01/14/2013 11:57 AM
Paris Shootings: Murdered Kurdish Activists Had Ties to Germany
The murder of three Kurdish activists in Paris last week remains a mystery, but SPIEGEL has uncovered details about their ties to Germany. Two of the women was under investigation by German federal prosecutors.
Two of the three Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) activists shot to death last week in Paris were important functionaries within the banned organization's German wing, and were also under investigation here, SPIEGEL has learned.
The German attorney general was looking into potential criminal activities by Sakine Cansiz and Leyla Söylemez, who were found murdered along with a third woman at the Kurdish Information Center in the French capital last Thursday. They were suspected of supporting a terrorist organization abroad.
Cansiz was known as an important figure in the northern German cadre of the PKK, the Kurdish separatist group considered to be a terrorist organization by Turkey and most Western countries. She was also a member of the Kurdish National Congress in Brussels.
In March 2007, authorities arrested Cansiz in a café in Hamburg's Schanzenviertel district with an international warrant issued by Turkey, but the city's regional appeals court opted not to extradite her. The court ruled that the accusations against Cansiz were too vague.
Concurrently, however, Hamburg state prosecutors began investigating her for her role in the PKK. Federal prosecutors took over the case in 2008.
A close companion of now imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, Cansiz herself spent some 12 years in Turkey's Diyarbakir Prison, notorious for the systematic torture that took place there, and later went on to become an important PKK representative in Europe. In 1998 France granted Cansiz asylum, but most recently she was thought to have spent time in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.
New Strain on Peace Efforts
Leyla Söylemez's connection to Germany began in the 1990s, when she fled here with her family. Living in the eastern German city of Halle, she studied architecture and was an active member of the PKK youth branch. Some years ago, however, she quit her studies, apparently to concentrate fully on her political activities.
While it remains unclear exactly who might be behind the mysterious shootings, the triple-murder in Paris is likely to strain recent efforts toward reconciliation between the Turkish government and the PKK. On Dec. 28, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed during a television interview that after a long hiatus, his government had renewed talks with PKK leader Öcalan, who is currently in solitary confinement on the island of Imrali, in the Sea of Marmara. Shortly thereafter, one of Erdogan's advisors disclosed that the head of Turkey's MIT intelligence agency, Hakan Fidan, had spent Dec. 23 and 24 on the island to meet with the prisoner.
The New Year then brought permission for two Kurdish politicians to meet with Öcalan as well. It was the first time since his arrest and imprisonment that he was given such a privilege, and its very occurrence is evidence that the man seen as a terrorist leader by the majority of the Turkish government is now ready to take an active role in finding a peaceful solution to decades of bloody conflict in the country's southeast.
Turkish media had also recently reported that a fundamental agreement had already been made. Some suspect that the murders were an attempt to stall the peace talks, though it remains unclear who was responsible and both sides are blaming each other for the crime.
Over the weekend some 15,000 people from around Europe -- many of them Kurds living in Germany -- gathered in Paris to demand justice in the murders in Paris.
Appearing on television on Saturday, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan demanded that France solve the murders "immediately," and criticized the country for granting Cansiz asylum. Turkey has frequently criticized European nations for inadequate support in its fight against the PKK, and Erdogan also mentioned Germany's decision not to extradite Cansiz in 2007.
Colombia wants to speed up peace talks with Marxist FARC rebels
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, January 13, 2013 17:45 EST
Colombia’s government wants to pick up the pace of its peace negotiations with Marxist FARC rebels, the chief government negotiator said Sunday ahead of the continuation of talks in Cuba.
“We really need to get things moving. I want to make that known to people in general, as well as to the FARC,” former vice president Humberto de la Calle told reporters before his departure for Havana.
De la Calle and other negotiators for the government of President Juan Manuel Santos were set to leave for the Cuban capital later Sunday for Monday’s resumption of talks, which were put on hold over Christmas and New Year’s.
“We do hold to the premise that this is a process that cannot be prolonged indefinitely,” De la Calle said.
“While we do not have exact time limits for each point, we are aware that we have to move ahead swiftly.”
The parties are under pressure to produce results in the coming months to end their half-century-old conflict, with Santos saying that negotiations must conclude by November.
“We want to move very responsibly but also at a speed the country expects of us to achieve the results that all of Colombia wants,” De la Calle added, pledging that the government would be realistic and dedicated in its effort.
The longtime rivals launched the talks in October, their fourth attempt in three decades to close a battle that has left 600,000 people dead, 15,000 missing and four million displaced since 1964.
Though the guerrilla group has declared a unilateral ceasefire until January 20, the government has continued its offensive against the rebels, accusing them of failing to respect their own truce by planting landmines and attacking civilians and soldiers.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) took up arms in 1964 to protest against the concentration of land ownership in the country, but a string of military defeats has cut its ranks to about 8,000 — less than half of what it was in the late 1990s.
The key issue in the dispute, rural development, will be on the agenda when talks resume.
Fifty-two percent of rural land is held by just over one percent of the population in Colombia, according to 2011 data from the United Nations, creating a divide that has fostered decades of tensions between landholders and landless farmers.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was considered a key facilitator in the process, but the ailing leftist leader has been out of public sight since undergoing a fourth round of cancer surgery in Havana on December 11.
British PM Cameron denies ‘blackmailing’ EU members
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, January 14, 2013 7:40 EST
British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday denied trying to “blackmail” his European partners by threatening to pull out of the EU if he did not get his way on repatriating powers.
Ahead of a long-awaited speech next week in which he is expected to propose a referendum after 2015 on the conditions of Britain’s membership, Cameron added that he was “confident” of getting the changes he wanted.
“I’m not blackmailing anybody,” Cameron said in an interview with BBC radio.
“Britain, just like every other European country, has a perfect right to say we are members of this club, we are prominent members, we pay a large bill for being a member of this club.
“We are perfectly entitled to argue that it needs to change.”
Cameron’s close ally and finance minister, George Osborne, told a German newspaper last week that “for us to stay in the European Union, the EU must change”, sparking a German lawmaker to accuse Britain of blackmail.
Cameron stressed that he still supported Britain’s membership of the 27-nation bloc.
“I don’t think it’s in our interests to leave the European Union,” he said.
“Would Britain collapse if we left the European Union? No, of course not. We could choose a different path. The question is, what is in our national interest.”
But he said he was “not happy” with the relationship and said the British public were also “increasingly fed up that they’ve been left out of this debate”.
He said he wanted a “fresh settlement, and then fresh consent for that settlement”.
But a straight in-out referendum asking whether Britons wanted to remain in the EU was a “false choice”, Cameron said.
“Right now, there are a lot of people who say, I would like to be in Europe but I’m not happy with every aspect of the relationship so I want it changed. That is my view,” he said.
“So I think an in-out referendum today is a false choice.”
Cameron deflected a question about whether an in-out referendum was possible further down the line.
“I’m confident we will get the changes that we want. We will have a new settlement and then we’ll put that to the British people in a very straightforward way,” he said.
David Cameron: beating heart of Britain wants less EU interference
PM says on Daybreak there is a groundswell of public support for renegotiation of Britain's relationship with European Union
guardian.co.uk, Monday 14 January 2013 08.36 GMT
A desire to rein in what is seen as "too much bossiness from Brussels" is now a mainstream aspiration among voters and not just the concern of a Ukip-supporting fringe, David Cameron said on Monday morning, as he began to prepare the public ground for his long-awaited speech this month on relations with Europe.
In an appearance on ITV's Daybreak programme, the first of a series of media interviews, the prime minister argued that while Britain should remain in the EU there was a groundswell of public support for a fundamental renegotiation of the country's relationship within the bloc.
"I think we're better off in the European Union," Cameron said. "We're a trading nation so we need to be in the single market, not just selling goods to Europe but having a seat round the table saying what those rules are. But I'm not happy and the British public isn't happy with every aspect of our relationship now.
"Europe's changing because of the single currency. That's driving a process of change. We're not in the single currency, we're never going to join the single currency in my view – not while I'm prime minister – and so we can use this process of change to make sure that Britain has a relationship with Europe that suits us better and then we should be making sure the British people give that their full-hearted consent."
Challenged as to whether a Conservative fear of Ukip was driving the process, Cameron said such views were "very mainstream across Britain as a whole".
He said: "I think the beating heart of Britain, as it were, is that we know we need to be in Europe because we're a trading nation, these are our neighbours, these are friendly countries we should be co-operating and working with, but we're not happy with every aspect of the relationship at the moment – there's too much interference, too much bossiness from Brussels. We need to deal with that, make sure that powers can flow backwards as well as the other direction.
"I think people want that fixed and they want more of a say, and we shouldn't be frightened of involving the British people in a proper debate about Europe. And that's what I'm doing."
Cameron's Europe speech, due to be delivered in the Netherlands, is expected to promise that the Tory manifesto for the next election will include a pledge to use a treaty revision to repatriate powers to Britain. The new terms of British membership would then be put to the public in a referendum after the next general election.
The prime minister faces pressure on two fronts within his party, with some rightwing MPs – Eric Pickles being the latest – floating the idea that Britain might have to quit the EU altogether, while Kenneth Clarke is preparing to join forces with Lord Mandelson to make the case for wholehearted British membership.
Cameron also used his interview to discuss plans for a new flat-rate state pension worth £144 a week, intended to assist the retirement earnings of women who take time out of paid work to care for their children.
"The current system is too complicated. It also discourages saving because there's so much means testing and it's also not particularly fair on women because if you take a career break you find it difficult to build up a decent pension," he said.
"So the idea here is for new pensioners from 2017 – it's a long-term reform – instead of the £100 or so basic state pension it'll be over £140. Much simpler, it's a single state pension, it cuts out a lot of the means testing. It'll help a lot of women, a lot of low-paid people who otherwise wouldn't get a decent state pension."
Cameron denied this was a "con trick" that would mean people paying more and retiring later. "We are going to have later retirement ages because we're living longer. If you want to go on having a decent state pension, which we do, we have to either put up taxes or ask people to work a bit longer. And I think it's fair to ask people to work a bit longer given that we're living longer."
David Cameron: Britain would not collapse outside EU
PM says he has overwhelming support of public to renegotiate terms of relationship, and denies strategy is dangerous
Patrick Wintour, political editor
guardian.co.uk, Monday 14 January 2013 10.16 GMT
Britain would not collapse if it was forced to leave the European Union, David Cameron said as he denied his strategy of seeking to renegotiate the country's relationship with the EU was dangerous or risky.
The prime minister restated his belief that it was in the national interest to remain, and said he was "confident and optimistic" he could secure a successful renegotiation of Britain's relationship with the rest of Europe that could be put to the public.
He said he did not expect to stage that referendum shortly, saying he wanted to put renegotiated terms to the British people. An immediate referendum would represent a false choice, he said.
Cameron is under mounting conflicting pressures over his EU strategy as it becomes increasingly clear that a speech he is due to give next week will antagonise his European partners but leave Eurosceptic opinion in the UK dissatisfied.
Fearing that his voice was being squeezed in the debate, Cameron embarked on a round of TV and radio interviews on Monday morning to map out his thinking and say why he was optimistic that his strategy could work and lead to a more comfortable UK-EU relationship.
He said he had the overwhelming support of the British people to renegotiate the terms of the UK relationship and to seek fresh consent.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme his long-awaited speech on Europe was "written and ready to go". He said he had the opportunity to demand changes since the rest of Europe wanted to make enormous changes to reform driven by the needs of the single currency.
Cameron tried to dismiss any scenario in which he was unable to secure concessions from the EU that he could then put to the British people, insisting he had the support of allies in countries such as Germany and the Netherlands for a revised EU that led to powers flowing back to nation states. "I am confident we will get the changes that we want," he said, without being pressed to explain in any detail what those changes might include.
The prime minister implied that reforms to the single currency would require Germany to demand treaty changes, so giving Britain a negotiating opportunity. He pointed out there had been three treaty changes in the past two years.
"Those who say this is very dangerous and you are putting at risk our relationship with Europe, or with business, I don't agree with that because the fact is that this debate is happening anyway, so we have a choice as politicians: do you lead that debate and make the changes that are right for Britain, or do you put your head in the sand and hope the whole debate is going to go away? It is not going to go away."
He added: "The British public feel increasingly fed up with being left out of this debate".
Britain can veto changes to the treaty on the single currency if it has not secured the reforms it seeks. Cameron said this did not represent blackmail, a charge made last week by senior German politicians close to the chancellor, Angela Merkel. "I am not blackmailing anyone. Britain, like any other member, has a perfect right to say Britain is a member of this club, we pay a large bill and we believe Europe has to change." Britain would not collapse if it left the EU, he said, but that was not his goal.
Asked about recent comments from the Obama administration warning Britain not to quit the EU, he said he recognised that Washington wanted a strong Britain as its candid friend in the EU. "I completely understood why the Americans wanted to express this view," he said. "In the end it is for our country, our people to decide exactly what sort of relationship should be."
He explained: "When we make those changes for a new settlement we should make sure there is full heated consent for that settlement. I am not against referenda. The principle is that if you are fundamentally changing the relationship between Britain and Europe you should be having a referendum.
"If we had an in-out referendum tomorrow, or very shortly, I don't think that would be the right answer because we would be giving people a false choice. I think the overwhelming majority of the British people say they want to be in Europe but they want some changes to that relationship and they would like to be given a say. It is not something we should be frightened of. It's something we should embrace."
Cameron said he supported his communities secretary, Eric Pickles, in refusing to endorse the estimates prepared by civil servants on the numbers of Bulgarians and Romanians likely to come to Britain when transitional controls are lifted. "We are not content the detail is there yet," he said.
He refused to say whether there was an estimated number of migrants that might lead him to impose further controls.
Earlier, on ITV1's Daybreak, he said a desire to rein in what is seen as "too much bossiness from Brussels" was now a mainstream aspiration among voters and not just the concern of a Ukip-supporting fringe.
Britain and the EU: Europe's lost voices
An often banal anti-European populism has generated something of a Eurosceptic hegemony in British public debate
The Guardian, Thursday 10 January 2013 23.52 GMT
In theory, one of the roles of politicians is to conduct, inform and lead a national debate on the issues of the day. One of those issues, for Britain, is without doubt the future of the European Union and Britain's place within it. Yet our politicians – and perhaps our media too – are largely failing in that task.
For a variety of reasons, in which history, geography, culture and language are intertwined, and which include remnants of a postcolonial self-delusion about British superiority and continental inferiority, many British people are reluctantly and half-heartedly engaged with Europe. Partly for that reason, too many politicians of all parties find it easier to parrot or appease the views of a few rightwing newspapers, many of whose owners do not pay taxes in this country and regard "Europe" as synonymous with regulations which threaten their interests as owners and rich people. Many members of the public are instinctively more cautious and more pragmatic, not least because they do not trust the press, but they get little lead from politicians.
The result, over many years, has been the growth of an often banal anti-European populism on the right and in parts of the left. This has now generated something of a Eurosceptic hegemony in British public debate. In the Tory party, scepticism towards Europe is now morphing into fully fledged and reckless contempt, feeding calls for quitting the EU and boosting the rise of Ukip. This makes thoughtful politicians in all parties nervous. The upshot, given plausibility by the extremely serious problems of the eurozone, is a striking collective failure of civil society, particularly in England (not so much in Scotland), to think about the relationship with Europe with anything approaching realism or objectivity.
David Cameron's planned speech on Britain and the EU ought to have been a wake-up call to more thoughtful and more pro-European politicians. Perhaps, in time, it will be. If so, that would be all to the good. But there is not much sign of it yet. True, Ed Miliband made a valuable speech late last year to the CBI. True also, Nick Clegg and almost all Liberal Democrats continue to make the case for EU engagement. But Labour is wary of the European issue, and the Lib Dems struggle, for other reasons, to get a sympathetic hearing on anything. This leaves too much of the arena in the hands of the increasingly audacious Conservative Eurosceptics. That has to change – and soon. Pro-European neglect must not allow Mr Cameron to speak for Britain unchallenged.
In the absence of a more thoughtful political debate about the costs and benefits of UK engagement with Europe, other interests have at last made themselves heard. This week, there have been important interventions from home and abroad. The Irish prime minister said it would be disastrous for Britain to leave the EU. The Finnish foreign minister, like his Polish and Dutch colleagues before him, lamented the direction of Britain's "uncivilised" EU debate. On Wednesday, the Obama administration warned that Britain is turning inwards and stressed that Washington wanted to see the UK remain part of the EU. On Thursday, a senior member of Angela Merkel's centre-right CDU said Britain should not attempt to blackmail the rest of Europe by blocking treaty changes generated by the eurozone crisis. Most influential of all, perhaps, a group of British business leaders including Virgin's Richard Branson, WPP's Martin Sorrell, the president of the CBI and the chairman of the London stock exchange all told Mr Cameron not to put UK membership at risk.
All this is welcome and useful. But the foreign observers and the business leaders are making arguments which British politicians and commentators, including serious Tory politicians and commentators, ought to be making too. This country is at risk of allowing itself to be stampeded by the Tory party and the Europhobic press into abandoning its place in Europe. Pro-Europeans should shed their anxieties. Voices that have been silent for too long need to make themselves heard.
01/14/2013 12:17 PM
Haven for Oligarchs: Europe's Mounting Reluctance to Bail Out Cyprus
By SPIEGEL Staff
There is growing resistance in Europe to the planned aid program for Cyprus, because it would also benefit illegal Russian money parked in bank accounts in Cyprus. The government in Nicosia is willing to make concessions, but Brussels is demanding more reforms.
It was a long way to go to deliver a short message. German Chancellor Angela Merkel flew almost four hours last Friday to Cyprus, where she spent a few minutes campaigning for the conservative presidential candidate in the February 17 election, Nikos Anastasiades. Speaking in the city of Limassol, Merkel praised Anastasiades, saying that she had known him for a long time and valued his openness to change, and that the country urgently needed "structural reforms."
After smiling for the cameras, Merkel returned to wintry Berlin.
Her destination in the eastern Mediterranean has a smaller population than the little German state of Saarland, but that hasn't stopped it becoming one of the biggest trouble spots in global politics at the moment. The question of whether the government in Nicosia should be allowed to bolster its ailing banks with more than €17 billion ($22.7 billion) from Europe's bailout funds is dividing the euro zone, causing uncertainty in international markets and adding to the woes of the coalition government of Chancellor Angela Merkel, made up of her center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP). Now that the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Green Party have announced their opposition to the plan, Merkel's coalition could for the first time fail to muster a parliamentary majority on an important decision relating to the euro crisis.
The financial woes of Cyprus are a thorny issue for the German government, the mood in global financial marks and, most of all, for Europe's bailout policy. Ever since last fall, when SPIEGEL published a report by Germany's Federal Intelligence Service (BND) on money laundering in Cyprus, it has been clear that an aid program for the country would also benefit Russian oligarchs who have deposited billions in assets from dubious sources on the Mediterranean island. According to the BND analysis, if Brussels released the requested aid money, German taxpayer funds could very well be used to protect the illegal assets of Russian business magnates.
This realization triggered hectic activities in various places. In Brussels, the Euro Group of euro zone finance ministers postponed its decision on the bailout program last week, while donor countries like Germany, Finland and the Netherlands voiced concerns. In Cyprus, the government is trying to show it's tough on tax dodgers and money laundering. "Cyprus is no tax haven," Finance Minister Vassos Shiarly insists in an interview with SPIEGEL.
The euro rescuers face a dilemma. On the one hand, they want to prevent the country from going bankrupt. On the other hand, they lack the support of a majority of member states for an aid program that would mostly benefit rich Russian tax fugitives.
The tricky situation is prompting European leaders to do what they always do when a crisis comes to a head: play for time. They want Nicosia to satisfy additional conditions in the fight against tax dodgers and economic criminals. At the same time, Brussels is hoping that current President Dmitris Christofias will be ousted in the February election.
It wants a change in government on the island to show the European public that the Mediterranean country is indeed prepared to clean up its act. Experts agree that, for decades, Cyprus has seen itself as a prime destination for honest and dishonest investors from around the world. Until now, someone who wanted a safe haven for his money could simply take a plane to Nicosia, because the country is an EU member and yet is lax when it comes to financial regulation, say German investigators.
Popular Destination for Russians
The Russians are particularly well of the island's attractions in this respect. Last year, once again, entrepreneurs from Moscow and St. Petersburg moved about $60 billion in assets out of the country, much of it through Cyprus. Several dozen oligarchs and financial sharks have set up offshore companies in Cyprus, where they can protect their assets, at very favorable tax rates, from the Kremlin-controlled Russian justice system.
The list of Russian investors in Cyprus is almost identical with that of the country's richest men. Together with a partner, Roman Abramovich, known internationally as the owner of some of the world's largest private yachts and London's Chelsea Football Club, controls his Evraz holding company through a Cyprus-based company, Lanebrook. The financial magnate and former presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov, who owns mining companies in Russia, registered Intergeo Management Ltd. in Cyprus in 2008. Magnate Vladimir Lisin, worth an estimated $15.9 billion, controls more than two-thirds of his most important company, a steel mill in Novolipetsk, through the Cypriot company Fletcher Holding Ltd.
Owners of other companies registered in Cyprus include Lisin's competitor Alexei Mordashov (worth $15.3 billion), nickel tycoon Vladimir Potanin ($14.5 billion) and oil baron Vagit Alekperov ($13.5 billion). There is also Suleyman Kerimov ($6.5 billion), a dubious investor who was interested in buying a three-percent stake in Deutsche Bank in 2008, and Internet czar and friend of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev Alisher Usmanov, who topped the list of Russia's richest men last year at $18.1 billion. Yelena Baturina ($1.1 billion), the wife of former Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who has been accused of corruption by the Kremlin, has also allegedly moved some of her assets through Cyprus.
The case of fertilizer magnate Dmitry Rybolovlev shows how closely intertwined Russian oligarchs are with the Cypriot financial system. More than two years ago, Rybolovlev increased his share in the Bank of Cyprus to just under 10 percent. This makes the Russian, whose assets are estimated at $9 billion, the biggest single shareholder in the Mediterranean country's most important bank.
In the 1990s Rybolovlev, now 46, developed Uralkali into the largest potash producer in the country in the Siberian region of Perm. In 1996, he was held in jail for 11 months on the suspicion he was involved in the murder of another businessman, although he was ultimately acquitted for lack of evidence. He acquired a $100-million estate in Palm Beach, Florida from American real estate tycoon Donald Trump in 2008. In 2011, Rybolovlev, a sports fan, bought the AS Monaco football club. He owns a $110-million yacht, and his exquisite art collection includes paintings by Modigliani, Van Gogh and Picasso.
But tax fugitives aren't the only ones drawn to the island. "A classic route for laundering illegal Russian funds first passes through offshore companies, in the Caribbean, for example, and then through accounts in Cyprus," says Mark Pieth, a Swiss criminal law expert and chairman of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Working Group on Bribery. He cites as an example the scandal surrounding Russian attorney Sergei Magnitsky, who in 2009 was tortured to death in a Moscow prison at the age of 37, apparently because he had uncovered a large-scale corruption case that the government was trying to suppress.
Russian government officials allegedly embezzled $230 million in conjunction with the affair, with some $30 million reportedly being sent abroad through Cypriot banks. Magnitsky's former employer, financial investor Bill Browder, who has spent years painstakingly investigating the murder and its background with a team of half a dozen employees, is convinced that the allegations are true. His conclusions prompted Switzerland to freeze bank accounts, and the United States to recently bar entry to Russian officials involved in the case, triggering sharp protests from the government of President Vladimir Putin. After charges were brought in July 2012, the Cypriot officials responsible for combating money laundering didn't respond for months, says Browder.
Cypriot investigators reject the accusations, saying that the country's attorney general initiated proceedings in the fall, and that they are still underway. But they also note that the investigation is complex.
'Gateway for Money Laundering Activities'
In last fall's report, however, the BND concluded that Cyprus is indeed a "gateway for money laundering activities in the EU." The Germans pointed out that it is "relatively easy" to open accounts anonymously in Cyprus, and that auditing requirements are inadequate. According to the BND report, attorneys and trustees in Cyprus have specialized in financial services, some of which "are used to conceal money earned illegally." Ironically, the BND reached some its conclusions on the strength of information supplied by Russian authorities.
German investigators also complain about enormous hurdles when it comes to legal assistance. "They place such high demands on the inquiries and want to know so much that we might as well put all of our information on the table right away," says Sebastian Fiedler, a money-laundering expert with the Federation of German Police Officers.
Cyprus has only a one-percent share of the global market for international financial service exports. Nevertheless, it's in the top third of countries listed on the Financial Secrecy Index, a sort of international ranking of tax and money-laundering havens. According to Swiss money-laundering expert Pieth, "the scrutiny and bank regulation is very poor there. Many requirements are complied with formally, but it's a different story in practice."
The Cypriot government, on the other hand, stresses that upon joining the European Union in 2004, the country adopted all regulations and laws to fight money laundering, as well as creating new government agencies. Independent auditing institutes and international organizations have given Cyprus their seals of approval again and again, and the parliament has also approved the measures called for by the "troika," made up of the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
But Cyprus must also implement the many rules and be prepared to bear the consequences -- that's the key. "If Cyprus regularly sanctions money laundering, the entire country's business model as a fiscally attractive location for holding companies will be called into question," says a tax expert with a large Frankfurt law firm.
For this reason, European politicians involved in the bailout talks are determined to put more pressure on the government in Nicosia. According to internal documents prepared for euro zone finance ministers, many foreign investors in Cyprus disguise their identity, and about a third of investors are unknown to the Cypriot authorities. The European politicians are also troubled by the fact that Cyprus seeks to attract investors with excessively low tax rates. Currently companies on the island are only subject to a 10-percent corporate income tax.
European Central Bank policymaker Jörg Asmussen is now calling for further concessions from the Cypriot government. "The current memorandum is a draft; there has been no political approval from the Euro Group yet," says Asmussen. To achieve it, he adds, a key section of the declaration would have to be improved. "My impression is that improved transparency of the financial sector will be critical to obtaining approval of the program in the partner countries." In other words, Asmussen is saying, Cyprus should fight money laundering more resolutely, but it should also raise its corporate tax rates.
Otherwise there might not be an aid program at all, German government representatives are indicating, and they're resorting to the cynical jargon of international bailouts to send their message. There are limits, they note, to how "system-relevant" Cyprus is.
MARKUS DETTMER, MARTIN HESSE, CHRISTOPH PAULY, CHRISTIAN REIERMANN, MATTHIAS SCHEPP, FIDELIUS SCHMID, CHRISTOPH SCHULT, ANNE SEITH, ANDREAS ULRICH
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
January 13, 2013
Greece Sees Gold Boom, but at a Price
By SUZANNE DALEY
IERISSOS, Greece — In the forest near here, bulldozers have already begun flattening hundreds of acres for an open pit gold mine and a processing plant, which Canada’s Eldorado Gold Corporation hopes to open within two years. Eldorado has reopened other mining operations around here, too, digging for gold, copper, zinc and lead from nearby hills.
For some residents, all this activity, which promises perhaps 1,500 jobs by 2015, is a blessing that could pump some life into the dismal economy of the surrounding villages in this rural northeast region of Greece.
But for hundreds of others, who have mounted repeated protests, the new mining operation is nothing more than a symbol of Greece’s willingness these days to accept any development, no matter the environmental cost. Only 10 years ago, they like to point out, Greece’s highest court ruled that the amount of environmental damage that mining would do here was not worth the economic gain.
“This will be a business for 10, maybe 15 years, and then this company will just disappear, leaving all the pollution behind like all the others did,” said Christos Adamidis, a hotel owner here who fears that the new mining operations will end up destroying other local businesses, including tourism. “If the price of gold drops, it might not even last that long. And in the meantime, the dust this will create will be killing off the leaves. There will be no goats or olives or bees here.”
Tensions over new development schemes are being felt elsewhere in Greece, too, as the country stumbles into its sixth year of recession, eager to bring in moneymaking operations and forced by its creditors to streamline approval processes. Environmentalists are objecting to plans that would sell off thousands of acres for solar fields and allow oil exploration near delicate ecosystems.
“We see laws changing, policies changing,” said Theodota Nantsou, the policy coordinator in Athens for the World Wide Fund for Nature. “We see things getting rolled back under the guise of eliminating impediments to investment. But over the long run, all these things will have a heavy cost.”
The fund says standards are widely being ignored or lowered, affecting air, water and land use, from the reduction of mandatory environmental impact reviews to plans for increasing coal use and the likelihood that 95 percent of Greece’s environmental fund — more than $1 billion collected for projects like improving energy efficiency and sustaining nature conservancies — will be absorbed into the general government budget.
In June, the fund issued a report saying it was witnessing an “avalanche of serious environmental losses.” It said some rollbacks were an attempt to fulfill the demands of the trio of creditors, the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission, that have been sustaining Greece in recent years. But it said that, to an equal extent, the losses were because of initiatives put forward by various ministries.
No project, however, appears to have elicited more of a public outcry than the resumption of mining operations in the mineral-rich hills here, where legend has it that Alexander the Great also mined for gold. Past mining operations here have been boom-and-bust enterprises, their fortunes swinging with the price of metals, leaving behind ugly piles of sandy gray tailings. Virtually everybody in the area has stories about the runoff from old mining operations, which turned the sea yellow at times.
But perhaps as much as anything, the anger over the mines is a reflection of the fundamental distrust many Greeks feel toward their government: a firm belief that most officials are busy enriching themselves, their friends and their families at the country’s expense. Nick Malkoutzis, a columnist for the conservative daily newspaper Kathimerini, wrote that it was hard to blame villagers for their distrust, when so often companies had been allowed to ignore regulations. “Perhaps in another country, locals would feel more comfortable with the project because the process for awarding public contracts or environmental certificates is transparent and trustworthy,” he wrote, adding that in Greece, that was not the case.
Opponents complain, for instance, that while making the deal with Eldorado, the government failed to make sure that Greece received a percentage of the earnings, a common practice in mining contracts.
And they believe the 50 million euro letter of credit the government got as a guarantee against any problems is not nearly enough.
A spokesman for Eldorado, Kostas Georgantzis, said the Canadian mining company had actually offered more, but that was all the government wanted.
Until recently, environmentalists were beginning to feel optimistic about Greece. Environmental issues dominated the political agenda after George Papandreou was elected prime minister in 2009. He established an Environment, Energy and Climate Change Ministry and appointed a noted environmentalist to head it. He talked with enthusiasm of eco-tourism and renewable energy.
But as Greece’s financial problems snowballed, the head of the ministry was replaced by the former finance minister, George Papaconstantinou, who is now embroiled in a scandal over whether he removed family members from a list of Greeks with Swiss bank accounts. Shortly after his appointment, the permit for Eldorado’s mining plans was issued, though it is still under review in the courts.
Officials of Greece’s environment ministry, responding in writing to questions, acknowledged that they were overhauling regulations with a view to making “modern environmental policies” go hand in hand with much needed investments. But they said the WWF report was “excessively negative” in its conclusions.
They also defended the decision to reintroduce mining in the Chalkidiki area, saying that northern Greece constituted a “wealth reservoir” of metals worth more than 20 billion euros based on current prices. The officials said the permit was issued after an eight-year period of preparations, evaluations and public consultations that ensured that the mining activity would not damage the environment.
In fact, the officials said, the new activity would ensure that the acidic runoff from abandoned mine operations would be averted and modern practices of waste management implemented.
The ministry officials said they were unable to explain the 50 million euro letter of credit because the official in charge of that was on vacation.
Eldorado has big plans for the region. It intends to invest one billion euros in various mining operations there, and its executives expect mining activities to last 15 years or more.
But some opponents question that too, noting that right now the price of gold hovers around $1,700 an ounce, making even the tailings left behind by past mining efforts valuable. Eldorado is already at work reprocessing those tailings, which still contain about 300 grams of gold per ton. But the new open pit mine is expected to produce only 100 grams per ton. What will happen if the price of gold drops?
Eldorado officials say the villagers need not worry because the open pit mine will also yield copper. But the villagers are not so sure.
The new mining operations have divided the region, in some cases setting brothers against each other. Most often it is those that live close to the sea, where tourists arrive in the summer, who oppose the project. Those that live in the hills where there is little work generally support it.
“These jobs mean that the barber and the doctor will have work too,” said Kostas Karagiannis, who has been working clearing the forest. “It is not just the miners who benefit.”
But opponents worry about dust and ground water pollution. In the last year, opponents of the projects, many of them retirees, have staged more than a half-dozen demonstrations, some of which have been broken up by police shooting tear gas and rubber bullets. Both sides point fingers. Mining officials say the villagers surrounded city hall and kept the mayor imprisoned for eight hours at one point.
But the villagers say that at one particularly large demonstration at the end of October, when 21 villagers were arrested, the police used brutal tactics.
Rania Ververidis, 62, said that she had been ordered out of her car and told to kneel. At that point, she said, a police officer had stomped on her ankle. She was still limping three weeks later, she said.
But she said she intended to protest more. She fears that Greece is in the process “of selling everything.”
“We can’t let that happen without doing anything,” she said.
Dimitris Bounias contributed reporting.
Originally published January 13, 2013 at 6:20 PM | Page modified January 14, 2013 at 6:06 AM
All eyes on China’s shifting economy
By KEITH BRADSHER
The New York Times
GUANGZHOU, China —
After a sharp economic slowdown through much of last year, China’s economy is growing again — but not at its previous double-digit pace, and with signs that inflation might become a problem again.
Shops were crowded this weekend, construction sites show renewed activity and factories are hiring as exports and domestic demand recover — trends all underlined by government data released over the past several days.
Further data to be released Friday and Saturday — including monthly, quarterly and annual figures for industrial production, fixed-asset investment, retail sales and overall economic output — are also expected to show that the world’s second-largest economy, behind after that of the United States is expanding once again.
Many shopkeepers are noticing an increase in retail sales. Among them was Liu Licai, a merchant in southern China who sells curtains and other household goods.
Although some industries, like auto manufacturing, still suffer from bloated inventories, retailers like Liu are finding their shelves too empty and are starting to place more orders with suppliers, keeping factories busy.
“Business has gone up by more than 10 percent in the last several months,” Liu said during a brief lull on an otherwise busy day.
Yet the pace of China’s expansion may not be fast enough to do much for the rest of the world. China’s imports are growing less than half as fast as its exports, making it hard for China to become the locomotive to pull the global economy out of its half-decade funk. And overall growth is not rebounding to previous levels.
Until last year, the government set as a goal 8 percent annual growth and the economy frequently delivered several percentage points more than that. Then last March, the government pared the goal to 7.5 percent, and actual growth seems likely to be little higher.
“The potential growth rate of the economy has come down,” Stephen Green, a China economist in the Hong Kong offices of Standard Chartered, said Sunday. “You don’t have to be in the double digits to get inflation.”
Prices rose faster in December, according to government data released Friday. Consumer prices rose 2.5 percent from the level of a year earlier, their fastest pace since May.
Economists inside and outside China say the true rate of inflation is as much as double the official rate because of problems in the way China calculates inflation.
Green and other Western economists warned that officially measured inflation at the consumer level could reach 5 percent by the fourth quarter and lead to an increase in interest rates by China’s central bank.
Producer prices are still declining, but at a slower pace. They were down 1.9 percent in December from a year earlier, the smallest drop since last May.
Early in an economic recovery, rising prices tend to be a sign the economy may not have much unused capacity that can be brought into production quickly. Yet Wen Senrong, the sales manager of the Flying Gift Bag store in Guangzhou, said she was already seeing costs rise, with increases for rent, materials and labor.
“Our lease was renewed recently and our rent went up by a double-digit percentage. I feel like I am working for the landlord,” she said.
Tang Chun, the owner of a factory that makes picture frames in Guangzhou, complained of rising costs for the supplies that she buys, including aluminum, acrylic and glass.
“Every possible cost is going up, including raw-material costs and my rent, but I can’t raise prices. It’s all coming out of my profit margins,” Tang said.
Part of the increase in inflation reflects rising prices for fruits and vegetables, as extremely cold weather in China over the past couple of weeks has damaged winter crops.
At the fruit stand where Zeng Xiandan, 25, was stacking tangerines Saturday, prices had just jumped 10 to 20 percent for a wide range of produce, including tangerines, which were up 15 percent. Zeng said the increases had drawn surprisingly little criticism.
“They understand it’s because of the cold weather. Customers have not complained,” he said.
But economists say the overall rising prices reflect broad shifts in the Chinese economy.
China is awash in cash, since the government has expanded the broadly measured money supply over the past five years much more rapidly than the United States, even though the Federal Reserve’s moves have attracted considerably more international attention.
China’s money supply is now larger than that of the United States, even though China’s economy is half as large as that of the United States.
Powering a recovery in China’s construction sector this winter is strong overall growth in credit, as businesses and households are starting to find it easier to borrow. Total credit jumped 28 percent in December from a year ago, led by more corporate bonds and more loans from semi-regulated trusts set up by banks.
Until the past several years, China seemed to be expanding its factories so fast and bringing workers into cities so quickly that it could sustain rapid growth just by fully using those factories and workers.
But an emerging labor shortage, particularly of young workers, has changed that picture. The country’s “one child” policy and more years spent in school have meant fewer young people entering the labor force.
The Chinese economy remains dominated by manufacturing, and factory overcapacity still exists in some sectors.
At the same time, the labor-intensive service sector is growing rapidly and has far less overcapacity that can be used without causing inflation.
As the Chinese eat out more frequently and as China’s fast-growing population of elderly increasingly ends up in nursing homes, expansion is taking place in the catering and health-care sectors. These sectors, along with education, have had trouble filling numerous, but often low-paying, positions.
Rebounding exports and construction have also increased demand for low-wage workers.
Exports leapt 14.1 percent in December from a year earlier, nearly three times as fast as expected, and were led by surging shipments to the United States, data released Thursday showed.
Imports rose 6 percent in December, thanks partly to an 11 percent jump in iron ore imports as steel production rebounded.
Academy Award member urges Oscars boycott of ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ over ‘acceptance’ of torture
By Ben Child, The Guardian
Monday, January 14, 2013 8:47 EST
David Clennon has urged others to snub Kathryn Bigelow film at awards for ‘promoting acceptance of the crime of torture’
Hollywood studio Sony has been forced into a fresh defence of the controversial film Zero Dark Thirty, about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, after a member of the body that organises the Oscars called for a boycott.
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Ampas) member David Clennon said last week he would not be voting for Kathryn Bigelow’s film, which has been nominated for five Oscars, and urged others to snub a movie that he said “promotes the acceptance of the crime of torture, as a legitimate weapon in America’s so-called War on Terror”. Writing on the truth-out.org website, he added: “I cannot vote for a film that makes heroes of Americans who commit the crime of torture.”
In response, Sony president Amy Pascal said she was “outraged” that an Academy member would try to influence the voting process. “Zero Dark Thirty does not advocate torture,” she said on Friday. “To not include that part of history would have been irresponsible and inaccurate. We fully support Kathryn Bigelow and [screenwriter] Mark Boal and stand behind this extraordinary movie. We are outraged that any responsible member of the Academy would use their voting status in Ampas as a platform to advance their own political agenda.”
While Zero Dark Thirty remains in the running for five Oscars, it already appears to have slipped behind frontrunners such as Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln and Ang Lee’s Life of Pi owing to the ongoing controversy over whether Bigelow and Boal endorsed torture by their depiction of its use in the film, and whether that depiction was accurate. Bigelow surprisingly failed to receive a nod for best director when the Oscar nominations were announced on Thursday, and Zero Dark Thirty will compete only for best film, best original screenwriting, best actress (Jessica Chastain) and two editing prizes.
The furore over the film, which also stars Jason Clarke and Joel Edgerton, seems to have had a more positive effect on its potential profitability, however. Zero Dark Thirty went to No 1 at the US box office at the weekend with $24m. Bigelow and Boal’s previous film, the multiple Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker, took just $17m throughout its entire US box-office run, despite the Academy’s accolades.
The controversy showed no sign of letting up over the weekend as an ex-CIA agent, Lindsay Moran, publicly questioned why photographs of Bin Laden’s dead body have not yet been released by the CIA when Zero Dark Thirty’s depiction of the hunt for the al-Qaida leader would most likely – in her opinion – do far more to radicalise potential terrorists.
“Zero Dark Thirty is an amazing movie, but very revealing about the entire hunt for Osama bin Laden,” she said. “It contains a lot of disturbing scenes of detainees being tortured.” Speaking on US TV show The Young Turks, Moran added: “What I find ironic is the government claiming that this is classified information and would put Americans at risk at the very same time that two Hollywood film-makers were given unprecedented access to the CIA – basically made an infomercial about CIA interrogation.”
Meanwhile, actor Martin Sheen and former president of the Screen Actor’s Guild, Ed Asner, were named as the latest Hollywood figures to join Clennon’s boycott, according to the LA Times. “One of the brightest female directors in the business is in danger of becoming part of the system,” Asner was quoted as saying.
© Guardian News and Media 2013
Exotic dancer set to testify at former Italian PM’s prostitution trial
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, January 14, 2013 7:00 EST
The exotic dancer at the centre of a sex trial against Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi is expected to testify for the first time in court on Monday as the media tycoon bids for a fourth term as prime minister.
Moroccan-born Karima El-Mahroug — better known by her nickname as “Ruby the Heart Stealer” — failed to appear the first time she was called to testify and when she was called a second time her lawyer said she was in Mexico.
“The young woman will be there,” her lawyer, Paola Boccardi, told AFP.
Prosecutors have accused the defence of deliberately trying to draw out the trial to avoid a verdict before the general election in February.
Berlusconi stands accused of having sex for money with El-Mahroug on several occasions in 2010 when he was still prime minister and she was just 17.
The age of consent in Italy is only 14 but sex with a prostitute who is under 18 years of age is a crime punishable by up to three years in prison.
Berlusconi is also accused of abusing his official powers by putting pressure on police to release El-Mahroug from custody when she was arrested for petty theft — a charge that carries a maximum prison sentence of 12 years.
His defence says Berlusconi was convinced El-Mahroug was a niece of then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and wanted to avoid a diplomatic incident.
The 76-year-old, who is also appealing a one-year prison sentence for tax fraud handed out last year, is unlikely ever to see the inside of a prison cell however since sentencing guidelines in Italy are very lenient for over-70s.
Berlusconi has launched his sixth election bid in two decades in politics.
He denies having sex with El-Mahroug, saying that he gave her money so that she could set up a beauty parlour and avoid having to prostitute herself.
“I never had an intimate relationship of any kind with her,” he said in October in his second appearance at the trial which began in April 2011.
“I was sure she was 24, as she herself said,” Berlusconi said.
The billionaire said there were never “scenes of a sexual nature” at the parties he hosted at his mansion near Milan, adding: “Everything happened in front of the staff and at times my children too came in to say hello.”
He said the soirees were “burlesque contests” and “elegant dinner parties.”
According to transcripts of her questioning by investigators leaked in the Italian press, El-Mahroug said Berlusconi enjoyed lap dances from naked girls at parties that he called “Bunga Bunga” — a term that has since become internationally famous.
El-Mahroug has also denied a liaison with Berlusconi but was recorded in a leaked telephone wiretap telling a friend that he had said to her: “Ruby I’ll give you anything you want, I’ll turn you into gold, just hide everything.”
El-Mahroug is a witness for the defence and is unlikely to give incriminating testimony against Berlusconi but her comments are still eagerly awaited and will help to determine when the trial will end.
Summing up by the prosecution and the defence in the Milan courtroom are expected on January 28 and February 4 but this timetable could change.
Italians take to the polls on February 24-25 and Berlusconi has boosted his ratings since taking to the airwaves in his election campaign. A conviction just before the elections could put an end to his long political career.
El-Mahroug comes from humble beginnings, moving with her family from Morocco to a small town in Sicily in 2003. She has said that she was physically abused by her hawker father before she ran away from home when she was just 14.
According to some reports she was spotted by one of Berlusconi’s ageing cronies at a beauty contest and was called to entertain the premier.
The curvaceous Moroccan has always spoken affectionately of Berlusconi, whom she has described as a kind but lonely man, forced to buy women’s affection.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
In the USA...
Newtown police chief tells White House: Ban assault weapons, high-capacity magazines
By David Edwards
Monday, January 14, 2013 9:12 EST
It’s been one month since the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe says it’s time for the White House to ban military-style assault weapons, restrict high-capacity magazines and close loopholes in the background check system.
In an interview with NBC’s Michael Isikoff, Kehoe recalled that he was one of the first to respond to the December elementary school massacre and entered the school to find “the eerie silence in the hallways, the smell of burnt gunpowder and then the bodies of dead children on the floor of the classrooms.”
“I was sickened, I was angry,” Kehoe explained. “It was something I never could have imagined could have happened in any school in Newtown.”
The police chief said he became concerned when he realized that the shooter, Adam Lanza, had more firepower than the officers responding to the scene. Lanza was armed with a Glock 9mm pistol, a Sig Sauer 9mm pistol, a Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle and several 30-round magazines. Officers had only Glock pistols with 14-round magazines.
“Ban assault weapons,” Kehoe urged the White House. “Restrict those magazines that have so many bullets in them, shore up any loopholes in our criminal background checks.”
“We never like to think we’re going to be outgunned in any situation we’re dealing with,” he explained. We do a good job of securing dynamite in our society… [Assault rifles] are another form of dynamite.”
“I think they should ban them.”
Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday will present the recommendations of his gun violence task force to President Barack Obama. It was not clear if the recommendations would include an assault weapons ban, but guns rights groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) have already vowed to fight even minor efforts to control guns.
CA gun show draws 10,000 people ‘getting ready for the next revolution’
By Arturo Garcia
Saturday, January 12, 2013 21:16 EST
What drew an estimated 10,000 people to a Northern California gun show? Simple. According to one attendee, they’re scared.
“Obama wants to take everybody’s guns away,” said Bob Daziel, who stood in line with hundreds on Saturday to get into the Crossroads of The West event in Daly City, California. “So they’re down here buying ammo, buying guns, they’re getting ready for the next revolution.”
Organizers told KGO-TV they were surprised at the record turnout, believing it to be spurred on by the recent discussions headed by Vice President Joe Biden regarding gun safety.
“It was constructive dialogue,” said Bob Templeton, the event’s president, who attended the meetings this week between Biden and members of the firearms industry. “But I think they had their minds made up when they came in the meeting.”
Templeton said his organization’s stance echoed that of the National Rifle Association: “Further restrictions on the Second Amendment are not on the table for discussion.”
Biden is expected to deliver recommendations to President Barack Obama on Jan. 15.
“That’s why we all need to get them now before they take them away,” said Jayleen Heres, who bought an AR-15 assault rifle — the same weapon used in last month’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. “I have three more at home. This is the fourth.”
Meanwhile, lines at the show for everything from firearms to ammunition swelled throughout the day. Templeton said he expected the latter to sell out before the show concludes on Sunday.
“I’m like the hundredth [person] in line right now,” said another attendee, Frank Andtetta. “There’s like more than 500 people on line to get ammunition.”
Watch KGO’s report on Crossroads Of The West, aired Jan. 12, 2013 below.
NRA president calls on gun makers to give him more money
By David Edwards
Sunday, January 13, 2013 11:29 EST
National Rifle Association (NRA) President David Keene admits that that the gun industry funds his organization with generous donations but would like to see even more cash pumped into pro-gun lobbying as opponents try to move forward with efforts to stop mass shootings.
“One of the big questions here is who does the NRA represent?” CNN host Candy Crowley told Keene on Sunday. “You do take millions of dollars from people who make guns and who make bullets, all perfectly legal. I’m sure they’re all fine folks.”
“Actually, Sandy [sic], we get less money from the industry than we’d like to get,” Keene interrupted. “But we get some. We get more than we used to.”
“You get millions of dollars from them,” Crowley insisted. “The criticism has been out there that you, that the NRA and some other gun-supporter groups gin up this, ‘They’re going to come take your guns away.’ Because what happens, those gun sales rise. And people go out, and you sort of frighten people into thinking your guns are going away… The accusation is that you are ginning up this conversation because it helps gun sales.”
“The two people who are selling so-called assault rifles are Sen. [Dianne] Feinstein and President [Barack] Obama, not us,” Keene replied. “They’re the ones that are scaring American gun owners. It isn’t the NRA.”
A 2011 report from the Violence Policy Center determined that 74 percent — or as much as $38.9 million — of the up to $52 million corporations had contributed to the NRA over six years had come from the firearms industry. During the 2012 election cycle alone, the NRA spent more that $17 million on presidential and congressional races.
And Keene suggested that all that money translated into the ability to block any efforts to ban assault weapons or high-capacity magazines.
“I think right now we do [have the votes in Congress],” the NRA president said. “I would say that the likelihood is that they are not going to be able to get an assault weapons ban through this Congress.”
January 13, 2013
Both Sides in Gun Debate Agree: Punish Background-Check Liars
By MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT
WASHINGTON — Nearly 80,000 Americans were denied guns in 2010, according to Justice Department data, because they lied or provided inaccurate information about their criminal histories on background-check forms. Yet only 44 of those people were charged with a crime.
The staggeringly low number of prosecutions for people who “lie and try,” as it is called by law enforcement officials, is being studied by the Obama administration as it considers measures to curb gun violence after the Connecticut elementary school shootings in December.
A task force headed by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is expected to offer proposals to President Obama as early as Tuesday. It is looking at a wide range of issues linked to gun crimes, including violence in video games and movies, and gaps in mental health treatment and background checks.
The most contentious initiatives, like reviving a ban on assault weapons, would require Congressional approval and have drawn fierce opposition from gun rights groups and Republican lawmakers, making passage a long shot.
“I would say that the likelihood is that they are not going to be able to get an assault weapons ban through this Congress,” David Keene, the president of the National Rifle Association, said Sunday on the CNN program “State of the Union.”
In the face of those difficulties, the White House has said it is looking for actions it can take without Congressional approval. Increasing the number of prosecutions for lying on background-check forms is an effort that the administration can undertake largely on its own, in part by pressing federal prosecutors to pursue such cases. It is also one measure that both sides of the gun-control debate have agreed upon.
It is a felony to deliberately provide false information in an effort to buy a gun, and studies financed by the Justice Department show that people who do so are more likely than the average person to commit violent crimes after they are denied a firearm purchase.
At a meeting Mr. Biden held with gun control advocates on Wednesday, the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns recommended to the administration that it should instruct the Justice Department to investigate those who are denied guns and who have a history that suggests they might commit violence.
In a memorandum provided to the administration, the group suggested that “armed career criminals who have at least three prior violent felonies and/or serious drug offenses and would qualify for a mandatory sentence of 7 to 15 years” should be prosecuted if they lie on background-check forms. The group said that it provided a similar recommendation to the Obama administration in 2009.
The memorandum said that more than 800 mayors in the United States “support more aggressive prosecution of those who fail background checks.”
“This is not like looking for a needle in a haystack — these are people you know are too violent to buy a gun,” John Feinblatt, an official with the mayors’ group who met with Mr. Biden on Wednesday, said in a telephone interview. “Once they have been rejected, they go online or to a private seller or a gun show and get a gun.”
The low number of prosecutions in 2010, the most recent year for which data are available, is consistent with other years. Prosecuting these cases has proved challenging because to get a conviction “you have to prove that the person knew they were lying when they tried to purchase the firearm,” said a senior Justice Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss matters related to gun control before Mr. Biden’s proposals are announced.
A conviction usually carries a maximum sentence of just six months, the official said, adding that with a limited number of federal prosecutors the government has to prioritize its use of resources.
Although gun control advocates have been more vocal about the issue, the N.R.A. also supports similar action, arguing that the administration should enforce the gun laws that already exist before making new ones.
“It has been a longstanding frustration of the National Rifle Association that there’s no follow-through or follow-up on these cases and criminals, and those who shouldn’t be trying to buy guns have been getting away scot-free,” said Andrew Arulanandam, an N.R.A. spokesman.
Mr. Arulanandam said that the N.R.A. has “for decades been trying to get prior administrations — Republicans and Democrats — to take action on the matter but there seems to be no will by the Justice Department to enforce existing gun laws.”
Current and former law enforcement officials have said in interviews that few of these cases are brought because they get far less attention than cases involving white-collar fraud or terrorism.
Law enforcement experts note that more prosecutions for background-check failures probably would not have prevented the Connecticut school massacre, because the gunman in that case used firearms purchased legally by his mother.
Of those denied a gun because of a failed background check in 2010, 47 percent had been previously convicted of a felony or faced a felony charge, and 19 percent were fugitives, according to a recent study financed by the Justice Department.
Another study backed by the Justice Department found that people who are denied the right to buy a firearm are much more likely than the average person to commit a violent crime even after being denied. The study, released in 2008, revealed that people who are denied a gun are 28 percent more likely to be arrested in the five years after they failed their background check compared with the previous five years.
While the federal government has oversight over purchases from registered firearm dealers, it does not require background checks for the millions of firearms sold each year at gun shows and by individuals — loopholes that gun control advocates hope the administration will work to close.
In 2012, a Pittsburgh man who had been denied a weapon because he had been committed to a psychiatric hospital shot seven people, killing one, with handguns he had purchased from a private seller.
Two years earlier, a man who had been denied a gun opened fire on two police officers at a checkpoint outside the Pentagon with a weapon that had been purchased at a gun show. The officers, who were wounded, returned fire, killing the man.
Under federal law, anyone who tries to purchase a firearm from a licensed dealer must fill out a form about his criminal history. If a person checks yes to any of the questions — including whether he has been convicted of a felony or is the subject of a restraining order — the gun dealer cannot legally sell the person a weapon.
But if the person checks no to all the questions, the dealer is required to call a screener who has the name checked against federal databases run by the F.B.I. Typically, the F.B.I. can determine someone’s status within minutes, and the dealer can inform the buyer whether he can purchase the firearm.
When people are denied, they are free to leave the store. The local police, however, are not informed that a prohibited buyer has tried to purchase a weapon. The F.B.I. has a process that allows people “who have been wrongfully denied a firearm transfer” to appeal through its Web site. According to the Web site, those who are denied are encouraged to provide copies of their fingerprints.
With such a low number of prosecutions, Mr. Arulanandam of the N.R.A. said there is no deterrent for criminals who take their chances by trying to buy a weapon from a gun dealer.
“If the Justice Department started prosecuting these people, it will send a message that if you are disqualified we are sending you to jail,” he said. “It’s a pretty good message to send to criminals.”
Michael D. Shear contributed reporting.
January 13, 2013
U.S. Debate on Gun Laws Is Put to a Test in Colorado
By JACK HEALY and DAN FROSCH
DENVER — With politicians in Washington deeply divided over new gun regulations, an urgent national debate ignited by the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School is storming into state legislatures across the country. And nowhere is that debate more emotionally charged or politically consequential than here in Colorado, a reluctant crucible for the battle over guns.
This state, one of hunters and sport shooters, has endured two of the most horrific mass shootings in American history, and this year for the first time in more than a decade it could pass major gun-control legislation.
Gun-control advocates say it is a moment forged in part by the massacre inside a suburban Denver movie theater in July that left 12 people dead and dozens wounded. But it is also one created by demographics, of population shifts that have nudged the political center left while transforming traditionally rural, conservative swaths of the West.
“We’ve had it with mass shootings,” said Beth McCann, a Democratic state representative. “People just don’t want to hear about another massacre. This is enough.”
To lawmakers and advocates on both sides of the debate, Colorado is becoming a national test case for what kind of gun regulations — if any — can gather support from lawmakers, law enforcement officials and a public whose relationship with guns has been forged by tradition as much as tragedy.
This is a place where even the horrors of the 1999 attack at Columbine High School in suburban Denver only temporarily shifted the debate on guns. In 2000, Colorado voters passed new restrictions on purchases made at gun shows, but a few years later, the General Assembly relaxed gun laws by making it easier for people to carry concealed weapons and limited the ability of towns and cities to pass strict gun laws.
Gun ownership here crosses generations and political divisions. Liberal Denver lawyers own handguns, and the Democratic governor takes his son to hunting safety classes. A popular family shooting range sits in the center of Cherry Creek State Park, drawing some sport shooters who voted for President Obama, others who insist he is a communist.
As legislators across the country reconvene, heavily Democratic states like New York, New Jersey and California are considering proposals to restrict assault weapons and ammunition that are far more aggressive than anything likely to pass in Colorado, even with Democrats in control of the Statehouse.
Gov. John W. Hickenlooper, a first-term Democrat, has called for universal background checks of private, individual gun sales, in addition to the checks now required at gun shows and at retail establishments. But in an interview, he said he was unsure about proposals from Democratic lawmakers to ban high-capacity ammunition magazines.
“Even saying that puts some people into a frenzy,” Mr. Hickenlooper said. “People in the West have a very strong, deeply anchored belief in people’s right to bear arms.”
That division came into sharp relief when Mr. Hickenlooper called for universal background checks in his State of the State address on Thursday. Democrats in one half of the chamber leapt to their feet and applauded while members of the Republican minority sat in stony silence.
Democratic lawmakers have not formally introduced their gun-control measures, but have said they are writing bills that would create background checks for private, person-to-person sales and restrict high-capacity magazines like those used by the gunman in the movie theater, in Aurora.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a national gun-control organization, has hired a Denver lobbying firm to support new gun-control laws here.
State Senator Greg Brophy, a Republican, said the attention from outside groups would make Colorado “ground zero for gun control in the United States.”
Republican supporters of gun rights have bristled at the push for tighter gun laws. One of the first bills introduced in the legislature would allow teachers with concealed-weapons permits to carry guns inside their classrooms (with a school district’s permission). Mr. Brophy was one who recoiled at the universal background checks, saying the only way to enforce such a system would be to require all gun owners to register their firearms.
“That is the most onerous regulation ever conceived of in this country outside the outright confiscation of firearms,” he said. “Even if I want to loan a shotgun to my nephew to take out pheasant hunting, I can’t do that. I don’t think they realize here in Colorado just how dangerous that proposal is to liberty.”
The prospect of stricter gun laws has sent gun sales soaring, and unleashed a torrent of new applications for background checks and concealed-carry permits. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which runs the checks, has a backlog of nearly 11,000 applications, and wait times have reached unprecedented levels.
Across the country, the battle over guns is pulling states in sharply different directions. While Democratic-controlled states are pushing for greater restrictions on ammunition, assault weapons and tougher background checks, lawmakers in Mississippi are considering changes to the state’s concealed weapons bill that are backed by the National Rifle Association.
And Wyoming’s Republican-dominated Legislature is considering a bill to block any new federal restrictions on semiautomatic guns or ammunition magazines.
“These weapons they’re trying to eliminate are something we hold dear in the Western United States,” said State Representative Mark Baker of Sweetwater County, in southern Wyoming. “We’re trying to let the federal government know ahead of time we’re not going to allow you to enforce your laws and regulations on our state land.”
Colorado still embraces its history of rugged individualism and the range, but it has never been as conservative as some of its neighbors.
“I do think it is important for people to understand that even though we are a Western state and there is a libertarian strain here, I think sometimes people think the gun lobby is maybe more powerful here than it really is,” said Bill Ritter Jr., a Democratic former governor and a hunter who pointed out that he had been elected despite an F rating from the N.R.A.
And as the gun debate moves ahead, some of the most influential voices may not belong to lobbyists or lawmakers but to relatives who lost their sons and daughters, husbands and wives in the library of Columbine and in Theater 9 in Aurora. For months, several of these families have been huddling with lawmakers and making public appearances to call for tighter background checks and measures to keep guns away from people with mental illnesses.
“It’s different now because children are being butchered in schools,” said Dave Hoover, a police officer in Lakewood, Colo., whose nephew A. J. Boik was one of the 12 people killed in Aurora. “Because kids were killed at a movie. Because families went to church and were gunned down.”
He added: “I don’t understand why we are even arguing about this.”
January 12, 2013
Is Delhi So Different From Steubenville?
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
IN India, a 23-year-old student takes a bus home from a movie and is gang-raped and assaulted so viciously that she dies two weeks later.
In Liberia, in West Africa, an aid group called More Than Me rescues a 10-year-old orphan who has been trading oral sex for clean water to survive.
In Steubenville, Ohio, high school football players are accused of repeatedly raping an unconscious 16-year-old girl who was either drunk or rendered helpless by a date-rape drug and was apparently lugged like a sack of potatoes from party to party.
And in Washington, our members of Congress show their concern for sexual violence by failing to renew the Violence Against Women Act, a landmark law first passed in 1994 that has now expired.
Gender violence is one of the world’s most common human rights abuses. Women worldwide ages 15 through 44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined. The World Health Organization has found that domestic and sexual violence affects 30 to 60 percent of women in most countries.
In some places, rape is endemic: in South Africa, a survey found that 37 percent of men reported that they had raped a woman. In others, rape is institutionalized as sex trafficking. Everywhere, rape often puts the victim on trial: in one poll, 68 percent of Indian judges said that “provocative attire” amounts to “an invitation to rape.”
Americans watched the events after the Delhi gang rape with a whiff of condescension at the barbarity there, but domestic violence and sex trafficking remain a vast problem across the United States.
One obstacle is that violence against women tends to be invisible and thus not a priority. In Delhi, of 635 rape cases reported in the first 11 months of last year, only one ended in conviction. That creates an incentive for rapists to continue to rape, but in any case that reported number of rapes is delusional. They don’t include the systematized rape of sex trafficking. India has, by my reckoning, more women and girls trafficked into modern slavery than any country in the world. (China has more prostitutes, but they are more likely to sell sex by choice.)
On my last trip to India, I tagged along on a raid on a brothel in Kolkata, organized by the International Justice Mission. In my column at the time, I focused on a 15-year-old and a 10-year-old imprisoned in the brothel, and mentioned a 17-year-old only in passing because I didn’t know her story.
My assistant at The Times, Natalie Kitroeff, recently visited India and tracked down that young woman. It turns out that she had been trafficked as well — she was apparently drugged at a teahouse and woke up in the brothel. She said she was then forced to have sex with customers and beaten when she protested. She was never allowed outside and was never paid. What do you call what happened to those girls but slavery?
Yet prosecutors and the police often shrug — or worse. Dr. Shershah Syed, a former president of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Pakistan, once told me: “When I treat a rape victim, I always advise her not to go to the police. Because if she does, the police might just rape her again.”
In the United States, the case in Steubenville has become controversial partly because of the brutishness that the young men have been accused of, but also because of concerns that the authorities protected the football team. Some people in both Delhi and Steubenville rushed to blame the victim, suggesting that she was at fault for taking a bus or going to a party. They need to think: What if that were me?
The United States could help change the way the world confronts these issues. On a remote crossing of the Nepal-India border, I once met an Indian police officer who said, a bit forlornly, that he was stationed there to look for terrorists and pirated movies. He wasn’t finding any, but India posted him there to show that it was serious about American concerns regarding terrorism and intellectual property. Meanwhile, that officer ignored the steady flow of teenage Nepali girls crossing in front of him on their way to Indian brothels, because modern slavery was not perceived as an American priority.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has done a superb job trying to put these issues on the global agenda, and I hope President Obama and Senator John Kerry will continue her efforts. But Congress has been pathetic. Not only did it fail to renew the Violence Against Women Act, but it has also stalled on the global version, the International Violence Against Women Act, which would name and shame foreign countries that tolerate gender violence.
Congress even failed to renew the landmark legislation against human trafficking, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The obstacles were different in each case, but involved political polarization and paralysis. Can members of Congress not muster a stand on modern slavery?
(Hmm. I now understand better the results of a new survey from Public Policy Polling showing that Congress, with 9 percent approval, is less popular than cockroaches, traffic jams, lice or Genghis Khan.)
Skeptics fret that sexual violence is ingrained into us, making the problem hopeless. But just look at modern American history, for the rising status of women has led to substantial drops in rates of reported rape and domestic violence. Few people realize it, but Justice Department statistics suggest that the incidence of rape has fallen by three-quarters over the last four decades.
Likewise, the rate at which American women are assaulted by their domestic partners has fallen by more than half in the last two decades. That reflects a revolution in attitudes. Steven Pinker, in his book “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” notes that only half of Americans polled in 1987 said that it was always wrong for a man to beat his wife with a belt or a stick; a decade later, 86 percent said it was always wrong.
But the progress worldwide is far too slow. Let’s hope that India makes such violence a national priority. And maybe the rest of the world, especially our backward Congress, will appreciate that the problem isn’t just India’s but also our own.
I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook and Google+, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.
Colin Powell: Republicans using ‘racial-era slave terms’ to attack Obama
By David Edwards
Sunday, January 13, 2013 13:28 EST
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is a Republican, is lashing out at a “dark vein of intolerance” in his own party, which he says is being created by people like former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu who use racial code words and “slave terms” to attack President Barack Obama.
During a Sunday interview, NBC’s David Gregory asked Powell why he continued to consider himself a Republican after supporting Obama and taking moderate policy positions.
“I think the Republican Party right now is having an identity problem, and I am still a Republican,” Powell explained. “In recent years, there has been a significant shift to the right and we have seen what that shift has produced: two losing presidential campaigns.”
“When we see that in one more generation that the minorities of America — African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans — will be the majority of the country, you can’t go around saying, ‘We don’t want to have a solid immigration policy, we’re going to dismiss the 47 percent, we are going to make it hard for the minorities to vote,’ as they did in the last election.”
“There is also a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party,” he continued. “They still sort of look down on minorities. How can I evidence that? When I see [Palin] saying that the president is ‘shucking and jiving,’ that’s a racial-era slave term. When I see [Sununu] after the president’s first debate, where he didn’t do very well, says that the president was ‘lazy’ — he didn’t say he was slow, he was tired, he didn’t do well — he said he was lazy. Now, it may not mean anything to most Americans, but to those of use who are African Americans, the second word is ‘shiftless’ and there’s a third word that goes along with it.”
Powell went on to slam Republicans for “the whole birther movement.”
“Why do senior Republican leaders tolerate this kind of discussion within the party?” he wondered. “I think the party has to take a look at itself. It has to take a look at it’s responsibilities for health care, it has to take a look at immigration, it has to take a look at those less fortunate than us.”
January 13, 2013
Hagel to Meet Schumer to Discuss Policy Issues
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
WASHINGTON — In what could be a crucial moment in the Obama administration’s efforts to advance the nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, he will meet this week with Senator Charles E. Schumer, the most influential Jewish member of the Senate, who is expected to press Mr. Hagel on issues concerning Iran and Israel.
Mr. Schumer, Democrat of New York, will be among the first senators to meet with Mr. Hagel since his nomination last week. Mr. Schumer has told aides and other senators that he could be persuaded to support Mr. Hagel depending on the meeting’s outcome. Mr. Hagel’s nomination has been met with suspicion, and even outright hostility, among Republicans and Democrats who are strongly aligned with Jewish groups.
Mr. Schumer plans to ask Mr. Hagel to clarify and in some ways recant statements about Iran and Israel, according to a person with knowledge of the senator’s plans for the meeting. Mr. Schumer also intends to press Mr. Hagel about conservative views he has expressed on gay rights and abortion. Other Democrats are likely to take their cues about the nomination from Mr. Schumer, who is the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate and has strong ties to pro-Israel groups.
Of deepest concern to Mr. Schumer, reflecting the anxiety of many Israel advocacy groups, are Mr. Hagel’s positions on the nuclear threat posed by Iran, according to the person with knowledge of the senator’s plans. Mr. Hagel has said a military strike against Iran would be counterproductive.
But Mr. Hagel got a resounding vote of support on Sunday from a fellow Republican moderate, Colin L. Powell, the former secretary of state, who said on the NBC News program “Meet the Press” that Mr. Hagel was “superbly qualified.”
“First, I think he’s had a very, very distinguished public service record that he can stand on,” Mr. Powell said. “There are a lot of comments about different things he said over the years, and I think he’ll have a chance to respond to all those comments at the confirmation hearings.”
Another Republican, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, said on the ABC News program “This Week” that he had questions about Mr. Hagel’s “overall temperament.”
Mr. Schumer is also suspicious of comments by Mr. Hagel that seem to support a strategy of containment, in which the United States would accept Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon while seeking to prevent a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
Mr. Hagel might need to fully reject that strategy in order to bring his position in line with President Obama’s and Mr. Schumer’s. During his race against Mitt Romney last year, Mr. Obama took a more forceful position against Iran.
As a senator from Nebraska, Mr. Hagel voted against several rounds of sanctions against Iran that ultimately passed the Senate. Mr. Hagel has said unilateral sanctions are ineffective, a position that is out of step with the Obama administration’s thinking. But in recent weeks, Mr. Hagel has sounded more hawkish about Iran in meetings with administration officials.
Mr. Hagel’s views on the militant Islamist groups Hezbollah and Hamas have also become issues. He was among only a handful of senators who declined to sign a letter to the European Union calling for the designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
Mr. Hagel has since said he does not believe in sending letters to foreign governments. He has also supported direct negotiations between the United States and Hamas, which governs Gaza.
Mr. Schumer will seek reassurances that Mr. Hagel now considers Hezbollah and Hamas to be terrorist groups, the person familiar with his plans said.
Mr. Schumer is also expected to ask Mr. Hagel about his disparaging statements about gay people — remarks he has since apologized for — and his views on abortion, particularly his opposition to allowing abortions for women in the military who have been raped, a position that has upset some Democratic women in the Senate.
Although Mr. Schumer said Mr. Obama should have discretion over appointments to his cabinet, people close to the senator said his concerns would need to be put to rest before he would support Mr. Hagel’s nomination.
Jewish groups that have met with Mr. Schumer have expressed reservations about openly opposing Mr. Hagel’s nomination for fear of inflaming their tensions with the Obama administration and deepening difficulties between the United States and Israel. Further, it would be a major break with the Obama administration for Mr. Schumer to oppose him.
On Sunday, Mr. Hagel continued to draw criticism from conservatives who share Mr. Schumer’s worries about Israel and Iran and have lingering concerns about Mr. Hagel’s criticisms of the Bush administration’s execution of the Iraq war.
Senator John McCain of Arizona said on “Face the Nation” that Mr. Hagel’s early opposition to the troop surge in Iraq was “bizarre.” Mr. McCain is the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, which will conduct Mr. Hagel’s confirmation hearing.
Brian Knowlton contributed reporting.
January 13, 2013
In California, It’s U.S. vs. State Over Marijuana
By ADAM NAGOURNEY
STOCKTON, Calif. — Matthew R. Davies graduated from college with a master’s degree in business and a taste for enterprise, working in real estate, restaurants and mobile home parks before seizing on what he saw as uncharted territory with a vast potential for profits — medical marijuana.
He brought graduate-level business skills to a world decidedly operating in the shadows. He hired accountants, compliance lawyers, managers, a staff of 75 and a payroll firm. He paid California sales tax and filed for state and local business permits.
But in a case that highlights the growing clash between the federal government and those states that have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use, the United States Justice Department indicted Mr. Davies six months ago on charges of cultivating marijuana, after raiding two dispensaries and a warehouse filled with nearly 2,000 marijuana plants.
The United States attorney for the Eastern District of California, Benjamin B. Wagner, a 2009 Obama appointee, wants Mr. Davies to agree to a plea that includes a mandatory minimum of five years in prison, calling the case a straightforward prosecution of “one of the most significant commercial marijuana traffickers to be prosecuted in this district.”
At the center of this federal-state collision is a round-faced 34-year-old father of two young girls. Displaying a sheaf of legal documents, Mr. Davies, who has no criminal record, insisted in an interview that he had meticulously followed California law in setting up a business in 2009 that generated $8 million in annual revenues. By all appearances, Mr. Davies’ dispensaries operated as openly as the local Krispy Kreme, albeit on decidedly more tremulous legal ground.
“To be looking at 15 years of our life, you couldn’t pay me enough to give that up,” Mr. Davies said at the dining room table in his two-story home along the San Joaquin River Delta, referring to the amount of time he could potentially serve in prison. “If I had believed for a minute this would happen, I would never have gotten into this.
“We thought, this is an industry in its infancy, it’s a heavy cash business, it’s basically being used by people who use it to cloak illegal activity. Nobody was doing it the right way. We thought we could make a model of how this should be done.”
His lawyers appealed this month to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to halt what they suggested was a prosecution at odds with Justice Department policies to avoid prosecutions of medical marijuana users and with President Obama’s statement that the government has “bigger fish to fry” than recreational marijuana users.
“Does this mean that the federal government will be prosecuting individuals throughout California, Washington, Colorado and elsewhere who comply with state law permitting marijuana use, or is the Davies case merely a rogue prosecutor out of step with administration and department policy?” asked Elliot R. Peters, one of his lawyers.
“This is not a case of an illicit drug ring under the guise of medical marijuana,” Mr. Peters wrote. “Here, marijuana was provided to qualified adult patients with a medical recommendation from a licensed physician. Records were kept, proceeds were tracked, payroll and sales taxes were duly paid.”
Mr. Holder’s aides declined to comment, referring a reporter to a letter from Mr. Wagner to Mr. Davies’s lawyers in which he disputed the depiction of the defendant as anything other than a major-league drug trafficker.
“Mr. Davies was not a seriously ill user of marijuana nor was he a medical caregiver — he was the major player in a very significant commercial operation that sought to make large profits from the cultivation and sale of marijuana,” the letter said. Mr. Wagner said that prosecuting such people “remains a core priority of the department.”
The case illustrates the struggle states and the federal government are now facing as they seek to deal with the changing contours of marijuana laws and public attitudes toward the drug. Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana for recreational use last year, and are among the 18 states, and the District of Columbia, that currently allow its medical use.
Two of Mr. Davies’s co-defendants are pleading guilty, agreeing to five-year minimum terms, to avoid stiffer sentences. Mr. Davies, while saying he did not “want to be a martyr,” decided to challenge the indictment with a combination of legal and public-relations measures, setting up a Web site devoted to his case and hiring Chris Lehane, a hard-hitting political consultant and former senior aide in Bill Clinton’s White House.
Among Mr. Davies’s advocates here in California are Paul I. Bonell, who was the president of the Premier Credit Union for 21 years before Mr. Davies hired him in early 2011 to oversee his businesses’ fiscal controls. After the businesses were raided in October that year, Mr. Bonell took a position as the head of the Lodi Boys and Girls Club.
“I had some reservations going in,” he said of Mr. Davies’s enterprise. “But the industry was exploding. Matt wanted to have internal controls in place. And we thought: This was a legitimate business. If the State of California deems it legitimate, we want to be the best at it.”
Mr. Davies’s accountant, David M. Silva, said he set up spreadsheets to keep track of inventories, revenues and expenses. “I’ve been a C.P.A. for 30 years,” Mr. Silva said. “What I saw was a guy who was trying to run an operation in an up-and-up way.”
The federal authorities said they stumbled across the operation after two men were spotted apparently breaking into Mr. Davies’s 30,000-square-foot Stockton warehouse. The police said they smelled marijuana plants. Federal agents conducted a raid and confiscated 1,962 plants and 200 pounds of marijuana.
Mr. Davies, who is free on $100,000 bail, greeted visitors to his gated home by asking them to speak softly while walking through the entryway so as not to awaken his sleeping infant. He called out to his wife when asked when he was indicted: “Hey, Molly — we were indicted on your birthday, right? July 18.”
Mr. Davies referred to marijuana as “medicine,” and himself as a turnaround expert.
“We were basically pharmacists for medical marijuana — everything was in full compliance with state law,” he said. “We paid our employees. We paid overtime. We had people going for unemployment if we fired them.”
“Why are they coming after me?” he asked. “If they have such a problem with California, why can’t they sue California?”
Stephanie Horton, 25, who went to work for Mr. Davies after going to one of his dispensaries to obtain medical marijuana to help her deal with ovarian and cervical cancer, said she was devastated by the arrest of employers she described as among the best she had ever had — not to mention the loss of her job.
“I’d go back and work there in a heartbeat,” Ms. Horton said. “I totally trusted them. We’re not criminals. I’ve never been arrested my whole life. I need that medication, and so do a whole lot of people.”
But federal prosecutors offered a much less sympathetic view of Mr. Davies. The authorities shut down the warehouse and two dispensaries but said that Mr. Davies had ties to a total of seven dispensaries in the region, which they said yielded $500,000 in annual profits. Mr. Davies’s lawyers disputed those assertions.
“Mr. Davies is being prosecuted for serious felony offenses,” Mr. Wagner wrote to Mr. Davies’s lawyers. “I understand he is facing unpleasant alternatives. Neither a meeting with me nor seeking a review in Washington will change that reality.”
This is as much a legal clash as a cultural clash. Recreational marijuana use is common across this state, and without the legal stigma attached to it in much of the country. The federal government is viewed as a distant force.
“It’s mind-boggling that there were hundreds of attorneys advising their clients that it was O.K. to do this, only to be bushwhacked by a federal system that most people in California are not even paying attention to,” said William J. Portanova, a former federal drug prosecutor and a lawyer for one of Mr. Davies’s co-defendants. “It’s tragic.”
France pushes on with Mali air strikes
President François Hollande says targets have been hit as defence chiefs fast-track deployment of African troops
Agencies in Bamako
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 15 January 2013 09.39 GMT
France has continued to launch air strikes against Islamist rebels in Mali as plans to deploy African troops gathered pace on Tuesday.
Residents of the besieged town of Diabaly sought shelter inside their homes after a night of bombing aimed at dislodging the insurgents who seized the town on Monday.
Local people told journalists they had heard explosions throughout the night, coming from the direction of the garrison town's military camp.
West African defence chiefs are set to meet in Bamako on Tuesday to approve plans to speed up the deployment of 3,300 regional troops, foreseen in a UN-backed intervention plan to be led by Africans.
Speaking from a French military base in Abu Dhabi at the start of a day-long visit to the United Arab Emirates, President François Hollande said French forces in Mali had carried out further strikes overnight, "which hit their targets".
"We will continue the deployment of forces on the ground and in the air," Hollande said. "We have 750 troops deployed at the moment and that will keep increasing, so that as quickly as possible we can hand over to the Africans."
He saw the African troop deployment taking "a good week".
France has poured hundreds of troops into Mali and carried out days of air strikes since Friday in a vast desert area seized last year by an Islamist alliance, which combines al-Qaida's north-African wing, AQIM, with Mali's home-grown MUJWA and Ansar Dine rebel groups.
Paris plans to field a total 2,500 soldiers in its former colony to bolster the Malian army and work with the intervention force provided by the Ecowas grouping of west African states.
The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius – accompanying Hollande on a visit aimed at firming up trade relations and making progress on a possible sale of 60 Rafale fighter jets – said he was confident Gulf Arab states would also help the Mali campaign.
Fabius said there would be a meeting of donors for the Mali operation, most likely in Addis Ababa at the end of January.
He predicted the current level of the French involvement in Mali would go on for "a matter of weeks".
But a commander of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in west Africa, one of the extremist groups controlling northern Mali, taunted the French, telling Associated Press: "I would advise France not to sing their victory song too quickly. They managed to leave Afghanistan. They will never leave Mali."
Oumar Ould Hamaha said: "It's to our advantage that they send in French troops on foot. We are waiting for them. And what they should know is that every French soldier that comes into our territory should make sure to prepare his will beforehand, because he will not leave alive."
The Ecowas mission head in Bamako, Aboudou Toure Cheaka, said west African troops would be on the ground in a week. Their immediate mission would be to help stop the rebel advance, while preparations for a full intervention continued.
The original timetable for the 3,300-strong UN-sanctioned African force – backed by western logistics, money and intelligence services – did not initially foresee full deployment before September due to logistical constraints.
Senegal, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Guinea have all offered troops. But regional powerhouse Nigeria, which is due to lead the mission, has cautioned that even if some troops arrive in Mali soon, training will take time.
The plan is being fast-tracked following a plea for help by Mali's government after mobile columns of Islamist fighters last week threatened the central garrison towns of Mopti and Sevare, with its key airport.
The French prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said France's goals were to stop the Islamist rebels, to "safeguard the existence of Mali" and pave the way for the African-led military operation.
US officials said Washington was sharing information with French forces in Mali and considering providing logistics, surveillance and airlift capability.
"We have made a commitment that al-Qaida is not going to find anyplace to hide," the US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, told reporters as he began a visit to Europe.
As French aircraft bombarded mobile columns of Islamist fighters, other insurgents launched a counter-attack further to the south, dislodging government forces from the town of Diabaly, 350km (220 miles) from Bamako.
French intervention has raised the risk for eight French hostages held by al-Qaida allies in the Sahara and for 30,000 French expatriates living in neighbouring, mostly Muslim states. Concerned about reprisals at home, France has tightened security at public buildings and on public transport.
The UN said an estimated 30,000 people had fled the fighting in Mali, joining more than 200,000 already displaced.
01/14/2013 06:13 PM
Mali Maneuvering: Germany's Risky Offer Of Help
By Matthias Gebauer and Severin Weiland
In Mali, the French air force is fighting to push back Islamist forces. The German government wants to stand by its close ally and has offered Paris logistical assistance. Is Berlin getting itself into another lasting conflict?
France's air force has been pounding targets for almost four days. The country is in a state of war, even if government officials in Paris are reluctant to call it that. They prefer to talk about an "intervention" at the request of the government of Mali. But the facts tell a different story. The pilot of a French attack helicopter died and more than 100 people are reported to have been killed since Friday. The situation on the ground is unclear. On Monday, Islamist rebels conquered the town Diabali, some 400 kilometers (249 miles) north of the capital, Bamako.
The French government has put a time limit on its military assistance. "The intervention will be a question of weeks," said Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
That's rather a bold prognosis.
No one can give a realistic estimate of how long France's military action will go on for. It's a risky venture for French President François Hollande. The view of most policymakers in Berlin is that he should receive help, but it's a tightrope walk for Germany. In nine days the two close allies will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the German-French Treaty of Friendship with a grand ceremony in Berlin attended by the members of the two nation's governments and parliaments.
Mali has been on Berlin's agenda for months. In October, Chancellor Angela Merkel said she supported a joint European Union mission to train and support the Mali forces. And German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle doesn't want a repeat of the criticism Germany faced over Libya in 2011, when he was accused of having hesitated too long and then sidelining Germany by abstaining in the UN Security Council vote on a non-fly zone to support the Libyan rebels.
In Monday's regular government news conference, Westerwelle's spokesman, Andreas Peschke, said it was clear that Germany won't "leave France alone in ths difficult situation."
Berlin is offering the prospect of logistical, medical and humanitarian support. It's clear that Merkel's government wants to avoid deploying German combat troops. Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert has categorically ruled that out. The main opposition party, the Social Democrats, agree. The SPD challenger to Merkel in a September general election, Peer Steinbrück, said: "There's no question whatsoever of a combat mission by German troops."
A Never-Ending Deployment?
But even if Germany doesn't send ground troops, its involvement in Mali is fraught with risks. By assisting France, Germany would in effect be taking part in an attack against radical Islamists ewith close ties to al-Qaida who are already threatening Paris and all nations taking part in the operation with revenge attacks, even outside Mali. Besides, experience shows that once a nation offers logisitical help, it could quickly be asked to get more involved. In the end, Germany could be drawn into very lengthy conflict.
No one in Berlin wants a second Afghanistan. That's why both Merkel's coalition government and the political opposition have been so cautious in their reaction. Philipp Missfelder, the foreign policy spokesman for Merkel's party in the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, said: "I'm in favor of beng cautious and conducting a thorough review. France has our political support, but we have to very carefully weigh the risks involved in every Bundeswehr deployment." But how far should Germany's logistical help go? Will German Transall transport aircraft also be used, for example, to carry African troops with the Ecowas mission to the country? Current plans envisage setting up a force of 3,300 soldiers comprised of troops from Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal, Benin, Togo and the Ivory Coast. Missfelder said he would not rule the possibility out, but that it would require "thorough review."
In the opposition, the Social Democratic Party's foreign policy point man in parliament, Rolf Mützenich said nothing about troop movements but make demands on Merkel's coalition. "The federal government needs to report this week on its intentions, its capabilities and the requests that are being made," he said. "In addition, there are questions of international law that need to be answered." Within the Green Party, however, a public dispute has broken out over France's Mali mission. Jürgen Trittin, floor leader of the Greens in parliament, has defended France's move, but foreign policy spokeswoman Kerstin Müller has described the gambit as being "highly risky".
Will German Trainers Soon Return to Mali?
In addition to providing aid for France, Berlin also wants to expedite efforts to establish a training program for the Mali army that has been repeatedly delayed. The EU training operation has been in the works for months now, and a detailed plan calls for up to 200 trainers (including up to 30 Germans) to bring the poorly trained Malians up to speed and to provide them with at least one year of support in their battle against the Islamists. Everything has already been planned, including €5 million ($6.67 million) in financing, but it hasn't gotten off the ground yet. In Berlin, officials at the Foreign Ministry say decisions are expected to be taken "in the next few weeks". And what will that mean in concrete terms?
North of the capital city of Bamako, a handful of Germans provided training for Malian soldiers up until the military putsch in Mali in March 2012. They taught them to drive large trucks, erect camps and build provisional bridges.
Once a political decision has been made, the Bundeswehr could either continue such training and thus fulfil its part of the EU mission. Sources within the Foreign Ministry said Germany couldn't afford to do much more.
But even that mission entails risks. If they weren't already before, then at the latest when the French launched their attacks, foreign troops in the country will now be viewed as parties in a war against Islamists. German bases could also face retaliatory actions. Doubts also persist today over how effective that training actually is. Since the putsch, the country has been run by an interim government that was installed by the military, but it is unclear who is actually leading the army. Up until the French incursion, the line had been that the EU didn't want to start its mission in Mali until political reforms in the country had become visible.
With France's unilateral action, that will now be difficult.
01/14/2013 02:19 PM
The World from Berlin: French Mission in Mali 'Is Not Without Risk'
The German government on Monday unexpectedly offered Paris concrete support as French troops battle Islamist extremists in Mali. Though ruling out a combat role, Germany's military will provide transport and medical assistance.
French President François Hollande's rapid decision last week to take an active role in preventing Islamist fighters from pushing into southern Mali caught the international community off guard. Now, however, more and more countries are lining up to support the Paris offensive, which entered its fourth day on Monday.
And Germany, on Monday, unexpectedly became one of them. The government in Berlin has announced that it is prepared to provide cargo planes as well as medical personnel. Andreas Peschke, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, said that Germany did not want to "leave France alone in this difficult hour."
On Sunday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that several other allies, including the United States, Britain, Denmark and other countries in Europe, had offered assistance, though none have indicated a willingness to send troops and warplanes. The US has offered communications, transportation and intelligence support. Sources in Copenhagen on Monday told the German news agency DPA that Denmark was considering the provision of active support. Several African countries have pledged to send troops as well.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Sunday once again ruled out the deployment of German troops. "The involvement of a German fighting force is not up for debate," he said. Still, Berlin has voiced support for the French offensive. "France has acted and that was decisive, correct and deserves our support," German Defense Minster Thomas de Maizière said on German radio on Monday.
Germany also remains involved in a European Union effort to develop plans for a military training mission to Mali. On Sunday, Westerwelle said: "The development of plans for an EU training mission for the Malian military will continue. Whether and how Germany will participate will be decided when the plans are complete."
For now, Hollande hasn't just gotten support from abroad either. Despite his vow to scale back France's decades-long support of Francophone Africa, the move to block the Islamist advance has been widely applauded in France.
But the mission, which began last Friday after Islamists began moving south toward the Malian capital of Bamako, is not without its dangers. French forces have spent the last several days pounding Islamist strongholds in northern Mali, including near Gao and Kidal, the epicenter of the rebellion. But the Islamists are well armed, flush with weapons that flooded into the country from Libya and they managed to shoot down a French helicopter early in the offensive, killing the pilot. Currently, some 550 French troops are on the ground in Mali according to news reports.
In addition, the offensive puts the lives of eight French hostages, who are likely being held by their abductors in northern Mali, in danger. Furthermore, a second French commando, wounded in a failed French attempt over the weekend to rescue a Frenchman held hostage in Somalia since 2009, has died according to the Somali rebel group al-Shabaab on Monday. It is believed that the hostage too was killed.
Paris believes that the offensive against Islamists in Mali could put its citizens at even greater risk of attack from Islamist extremists. Indeed, Paris has ordered increased domestic security.
For now, though, Hollande has widespread domestic support and the backing of the international community. German commentators are also largely backing the move on Monday although many seem uncertain what response would be the most appropriate for Berlin.
Center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"A collection of Islamist terror groups have created an international network of wrong in North Africa; they finance themselves through the trade in drugs, weapons and people; they destabilize and they threaten. That has to be stopped. France has now taken the first step."
"But it is not without risk. Mali and the catastrophic failure of the mission to free the hostage in Somalia … show that France is not strong enough militarily. Hollande is dependant on help. First and foremost, a functioning international force made up of African units must be created. But France also needs military assistance from its allies in Europe."
"Germany and its foreign minister have been particularly conspicuous for the inverse relationship between the amount of advice offered and the help actually provided. The German government is hesitating while France is becoming exasperated with Berlin's strategic short-sightedness. Berlin has warned against traveling to the crisis area -- and that's about it."
"Germany is already suffering from the Islamist ring of terror that has encircled North Africa. Refugees are driven north, new drug routes have been created and the Arab revolutions are struggling to define their relationship to extremism. Nobody in Europe can ignore what is happening on the other side of the Mediterranean. ... France has taken the risk and offered help. It cannot be left alone with the problem."
Center-right daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"The biggest challenge now facing France is that of transforming their current unilateral operation into an African mission supported by the international community. Hollande, to be sure, has sought to prepare the French public for a potentially extended mission. ... But the president also knows that his voters are not interested in seeing the former colonial power become involved in a complicated conflict in the deserts of Africa."
"Hollande's expectations will thus be directed toward those African nations that belong to the West African economic alliance ECOWAS and toward his European Union allies. ... In the medium term, the effort to help Mali back to its feet will overextend the French military. And nobody has an interest in French failure at the side of a disorganized Malian military. The German government shares the goal of not allowing Mali to fall into the hands of Islamist terrorist groups. Paris would certainly have nothing against a concrete sign of support as the 50th anniversary of the German-French Élysée Treaty approaches this month."
Conservative daily Die Welt writes:
"Where is Europe? The former colonial power France became the first to help Mali in the form of troops and weapons from its base in neighboring Senegal. And it didn't take long before the first successes against the Islamist rebels were reported. But it won't be enough for a resounding success. The 3,000 troops being provided by the West African alliance ECOWAS also won't be enough, and neither will the 250 military trainers the EU hopes to send, according to a plan unveiled in December."
"British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed with French President Hollande over the weekend to send two cargo planes to Mali to help send materiel and troops, though not yet any British soldiers…. Who in Europe is going to join them?"
Left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:
"In principle, it is difficult to criticize the use of assault helicopters and air attacks against armed Islamists. ... But the problem with the French intervention is that it is a French intervention. And one in the classic, neo-colonial style of dirty African wars: Without involvement of the French parliament, French troops head out from former French colonies in Africa while cabinet ministers in Paris deny it. The operation only becomes official long after it has begun."
"Traditionally, Africa is a policy area where the French government doesn't believe it needs to talk to anybody, even as it often crows for European unity. A left-wing foreign policy in France would involve changing that. Is it too much to expect from Hollande's government that he change his country's approach to Africa? Apparently it is."
-- Charles Hawley
Malian rebels overrun garrison town and advance towards capital
Islamist insurgents 250 miles from Bamako, as French ministers say their forces have met more resistance than expected
Kim Willsher and agencies in Paris
guardian.co.uk, Monday 14 January 2013 14.55 GMT
Islamist insurgents have advanced towards the Malian capital, Bamako, despite intense bombardment by French warplanes, as ministers in Paris admitted their forces were meeting more resistance than expected.
Fighting continued on Monday morning as French aircraft and Malian government troops sought to repel rebel forces who overran the garrison town of Diabaly, in central Mali, according to the French defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian.
"They took Diabaly … after fierce fighting and resistance from the Malian army that was not able to hold them off at that moment," Le Drian told BFM television.
Earlier he said the military operation had encountered fierce opposition in the west of Mali, where there were "extremely well armed groups".
Le Drian said: "We knew that the key spots would be towards the west and it's in the west where we were bombing last night, and it's in the west today where the most important fighting is going on."
The rebels had been bottled up in the narrow neck of central Mali, about 420 miles from Bamako, but by sweeping in from the west they are now 250 miles from the capital.
Map: Mali, locating Diabaly Mali map
Nato welcomed the French intervention but said it had received no request for help from Paris. "There has been no request, no discussion [within Nato] on the situation in Mali; the alliance as such is not involved in this crisis," said a spokesperson, Oana Lungescu.
About 500 French ground troops are already in Bamako and others are expected to follow. The official line is that they are there to secure the airport and to carry out any necessary evacuation of the 6,000 French people living there.
But the Elysée has acknowledged that part of this ground force will head towards the centre of the country to block any attempt by the insurgents to break through. It is also reported that French troops may move into the contested north to fight alongside the Malian army. This last option was approved by François Hollande at a special defence council meeting on Monday morning.
Reinforcements are expected from neighbouring African countries including Nigeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, Togo, Senegal and Benin. Even Algeria, at first reticent, has agreed to allow French planes to use its airspace, although the Algerian press has been fiercely critical of Paris's intervention.
"The French military operation in Mali has been given the code name Serval. The serval is a small African cat whose particularity is to urinate 30 times an hour to mark its territory," the Liberté newspaper said. It accused Paris of doing the same.
Islamist forces coming under heavy bombardment by French planes in the north of Mali have threatened retaliation to "hit the heart of France". Omar Ould Hamaha, a spokesman for the Movement of Unity and Jihad in West Africa, one of the main factions in the rebel alliance, said on Europe 1 radio: "France has opened the gates of hell for all the French. She has fallen into a trap which is much more dangerous than Iraq, Afghanistan or Somalia."
The French interior minister, Manuel Valls, said the threats had prompted him to raise the national security rating, to bright red, one grade down from the highest level, scarlet.
"Since the bombings in London in 2005 it has been at a high level, level red. During such a long period, our attention can lapse, so we have decided to raise the vigilance in public places and on public transport by increasing security patrols," Valls told Le Parisien. "We won't diminish the threat by giving in to terrorists. Like other countries, France is regularly targeted by groups calling for global jihad."
Mathieu Guidère, a specialist in strategic intelligence at the University of Geneva and author of the book The New Terrorists, said he believed the Malian Islamists had been arming and training since August for a French intervention.
He said they had obtained weapons from three sources. From Libya after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi they had obtained mostly light weapons including Kalashnikovs, machine guns, rockets and surface-to-air missiles, along with jeeps and pickup trucks. "These were primarily used in the first battles, where they captured Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal against the Malian army. But there's not much left," he told Le Nouvel Observateur.
The second consignment of arms was captured when the Malian army fled Gao as the Islamist forces captured the city. "The soldiers abandoned their bases with their weapons. The Islamists quite simply gathered up the armaments of the regular army: a few tanks, artillery, batteries. These weapons haven't yet been used," Guidère said.
The third wave of weapons was more recent, he said. "Since August, when France appeared more active and on the offensive on the subject [of Mali], the Islamists have been preparing for the possibility of an intervention. They began to use money collected from various trafficking of drugs and hostages. With this small capital they have, since September, bought everything they could on the black market. They approached all the dealers in the region, notably the Nigerians, and those from Chad and Libya."
He said there were also a lot of Russian arms in the region. "The Russians on learning of a western military operation let their arms dealers in Africa sell anything and everything. Here, the Islamists have a stock of modern material, [effective] and efficient, especially against helicopters and tanks, including night-vision glasses and binoculars."
Asked how France could have been unaware of the enemy's capacity, Guidère said: "It's true that the last important [weapons] acquisitions were on the black market and recent, but expressing astonishment is also part of the ministry of defence's communications operation. How else to justify the loss of a soldier so quickly, and the knocking out of a Mirage 2000 fighter jet against people with only Kalashnikovs."
• This article was amended on Tuesday 15 January 2013. A second consignment of arms was captured when the Malian army fled Gao, not Barnako. This has been corrected.
The bombing of Mali highlights all the lessons of western intervention
The west African nation becomes the eighth country in the last four years alone where Muslims are killed by the west
guardian.co.uk, Monday 14 January 2013 13.45 GMT
As French war planes bomb Mali, there is one simple statistic that provides the key context: this west African nation of 15 million people is the eighth country in which western powers - over the last four years alone - have bombed and killed Muslims - after Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and the Phillipines (that does not count the numerous lethal tyrannies propped up by the west in that region). For obvious reasons, the rhetoric that the west is not at war with the Islamic world grows increasingly hollow with each new expansion of this militarism. But within this new massive bombing campaign, one finds most of the vital lessons about western intervention that, typically, are steadfastly ignored.
First, as the New York Times' background account from this morning makes clear, much of the instability in Mali is the direct result of Nato's intervention in Libya. Specifically, "heavily armed, battle-hardened Islamist fighters returned from combat in Libya" and "the big weaponry coming out of Libya and the different, more Islamic fighters who came back" played the precipitating role in the collapse of the US-supported central government. As Owen Jones wrote in an excellent column this morning in the Independent:
"This intervention is itself the consequence of another. The Libyan war is frequently touted as a success story for liberal interventionism. Yet the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi's dictatorship had consequences that Western intelligence services probably never even bothered to imagine. Tuaregs – who traditionally hailed from northern Mali – made up a large portion of his army. When Gaddafi was ejected from power, they returned to their homeland: sometimes forcibly so as black Africans came under attack in post-Gaddafi Libya, an uncomfortable fact largely ignored by the Western media. . . . [T]he Libyan war was seen as a success . . . and here we are now engaging with its catastrophic blowback."
Over and over, western intervention ends up - whether by ineptitude or design - sowing the seeds of further intervention. Given the massive instability still plaguing Libya as well as enduring anger over the Benghazi attack, how long will it be before we hear that bombing and invasions in that country are - once again - necessary to combat the empowered "Islamist" forces there: forces empowered as a result of the Nato overthrow of that country's government?
Second, the overthrow of the Malian government was enabled by US-trained-and-armed soldiers who defected. From the NYT: "commanders of this nation's elite army units, the fruit of years of careful American training, defected when they were needed most — taking troops, guns, trucks and their newfound skills to the enemy in the heat of battle, according to senior Malian military officials." And then: "an American-trained officer overthrew Mali's elected government, setting the stage for more than half of the country to fall into the hands of Islamic extremists."
In other words, the west is once again at war with the very forces that it trained, funded and armed. Nobody is better at creating its own enemies, and thus ensuring a posture of endless war, than the US and its allies. Where the US cannot find enemies to fight against it, it simply empowers them.
Third, western bombing of Muslims in yet another country will obviously provoke even more anti-western sentiment, the fuel of terrorism. Already, as the Guardian reports, French fighter jets in Mali have killed "at least 11 civilians including three children". France's long history of colonialization in Mali only exacerbates the inevitable anger. Back in December, after the UN Security Council authorized the intervention in Mali, Amnesty International's researcher on West Africa, Salvatore Saguès, warned: "An international armed intervention is likely to increase the scale of human rights violations we are already seeing in this conflict."
As always, western governments are well aware of this consequence and yet proceed anyway. The NYT notes that the French bombing campaign was launched "in the face of longstanding American warnings that a Western assault on the Islamist stronghold could rally jihadists around the world and prompt terrorist attacks as far away as Europe." Indeed, at the same time that the French are now killing civilians in Mali, a joint French-US raid in Somalia caused the deaths of "at least eight civilians, including two women and two children".
To believe that the US and its allies can just continue to go around the world, in country after country, and bomb and kill innocent people - Muslims - and not be targeted with "terrorist" attacks is, for obvious reasons, lunacy. As Bradford University professor Paul Rogers told Jones, the bombing of Mali "will be portrayed as 'one more example of an assault on Islam'". Whatever hopes that may exist for an end to the "war on terror" are systematically destroyed by ongoing aggression.
Fourth, for all the self-flattering rhetoric that western democracies love to apply to themselves, it is extraordinary how these wars are waged without any pretense of democratic process. Writing about the participation of the British government in the military assault on Mali, Jones notes that "it is disturbing – to say the least – how Cameron has led Britain into Mali's conflict without even a pretence at consultation." Identically, the Washington Post this morning reports that President Obama has acknowledged after the fact that US fighter jets entered Somali air space as part of the French operation there; the Post called that "a rare public acknowledgment of American combat operations in the Horn of Africa" and described the anti-democratic secrecy that typically surrounds US war actions in the region:
"The US military has based a growing number of armed Predator drones as well as F-15 fighter jets at Camp Lemonnier, which has grown into a key installation for secret counterterrorism operations in Somalia and Yemen. The defense official declined to identify the aircraft used in the rescue attempt but said they were fighter jets, not drones. . . . .
"It was unclear, however, why Obama felt compelled to reveal this particular operation when he has remained silent about other specific US combat missions in Somalia. Spokesmen from the White House and the Pentagon declined to elaborate or answer questions Sunday night."
The Obama administration has, of course, draped its entire drone and global assassination campaign in an impenetrable cloth of secrecy, ensuring it remains beyond the scrutinizing reach of media outlets, courts, and its own citizens. The US and its western allies do not merely wage endless war aimed invariably at Muslims. They do so in virtually complete secrecy, without any transparency or accountability. Meet the western "democracies".
Finally, the propaganda used to justify all of this is depressingly common yet wildly effective. Any western government that wants to bomb Muslims simply slaps the label of "terrorists" on them, and any real debate or critical assessment instantly ends before it can even begin. "The president is totally determined that we must eradicate these terrorists who threaten the security of Mali, our own country and Europe," proclaimed French defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
As usual, this simplistic cartoon script distorts reality more than it describes it. There is no doubt that the Malian rebels have engaged in all sorts of heinous atrocities ("amputations, flogging, and stoning to death for those who oppose their interpretation of Islam"), but so, too, have Malian government forces - including, as Amnesty chronicled, "arresting, torturing and killing Tuareg people apparently only on ethnic ground." As Jones aptly warns: "don't fall for a narrative so often pushed by the Western media: a perverse oversimplification of good fighting evil, just as we have seen imposed on Syria's brutal civil war."
The French bombing of Mali, perhaps to include some form of US participation, illustrates every lesson of western intervention. The "war on terror" is a self-perpetuating war precisely because it endlessly engenders its own enemies and provides the fuel to ensure that the fire rages without end. But the sloganeering propaganda used to justify this is so cheap and easy - we must kill the Terrorists! - that it's hard to see what will finally cause this to end. The blinding fear - not just of violence, but of Otherness - that has been successfully implanted in the minds of many western citizens is such that this single, empty word (Terrorists), standing alone, is sufficient to generate unquestioning support for whatever their governments do in its name, no matter how secret or unaccompanied by evidence it may be.
01/15/2013 12:57 PM
Crisis in Pakistan: Prime Minister's Arrest Ordered amid 'Revolution'
By Hasnain Kazim in Islamabad
Pakistan has plunged into a leadership crisis. As hundreds of thousands demonstrate against corruption, the country's high court has ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Ashraf. Populist cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri has declared a "revolution."
The streets of Pakistan were packed on Tuesday, when hundreds of thousands of demonstrators joined the protest called by Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, a self-proclaimed revolutionary leader. Indeed, it was to be his day of "revolution."
He likely wasn't expecting help from the country's highest court, but in the middle of the march, the news suddenly broke that the court had ordered the arrest of Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on suspicion of corruption and nepotism. The demonstrators cheered wildly when they heard the development.
The order issued by the Islamabad-based court came following hearings in a corruption case in which Ashraf, who has been prime minister since last June, stands accused of having received bribes in connection with an energy project during his stint as minister of water and power from 2008 to 2011. He is said to have purchased property in London with the money he received.
At issue are power stations built by foreign firms that Pakistan would then only have to rent, called "rental power" projects. The accusations have been following Ashraf for years. Indeed, many in Pakistan refer to him simply as "Raja Rental." He became prime minister despite the corruption allegations, partly because his challenger was also said to have been involved in a corruption affair.
The court ordered the arrest of a total of 16 people and demanded that Pakistani security forces make sure the prime minister appeared in court on Wednesday. Some companies that were to have delivered power plants to Pakistan received millions of euros worth of compensation without ever having delivered the generators. Later, it became clear that politicians had received bribes from these companies, Ashraf among them.
A New Political Superstar
Pakistan now finds itself deep in crisis. Already, a power struggle had been brewing. The religious leader Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri has been leading a protest march since Sunday, the goal of which is to overthrow of the government. He is hoping to create an interim government, force new elections an push through voting reforms. At 2 a.m. on Tuesday morning local time, Qadri called for a revolution in Pakistan that would remove the Ashraf government from office.
When the announcement of the court order was made, demonstrators celebrated it as a victory for their cause. Pakistan's economy, on the other hand, did not reflect their elation. The country's stock market index immediately plunged.
The news of Ashraf's impending arrest arrived right in the middle of Qadri's speech at noon on Tuesday, during which he declared a revolution. Moments before, the cleric had praised the positive role of the military and the judiciary in a system otherwise pervaded by corruption. Tahir-ul-Qadri, a moderate Muslim and the founder of the organization Minhaj-ul-Quran, or "the path of the Koran," is seen by critics as a pawn of the country's generals and justices.
Observers believe that his expensive campaign is largely being financed by the military. His movement has transformed him from being largely unknown into a political superstar in the space of just a few weeks. Since December, he has been using television and newspaper ads to call on Pakistanis to join him on a "long march" against corruption and in favor of election reform. In his midday speech, he left no doubt that he views the military and judiciary positively, while he execrated parliament as a "bastion of corruption."
January 14, 2013
Morsi’s Slurs Against Jews Stir Concern
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
CAIRO — Nearly three years ago, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood delivered a speech urging Egyptians to “nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred” for Jews and Zionists. In a television interview around that time, the same leader described Zionists as “these bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs.”
That leader, Mohamed Morsi, is now president of Egypt — and his comments may be coming back to haunt him.
Since beginning his campaign for president, Mr. Morsi has promised to uphold Egypt’s treaty with Israel and to seek peace in the region. In recent months, he has begun to forge a personal bond with President Obama around their successful efforts to broker a truce between Israel and Palestinian militants of the Gaza Strip.
But the exposure this month of his virulent comments from early 2010, both documented on video, have revealed sharp anti-Semitic and anti-Western sentiments, raising questions about Mr. Morsi’s efforts to present himself as a force for moderation and stability. Instead, the disclosures have strengthened the position of those who say Israel’s Arab neighbors are unwilling to commit to peace with the Jewish state.
“When the leader of a country has a history of statements demonizing Jews, and he does not do anything to correct it, it makes sense that many people in Israel would conclude that he cannot be trusted as a partner for peace,” said Kenneth Jacobson, deputy national director of the Anti-Defamation League.
Representatives of Mr. Morsi have declined repeated requests over more than three days for comment on his remarks. One reason may be that the re-emergence of his previous statements has now trapped him in a political bind. While his past comments may be a liability abroad, he faces a political culture at home in which such defamation of Jews is almost standard stump discourse. Any attempt to retract, or even clarify, his slurs would expose him to political attacks by opponents who already accuse him of softness toward the United States and Israel.
Signs asserting Mr. Morsi works for Mr. Obama are already common at street protests. Perhaps “the Muslim Brotherhood is so desperate for U.S. support that it is willing to bend over backwards to humor the Israelis,” Emad Gad, a leader of the Social Democratic Party, suggested in a recent column.
Outlining Mr. Morsi’s dilemma, the Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef used the president’s anti-Semitic remarks to set up a contrast with his more recent collaborations with Washington and Israel, including the brokering of a cease-fire with Palestinian militants in Gaza. Mr. Youssef, whose television program broadcast the video clip about hatred Friday night, juxtaposed Mr. Morsi’s 2010 statements denouncing “Zionists” and their Western supporters, including Mr. Obama, with the Egyptian president’s more recent declaration that he hoped Egypt and the United States could be “real friends.”
“Of course being in an international role has its rules and restrictions,” Mr. Youssef said on the program, advising Mr. Morsi and his Islamist allies to retract their inflammatory talk: “Admit everything you said in the past was a joke, or stop bluffing.”
As the chief of the Brotherhood’s political arm before becoming president, Mr. Morsi was one of the group’s most outspoken critics of Zionists and Israel. He sometimes referred to Zionists as “Draculas” or “vampires,” using demonizing language historically associated with anti-Semitism. Although he explicitly denigrates Jews in the recently exposed videos, Mr. Morsi and other political and Brotherhood leaders typically restrict their inflammatory comments to the more ambiguous category of “Zionists.”
The anti-Semitic statements that have come to light this month both date back to 2010, when anti-Israeli sentiment was running high after a three-week conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza the previous year.
In the video footage first broadcast Friday on Mr. Youssef’s television program, Mr. Morsi addressed a rally in his hometown in the Nile Delta to denounce the Israeli blockade of Gaza. “We must never forget, brothers, to nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred for them: for Zionists, for Jews,” Mr. Morsi declared. Egyptian children “must feed on hatred; hatred must continue,” he said. “The hatred must go on for God and as a form of worshiping him.”
“The land of Palestine will not be freed except through resistance,” he said, praising the militant group Hamas as an extension of the Brotherhood.
“Who is our enemy? The Zionists. Who occupies our land? The Zionists. Who hates us? The Zionists. Who destroys our lands? The Zionists,” Mr. Morsi added, lashing out at “America, France and Europe” as “Zionist” supporters.
“And the last of them is that Obama,” Mr. Morsi said. He called the American president a liar who promised the Arab world “empty meaningless words.”
The other video clip was a television interview from the same period unearthed last week by the Middle East Media Research Institute, based in Washington, which tracks anti-Semitic statements in the Arab world.
“These bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs,” Mr. Morsi declared, using a slur for Jews that is familiar across the Muslim world. Although he referred repeatedly to “Zionists” and never explicitly to Jews, Mr. Morsi echoed historic anti-Semitic themes: “They have been fanning the flames of civil strife wherever they were throughout their history. They are hostile by nature.”
Some analysts said the gap between Mr. Morsi’s caustic statements as a Brotherhood leader and his more pragmatic actions as president illustrated the many factors besides ideology that shape political decisions. “What you believe in your heart is not the same as what you do in power,” said Shadi Hamid, research director of the Brookings Doha Center. Whatever Mr. Morsi’s opinions about Jews, he has left Egypt’s foreign policy toward Israel largely unchanged, Mr. Hamid said.
Mr. Morsi’s past statements may still raise questions about how he would act in the future if Egypt were not constrained by its financial dependence, relative military weakness and a network of Western alliances. But in contemporary Egyptian politics the gap between his past vitriol and his present comity may serve mainly as a tempting target for his opponents, Mr. Hamid said.
“You are already starting to hear his opponents saying, ‘Morsi is too close to the U.S. and doing its bidding in the Middle East,’ ” he said. “It would be smart to attack him there because he may be vulnerable.”
Mayy El Sheikh contributed reporting.
Peace process dead if Netanyahu wins Israeli election, academics warn
Even if Binyamin Netanyahu forms a government with centrists rather than ultra-nationalist Jewish Home, there is little prospect of rapprochement with the Palestinians, say Israel experts
Tuesday 15 January 2013 08.30 GMT
The Israeli-Palestinian peace process is dead if Binyamin Netanyahu wins next week's Israeli election, leading academics have warned – even if he forms a government with centrists rather than the ultra-nationalist party Jewish Home.
The polls show Netanyahu on course to remain prime minister after the 22 January polls, with Labor the second-largest party and Naftali Bennett's relatively new Jewish Home coming a close third.
Bennett has said the conflict with the Palestinians is "insoluble" and a Palestinian state is not going to be established, and he has called for Israel to annex the 60% of the West Bank that is under Israeli military control – the so-called Area C.
But Dr Amnon Aran, senior lecturer in international politics at City University, London, told the Guardian that even if Netanyahu spurned Jewish Home and formed a government with centrist parties such as Tzipi Livni's Hatenhuah or Yair Lapid's There is a Future, there were a number of important factors working against peace.
"One thing is the Arab uprisings," Aran said. "Netanyahu has stated very clearly that he is adopting a wait-and-see policy, that this is not the time to make any concessions, when the region is in flux, and of course the Arab uprising might last quite a while."
He added: "Another one of course is the question of what will happen with Iran, and again Netanyahu has indicated on several fronts that the first priority is Iran not the Palestinians … And it is indicative that, with the exception of Livni, in a sort of pretty minor way, no significant party has raised the banner of the peace process … In terms of the Israeli domestic scene there isn't a big impetus like there was 15-20 year ago."
He concluded: "By and large for these reasons there isn't much hope."
Naftali Bennett, the leader of Jewish Home, on 26 December 2012. Naftali Bennett, the leader of Jewish Home, on 26 December. Photograph: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
If Netanyahu's Likud-Beiteinu coalition were to team up with Jewish Home the outlook was even bleaker. Dr Eugene Rogan, lecturer in the modern history of the Middle East at St Anthony's College, Oxford, said of Bennett's calls to annex Area C: "What we are getting now from the Jewish Home party is recognition that what they really want is they want the land [in the West Bank] even if it means accepting the people in it, and that the people on the land would then be Israeli citizens, but what they don't say is obviously second-class Israeli citizens."
Asked how far Netanyahu would go towards this position if he allowed Jewish Home into government, Rogan said: "He doesn't state it as such because it's not a popular thing to say. Abroad it's unpopular because the international community recognises a two-state solution is the only resolution of differences between Palestinians and Israelis. At home because the Israelis are scared of the demographic bomb and the idea of retaining a large and growing Arab population within Israel for many represents the end of the Jewish state.
"So Netanyahu won't want to put as boldly as Naftali Bennett … but that's where he's headed."
Professor Clive Jones, chair of Middle East studies and international politics at the University of Leeds, told the Guardian he was "not at all hopeful" for the peace process if Likud and Jewish Home teamed up – something he thought "extremely likely".
"If [Jewish Home] win anything I think over 10-12 seats I would think it's very, very difficult not to see Likud-Beiteinu bringing them into the coalition government," Jones said. "I think they would actually have to."
In response to the Palestinians' successful push for the UN to recognise Palestine as a non-member state last November, Netanyahu pledged to unfreeze building in the E1 area north-west of Jerusalem in the West Bank.
These plans seem to now be on hold. But Jones suggested that could change if Jewish Home joins the government: "The interesting thing will be – and I think that Netanyahu's probably almost become a prisoner of his own rhetoric – the issue over whether Netanyahu will then carry through with his stated aim of building on the E1 settlement block, and I think he would kind of be held … to account by HaBayit HaYehudi [Jewish Home] and Bennett on going through with that, because the interesting thing at the moment is that despite what he [Netanyahu]'s said there has been no move towards bringing in the bulldozers etc etc.
"And many people on the right in Israel are beginning to make sounds about this, saying that Netanyahu talks a good talk but he doesn't walk the walk."
He added that this pressure would come from rightwingers such as Moshe Feiglin in Netanyahu's own party too. "Remember the kind of more moderates … within the Likud have not made it on to the party list - people like Dan Meridor in particular."
Israeli separation wall in East Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Dis A Palestinian woman walks past the Israeli security wall on the Israeli side of the Abu Dis neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. Photograph: Kobi Gideon/EPA
As for Bennett's plan to annex Area C, Jones said: "I think what you will see – and again this is purely my opinion – is an increasing use of the security fence to de facto become the eastern border of the state. And that fence itself will incorporate the main settlement blocs, and that de facto does not in its entirety incorporate all of Area C but a large portion of it, and I think that's what's going to happen, and I think it's happening anyway now de facto."
It would be very difficult for the Israeli opposition to moderate any of this, Jones said. "I think that the way that Israeli politics is construed it makes it very difficult for parties in opposition to have any real effect anyway. And as much as you may see some coalescing around what they're calling the centre-left bloc … I think it's going to be extremely difficult for them to put forward any kind of meaningful opposition."
Jones said that in the debates that raged over a pre-emptive strike on Iran the effective opposition was "the old established security networks: former generals, former heads of intelligence" who appealed over the heads of Israeli political leaders to politicians in the US. "I think that to a certain extent shows you how moribund much of the political process in Israel is."
Jordan's king warned on Monday that the failure to revive the peace process was adding to regional tensions.
King Abdullah II told a delegation from the Washington-based lobby group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that regional changes tied to the Arab Spring should "drive" the Israeli government to "embrace peace". In talks with AIPAC, the king also called on Israel to stop measures that hindered peace efforts, including West Bank settlement construction, and urged Israel, the Palestinians and the US to resume direct talks based on a two-state solution, which he called the "only formula" to end the conflict.
01/14/2013 05:45 PM
Germany and Israel: A Relationship Full of Misunderstandings
By Christiane Hoffmann and René Pfister
How critical can one be of Israel? It is a question that Germany has been debating since SPIEGEL ONLINE columnist Jakob Augstein was included on the Simon Wiesenthal Center's list of the world's worst anti-Semites. Political leaders in Berlin have a different answer than Germans at large.
Does Angela Merkel mistrust the very people she governs? Is she uncomfortable with the German people?
In October 2011, the German chancellor stood onstage at the academy of the Jewish Museum, in Berlin, next to conductor Daniel Barenboim. The celebratory concert had concluded, and the museum's director had just presented Merkel with its Award for Understanding and Tolerance.
This is one of many awards the chancellor has received from Jewish institutions over the last couple years, including the Heinz Galinski Prize from the Jewish Community of Berlin, the American Jewish Committee's Light Unto the Nations Award and an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University.
At the Jewish Museum, Merkel spoke a few pleasant words, calling the award both an honor and a responsibility. Then she cited a study, according to which 60 percent of Europeans -- including Germans -- consider Israel the most significant threat to world peace.
Following Merkel's logic seems to present a conclusion that two thirds of Germans harbor anti-Semitic sentiments. Is this really what the chancellor believes? Or was her intention simply, as she said in her speech, to warn against allowing anti-Semitism to increase?
Merkel's speech provides a direct path into the minefield that is relations between Jews and Germans, and between Germany and Israel. Of course it is absurd to label Israel the world's worst aggressor. But does simply making such a statement count as anti-Semitism? Where does objective criticism end and defamation begin? The controversy over journalist Jakob Augstein's columns in SPIEGEL ONLINE and elsewhere has re-ignited this debate, a storm triggered when the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles placed Augstein on its list of the world's worst anti-Semites.
Every Society Needs Taboos
Two different arenas of discussion have arisen in Germany in recent years, one for the country's politicians and one for the public. Most politicians cling tightly and fearfully to the safety of the official line when they give speeches. Particularly members of the Bundestag, Germany's parliament, haven't forgotten the 1988 case of Philipp Jenninger. Then president of the Bundestag, Jenninger expressed himself unclearly in a commemorative speech on the anniversary of the Nazi Kristallnacht pogroms in 1938, leaving his own views too open to interpretation. Within 24 hours of that speech, Jenninger resigned.
The general public, on the other hand, is tired of the strictures that dictate what can and cannot be said for the sake of maintaining good German-Israeli relations.
Every society needs its taboos, of course. In Germany, Holocaust denial is one such taboo, as is casting aspersions on Israel's right to exist. But doesn't each era need to find its own particular language in which to communicate? World War II has been over for more than six decades. The generation that perpetrated the crimes is dying out. Germany has become one of Israel's closest allies, as can be seen from the billions of euros' worth of arms sales from Germany to Israel. Isn't that grounds enough for speaking openly, even expressing severe criticism if necessary?
The chancellor certainly doesn't think so. More than any other head of government, she has aligned Germany with Israel. Some see these efforts toward reconciliation with the Jewish people as the only conviction the chancellor truly holds. "She takes the matter personally," says Deidre Berger, head of the Berlin office of the American Jewish Committee. Shimon Stein, former Israeli ambassador to Germany, was even a private guest at Merkel's weekend house in the Uckermark region northeast of Berlin.
In a 2008 address to the Knesset, Merkel declared Israel's security "part of my country's raison d'être." Even more spectacular was the statement that followed: "And if that is so, then these cannot be allowed to remain empty words at a critical time." This can only be understood as Merkel assuring Israel that Germany will step in with military aid if necessary.
"A German politician must establish a relationship of mutual trust with Israel, so that criticism of Jerusalem is not misunderstood," says Ruprecht Polenz, a member of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and chair of the Foreign Policy Committee in the Bundestag. Chancellor Merkel has certainly done this. But she has also offered at most quiet protest over Israel's settlement policy, to little effect. Many within the Chancellery are frustrated that these arguments have not moved Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the least.
Merkel's unconditional solidarity with Israel has thus failed to pay off, yet at the same time her approach has distanced the chancellor from many Germans, who are unwilling to follow her so unconditionally. Just how wide that rift has grown could be seen in the public debate last spring over a poem by Günter Grass, in which the author portrayed Israel as the aggressor in the Middle East and a threat to world peace. None of the country's top politicians came to Grass' defense. Hermann Gröhe, secretary general of the CDU, said he was "appalled" by the poem and even Sigmar Gabriel, chair of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) stated, "Some of it is excessive, and in many parts hysterical." These reactions only made the public's support for Grass all the more vehement, with letters piling up in the parties' headquarters expressing outrage over the politicians' rebuke of Grass.
What exactly does this response signify? Are the Germans a nation of anti-Semites, with the ugly countenance of hatred toward Jews lurking behind every corner, as author Tuvia Tenenbom recently suggested in his book "I Sleep in Hitler's Room: An American Jew Visits Germany"?
There have been a number of studies on anti-Semitism in Germany, and few topics have been examined as extensively as Germans' resentments toward Jews. The most recent major study, conducted on behalf of the Federal Interior Ministry, clocks in at 204 pages.
A Degree of Skepticism
Still, the question remains: How can one measure an attitude, a feeling? In what units is hate calculated? Is someone an anti-Semite if they say Jews have too much influence in Germany? Or if they express agreement with the opinion that Jews never look after anyone but themselves and their own?
One thing can be said for certain, and that is that Germany falls more to the middle of the spectrum on such questions. In Poland andHungary, for example, resentment toward Jews is far more widespread than in Germany. All told, according to the Interior Ministry study, 20 percent of Germans harbor latent anti-Semitism.
Certainly these numbers should be taken with a degree of skepticism. The researchers themselves admit it's impossible to produce clearly measured results in this field. But one thing is clear: Germans' anti-Semitism acts as a great temptation in politics -- any politician looking to garner votes for his or her party quickly can play on anti-Jewish resentment.
That, though, is a dangerous game, as politician Martin Hohmann found out when he used the term "a nation of perpetrators" in connection with Jews. Merkel excluded him from the CDU's parliamentary group as a result.
The story of Jürgen W. Möllemann ended badly as well. Möllemann, a top politician in the Free Democratic Party (FDP), played a game that held not only many voters in thrall, but his own party as well, stating in an interview that he could sympathize with Palestinian suicide attackers, and accusing then-Vice President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany Michel Friedman of being "intolerant and spiteful."
FDP party head Guido Westerwelle was slow to take any action on Möllemann. Not until Hans-Dietrich Genscher and the party's higher-ups intervened did Westerwelle break with Möllemann. Israel hasn't forgotten the incident and keeps Westerwelle, now Germany's foreign minister, under close observation to this day because of the Möllemann affair.
Israel feels under threat more than ever before, both from Iran and through the developments throughout the Arab world, and that sensitivity is only growing. At the same time, from Germany's perspective there are many reasons to view Israeli policies critically. The country has changed, with demographic changes due to immigration from Eastern Europe and Africa causing a political shift to the right. Hardliners will have the say here for the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, Israel's settlement policy will soon render the idea of a Palestinian state impossible. When Hans-Ulrich Klose, the SPD's top politician on foreign policy issues, recently attended a political congress in Israel, he met hardly any politicians still working for a two-state solution -- the solution Germany considers the only viable path to peace in the Middle East. "It was sobering," Klose stated.
What, then, should Germany do? Klose says he still believes the German government should refrain from publicly reprimanding Israel. "Why should Germany of all countries make itself Israel's critic?" he asks.
But some younger politicians take a different view, and are increasingly unwilling to stick to the old approach. "Germany has a historical responsibility," agrees Julia Klöckner, 40, head of the CDU in the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate. "But that's not a blank check to be uncritical in foreign policy."
Germany needs to find a way to be less inhibited in its dealings with Israel, Klöckner suggests. She adds, "Those who throw around accusations of anti-Semitism at every turn lose credibility."
"Less inhibited in dealings with Israel"? "Throwing around accusations of anti-Semitism"? Are these acceptable things to say? Klöckner may find herself taking considerable heat for her statements -- or meeting with considerable approval.
Translated by Ella Ornstein
Czech Republic: Choosing the future between two faces of the past
14 January 2013
Respekt, Hospodářské Noviny
“Zeman versus the Prince,” headlines Respekt. Prince Karel Schwarzenberg scored a surprise result in the first round of the Czech presidential election on January 11 and 12, when he came in second, with 23.4 per cent of the vote, just 0.81 per cent behind Miloš Zeman who led the field. For the weekly, the second round scheduled for January 25 and 26 will be “very exciting, because it offers a choice between two very different paths.” While Zeman, the former leader of the Social Democratic represents the “people”, the “nobility” of the Schwarzenberg conservative has found support in large towns.
Initially viewed as an outsider, Karel Schwarzenberg, the current minister of foreign affairs and leader of the TOP 09 (conservative party), succeeded in mobilising a large section of the electorate in the final days of the campaign. Respekt attributes the surge in support for the second placed candidate “to his charisma, a very successful campaign, and a personal history that no Czech politician has been able to match since Václav Havel.”
Born into a large aristocratic family, Schwarzenberg was forced to flee Czechoslovakia when the communists took power in 1948. He later returned to the country several times to provide support for dissidents during the communist era. Following 1989, President Václav Havel appointed him as his Chancellor. Thereafter, he served as a senator and as minister of foreign affairs for the 2007-2009 government as well as the one that is currently in office.
The 2.5m Czechs who voted in the first round (a turnout of approximately 60 per cent) “have given a chance to representatives of a generation that has defined the face of the country since the 1990s.” Hospodářské noviny adds —
Who symbolises change? Who is the man of the past, and the man of the present? The 75-year-old minister of foreign affairs, or the 68-year-old former prime minister? With all due respect, the discussion could raise a few smiles. But there is a good reason for their selection. The Czechs who have expressed their disgust for politics in the polls have shown that they are not swayed by terms like “change” and “new departure”, rather they are backing certainty and traditional brands.”