Echoes of a Strongman in Baghdad Today
By ROD NORDLAND
JULY 14, 2014
BAGHDAD — The ghost of Saddam Hussein still hangs over Iraq like a cloud stalking a sunny day; it doesn’t always cover the sun, but it never quite goes away.
Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s slide into strongman territory in the years since American troops left has been well documented. His government and security forces have harassed Sunni Arabs with baseless arrests, or by keeping them in jail beyond their mandated terms. And for Sunni militants caught by the security forces, summary execution has become increasingly common.
Even as his Shiite-dominated government has been condemned for abusing Sunnis, however, its foundation in a parliamentary democracy has mostly held up; at no point has it sunk into the outright dictatorship that Mr. Hussein and his Sunni-dominated Baath Party commanded for so many years as it oppressed Shiites and Kurds.
But in recent weeks, as the government has come under relentless pressure from Sunni jihadis who are carving off territory across Iraq, it has become much easier to detect echoes of Mr. Hussein’s legacy in how Mr. Maliki has acted.
Iraq’s Embattled Leader
Elected in 2006 as a compromise candidate, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki now heads a shaky Shiite-led government in a fractured country facing a mortal threat from Sunni insurgents.
From an educated middle-class Shiite background. Active in sectarian politics since the early 1970s, when he joined the mainly Shiite Islamic Dawa Party.
In 1978 he fled to Syria, returning in 2002, just before the American-led invasion.
Was deputy chairman of the commission that purged members of Saddam Hussein's party from public life, earning the enmity of many Sunnis.
Worked to win over Sunni tribal leaders and campaigned against sectarianism in 2007-9.
Built and maintained ties with Iran, where he spent time while in exile.
Split with former allies and formed his own political coalition in 2010.
Did not reach agreement with the United States to retain American troops in the country.
Has come under growing criticism for amassing personal power and favoring Shiite interests.
Government news conferences, increasingly rare, have for the most part dispensed with allowing journalists to ask questions; officials usually just stand up, give a televised statement, and leave.
Iraqiya, the state television station, broadcasts dramatic music over footage of attacks on fighters aligned with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and airs hourlong programs of dancers in native costumes shouting patriotic slogans and waving guns in the air — all straight out of the playbook for Al Shabab TV, the youth-oriented television channel that was run by Mr. Hussein’s son Uday.
Iraqi officials, never terribly accessible in the best of times, have truly gone to ground now. “I have no comment,” one Maliki adviser said recently, “and that’s off the record.” It was a verbatim echo from the 1990s, when Mr. Hussein’s regime was the most closed and repressive in the world, with the possible exception of North Korea.
It has not yet gotten to the point where visitors to Iraq are constantly escorted by government minders, but it is getting close — particularly in Sunni areas. A New York Times colleague was interviewing a Sunni sheikh in his office recently when an Iraqi police captain came to his side and began answering questions on the sheikh’s behalf.
In Mr. Hussein’s day, the government suppressed fax machines — they were licensed, regulated and monitored as potential instruments for disseminating dissent. When email arrived in the ’90s, it was flat-out banned for most people.
Now, the Iraqi government, smarting under a social media onslaught from the insurgents, simply pulled the plug on Twitter, Facebook, Skype, Instagram, YouTube and the like for most of June.
Perhaps the strongest resonance from the past is the rebirth of tactics used by Muhammad Said al-Sahhaf, the Iraqi government spokesman who publicly declared the Americans defeated outside of Baghdad in April 2003. At the time, they had already blasted their way into his information ministry.
The current analogue of Comical Ali, as the American military dubbed Mr. Sahhaf, is Gen. Qassim Atta, who is now the official military spokesman for Mr. Maliki.
General Atta began his career as a military press officer in Mr. Hussein’s regime. Where Mr. Hussein had many titles, including “The Lion of Baghdad,” General Atta has come to be known by one: “The Liar of Baghdad.”
That may have something to do with his regular news briefings, where he repeatedly has declared victory over the jihadis at places confirmed as having fallen to them by everyone else, even local Iraqi officials. One recent example was the fall of the Trebil and Al Waleed border crossings between western Anbar Province, Syria and Jordan. General Atta declared on June 24 that they had not fallen, which they had, and on June 25 he said they had been retaken, which they had not.
Col. Qassim Atia, an aide to General Atta, asked about the derision directed at his boss, said it was just the result of propaganda efforts by Iraq’s enemies. “Of course we are in a war, and we are expecting them to use everything against us,” he said.
What to make of this déjà vu? Part of it may have to do with an admiration for Mr. Hussein among many Iraqis, even some of his enemies. You can hear it in the widely used term “Little Saddam,” which people apply to their bosses, not always negatively.
Even more telling is the all-purpose execration, common among Shiites at least, “Kharab Saddam!” That could be roughly translated as “Sad-damn it,” which is not exactly deifying the dead dictator, but sort of demonizing him in a socially useful way.
“We had a very strong government back then,” said Khaleel Ziyad, a taxi driver. “Saddam’s regime was far better than the current conditions.” Mr. Ziyad, 36, is a Sunni, but some Shiites now say similar things.
Reza Saji, 76, is a Shiite Kurd who lost everything during Mr. Hussein’s rule; his business was seized and he was forcibly expelled to Iran. “For all that happened to me, I was one in a thousand, and the other 999 were happy, living a peaceful life in an orderly country,” he said. “But now there is no one happy, with bombs exploding and all their problems.”
There are concrete manifestations of that nostalgia as well. Memorial observations in Ouja, Mr. Hussein’s birth and burial place, started to become so popular that the Maliki government banned them in recent years. In Babil, one of Mr. Hussein’s former palaces was doing a booming business renting out suites with gold-plated bath fixtures for honeymooning couples.
Saddam watches, which bear his likeness and are a symbol of the dictator’s kitschy grandiosity, have become an expensive collector’s item now. Once taken out of Iraq by the handful by American troops in need of cheap souvenirs and an easy laugh, original ones now sell for as much as $700 apiece.
Comparisons between that time and this can only go so far. There will almost surely never be a Maliki watch, for instance. And the prime minister prefers sober suits over Mr. Hussein’s flashy variety of uniforms, robes and turbans, with swords, shotguns and assault rifles as accessories. Whatever Mr. Maliki’s faults, sartorial vainglory has not been one of them.
More important, Mr. Maliki’s government is trying to defend itself against a ruthless opponent, ISIS, that is bent on stoking a wider war. This time the West is on the Iraqi government’s side, hoping to help stop just that. And even General Atta has a long way to go to match Comical Ali’s efforts on the eve of Mr. Hussein’s fall.
Iran Outlines Nuclear Deal; Accepts Limit
By DAVID E. SANGER
JULY 14, 2014
VIENNA — Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, faced with an imminent deadline for an agreement with the West on the future of the country’s nuclear program, said in an interview on Monday that Iran could accept a deal that essentially freezes its capacity to produce nuclear fuel at current levels for several years, provided it is then treated like any other nation with a peaceful nuclear program.
The proposal, which Iran said was conveyed to the United States and five other world powers during closed-door negotiating sessions in Vienna, would effectively extend a limited series of concessions Iran made last November as part of a temporary deal to get negotiations started on a permanent accord. In return, Iran wants step-by-step relief from sanctions that have substantially weakened its economy.
Offering a rare glimpse into the secret talks, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, described a proposal that sought to satisfy Washington’s aim to verifiably limit the amount and purity of nuclear fuel that Iran can produce for a still-undetermined number of years. Mr. Zarif is also trying to satisfy a military and clerical leadership in Iran that is determined not to dismantle existing facilities and intent on resuming unhindered production in future years.
“I’m not here to present maximalist positions,” Mr. Zarif said in an interview in a 175-year-old neoclassical former palace, now a luxury hotel where the negotiators are living and working. “We’re here to reach an agreement.”
Mr. Zarif’s decision to go public with what he called an “innovative proposal” appeared motivated to achieve two goals: to make it harder for the White House to walk away from a deal that would establish intrusive inspections and freeze Iran’s program, but also to offer just enough for both sides to propose extending the talks beyond Sunday, the current deadline.
But while American officials said Mr. Zarif was now showing a flexibility they had not seen before, his proposal does not address, in its current form, the most central American concern. Because the proposal would leave centrifuges spinning in place, Iran would retain what is known as a “breakout capability” to race for a bomb if it ever decided to produce one. Mr. Zarif contended that other elements of his plan would lengthen that period to over a year, which Secretary of State John Kerry has said is a minimum. American officials are doubtful.
Such arguments are a reminder that this negotiation is taking place on at least two levels: a political discussion that is focused on whether two countries that have been implacable adversaries for more than 30 years can finally reimagine their relationship in the broadest terms, and a technical discussion that is both mind-boggling in its complexity and mired in distrust.
In specific terms, Iran will press for the restrictions on its program to be short-lived, perhaps three to seven years; the United States has said that period must be in the “double digits,” meaning at least a decade. After the agreement expired, Iran would be free to produce as much fuel as it wanted as a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, as long as it abided by the treaty’s inspection rules.
Moreover, Congress will be looking for sharp, perhaps permanent, limits on Iran’s capability, or even on its development of next-generation centrifuges, in return for lifting American sanctions.
Mr. Zarif rejected the concept that Iran would be subject to any permanent limits, and he did not use the word “freeze,” because his proposal would allow the kind of production of low-enriched uranium fuel that Iran has underway now, under a temporary accord. But he said, “I can try to work out an agreement where we would maintain our current levels.”
To provide further assurances to the United States and others, he said, Iran would convert most of the nuclear fuel it produces into a form that is impossible to use in a weapon, and forgo the construction of the facility that would be needed for the first step of converting it into bomb-grade fuel.
Asked about his proposals, a senior administration official involved in the talks here, who would not speak on the record, said: “We have consistently said we wouldn’t negotiate in public, and we’re not going to start doing so now. Some of the things described in this interview they have put forward in negotiations. Some have not come up. And on some, they’ve shown more flexibility behind closed doors.”
American officials said that keeping the 22,000 nuclear centrifuges Iran now has in place — slightly fewer than half of which are now operating — creates the risk that in the future Iran could throw out international inspectors and turn the centrifuges back on, much as North Korea did in recent years with another bomb-making technology.
But Mr. Zarif’s decision to go public with the proposal in a 45-minute conversation before meeting with Mr. Kerry for a second time in two days was clearly tactical. His willingness to move away from Iran’s insistence that it must be free, immediately, to expand its nuclear program may give Mr. Kerry room to recommend to President Obama that the negotiations continue, for weeks or months.
Mr. Zarif’s plan follows a declaration by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, last week that Iran would not dismantle any of its infrastructure under Western pressure, but would not need a major expansion of its fuel-making facilities for at least five years. That gave Mr. Zarif, who is viewed with suspicion by Iran’s military and its clerical leadership, some wiggle room. His proposal for a freeze moves significantly in the direction that the United States and the five other nations have been urging, and brings into focus the outlines of a possible deal, though one that would be extraordinarily hard to reach by Sunday.
In the interview, Mr. Zarif accused the West of trying to sabotage a heavy-water reactor under construction near Arak by altering components of its cooling system, a step he said could have led to an “environmental catastrophe.” But he did not directly blame the United States.
“You know about cyberattacks,” Mr. Zarif said, referring to the American- and Israeli-led operation called Olympic Games that blew up roughly one thousand centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear enrichment plant until it was discovered in 2010. He said a foreign power had tried “to create malfunctions in equipment” purchased for the Arak plant from outside Iran “so that for instance instead of cooling the facility they would have increased the heat in the facility, had we not detected it” in time.
Mr. Zarif offered no evidence, and when pressed, he said his own briefings on the subject have been sketchy. Arak has been a known target of Western intelligence because it has the potential to produce weapons-usable plutonium. He said Iranian engineers found what he contended was sabotage before it could create “huge problems.”
The core measure of whether Mr. Zarif’s proposal will gain traction focuses on what nuclear experts call “breakout capacity,” the speed at which Iran could produce the fuel for a single nuclear weapon. The American position has been that only by dismantling a large proportion of Iran’s centrifuges can the United States and its European allies extend that time to a year or more.
Mr. Zarif combined his proposal of a freeze with an offer to take the nuclear fuel produced by its 9,000 or so working centrifuges and convert it to an oxide form, a way station to being made into nuclear fuel rods. He said that Iran would guarantee, during the agreement, not to build the facility needed to convert the oxide back into a gas, the step that would have to precede any effort to enrich it to 90 percent purity, which is what is generally considered bomb-grade.
He clearly signaled that he had some room to negotiate on how long the freeze would last because Iran has an agreement with Russia to provide fuel for its Bushehr nuclear plant for the next seven years. “We want to produce only what we need,” he said. “Since our reactor doesn’t need fuel for another seven years we don’t have to kill ourselves for it. We have time.”
American officials say that argument is specious; Russia must license the fuel for its reactor and does not want to give up the business. They doubt Iran could safely make the fuel for that reactor.
At talks in Vienna on Monday, participants said, a series of exchanges focused on whether Iran’s leadership was willing to give up hopes of industrial-scale nuclear fuel production for more than a decade, along with specifics of how it would answer questions about evidence that its scientists had worked on nuclear weapons designs.
Robert Einhorn, who left the American negotiating team last year to return to the Brookings Institution, said that Mr. Zarif was clearly setting up a trade-off.
“Iran’s strategy seems to be to accept near-term limitations in exchange for longer-term freedom of action,” he said.
“The U.S. and its partners will want to scale back enrichment capacity and constrain R & D during the agreement, and lengthen the duration considerably.”
Anxious Moments for an Afghanistan on the Brink
By CARLOTTA GALL and MATTHEW ROSENBERG
JULY 14, 2014
KABUL, Afghanistan — It was the Germans who uttered the first alarm that a potentially deadly power struggle might be brewing, after weeks of Western officials’ staying on the sidelines as the Afghan election crisis deepened. Just over a week ago, they threatened to withdraw funding and training troops from Afghanistan if a powerful regional governor declared a breakaway government led by the presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah.
It was not long before the German concerns proved founded. Enraged by Afghan officials’ sudden announcement of suspicious preliminary results last Monday, the governor declared the breakaway government. And he was followed by similar declarations from other Abdullah supporters.
But as Western officials scrambled to respond, what was not being said aloud was that the Abdullah camp’s threats had already gone beyond talk to a plan of action. Some of Mr. Abdullah’s backers were preparing to take over the centers of government in at least three provinces, and on his word to march on and occupy the presidential palace, according to several of his supporters and former government officials.
What followed was as tumultuous a six-day stretch for Afghanistan as any since the American invasion in 2001. Interviews with Western officials, the two presidential campaigns and other Afghan officials detailed a week that went beyond any previous political crisis in carrying the risk of a factional conflict that would tear open the wounds of the devastating civil war.
Local mujahedeen commanders were urging action against the palace, expressing confidence that the Afghan security forces, including those guarding President Hamid Karzai, would not fire on them. The commanders believed that most of the security forces were sympathetic to Mr. Abdullah, and that Mr. Karzai would be loath to order guards to open fire.
“Our commanders say we do not need the palace key from the Election Commission, we can go and take it ourselves,” said Fazal Ahmad Manawi, a former supreme court judge and an election adviser to Mr. Abdullah. “If Dr. Abdullah had said yes, several provinces including the palace would have fallen into the hands of his team.”
According to Mr. Manawi and others, it was a call from President Obama to Mr. Abdullah just after dawn last Tuesday that helped stop a headlong rush into a disastrous power struggle. Mr. Obama warned Mr. Abdullah not to even consider seizing power and to keep calm over the three days until Secretary of State John Kerry could get to Kabul.
“Really here the U.S. government did a great favor to the Afghan people,” Mr. Manawi said. “If it was not for the telephone call to Dr. Abdullah, this would not have stopped.”
The American ambassador in Kabul, James B. Cunningham, would not directly confirm that American officials knew of the plan to march on the palace before Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry reached out. But he did acknowledge an acute sense of urgency.
“The reason we intervened so rapidly was to urge them to stop even thinking about going down that road, which, I agree, would have been a disaster for the country,” Mr. Cunningham said in an interview with a small group of reporters. “It was serious enough that it engaged the president of the United States and the secretary of state, and that’s not an everyday occurrence.”
At a political rally the day of the call, Mr. Abdullah invoked the American warnings as he struggled to curb supporters who had begun to shout their demands for a march on the palace. Beginning to tear up, he urged patience, saying that Mr. Kerry would soon be in Afghanistan, and that they should wait to see what kind of agreement could be struck with his rival, Ashraf Ghani.
He was shouted down, and left the stage as the crowd’s yells heightened.
From the start, diplomats and election observers knew there were signs of large-scale fraud. After troubling reports from the first round of voting in April, things sharply escalated the day of the presidential runoff, June 14.
When the election commission announced a turnout of seven million that day, it was far higher than expected, and than plausible, given witness reports from polling stations around the country. The announcement was immediately suspicious not just to Mr. Abdullah, but to some international officials as well.
Over the next weeks, Mr. Abdullah pressed accusations of systemic election fraud, in which millions of false ballots had been arranged in a conspiracy that included Mr. Ghani’s campaign, national election officials and President Karzai himself. Mr. Ghani, for the most part, kept a studied silence other than to deny his opponent’s claims and reaffirm that he would abide by the election commission’s process.
Mr. Abdullah began unveiling evidence, including audio recordings of phone calls that his campaign officials said involved a senior election commissioner talking with staff members about stuffing ballot boxes. The commissioner resigned, but the electoral body mostly refused Mr. Abdullah’s other demands.
Then, last Monday, the Independent Election Commission announced preliminary results for the runoff, even as the candidates were still negotiating with the United Nations on a broader investigation of fraudulent ballots. They put Mr. Ghani more than a million votes ahead of Mr. Abdullah, and said the turnout was even greater than initially announced, at 8.1 million voters.
The announcement caught most by surprise. One diplomat in Kabul said it “torpedoed” the United Nations’ efforts to negotiate a deal, and left Mr. Abdullah “extremely vulnerable in his own camp.” The diplomat, along with some other officials interviewed about the crisis, spoke on the condition of anonymity.
As Mr. Abdullah’s supporters began agitating for action, the Germans sounded their note of alarm, followed by other Western officials. Then Mr. Obama stepped in, and a tense three-day countdown began until Mr. Kerry’s arrival.
Although Afghan officials were careful to say that they believed Mr. Abdullah did not personally want a call to arms on his behalf, he began publicly walking a very tenuous line. Even as he tried to calm his supporters, he also insisted that he would be found the rightful winner of the election. And he reserved the right to unilaterally declare a government if talks with Mr. Kerry did not satisfactorily address his accusations of fraud.
Mr. Kerry, whose flight arrived just before midnight, spent the first hours of Friday morning with Mr. Cunningham and other officials at the embassy discussing the situation and going over possible solutions, American officials said. “The outcome was not preordained,” Mr. Cunningham said. “There really was quite a deadlock when he arrived.”
After the meetings broke up around 3 a.m., Mr. Kerry and other officials slept a few hours before embarking on a crucial and harried schedule. It included direct meetings with Mr. Abdullah, Mr. Ghani and Mr. Karzai, and with other Afghan and Western officials.
Much of Friday was spent listening to the concerns of the Afghans. That night, Mr. Kerry huddled with American and United Nations officials to come up with a plan for the next day, which he would spend at the American Embassy, shuttling between the two camps in the embassy’s main meeting rooms in hopes of brokering a deal. Mr. Cunningham’s residence in the embassy’s upper floors were to be used for more private meetings.
Adding to the difficulty of the negotiations was that it was Ramadan, and the candidates and their entourages were observing dawn-to-dusk fasts for the Islamic holy month.
The negotiations on Saturday were most drawn out over the details of how to audit the runoff ballots, Mr. Manawi said. Mr. Abdullah was insisting that any box in which over 93 percent of the ballots were for one candidate should be reviewed. Mr. Ghani objected, eventually suggesting that they audit all the votes cast.
After that deal, officials said, the rest of the agreement was reached relatively easily, despite the fact that it included a sweeping plan to change the shape of the government over the next few years and to agree on a unity government in the shorter term after the results of the audit — and the election — are announced.
The winner will become president, and the runner-up, or somebody he nominates, will become a chief executive running the government. The security ministries will remain as they were for the first three months, Mr. Manawi said. The chief executive will serve for two years and the constitution will be amended to create an empowered prime minister post. The two election commissions will also be reformed.
Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah were in the compound at the same time at multiple points during the day, Mr. Cunningham said. But American diplomats kept them apart “not because there was any danger that passing by each other they would cause any problem, but just because we were trying to keep the conversations separate until the very end.”
Once deals with both were secured, Mr. Cunningham said, “then we would ask them both to come together to ratify that, and that is, in fact, what happened.”
Mr. Abdullah made his final decision at the end of a dinner to break the daily Ramadan fast, known as an Iftar, that was held in the ambassador’s living room.
Mr. Ghani had by then left for an Iftar at his campaign office, which is nearby. “We asked him to come back,” Mr. Cunningham said, and the rivals sat together and agreed.
After weeks of intense bad feelings between their camps, Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ghani embraced in the living room after striking the deal. They would do the same thing a short while later, at the end of news conference to announce their agreement to the Afghan people.
Indian Rape Victim to Be Enrolled in Boarding School
By HARI KUMAR
JULY 14, 2014
NEW DELHI — The authorities in the northeastern Indian state of Jharkhand said Monday that a 13-year-old girl who was raped in her village last week, apparently in retaliation for something her brother did, would be immediately enrolled in a government boarding school.
Rahul Kumar Sinha, a civil servant in the Bokaro district, said that the girl would be enrolled in the sixth grade, and that she would be given a suitable government job at age 18.
Local officials were jarred by the national news media attention given to the abduction and rape of the girl, which the police believe was ordered by the village’s mukhia, or headman, an unelected clan leader. The crime took place in broad daylight last Monday, in what neighbors described as retaliation against her family because her brother had molested a local woman.
The village, Swang Gulgulia Dhoura, has about 300 residents, only a handful of whom have attended school. Aid workers said the villagers were members of a social caste that traditionally begged for money, and described them as strikingly isolated from mainstream Indian society.
The victim’s father, a coal scavenger named Munna Pasi, said that before his daughter was attacked, he had been trying to put aside 10 rupees a day toward the cost of enrolling her in school, and managed to save 500 rupees (about $8), but that the school in the village closed.
Mr. Sinha said the girl’s family would be paid 400,000 rupees (about $6,650) in compensation, to be deposited in a bank account with the instruction that it could be withdrawn only with the girl’s consent after 10 years. He said the government would also improve basic services in the village.
“The rape was an individual act, but this area and this community in general are very backward,” he said. “Now we are trying to provide some facilities to these people, like temporary electricity and water.”
India Court Convicts Teenagers over Mumbai Gang-Rapes
by Naharnet Newsdesk
15 July 2014, 14:20
A Mumbai court convicted two teenage boys Tuesday over separate gang-rapes that shocked the city in a verdict that came days after an Indian minister said juvenile suspects should be treated as adults in rape cases.
Two 17-year-olds were found guilty -- one over the gang-rape of a photographer and another over the gang-rape of a telephone operator in the same abandoned mill compound in the city last year, public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam told Agence France Presse.
He said the pair, who cannot be named for legal reasons, would be sent to a reform institution in Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital, for three years.
"They should keep good behavior and vocational guidance will be given to them," Nikam added.
Three men were in April ordered to hang for their involvement in both the gang-rape cases, the first death sentences to be handed down for multiple sex attacks since the law was toughened last year.
Maneka Gandhi, Minister for Women and Child Development in Narendra Modi's new right-wing government, said on Sunday that juveniles accused of rape should be treated on a par with adults.
"For premeditated murder, rape, if we bring them into the purview of the adult world, then it will scare them," she told reporters in the southern city of Chennai.
A series of mass protests over the levels of sexual violence in India, sparked by the fatal gang-rape of a student in New Delhi late in 2012, prompted the government to amend the law and allow the death penalty for repeat rape offenders.
In the Delhi gang-rape case, the role played by a 17-year-old sparked a debate about whether under-18s convicted of serious crimes should be subject to harsher punishments.
A fourth man has been jailed for life over the telephone operator's rape and a fifth over the photographer's, which shook Mumbai as a city that had long been considered safer for women than the capital.
The 22-year-old photographer was attacked while on assignment with a male colleague in the overgrown mill compound, close to an upscale neighborhood as well as slums from which most of the rapists hailed.
The phone operator, attacked in the same place, came forward after reading about the photographer's ordeal.
« Last Edit: Jul 15, 2014, 06:44 AM by Rad »
India PM, China's Xi Pledge Stronger Ties in First Meeting
by Naharnet Newsdesk
15 July 2014, 10:04
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed on the need to resolve a decades-old border dispute during talks before the BRICS summit in Brazil, a statement said Tuesday.
The leaders also pledged to strengthen trade and diplomatic ties during the 80-minute meeting in Fortaleza, their first since nationalist hardliner Modi won landslide elections in May.
"Both sides emphasized on the need to find a solution to the Boundary Question," the Indian government said in a statement in New Delhi.
"The Prime Minister stressed the importance of strengthening mutual trust and confidence, and maintaining peace and tranquility on the border."
Modi said in a tweet he had "a very fruitful meeting" with Xi and they had discussed a wide range of issues.
Ties between the nuclear-armed giants have long been soured by border disputes and competition for influence in their neighborhood.
Soon after coming to power, Modi invited Xi to visit India later this year, while China's foreign minister has traveled to Delhi for talks with the prime minister.
Leaders of the BRICS group of emerging powers are to meet Tuesday in Fortaleza to launch a new development bank and a reserve fund seen as counterweights to Western-led financial institutions.
During the bilateral talks, Modi accepted Xi's invitation to visit Beijing later this year, Indian foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said.
Xi also invited Modi to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Beijing in November, although India is not a member, Akbaruddin told reporters in Fortaleza, in a briefing shown on Indian TV.
Modi stressed the need to address a trade imbalance between the two countries, which is heavily skewed in China's favor.
Modi, whose new government has pledged to boost road, rail and port projects, called for enhanced Chinese investment in Indian infrastructure, the Delhi statement said.
Xi agreed the need for balanced trade and said "enhanced services exports from India to China could be one way to address the issue".
China is India's biggest trading partner.
But relations are still dogged by mutual suspicion -- a legacy of a brief but bloody war in 1962 over the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh in the eastern Himalayas that China claims as its own.
Chinese TV presenter is latest victim of corruption 'cleanse'
Xi Jinping's anti-graft campaign goes wider and deeper than any before, as Rui Chenggang joins list of those under suspicion
Tania Branigan in Beijing
theguardian.com, Tuesday 15 July 2014 08.34 BST
Chinese TV presenter Rui Chenggang has enjoyed a high-profile career, but none of his appearances has drawn as much attention as his absence from screens on Friday.
The unused microphone seen beside his co-anchor on China Central TV's economic news bulletin that night hinted at the suddenness of his departure. Rui was detained shortly before the show, according to Chinese media, becoming the latest high-profile figure to vanish in Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign.
Leaders have warned for years of a "life and death" struggle for the Communist party. But while previous crackdowns rooted out some high-level names – usually titillating the public with details of mistresses and stacks of cash – they also bred widespread cynicism as brazen abuses continued.
None have pursued the cause for as long or taken it as deep as Xi and his colleagues: witness the defenestration of Xu Caihou, former vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, and the lengthy investigation into Zhou Yongkang, the former security tsar. Xu is the most prominent military figure to be purged for decades, Zhou is the first former member of the Politburo standing committee (the top political body) to face investigation like this. While Chinese media have not spelt out Zhou's woes explicitly, the hints have grown more blatant by the month, with some identifying him via his family relationships.
Seizing Rui, who built his profile with a nationalist push to remove Starbucks from the Forbidden City, is indicative of the wide-ranging nature of the anti-corruption drive, but is also something of a "sideshow", noted Kerry Brown, whose book The New Emperors focuses on China's top leaders.
Cases that would previously have rocked the media have become simply another announcement in the flood, such as the investigations into Zhang Tianxin, formerly the party boss of Kunming and Wan Qingliang, mayor of Guangzhou.
State media said recently that almost 30 officials of provincial and ministerial level or higher have been investigated for corruption in just over a year and a half, while the total number of cadres punished between January and May was up by a third year-on-year at 63,000.
The lack of interest in Shi Yong's recent trial indicates the scale of corruption that the public have grown used to: the former head of the construction bureau in Jiuyuan, a relatively minor city in Gansu, was handed a suspended death sentence this month for amassing 50m yuan in bribes.
In the past two days alone, Chinese media have reported the expulsion from the party of Hunan official Yang Baohua, for corruption and adultery; the opening of a criminal investigation into three former top officials, two of whom were allies of Zhou; and the death of a Hebei cadre, reportedly killed in a road accident as he fled after learning he was under investigation. Police found 47 bank cards on his body.
"China is certainly taking the anti-corruption campaign very seriously this time – otherwise it would not have taken Xu Caihou," said Wang Yukai, a professor at the Beijing-based Chinese Academy of Governance.
"Not all officials fallen from grace are from the same faction … what matters is not how officials are aligned, but the severity of their corruption."
Yet to Zhang Lifan, an independent Beijing-based historian, the decision to fell so many high-level figures merely reflects the intensity of an internal power struggle.
"If the elimination is not thorough, the whole campaign could lead to a backlash," he said.
Zhang described it as a selective campaign in which the problems of allies were ignored while those in other factions were purged. Ousting Xu and other corrupt officials was also essential to consolidate Xi's control of the military, he argued.
Some of those detained have clear connections with other figures under suspicion, notably Zhou – Ji Wenlin, who reportedly "took a huge amount of bribes and committed adultery", was not only vice-governor of Hainan but a former aide to Zhou. Others are less obvious targets.
That suggests it is not just about in-fighting or a power grab by Xi, suggests Brown. While some see an emerging strongman, Brown believes the system is structured to ensure Xi cannot become a Mao Zedong or Deng Xiaoping-style figure. "He has to keep people on side, even if we can't see it," he said.
So far, at least, he appears to be successful in doing so. That, to Brown, implies a shared vision to some degree: "You can be very cynical about it, but I think people are fighting for the party they want."
He compares the current campaign to an inquisition and the party to the Catholic church, "with an orthodox doctrine that people have to, at least rhetorically, say they believe in" – a cluster of ideas about the party's intrinsic importance in building a strong and rich China and its moral mandate to lead the country as economic growth slows.
It is not about who is tied to the most money – "there are so many people you could think should be taken" – but about who is judged to be too busy establishing their own kingdoms and using the party's authority purely for their own venal ends.
Some also believe that it is only by clearing out interest groups that China can pursue the economic reforms that it desperately needs, and has promised.
Zhan Jiang, a journalism professor at the Beijing Foreign Studies University and prominent online opinion leader, said officials were now less likely to take obvious bribes and flaunt their power – one sign that the drive should be taken seriously. Even so, people were waiting to see whether or how it developed.
He added: "Mr Xi is currently using his personal power to champion the anti-corruption campaign. The next step, however, should be institutionalising this effort."
That should mean an independent anti-corruption body and the easing of controls over new media, Zhan suggested.
Far from embracing increased accountability or public supervision, authorities have in recent months prosecuted and jailed activists pressing for officials to declare their assets.
"There are anti-corruption campaigns in every dynasty," added Zhang, the historian. "The campaign cannot get rid of the corruption stemming from the very heart of a corrupt system."
Israel accepts Egypt ceasefire plan to end Gaza fighting
Hamas under pressure to halt rocket attacks after rejecting Cairo-brokered peace deal, saying it had not been consulted
Harriet Sherwood, and Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
theguardian.com, Tuesday 15 July 2014 09.36 BST
Israel has accepted an Egyptian proposal to end the week-long conflict in Gaza, suggesting that an end to the violence, which has killed more than 180 Palestinians, could be in sight.
But, in a sign of the animosity between the Cairo regime and Hamas, the Islamic movement in Gaza rejected the plan, saying it had not been consulted and terms for an end to the conflict had not been reached.
The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, warned that Israel would step up its offensive in Gaza if Hamas rejected the Egyptian proposal. "If Hamas rejects the Egyptian proposal and the rocket fire from Gaza does not cease, and that appears to be the case, we are prepared to continue and intensify our operation," he said.
Israel said 24 rockets had been fired from Gaza since 9am local time, when Egypt called for "de-escalation".
Diplomatic pressure on Hamas to end rocket attacks on Israeli is likely to mount following Israel's indication of a readiness to bring the fighting to an close. The US secretary of state, John Kerry, is closely involved, along with Middle East envoy Tony Blair.
The Arab League welcomed the Cairo initiative "to protect the lives of the innocent", further increasing pressure on Hamas.
President Barack Obama said: "We are encouraged that Egypt has made a proposal to accomplish this (truce) goal which we hope can restore a calm that we've been seeking." In a speech, he stressed US support for Israel in the face of Hamas's "inexcusable" attacks and voiced concern for Palestinian civilian casualties.
The Egyptian deal proposes a full ceasefire to come into effect 12 hours after the start of "de-escalation", which should be followed within 48 hours by separate talks between the two parties and neutral mediators on terms for an agreement.
A spokesman for Egypt's foreign ministry said the proposal was still in play, despite Hamas's rejection.
"Israel has announced its acceptance of the initiative, the Arab League has accepted it and called on the concerned parties to abide by it, we are in touch with Abu Mazen [Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas] – so we're still waiting for [an official response from] the other side," said Badr Abdellaty.
The Israeli security cabinet accepted the Egyptian deal shortly before 9am local time "The cabinet has decided to accept the Egyptian initiative for a ceasefire starting 9am today," Ofir Gendelman, spokesman for Netanyahu, said on Twitter.
Hamas's armed wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, rejected the truce deal, saying: "Our battle with the enemy continues and will increase in ferocity and intensity." It described the proposal as a "surrender".
Hamas's spokesmen in Gaza said the Islamist group had not received an official ceasefire proposal, and its demands must be met before it lays down its weapons. Hamas has specifically called for the lifting of Israel's eight-year blockade on the Gaza Strip, the opening of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt and the release of Palestinian prisoners Israel rearrested after freeing them in exchange for kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011.
Hamas's suspicions are likely to have been exacerbated by Blair's apparent involvement in mediating between the Egyptian president, Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, and Netanyahu. According to diplomatic sources, Blair has been a key interlocutor in recent days.
But the Middle East envoy has little credibility among most Palestinians as he is seen as a staunch defender of Israel's interest and an enthusiast for the Cairo regime and its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, the ideological parent of Hamas. Since Sisi came to power a year ago, the Brotherhood has been outlawed and attitudes towards Gaza, and Hamas in particular, have hardened.
Israel may have calculated that its bombardment of Gaza over the past eight days has achieved its goal of punishing Hamas and the people of the coastal enclave. It may be reluctant to escalate the offensive further, with a ground invasion, for fear of risking Israeli lives and fatally crippling Hamas – a move that would allow more radical groups to fill a power vacuum in Gaza.
Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli defence official, said Hamas had been weakened by the air and sea assault on Gaza.
"Look at the balance, and you see that Hamas tried every possible means of striking at Israel while bringing great and terrible damage on its people, from their perspective," Gilad told Israel's Army Radio.
"The Egyptian proposal includes a halt to all kind of [military] activity. What this proposal, if it is accepted, means is that, willy-nilly, Hamas did not manage to make good on its intentions."
Previous military confrontations between Israel and Hamas – Operation Pillar of Defence in November 2012, and Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09 – ended in ceasefire and negotiated agreements that eventually broke down. Most diplomats believe the cycle will continue unless the fundamental underlying causes of the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict are addressed and resolved.
Three rockets were launched from the Egyptian Sinai at the southern Israeli resort of Eilat, wounding four people, according to Israeli officials. They said the salvo was likely fired by Islamist fighters hostile to Israel and the Egyptian government.
Three Jewish Israelis admit kidnapping and killing Palestinian boy
Police say suspects admit abducting 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir and setting him on fire
Orlando Crowcroft in Tel Aviv
theguardian.com, Monday 14 July 2014 17.01 BST
Three Jewish Israelis face charges for abducting and murdering a Palestinian teenager in a revenge attack for the killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank.
In a statement on Monday, police said three of the six suspects arrested a week ago had admitted kidnapping Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16, from outside his house in Shuafat, East Jerusalem, on 2 July, taking him to a secluded forest and burning him alive.
The 29-year-old man and two 17-year-olds appeared before Petah Tikva magistrates court in Jerusalem on Monday and were ordered to be held until Friday. The police said the men had admitted "a racist, nationalist motive", and had carried out the attack in response to the killing of Eyal Yifrach, 19, and Gil-ad Sha'er and Naftali Frankel, both 16, whose bodies were discovered on 30 June in a shallow grave near Hebron.
"[The] three suspects admitted to the charges and reconstructed the events. They noted that the acts were carried out against the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish boys," the police statement said.
Three other men who were arrested in the wake of the murder, which led to some of the most violent street riots in East Jerusalem and northern Israel for a decade last week, knew about the killing but did not take part and have been released. They are under house arrest and remain under investigation.
It was revealed on Monday that one of the three had Abu Khdeir's mobile phone in his house when he was arrested, and that the investigation that located the car the gang had used to carry out the kidnapping did not use CCTV footage that was gathered by Shuafat residents on the night of the murder.
In the wake of the incident, many residents in Shuafat said they had had CCTV footage capturing the abduction, but it had been confiscated by police officers. Israeli police said on Monday that the videos identified neither the killers nor the licence plate of the car.
It was also revealed that the gang had tried to abduct another Arab boy the night before the murder in the nearby neighbourhood of Beit Hanina.
Many of the facts from the official police investigation had been subject to a gagging order until Monday – a common practice for controversial court cases in Israel. The names of the three men have not yet been revealed and many of the facts of the case remain confidential.
Monday's police statement revealed for the first time the timeline of what occurred on the night of 2 July, a day after the funeral of the three murdered Israelis, whose killers are still at large. Israel has accused Hamas of being responsible for their deaths.
"On 2 July the three suspects made a group decision to kidnap and murder an Arab," police said.
The gang searched several Arab neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem before arriving in Shuafat, where they saw Abu Khdeir sitting outside his house.
They approached the boy, who was waiting for dawn Ramadan prayers to begin, and forced him into the car. They beat him up while in the vehicle and when they arrived in a deserted area of forest near Jerusalem, they poured gasoline over him and set him on fire. His charred remains were found the following day.
Israeli media reported on Monday that an associate of the three men had said they were intending to plead insanity. A source told Haaretz that the two 17-year-olds "live at the fringe of society and aren't functioning individuals".
The potential insanity plea has long been expected by Abu Khdeir's family in Shuafat. His father, Hussein, told the Guardian on Friday that he did not believe he would ever receive justice for the death of his son.
"From the very first day of the investigation I said that they will either say that the killers are crazy, or they will set them free," he said outside the family home in Shuafat.
The murder of Abu Khdeir sparked a week of riots in East Jerusalem, during which dozens of Palestinians were injured in clashes with soldiers outside the family home. During the protests, Shuafat residents burned the nearby station of the Jerusalem Light Railway and fought soldiers, who responded with rubber bullets and teargas.
Libya considers call for help after rocket attacks close Tripoli airport
Country left 'cut off from the outside world' as United Nations withdraws staff after latest fighting between rival militias
Agence France-Presse in Tripoli
theguardian.com, Tuesday 15 July 2014 08.56 BST
Libya's government is considering calling for international forces to help re-establish security after deadly clashes closed Tripoli airport, severing air links with the outside world.
The country's airport – closed due to the fighting between liberal and Islamist militias – came under renewed attack late on Monday when dozens of rockets were fired, killing a security guard and injuring six others, officials said.
Al-Jilani al-Dahech, a security official at Tripoli airport, said the control tower was hit along with a plane belonging to private Libyan carrier Buraq Airlines.
On Monday, the United Nations said it was evacuating its remaining staff from Libya because of the deteriorating security situation.
Shortly after the attack on the airport the government released a statement saying it was "looking into the possibility of making an appeal for international forces on the ground to re-establish security and help the government impose its authority".
The statement added that the forces would help protect civilians, prevent anarchy and allow the government to build up the army and police.
International air power helped overthrow dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, sparking a power struggle between rival armed groups.
Fighting between militias has intensified since a general election in June and the UN said it was withdrawing its remaining staff.
"UNSMIL [the United Nations Support Mission in Libya] temporarily withdrawing staff from Libya because of security situation," the mission, which already pulled out dozens of staff last week, said.
"After the latest fighting on Sunday and because of the closure of Tripoli international airport, the mission concluded that it would not be possible to continue its work … while at the same time ensuring the security and safety of its staff," it said.
"This is a temporary measure. Staff will return as soon as security conditions permit. The United Nations, which stood by the Libyan people in their revolution in 2011, will not abandon them as they seek to build a democratic state."
Witnesses said a UN convoy left Tripoli on Sunday by road headed for the Tunisian border, 110 miles to the west.
Tripoli international airport has been shut for at least three days after the Zintan militia that controls it came under attack by Islamist fighters on Sunday.
On Monday, Libya also suspended all flights to and from its third city Misrata, west of the capital, which is dependent on Tripoli airport for its operations. "Libya is now practically cut off from the outside world," a source at the airport said.
At least 10 aircraft of Libya's main carriers Afriqiyah Airways and Libyan Airlines were damaged in the fighting, a security official said. An Agence France-Presse photographer saw several passenger aircraft on the tarmac riddled with bullets.
Islamist militias determined to oust the Zintan group from key sites it controls in south of the capital claimed responsibility for Sunday's Tripoli airport attack.
The attack was beaten off, but there were also clashes at other Zintan-controlled sites for several hours, especially on the road to the airport.
Libya has been awash with weapons since the Nato-backed uprising three years ago that toppled and killed Gaddafi.
Successive interim governments in Tripoli have struggled to establish a strong army and police force, giving former rebel groups a free hand to act.
The well-armed and disciplined Zintan militia has sided with forces loyal to renegade former general Khalifa Haftar, who launched an offensive against Islamist militias in second city Benghazi in mid-May.
Libya's neighbours – Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Niger, Sudan and Tunisia – issued a call for dialogue on Monday.
They agreed at talks near Tunis to set up twin commissions to broker talks and attempt to prevent any spillover of violence.
Delegates underlined the need to "resolve [the problem of] pockets of terrorism in Libya, which are a source of concern for Libya and the countries in the immediate vicinity".
Eastern Libya, particularly its main city Benghazi and the hill town of Derna, have become strongholds of jihadist groups.
Renewed clashes between troops and Islamist militia in Benghazi on Monday killed at least seven people and wounded 49, medics said.
The European Union called for the new parliament elected in last month's controversial poll to convene as quickly as possible and form a new government to head off worsening violence.
"The EU trusts that the new parliament will be in a position to embody national consensus and play its role in forming a government with wide political support," it said.
Kenya 'Failing to Deliver Justice' for Victims of Vote Violence
by Naharnet Newsdesk
15 July 2014, 12:24
Amnesty International on Tuesday condemned what it said was the Kenyan government's continued failure to properly investigate and deliver justice and compensation to victims of the 2007-2008 post-election violence.
"Six years after post-election violence rocked Kenya, the victims are still awaiting justice. It is vital that their voices are heard and urgent action is taken," said Amnesty secretary general Salil Shetty.
About 1,000 people died and 600,000 others were displaced when ruling party and opposition supporters clashed over disputed poll results, in the worst unrest to hit the east African country since independence in 1963.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto and radio boss Joshua Arap Sang are facing crimes against humanity charges at The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC), although no alleged ringleaders have been pursued in Kenya.
"Many of the displaced have yet to be resettled or compensated, many of the injured or the families of those killed have yet to receive reparation to help rebuild their shattered lives and most of the perpetrators have yet to face justice," Shetty said.
Amnesty said its report, based on interviews with victims of the violence and consultations with civil society groups, found that many victims were desperate for assistance to help them recover from injuries sustained and property and livelihoods destroyed in the violence.
It said victims felt disillusioned with and excluded from the justice system and frustrated that perpetrators are still at large.
"I know the people who took my property in Kericho. Our children were raped and we know who raped them," one victim was quoted as saying.
The report said some victims did not go to the police for fear of reprisals, and that others who did were asked for money or threatened.
"Justice delayed is justice denied and the victims of Kenya's post-election violence have waited long enough," said Muthoni Wanyeki, regional director for East Africa at Amnesty.
"Both the Kenyan government and parliament have consistently obstructed efforts to investigate and prosecute those suspected of committing crimes under international law.
"It is time to end impunity, to provide reparation for those who have suffered and to finally bring this shameful chapter in our history to a close."
Mali Government, Rebels Meet for Peace Talks
by Naharnet Newsdesk
15 July 2014, 07:14
Malian government negotiators come to the table with rebel groups on Wednesday hoping to strike an elusive peace deal with the country mired in conflict a year after returning to democracy.
Riven by ethnic rivalries, a separatist rebellion and an Islamist insurgency in its vast desert north, the west African nation has struggled for stability and peace since a military coup in 2012.
The talks in the capital of neighboring Algeria will be the first to bring together the various warring factions since an interim agreement last June paved the way for nationwide elections.
However. since President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita came to power negotiations have stalled, and northern Mali has seen a spike in violence by Islamist and separatist militants.
The talks follow skirmishes in May between the Malian army and a coalition of rebels from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA) which saw at least 50 soldiers lose their lives in the Tuareg region of Kidal.
A ceasefire obtained by Mauritanian leader and African Union (AU) chief Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz has been in place since, but the Malian government has denounced the "concentrations of armed groups" in the desert.
Some of those groups, including the MNLA, the HCUA, and two branches of the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA) will be represented in Algiers, where a government delegation will be led by Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop.
But Mali has excluded several Islamist groups linked to Al-Qaeda which occupied northern Mali for close to 10 months in 2012 before being ousted by the French-led Serval military offensive.
Negotiations will take place in three phases, according to former prime minister Modibo Keita, the president's envoy at the talks.
The different sides will begin by thrashing out a "roadmap" for the negotiations, before beginning the talks themselves and finally signing a "final peace agreement", Keita said.
The negotiations will be overseen by a "college of mediators" including Algeria, the AU and the 15-member regional bloc ECOWAS, and a "college of facilitators" made up of delegates from the European Union, France, Niger and Nigeria.
- 'Red line' -
Malian Premier Moussa Mara has warned that the process will "require effort" and "compromises on both sides".
While he has suggested that the government is willing to make concessions, he says there is a "red line" it is not willing to cross -- any talk of compromising Mali's territorial integrity or secular status.
A source from the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA, stressed the need for urgent action, with the security situation deteriorating and inter-communal violence in the north presenting a threat "more dangerous than anything else".
Sections of the media and opposition politicians have questioned the choice of Algeria as a venue for the talks, however.
"Every time we run to (Algeria) and it's always the same result: nothing. Algeria is the country that has been most involved in the resolution of the crisis in Mali and has never been able to find solution," the weekly newspaper Nouvelle Liberation said in a recent editorial.
Djiguiba Keita, from the opposition Party for National Rebirth, invoked the terminology of medieval feudal Europe in a withering description of Mali as Algeria's "vassal", or subordinate.
The talks begin with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian arriving in Bamako to sign a defense agreement with Mali, after Paris said on Sunday that it was winding up the Serval offensive after 18 months.
It will be replaced by a wider counter-terrorism operation, codenamed Barkhan, to be implemented in partnership with Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad.
Le Drian said around 3,000 French soldiers would be part of the operation, 1,000 of whom would stay in northern Mali.
Drones, helicopters, fighter jets, armored vehicles and transport planes will also take part in Operation Barkhan -- the name of a crescent-shaped sand dune in the desert -- which will have its headquarters in the Chadian capital N'Djamena.
Evo Morales seeks third term in Bolivia
President to run again, defying critics who say he is only entitled to two terms and going into election as clear frontrunner
Reuters in La Paz
theguardian.com, Tuesday 15 July 2014 04.14 BST
Bolivia's president, Evo Morales, will run for re-election in October to press on with his promise of expanding social reforms, the vice-president of the ruling party said on Monday.
The former coca farmer became Bolivia's first indigenous leader in 2006. Morales, 54, is lauded by supporters as a champion of the poor committed to easing poverty and standing up against the United States.
Morales critics accuse the leftist politician of defying the constitution, which allows a president two consecutive terms in office. Morales was first elected in 2006 and then again in 2009. The constitutional term limit was adopted in 2009.
In 2013 the supreme court decreed his 2006-09 period in office should not be counted as a first term as it preceded the adoption of the constitution. The opposition called the ruling unacceptable.
Historically one of South America's most unstable countries, Bolivia has enjoyed relative prosperity and calm since Morales came to power. Gross domestic product per capita doubled between 2005 and 2011.
"Our president and vice-president are confirmed as candidates for re-election," Concepcion Ortiz, vice-president of the ruling Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), said. "Social organisations across the country have said that he has to go for re-election."
Morales is the clear frontrunner in the 12 October vote, polling at about 44%. His nearest rival, cement tycoon Samuel Doria Medina, trails by almost 30 points.
To win the election a candidate needs to win an absolute majority or at least 40% with a winning margin of 10 or more percentage points over the second-place candidate.
Bolivia is one of Latin America's poorest countries. However the vote comes a year after the roughly $30bn economy grew 6.5%, its quickest pace in nearly 30 years, boosted by high prices for natural gas sold to Argentina and Brazil.
Growth will slow to 5.7% this year, according to government estimates.
Under Morales Bolivia has nationalised key industries, including the hydrocarbon and utility sectors. But he has been willing to guarantee legal assurances for foreign miners.
A new government programme, dubbed United We Live Well, pledges to consolidate the achievements of eight years in office and continue political, economic and social reforms.
Morales is a harsh critic of the United States and staunch ally of Venezuela and Cuba. In typically fiery rhetoric he accused Washington and its European allies of "state terrorism" designed to intimidate after several European nations banned his jet from their air space, believing the US fugitive Edward Snowden was on board.
Bolivia's opposition claims it is the victim of persistent political harassment by the government and that several prominent opponents of Morales have been forced into exile.
Honduras president and U.S. lawmakers meet to discuss migrant crisis
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, July 14, 2014 11:18 EDT
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez told visiting US lawmakers Sunday that poverty and misinformation was fueling the flow of minors from Central America seeking to enter the United States illegally.
Hernandez told the lawmakers that the “complicated” mix of factors included gang violence, “violent crime and the lack of information about … the US immigration reform legal process,” spokesman Jorge Hernandez Alcerro told reporters.
The misinformation giving people false hopes that they can legally enter the United States, Hernandez Alcerro said.
US authorities have detained some 57,000 unaccompanied minors since October, twice the number from the same period a year ago, seeking to illegally cross into the United States from Mexico.
Most of the unaccompanied youths are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
US President Barack Obama has requested $3.7 billion to help ease an “urgent humanitarian situation.” The request includes funds to increase border security with aerial surveillance, improved housing for the undocumented arrivals, and ways to speed up their deportation.
A first group of 40 deportees from the United States, including children, was due to arrive in the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula on Monday, a government statement said.
The US delegation, led by Republican Representative Kay Granger from Texas, included Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida and Democrat David Price from North Carolina.
The US legislators on Saturday met with Guatemalan President Otto Perez. His government said it would draw up a list of suggestions of how to deal with the crisis in the next ten days
Back to reality: After World Cup blues, Brazil refocuses on elections and economy
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, July 14, 2014 19:47 EDT
Brasília (AFP) – Its World Cup is over, the national team was humiliated and now it’s back to harsh reality for Brazil: A slowing economy and presidential elections in October.
Brazil had hoped to land a record-extending sixth title in front of home fans. Instead, it was forced to cheer for Germany to defeat rival Argentina in the final — despite the Selecao’s 7-1 defeat to the Europeans in the semi-finals.
While Brazilians were bitterly disappointed by their team’s fourth-place finish, observers concluded that the World Cup had been a success on and off the pitch, with a flood of goals and no major incidents or large protests.
Now the football-mad country has to get back to normal, daily life.
“The mantra here is: Life goes on,” political analyst Andre Cesar of Brasilia consultancy Prospective told AFP.
“Good football is exciting but it is a game and life is much more than that. Now Brazilians will turn to the economy and high inflation,” Cesar said.
Although Brazil is still suffering after the team’s ignominious Cup exit, the country’s inbuilt festive spirit means it will not be down for long.
“Brazilians have a very deep capacity for resisting” when things go against them, said clinical psychologist Dalva Frigulha.
“I was sad but you still want to party, dance, sing and jump about. Deep down, they know the team was not good,” Frigulha told AFP.
“Furthermore, Brazilian have a world-beating capacity to adapt” to the situation around them, Frigulha added.
“That’s good. They lost, they were sad, but this won’t leave deep scars. The worst is over and they can go back to their daily lives.”
- Cup and elections -
Cesar said that from Monday, Brazil “gets back to normal and can focus on local issues and personalities.”
“Next stop, the October elections,” when leftist President Dilma Rousseff, the frontrunner in opinion polls, will be seeking re-election, said Cesar.
Rousseff enjoys a healthy lead over her rivals with the latest poll giving her 38 percent of voter support, compared to 20 percent for Social Democratic Senator Aecio Neves and nine percent for socialist former governor Eduardo Campos.
“Come the end of July, we will have other fish to fry — the focus of discussions will shift to other debates,” Cesar added.
The national team’s terrible tournament may not affect Rousseff in the elections, which coincide with World Cup years in Brazil.
In 1998, when Brazil slumped 3-0 in the final to France, Fernando Henrique Cardoso was re-elected.
Then in 2002, when Brazil won their most recent title against Germany, Cardoso’s ruling party lost to Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Rousseff’s Workers Party (PT).
Lula was then re-elected even through Brazil performed poorly in Germany in 2006.
After Brazil was eliminated in the quarter-finals in 2010 in South Africa, Rousseff successfully picked up the baton from Lula.
“To link electoral outcomes to football is a kind of wishful thinking. There is no proven link,” Cesar said.
- The economic problem -
In the end, Brazilians are more worried about their pocketbooks than the scoreboard.
“I think the biggest risk for Rousseff in this election remains the economy, not the World Cup,” said Joao Augusto de Castro Neves, the Latin America director for the Eurasia Group think tank.
The economy is set to grow barely 1.0 percent this year, marking a fourth straight year of low growth, according to central bank estimates.
Inflation is also on the rise, reaching 6.52 percent over 12 months to June, edging over the official ceiling of 6.5 percent.
Ironically, the Cup was a factor in that rise, pushing up the price of accommodations and flights between 12 host cities.
“The guy who goes to the supermarket and finds high prices is much more indignant than he is at losing the Cup,” Cesar said.
In the USA...United Surveillance America
US software standards that prevent hacking also enable NSA spying
Tuesday, July 15, 2014 6:43 EDT
U.S. government standards for software may enable spying by the National Security Agency through widely used coding formulas that should be jettisoned, some of the country’s top independent experts concluded in papers released on Monday.
Such mathematical formulas, or curves, are an arcane but essential part of most technology that prevents interception and hacking, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been legally required to consult with the NSA’s defensive experts in approving them and other cryptography standards.
But NIST’s relationship with the spy agency came under fire in September after reports based on documents from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden pointed to one formula in particular as a Trojan horse for the NSA.
NIST discontinued that formula, called Dual Elliptic Curve, and asked its external advisory board and a special panel of experts to make recommendations that were published on Monday alongside more stinging conclusions by the individual experts.
Noting the partially obscured hand of the NSA in creating Dual Elliptic Curve — which Reuters reported was most broadly distributed by security firm RSA — the group delved into the details of how it and other NIST standards emerged. It found incomplete documentation and poor explanations in some cases; in others material was withheld pending legal review.
As a whole, the panels recommended that NIST review its obligation to confer with the NSA and seek legal changes “where it hinders its ability to independently develop the best cryptographic standards to serve not only the United States government but the broader community.”
They also urged NIST to weigh the advice of individual task force members who made more dramatic suggestions, such as calling for the replacement of a larger set of curves approved for authenticating users, in part because they were selected through unclear means by the NSA.
“It is possible that the specified curves contain a back door somehow,” said Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Ron Rivest, a co-founder of RSA and the source of the letter R in its name. Though the curves could be fine, he wrote, “it seems prudent to assume the worst and transition away.”
More broadly, Rivest wrote, “NIST should ask the NSA for full disclosure regarding all existing standards… If NSA refuses to answer such an inquiry, then any standard developed with significant NSA input should be assumed to be `tainted,’” absent proof of security acceptable to outsiders.
In an email exchange, Rivest told Reuters that “NIST needs to have a process whereby evidence is publicly presented” about how the curves were chosen.
The curves faulted on Monday had been questioned by outsiders after media reports in September said the NSA could break much widely used security software, without detailing which ones or how. “These curves are ubiquitous in commercial cryptography,” Johns Hopkins University professor Matthew Green said in an interview. “If you connected to Google or Facebook today, you probably used one.”
Rivest’s long association with RSA, now part of electronic storage maker EMC Corp, made his remarks more poignant. But prominent task force colleagues including Internet co-creator Vint Cerf and Ed Felten, former chief technologist at Federal Trade Commission, also gave strongly worded verdicts on the Department of Commerce unit.
“It cannot be accepted that NIST’s responsibilities should be co-opted by the NSA’s intelligence mission,” wrote Cerf, who now works at Google Inc.
While Rivest called the internal history of Dual Elliptic Curve a “smoking gun” with an “almost certain” NSA back door, Felten wrote that NSA might not remain alone in its ability to use it and other possible NIST-approved holes for spying.
In each of three cases, including Dual Elliptic Curve and the more common curves faulted by Rivest, Felten said the suspected back door access “reduces the security of users against attack by other adversaries, including organized crime groups or foreign intelligence services.”
The NSA might have been able to generate curves that pass cursory security tests but are still breakable through the aid of sheer computing power, because it can try millions of curves and get a few that fit its goals. But a researcher working for another country could discover the flaw, Felten said.
In the case of the curves approved under the FIPS 186 standard for authenticating digital signatures, NIST should start over and pick its own curves publicly rather than relying on the NSA, Felten and others said.
Several experts said NIST had to hire more cryptographers and strengthen its internal processes to avoid relying on NSA.
NIST acting Director Willie May agreed in a statement, saying his agency “must strengthen its in-house cryptography capabilities to ensure we can reach independent conclusions about the merits of specific algorithms or standards.”
NIST did not respond to a Reuters email asking about the fate of the suspect curves.
Obama faces ire from Democrats over law change to ease border crisis
Proposal to change 2008 trafficking law to ease influx of child migrants at US border faces fierce opposition from Democrats
Dan Roberts in Washington
theguardian.com, Monday 14 July 2014 22.49 BST
President Barack Obama is facing a clash with Democrats in Congress over proposals to water down a law intended to combat human trafficking in order to speed up the repatriation of unaccompanied children crossing the US southern border from Central America.
Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, and Representative Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat, together proposed legislation on Monday that would include changes to a 2008 anti-trafficking law, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, and allow children from countries like Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to be returned within a week of their arrival in the US rather than holding them for months as they await a full asylum hearing, as currently required.
The proposal from Cornyn and Cuellar matches White House demands for changes to the Wilberforce Act, which has paradoxically been blamed for encouraging smuggling gangs and families in Central America by allowing unaccompanied children to remain with relatives in the US while their cases are processed.
But the idea faces fierce opposition from a number of senior Democrats, especially those in the hispanic caucus, which is urging the passage of a “clean” funding bill to deal with the crisis and refuses to countenance any watering down of anti-trafficking measures it says are vital to ensuring a fair legal hearing for refugees.
Under the new bill, children from countries in Central America would in future be treated the same as those from Mexico, who currently can be fast-tracked back to their country of origin.
“Our proposal would improve the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2008, treating all unaccompanied minors equally and ensuring due process under the law in a timely, fair manner,” Cornyn said in a statement.
But he insisted the legal rights of minors from Central America would be protected under the changes, with his bill granting them the right to have their claims heard “in court before an immigration judge within seven days of the completion of Health and Human Services screening”.
The White House gave a cautious welcome to the plan put forth by Cornyn and Cuellar. Spokesman Josh Earnest said he would not comment directly on specific proposals, but praised Cornyn for taking action on the crisis.
“We will wait until it is introduced and then we will review the draft. Our views on this are pretty well known.” Earnest told reporters. “We certainly welcome constructive engagement from Republicans; after all, we have seen a lot of talk about how urgent and pressing the situation is, but not a lot of action.”
But critics in Congress told the Guardian they remain deeply concerned at the idea of rolling back anti-trafficking legislation.
“Let me make it absolutely clear I am not voting for a supplemental [funding] bill that includes changes and abrogates the rights of children as established in 2002, 2007 and 2008,” said Representative Luis Gutiérrez, an Illinois Democrat, on Friday.
While Gutiérrez’s staff said he wanted to study the latest proposal in more detail, they said on Monday that his position remained unchanged.
A spokesman for senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said he “will not support any legislative proposals that roll back or dilute standing law provisions specifically designed to protect the rights of children”.
Senior Democratic senators Dianne Feinstein, Patrick Leahy and Dick Durbin also voiced concerns about the proposal.
Experts say the failure of broader bipartisan immigration reform efforts in Congress may have hardened opinion among Democrats.
“The thing that is going to make it even harder is that Democrats are going to dig their heels in,” said Edward Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations. “Throughout [the] last year they have been tremendously conciliatory, but now that door is shut, there is no reason for them to do anything other than stand 100% behind their constituency. There will be zero willingness on behalf of the Democrats to change that 2008 law and I think that leaves Obama in a very untenable position.”
AZ charter school’s ‘Tea Party’ history book claims whites envied the ‘freedom’ of slaves
By Scott Kaufman
Monday, July 14, 2014 11:10 EDT
One of Arizona’s oldest public charter schools is under fire from the Americans United for Separation of Church and State for using textbooks that actively promote religious interpretations of American history.
According to the group, Heritage Academy uses two books by controversial anti-communist author Cleon Skousen — The 5,000 Year Leap and The Making of America — that “push ‘Christian nation’ propaganda and other religious teachings on impressionable, young students,” according to Alex Luchenitser, the associate legal director for Americans United.
“Our purpose is not to convert students to different religious views,” Heritage founder and Principal Earl Taylor told The Arizona Republic. “It is to show them that religion influenced what the Founders did.”
Principal Taylor insisted that the books are balanced by other selections, including Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl and Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ The Communist Manifesto. However, both of those books are taught as historical documents — testimony from a particular historical moment about a specific worldview — whereas Skousen’s books are used as textbooks containing material the students are supposed to learn.
The use of the Skousen books is particularly disturbing because of their affiliation with politically motivated religious movements. Glenn Beck touted The 5,000 Year Leap as a “divinely inspired” interpretation of early American history, and following his endorsement, it became a regular presence at Tea Party events.
Christina Botteri, a spokeswoman for the California-based National Tea Party Federation, told The Arizona Republic that The 5,000 Year Leap is “a handbook of tea-party ideals…Early on in the movement, people would carry it around and talk about it.”
In an email interview with The Arizona Republic, legal scholar Garrett Epps wrote that “Skousen’s account of the growth and meaning of the Constitution is quite inaccurate.”
Moreover, he noted that “parts of his major textbook, The Making of America, present a systematically racist view of the Civil War,” adding that a “long description of slavery in the book claims that the state [of slavery] was beneficial to African Americans and that Southern racism was caused by the ‘intrusion’ of northern abolitionists and advocates of equality for the freed slaves.”
In The Making of America, Skousen included an essay by Fred Albert Shannon, in which he argued that “if [black children] ran naked it was generally from choice, and when the white boys had to put on shoes and go away to school they were likely to envy the freedom of their colored playmates.”
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State wanted Skousen’s books dropped from the curriculum, but at the time of this writing, Principal Taylor has only scaled back the extent to which they are used in the classroom for what he said are practical reasons.
“The total of the two books is about 1,200 pages,” told The Arizona Republic. “It is a lot to require the students to go through that much material. I decided to stay more with the historical quotes, leaving out a lot of the commentary and letting the students discuss the quotes, draw their own conclusions, and thereby making it more meaningful and applicable to them.”
Senate To Vote On Bill That Would Reverse Hobby Lobby Decision
By: Jason Easley
Monday, July, 14th, 2014, 7:46 pm
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has scheduled a vote this week on a bill that would reverse the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision.
The Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act would restore the contraceptive coverage that is guaranteed in the Affordable Care Act and would protect women from employers who want to impose their religious beliefs on them.
Co-sponsor of the bill Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said, “This bicameral legislation will ensure that no CEO or corporation can come between people and their guaranteed access to health care, period. I hope Republicans will join us to revoke this court-issued license to discriminate and return the right of Americans to make their own decisions, about their own health care and their own bodies.”
Co-sponsor Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) said, “The U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision opened the door to unprecedented corporate intrusion into our private lives. Coloradans understand that women should never have to ask their bosses for a permission slip to access common forms of birth control or other critical health services,” said Senator Udall. “My common-sense proposal will keep women’s private health decisions out of corporate board rooms, because your boss shouldn’t be able to dictate what is best for you and your family.”
Senate Democrats probably won’t have the votes needed to move the bill forward on Wednesday. Democrats will require five Republicans to join them in order to break a GOP filibuster. It is doubtful that Democrats can attract the kind of support they need to advance the bill from the other side of the aisle, but it is important that they try.
Since the Hobby Lobby decision many have adopted a defeatist attitude that nothing can be done, but this is not true. A Democratic congress could easily reverse the Supreme Court’s decision with new legislation. Republicans won the battle, but they have not won the war. Democrats need to be energized, not defeated. The only way that those who wish to steal fundamental rights from women will win is if their opponents stop fighting.
The bill that will be voted on this week is the first step in that fight. Because of Republican obstruction progress is difficult, but it will be achieved if those who are opposed to this decision keep trying. Instead of throwing in the towel and admitting defeat congressional Democrats are gearing up for a fight, because the war on women is something that Republicans will never win.
Harry Reid Rips John Boehner On Senate Floor Says Judge Judy Would Toss Obama Lawsuit
By: Jason Easley
Monday, July, 14th, 2014, 5:48 pm
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) unloaded on Speaker of the House John Boehner on the Senate floor. Reid called Boehner’s lawsuit against President Obama a joke, a sham, and something that Judge Judy would throw out in a half a second.
Majority Leader Reid spoke on the Senate floor:
Obamacare is helping Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. It is helping residents of blue states, red states and purple states. Just look at Kentucky, the home state of the Republican Leader. Well over 400,000 Kentuckians have signed up for coverage through the Affordable Care Act. And even Republicans love it. That same Commonwealth Fund survey I referenced earlier found that 74% of newly-insured Republicans are happy with their Obamacare health coverage.
But instead of embracing the good that Obamacare has done, and working with Democrats to address any necessary fixes, Republicans would rather file a frivolous lawsuit. Everybody knows that this lawsuit is a sham – a big show meant to appease the Tea Party radicals in the House of Representatives. One Yale law professor questioned why the lawsuit is receiving so much media attention, saying: “I see this every day now, being covered as if it’s real, as if it’s somehow not a joke.” Another law professor from Harvard said: “The lawsuit will almost certainly fail, and it should fail, for lack of Congressional standing.”
Just imagine how many lawsuits there would be if House Republicans could sue the President every time they disagreed with him about something! But there is no reasoning with the radical Republicans in the House. House Republicans would rather waste taxpayer dollars than accept the fact that their constituents – their very own neighbors – are benefitting from health care reform.
If a show trial is what House Republicans want, they should go talk to Judge Judy. I think even she would throw this case out in half a second. The United States Congress is no place for inane, politically-motivated litigation.
Enough is enough. The fight over Obamacare is over. The law is here to stay. And more importantly, Americans who are benefitting from the law want it to stay.
The old boxer Harry Reid wasn’t pulling any punches. No one outside of Republican strategists think that this lawsuit has more than a puncher’s chance in court, but a puncher’s chance is what the Republican Party has been reduced to. They have no record of accomplishments to run on. They have no positive achievements to take back to the voters. They can’t list one productive thing that they have done for the benefit of the American people.
Given the reality that Republicans have created for themselves, all they can do is try to distract the country with fantasy centered around lawsuits and potential impeachment. House Republican leaders don’t want to talk about impeachment, but the people who vote for Republicans in elections do. Republican voters are craving impeachment, and even if Boehner doesn’t want to go there, we all know that the Speaker is helplessly guided by the extremist breezes that are blowing through his party.
This Boehner lawsuit is a waste of time and taxpayer dollars on a gimmick. It is a publicity stunt that should be laughed out of court. The best way to know what Judge Judy thinks of the suit is to ask her, but I have a difficult time believing that Judge Judy would buy John Boehner peeing on her leg and telling her that it’s raining.
Democrats Demand Accountability for Boehner’s Misuse Of Taxpayer Funds for His Lawsuit
By: Sarah Jones
Monday, July, 14th, 2014, 4:16 pm
Fired up Democrats are done playing around with Republicans. It only took six years, but apparently they’ve realized that being nice to bullies gets them nowhere. So, Democrats are demanding that Speaker Boehner be transparent about the taxpayer funds he intends to use on what even his side are calling his political “stunt” of a lawsuit.
Committee on House Administration Ranking Member, Robert A. Brady (D-PA) sent the following letter to the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, in which he cites “House Republicans’ conduct in the $2.3 million failed effort to defend the discriminatory and unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act in the courts” as evidence that they require “strong bipartisan oversight” in any plan to hire outside counsel. Thus, he demands that the Speaker abide by regular order and oversight for his use of taxpayer funds.
Within the draft resolution to initiate a lawsuit against the President, we learned that you intend to seek authorization to “employ the services of outside counsel and other experts.” Such authority clearly falls under the jurisdiction of the Committee on House Administration, and as such, I am writing to express my expectation that Republicans will be open and transparent about the use of taxpayer money in pursuing this highly dubious and partisan lawsuit.
As evidenced by House Republicans’ conduct in the $2.3 million failed effort to defend the discriminatory and unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act in the courts, strong bipartisan oversight is clearly necessary in any plan to hire outside counsel. The Republican majority must not be permitted to use taxpayer dollars as a slush fund to award a no-bid contract to high-priced, politically connected Republican lawyers without any transparency or accountability to the House or the American people.
Our opposition to the deeply partisan basis of your lawsuit in no way diminishes the need for normal oversight of the terms of any contract signed by Republican Leadership obligating the House to pay millions of dollars on private attorneys. Therefore, I expect you will honor regular order through my committee, even with this highly irregular lawsuit.
The American people deserve to know how and where their tax dollars are being spent, and House Administration Committee Democrats insist on regular consultation and transparency in the selection criteria and process, cost, and lobbying connections of any counsel or experts hired in the name of the House.
Now that Speaker Boehner has finally landed on an excuse upon which to base his lawsuit distraction from his own chamber’s abject failure, Democrats are going to demand transparency.
Like a truffle pig on the hunt, Boehner’s been single-mindedly sniffing for an excuse to sue the President that had not already been claimed (and then debunked by reality) by his Republican colleagues, who were kindly spending time on TV throwing alleged reasons at the wall to see what might stick, only to be humiliated over and over again. Finally, pay dirt. Boehner is suing over the President not immediately implementing a certain aspect of the healthcare law that Republicans are still pretending they will repeal.
Yes. The GOP message is “Obamacare will kill your babies and destroy America! But if President Obama doesn’t implement it all right away, we’re suing!”
Just how much will it cost the American taxpayer for this latest version of Republican Get Out the Vote effort? Time will tell. Republicans have already socked Americans in the gut with their failed Benghazi conspiracies and their IRS witch hunt that led them right back to their own backdoor, staring Karl Rove’s dirty SuperPAC in the eye while they screeched that things were so unfair for conservatives. Let’s just say Republicans have the self-pitying, paranoid vote all wrapped up, and you paid for it.
You can bet Democrats will be using these tallies of wasted taxpayer money in their campaign ads, which practically write themselves these days. Vote Republican if you want the government shut down while Republicans hunt for conspiracy theories from the top of Poor Loser Mountain.
Democrats are far from perfect, but they occupy more and more of the political middle in terms of operating as pragmatic problem solvers with reasonable judgment, and they are the only party actually doing their jobs.
Up next: Boehner’s lawsuit continues to fail, but you are still paying for it.
An Outrage Beyond All Others: The Use Of Religion to Assault Democracy
Monday, July, 14th, 2014, 11:54 am
There is a fairly well-know idiom, “give someone an inch and they’ll take a mile” that describes a person or group who has been given a small amount of power or freedom to do something, and then attempts to seize a lot more, or unlimited, power. That sense of entitlement is often the result of giving preferential treatment to a person or group over and above that of everyone else, and it is likely why the Founding Fathers did not single out any group as having supremacy or special rights over any other. It is true the Founders gave preferential treatment to white male landowners, but the Ninth Amendment provided a means for future lawmakers to give equal footing to the entire population. Where the Founders did not give preferential treatment or privileges was for religious adherents, and they included the Establishment Clause to ensure that future generations would never face the threat of religious imposition due to preferential treatment from the government.
Within 24 hours of the Hobby Lobby ruling, there were two statements from Christian fundamentalists that demonstrate exactly what happens when a group has been given a small amount of power or freedom and then attempts to gain much more. The first statement, “My religion trumps your right to (fill in the blank) is precisely why the Founders included the 1st Amendment’s Establishment Clause the High Court’s conservatives’ Hobby Lobby ruling demolished according to constitutional scholars and lawyers. The second statement was in a letter to the President within 24 hours of the ruling warning him he better start “giving deference to the Christian prerogative” that is also a direct result of the conservative Court neutering the Establishment Clause. However, the idea of government “deference to the Christian prerogative” began long before Hobby Lobby, and it is the result of giving the religious right an inch that inspired them to take a mile.
There is not one specific instance of deference to the Christian prerogative that is bringing Americans closer to a theocracy, but rather, a combination of government actions that not only violated the Establishment Clause, they gave the religious right freedoms and power over and above that of every other American. Now, the American people are beginning to realize the danger, and folly, of “government deference to the Christian prerogative” that began in earnest when the B-movie actor Ronald Reagan gave the moral majority a voice in the direction of government. Because Reagan set the precedent, every President since then keeps religious advisors close to the White House.
George W. Bush’s “faith based initiatives” gave deference, and taxpayer dollars, to the Christian prerogative that President Obama continued and likely set the stage for the recent White House friendly faith leaders’ letter demanding the right to discriminate against the LGBT community and non-Christians in hiring practices. In fact, when the White House eliminated certain a Christian group’s access to “faith-based” taxpayer dollars over their continued discrimination against gays, they were apoplectic and the first signatories of the “deference to Christians” letter the day after Hobby Lobby.
Another monumental error, and sheer folly, was making “in god we trust” the Christian national motto in 1956 to replace E pluribus unum (one out of many). Whatever the reason for imposing an official government motto establishing religion on the nation, in 1962 when the Supreme Court ruled prayer in public school was unconstitutional according to the 1st Amendment, the Christian Right considered the ruling a violation of the Christian national motto. The conservative Court just re-established Constitutional sectarian prayer at public meetings out of deference for Christians’ prerogative, and because the religious right was given an inch, it is just a matter of time before they take a mile in the form of mandatory state-sanctioned public school prayers.
In 1995 the government gave deference to Christians to ignore any law (except taxes) in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and because it was not inclusive enough, the conservatives on the High Court expanded the special rights to include artificial legal entities (closely-held corporations) that inspired the letter to the President demanding more deference to Christian’s prerogative to discriminate by judicial fiat.
In states across America, Republicans are blatantly transferring taxpayer dollars for public schools into private religious schools, as well as teaching the bible as science with impunity. The federal government, and justice department, is giving deference to the Christian prerogative by not taking action against what was once regarded as a violation of the Establishment Clause and patently unconstitutional.
What should enrage all Americans with knowledge of this demand for deference to Christian prerogatives is the practice of providing churches and clergy with tax-exempt status. It is robbing Americans’ tax dollars that are sorely needed to support education, law enforcement, roads, fire protection, and providing for those in need. To make matters worse, and it is much worse, is the federal government’s deference in NOT stripping church’s tax exemption when they blatantly campaign from the pulpit. Every year evangelicals join the Pulpit Freedom Sunday movement and actively campaign for Republicans from the pulpit, videotape the campaign speeches, and send them to the Internal Revenue Service and dare them to revoke their tax-exempt status. The evangelicals do not even attempt to conceal their motive of taking the IRS all the way to the Supreme Court so the 5 conservatives will strike down the prohibition on tax-exempt churches using Hellfire and brimstone to guilt their congregants into voting for Republicans.
The greatest form of deference to the Christian prerogative is this unwillingness, whether it is driven by deference or cowardice, to cite the origin of the assault on democracy and several segments of the population. Oh, it is true Democrats and organizations such as Planned Parenthood decry the Republican war against women, and LGBT groups complain the assault on gays is homophobia, discrimination, and something about marriage equality, but they all defer to the to the Christian prerogative of never, never, ever citing the real source of attacks on other Americans; the Christian bible.
America has shown enough deference to the Christian prerogative that has given them inordinate freedom and power over other Americans and the government to the point they are now demanding the ultimate deference to Christians. It is damn high time to repeal the RFRA, strip tax exempt status from all churches with extreme prejudice, enforce anti-discrimination laws, and imprison governors and Republican legislatures for robbing tax dollars allotted for public schools to teach the bible in private Christian schools. While the Department of Justice is at it, they need to actively pursue, and prosecute, any and all public school personnel from teachers to superintendents to school boards promoting bible curriculum as science.
This country has incrementally drifted so far from the Founding Fathers’ and Constitution’s Framers’ original intent to maintain America as a secular nation, and it all began by giving deference to the Christian prerogative. This country was never intended to be a Christian nation, and yet the Supreme Court’s conservatives and Republicans in Congress and state legislatures are introducing, and in many cases enacting, laws founded on American bastardized Christian fundamentalism.
The religious right was not satisfied with a Christian national motto, religious liberty to flout any law, offices in Congress and the White House, taxpayer dollars for faith-based initiatives, or tax free status at the expense of the people, and after being given far too many inches, and deference to their prerogatives, they have the temerity to demand more. It is time for Americans to say enough, draw a line in the sand, and not give one inch more. Because now that the Christian Right is on a roll, they are not going to stop until they get the ultimate deference; constitutional freedom to impose a Christian theocracy on a secular representative democracy.
Border Tensions Rise Between Ukraine and Russia
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN and SABRINA TAVERNISE
JULY 15, 2014
KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine and Russia traded increasingly bitter accusations of cross-border hostilities on Tuesday, deepening a shadowy war of real attacks or orchestrated sabotage that increasingly threatens to draw the two countries into direct conflict.
On Tuesday, Ukrainian military officials said they suspected Russia of carrying out an airstrike that destroyed a four-story apartment building in the eastern Ukrainian town of Snizhne, about 12 miles from border, killing at least 11 civilians. Pro-Russian separatists, in turn, said the Ukrainian military had carried out the bombing.
The announcement by Ukraine’s general prosecutor’s office that it was collecting evidence of a Russian role in the airstrike came a day after the government in Kiev said it believed Russia was responsible for the downing of a military transport plane in Luhansk. A day before that, the Russian Foreign Ministry warned of potentially “irreversible consequences” after one man was killed and two other people were wounded when mortar fire hit the town of Donetsk on the Russian side of the border.
A current visual survey of the continuing dispute, with maps showing rebel and military movement, sites of recent violence, as well as political, cultural and economic factors in the crisis.
Officially, the Kremlin has denied arming, financing or directing the insurrection in eastern Ukraine, but its active support of the rebellion has been openly acknowledged in recent days. Separatist leaders have complained about the low quality and advanced age of the weapons provided by Russia and a lack of more proactive assistance as they have come under heavier attack by the Ukrainian military.
On Tuesday, apparent new evidence of Russian military aid appeared on the roads of eastern Ukraine as convoys of tanks and smaller vehicles drove west through rebel-controlled territory toward Donetsk. Shortly after 10 a.m., a column of eight tanks, four large armored personnel carriers, and an assortment of smaller civilian cars and minivans wound its way through the small town of Vuglegirsk.
Rebels reclined on the top of the tanks, as if on couches. A kiosk owner watched as they passed. “I’m just sick of it all,” said the owner, who would give only her first name, Larisa, out of concern for her safety.
She saved her harshest words for Ukraine’s government. “They are killing their own people,” she said. “We won’t forgive them that.”
A half-hour later, a column of four tanks rolled down the same road, past a brilliant field of sunflowers. Behind were trucks and civilian cars, including a new-looking Volkswagen minivan, with a blue light on top.
The continued supply of arms and equipment has riled officials in Kiev, including President Petro O. Poroshenko, who has urged the West to impose more painful economic sanctions against Russia.
Anatoliy Matios, a deputy general prosecutor, said at a news conference in Kiev that the Ukrainian government intended to show evidence of Russia’s involvement in the bombing of the residential building in Snizhne.“It will be proven according to international standards that a neighboring state used military equipment and ammunition,” Mr. Matios said.
While separatists blamed the government for the airstrike, Ukrainian officials insisted that all military flights had been suspended on Monday after the downing of the military transport plane in a rocket attack. Russia on Tuesday denied that the rocket that destroyed the plane had been fired from its side of the border.
As the cross-border recriminations added new animosity to the fight, the death toll continued to mount from the separatist insurrection in eastern Ukraine and the Ukrainian military’s effort to quash the rebellion.
At least six more Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 13 wounded in overnight fighting throughout the east, Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said at a news briefing on Tuesday.
The self-declared separatist Luhansk People’s Republic said that 15 civilians had been killed and more than 60 wounded in bombardments and other fighting throughout the region. That did not include the 11 civilians killed in the airstrike in Snizhne.
Mr. Lysenko called the attack in Snizhne “a cynical and bloody provocation in order to discredit the Ukrainian military.”
Ukrainian officials have said that the downed cargo plane was flying at a high-enough altitude that destroying it required a sophisticated surface-to-air missile provided by Russia. They also said it appeared that the missile had been fired from the Russian side of the border.
Russia denied that accusation on Tuesday, saying that the plane was shot down too far from the border to have involved a Russian missile.
A senior Western official, who declined to be identified because he was discussing intelligence reports, said that the information on the downing of the Ukrainian plane was inconclusive.
The official said that the initial conclusion of some government analysts was that the aircraft had probably been destroyed by a Russian surface-to-air missile and not a shoulder-fired antiaircraft system. The official also said that the missile had probably been fired from the Russian side of the border, an assertion that was impossible to verify.
Western officials have generally been quick to support the Ukrainian version of events, and have repeatedly chastised the Kremlin for not doing enough to stop the flow of weapons and fighters across the border.
On Monday, the White House summoned European Union ambassadors to push for restrictions on the Russian financial sector and to show them intelligence documenting Russian support for separatists, Bloomberg News reported. European Union leaders are scheduled to meet Wednesday to consider action.
If European allies do not go along, American officials said Mr. Obama might decide to go ahead with sanctions on his own, an approach he has tried to avoid for fear of allowing Russia to drive a wedge between the United States and Europe.
Fresh EU Sanctions against Russia 'Very Possible'
by Naharnet Newsdesk
16 July 2014, 06:38
A new round of EU sanctions against Russia and pro-Moscow separatists in Ukraine was "looking very possible", a diplomatic source said Tuesday on the eve of an EU summit where leaders would make the final decision.
According to the source, member states were preparing a variety of new measures, including freezing programmes in Russia run by the EU's European Investment Bank and the London-based European Bank of Reconstruction and Development.
There was also talk "of adding new names to the list of targeted sanctions," the source said.
The EU has so far imposed visa bans and asset freezes on more than 60 Russia and Ukraine figures for their role in stoking the Ukraine crisis but have so far baulked at outright sanctions on economic sectors, known in Brussels as phase 3 sanctions.
"This is neither phase 2 or phase 3 but something different," the source said, adding that the decision to consider new sanctions was "not because of U.S. pressure".
The summit on Wednesday is primarily tasked with filling key EU jobs, most notably to name a foreign policy chief to replace Catherine Ashton.
But the 28 EU leaders will also review developments in Ukraine as Washington presses for tougher sanctions against Russia.
The EU is divided over how far to go given some member states, such as Italy and Germany, have major economic ties with Moscow.
Another EU diplomatic source confirmed that an option of new sanctions would be put to EU leaders on Wednesday, including the idea to suspend EIB investment.
"Some of the entities and persons that will be added (to the proposed sanctions) are already on the U.S. sanctions list," the second source added.
Germany and France have been spearheading EU efforts to revive a Ukrainian truce in the hope more sanctions against Russia, on which much of the EU depends for energy, could be avoided.
The United States has pressed EU leaders to impose arms sale restrictions and broader financial sanctions when they meet at the summit in Brussels.
Russian Actions over Ukraine 'Insufficient' so Far, Says Germany
by Naharnet Newsdesk
16 July 2014, 13:22
Russian actions to resolve the Ukraine conflict have been insufficient so far, a German government spokesman said Wednesday ahead of an EU summit that will consider fresh sanctions against Moscow.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko had agreed in a phone call Tuesday that "Russia has been insufficient in meeting expectations" on steps to end the fighting between government forces and pro-Russian separatists, said Merkel's spokesman.
On the day Merkel also spoke by phone with U.S. President Barack Obama, the Ukraine leader told Merkel that "there are indications that heavy weapons from Russia are continuing to reach separatists, and that there are more signs of attacks on Ukrainian forces from Russian territory".
Merkel and Poroshenko had "shared the judgment of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) that the separatists lack ... the will to enter into serious talks on declaring a mutual ceasefire".
They still expected Russia to publicly rein in the insurgents, "some of whose leaders in the past served for years in Russian secret services," German spokesman Steffen Seibert said at a press conference.
Another demand on Moscow was to effectively seal its border with Ukraine, Seibert said, adding that the annexation of the Crimean peninsula continues "every day to represent a breach of international law".
"Possible consequences of these so far dashed expectations will be a subject of today's European Council meeting," he added, referring to the summit in Brussels.
Mediators Say Ukraine Rebels Lack 'Willingness' for Truce Talks
by Naharnet Newsdesk
16 July 2014, 11:08
Mediators on the Ukraine crisis have accused pro-Russian rebels of not being committed to truce negotiations after a planned video-conference to discuss talks fell through.
A discussion meant to be held Tuesday between the trilateral Contact Group -- which includes representatives of Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE -- and separatist leaders "did not materialize" meaning that no talks have happened since late June, the group said in a statement.
"In the opinion of the Contact Group, this indicates a lack of willingness on the side of the separatists to engage in substantive talks on a mutually agreed ceasefire," the statement released late Tuesday by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said.
Ukraine's Western-backed President Petro Poroshenko told German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a phone conversation Tuesday that there had been "two attempts" to hold the video-conference following pressure from world leaders for both sides to talk peace.
Poroshenko tore up a brief ceasefire earlier this month to relaunch a military offensive against the rebels aimed at crushing a three-month rebellion that has claimed some 600 lives in the east of the country.
Whisked Away for Tea With a Rebel in Ukraine
By SABRINA TAVERNISE
JULY 15, 2014
LUHANSK, Ukraine — The pro-Russian rebel with bad teeth and aviator sunglasses was trying to help me.
We had been waiting at a checkpoint on the side of a highway just a few miles from the entrance to this rebel stronghold of wide streets and Soviet-era buildings. My credentials had aroused suspicion, though whose was unclear, and we had been waiting for almost an hour for a higher-up to appear with the answer.
The rebels had been fighting with Ukrainian regulars just a few miles away, and at first their mood was sour. But they were local residents and as often happens, they opened up after some chatting. We talked about what Americans thought of the war here, and why President Obama was supporting a government they said was shelling its own people. If it were up to them, they said, they would let me be on my way, but they had their orders.
Eventually, a brown Lada with tinted windows screeched up to the checkpoint. A man got out. He was wearing a maroon-colored beret and black leather fingerless gloves. His shirt was sleeveless, revealing arms slathered in tattoos. He had long black eyelashes and little patience for the men who had been chatting with me.
Strangely, they appeared not to know one another. “What’s your contact at least?” one of my rebel friends said to the man, who looked at them placidly without saying anything. He then opened the back door on the left side and indicated that I should get in.
The rebel then told me to write down his name and phone number just in case. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “They’re just going to check you out.”
What happened next was a strange slide into a Wonderland world, where fact was hard to tell from fiction and reality and absurdity came in equal portions. The man drove for 15 minutes wordlessly and improbably fast for the condition of the car — the speedometer registered more than 100 miles an hour. We came to a stop outside a five-story apartment building rimmed by trees and benches.
He then turned to me and introduced himself. He said his name was Denis and that he was the head of an intelligence group in Luhansk. (These were strange admissions: Rebels rarely divulge their names, or intelligence work.) He said that he should be checking my documents in a more formal place, but that he was tired, and so he would be doing the checking in the apartment of a woman he described as his fiancée.
We climbed the stairs to a dingy one-room apartment, where a woman in sweatpants with her hair in a towel offered us tea. She put cookies and small sausage sandwiches on a small table in front of us. Another woman, who introduced herself as Tamara Vladimirovna, exclaimed at the pleasure of having such a lovely guest and shook my hand warmly.
Denis looked at me and asked what I was doing in Luhansk. I began to talk nervously about civilian casualties, and how a stepped-up war was having disastrous effect on families here. I said it was unclear what Ukraine’s strategy was and whether the government was worried about civilian deaths.
“This doesn’t matter to me,” he said, staring at me, his face impassive. I froze, thinking something bad was coming. Instead, things got curiouser. “I’m a mercenary from Russia,” he said, seated on a bench next to me in the tiny kitchen. “I don’t give a damn about any of this.”
I nodded as if I understood, but inside, I was utterly confused. Why would this man be telling me this? Who is he really and what does he want? How much of this is he making up?
The strangeness of the situation eclipsed any fear. The man had ordered me into his car, but at no point had he threatened me or taken my phones. He was clearly interested in having his girlfriend meet an oddball foreigner, and I was beginning to get the impression that he was simply bored.
It got weirder. He explained that he had gone from war to war for most of his 34 years, most recently to Syria, and that he was one of about 50 Russian citizens here being paid for supporting the fight against Ukraine’s government. He did not say who paid him, but said that the group formed the heart of the rebel forces by default. Most of the insurgents here — about 80 percent in his words — were scrappy locals, taxi drivers and coal miners who had never before seen battle. An additional 20 percent were better because they had fought in Afghanistan.
There were other manpower problems, he said. A lot of local people signed up in a burst of emotion and then quit after a few weeks. And so many fighters were now assigned to the border areas and the outside edges of the city that there were very few left to protect Luhansk itself. To their advantage, he said, was the fact that Ukrainian soldiers also seemed to be afraid to fight.
I asked him timidly what the prognosis was for the fight in Luhansk.
“Honestly, they’re going to come in,” he said, referring to the Ukrainian military. “Fifty people is not enough,” he said. I asked him how long it would take. “No one can tell you that.”
Tamara Vladimirovna returned to the kitchen, holding a frightened-looking black rabbit. She said she had found it in one of the shelled areas of the city.
“Poor thing,” she said, stroking its ears. She then asked Denis if he had a new automatic gun. He said no, but that he did have a new pistol. He pulled it out of a holster and put it next to the cookies on the table. They all noted that it was made in Ukraine.
The teacups were empty, and Denis stood up and put on his beret. He gave me back my credentials (he had already returned my notebook), then we got back in the car and drove away from the apartment at roughly the same rate that we came. I remarked on his speed, and he said he had a BMW at home in Moscow that he loved to drive fast along the city’s deserted streets at night.
Back at the checkpoint, a man in unusually clean cut fatigues walked up to us and asked if I had been checked out.
“Yes,” Denis replied. “Everything’s in order.”