the Tuam area, called on Prime Minister Enda Kenny to offer a full, formal apology on behalf of the state for the “appalling treatment of mothers and babies.”
During that period there were homes for “fallen women,” and unmarried mothers were stigmatized. After giving birth, young mothers whose families were not wealthy enough to buy them out had to work in laundries or do other menial labor for years after the baby was given away for adoption, in some cases illegally trafficked to the United States.
The archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, told The Irish Times that he would support the excavation of unmarked graves “where there are reasonable grounds” and “the setting up of monuments at any unmarked grave sites.”
There is mounting pressure not only to start an investigation into Tuam but also to extend it to the other former sites operated by the order throughout Ireland. The homes have come to international attention in recent years largely because of the movie “Philomena,” which told the story of one woman’s search for the son who was taken from her.
Iran’s Leader Says Obama Has Removed Military Option
By THOMAS ERDBRINK
JUNE 4, 2014
TEHRAN — Speaking from a stage decorated with a banner proclaiming “America cannot do a damn thing,” Iran’s supreme leader on Wednesday asserted that the Obama administration had taken the option of military intervention to resolve conflicts off the table.
“They realized that military attacks are as dangerous or even more dangerous for the assaulting country as they are for the country attacked,” the leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in an address to the country’s political and military establishment.
A “military attack is not a priority for Americans now,” he concluded. “They have renounced the idea of any military actions.”
The remarks by Ayatollah Khamenei, a Shiite Muslim cleric who has the final say in the Islamic Republic’s central policies, amounted to his first public reaction to President Obama’s commencement speech last week at the United States Military Academy in West Point, in which he asserted that the United States had other ways of carrying out foreign policy besides military force. Having the best hammer, Mr. Obama said, does not mean that “every problem is a nail.”
The ayatollah’s remarks also came against the backdrop of other events suggesting that the Obama administration was more amenable to negotiating with its adversaries than to fighting them. On Saturday, the administration announced it had secured the release of the only American military prisoner of war in the Afghanistan conflict, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, by negotiating with the Taliban and releasing five Taliban prisoners held in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Iran is currently engaged in negotiations with world powers, including the United States, which want guarantees that the Iranian nuclear program is peaceful. Mr. Obama has repeatedly said that the military option remains on the table to resolve the nuclear dispute should negotiations fail.
Ayatollah Khamenei, who in the past has repeatedly said the United States was intent on attacking Iran, but incapable of doing so, has apparently now concluded — at least in public — that military action from the United States should not be expected.
He did, however, warn of what he described as a range of methods the United States is using to influence the politics of other nations.
One, he said, was support for internal opposition groups and protests such as the Iranian demonstrations that challenged Iran’s 2009 presidential elections. Another, the ayatollah said, was support for what he called terrorist acts in Iran and elsewhere.
“They did it in Iraq, Afghanistan and some Arab countries of the region and in our country as well,” Ayatollah Khamenei said, reiterating claims that American agents or their affiliates were behind the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists in recent years.
The occasion for Ayatollah Khamenei’s speech was the 25th anniversary of the death of his predecessor, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic who died in 1989.
While he spoke at a sprawling mausoleum housing Ayatollah Khomeini’s remains, leaflets were handed out by conservative critics of President Hassan Rouhani, a self-described moderate cleric, objecting to his nuclear and cultural policies.
“What did we give — and what did we get?” the pamphlets read, complaining that Mr. Rouhani had suspended parts of Iran’s uranium enrichment program in the nuclear talks but was not fully compensated with reciprocal moves easing economic sanctions.
Indian Woman Shot Dead by Rebels in Rape Attempt
by Naharnet Newsdesk
04 June 2014, 19:23
Rebels shot dead a woman in northeast India after she resisted their attempt to gang-rape her, police said Wednesday, the latest in a string of sex attacks to shock the country.
Police said the 35-year-old mother of four was at home in a remote village of Meghalaya state when militants of the outlawed Garo National Liberation Army barged in late Tuesday.
They locked her husband and children inside a room before turning on her, police said.
"The woman was shot dead by Garo National Liberation Army rebels after she resisted their attempt to molest and rape her," local police chief Lakardor Syiem told Agence France Presse.
The rebels were armed with automatic rifles, Syiem said.
The Garo National Liberation Army is one of five tribal rebel groups fighting for a separate "Garoland" to be carved out of Meghalaya.
The incident comes amid global outrage over the gang-rape and murder of two teenage girls in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh last week.
The girls, belonging to the lowest Dalit caste, were hanged from a tree in Badaun district, with tests showing they had been sexually attacked multiple times.
The United Nations condemned the attack on the girls Tuesday, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon saying he was "appalled" by the Uttar Pradesh killings.
"We say no to the dismissive, destructive attitude of 'boys will be boys’," Ban said, referring to a controversial remark made by an Indian politician earlier this year.
The leader of the Samajwadi Party, Mulayam Singh Yadav -- whose son Akhilesh is chief minister of Uttar Pradesh -- told an election rally in April he opposed the recently introduced death penalty for gang-rapists, saying "boys make mistakes."
Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director for Human Rights Watch, called on new prime minister Narendra Modi to address the "scourge" of violence against women.
"He (Modi) should take the initiative to press the police and the criminal justice system to be more responsive to cases of sexual violence," she said.
Modi has yet to comment on the issue although his minister for women and child development has announced plans to set up rape crisis centers across the country.
India’s Feudal Rapists
By AMANA FONTANELLA-KHAN
JUNE 4, 2014
WHEN a distressed father is reporting his daughter’s disappearance to a policeman in India, there are some questions he doesn’t want to hear. “What is your caste?” is one of them. Yet, the father, Sohan Lal, said this was the first thing the police asked him last Tuesday, when he begged them for help. After revealing his low-caste background as a Shakya, Mr. Lal said the officers mocked him and refused to lift a finger.
Hours later, Mr. Lal’s daughter, 12, and a female cousin, 14, were found hanging by their scarves from a mango tree in Katra Saadatganj, in the state of Uttar Pradesh. They had been raped. His daughter had last been seen with a group of brothers from the Yadav caste, which is the dominant caste in the village.
Our understanding of their deaths will be incomplete until we recognize the role of the caste system in India’s rape crisis.
For much of India’s history the lower castes, especially the Dalits (once known as untouchables), have been routinely raped by the landowning upper castes. Better legal protections, urbanization and social mobility have helped reduce caste-based discrimination, but not enough. Dalit women are still the most likely to be victims of gang rapes. An analysis of Uttar Pradesh’s crime statistics for 2007 by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties showed that 90 percent of rape victims in 2007 were Dalit women.
Since December 2012, when a 23-year-old woman from the Kurmi caste, another low caste, died after being gang raped and attacked with an iron rod by five men in a moving bus, India has been undergoing a process of soul searching. Yet the caste system has not been mentioned enough in the debate. While attacks against Western tourists and women in urban centers have attracted a great deal of attention, rapes of lower-caste women routinely fail to provoke an outcry. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for example, has yet to condemn the rape and murder in Katra Saadatganj.
It is no surprise that the caste system, and the unequal society it produces, leads to moral blind spots that hide rapes from public view. Caste historically determined where you lived, what you did, whom you married, even what you ate. In many villages, those rules are still in place, decades after caste discrimination was banned.
Much of the caste-based sexual violence emerges out of a feudal sense of entitlement among some upper-caste men. “You have not really experienced the land until you have experienced the Dalit women” is a popular saying among the landowning Jats, a politically powerful group that, despite being relatively low caste themselves, are above the Dalits.
Though upper-caste men are rarely imprisoned for raping Dalits, they have a widely accepted defense at their disposal, should they ever need one: They would never touch a lower-caste woman for fear of being “polluted.” In one famous 1995 case, a Dalit woman’s allegations of gang rape were dismissed by a judge who claimed that “an upper-caste man could not have defiled himself by raping a lower-caste woman.”
Caste discrimination is exacerbated by corrupt and inefficient governance, which encourages people to seek political power through caste allegiances. Caste bias seems to have been at work in the Katra Saadatganj case. One need only look at the names of the accused brothers (Pappu Yadav, Awadhesh Yadav and Urvesh Yadav) and that of the head of the police station (Ram Vilas Yadav) for evidence that they belonged to the same caste. Two more police constables involved are also Yadavs.
When the police and judiciary cannot be relied on to resolve disputes, rape often becomes a means of retribution. This has been apparent in Hindu-Muslim riots as well as in intercaste conflict. “Rape is a weapon to silence the assertions of the community. A way to teach us a lesson. To show us, including our men, that they are helpless and cannot protect their own women,” said Asha Kowtal, a Dalit activist.
Such thinking seems to have been at work in March, in the state of Haryana, when four lower-caste girls were gang-raped and dumped on a train station platform more than 100 miles from their homes. There is evidence that a conflict between Dalits and Jats precipitated the attack. According to the Indian newspaper Mint, a land dispute led Jats to declare “a social and economic boycott against the Dalits,” perhaps culminating in the gang rape.
We will never be able to address India’s rape crisis if we remain blind to the machinations of caste discrimination. In the past, it has taken gruesome cases of violence to ensure coverage of rape. Indeed, perhaps the only reason the Katra Saadatganj hangings attracted attention was that grisly photographs of the dangling bodies were published in Indian newspapers and circulated on social media, despite complaints by Dalit activists that this was disrespectful.
But we cannot rely on the shock value of particularly horrific cases to lead to change; we need structural solutions. The government should start by amending the 1989 Prevention of Atrocities Act, which is designed to address caste-based violence. The conviction rate under the act is notoriously low — according to a 2012 report, more than half of all cases are closed before they reach the courts. In the case of Mr. Lal’s daughter and her cousin, the police did not register the crime under the act at all. Amendment proposals that would ensure crucial witness protection, more legal support and special courts are sitting in Parliament right now, awaiting approval.
There is no doubt that it was wrong for the police to ask Mr. Lal about caste. But for the rest of us, when it comes to understanding India’s rape crisis, not talking about caste is just as bad.
Dalai Lama in Democracy Call ahead of Tibet Autonomy Push
by Naharnet Newsdesk
05 June 2014, 08:14
The Dalai Lama has called for democracy in China and offered prayers for victims of the Tiananmen crackdown ahead of the launch Thursday of a new campaign for autonomy in his Tibetan homeland.
Rattled by a wave of self-immolations that have highlighted the sense of desperation among Tibetans, the Nobel prize-winner and other exiled leaders are renewing their push for a "Middle Way" of peaceful autonomy within China after a four-year hiatus.
The premier of Tibet's government in exile, Lobsang Sangay, is to host a press conference in the Indian hill station of Dharamsala after taking over the job of pushing for autonomy from the revered spiritual leader.
But the Dalai Lama, who officially stepped down from political duties in 2011, stole the spotlight on the eve of the launch by urging China to embrace democracy, in comments marking the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing.
The 78-year-old offered prayers for the hundreds of people -- by some estimates, more than 1,000 -- who died on June 3-4, 1989 when Communist authorities sent in troops to crush their peaceful pro-democracy protests.
"I offer prayers for those who died for freedom, democracy and human rights," the Dalai Lama said in a statement posted on his website.
"These values are the foundation of a free and dynamic society."
The Buddhist leader said Beijing should embrace mainstream democracy which "will help China to gain the trust and respect of the rest of the world".
The comments are certain to anger Chinese authorities who have long regarded the Dalai Lama as a dangerous separatist, and censor all references to the bloodshed in Tiananmen.
Beijing has ruled Tibet since 1951, a year after invading, and it has already dismissed the renewed push for the "Middle Way" approach, which would include handing Tibetans decision-making positions in the region.
"We advise these people to give up their attempts to separate Tibet from China," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular press briefing on Wednesday.
In a spiky response to the religious leader's comments on Tiananmen he said: "The truth about the Dalai Lama is known to all. His statement has ulterior motives."
- Wave of immolations -
Sangay, a Harvard-educated scholar who has never visited Tibet, will present a new website and social media sites on the "Middle Way" to the Dalai Lama at the launch.
Monks will also give a briefing on the wave of self-immolations which have seen around 130 Tibetans set themselves on fire since 2009, with most dying of their injuries.
Beijing says the Dalai Lama has encouraged the self-immolations and insists that Chinese rule has brought economic development to Tibet.
US President Barack Obama and other Western leaders have called on Beijing to resume talks with the Dalai Lama's envoys on autonomy that broke down in 2010 after making no headway.
Robbie Barnett, a professor of modern Tibetan studies at Columbia University, said the "Middle Way" has made no major progress since the Dalai Lama retired from his political position, despite its backing from the US and other Western governments.
Tibetan leaders have failed to appease vocal critics within the exile community who call for Tibetans to push for total independence and who argue that Beijing will never agree to any concessions on autonomy or the return of exiles, Barnett said.
"Talks are always possible, but any positive outcome would require exceptional skill and patience on the Tibetan side, and a shift in policy direction by the Chinese side," he told AFP.
Crowds Gather in Hong Kong for Anniversary of Tiananmen Crackdown
By KEITH BRADSHER
JUNE 4, 2014
HONG KONG — Tens of thousands gathered at a central park in Hong Kong on Wednesday to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, even as a stifling security presence in Beijing and elsewhere in mainland China appeared to forestall protests.
The organizers of the vigil in Hong Kong said the crowd on Wednesday numbered over 180,000, while the police estimated that 99,500 people had attended. The turnout on Wednesday was the largest since 1989, according to the organizers, and the second-largest, according to police estimates, trailing the 2010 turnout, which was 113,000.
State-controlled Chinese news organizations largely ignored the anniversary, even as the foreign news media gave it global attention. In Washington, the White House said in a statement, “Twenty-five years later, the United States continues to honor the memories of those who gave their lives in and around Tiananmen Square and throughout China, and we call on Chinese authorities to account for those killed, detained or missing in connection with the events surrounding June 4, 1989.”
In the years since the crackdown, mainland China has combined rapid economic growth with severe and recently increasing restrictions on civil liberties. In the weeks preceding the anniversary, the Chinese police detained and in some cases prosecuted scores of human rights activists.
Online censors have stepped up their already extensive blocking or deleting of websites and postings that challenge the Communist Party’s effort to erase the public’s memory of the bloodshed in 1989, when soldiers in Beijing killed hundreds of students, workers and professionals demonstrating for greater democracy and limits on corruption.
The crowd that gathered Wednesday night in Victoria Park in Hong Kong was visibly younger than in previous years and included, for the first time, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, a widely admired Roman Catholic priest who in the past had held prayers near the commemoration but had not taken part.
In recent years, the gathering had been dominated by people age 40 or older who remembered coverage of the night of the crackdown and who sometimes brought their children. That demographic profile appeared to have been upended this year, as people in their 20s and 30s predominated. An announcer on the stage asked all those attending the vigil for the first time to raise their hands, and many sprang up.
One first-time attendee, Rex Liu, a 27-year-old office worker, said that although he felt regret that students had died 25 years ago, he was motivated more by concern about the prevalence of corruption in current-day China. “I feel the need to come this year to express my discontent over the rotting and corrupt state of the Chinese government,” he said.
The general silence about the anniversary that security agencies imposed in mainland China left Hong Kong as the only city on Chinese soil where such a public commemoration could take place.
Asked during a brief interview near the end of the vigil whether he was attending the event as a church leader, Cardinal Zen, the retired archbishop of Hong Kong and a longtime advocate of greater democracy, gave a small shrug and a short, amused laugh. “No, no, no, I am myself,” he said.
Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency, published an article on Wednesday quoting a government spokesman criticizing the United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights, who called on Tuesday for Beijing to release pro-democracy activists and others who have been detained.
“The so-called press release made by U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, grossly goes against her mandate and constitutes a grave intervention of China’s judicial sovereignty and internal affairs,” Hong Lei, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said at a daily news briefing, according to the Xinhua report. Ms. Pillay had released a statement on the anniversary calling on China to free dissidents. “China has chosen a viable path to develop human rights, and this is not to be changed by any discordant voice,” Mr. Hong added.
Among those who had assembled around Victoria Park was one man defending the armed crackdown. He held a sign in Chinese that read: “Oppose overturning the verdict on June 4; the democracy movement is a menace to national tranquillity. Without a prompt crackdown, China would not be what it is today.”
The man, Chiu Keng Wong, a Hong Kong resident and camera dealer, said he was in China in 1989.
“People don’t understand the situation back then,” he said. “This had to be done to defend reform and opening up. Older people who have spent time in China understand my view.”
Several groups in Hong Kong allied with the Beijing government have tried to make the case that dwelling on June 4 is politically unhealthy, and one of them, the Voice of Loving Hong Kong, held a small gathering near Victoria Park. Guarded by a phalanx of police officers and metal barriers, the group had a banner urging the people of Hong Kong to “let go of this burden.”
The democracy movement in Hong Kong has fractured over how to deal with Beijing’s steadfast refusal to change its official stance on the Tiananmen Square crackdown, and over Beijing’s reluctance to allow greater democracy in Hong Kong itself. The clearest sign of that division was a separate protest Wednesday evening on the opposite side of the harbor from the Victoria Park candlelight vigil, which has been held every year since 1989.
The rival event, which the police said attracted 3,060 people, was organized by the Proletariat Political Institute, a group led by Wong Yuk-man, a democracy activist who is also on the 70-member Legislative Council. He contends that the established pro-democracy parties are not sufficiently assertive in challenging Beijing.
“The vigil has been held for more than two decades, and the significance of the vigil is diminishing,” Mr. Wong’s group said in a statement Tuesday evening. “It is now no more than a routine ceremonial event.”
China sentences nine to death for terrorism offences in Xinjiang
A further 72 people receive lesser sentences as authorities make 29 new arrests after deadly attacks blamed on Muslim extremists
Associated Press in Beijing
theguardian.com, Thursday 5 June 2014 12.25 BST
Chinese authorities handed down the death penalty to nine people, sentenced a further 72 to lesser sentences and made 29 new arrests in a huge crackdown in the far west following deadly attacks blamed on Muslim extremists, state media and officials said on Thursday.
Four high-profile attacks on civilians since late October have handed a major security challenge to China's president, Xi Jinping, during his first 15 months in office. The attacks have been blamed on extremists from the Xinjiang region's native Turkic-speaking Uighurs seeking to overthrow Chinese rule and inspired by global jihadi ideology.
Since a vegetable market bombing that killed 43 people on 22 May, officials have issued a flurry of announcements citing more than 300 arrests and scores of rapid prosecutions resulting in stiff sentences including the death penalty, raising concerns among some human rights advocates that the prosecutions may be trampling legal rights.
David Zweig, a political scientist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said the Chinese government felt threatened by the attacks and wanted to show the public it had the means to stop them.
"They would be quite concerned that the general population is afraid that they can't manage the situation," Zweig said. "They probably feel that if they go and arrest a lot of people very quickly and lock them up, that they might have a chance of breaking the cycle."
Authorities have said 23 extremist groups have been broken up, including a group of five allegedly plotting another bomb attack. Last week, officials said 55 people charged with terrorism and other crimes were sentenced at a stadium in northern Xinjiang including at least one sentenced to death.
On Thursday, official state broadcaster CCTV said 81 more people were sentenced at six different courts in Xinjiang including nine sentenced to death and three given suspended death sentences which typically are commuted to life in prison. CCTV described the main charges as organising, leading or participating in a terrorist organization, although it gave no details and said the charges also included murder and arson.
Court officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, the Xinjiang regional government said on its website that 29 new "violent terrorist criminal suspects" had been arrested.
Chinese authorities strictly control information about security in Xinjiang, and very little information can be obtained independently about suspects rounded up in such crackdowns or the evidence against them.
Beijing says the attackers are religious extremists with ties to overseas Islamic terror groups, but has publicly shown little evidence to support that.
Activists among the native Turkic Uighur population say the unrest is fuelled by resentment against settlers from China's Han majority and official discrimination and restrictions on their native culture and Islamic practices. They also say Chinese authorities label general criminal activity and non-violent protests as terrorist acts.
The crackdown bears the hallmarks of anti-crime campaigns that formerly were common in China.
They were largely phased out after complaints they were ineffective and promoted abuses such as torture and forced confessions. Yet they remain a standard official response in Xinjiang and neighbouring Tibet, accompanied by other now-rare practices such as parading the accused around in trucks and sentencing them at mass stadium gatherings.
Chinese leaders feel the need to appear tough to reassure a frightened public, especially in Xinjiang, said Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Human Rights Watch.
However, Xinjiang police and prosecutors will now be under intense pressure to solve cases and obtain guilty verdicts, further chipping away at the flimsy legal protections suspects now have, Wang said.
That also increases the chances that the wrong people will be tried and sentenced, allowing the actual attackers to go free and exposing China to further attacks, she said. The campaign is also likely to increase resentment among Uighurs over their treatment under China's legal system, Wang said.
"There are grievances and this gives the perception they are not getting justice," Wang said.
In the 22 May market bombing in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi, men in four-wheel-drive vehicles ploughed through crowds and tossed explosives in an attack that killed 39 people plus four of the attackers in the region's deadliest single incident of violence in recent history.
Three earlier attacks also were blamed on Xinjiang extremists, also using rudimentary explosives, vehicles or knives.
An apparent suicide bombing 30 April at an Urumqi train station killed two suspected insurgents and one bystander. In March, 29 people were slashed and stabbed to death at a train station in the southwestern city of Kunming. Last October, three assailants drove an SUV through crowds in front of Beijing's iconic Tiananmen Gate in October and set their vehicle alight, killing the three attackers and two tourists.
Thursday's report said the most recently detained suspects were charged with crimes, including incitement to separatism, organising mobs to disturb social order, operating an illegal business, incitement to ethnic hatred, and ethnic discrimination.
The crackdown has been accompanied by tough language from Chinese leaders.
At a top-level meeting late last month, President Xi called for "copper walls and iron barriers" as well as "nets spread from the earth to the sky" to stop terrorism, while also promising more support for education and employment in Xinjiang.
The life and awful death of a Tamil asylum seeker in Australia
Special report: Leo Seemanpillai was a hardworking 29-year-old plagued by the uncertainty of life in visa limbo, say friends
Oliver Laughland in Geelong
theguardian.com, Thursday 5 June 2014 04.26 BST
Leo Seemanpillai’s room has already been stripped bare, but a sheet of paper remains stuck to the door. “It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us,” runs the quote on it.
Out in the living room, in this small, shared house in Geelong, Victoria, a shrine sits on the dining table. A wreath of white roses, chrysanthemums and daisies circles a framed photo of the 29-year-old Tamil asylum seeker, who set himself on fire on 31 May. A glass of milk and a glass of water sit – full to the brim – next to the flowers, left behind for Seemanpillai’s spirit to sip, according to a friend. He is the second Tamil asylum seeker to self-immolate in Australia over the past year – the first survived. Seemanpillai died on 1 June.
For the people who knew him in this industrial city in southern Victoria, the tragedy of his death is beginning to sink in.
Aasif, a close friend and fellow asylum seeker who asked not to be identified, is visibly shaken. “I saw him last Wednesday,” he said through an interpreter. “He cooked for me. We talked about our families. We had a good conversation. He was happy.
“Before I left, he asked: ‘Are you just going to leave me like this?’ I thought it was a joke.” He paused. “If I’d have known I wouldn’t have gone.”
Seemanpillai’s family said they were devastated. “We haven’t eaten for days,” Leo’s father said on the phone from a refugee camp in Tamil Nadu, India, where the family have lived for more than two decades since fleeing Sri Lanka in 1990. “We are in tears. We want to see our son.”
Seemanpillai was one of thousands of Sri Lankan asylum seekers – or “illegal maritime arrivals”, as the authorities call them – being held on temporary visas in Australia. In Geelong alone, asylum advocates estimate about 100 Tamils are living in limbo, awaiting an outcome on their asylum claims.
Leo Seemanpillai Leo Seemanpillai often talked about his visa status, said friends. Photograph: Asylum Seeker Resource Centre
Seemanpillai’s migration agent would not talk about his case, but refugee advocate sources confirmed to Guardian Australia suggestions the processing of his protection claim had been frozen by the Immigration Department, a claim denied by the immigration minister, Scott Morrison.
Another close friend, Annan, who also asked not to be identified, said Seemanpillai spoke to him often about the uncertainty he faced on his temporary visa.
“He went through so much in his life, and when he came to Australia he was given a visa that is filled with plenty of uncertainty, he couldn't accept that,” Annan said through a translator.
“Leo would always talk about his visa status … He would always worry about what would happen to him.”
Annan spoke of the fear many of Seemanpillai’’s friends shared of being sent back to Sri Lanka. “It is always in our mind,” he said.
The Australian government has deported more than 1,000 Sri Lankan asylum seekers since August 2012. Many have been subject to the controversial “enhanced screening process”, which sees them interviewed rapidly and often without the presence of a lawyer. Leo was not one of those, but Aasif continued: “We are witnessing a lot of Tamil boys getting deported back and that is creating fear in the community.”
In some ways, Seemanpillai was one of the lucky few. He had the right to work in Australia. The boat that carried him across the Timor Sea, from Indonesia to Darwin on the Australian mainland, arrived on 9 January, 2013, before the entire continent dramatically changed the rules on how it dealt with asylum seekers. From that point on, anyone arriving on the mainland by boat was liable to be sent to an offshore detention centre. Had he arrived later, he may well have ended up in detention in Papua New Guinea or the tiny island state of Nauru.
Seemanpillai spent six months in detention in Darwin before he was moved to Geelong in May last year after being granted a temporary “bridging visa”.
It is remarkable how well respected he became in Geelong in a short time. People who knew him told Guardian Australia he was generous to the core, even if in desperate need for help himself.
It was a cold winter’s day when Seemanpillai met Cathie Bond, an advocate with Rural Australians for Refugees, who came to visit him shortly after his arrival in the city. She brought with her food, warm clothing, socks and underwear for a newly settled group of asylum seekers. She was drawn to Seemanpillai, who could speak English, and they became friends.
“He was impeccably honourable,” said Bond. “Leo would never ever do anything to offend anyone intentionally. If he made a commitment he would follow through with it. He was very concerned about other people.”
He was obviously struggling, though. He wouldn’t allow a TV in the house, because “there were too many distressing images”, said Bond. He didn’t want his flatmates to see them either.
Despite the quote on his door about the light being our greatest fear, Seemanpillai was actually terrified of the dark. Bond gave him her grandson’s nightlight. “He said it was like the moonlight always being in his room,” she said.
He was a regular at the local church, St Paul’s Lutheran church in Grovedale.
“He knocked on the church door, the front door, every day, until Sunday when we had a service and he brought his friends along,” a pastor, Tom Pietsch, said. “He kept saying he wanted to help us,” said Pietsch. “‘Can I clean your car? Can I do your lawns?’” The church initially worried about accepting free work from a vulnerable person.
“Ma’am,” he told Pietsch’s wife, “God has given us healthy minds and healthy bodies not to sit at home and watch TV but to work.” The church eventually caved in and Seemanpillai began doing volunteer general maintenance work.
At a time when thousands of asylum seekers in Australia are still subject to the previous government’s policy of “no advantage”, a scheme which prevents them working while in the community and left in limbo, Seemanpillai’s enthusiasm for work comes as a potent reminder of potential.
At the Asphalt Paving Services warehouse, down the road from St Paul’s, the lawn is immaculately, precisely cut. Seemanpillai clocked off from his last shift here on 29 May and mowing the lawn was one of his final chores.
His work locker was still full when Guardian Australia visited; his cubbyhole contained a neatly folded cloth and a pair of sunglasses. Seemanpillai was employed here one day a week, cleaning trucks and mowing the lawn. He was proud of his work and was warmly liked by those he had worked with since August last year.
Chris Sleep, an asphalt labourer, was near tears as he spoke to Guardian Australia. Seemanpillai used to refer to Sleep’s daughters as his sisters and told them he was their older brother.
Sleep, who said he had never heard of “Tamils” before meeting Seemanpillai, recalled the lunch breaks they shared. Seemanpillai would always finish five minutes ahead of time, keen to get back to work. Their friendship opened his eyes to the fraught subject of asylum.
“We don’t have to get up in the morning and worry about whether we’re going to be shot or blown up or things like that,” said Sleep. “I don’t really get involved in politics or anything like that, but why can’t we accommodate people like that. Good, honest people that just want to participate in everyday life.”
Seemanpillai regularly invited members of the community to his house for dinner, and they often returned the favour.
In recent months the Australian government has imposed a strict code of conduct for asylum seekers released into the community. They must sign the code of conduct or face a return to detention. It warns them against “anti-social behaviour” and “lying to a government official”. Critics say this code allows the immigration minister to act as his own police force and that it demonises asylum seekers. Indeed, it is hard to understand what purpose a code would have served in Seemanpillai’s case.
Fragments of Seemanpillai’s traumatic life before Australia emerged as his friends talked about him.
His family fled the north east of Sri Lanka during the civil war in 1990 when he was six years old. But even as a baby, his life was scarred by the violence. His father once wrapped him in banana leaves and hid him in the jungle when their village came under attack.
He and his family – mother, father and three brothers – fled to a refugee camp in Tamil Nadu. He languished there with them for 20 years.
“It was very cold and we were always very hungry,” he told Bond on one of their many trips to the beach together. At some point Seemanpillai began training to become a Catholic priest, but he never completed it.
In 2005 he returned to Sri Lanka, but remained there for less than two years. In one of his lunch breaks with Sleep, he told him that he had been tortured by the army, smashed over the head with the butt of an AK47 and left for dead. After that Seemanpillai returned to Tamil Nadu.
In 2012 he set out for Australia from Kerala. The boat didn’t make it, but he was rescued and taken to the Medan detention centre, on Sumatra, Indonesia. There he was detained in the overcrowded facility for about three-and-a-half months. Eventually, somehow, he reached Australia.
At a media conference on Monday the Australian immigration minister, Scott Morrison, said it would be “very unwise” to draw any conclusions about Seemanpillai’s case, blasting any criticism of government policy and possible links to Seemanpillai’s state of mind as “very unfortunate”.
He said that at the time Seemanpillai died, “there was no concern or indication of any suicidal ideation” and that a caseworker had been in contact with Seemanpillai the day before he self-immolated.
But many of Seemanpillai’s friends noticed a change in him after Christmas last year. He was admitted to hospital for mental health treatment in January this year for about 15 days. Multiple sources said he attempted to take his own life during this period.
Seemanpillai attended numerous counselling sessions and medical appointments and had a mental health caseworker after he left hospital. “I went with him to some counselling sessions,” said Bond.
His friends hoped he would get better. “So many good things were happening for him here, I thought he’d be alright,” said Sleep.
No one was expecting him to really take his own life, and the manner in which he finally went haunts all who knew him.
Self-immolation has long been used by Tamils as a form of political protest. In 2009 a number of Tamils in India self-immolated in protest against ongoing war crimes committed during the civil war in Sri Lanka. In the same year, another Tamil self-immolated near the United Nations building in Geneva.
Outside Seemanpillai’s house, there are marks on the road. He is said to have fallen close by.
Pietsch was one of the first to get the call that Saturday evening. He was told by the intensive care unit that Seemanpillai was not expected to live. He went straight to the Alfred hospital in Melbourne and gave him the last rites. Annan and other close friends arrived soon after. They were at his side when the life support machine was turned off at 9.15am on the Sunday.
“We are mourning his loss and we don’t know what to make of it, we’re still in a bit of shock,” said Pietsch.
The night before he took his life, Seemanpillai sat with Bond. They drank tea together and Seemanpillai showed her pictures of him at work, standing proudly in his protective gear.
Aasif said he worried about the future now that Seemanpillai was gone. “He could speak very good English and as a result he took care of many of the kids living in the community here.”
Before they parted for the last time, Seemanpillai showed Bond a picture of his mother and father back home. “He was so proud of them,” she said.
On the phone from India, Seemanpillai’s father became increasingly angry as he talked: “They [the Australian government] have said they will not take responsibility for anything. We will not be able to send the body to Sri Lanka, or India, and we will not able to come to Australia.
“We want to be by our son’s side when his funeral takes place. That way our lives will be more peaceful.”
Israel to build 1,500 more homes in settlements
Housing minister says plan for units in West Bank and east Jerusalem is in response to new Palestinian unity government
Peter Beaumont in Jerusalem
theguardian.com, Thursday 5 June 2014 13.41 BST
Israel's housing ministry has announced new plans for almost 1,500 new settlement housing units in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, described as a "fitting Zionist response" to the new Palestinian unity government, backed by the Islamic militant group Hamas.
The announcement by housing minister Uri Ariel was immediately condemned by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who accused Israel of planning a "major escalation" in response to the new unity government, and by the US ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro.
"When Israel is spat upon, it has to do something about it," said Ariel, a far-right member of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition. Asked who had insulted Israel, he replied: "Our neighbours, and to a certain extent, the world."
The disclosure of the planned settlement construction was described by the justice minister, Tzipi Livni, as a political mistake. Livni was Israel's chief negotiator in the recently collapsed peace talks. She added that the move would "only distance us from the ability to recruit the world against Hamas."
The move comes amid the growing and bitter row between Israel and the US which, like the EU and UN, has vowed to continue working with the new Palestinian government.
That row in turn has sparked a round of loud recriminations in Israel itself, over Netanyahu's handling of the response to the formation of the new Palestinian government and over what has been seen in some quarters as a US betrayal.
The strongest criticism of Netanyahu came from opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog who accused the Israeli prime minister of overseeing "a complete collapse of Israeli foreign policy".
"Netanyahu talks and the world no longer listens," he added.
His comments came as Israeli anger at Washington continued to grow, with senior officials quoted anonymously in several Israeli media denouncing the US position.
"This isn't a failure of Israel diplomacy, it's a knife in the back," one senior official told Maariv.
Others accused the US secretary of state, John Kerry, of violating an understanding with Israel not to rush into recognising the Palestinian unity government.
Reports in Hebrew media claim Israeli officials in Washington have appealed directly to supporters in the US Congress to cut funding to the Palestinian Authority.
Galia Golan, who heads the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy compared the current problems between Israel and Washington to diplomatic low points in 1975 and 1991: "Netanyahu has been mistaken in his outlook with regard to the Obama administration all along. And it is a serious mistake. There is a view – we don't need them. But who else would back Israel the way that America has?
"And the risk is not that Washington pressures Israel but that it decides to do nothing and allows the European Union to pressure Israel further down the line."
Recent Israeli-US diplomatic relations have lurched between a series of disagreements about issues including US-led negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme and blame for collapse of the Middle East peace process.
There have been repeated warnings from senior western diplomats that Israel risks increasing international isolation if it cannot negotiate an end to decades of occupation of Palestinian land.
The heated diplomatic wrangling has come as the Australian government has announced it will no longer refer to east Jerusalem as "occupied territory".
During a senate hearing, which focused on the country's foreign policy in the Middle East, attorney general George Brandis, responding to questions, rejected use of the term "occupied", saying it predetermined an issue subject to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Most of the international community regards territory seized by Israel in the 1967 war as illegally occupied.
Syria and Egypt's tale of two polls could end in the same old story
A pair of presidential coronations have underlined the truth that it takes more than an election to make a democracy
Ian Black, Middle East editor
The Guardian, Thursday 5 June 2014
No one was holding their breath for the results of Syria's presidential election, which was always certain to confirm that Bashar al-Assad has been given a third seven-year term by a grateful, or frightened, people.
Bleak jokes and cartoons have been circulating for weeks in the anti-Assad camp on the theme of barrel bombs serving as ballot boxes. In 2007, when he faced a referendum with no rivals, he won with a whopping 97.6% of the vote. With two approved challengers giving this bizarre contest a veneer of competition, this time he achieved 88.7%.
It was never going to be easy for Assad to credibly surpass the 96.1% officially attained by Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the latest general to become president of Egypt on a reported turnout of 47.5% that, if true, compares favourably with the 52% who voted when the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi narrowly beat the ancien régime candidate in 2012. Morsi may have been an unpopular failure, as his enemies say, but it bears repeating that he was still the country's only democratically elected president when he was overthrown a year ago.
Voting hours were extended in both Damascus and Cairo. But internationally, the contrast between the two elections could hardly be greater. The US, Britain and France all rushed to congratulate Sisi when the final results were published on Tuesday – though they did pay lip service to worries about human rights and accountability. The United Nations, to its credit, sounded much cooler.
Sisi's Saudi and other Gulf allies – blissfully untroubled by voters or lobbyists who might question their foreign policy – promised yet more cash support to bolster the creaking Egyptian economy.
The same countries that signalled business as usual with Egypt dismissed Syria's election as a farce or parody intended to bolster Assad's position at home and abroad and to ensure that any peace – a distant prospect – is on his terms. Conversely, it was hailed by allies such as Russia, Iran and Venezuela, and given a clean bill of health by the observers they sent.
"Egypt's presidential elections were surreal enough," tweeted the blogger Mona Eltahawy. "No words can even begin to describe Syria's."
The coincidence of the two sets of results being announced within 24 hours or so of each other underlines the grim state of affairs in the wider Middle East.
With the exception of Tunisia, scene of the first Arab spring uprising, no government enjoys democratic legitimacy or pluralist politics as understood in the west.
Libyan politics is in permanent chaos and the central government has been unable to impose its authority or rein in independent militias. Conflict is simmering between Islamists of varying hues and a nationalist general in the Sisi mode.
The Gulf autocracies have been spending their way out of unrest while suppressing Islamists and others who might challenge them. Performance has been a little better in Morocco and Jordan, which at least have parliaments.
Algeria, scarred by its civil war in the 1990s, has just re-elected a president-for-life – and is casting itself as a new-old bulwark against Islamic extremism. Politics in Iraq and Lebanon are determined by sectarian allegiance. Yemen has undergone a "managed transition" but it is a deeply troubled one. The lesson is the familiar one that elections alone do not make democracies.
Sisi faces enormous challenges and the turnout does not guarantee him the solid support he wanted as he is forced to tackle poverty and unemployment and attract foreign investment.
Hosni Mubarak repressed the Muslim Brotherhood but the new strongman is out not just to exclude but to eradicate them – hardly a basis for long-term stability.
Assad's future is less clear. Behind his inevitable victory lies the stark truth that votes were cast only in the 40% or so of the country he controls – which excludes large areas of the north and east.
The Saudis and other Gulf states still support rebel fighting formations – as much because of inertia and hostility to Iran as anything else – but western backing is on a downward trajectory as concerns mount about the risks of blowback from al-Qaida-linked groups. Counter-terrorism, not Syrian regime change or Syrian freedoms, is at the top of the agenda in Washington, Paris and London these days.
"The US is reverting to the pre-Arab spring status quo," Shadi Hamid, author of an acclaimed new book on Islamist movements, told a Chatham House audience on Wednesday. "And democracy is being relegated to second-rate status." The question is whether, by the time Assad's new presidential term ends, it will be back to business as usual in Syria too.