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« Reply #13830 on: Jun 07, 2014, 06:59 AM »

06/06/2014 07:32 PM

Fahrenheit 1989: China Erases Memories of Tiananmen

By Bernhard Zand in Beijing

Twenty-five years ago, the Chinese army violently suppressed protests on Tiananmen Square. To this day, Beijing uses pressure, censorship and money to stifle all attempts to commemorate the seminal incident in an up-and-coming China.

Hu Yaobang, 73, a reformer and one of the few politicians the Chinese have ever genuinely worshiped, died on April 15, 1989. As the party leaders who had toppled him from his position as general secretary two years earlier carried him to his grave, some 100,000 students gathered on Tiananmen Square and demanded Hu's rehabilitation. The incident marked the beginning of the revolutionary events of 1989 in faraway Beijing.

On the evening after Hu's death, his son asked his friend Zhang Lifan, a historian, to document the coming days and weeks. He told Zhang that members of the Hu family were too exhausted to do it themselves.

Today Zhang, who was 38 at the time, is one of China's leading intellectuals. He had 300,000 followers until last November, when censors shut down his blog. Zhang is a tall, kind and playful, 63-year-old man. When he is searching for a word or a memory, he tilts his head to one side and presses his left hand to his forehead. He wears a silver skull ring, a memento mori given to him by a Buddhist monk.

In the weeks following April 15, 1989, Zhang would become far more deeply involved in the events that were unfolding than he might have suspected on the evening after Hu Yaobang's death. He has waited almost a quarter of a century to publish part of his memoirs and talk about his experiences publicly.

"I felt cold on the morning of the funeral," he says. "There were thousands of demonstrators outside, while inside the building supreme leader Deng Xiaoping, that 84-year-old who had had his hair dyed once again, was stomping around like some angry young man. I was standing right next to him. He was determined and ready for a fight."

In the spring of 1989 Deng, who had fallen out of favor twice during the Cultural Revolution, saw his life's work being threatened: the economic opening of China under party dominance. "He knew that he would not experience a third comeback," says Zhang. "That fear led to the suppression of the unrest on Tiananmen."

'Enforced Amnesia'

During the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s, tens of thousands of academics, artists and writers were banished or even beaten to death. "I knew what sort of trouble words could get me into," says Zhang, "and I had stopped keeping a diary years earlier." Nevertheless, he agreed to accept the request from Hu's family. "Historians rarely have the opportunity to witness an event that shapes history."

It was indeed an event that made history. Europe is marking the 25th anniversary of an important turning point in 2014. While Germany commemorates the fall of the Berlin Wall, the countries of the former Eastern bloc are celebrating their liberation from communism. But China's leaders see no reason to commemorate the protests that began at their palace gates and swept into the streets for the first time in 1989. The country's name still identifies China as a people's republic today, and according to its history books, nothing of any significance happened there 25 years ago. When the number "1989" is typed into Baidu Baike, a Chinese version of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, one of the responses reads: "1989 is the number between 1988 and 1990."

The leadership isn't just ignoring an anniversary. In fact, it has erased the incident from the collective memory, despite its profound impact on China's current intellectual elite. Sinologist Frank Dikötter describes the government's policy as "enforced amnesia". Authoritarian countries, of course, have a habit of dismissing historic facts.

Ironically, though, China's Communist Party takes its version of history very seriously. Party officials constantly invoke history in their speeches, and since 1989 dozens of professorships in history have been established, days of remembrance have been introduced and countless conferences have been held. "To forget history is treachery," states an anthology of contributions to one of these conferences.

Nevertheless, the party quashes any attempt to force it to face up to its own history, one that includes the hundreds killed in the Tiananmen massacre and the millions who died in mass campaigns during the years under former leader Mao Zedong through the land reform, the "Giant Leap Forward" and the Cultural Revolution.

Unparalleled Negation

Even among authoritarian countries, China's negation of its own contemporary history is historically unparalleled. In the 25 years since Tiananmen, the country has not only taken off economically, but has also experienced a cultural explosion. And yet China's publishing houses and film studios, along with its universities, think tanks, museums and Internet companies, are producing culture devoid of much of its own history. China's version of Ray Bradbury's dystopian novel "Fahrenheit 451" could very well be called Fahrenheit 1989, a society in which the regime has deleted all unpleasant memories, so that millions of young Chinese today have no idea what happened on Tiananmen Square.

A week after the memorial service for Hu Yaobang, Zhang Lifan received a second request, this time from the government. Then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev had been invited to visit Beijing, but the regime didn't want his reception to be tainted by thousands of people protesting outside. Men like Zhang, a lecturer at the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences at the time, knew the students. The government asked him to serve as an intermediary.

"Weeks earlier, I had met and debated with students in a student apartment in Dasuzhou Alley," says Zhang. On a day in May, 25 years later, he and his wife are searching for the apartment near Tiananmen where he met with the students. But their search is unsuccessful. Like most buildings near the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen Gate), those in Dasuzhou Alley are now occupied by party officials and their families. There are high walls, imposing portals and security cameras everywhere. When Zhang stops walking for a moment and points to where the apartment was, a couple emerges from a crowd of tourists and photographs him. It's obvious that they are plainclothes agents.

Zhang, undeterred, continues his account: "I spent days rushing back and forth between Tiananmen Square and the office of the United Work Front, which was supposed to communicate with the students. I didn't get much sleep."

Division in Both Camps

He noticed signs of divisions in both camps from the very beginning, says Zhang. In the government, he explains, the reformers were losing ground to the hawks. Among the students, the thousands of new demonstrators arriving every day were applying growing pressure on the core group, which had persevered on Tiananmen Square from the beginning and was willing to negotiate a withdrawal.

Shortly before martial law was imposed, Zhang guided one of the government's chief negotiators through the checkpoints to the demonstrators' main tent.

"We all sat on the ground, and one of the student leaders introduced the chief of the delegation to his people. 'This here is Yan Mingfu of the Workers' Front,' he said, 'a good man from the system. Listen to what he has to say, and give the reformers a chance.' But then Yan Mingfu kicked him. It was already dangerous at the time to be called a 'reformer'."

On the next day, May 19, the demonstrators voted on a bus whether to clear the square. The outcome was negative. "I ran over to the official in charge. He was surprised, because he thought the government had been given different signals," says Zhang. That evening, the students requested another meeting with the government, and Zhang took them to see the official. "The tone had changed radically within a few hours. Now the official asked: 'What else is there to discuss? Go back and see what's on TV."

Premier Li Peng had gone on television to declare martial law. "That put an end to my mission," says Zhang. "I was disappointed by both sides, because I knew what a historic opportunity had now been lost."

Immediate Efforts to Obfuscate the Massacre

On the night of June 3, 1989, the army advanced on Tiananmen Square. Hundreds of protestors who couldn't have imagined that the soldiers would obey orders to open fire died in Beijing, and hundreds more were killed outside the capital. The exact death toll is unknown to this day. Efforts to obfuscate the massacre began immediately after it had occurred.

Many of the prominent student leaders managed to flee abroad. Those demonstrators who were arrested disappeared into prisons for months or even years, and many were sentenced to death. Those who publicly declared their solidarity with the protestors, like a few prominent journalists, were demoted or fired. Party leader Zhao Ziyang who, as Zhang later discovered, had requested his and other academics' assistance, was deposed and placed under house arrest. He died in 2005.

But the determining factor in the disappearance of the Tiananmen massacre from China's public memory was the way the regime dealt with the hundreds of thousands of sympathizers in Chinese schools and universities -- the 1989 generation, which now forms the core of China as a cultural nation.

"Sometime that fall, we were summoned by the academy," says Zhang. "We were told to sit in a circle and deliver our reports. When it was my turn, they said: 'Comrade Zhang Lifan! What have you done?' In response, I asked: 'Is that a question or an order?' It was an order, and of course I had done more than anyone else."

Life after Tiananmen

He says he received daily visits from the police after that. The interrogations became increasingly harsh, and Zhang feared that he would be arrested any day. "Instead, the mood suddenly shifted. University grants and conference and research budgets increased, and academia blossomed," he recalls.

Throughout the country, historians began writing entire libraries full of essays and books about China's humiliation in the opium wars, the history of Marxism and the rise of the Chinese nation under the Communist Party. "Most of its was completely worthless from an academic standpoint, and it didn't hold up as a historical narrative, either."

Zhang continued to work for a period of time. "I still remember what I said in parting: You and I, we no longer belong in the same wok. We no longer fit together." Since then, he has been writing his blog and occasionally publishing a book or an essay, such as his memories of the funeral of Hu Yaobang published last year in the magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu, which prompted complaints to the editors by government censors. "Those who do not participate in writing the official account of this country's history have to think very carefully about what they are writing and how much of a risk they are taking," says Zhang.

Since the suppression of the Tiananmen uprising, the power of the Communist Party has relied on four pillars, writes China expert Minxin Pei: robust growth, sophisticated repression, state-sponsored nationalism and co-opting of social elites.

China's intellectuals play a key role in this power structure, voluntarily or involuntarily. They benefit from the economic boom more than most Chinese, and they are both victims of the censorship and surveillance state and authors of a powerful account of the greatness of the nation, the rise of the party and victory over China's enemies -- an account that excludes all mention of the disasters and mountains of bodies littering the country's history.

Oliver Stone: Deal with Your History

In mid-April, on the 25th anniversary of the death of reformer Hu Yaobang, Beijing's cultural establishment listened to what one of the biggest fans of China among the West's creative classes, the history-obsessed US director Oliver Stone, had to say. He had been invited to speak about cooperation between Hollywood and the Chinese film industry at the Beijing International Film Festival.

Stone's message was unheard of, at least publicly. Before any meaningful cooperation between Hollywood and China's studios could take place, he said, the country would have to finally come to terms with its historical material. "Mao Zedong has been lionized in dozens and dozens of Chinese films, but never criticized," he told them. "It's about time. You got to make a movie about Mao, about the Cultural Revolution. You do that, you open up, you stir the waters and you allow true creativity to emerge in this country."

He could understand Beijing's studio heads avoiding subjects like Tibet or unrest in the Xinjiang region, he said. "But not your history, for Christ's sake."

The audience applauded.

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« Reply #13831 on: Jun 07, 2014, 07:00 AM »

Tony Abbott 'embarrassing' Australia, says Tanya Plibersek

The prime minister has reportedly cancelled meetings with the world's top finance officials during his visit to the United States

Australian Associated Press, Saturday 7 June 2014 06.55 BST      

Labor has slammed Tony Abbott, declaring him embarrassing for cancelling meetings with the world's top finance officials during his visit to the United States.

Deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek said the prime minister had made a succession of missteps during his travels overseas, the latest in the US.

"Australians have to worry that he'll be embarrassing us on the world stage," she told reporters in Sydney.

It follows a report from political columnist Laurie Oakes, who said Abbott had cancelled long-planned meetings with US treasury secretary Jack Lew, International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde and World Bank president Jim Yong Kim despite Australia hosting the G20 summit in November.

“The G20 is the most important meeting ever on Australian soil. The head of the IMF, World Bank and US treasury chief will be critically involved with preparations for the G20,” Plibersek said.

“This shows the prime minister doesn’t understand how important the G20 is. He’s not as engaged as he should be.”

Plibersek said that followed the embarrassing spectacle of Abbott "washing Australia's dirty laundry" by talking about domestic issues at the Davos conference.

Six months down the track, the relationship with Indonesia was still not back to normal, she said.

Plibersek said it was extraordinary that Abbott was not meeting the top economic officials at a time when Australia was preparing to host world leaders for the November G20 summit.

"The G20 is the most important international meeting that has ever been held on Australian soil," she said.

Plibersek said the rest of the world was moving forward on climate change action but Abbott was a "Nigel no-friends" on the world stage.

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« Reply #13832 on: Jun 07, 2014, 07:02 AM »

S. Korea to Donate Warship to Philippines amid Sea Tensions

by Naharnet Newsdesk
06 June 2014, 14:20

South Korea will donate a corvette warship to the poorly-equipped Philippine navy amid growing tensions -- particularly with China -- over maritime territorial disputes in the region, the government said Thursday.

The "Pohang-class corvette" will be decommissioned by the end of the year and donated to the Philippines, the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said in a statement issued this week.

It was unclear if the donation would include the ship's weapons systems.

South Korean Defence Minister Kim Kwang-jin informed his Filipino counterpart Voltaire Gazmin of the donation during his visit to Seoul on May 30, the statement added.

The gift follows South Korea's recent donation of a landing craft and 16 rubber boats to the Philippines, it added.

"South Korea's gesture is a small token compared with the great contribution of Filipino troops during the Korean War," the South Korean minister was quoted as saying.

Officials at the Manila's foreign ministry and the South Korean embassy could not be contacted for comment.

The donation comes as the Philippines is facing increasing pressure from China over their conflicting claims to the South China Sea.

China claims most of South China Sea even up to the coasts of its neighbours and the Philippines has increasingly accused its larger neighbour of using bullying tactics to enforce its claim.

The Philippines, which has one of the most poorly-armed militaries in the region, has been upgrading its defence capabilities in recent years.

It has also been improving its defence relations with South Korea and in March, it signed an agreement to buy 12 South Korean-made FA-50 jets for about $421.12 million.

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« Reply #13833 on: Jun 07, 2014, 07:03 AM »

'Hundreds Dead' in Boko Haram Village Rampage

by Naharnet Newsdesk
06 June 2014, 14:33

Hundreds of people are feared dead in a suspected Boko Haram attack on four villages in northeast Nigeria, in the latest upsurge in violence claiming increasing numbers of civilian lives.

Some community leaders put the death toll from the Tuesday attacks in the Gwoza district of Borno state as high as 400 to 500, although there was no independent verification because of poor communications in the remote area.

If confirmed, the attacks in the villages of Goshe, Attagara, Agapalwa and Aganjara would be among the deadliest in the Islamists' five-year insurgency and top the more than 300 who were killed on May 5 in nearby Gamboru Ngala.

"The killings are massive but nobody can give a toll for now because nobody has been able to go to that place because the insurgents are still there. They have taken over the whole area," lawmaker Peter Biye told Agence France Presse.

"There are bodies littered over the whole area and people have fled," added Biye, who represents Gwoza in Nigeria's lower chamber of parliament, the House of Representatives.

Boko Haram's bloody reign of terror in northeast Nigeria is forcing 800 people to flee from their homes every day and has claimed more than 3,000 lives in the past year, the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) said.

Another 45 people were killed when suspected Boko Haram gunmen pretending to be itinerant preachers opened fire on a crowd in the village of Barderi near the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, on Wednesday evening.

One survivor, Mallam Bunu, said: "They... lied to us that they had come to preach to us and when almost all the villagers had gathered, another set of insurgents emerged from nowhere and opened fire on the congregation before we all scampered for safety."

On Thursday four people were killed near the home of a state governor in northeast Nigeria when a pick-up truck loaded with grain bags exploded, a government source told AFP.

The blast happened near the private residence of Gombe state governor Ibrahim Dankwambo in the upscale Government Reserve area of the state capital.

Gombe state borders Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, which have been at the center of the Islamist violence.

A separate attack was reported on Thursday in the town of Madagali, just 25 kilometers (15 miles) by road from Gwoza in Adamawa state.

Gunmen razed a Roman Catholic church and torched a local government office after firing at troops manning a nearby checkpoint, said the chairman of the local government in the town, Maina Ularamu.

No deaths had been confirmed, he added, although one resident reported that two civilians were killed in the crossfire.

Reports from Gwoza said the insurgents were stealing livestock and food and burning property with impunity, despite a year-long state of emergency in the restive region.

"Hundreds of dead bodies are lying there... because there is nobody that will bury them," said one community leader in Attagara, who requested anonymity.

He said the attackers on Tuesday only spared women and that young boys were "snatched from the backs of their mothers and killed."

Men, women and children fled the villages but gunmen on motorcycles tracked them down, shooting as they ran, he added.

Gwoza shares a border with Cameroon and is surrounded by mountains and the Sambisa forest, a known Boko Haram stronghold and the focus for a Nigerian military search for more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped on April 14.

Many people fled across the border as soldiers were deployed to fight the heavily armed Islamists, who hoisted their black flag over at least seven villages, Biye said on Wednesday.

The community leader described the situation as a grave "humanitarian crisis", while others called for relief agencies to be allowed in to enable the dead to be buried.

Another elder, Zakari Habu, said women and the elderly were in desperate need of food, water, medication and shelter.

Nigeria's National Emergency Relief Agency (NEMA) has previously said the country faces huge pressures in dealing with internally displaced people from Boko Haram attacks.

The IDMC, run by the Norwegian Refugee Council, added that 3.3 million Nigerians have been driven from their homes by the insurgency and other violence.

Military jets bombarded Boko Haram positions in the affected area to try to flush out the insurgents, Biye said on Wednesday.

In mainly Muslim Goshe, where the entire village of about 300 homes was razed with several mosques, local resident Abba Goni said "at least 100 people were killed."

Bulus Yashi, who lives in predominantly Christian Attagara, said the attack seemed to be a reprisal for when four Boko Haram gunmen were killed after they opened fire on a church, leaving nine dead.

Another attempted raid on May 25 had been repelled, killing seven Boko Haram gunmen, he said.

Such attacks are generally seen as a response to villagers forming civilian vigilante groups against Boko Haram, who in turn accuse locals of helping the Nigerian military's counter-insurgency.

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« Reply #13834 on: Jun 07, 2014, 07:05 AM »

Mali Officer Arrested over 'Coup' Bid

by Naharnet Newsdesk
06 June 2014, 17:41

A Malian army officer has been arrested for "an attempted coup," a senior government official said on Friday, a day after his family reported he had been kidnapped.

"Lieutenant Mohamed Ouattara has been arrested -- and not abducted -- for an attempted coup, for a bid to destabilize the institutions of the republic and for a breach of state security," the official said, asking not to be named.

An official document seen by AFP stated that Ouattara, along with other military officers and "accomplices", aimed to overthrow the regime of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who was elected last year, marking a return to civilian rule following a March 2012 coup.

The government official said several other arrests had been made and that more would follow, but gave no further details of the alleged coup plot in the west African country.

On Thursday, Ouattara's family, including his father retired Colonel Yaya Ouattara, said the lieutenant had been kidnapped in the capital Bamako "by armed individuals wearing military uniform."

Lieutenant Ouattara is a member of the "Red Berets" paratroop corps, who remained loyal to their former commander, president Amadou Toumani Toure, after his ouster in the 2012 coup led by Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo.

The Red Berets were foiled in a bid to carry out a counter-coup a month later and were hunted down by Sanogo's forces, which plunged the formerly stable democracy into chaos.

Since early December last year, almost 30 bodies believed to be those of Red Beret troops captured by Sanogo's regime have been found in ditches near Kati, a garrison town 15 kilometers (nine miles) from Bamako where the coup leader had set up base.

Sanogo's power-grab paved the way for ethnic Tuareg rebels and armed extremists linked to al-Qaida to seize key towns in the desert north of the country, where the Islamists gained the upper hand until France led international military intervention in January 2013.

The campaign is still under way against armed groups who melted into the desert.

After Keita took office last September, Sanogo and a score of aides were charged and jailed for "complicity in kidnapping, kidnappings and assassinations" in an official probe into the disappearance of Red Beret soldiers.

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« Reply #13835 on: Jun 07, 2014, 07:06 AM »

Nigeria's Military Targets Newspapers over Security Fears

by Naharnet Newsdesk
06 June 2014, 18:57

Four Nigerian newspapers said soldiers stopped and seized copies of its editions on Friday over security concerns, with one likening the raids to censorship during the country's military rule.

The military confirmed the searches, but officers denied that the moves were designed to muzzle critics, even though at least two of the newspapers had published damning articles about the army in recent days.

Four dailies -- The Nation, the Daily Trust, the Leadership and Punch -- all said they were affected, while The Nation said soldiers stormed one of its circulation offices.

"One of the military men told us that they were acting on (an) order from above as there were allegations that newspaper circulation vehicles were being used to smuggle arms and ammunition," one of The Nation's distribution managers said.

The early morning raids did not appear to target specific editions and the copies seized were destined for all parts of the country, the newspapers said online.

Defense spokesman Chris Olukolade said the search "followed intelligence report(s) indicating movement of materials with grave security implications across the country using the channel of newsprint-related consignments."

Nigeria's military has been under sustained pressure, including in the media, over its response to the Boko Haram insurgency, which has claimed thousands of lives since it began five years ago.

Attacks by the Islamist militant group have increased, with the military apparently powerless to prevent the bloodshed, exacerbated by the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls in April.

But Olukolade rejected reports the army was trying to stifle free speech, calling the media "an indispensable partner in the ongoing counter-insurgency operation and the overall advancement of our country's democratic credentials."

"As such, the military will not deliberately and without cause, infringe on the freedom of the press," he added, calling the search a "routine security action."

Nigeria's response to the mass abduction of the teenage girls has been criticized as slow and lackluster, while a social media campaign has prompted greater international media scrutiny of the counter-insurgency.

On Tuesday, the Leadership daily claimed that 10 army generals and five senior officers had been court martialled and found guilty of assisting Boko Haram.

The military described the report as "very unfortunate and meant to do maximum damage to the image of (the) Nigerian Army and its personnel."

"Those concocting it appear hell-bent on misleading Nigerians and the international community to give credence to the negative impression they are so keen to propagate about the Nigerian military," they said.

The Daily Trust said no reason was given for the search but said that on Wednesday it published a story claiming army generals and their wives were using an Abuja barracks for their personal use.

Punch said on that copies of its edition were seized at Lagos international airport and distribution vans stopped and searched across the country.

The operation was "reminiscent of military dictatorship in the country," it said.

Nigeria's media came under heavy censorship during the military rule of Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha in the 1980s and 1990s.

A number of publications were either shut down or forced underground and editors fled abroad after printing articles critical of the government.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Nigeria 112th out of 180 countries worldwide in its 2014 Press Freedom Index.

Censorship and crackdowns have in recent years typically targeted reporters working in older media, like newspapers or television.

But the government has increasingly responded to sensitive reports published exclusively online.

The military denied it had confiscated "critical newspapers" and said the search had "nothing to do with content or operation of the media organizations or their personnel."

Last month, the military attacked a May 23 New York Times report that suggested a lack of training and endemic corruption in the Nigerian military was hampering the search for the girls.

It accused the article's author of "abysmal mediocrity, arrogance and racist sentiments."

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« Reply #13836 on: Jun 07, 2014, 07:07 AM »

Sudan Army Says South Kordofan Rebel Base Seized

by Naharnet Newsdesk
06 June 2014, 19:47

Sudanese troops on Friday captured a rebel position in South Kordofan, the military said Friday, as the United Nations voiced concern for civilians caught in fighting between the two sides.

"At noon today our armed forces liberated al-Atmur region, which is a military base... where the rebels stocked heavy weapons, including cannons and multiple rocket launchers," army spokesman Sawarmi Khaled Saad told Agence France Presse.

Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) rebels used the base to launch mortar attacks on South Kordofan's state capital Kadugli, 45 kilometers (30 miles) away, he said.

The rebels were not immediately available for comment.

Ethnic minority rebels in South Kordofan have been fighting government forces for three years in a largely-hidden war which the United Nations says has affected more than one million people.

In its weekly bulletin, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said civilians continue to bear the brunt of the fighting in South Kordofan "with more people displaced and civilian structures hit in SPLM-N areas."

"Over the past week, 59 bombs were dropped in the immediate vicinity of Kauda," a rebel stronghold, said OCHA, citing reports from international and local aid groups.

"While no civilian casualties were reported, the aerial bombings hit a number of civilian structures, including an office of a local aid organization, a market, an orphans' school, and a former hospital."

In mid-May, the army announced the capture of Dalkako region, northeast of Kadugli, and days later flew journalists to the area, allowing a rare visit to a war zone where access is restricted.

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« Reply #13837 on: Jun 07, 2014, 07:10 AM »

Saudi Arabia and Iran Reach Out Tentatively

JUNE 6, 2014

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The fevered struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran for regional dominance has for years aggravated nearly every conflict across the Middle East as the two nations armed, funded and encouraged each other’s adversaries.

So it has come as a surprise to many here that even with the region still in tumult, there have been signs that both powers are looking to temper their destructive rivalry.

But as officials in Riyadh and Tehran give hints of détente, the reality, experts say, is that the two battle-scarred adversaries are more likely circling as they adjust to shifting regional dynamics. For the moment, Iran has the upper hand, having successfully staked its position on supporting President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war and having opened talks with Washington over its nuclear program.

“Iran is in a stronger position than Saudi right now,” said an adviser to the Saudi government, speaking anonymously in order to be more candid. “They have more cards.”

Iran’s current — albeit tenuous — leg up has implications in key areas where it has sparred with the Saudi kingdom, and the United States. It reinforces Iran’s position in Iraq, bolsters its allies who violently reject Israel and gives momentum to forces opposed to American influence in the region.

The shift also has emboldened Iran to seek stronger economic ties with other Persian Gulf states that Saudi Arabia would like to have firmly in its own camp.

This leaves Saudi leaders trying to figure out how they have been outmaneuvered. Saudi Arabia also feels imperiled by what it sees as its allies in the Obama administration pulling back from the Middle East, while the Syrian rebels it has backed fracture and lose ground.

The kingdom has gained outsize leverage with Egypt after propping up its treasury with billions of dollars, but Egypt’s regional influence and agenda have narrowed as it focuses on stabilizing its domestic situation. So with Iran continuing to exert its influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain and Yemen, the Saudis issued an invitation for Iran’s foreign minister to visit, though no date has been set.

Yet a willingness to talk does not necessarily signal a willingness to close the yawning gaps that remain between the two sides, according to analysts and regional officials.

“When you look at the nature of the conflicts they are fighting, they are not raging because of a lack of dialogue between Tehran and Riyadh,” said Karim Sadjadpour, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “There are serious geopolitical, ethnic, sectarian and ideological differences at play.”

Iran has trumpeted its views on the most immediate of those differences — whom to blame for the civil war in Syria. During a visit to Iran this week by the emir of Kuwait (another signal of outreach from the gulf), Iran’s supreme leader implicitly accused Saudi Arabia of backing takfiris, or extremists who consider those who do not follow their interpretation of Islam to be infidels.

“By offering assistance to the takfiri groups, some regional countries are now supporting their killings and crimes in Syria and in a number of other countries,” said the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to the Tasnim news agency.

In key ways, the similarities between Saudi Arabia and Iran sharpen their differences. Each is a regional power with oil wealth and an Islamic government that longs to outshine the other as the lodestar of the Muslim world.

The conflict of those ambitions pits the Sunni-majority kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a long-term American ally, against Shiite Iran, which has sought to rid the Middle East of Western influence since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Since his election last year, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran has sought to decrease Iran’s isolation and improve its economy by joining the nuclear talks and sending his foreign minister to strengthen ties with other gulf states.

Some of those countries, too, see benefits in building ties with Iran.

One of the Kuwaiti emir’s goals in visiting Tehran was to seek a deal to import Iranian natural gas, Kuwait’s oil minister told the country’s state news service, KUNA.

In January, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, told the BBC that sanctions on Iran should be eased, adding that “everybody will benefit.”

Saudi Arabia has responded to Iranian overtures with extreme distrust, despite the announcement last month by the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, that he had invited his Iranian counterpart to Riyadh.

“Iran is a neighbor,” Prince Saud said. “We have relations with them and we will negotiate with them.”

Saudi and Iranian diplomats have been struggling to agree on an agenda for the visit, with Saudi Arabia insisting that Iran commit to concessions so that the visit is not a public relations victory for Tehran, said Mustafa Alani, an analyst at the Gulf Research Center who is close to Saudi officials.

“The Saudi agenda is clear: ‘Put your agenda on the table and tell us what you are going to change.’ ” Mr. Alani said. “But coming without anything to offer, it is not on.”

Saudi officials also doubt that Mr. Rouhani and the foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, have much control over Iran’s regional involvement, saying such matters are in the hands of Qassim Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force.

Saudi leaders, who have long considered their alliance with Washington crucial to national security, have watched warily as President Obama has prioritized the Iranian nuclear deal over other regional issues. They also feel betrayed because Mr. Obama has not given greater backing to Syria’s rebels and did not enforce his “red line” after Washington accused Mr. Assad of carrying out a chemical attack that killed hundreds of Syrians last year.

Saudi Arabia has sought to adjust by promoting security cooperation in the gulf. And in April, it dropped its traditional discretion about military matters by televising its largest-ever maneuvers and showing off powerful ballistic missiles.

“We are seeing the Saudis realize that they can’t expect the Americans to be there every minute for them and that they have to take more responsibility for their own security and influence in the region,” said Robert W. Jordan, a former American ambassador to the kingdom.

But in addition to doubting Iran’s intentions, the Saudis are wary of offering any concessions of their own in a conflict both sides often see as a zero-sum game.

Saudi officials say they feel they have largely “lost” Iraq, where the Shiite prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, has pursued policies that have enraged the Sunni minority.

That gives them all the more reason not to give up on the rebels in Syria, where three-quarters of the population is Sunni. But Saudi Arabia’s main hope is that the strain of Iran’s extensive support for Mr. Assad will cause it to seek a deal — a prospect analysts dismiss as unlikely as long as Mr. Assad’s forces are advancing.

“Two years ago, the conventional wisdom was that Assad’s collapse was imminent, and now no one is talking about Assad leaving,” said Mr. Sadjadpour, of the Carnegie Endowment. “So why on earth would they feel the need to drop him now, given all they have invested?”

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In the USA...United Surveillance America

Bowe Bergdahl's home town left bewildered by backlash against its hero

Residents of Hailey, Idaho, waited five years for their native son to come home. Now, just a week after the US secured Bergdahl's freedom, the town's festive atmosphere has turned defiant

Rory Carroll in Hailey, Idaho
The Guardian, Friday 6 June 2014 11.00 BST

For five years, the coffeeshop in Hailey, Idaho, where Bowe Bergdahl used to work kept a light on. It was a symbol of remembrance, and hope.

The lamp still burned on Thursday, a discreet glow from a corner cabinet, but in the week since his release from captivity, it has become all but forgotten as a harsh, probing spotlight beamed on Bergdahl, his family and the town of Hailey.

An event for which this small Idaho community prayed and yearned and campaigned, an event expected to herald joyful catharsis, instead has turned into accusation and rancour. The town is bewildered, and the yellow ribbons, balloons and banners proclaiming “free at last”, “mission accomplished” and “welcome home Bowe” on windows, poles and trees appear more defiant than festive.

“It's so vicious. We've been blindsided,” said Sue Martin, a spokesperson for the Bergdahls who employed Bowe as a barista at Zaney's coffeehouse before he joined the army. “We knew there would be some stuff about [him] walking off the base but this controversy …,” her voice trailed off.
Video released by the Taliban of Bowe Bergdahl's release: 'Don't come back to Afghanistan'

On Wednesday, the town cancelled a welcome home celebration planned for later this month, citing security concerns amid a deluge of angry and in some cases threatening messages from around the country.

“They say we're kind of a disgrace, or what a shame is to have a celebration for a traitor,” Kristy Heitzman, a director of the chamber of commerce, told reporters. “The blowback was unexpected. We thought it would be like Kaitlyn Farrington coming back from the Olympics,” she said, referring to the snowboarder who won gold at Sochi.

Hotels that typically host hikers, fishermen and hunters have reported cancellations. Even with the celebration abandoned, there is concern that some protestors could travel to this rural community of 7,000 people to vent their anger.

“To have all these people phoning up and screaming, I mean, really?” said Chip Deffé, who runs a bike shop where Bergdahl's father works as a mechanic. Like many here, Deffé does not own a television, but heard about what was being said on Fox News and other outlets. “A bunch of armchair quarterbacks. They don't know what they're talking about.”

He echoed the prevailing view here: support the family, sympathise with a young man who has suffered a terrible ordeal, and await an official investigation into Bergdahl's alleged desertion before judging his actions.

President Barack Obama invited Bob and Jani Bergdahl to the White House for last Saturday's announcement that their 28-year-old son had been freed in a swap for five senior Taliban figures who were detainees at Guantánamo Bay.

Republican senators criticise prisoner exchange

Republicans lambasted the White House for not giving Congress 30 days notice of the freeing of the detainees, as required by law, and said the five militants could endanger American lives despite a condition of the deal that requires them to remain in Qatar under supervision for a year.

The White House, and Hailey, were unprepared for a third, visceral objection to the deal: that Bergdahl was a deserter, or even a traitor. That he was not worth it.

The claim has stunned a community who knew him not as a pale spectre in Taliban videos but as the tall, affable young man who served coffee and deftly fended off jokes about Billy Elliot – he did ballet along with karate, fencing, paragliding and mountain biking.

The idea that Bergdahl may have walked off his base before falling into Taliban hands in June 2009 was not news. Rolling Stone magazine published critical testimonies from former comrades in 2012. But the speed and force with which those accusations were recycled and amplified gave Hailey, where elk roam the highway, a crash course in US political polarisation and media saturation.

“Fox has been horrible. I'm a conservative but I'm disgusted by how they're trashing him,” said Lee Ann Ferris, an interior designer who lives near the Bergdahls’ wood cabin five miles out of town. “It's a modern-day lynch mob.”

Ferris said she had heard from a friend that the freed Taliban fighters were has-beens and no longer a threat to the US. “I'm told they're too old to do what they'd like.” Ferris acknowledged this was based on speculation.

Sherry Horton, who taught Bergdahl ballet and shared a house with him before he joined the army, said media depictions of him were a travesty. “We want the world to know that Bowe is not just the Bowe they're showing on TV.”

The Taliban video of the handover, in which US special forces escorted Bergdahl to a helicopter, suggested his health was precarious, said Horton. “I taught him dance and know his movements. He was always confident, surefooted. In the video he wasn't steady, he stumbled.”

“It's frustrating to see how people are willing to make snap judgments without having the full story,” said Nini Casser, 25, one of Bergdahl's old fencing partners. “I can't imagine what his family are feeling having all these people say all these horrible things about their son.”

The community is especially pained that Bob and Jani Berghdahl – believed to be at home, avoiding the media glare – have been portrayed as un-American oddballs.

For 28 years, Bob was the UPS guy, pausing for chats as he delivered mail and packages; a cleanshaven, outdoorsy neighbour who accompanied his wife to a Presbyterian church every Sunday.

Physically similar to his son, at first he grew his beard to match Bowe's growing facial hair on proof-of-life videos to try to verify recording dates, said Deffe.

Later it became a symbol of solidarity with his son and a way to connect with the captors. “Pashtun tribal culture is based on respect. He wanted to show he was an elder,” said Martin, the cafe owner. Asked if it helped with negotiations, she shrugged. “Who knows? It certainly didn't do any harm.”

In this new phase of the Bergdahl story, where diplomacy has given way to politicking and public opinion, the beard is now a source of scorn and suspicion outside Hailey. Privately, many townspeople expressed hope he shaves it off, and soon.


Bob Bergdahl remains calm at centre of storm over son released by Taliban

The decision to swap five militants for one American prompted a furore that threatens a family as well as the White House. The Guardian speaks to those who know a suddenly famous father

Rory Carroll in Hailey, Idaho, Saturday 7 June 2014 13.00 BST   
Bob Bergdahl speaks to the Guardian, before the release of his son.

The Berdaghl family made its home in a remote, wind-whipped Idaho valley to keep the world at a certain distance. But two outside forces – the Taliban and US politics – crashed into the idyll.

It says a lot about Bob Bergdahl, 54, and the son he raised that of the two, he appears to have handled the Taliban better.

The former UPS delivery man has intrigued, inspired and infuriated the US public since the release of his son, Bowe, 28, ignited a political firestorm last week.

The ponytail and straggly beard, the phrases in Arabic and Pashto, the refusal to look or sound like a conventional dad, the theories about Bowe's alleged desertion – all have fuelled the clamour, prompting many to ask: just who are the Bergdahls?

Interviews with friends, neighbours and colleagues in the valley and in Hailey, the nearest town, paint a nuanced portrait of a family that on one hand is sporty, Christian and all-American, fond of horses, hunting, chocolate muffins and Jimmy Fallon; and on the other bookish, private and iconoclastic, carving an individualistic trail in its own private Idaho. That lifestyle bred idealism – and, arguably, naivety.

“Bob almost reads and thinks too much,” said Lee Ann Ferris, a neighbour. “You'd ask him a question and, whoah, what an answer you'd get.”

Susan Martin, a close family friend who employed Bowe at her coffee shop, said he inherited his father's looks and passion for books and going his own way.

“I called Bowe the mystery elf. He was always out doing things, helping people,” she said. Bowe's father, Martin said, had an “old hippie soul”.

The story of how father and son came to animate the drama engulfing President Barack Obama – he has been accused of breaking the law and endangering US lives by trading five Taliban prisoners for Bergdahl without giving Congress the 30 days notice required by law – is rooted in a pioneering, individualistic spirit.

In California in the late 1970s, Bob was a young champion cyclist, tipped for the 1980 Moscow Olympics. A US boycott over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan ended that dream – an ironic twist given the country's later impact on his life.

Bergdahl moved to Idaho to become a carpenter; he was attracted by the landscape and the opportunity to work outdoors, said friends. He married Jani, a devout Presbyterian who liked horses and biking. Bergdahl, a Catholic, switched to his wife's church, which they attended regularly, and built their wooden bungalow in a rugged strip of alfalfa crops wedged between bare hills.

After the arrival of a daughter, Sky, and then Bowe, Bergdahl took a job delivering parcels for UPS, a job he kept for 28 years.

“He knows more about the people in this town than anyone else,” smiled Chip Deffe, a bike store owner who hired Bergdahl as a mechanic after he retired from UPS.
Bob Bergdahl Bob Bergdahl speaks at a press conference in Boise, Idaho last Sunday. Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The Bergdahls schooled their children at home. There was no TV, but there were many books – to this day the house is filled with mostly non-fiction volumes including tracts on history, religion, science and athletics, said Alan Beserra, a friend and regular visitor.

When not working the older Bergdahl was out camping, chopping wood or hunting elk and deer with a bow. Bowe was equally active but often did his own thing – making 30-mile treks and taking up karate, paragliding, fencing and ballet. There are multiple testimonies to his desire to help others: shovelling snow, doing errands, teaching.

“He was a very good dancer, muscular and flexible. The girls trusted him when he was doing lifts,” said Sherry Horton, his ballet teacher, who shared a house with him at one point.

Bowe had friends and a girlfriend but could be socially awkward, Horton said. “Girls liked him but he'd miss the cues. He was observant, quiet, but would come out with the best one-liner of the night.”

He abandoned a plan to join the French Foreign Legion because it would mean giving up American citizenship, according to friends, so instead he signed up for the US infantry.

“He wanted to serve and to help people,” said Horton. “I thought the army would be a good fit.”

It wasn't. Bergdahl’s deployment to Paktika province in eastern Afghanistan, as the world now knows, ended in disaster. Instead of helping Afghans, the sensitive bookworm found himself in a flailing counter-insurgency. Former platoon comrades said he was a loner who lost faith in the mission and the US.

In June 2009 Bowe left his base, in circumstances which remain unclear, and fell into Taliban hands.

After recovering from the shock, his father, 7,000 miles away in Idaho, did three things: bought a TV to follow the news; immersed himself in online study of US foreign policy, Afghan culture, negotiation psychology and anything related to the crisis; and started growing a beard.

The study expanded to Arabic and Pashto and the beard – intended to express solidarity with his son and project the image of a tribal elder – gradually transformed his appearance.

Marathon sessions on the computer and phone became all-consuming. “Bob and Jani basically were prisoners too,” said Ferris. At Jani's prodding Bob resumed biking, ending excursions with apple strudel or chocolate muffins, and he discovered ABC's Jimmy Kimmel. But these were fleeting interludes in his efforts to understand and sway his son's captors.

There were, in fact, some parallels: a former endurance athlete who thrived in Idaho's elemental climate and terrain, Bob Bergdahl could relate to Taliban grit in a similar environment. He also vehemently opposed the US mission in Afghanistan and detentions in Guantánamo Bay.

“I think this is the darkening of the American soul,” he told the Guardian, in the run-up to Bowe's release.

Whether Bergdahl's outreach to the Taliban helped the negotiations remains unclear. There is little doubt, however, that some of his public relations efforts backfired in the US.

A 2012 Rolling Stone article included emails from Bowe to his father, shortly before his capture, railing at the US and hinting at desertion. Bob had confided in the journalist, Michael Hastings, and almost certainly provided the emails not realising the damage they would inflict, said one family friend.

The stakes were higher last Saturday, when Bergdahl and his wife appeared alongside President Obama for what was supposed to be a triumphant, joyful announcement of Bowe's release.

Any White House worries about their guest's appearance and what he would say were weighed against the emotional power of tearful, grateful parents emerging from a horrific ordeal.

Republicans, however, complained that Congress was not given 30 days notice of the freeing of the Taliban detainees, as required by law, and that the militants could endanger American lives despite a condition of the deal obliging them to remain in Qatar under supervision for a year.

Then some of Bowe's former comrades came forward, accusing him of betrayal, desertion and costing the lives of soldiers who searched for him. They depicted an eccentric, selfish loner.
Bergdahls, Obama Jani and Bob Bergdahl with President Barack Obama in the Rose Garden of the White House. Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Amid the brewing storm, in the Rose Garden alongside the president and the next day at another press conference in Boise, stood Bowe's father, with a straggly beard, speaking the enemy's languages, invoking Allah, and saying things like: “We're so much like Afghanistan.”

Some found his composure and dignity inspiring. Plenty others did not, and the backlash strengthened. Social media erupted in insults, accusations and conspiracy theories. Bill O'Reilly declared on Fox News that Bob Bergdahl “looked like a Muslim”. Protests and threats prompted Hailey to cancel a welcome home celebration for Bowe, who remains at a base in Germany.

Some senior Democrats swelled the Republican clamour that the administration paid too high a price for a rogue soldier. A Time magazine cover articulated the subtext: “Was he worth it?”

Obama publicly held firm, saying he had no regrets. But the Pentagon, having initially signalled that Bowe had suffered enough, indicated he may in fact face a court martial after transferring to a military clinic in Texas – the next stage of his recovery.

Bob and Jani Bergdahl, meanwhile, remain out of sight, apparently hunkered down at home. On Thursday curtains were drawn and several vehicles were parked out front. Horses grazed in the fields. There was no sound except for the wind.

“All this criticism will be water off Bob's back,” said Chip Deffe, his friend and boss at the bicycle store. “He's true to himself.”

In a politicised climate obsessed with image, that can be a problem.


US stock exchanges face lawsuit over high-frequency trading

It is alleged HFT enables professionals to make quick profits at the expense of savers and pension fund investors

Jill Treanor   
The Guardian, Friday 6 June 2014 19.30 BST  

The American lawyer who orchestrated a successful class action suit against the tobacco industry 20 years ago has turned his sights on the stock exchanges caught up in the controversy over high-frequency trading.

HFT is the process by which professional traders are able to put orders in to the stock market more quickly than the majority of investors. Putting in these earlier bets on the market, it is alleged, allows professionals to make quick profits at the expense of savers and investors in pension funds.

The practice is being tested in a class action suit filed in a New York court last month by a number of US legal firms including Michael Lewis, the lawyer who led a class action suit brought by the state of Mississippi in 1994.

The team of lawyers he assembled at that time led to $368.5bn (£220bn) being paid out by 13 tobacco companies to cover the cost of treating illnesses related to smoking in almost 40 US states.

In an interview in Weekend magazine, Lewis – who is not related to the author of the same name whose book Flash Boys exposed high-frequency trading to the public – describes his court action as "a small skirmish against the larger backdrop of the vast accumulation of wealth and political power".

The case in the Southern District of New York is filed against 13 stock exchanges and subsidiaries on behalf of Harold Lanier "individually, and on behalf of all others similarly situated". "This is a case about broken promises," the 40-page document begins. It is signed by eight legal firms.

In the interview, Lewis says that the information being provided by exchanges "was not timely or accurate, and wasn't fairly distributed", and alleges that they were in breach of contract.

"The illusory market – the market that the investor sees when he looks at his monitor – is anywhere from 1,500 to 900 milliseconds old. That doesn't sound like much, because the blink of an eye is 300 milliseconds. But that's a long, long time in the world of HFT."

The case was filed on 22 May, and is one of what is expected to be a large number of legal cases related to HFT. The 13 exchanges involved are yet to file a formal response in the court. In April, Providence, the capital of the US state of Rhode Island, filed a case targeting a number of exchanges charged with fraud.


Republicans Label Obama’s Plan To Combat Climate Change a Terrorist Attack

By: Rmuse
Friday, June, 6th, 2014, 10:01 am      

Something that promotes and contributes to social well-being, particularly on a national level, is regarded as beneficial. It goes without saying that a nation’s population expects their leaders to work tirelessly to promote policies and agendas that contribute to the well-being of the nation in general, and the people in particular; unless they are Republican leaders. Over the past five years, at least, Republicans have not only resisted doing anything beneficial for the American people, they have actively and with great contempt obstructed any attempt by President Obama and Democrats to pass legislation or enact policies to benefit the people and it has become their defining characteristic as conservatives.

It is, or should be by now, common knowledge that Republicans have not, and will not, propose, support, or advance any policies or agenda that benefit the people because their entire focus is serving the rich and their corporations. It was little surprise, then, that even before President Obama was forced to take it upon himself to address the devastating effects of climate change on the people and the nation, Republicans and their dirty energy donors lashed out against a proposal that benefitted the population. It is just what Republicans do.

The President’s action to reduce carbon emissions responsible for climate change have been labeled by Republicans as a terrorist attack, an assault on democracy, an deliberate Obama crusade to kill jobs, and an illegal use of executive power. Of course, everything Republicans claim are filthy lies, but it is their preferred action anytime this President, or Democrats, attempt to do anything to benefit the people or the nation’s well-being. Republicans know that reducing carbon emissions is the only course of action to reduce the devastating effects of climate change; including warnings from the Department of Defense of the likelihood of increased terrorist threats to America’s national security if climate change continues unabated. It is beyond refute that Republicans are united in supporting any policy advancing the devastation of climate change regardless the effect on the economy, Americans’ health, or national security including lying to protect their fossil fuel donors.

First, the President is not illegally using executive power in imposing new carbon emission limits according to the 1970 Clean Air Act; particularly Section 111 the President employed like Congress specifically intended to regulate pollution from power plants over 40 years ago. Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell accused the President of assaulting democracy itself, putting a “dagger in the heart of the American middle class, launching an Obama job-killing crusade,” and claimed “it is the single worst blow to Kentucky’s economy in modern times.” Subsequently, McConnell immediately introduced legislation to block the new EPA rules and rein in the African American President for attempting to benefit the nation and American people.

What McConnell, or any Republican beholden to the dirty fossil fuel industry, refused to acknowledge is that President Obama realized the challenge to reduce carbon emissions may hit coal producing states’ energy providers’ profit margins where it hurts and gave the states with the most carbon-intensive power plants a break. Instead of reaching the 30% reduction goal, states like Kentucky and West Virginia are only required to make reductions of 19.8% and 18.3% respectively. Instead of acknowledging the President’s generosity to make the new standards as economically manageable as possible, Republicans are already using them as election-year posturing and point-scoring.

Now, Republican claims based on the fascist U.S. Chamber of Commerce report that came out in advance of the President’s new EPA rules that reducing carbon emissions meant total economic annihilation have been thoroughly debunked as more GOP filthy lies to protect the dirty fossil fuel industry’s profits. Still, it has not stopped Republicans like McConnell, Rand Paul, David Vitter, RNC chairman Reince Priebus, and House Speaker John Boehner from citing the Chamber’s dirty lies as proof that “The president’s plan would cause a surge in electricity bills and “put an average of 224,000 more people out of work every year.” Besides being dirty vile liars, Republicans are projecting their own despicable three year job-killing crusade on the President. As usual they use mendacity as a fear-mongering tool to convince their stupid supporters that President Obama’s attempt to assuage the health and economic devastation of climate change is a deliberate job-killing, economy-devastating, terrorist assault on Americans.

The Chamber of Commerce, like the Koch brothers’ American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), may lead and speak for Republicans, but they do not have the support of some seriously major corporations, and surprisingly utility providers, that are distancing themselves from the fascist tax-exempt business organization’s lies and opposition to the President’s climate change rules. In fact, the communications director of Public Citizens’ U.S. Chamber watch, Sam Jewler said, “There are utilities that are major players in American energy and are part of the Chamber that think these regulations are fair and flexible enough for them to work with. It’s another case of the Chamber not doing what’s best for the economy or the American people and not representing the full range of businesses in the economy.” Several dozen of the major corporations that either contribute to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or have executives currently serving on its board of directors do not endorse the new lie-filled report.

The President’s bold move to benefit America and its people had another effect that cannot be understated; China said that since America is moving forward to reduce carbon emissions, it will follow Obama’s lead and place an absolute cap on carbon emissions. According to Reuters, chairman of China’s Advisory Committee on Climate Change told a conference in Beijing on Tuesday that after President Obama’s announcement, “The government will use two ways to control CO2 emissions; by intensity and an absolute cap.” China and America are the largest CO2 (green-house gas) emitters in the world, and China previously complained that America had no right to point a finger at China while it was not willing to take steps to reduce carbon emissions driving climate change. China is suffering the same extreme droughts, wildfires, and devastating floods as Americans, as well as air pollution posing a serious health risk that is killing its people.

Republicans could not possibly care any less about the damaging effects climate change is having on Americans or the nation’s economy. The vicious droughts plaguing the Central and Western states are due to drastically drive up food costs across the nation, and as rivers dry up, reservoirs run out of water, there are serious concerns that states that produce a major portion of the nation’s food supply will run out of water within a few years; if not sooner. Still, Republicans are fighting each and every attempt to reduce carbon emissions to protect the dirty fossil fuel industry’s profits by either outright denying climate change is real or refusing to discuss it because they are not scientists. Republicans are not gynecologists either, but they have no issue discussing, and imposing restrictions, on every woman in America’s uterus to regulate their reproductive health.

There is not one conservative alive, not one Republican, teabagger, or libertarian who can cite even one instance of conservatives doing anything to benefit the nation or the American people, but they devote every waking moment in Congress and state legislatures working for the fossil fuel industry’s benefit. It is inconceivable that Republicans have any supporters after they have not supported even one policy to benefit their constituents, but it is likely their racist supporters regard opposing anything the President proposes as beneficial. One only hopes that as they are saved from being washed away in floods, burned out of their homes in wildfires, or forced to drink recycled urine they remember it is not because of the Republicans beholden to the fossil fuel industry, but because that Black President they hate worked for all Americans’ benefit; even those who least deserve it.


How The Theocratic Right Wing Guarantees Its Legacy: Grooming Future Judges

By karoli June 6, 2014 9:30 am -

Theocracy is coming to the USA, courtesy of Blackstone Legal Foundation, Alliance Defense Fund and associated non-profits. Meet the new generation of theocrats.

How The Theocratic Right Wing Guarantees Its Legacy: Grooming Future Judges

Earlier this month RhRealityCheck published a chilling exposé of a little-known organization which is quietly supporting, training, and placing law students in key internships in order to promote them into the judiciary. The group promoting these students -- Alliance Defense Fund via the Blackstone Legal Fellowship -- is a key connector between the fundamentalist Christian right and the libertarian right.

From RhRealityCheck's article:

    Imagine that a little-known but increasingly powerful group of ideologues had hatched a plan to transform the United States into a Christian theocracy harkening back to the Dark Ages of Europe, a time when society was governed by the laws and officials of the Catholic Church.

    Suppose further that this plan had a scary simple strategy: Recruit bright, young law students; put them through an intensive indoctrination program; place them in plum internships across the country; and watch as they swim upstream until they reach the top of the legal system, where they can create, enforce, and interpret laws according to a legal philosophy infused with fundamentalist Christian theology.

Blackstone Legal Fellowship

There really is a vast right-wing conspiracy with no separation between the so-called libertarian wing and the theocratic wing. Not only do they coordinate at the top levels, but they are also actively working to inculcate young people with their view that there is no barrier between church and state by actively pursuing law students and offering them a paid fellowship to learn how to bend American law and the constitution to suit a fundamentalist Christian world view.

The Blackstone Legal Fellowship, as described in RHRealityCheck's article, is no ordinary scholarship. It is an indoctrination ticket, a way to groom young people early in the ways of conservative thought and the religion driving their dogma.

    Throughout the Blackstone Legal Fellowship website, in tax forms, on YouTube videos, and in radio interviews, the Alliance Defending Freedom has described the mission of the fellowship program to indoctrinate law students with a specific worldview.

    “One of the greatest blessings of my life as leader in the Alliance Defense Fund ministry is the Blackstone Legal Fellowship,” said Alan Sears, the Alliance’s president, CEO, and general counsel, in a video published to YouTube on January 14, 2010. “This is the time when we see the brightest and best law students in America, who love Jesus, come together for nine weeks to learn how to serve Him effectively, how to integrate their faith and the law.”   

    Indeed, part of the nine-week program includes a rigorous reading guide that lists tomes by scholars widely considered to hold radical religious views—a reality openly acknowledged by the Alliance, which warns that:

        Some materials may even contain assertions that may be construed (or misconstrued) to be unnecessarily sectarian, or even offensive to one’s particular theological or ecclesiastical tradition. No offense and certainly, no proselytizing, is intended. Rather, Alliance Defending Freedom seeks to recover the robust Christendomic theology of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries.

Meet Evan Baehr, Blackstone Fellow

In 2007 while still at Yale Law School, Evan Baehr was one of those rising stars who received a Blackstone Fellowship. According to his testimonial on the Blackstone site, "the Blackstone Legal Fellowship, through its lectures, discussions, and reading materials, revealed to me a cohesiveness and integration of the Christian worldview—philosophy, theology, and political theory—that I had previously not understood. It lucidly presented the coherence of apologetics, theology, exegesis, history, legal philosophy, and political advocacy.”

Baehr's bio on his personal website is quite impressive. In addition to working for Peter Thiel on a 'political data company' (likely Palantir Technology, though it's not mentioned), he's worked for Facebook and been featured on conservative news outlets. But it's his non-profit connections that are most interesting.

    He has worked for the American Enterprise Institute’s Charles Murray, the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, served as a legislative aide on the House Appropriations Committee under Rep. Frank Wolf, was Chief of Staff on the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, under which he wrote the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act, and was the failed candidate for Princeton’s City Council, despite receiving more votes than George W. Bush.

    He has served on the board of the Manhattan Institute’s Adam Smith Society, the New Canaan Society, the Rivendell Institute, and Harvard Business School's FIELD Program, and is a mentor with First Round Capital's Dorm Room Fund. He cofounded the Hoover Institute’s Rising Fellows Program, Harvard Business School’s Ideas@Work, Princetonians in the Nation’s Service, and the Yale Forum on Faith and Politics. He is the recipient of the Lilly Endowment Thesis Prize, the Blackstone Legal Fellowship, and Princeton’s James Madison Fellowship. He lives in Austin, TX, with his wife, Kristina Scurry Baehr, a patent litigator, and children Cooper and Madeleine.

Of the organizations listed, the American Enterprise Institute, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Manhattan Institute and the Hoover Institution are heavily funded by right-wing interests. In particular, AEI and the Becket Fund enjoy large contributions from the Kochs, the Bradley Foundation, and the DeVos family, among others. Evan Baehr moved fluidly among the elites of the conservative movement from one project to the next.

Although it wasn't mentioned in his bio, Baehr also established and currently serves as chairman of a non-profit organization by the name of Teneo, Inc.

Teneo, Inc./TeneoDC

Baehr established Teneo in 2008 to gather up the best and the brightest Christian conservatives into an online and offline social network. According to their form 990, their exempt purpose is continuing education, and they list the following program services:

    Regional events to discuss pressing public issues, develop potential solutions and identify ways to contribute to realizing these solutions through their existing vocations.
    Annual retreat where members convene to discuss and develop action items for a number of timely geopolitical issues.
    Virtual communications, which is described as an online social network and listserv where members communicate, share ideas and articles, and discuss issues.

Teneo is Latin for "to keep on, persist, endure." And so Teneo's members strive to hold fast to and perpetuate religious conservative traditions, particularly conservative legal traditions.

According to their website, "Teneo is a network of the nation's most outstanding and entrepreneurial conservatives under 40 that seeks to establish conservatism as the most relevant, most responsive and most effective political ideology. Launched in 2008 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Teneo builds strategic, vertically integrated relationships among our 250 members - translating ideas into action."

How do they decide who the most outstanding and entrepreneurial conservatives are? Are they Blackstone fellows? There is no way to know for sure, but according to their website, membership is by nomination or application only. Presumably no one is accepted who doesn't come highly recommended by conservative elites.

From 2009 to 2012, Teneo received just over $735,000 in grants and donations, with larger donation levels in 2010 and 2012 than off-election years, according to their annual reports. For the first time in 2012, Teneo received $140,000 from the Koch donor-advised fund, Donors Trust.

Before it was deleted, the public Google Group for one satellite -- TeneoDC -- served as a network for the A-list of DC millennial conservatives. For this group, the Federalist Society served as the hub, and they were the spokes.

Teneo DC Membership - Elites Galore!

Zachary Terwilliger is an assistant US Attorney in the major crimes unit for the Alexandria division. His duties include participation in the federal law enforcement efforts against the MS-13 street gang.

Adam White is a litigator at Boyden Gray & Associates. Boyden Gray is one of the Elder Conservative elites, serving as a board member at organizations like FreedomWorks, among others.

Brittany Riner is the Executive Director of Women's Rights Without Frontiers, a new nonprofit organization agitating in China against forced abortion. Before that, she was the High School Product Manager for private online charter company K12, Inc.

Her husband Noah Riner is managing director of Ironclad Capital. Noah Riner is also the homeschooled son of Kentucky Assemblyman and Baptist preacher Tom Riner. Tom Riner is known for his Christian far right battles, such as fighting for the Ten Commandments to be posted in the Kentucky homeland security office, Riner, a true Southern Democrat, also authored a law requiring citizens to acknowledge God as the guardian of the state's security or serve 12 months in jail for refusing.

David Azerrad is the director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics at the Heritage Foundation. The Simon Center sponsors the Heritage Congressional Fellows program for junior level staffers, and the James Madison Fellows program for senior-level staffers.

Apache Corporation corporate counsel Stephen Cox is a contributor to Teneo DC, as is Justin Shubow, director of Social Media and Alumni Relations at the Federalist Society. Elizabeth Fitton of the National Review Institute and Sarah Isgur Flores, Deputy Communications Director at the RNC round out some of the top participants in the domestic policy arenas.

In foreign affairs areas, David Trulio is the director of federal and civil programs at Raytheon, and pundit/writer Alexander Benard is an active participant in the foreign affairs arena. Benard is also owner of, a social media aggregator site measuring political candidates' reach and influence. The site is currently not functional but promises a return in 2014.

Simone Ledeen is the daughter of Iran war agitator Michael Ledeen. If you don't remember Ledeen for his Iran-Contra participation, perhaps his role in the yellowcake forgery allegations will strike a chord. Simone was an early member of the Iraq Provisional Authority Team in the finance arena. Simone's brother Daniel is most known for his stupid question to Michael Moore trying to link Fahrenheit 9/11's distribution to Hezbollah while interning with the New York Sun in 2004. Simone and Daniel's mother Barbara Ledeen worked for Rick Santorum during his tenure in the Senate and still serves as a staffer in the US Senate.

Michael James Barton rounds out the foreign policy team. Barton served on the Homeland Security Council staff and as Deputy Director of Middle East Policy at the Pentagon during the Bush years.

From the military perspective, members Ben Kohlmann, Jim Baehr, and Brian Ferguson round out the group.

Other members include William Blaise Warren and his wife Sarah Hawkins Warren, lawyers at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Warton & Garrison LLP and Kirkland & Ellis LLP, respectively.

The common link? They're in DC, they're mostly lawyers, and they're connected to heavy hitting conservative public policy organizations like the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society.

But how does this translate from pedigree to heir? And where do the right-wing billionaires fit in?
Lawyers, Tech, and Religion

Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel has long been a champion of the Ron Paul libertarian strain of the right wing. He was one of James O'Keefe's original benefactors, has created a foundation that pays young people to leave college and become entrepreneurs, and funds far-right wing causes. Because his focus is on technology and specifically the Internet, Thiel's ventures often intersect with the millennial libertarian set.

Thiel also has close ties to at least two Teneo directors. Chairman Evan Baehr worked with Thiel to "build a civic engagement social media company." Duncan Sahner's bio says he served as a "special assistant to investor Peter Thiel." Noah Riner worked in business development for big data analytics company Palantir Technologies. Thiel owns Palantir.

Treasurer Dave Trulio is connected to the Bush-Cheney administration, the national security industry, and is a member of the Council of Foreign Relations. Trulio's membership in the secretive policy group Council for National Policy is unmentioned, but according to an email he sent to members of the public TeneoDC group, he is a member there as well, and co-chaired a workshop in May, 2013 on Defense and Foreign Policy.

In 2013, Trulio extended a last-minute invitation to TeneoDC members to the CNP 2013 annual meeting which dropped a number of names, including Ken Cuccinelli, Cato Institute President John Allison, Rep. Tom Cotton, and Edwin Meese, III, among others.

The common links running through this organization are the deep ties to far-right wing organizations such as the Council for National Policy and the Heritage Foundation, members' ties to conservatives in the legal, tech, and policy arenas, and their advancement from fairly responsible positions to leadership positions in new organizations.

Passing the Baton

It's notable to observe the career trajectories of these conservative rising stars. These are not the people paraded on Fox News to pretend Fox has appeal to young people. This group is a group of doers, and they're being groomed to take over the reins of conservative activism in the years to come. But being from a new generation, they aren't content to stand on the outside. These are the young people expected to take the helm in areas of business, religion, and policymaking under future conservative presidencies.

Evan Baehr may not have succeeded with his tech startup Outbox, but he's building a formidable network of next-generation far right wing religious conservatives to be sent out into business, the courts, and even foreign countries in order to preach the Gospel of the Almighty American wherever there are ears to hear. Evan and his wife Kristina also have a business tutoring young law students for the LSAT. What better way is there to identify those who might have potential to join the group?

Teneo is organized as a network, but it is also intended to connect bright entrants into the policy arena with appropriate mentors and groom them for future responsibilities.

Blackstone Legal Foundation is an organized and focused effort to place bright law students in areas of public policy in order to further deteriorate any barriers between church and state. Many of these young people cut their political teeth during the Bush/Cheney administration and used that as a stepping-stone to more influential positions. From technology to policy shops to think tanks to a convergence of all three, they are positioned to ensure conservative enforcement of conservative ideas, bought and paid for with Billionaire Bucks, whether Koch, Thiel, or some other donor.

One of the final Teneo DC emails sent to their group was quite interesting, particularly with the barrage of faux scandals marching across news feeds lately.

It is an invitation to a dinner with Reginald "Reg" Brown, a lawyer in private practice who previously served the George W. Bush administration in several capacities, including a stint in the White House Counsel's office as liason to bankers and housing agencies during the time leading up to the crash in 2007-2008.

Stephen Cox describes Brown as a "DC lawyer who focuses on congressional investigations and crisis management. Cox goes on to describe Brown as a "brilliant political operator in the conservative movement" before inviting the group to join them to "discuss the future of the party, the best opportunities for young conservatives [sic] operatives in DC, or good ol' fashioned war stories from his experiences as a top lawyer to Governor Jeb Bush and President George W. Bush."

There's a connection not to be missed. It makes one wonder which of the Teneo group attended, and what advice they might have received about using scandals and congressional investigations as crisis-makers and election winners.

Theocrats, lawyers, pundits and techies, all rolled up and waiting in line to assume their rightful place in the conservative hierarchy. How long before some of them become household names?

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« Reply #13839 on: Jun 08, 2014, 06:21 AM »

SS songs and antisemitism: the week Golden Dawn turned openly Nazi

Supporters of the far-right party gave Hitler salutes and sang the Horst Wessel song outside parliament last week. Helena Smith reports from Athens on how Golden Dawn has taken on a sinister new tone

Helena Smith   
The Observer, Saturday 7 June 2014 21.14 BST           

It has been a bad week for democracy in Athens. All around this great Greek city, the politics of hate now lurk. On Friday I got a taste of it in the tiny Italian-style cafe I frequent off Syntagma Square.

It arrived in the form of two middle-aged men, both supporters of the neo-fascist Golden Dawn – and, by their own account, the holders of university degrees, well-travelled and well-informed. Over espressos, they began to engage in an animated discussion about all that is wrong with Greece.

The first, a self-described businessman decked out in designer suit, brogues and silk tie, blamed the country's economic collapse on malfeasance, corruption and uncontrolled immigration. "The only way to teach our filthy politicians is to bring in Golden Dawn," he trilled, his eyes locked in a fierce glare. "These gentlemen are patriots, proud Greek nationalists, and they know how to deal with the scum, the foreigners who never pay taxes, who steal our jobs, who have taken over our streets."

Dismissing charges that Golden Dawn is a criminal gang masquerading as a political group, the second – a self-described government employee – said the far right was the best response yet to the great Jewish conspiracy of an interconnected banking system that has come with globalisation. "Let's not forget all the faggots and the Jews, the wankers who control the banks, the foreigners who are behind them, who came in and fucked Greece," he insisted. "The criminals who have governed us, who have robbed us of our future, of our dreams, need a big thwack."

Last Wednesday Greece got that jolt when Nikos Michaloliakos, Golden Dawn's imprisoned leader – who stands accused of murder and assault – made his first public appearance in almost nine months. The politics of hate took over Athens as the 58-year-old was hauled before parliament, ahead of a vote to lift his immunity from prosecution, on further charges of illegal weapons possession.

Emboldened by its recent success in European and local elections – in which the party emerged as the country's third biggest political force, thanks to a softening of image that has attracted ever-growing numbers of the middle class – the extremists drove home the message that they were not only on the rebound but here to stay. And as they ran roughshod through the house of democracy, hurling abuse at other MPs in an unprecedented display of violence and vulgarity, there was no mistaking what Golden Dawn is: a party of neo-Nazi creed determined to overturn the democratic order. For, far from being contrite, the handcuffed Michaloliakos was in unusually aggressive mood, giving Nazi salutes, telling the house speaker to "shut up", and instructing guards to take their hands off him.

Outside, black-shirted Golden Dawn supporters, lined up in military formation in Syntagma Square, gave a hearty rendition of the Nazi Horst Wessel song – albeit with Greek lyrics. All this was a far cry from the party's recent efforts to distance itself from the thuggery and racist rhetoric from which it was born.

"That day democracy felt a bit weak," said Pavlos Tzimas, a political commentator who has watched the party's rise from its fringe group beginnings in the early 1980s. He has watched it grow from marginal group to mainstream party over the past three decades. "After all the revelations [about criminal activity], after all the prosecutions against its MPs, it still has the nerve to act in such a way, in scenes of hate that, frankly, I cannot recall ever being seen inside the parliament," he sighed. "Golden Dawn is not a passing phase, it will not disappear with the end of the crisis, it feels untouchable, it fears nothing, and what we saw this week is its real face. It is not like other extremist parties in Europe. It is a true neo-Nazi force whose aim is to use democracy to destroy democracy."

The crackdown against Golden Dawn – triggered by the killing of an anti-fascist rapper at the hands of a self-confessed party cadre last September – was meant not only to bring offenders to justice but reverse the group's seemingly unstoppable ascent. At first the round-up of party leaders seemed to dent the ultranationalists' popularity. For the first time since June 2012, when it was catapulted into parliament with 6.9% of the vote and 18 deputies, its ratings dipped. But in an alarming display of rehabilitation, the neo-fascists won 9.4% of the vote in the European elections on 25 May and, in the race for the Athens mayoralty on 18 May, were backed by 16.1% of the electorate even though its candidate, Ilias Kasidiaris, sports a swastika tattoo and assaulted two leftwing female politicians during a live TV show. In both cases the results were the most shocking endorsement yet of the anti-liberal party.

What worries Tzimas most is not just the coarsening of public debate but the "banalisation of violence" that is now stalking Greece. "We seem to be getting used to it, and that frightens me," he said.

In an explosive political climate, where popular rage is at boiling point nearly five years into the country's worst crisis in living memory, the politics of hate so embodied by Golden Dawn is becoming increasingly pervasive. "Who cares if six million Jews were exterminated?" asked the businessman back at the cafe, in a shocking endorsement of that reality. "I don't care if they were turned into soap. What I care about is the salary I have lost, the never-ending taxes I am forced to pay, the criminals who rule this country, the anger I carry inside."

In a global survey released by the Anti-Defamation League last month, Greece at 69% was found to be the most antisemitic country in Europe.

"This is the deeper explanation for the growth of Golden Dawn," says Dimitris Psarras, author of The Black Bible of Golden Dawn, which chronicles the party's meteoric rise. "Greece has deep cultural differences with the rest of Europe. After the second world war, it did not undergo real democratisation because we had civil war [1946-49]. And after that the deep state was never really purged [of extreme rightwing elements]. Even when it was a small group, Golden Dawn had ties to the Greek state."

The party's fielding of two retired generals on its European election ticket was testimony to those ties. With three Golden Dawn MEPs now about to take seats in Brussels, the burning question for many is how to confront the extremists. Following the poll, even France's Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, ruled out relations with them.

The independent MP and prominent novelist Petros Tatsopoulos, himself the focus of much of the fascists' fury in parliament last week, thinks there is no other way but to ban Golden Dawn. "It was a huge, historic mistake on the part of our parliament not to de-legitimise Golden Dawn," said Tatsopoulos, until recently an MP with the radical left. "It should have been banned, not for its Nazi ideology but because it is a paramilitary force … who, if it could, would press ahead with a coup d'état," he told the Observer. "We know how these people work. The fascist poison that Greece is experiencing is not just political, it is poisoning every aspect of social life, the way people think, the way they behave. I honestly believe that the 500,000 Greeks who voted for Golden Dawn were very conscious of what they were doing."

Was democracy in its own birthplace now under threat? "Golden Dawn is on stand-by," he averred. "I don't know how long it will take, but if this voluntary blindness continues, if the crisis goes on, it will be a real threat to democracy in the near future."


Golden Dawn leader hits out at Greek parliament's 'plot' to prosecute him

Nikos Michaloliakos condemns 'pseudo-democrats' in hostile speech after being stripped of political immunity

Helena Smith in Athens, Wednesday 4 June 2014 20.08 BST   

Hurling abuse, telling other MPS to shut up and describing himself as an "unrepentant nationalist", the imprisoned leader of Greece's neo-fascist Golden Dawn party sent shudders through the country's political arena on Wednesday as deputies in the Greek parliament voted to prosecute the politician on charges of operating a criminal gang.

Nearly nine months after being incarcerated in Athens's high-security Korydallos jail, Nikos Michaloliakos made his first appearance in public in combative mood. It was the first time a leader elected by democratic process has been escorted into parliament in handcuffs and under armed guard.

As diehard Golden Dawn supporters outside the building, – shouted "you have made a mockery of them all, great leader" a wan-looking Michaloliakos blasted MPs who had assembled in the chamber with the purpose of stripping him of his political immunity.

"I am the head of Greece's third largest party," he railed, reminding deputies of the far rightists' unexpectedly strong showing in recent European and local elections. "Shame on you, you pseudo-democrats, for setting up this plot against us … You have drawn up charges with your eyes on opinion polls. You are a sad minority government. You put me in prison for no reason. But I do not fear prison. My handcuffs are a badge of honour."

Of the 224 MPs present, an overwhelming 223 voted in favour of formally instituting legal proceedings against Michaloliakos. The party's second-in-command, Christos Pappas, and a leading Golden Dawn MP, Yannis Lagos, were similarly stripped of their immunity. All three men – along with around 30 other prominent party cadres – are in prison pending trial later this year.

Their appearance, described by senior officials as "troubling" for a government clinging to power with a majority of two, is a foretaste of the tactics the extremists are expected to pursue in the months ahead.

The far-rightists' transformation into a nationalist, patriotic group – from the outset they have denied they are Nazi sympathisers – has seen them discard the violence that catapulted them into parliament on a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment in June 2012. The neo-fascist party has instead focused on the "rotten" political establishment widely blamed for twice-bailed-out Greece's economic meltdown.

The party's anti-European, antisemitic, anti-immigrant and homophobic rhetoric has won increasing appeal among middle class Greeks, with Golden Dawn winning 9.4% of the total vote and three MEPs in the European elections last month.

The showing, a 25% increase on its performance in national elections two years ago, was attributed as much to swaths of the population being pauperised by the crisis as to growing numbers being unconvinced by the charges against the group.

In perhaps the most telling turnaround, the extremists appear to have won over more educated Greeks as well as the working classes in areas once considered leftwing strongholds in Athens, the region worst affected by the crisis.

Playing on those sentiments, Yannis Lagos, the MP accused of ordering the murder of Pavlos Fyssas – an anti-fascist rapper whose death spurred the crackdown against the party – insisted nothing had been found to support the accusations against Golden Dawn.

Telling MPs the organisation had "lots of evidence" to prove the judicial investigation was politically motivated, he said: "If we go to trial we will make a mockery of you across Europe. Golden Dawn is not going to be erased – ever."

The two magistrates investigating the group have received death threats, as has the prosecutor who ordered the inquiry.

Human rights groups say it is imperative that the inquiry is carried out to the "highest judicial standards".

Tad Stahnke of Human Rights First said: "Golden Dawn's popularity, even after revelations about its Nazi ideology and its alleged involvement in two murders and dozens of assaults, underscores the need for rigorous and credible prosecution that meets the highest European judicial standards and is not tainted by accusations of political motivation."


Greece's Golden Dawn party describes Hitler as 'great personality'

Golden Dawn MP Ilias Panagiotaros cements party's credentials as neo-Nazi force in interview with Australian current affairs show

Helena Smith in Athens, Wednesday 16 April 2014 16.05 BST   

Cementing its credentials as an unapologetic neo-Nazi force, Greece's increasingly combative Golden Dawn party has hailed Hitler as a "great personality" and denounced homosexuality as a "sickness".

In a rare interview with a foreign media outlet before May's European elections, the Golden Dawn MP Ilias Panagiotaros told the Australian current affairs show 60 Minutes the group was involved in an "extremely ugly [war]" and that "in every period of time, there must be, there are, some people who are doing the dirty work".

When asked about Hitler, Panagiotaros, who is widely seen as the organisation's chief overseas strategist, described him as a "great personality, like Stalin".

With its leadership imprisoned and more than half of its 16-strong parliamentary group under criminal investigation, Golden Dawn has previously attempted to minimise any association with nazism. Fascist salutes among party cadres and the group's swastika-style emblem have been played down. So, too, have video recordings, speeches and documents confiscated from the computers of its jailed elite that have depicted the force as headed by an all-powerful führer and a rigid hierarchy resonant of the Nazi party.

But Golden Dawn has clearly decided to up the ante as European elections and Greek local elections, also in May, approach. It was unclear, however, whether Panagiotaros' inflammatory comments were indicative of the extremists' renewed confidence or fear in the face of crisis.

Extolling the virtues of a "one-race nation", Panagiotaros, who also faces charges of participating in a criminal gang, lashed out at the minorities the party considers deviant in the 60 Minutes interview, describing Muslim immigrants as jihadists and gays as "faggots".

"Until 1997, [the] international association of doctors, and I don't know what, considered homosexuality a sickness, illness, which it is."

In October 2012, at the height of Greece's economic and social crisis, Panagiotaros led a mob that prevented a Greek performance of Terence McNally's Corpus Christi – in which Jesus is portrayed as a gay man – from being staged. Panagiotaros brushed off the incident, describing its director, Laertis Vasiliou, as "an Albanian faggot. A stupid idiot."

Members of Greece's gay community and dark-skinned immigrants have been singled out for attack by Golden Dawn hit squads. The paramilitary units roamed the streets with seeming impunity until a government crackdown against the group spurred by the murder last September of the Greek musician and anti-fascist activist Pavlos Fyssas.

Panagiotaros, Golden Dawn's candidate for governor of the Attica region in the May local elections, vowed this week to release more videos detailing the group's murky relations with other parties. Earlier this month, secretly filmed footage released by the neo-fascists showed the prime minister Antonis Samaras' chief of staff telling Golden Dawn's spokesman that a criminal investigation had been ordered against it out of a fear the party was stealing votes from the ruling conservatives. Golden Dawn, until recently Greece's third biggest political force, has since seen a rebound in the polls.

It has also won the support of Voula Patoulidou, one of Greece's greatest sporting legends. The women's 100m hurdles gold medallist in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics described the ongoing criminal inquiry as politically motivated and based on lies.

Golden Dawn has pledged to hold a "Greek only" food handout on the Thursday before Easter, the most important religious festival in the Orthodox calendar.

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« Reply #13840 on: Jun 08, 2014, 06:33 AM »

Poroshenko Takes Ukraine Helm With Tough Words for Russia

JUNE 7, 2014

KIEV, Ukraine — Petro Oleksiyovych Poroshenko, a pro-European, billionaire confectioner, was sworn in on Saturday as the fifth president of Ukraine, promising to put an end to a separatist insurrection in the east that has divided the country for months.

He also expressed new resolve, saying Ukraine would never accept Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a point he also made in a face-to-face meeting with President Pig V. Putin of Russia on Friday.

In a forceful inaugural address, Mr. Poroshenko, 48, called on rebel fighters in eastern Ukraine to put down their weapons and promised safe passage for “Russian mercenaries” who wished to return home. But he said there would be no negotiations with armed insurgents, raising the prospect of further bloodshed as the Ukrainian military seeks to quash the rebellion.

Though the United States and its Western allies expressed new hope of a diplomatic resolution after meetings with the Pig in France at a commemoration of the 70th anniversary of D-Day, Russia’s intentions in Ukraine remain unclear, and there have been mixed signals on whether there is consensus among Western nations over further sanctions if diplomatic efforts fail.

Mr. Poroshenko, after being installed in a mostly solemn ceremony at the Ukrainian Parliament, said he hoped to mend relations with Russia. “Citizens of Ukraine will never enjoy the beauty of peace unless we settle down our relations with Russia,” he said.

At the same time, however, he voiced no willingness to tolerate recent Russian aggression or the annexation of Crimea, which Pig Putin has described as the righting of a historical accident that separated the peninsula from its Russian roots.

“Russia occupied Crimea, which was, is and will be Ukrainian soil,” Mr. Poroshenko told an audience that included Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other international dignitaries. “Yesterday, in the course of the meeting in Normandy, I told this to President Pig Putin: Crimea is Ukraine soil. Period. There can be no compromise on the issues of Crimea, European choice and state structure.”

Mr. Poroshenko also said he would move swiftly to sign political and economic agreements with the European Union that Ukraine’s former government, under heavy Russian pressure, backed away from in November, setting off the civil unrest. “My pen is in my hands,” he said, adding later, “European democracy, for me, is the best form of government invented by mankind.”

In a sign of outreach, Russia returned its ambassador, Mikhail Y. Zurabov, to Kiev to attend the inaugural festivities. Mr. Zurabov had been recalled to Russia after the ouster of the former Ukrainian president, Viktor F. Yanukovych.

And a day after President Obama demanded that Russia stop the flow of weapons and fighters into Ukraine, Russian news agencies reported that the Pig had ordered tighter controls on the border to prevent people from crossing illegally.

Still, violence continued to flare in eastern Ukraine. An assassination attempt on Denis Pushilin, a pro-Russian, separatist leader in Donetsk, on Saturday resulted in the shooting death of an assistant, Maksym Petruhin. Photographs on Ukrainian news sites showed Mr. Petruhin, wearing a business suit, lying face down on a street alongside a parked car with at least seven bullet holes in the rear door panel.

Mr. Poroshenko won the presidency in a landslide on May 25, in a special election that was called after months of civil unrest toppled Mr. Yanukovych, who fled to Russia.

For many years, Mr. Poroshenko served in Parliament, including a stint as speaker. He was foreign minister under President Viktor A. Yushchenko and trade and economics minister under Mr. Yanukovych.

He earned his fortune making chocolate, and Russia is a major market for his company, Roshen, which has factories and other facilities there. His deep business ties in Russia and his long experience in Ukrainian politics had led to hope that he could negotiate successfully with the Kremlin.

In his inaugural speech, however, he was resolute against Russian intervention. “The issue of territorial integrity of Ukraine is not subject to discussion,” he said. “I have just sworn ‘with all my deeds to protect the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine,’ and I will always be faithful to this sacred promise.”

The ceremony was imbued with ritual. Mr. Poroshenko swore the oath of office with his hand on the 16th-century Peresopnytsia Gospel. He was presented with a bejeweled presidential necklace, which framed his tie of sky blue and yellow, Ukraine’s national colors. He was also given the bulava, a scepter that is a historical symbol of power.

Mr. Poroshenko opened his speech by recognizing the so-called Heavenly Hundred demonstrators who were killed in clashes with the police in Kiev in the days before Mr. Yanukovych was forced from power.

“Many people thought that we got independence without any difficulty,” he said. “It is not true.”

After calling for a moment of silence, he turned his attention to the pro-Russian violence in the east and switched from speaking Ukrainian to Russian.

He promised amnesty for fighters who put down their weapons and safe passage for Russian insurgents who wanted to go home. To the peaceful citizens of eastern Ukraine, he said he would welcome dialogue.

He offered conciliatory actions, promising to go to eastern Ukraine “with peace, with a project of government decentralization, with a guarantee of free usage of Russian language in your region, with the strong intention not to divide people into right and wrong Ukrainians, with respect for the specifics of regions, for the right of local communities to their peculiarities in the issues of historic memory, pantheon of heroes, religious traditions.”

Mr. Poroshenko also promised to pursue a jobs program and to fight the corruption that has plagued Ukraine throughout its post-Soviet history. He said he would push for parliamentary elections later this year, aiming to meet a demand of demonstrators — many of whom are still camping out in Independence Square in the center of Kiev — who say that changing presidents is not sufficient.

He also acknowledged that the uprising had deeply altered the country. “The victorious revolution of dignity not only changed the government,” he said. “The country has changed. People have changed.”

In conjunction with Mr. Biden’s visit, the White House announced $48 million in new aid to Ukraine, as well as $8 million for Moldova and $5 million for Georgia. Moldova and Georgia are also expected to sign agreements with the European Union this month and have come under Russian pressure as a result.

Meeting with Mr. Poroshenko, Mr. Biden saluted his efforts to combat corruption. “Corruption is a cancer,” he said. “It eats away the fabric of democracy.”

He also reiterated American support for Ukraine.

“America’s with you,” Mr. Biden said. “That is not hyperbole.”
Correction: June 7, 2014

An earlier version of this article misstated the middle name, a patronymic, of the new president of Ukraine. He is Petro Oleksiyovych Poroshenko, not Oleksandrovich.

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« Reply #13841 on: Jun 08, 2014, 06:34 AM »

U.S. Boosts Aid to Georgia, Moldova amid Ukraine Crisis

by Naharnet Newsdesk
07 June 2014, 18:45

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden pledged new assistance Saturday to ex-Soviet republics Georgia and Moldova aimed at helping them stand up to a resurgent Kremlin and establish closer European ties.

Biden held separate meetings with Georgian President Georgy Margvelashvili and his Moldovan counterpart Nicolae Timofti on the sidelines of Western-backed tycoon Petro Poroshenko's inauguration as Ukraine's head of state.

The White House said Biden pledged $5.0 million (3.7 million euros) in additional assistance to Georgia pending Congressional approval.

It noted that Washington was now providing the Caucasus nation of five million people approximately $65 million in assistance this year.

Much of that aid is aimed at helping Georgia deal with the social consequences of its loss of two rebel territories following a brief 2008 war with Russia.

Biden also pledged $8.0 million in assistance to Moldova -- Europe's poorest nation whose eastern Transdniestr region is seeking to merge with Russia -- pending Congressional approval to help it "advance its European aspirations".

Both countries are expected to brush aside Russian pressure and sign historic EU trade and political association agreements at a summit in Brussels next month.

Poroshenko was sworn into office following snap elections that were called after the February ouster in Kiev of a Moscow-backed president who had rejected an identical EU pact.

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« Reply #13842 on: Jun 08, 2014, 06:38 AM »

Iran Says Direct U.S. Talks Essential for Nuclear Deal

by Naharnet Newsdesk
08 June 2014, 12:50

Iran's chief negotiator said Sunday that direct talks agreed between Tehran and Washington are essential, as discussions on his country's disputed nuclear program are entering a "serious phase".

The two countries will hold their first full-scale bilateral talks in decades on Monday and Tuesday, an unprecedented move toward securing a comprehensive nuclear deal between Iran and the West.

Iranian officials will then hold discussions with Russia in Rome on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Iranian foreign ministry said it was "working to arrange" other bilateral meetings with members of the P5+1 group -- Britain, China, France, Russia, the U.S. and Germany -- before the powers meet in Vienna from June 16-20.

The talks are aimed at securing a comprehensive agreement on the Islamic republic's nuclear program, which the west says is aimed at developing weapons, ahead of a July 20 deadline imposed under an interim deal agreed last November.

In return, Iran wants an end to wide-ranging economic sanctions, imposed as punishment for its atomic program and resisting extensive international inspections, that devastated its economy.

"We have always had bilateral discussions with the United States in the margin of the P5+1 group discussions, but since the talks have entered a serious phase, we want to have separate consultations," said Abbas Araqchi, Iran's chief negotiator in comments reported by state news agency IRNA.

"Most of the sanctions were imposed by the U.S. and other countries from the P5+1 group were not involved," he added.

Araqchi said the talks with the U.S. in Geneva will only address the nuclear issue, referring to Iran's ballistic missile program that Washington had hoped to include in negotiations.

A senior U.S. administration official said the talks "will give us a timely opportunity to exchange views in the context of the next P5+ 1 round in Vienna".

The U.S. delegation will be led by Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and Jake Sullivan, a White House adviser, previously part of a tiny team whose months of secret talks in Oman brought Iran back to the P5+1 negotiating table last year.

Araqchi welcomed Burns's presence, saying he hoped it would be "as positive during these negotiations".

After decades of hostility, Iran and the U.S. made the first tentative steps towards rapprochement after the election of self-declared moderate Hassan Rouhani as president last June.

Rouhani called his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama shortly after he took office, which was followed by a meeting between Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

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« Reply #13843 on: Jun 08, 2014, 06:42 AM »

Egypt's Sisi sworn in as president

Few western allies attend ceremony as former army chief sworn in for four-year term amid crackdown on dissent

Patrick Kingsley in Cairo, Sunday 8 June 2014 09.44 BST   
Egypt's ex-army chief, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, was officially sworn in on Sunday morning as Egypt's fifth head of state since 2011, nearly a year after he ousted his predecessor Mohamed Morsi.

Sisi replaces the senior judge, Adly Mansour, whom Sisi himself appointed as interim president following Morsi's arrest last July, and whose term in office was almost as long as Morsi's.

Sisi's inauguration – marked by an impromptu public holiday – was attended by a number of Middle Eastern and African leaders, as well as the almost exclusively male members of Egypt's aging political elite. A small crowd of well-wishers also gathered outside Cairo's Nile-side constitutional court, where the inauguration took place, and where Morsi was himself sworn in under two years ago.

But the event was largely avoided by western governments, who have criticised Egypt's rights record in the 11 months since Morsi's overthrow, a period that has seen the largest spike in state-led violence in Egypt's recent history.

After a brief ceremony, Sisi became president with the words: "I swear by God to protect the republican system, to respect the constitution and the law, to safeguard the people's interests, and to preserve the independence of the nation and the unity of its lands."

His oath followed a laudation by the deputy head of the constitutional court, Maher Sami, in which Sami described Sisi as a "rebel soldier", and strived to present him as a revolutionary hero rather than as the mastermind of a controversial coup.

Sami said Sisi's election marked the reawakening of Egypt following three years of turmoil, and that his rise to power was not the product of "a military coup, but a revolution of the people, who were sick of all the troubles that had passed, and all the injustice that they had to face … The army embraced the people and listened to the heartbeats of the Egyptians who were burning with anger."

Earlier in the morning, the front page of a state-run newspaper, al-Akhbar, described Sisi as Egypt's "first patriotic elected president". It was a clear dig at Morsi, who was Egypt's first freely elected president, but whose critics said governed only in the interests of his Muslim Brotherhood.

Sisi, a career soldier, won over 96% of the vote in a presidential ballot to succeed Morsi last week. But his victory was tarnished by boycotts by a number of credible challengers, who said it would be impossible to campaign against him amid a crackdown on dissent, and a series of last-minute state-led attempts to increase turnout.

Sisi inherits a country beset by many of the same challenges that brought down his predecessors Morsi and Hosni Mubarak – problems that analysts warn may also cause his own popularity to wane quickly.

Additional reporting by Manu Abdo

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« Reply #13844 on: Jun 08, 2014, 06:47 AM »

NASA’s IRIS Captures A Huge Sun Sneeze (CME)


The National Aeronautics and Space Administration scored an impressive first a few weeks ago by capturing an enormous solar coronal mass ejection with its new Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph.

A CME is a massive burst of solar wind and magnetic fields that rises above the solar corona and may be released into interplanetary space. NASA explains the phenomenon viewed by IRIS and presented in the video below as a curtain or sheet of solar material erupting outward from the Sun at speeds of 1.5 million miles per hour. Coronal mass ejections are often associated with similar forms of solar activity such as solar flares, but no causal relationship has yet been established.

“This is the first clear CME for IRIS so the team is very excited,” said Bart De Pontieu, the IRIS science lead at Lockheed Martin Solar & Astrophysics Laboratory in Palo Alto, California. Examining the spectra produced from imaging allows investigators to determine how much solar material is present at specific velocities, temperatures, and densities. The field of view seen in the video is about five Earths wide and about seven-and-a-half Earths tall.

When these ejections reach Earth, as they sometimes do, a shock wave causes a geomagnetic storm that may disrupt Earth’s magnetosphere. Solar energetic particles can intensify aurorae in large regions around Earth’s magnetic poles. Along with solar flares of other origins, CMEs can damage satellites, disrupt cell phone, GPS, and radio transmissions on Earth, and stop power lines from transmitting electricity, resulting in power outages. They can also emit intense, potentially lethal cosmic rays capable of reaching humans at high altitudes (airplanes or space stations).

IRIS satellite in its clean room (NASA)A NASA Small Explorer, IRIS was launched last June so scientists can observe how solar material moves, gathers energy, and heats up as it travels through the chromosphere, a somewhat mysterious region in the Sun’s lower atmosphere. It’s the first observatory to image and record the chromosphere and space transition area with high resolution and wide temperature coverage (ranging from 5000 degrees K and 65,000 K, and up to 10 million K during solar flares). State-of-the-art 3-D numerical modeling on supercomputers compiles the data from IRIS. From the NASA websites:

    “Tracking how material and energy move through this region is a crucial part of understanding the dynamics of the sun. Such information can help explain what causes the ejection of solar material—from the steady stream of the solar wind to larger, explosive eruptions such as coronal mass ejections—that travels toward Earth and causes space weather that can disrupt human technology.”

The IRIS mission’s primary goal is to understand how heat and energy move through the lower levels of the solar atmosphere. The instrument seeks to answer the following questions:

Solar flare preceding 2013 summer solstice flare (NASA)• Which types of nonthermal energy dominate in the chromosphere and beyond?

• How does the chromosphere regulate mass and energy supply to the corona and heliosphere?
• How do magnetic flux and matter rise through the lower atmosphere, and what role does flux emergence play in flares and mass ejections?

IRIS weighs 440 pounds and is approximately 7 feet (2.1m) long. With its solar panels extended, it’s a little over 12 feet (3.7m) across. Sun-synchronous polar orbit (NASA)It travels in a polar, sun-synchronous Earth orbit. Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory has overall responsibility for the mission, with major contributions from Lockheed Martin Civil Space, NASA Ames, Smithsonian Astrophysical Laboratory, Montana State University, Stanford University, and the University of Oslo.

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