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« Reply #6180 on: May 06, 2013, 06:34 AM »

Fashion still doesn’t give a damn about the deaths of garment workers

By Lucy Siegle, The Observer
Sunday, May 5, 2013 9:34 EDT

A campaign launched this week aims to ensure the tragedy is a tipping point for both the industry and consumers

A week on, the Rana Plaza catastrophe in Bangladesh is now the deadliest catastrophe in the history of the garment industry, with the death toll exceeding 500. The gruesome accounts of rescuers cutting off limbs from trapped workers (sometimes without anaesthesia) surely leaves a stain on brands that no new collection, celebrity endorsement or micro-trend can wash away? Doesn’t it?

However, it was simultaneously shocking and grimly predictable. Those who have petitioned the fashion industry to face up to its responsibilities will have felt as sick as I did when they heard a factory complex had collapsed in Dhaka. Yes, there were other types of businesses in Rana Plaza but we knew immediately that the bodies pulled dead from the rubble would be garment workers producing clothing for the retailers and brands we all patronise.

Because garment workers are always there, bulking up the casualty lists of the biggest industrial accidents, and setting new mortality records. At this particular complex when dangerous cracks were reported, other workers were apparently sent away. Garment workers were ordered back in.

When you’re part of the Cut Make and Trim (CMT) army, as we might call the estimated 40 million producing fast fashion around the world, 3.5 million in Bangladesh alone, there’s simply no let up. A makeshift factory might collapse at night as happened in 2005 in the Spectrum knitwear factory, also in the Savar district of Dhaka, leaving 62 dead. Or it might catch fire during daylight hours as in Tazreen last November when fire escapes were locked and more than 100 died. Either way, garment workers will be trying to complete near-impossible orders.

Perhaps, though, the Rana Plaza tragedy could be a tipping point. Maybe young consumers (often considered difficult to reach) will be jolted into action against the brands they seem to worship. “I would urge any young shopper to think about whether they believe over 500 deaths is an acceptable scenario,” says Stacey Dooley, who saw at first hand the real cost of fast fashion production, for the BBC 3 series Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts. “If not, they should let the retailers know and threaten to take their money elsewhere,” she adds.

It’s indicative of the chaos of today’s fashion supply chain that many brands don’t know where they are producing. An order might be placed in a first-tier factory that ticks all the auditor’s health and safety boxes. But, according to Doug Miller, emeritus professor of supply chain ethics at Northumbria University and author of Last Nightshift in Savar: “Factory owners can’t make money on the original order – the price has been set too low – so will therefore find someone who can,” subcontracting to producers of ever-declining standards.

“In Bangladesh,” Miller says, “you have a glut of buyers in search of a cheap product wanting to place enormous orders; and capacity is built hurriedly. Factory installations are shoddy, workers locked in and lead times are too tight.”

It remains to be seen whether consumers will tolerate the usual excuses from brands. Perhaps the most pernicious of all – I paraphrase – is: “We don’t own the factories so we can’t help what happens in them.” This is usually followed by devolving responsibility to the host government. It is technically true: but let’s not pretend this is a regret. Over two decades the big retailers and brands (not just those caught producing in Rana Plaza) have systematically distanced themselves from the manufacture of their product. It is part of their business model.

Meanwhile fashion brands seem allergic to collective action. Instead of coming together as one body with NGOs to trash out living wages and safety agreements, they go it alone. They excel at dreaming up new schemes that look great in a corporate social responsibility video but are useless at creating any effective change. “The answers to this latest crisis have got to be collective in every sense of the world,” Miller says.

The fashion industry has some pretty specious get-out-of-jail-free cards. Some are cultural. Livia Firth, founder of the Green Carpet Challenge and a campaigner for industry reform, says: “The industry is plagued by disposability and sensationalism. Fashion editorial, in my opinion, should be there to teach us about the beauty of craftsmanship, ateliers, seamstresses, to celebrate fashion heroes.” Without this, she argues: “We don’t give a damn about the people who make the garments. They’re incidental.”

More prosaically, antitrust laws (also known as competition laws) are cited by fast fashion brands as a reason for refusing to discuss pricing strategies, costs in the supply chain or the factories they source from. This impedes strategies to make the supply chain more equitable. Further hope for change, however, was provided last week by word from within the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on ethics and sustainability in fashion.

“Let’s now be really serious about the true cost of clothing,” Baroness Young, its chair, told me. “The APPG is determined to call to account all of those companies that are implicated in these kinds of practices. And we want them to understand that we will examine how supply chains function and expect them to remedy problems.”

Young should expect to call a lot of witnesses. Many believe that the whole fashion supply chain is caught up in the problem. “Do not for a minute suppose that just because a brand you wear wasn’t found in the rubble, it is clean. It could have been any of the brands,” says Sam Maher of the campaign group Labour Behind the Label.

Just two companies – PVH, owner of Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein among others, and Tchibo, a German retail brand – have signed the Bangladesh fire and building safety agreement drafted late last year. Gap led the negotiations initially but pulled out in favour of its own self-auditing agreement. The deadline for brands to sign the agreement is 15 May. They must consider it a cultural licence to operate. This week the ethical brand People Tree will urge consumers to join its Rag Rage campaign demanding retailers sign up to a three-point plan including signing the Bangladesh fire and safety agreement.

The window to demand change is closing. Wednesday marked the mass burial of unidentified garment workers in a large pit in Savar. Thursday marked the reopening of garment factories across Bangladesh. By Friday the Bangladesh finance minister, Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, was playing down the significance of the tragedy. If we don’t act now, it’ll be business as usual followed by shopping as usual. We cannot let that happen.

Lucy Siegle, the Observer’s ethical living columnist, is the author of To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?

© Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #6181 on: May 06, 2013, 06:36 AM »

May 5, 2013

Malaysia’s Governing Coalition Keeps Hold on Power


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia’s governing coalition won a majority of parliamentary seats in national elections on Sunday after the largest turnout in the country’s history, but a bitter coalition of opposition parties claimed that the result was tainted by illegal voting and other irregularities.

The country’s election committee announced early Monday that the governing coalition had secured the 112 seats needed for a simple majority, enabling the next Parliament to re-elect Prime Minister Najib Razak in the coming days.

But Mr. Najib and his National Front coalition, which has governed the country since it gained independence in 1957, could lose at least 10 seats in the 222-member federal Parliament.

While final results were not yet available, analysts said the government would ultimately win about 130 seats. The People’s Alliance, a three-party opposition coalition led by Anwar Ibrahim, 65, a former deputy prime minister, will gain ground, but it still fell far short of its goal to unseat a government that has ruled unchallenged for 56 years.

“We have a big agenda for the people of Malaysia, and we intend to fulfill our commitment to the people of Malaysia,” Mr. Najib said on national television minutes after the commission’s announcement.

The 15-day election campaign was bitterly contested and marred by violence and opposition charges of vote-rigging. For many, the campaign began five years ago after the opposition posted its best showing by winning 82 seats to deny the governing coalition a two-thirds majority in Parliament for the first time since the 1960s.

Mr. Anwar’s campaign accused the government of deploying tens of thousands of “phantom voters,” including foreign laborers from Bangladesh, Indonesia and Myanmar who work in eastern Malaysia, to vote using illegal identity cards. The opposition threatened to organize protests if the final results pointed to fraud.

“There is specific evidence, of names of foreigners voting as military personnel,” Mr. Anwar said shortly before the governing coalition was declared the winner. He said in a post on Twitter early Monday that there were “phantom voters witnessed in my own constituency as well as around the country.”

The opposition also complained that the election commission was not independent, that irregularities were detected in early voting by 200,000 police officers and military personnel, and that the indelible ink applied to voters’ fingers to prevent them from casting multiple ballots could be easily wiped off.

“There are still certain issues that bear further examination,” said Ibrahim Suffian, the director of the Merdeka Center, an independent polling organization. “Although the evidence that had been presented by the opposition was very selective, there were questions about illegality related to today’s vote, the advanced voting and the postal voting. Those issues all needed to be examined.”

The government and the National Front denied charges of vote-rigging. Mr. Najib said Mr. Anwar could appeal the election results but warned against street demonstrations, calling on the opposition to respect the results.

“We have to show to the world that we are a mature democracy,” Mr. Najib said. “Whatever the decision, we must respect the will of the people.”

When polls opened across Malaysia on Sunday morning, the race was too close to call between the opposition and the 13-party governing coalition, which is dominated by Mr. Najib’s United Malays National Organization. Mr. Anwar, the former deputy prime minister, is also former senior leader of the organization.

The electorate was divided along racial, geographic and generational lines and was presented with a stark choice: maintain a semiauthoritarian government responsible for economic growth or vote for a combative but untested opposition promising huge changes.

The race came down to about 20 of the 222 seats, Mr. Ibrahim said. He said the returns indicated that the majority of Malay voters, who account for about 60 percent of the country’s 29 million people, had swung their support back to the governing coalition.

The biggest winner in the opposition alliance was the Democratic Action Party, according to preliminary results. While the Democratic Action Party has a multiracial membership that includes Malays and Indians, it is overwhelmingly Chinese.

Mr. Ibrahim said the election showed a “sharpening of the ethnic discussion with the strengthening of the Chinese vote.”

Malaysia has 13.3 million registered voters, including 2.6 million first-time voters, and turnout was a record 80 percent, according to the election commission.

Nurul Izzah Anwar, 32, the daughter of Mr. Anwar, successfully defended her seat in Parliament even though she said that 4,600 names on the voter rolls in her constituency could not be confirmed as real. Mr. Anwar also retained his seat in the northwest state of Penang, but at least three members of Mr. Najib’s cabinet lost their seats.

Mr. Najib acknowledged that his governing coalition had lost ground, saying that Malaysian voters were swayed by aspects of the highly emotional campaign in a country where elections were never competitive until 2008.

He offered an olive branch to the opposition with a call for national reconciliation.
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« Reply #6182 on: May 06, 2013, 06:41 AM »

Pakistan elections: why feudal ties no longer bind for voters

On the campaign trail in Punjab, aristocratic candidates are finding their name and status no longer guarantee victory

Jason Burke in Mianwali Qureshian, Sunday 5 May 2013 13.56 BST   

The sun is setting when Makhdoom Shahabuddin's SUV rolls into yet another scruffy, dirt-poor agricultural community in his constituency in the deep south of Punjab province.

In sonorous Saraiki, a minority language spoken locally, the former cabinet minister and veteran politician talks of the achievements of the Pakistan Peoples party (PPP) and of future plans. "This country should be great, not plundered by its own people," Shahabuddin, a PPP grandee and a local landowner, tells the few-score peasant farmers gathered before the low stage.

The men cheer, swig back the soft drinks distributed by party workers, and disappear into the dusk on motorbikes, camel-drawn carts, donkeys and by foot. Shahabuddin drives off – but not to his sprawling, if spartan, country residence. Instead, he has a series of very different meetings scheduled: secret rendezvous where, to a large extent, the result in the 11 May polls will be determined.

Shahabuddin, 66, nominated as prime minister last year before allegations of graft led the PPP to look elsewhere, has been campaigning across these flat fields and orchards, many of which lie on his own extensive estates, for more than four decades. In 2008 he easily beat his cousin, a landowner and industrialist who stood for a faction of the Pakistan Muslim League. But this election, though he is confident of victory, may be his last.

"Politics has become such a dirty game. It's getting so hard," Shahabuddin told the Guardian during three days spent on the campaign trial last week.

For many years, like many other Pakistani aristocrats or "feudals" as they are known locally, Shahabuddin could simply rely on his name and status to bring in votes. The southern Punjab – one of the most impoverished parts of south Asia – has been run by major landowners for centuries. The loyalty of thousands of families used to be unquestioning. Also, as a direct descendant of one of the missionaries who converted the local population to Islam more than 700 years ago, Shahabuddin is revered as a spiritual leader with powers of blessing that can heal illnesses, solve problems and bring fortune.

But now economic development, marginally better education and a generally less deferential culture – reinforced by Pakistan's vibrant, often vitriolic media – mean history and status are no longer enough to win over the 150,000 voters of national assembly seat 194.

"People are simply interested in what they can get. It's all about being on the winning side and you can't have principles or ideologies if that's your only aim," said Shahabuddin's nephew, who is campaigning for simultaneous provincial polls. "It's not as simple as getting development funds for a community. And nor does getting the electricity connected or a road or a bridge built necessarily guarantee votes. It's personal relationships which ensure continued support."

This is where the semi-secret meetings play their crucial role. Cash is not involved. There is nothing illegal. But politics in Pakistan is about a cascade of favours from the most powerful patrons – in this case the ex-cabinet minister candidate – to the lowest – a small trader, bureaucrat, cleric or farmer who is influential in a street or village. Loyalty – expressed in the form of votes – flows back up.
Supporters listen to a speech by Makhdoum Shahabuddin Makhdoum Supporters at village meeting listen to a speech by Makhdoom Shahabudin Makhtoum. Photograph: Jason Burke for the Guardian

So though the rowdy, crowded public rallies have an important role to play, crucial work is done sitting on a sofa, not standing on a stage.

One day it is lunch with a former policeman, whose home is surprisingly luxurious given his relatively low salary, then tea with a group of businessmen and finally an evening with a tribal chief with many thousands of followers. The chief was previously loyal to Shahabuddin's rival but hopes for an official post after the polls. The post is appointed by the provincial governor, himself appointed by the ostensibly neutral president, who is also the joint chairman of the PPP, so supporting Shahabuddin becomes the obvious choice.

One stop is at the home of a local notable affiliated to the Makhdoom family's religious shrine but who has held off the customary visit to its leader to pledge his allegiance in the polls. "I have come to you, not you to me," Makhdoom pointedly tells him. It is now up to the recipient to repay the honour of the visit.

There are other issues to contend with. The southern Punjab has been hit by rising violence targeting the Shia Muslim minority, historically loyal to the more inclusive and more "secular" PPP.

A Shia candidate with "nuisance value" is being funded, Shahabuddin says, by his opponent. Further meetings are necessary to neutralise the threat. Simultaneously, however, a deal has been done with the local branch of Jamaat e-Ulema-e-Islami, a party of Sunni hardline religious conservatives blamed by many for encouraging sectarian extremists.

Then there is the national situation. Though many ills are blamed on the provincial government, run by the PML, others are blamed on the outgoing PPP-led federal government. Chief among them are power cuts and a failing economy. An income support programme launched for the poorest families is likely to help win women's votes and the promise of a separate province of South Punjab is popular. But, says Babar Dogar, a political journalist, "people are annoyed at the PPP".

There is one final factor. Over In recent decades Pakistan has changed in ways that leave Shahabuddin – who quotes Winston Churchill, uses words such as "lingo" and "chum", speaks admiringly of British colonial administrators and smokes Benson & Hedges cigarettes – looking increasingly out of place. The inclusion of an image of a bearded cleric, a PPP candidate in local elections, alongside the clean-shaven, besuited Shahabuddin on campaign posters seems an implicit recognition of this.

Another evening, and another mass meeting. Several thousand farmers cram under a tent in a field outside the village of Ghari Aktar Khan. Shahabuddin talks, lists his achievements, is heckled, jokes, prays and is cheered once again.

"That was a grand jalsa [rally]. It will be the talk of the town," he says, driving away. "Democracy is the best system ever invented. Democracy is a truly beautiful thing."


May 5, 2013

Extremists Pursue Mainstream in Pakistan Election


KHALID WALID, Pakistan — Dust swirled as the jeep, heralded by a convoy of motorcycle riders and guarded by gunmen in paramilitary-style uniforms, pulled up outside the towering tomb of an ancient Muslim saint.

Out stepped Maulana Abdul Khaliq Rehmani, a burly cleric with a notorious, banned Sunni Muslim group. Thanks to a deft name change by his group, he was now a candidate in Pakistan’s general election, scheduled for Saturday.

Supporters mobbed Mr. Rehmani as he pushed into a small mosque in a rural district of Punjab Province, where a crowd had gathered in a courtyard. The warm-up speaker played on some typical populist tropes. “Islamabad is a colony of America,” he shouted. “Thousands of their agents are in the capital, and they are destabilizing Pakistan.”

But Mr. Rehmani preferred to paint his campaign as a rural class struggle. “Feudalism has paralyzed Pakistan,” he said, his voice rising as the audience — farmers with weather-beaten faces, many fresh from toiling in the fields — listened raptly. “By the will of God, every poor person in this district will vote for us!”

As election fever grips Pakistan this week, Sunni extremist groups are making a bold venture into the democratic process, offering a political face to a movement that, at its militant end, has carried out attacks on minority Shiites that have resulted in hundreds of deaths this year.

Mr. Rehmani’s group, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, is fielding 130 candidates across Pakistan in this election. Few are expected to win seats in the Parliament, which is dominated by more moderate parties. But experts say they are flexing their political muscle at the very time when Pakistan urgently needs to push back against extremism.

Relentless Taliban attacks on secular parties in recent weeks have tilted the field in favor of conservative parties, while the election authorities have been ambiguous. Some candidates were disqualified for having forged their university degrees, or for having an anti-Pakistani “ideology.” But candidates with nakedly sectarian groups have been allowed to participate freely.

“These elections are critical,” said Ayesha Siddiqa, a defense analyst and the author of several reports on militancy in southern Punjab. “General Musharraf and his military started accommodating these groups. Now we see them trying to enter the political mainstream.”

Mr. Rehmani was speaking at a rally in Khanewal, a district of lush fields and poor farmers between the city of Multan and the Indus River. His group, once known as Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, is the country’s main anti-Shiite group and was banned as a terrorist organization by Pervez Musharraf, then the president, in 2002.

Sipah is widely viewed as the ideological center of sectarian thinking in Pakistan; its most notorious offshoot is Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the militant group responsible for much of the sectarian bloodshed this year: roadside executions, drive-by shootings and two major suicide attacks in the western city of Quetta that killed almost 200 people earlier this year.

But relatively little sectarian violence touches Sipah’s political heartland in southern Punjab, where such groups drive deep roots in conservative rural communities by exploiting religious sentiment, profound social inequality and — in some cases — the support of mainstream politicians eager to capture their votes.

In Khanewal, for instance, Mr. Rehmani is estimated to control 12,000 to 20,000 votes, not enough to win a seat, but sufficient to swing the vote in the event of a tight race. At the last election in 2008, his group supported Raza Hayat Hiraj, a candidate for General Musharraf’s party who went on to win the seat in Parliament. This time, however, the group has fielded its own candidate, Mr. Rehmani.

Mr. Hiraj has been rejected by that group, and finds himself under political attack locally. He has also had a change of heart about Sipah. “They are very strong fanatics,” he said in an interview, saying that the group had a “different mind-set” when he supported them — under pressure from his own party.

“I was told to go into an alliance with them,” he said. “These people don’t even consider Shiites to be like human beings. Their first philosophy is to kill a Shiite.”

A similar dynamic exists in other pockets of Punjab where extremists enjoy a foothold: politicians, even those who profess not to share the extremists’ values, are happy to embrace their votes. All parties, including the Pakistan Muslim League-N, which is tipped to do well in this election, have been guilty.

The phenomenon helps explain how sectarian groups can carve out the space to operate, said Ms. Siddiqa, the analyst. “There is an argument that if you engage these groups politically, they might turn into Pakistan’s version of Sinn Fein or Hezbollah,” she said, referring to the political wings of militant movements in Ireland and Lebanon. “That is a very dangerous proposition.”

Other factors play a part, too. Although sectarianism has been a problem in Pakistan since the country’s birth in 1947, it turned militant in the 1980s when the military dictator, Gen. Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, promoted Sunni extremist groups to counter Iranian influence after the 1979 revolution in that country, which created a Shiite theocracy.

Sectarian recruiters found rich terrain in the fields of Punjab, where poor Sunni farmers felt exploited by wealthy Shiite landowners who lorded over their tenants in a modern-day feudalism. Some of the same factors are still at play today.

“These people are slaves to the feudal lords,” Mr. Rehmani said after the rally, sitting on a rope bed in a field outside the mosque.

Indeed, one of his opponents is a Shiite landlord: Fakhar Imam, a member of a large and politically influential family. Mr. Imam is a former speaker of Parliament while his wife, Abida Hussain, is a former ambassador to the United States. In 1991, his brother was shot and wounded in a sectarian attack.

In an interview after a rally in Kabirwala, the main town of Khanewal District, Mr. Imam played down the importance of sectarianism as a political factor. “People are more concerned with gas, jobs and electricity,” he said, speaking by torchlight after the city power went off.

Still, there is little doubt that sectarian politics are the seedbed of more violent actions. Militants from Kabirwala took part in a high-profile attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in 2009 that killed eight people. And the founder of Sipah-e-Sahaba, Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, was educated in a madrasa just a few hundred yards from Mr. Imam’s rally.

The head of the madrasa, Maulana Irshad Ahmed, bristled at any suggestion that the institution had a connection with terrorism. Instead he offered juice and samosas to a visiting Shiite journalist, and offered a tour of the complex, which belongs to the conservative Deobandi sect and houses 2,000 students.

In the corridors of a new, three-story building, filled with dormitory rooms that doubled as classrooms, bearded teenagers crowded around teachers, listening to religious instruction. A similar-size mosque was under construction next door; Mr. Ahmed said he hoped the complex would soon have 4,000 students.

After the rally in Khalid Walid village, Mr. Rehmani rose to leave, trailed by his armed guards. He apologized: he was rushing to another campaign rally.

As his convoy disappeared into the dusk, it passed under the village’s dominant feature: the red-brick tomb of Hazrat Khalid Walid, a 13th century saint from the moderate Sufi strain of Islam, who was famed for his sense of tolerance.

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« Reply #6183 on: May 06, 2013, 06:42 AM »

Iranian general denies reports of weapons depot in Syria

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, May 6, 2013 7:30 EDT

A top Iranian general said any arms Israel targeted in Syria did not come from the Islamic republic, in remarks published on the Revolutionary Guards website on Monday.

Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri “denied Western and Israeli media reports that an Iranian weapons depot has been targeted in Syria,” the website reported.

“The Syrian government does not need Iran’s military aid, and these sorts of reports are propaganda and psychological war,” added the deputy chief of the armed forces.

A senior Israeli source said the Jewish state carried out an air strike near Damascus before dawn on Sunday, targeting Iranian missiles destined for Lebanon’s Hezbollah in the second such raid on Syria in three days.

The attack targeted a facility just northwest of the Syrian capital, very close to the site of a similar attack late in January which was implicitly confirmed by Israel, the source said.

He also confirmed Israel was behind an earlier strike on a target very close to Damascus airport which took place early on Friday, which also struck Iranian arms destined for the Lebanese Shiite movement.

Iran’s Defence Minister General Ahmad Vahidi on Monday urged the international community to stop Israel from carrying out such attacks.

Unless they are halted, “events may occur in the region in which the Zionist regime (Israel) and the US would not be victorious,” said Vahidi.

“Certainly the Syrian government in an appropriate time will respond to the Zionist regime. The Zionist regime will receive decisive responses from Syria,” he added.

Iran has remained a steadfast ally of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime throughout the Syrian conflict which has killed more than 70,000 people since it erupted in March 2011.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]
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« Reply #6184 on: May 06, 2013, 06:46 AM »

Russia protests: one year on, anti-Putin activists are still awaiting trial

Vladimir Putin's crackdown against dissent has seen 28 people arrested over the past year. But their cause is not forgotten

Miriam Elder in Moscow, Sunday 5 May 2013 17.34 BST   

In a black-and-white photo taken in court the day she was charged, Alexandra Dukhanina looks like a young Audrey Hepburn, with a side-swept fringe and coy smile. Two police officers loom behind her. A nearby cage stands empty.

That was one of the last times Dukhanina, 19, was seen in public. For nearly a year, she has been under house arrest, confined to a flat in western Moscow, for taking part in a protest against President Vladimir Putin that turned violent on the eve of his inauguration on 7 May last year.

The most insidious aspect of the crackdown that followed, activists say, is the slow but steady arrest of some who took part in the 6 May protest. In all, 28 have been arrested; most recently, the 27-year-old Alexey Gaskarov, last week.

Some were arrested in their homes. Others, like Dukhanina, were nabbed on the street. Some are behind bars and awaiting trial. Others, like Dukhanina, are under house arrest, completely cut off from the outside world.

On Monday, the first anniversary of the protest, the Russian opposition, although cowed by Putin's crackdown and the re-emergence of political apathy among the general population, will take to the streets calling for the release of the 6 May political prisoners.

They will gather at the same site – Bolotnaya Square – where clashes broke out between riot police and protesters amid a wave of passionate demonstrations that swept Moscow for months as Putin planned to return to the presidency.

The authorities accuse Dukhanina and 27 others of organising the unrest. Opposition activists, in turn, accuse Russia's notorious riot police of provoking the disorder and say the Kremlin has seized on the unrest to unleash a far-reaching crackdown designed to spread fear among those who would dare protest against Putin.

The fear has worked. Subsequent protests have brought out a tiny fraction of the tens of thousands who took to Moscow's streets last year. The avid political debate that erupted among average Muscovites around Russia's presidential election has largely faded into the background. Yet those who have remained committed have become ever more angry.

"They've been trying to scare us for all of the past year," said Ilya Yashin, an opposition leader. "Those who got scared have gone back into their homes, to talking about things in the kitchen. Those who have remained have got more and more angry. Now the atmosphere in the air, I would say, has the smell of civil war, though it is a cold civil war for now."

Dukhanina was among the first to be arrested. She was briefly detained on 6 May last year, along with hundreds of others, amid an hours-long standoff between protesters and police. Photographs from the day show her being dragged away by a camouflaged riot police officer, her hands clawing at his arm holding her in a tight headlock. She was released later that day.

Then, three weeks later, police detained her as she was sitting in a park with friends after a poetry reading at Mayakovsky Square in Moscow, long a favoured site of political gatherings.

Three days later, a judge said she would be charged with mass unrest and harming a representative of the state, arguing that she had hurled rocks, bottles and pieces of asphalt at riot police. She was ordered into house arrest.

Since last May, Dukhanina, and the others under house arrest, have been cut off from contact with all but their lawyers. They cannot use the telephone or the internet, nor receive or send letters. "She's completely cut off from society," said Dukhanina's lawyer, Dmitry Yefremov.

A Moscow court is expected to hear the case against those charged during a mass political trial this summer. The 28 defendants have nothing in common – in most cases, they do not know each other – aside from separately attending the protest.

Already reeling from a series of laws clamping down on the right to protest and on the rights of non-governmental organisations, as well as the trial against the main opposition leader Alexey Navalny, activists have begun to warn that could be the last straw.

"Putin has done a lot to ensure confrontation," said Yashin. "His decisions, his laws, his rhetoric, don't unite society, but divide people. It's very dangerous for the country, because it can bring the country to civil war.

"I hope it won't happen. The taste for blood in Russia is exhausted. We must do everything to avoid a revolt. But anything can happen."

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« Reply #6185 on: May 06, 2013, 06:48 AM »

05/06/2013 11:15 AM

Historic Trial Starts: Munich Court Hears Case of 'Nazi Bride'

Germany's biggest neo-Nazi trial opened on Monday in the glare of the media. Beate Zschäpe, 38, the main defendant, faces charges of involvement in 10 murders. Few expect her to break her silence. Outside the court, demonstrators accused the authorities of having been blind to the far-right threat for too long.

Smartly dressed in a white blouse and black blazer, and with her arms crossed defiantly, Beate Zschäpe, 38, dubbed the "Nazi Bride" in the media, walked into a Munich courtroom on Monday to face charges of involvement in 10 murders in Germany's biggest neo-Nazi trial.

She wasn't handcuffed and quickly turned her back on the press cameras and photographers and chatted quietly with her three lawyers.

Zschäpe, 38, is believed to be the sole surviving member of the National Socialist Underground terrorist group that claimed responsibility in 2011 for murdering nine immigrants, eight of them of Turkish descent and one Greek man, as well as a German policewoman between 2000 and 2007.

The other two members, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt, committed suicide in November 2011 after a botched bank robbery. Only after that did their involvement in the killings come to light.

Four alleged accomplices, all of them committed neo-Nazis, are also in the dock in the mammoth trial in which over 600 witnesses will be called to testify. A total of 84 court days have been slated but that may not be enough. Some observers are saying the trial could last more than two years.

One of the defendants, who can be named only as Andre E. due to German privacy laws, has the words, "Die Jew Die" tattooed on his stomach.

"With its historical, social and political dimensions, the NSU trial is one of the most significant of postwar German history," lawyers for the family of the first victim, flower seller Enver Simsek, said in a statement.

Shortly after the trial started, Zschäpe's defense team voiced doubts about presiding judge Manfred Götzl, saying they believed he was biased because he had ordered that the defense lawyers be frisked for weapons when they enter the courtroom -- while prosecutors didn't have to be checked.

The judge adjourned proceedings briefly but then resumed the trial after a few minutes.

'Why Were the Authorities Blind?'

Some 500 police officers were deployed outside the courthouse -- where several hundred demonstrators, some waving the Turkish flag, demanded that justice finally be done, 13 years after the first victim, Simsek, was murdered in cold blood. Some held up photos of the victims. One banner read "Why were the authorities blind?"

The police never seriously considered that the motive may be racism and instead suspected that the victims, who included a flower seller, a grocer and a part-time tailor, themselves had links with criminal gangs.

The case has alarmed the country's 3 million people of Turkish descent and has been a huge embarrassment to Germany because of the catalogue of errors made by the police and security authorities that exposed them to accusations of institutional racism and of having been blind to the threat of right-wing extremism.

Last month, Germany apologized for those errors at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, describing the murders as "without a doubt one of the worst human rights violations in Germany in the last decade."

The chairman of the Turkish Community in Germany, Kenan Kolat, said the defendants should get life in prison. "This is a historic trial. It's not enough to convict the accused," Kolat told Mitteldeutsche Zeitung newspaper on Monday. "We hope that the maximum sentences will be imposed. And the maximum sentence is life."

The trial start was delayed by almost three weeks because of controversy over the allocation of seats for the media. In the first round, no Turkish news organization obtained a press pass, which caused an uproar that threatened to further tarnish Germany's reputation.

Every aspect of the case is proving to be sensitive, including the names of Zschäpe's defense lawyers. Both the German and British press have remarked on the fact that the the alleged NSU member is being defended by Wolfgang Stahl, Wolfgang Heer and Anja Sturm, surnames that evoke German Nazi history -- although none of the lawyers are of a far-right political persuasion.

However, the lawyer representing the defendant Ralf Wohlleben, Nicole Schneiders, used to have a regional leadership post in the far-right National Democratic Party. Wohlleben, 38, stands accused of having provided the NSU with the murder weapon -- a Ceska Browning pistol used in all the killings.


05/06/2013 01:00 PM

Time for Justice: Families of Suvivors Demand Answers in NSU Trial

By Gisela Friedrichsen in Munich

A massive neo-Nazi trial opened in Germany on Monday seeking to bring justice to the victims of a murder spree that killed 10. Families of the victims want answers that will bring closure: Why were their relatives killed and why did the government fail to detect the true origins of the seven-year crime wave?

Expectations are massive for the trial of the Nationalist Socialist Underground that got under way on Monday in Munich, Germany. They should be, too. Five people are being tried in connection with the murders of 10 people, most of them of Turkish descent, in what is believed to be the worst neo-Nazi crime wave in German history.

So far, the coverage has focused on a laundry list of issues. How public does a criminal trial need to be? And who must be given the right to witness it? The chief judge hearing the case badly botched the assignment of seats to journalists in the trial with a first-come, first serve accreditation process that meant that no Turkish journalists got seats. In the end, a Turkish newspaper had to sue at the country's highest court in order to get seats. Given the enormous sensitivity and need for composure in the trial, many asked whether the judge was up to the task. Time and time again, this administrative sideshow has threatened to consume the real and very serious questions the trial must address.

On Monday, for the first time, the relatives of the victims and those injured came together in a room with those believed to either be responsible or to have aided in a wave of racist killings that remained unsolved for years. They include Beate Zschäpe, 38, Ralf Wohlleben, 38, André E., 33, Holger G., 39, and Carsten S., 33. The five are answering to multiple charges in the 6th Criminal Division of the Munich Higher Regional Court.

Zschäpe, the leading defendant, is charged with being an accomplice to murder and with the formation of a terrorist group. She is the sole remaining survivor of the NSU, a neo-Nazi terror group believed to have murdered 10 people between 2000 and 2007, eight men of Turkish descent, one of Greek descent and a female police officer.

Victims Want Answers to Crimes

It is likely the lawyers have informed the defendants of precisely what they should expect in court. But it is unlikely that much, if anything, will be stated by the defendants on Monday. First, a raft of motions are expected in the court. One such motion accuses the chief judge of bias. Others want the proceedings to be broadcast in a second room through CCTV, enabling more people access to the trial proceedings. The list of objections goes on and on. It is likely the first week of proceedings will be entirely taken up with the opening statements by the three representatives of the Federal Prosecutor's Office, the 11 defense lawyers and the lawyers representing the 53 joint plaintiffs.

The relatives of the victims, who are co-plaintiffs in the case, are feeling very insecure right now. Currently it is they who are attracting the most public attention rather than the accused and their suspected guilt. Some family members would like to see a short trial -- one that will allow them to finally answer the question of "why" their loved ones were murdered. Others are hoping that the defendants will be given the toughest sentences possible. Most of the relatives simply want their questions to be answered.

There's also discord among the lawyers. On Sunday, as some of them expressed the concerns of their clients, it became clear just how great the differences of opinion are on, for example, the potential legality of transmitting the proceedings via CCTV to a second room. Some argue it is legal whereas others argue it could lead to the possible overturning of verdicts later on. Criticism of Germany's Federal Constitutional Court also grew over its refusal to consider the question of whether CCTV should be allowed or not.

"A legal clarification would have been possible in a very short amount of time," said Angelika Lex, a combative lawyer from Munich who is representing the relatives of Theodoros Boulgaridis, a Greek man killed in the series of murders. "Then we wouldn't have to have this discussion about there not being enough seats."

The co-plaintiffs have other questions as well. Why, for example, is the defendant Carsten S. not being detained despite the fact that he is charged with being an accessory to murder in nine cases? "I hope that the court will now apply the full letter of the law to address the issue," Reinhard Schön, a lawyer representing co-plaintiffs, said. He also said it had been indefensible that the German Federal Court of Justice had lifted the arrest orders against three of the defendants. "I have a problem with this," he said, "namely the feeling that individual judges at the (federal court) are blind to the far-right threat."

'Maximum' Clarification

Representatives of all the victims have stated that the co-plaintiffs are deeply concerned about right-wing extremist violence. They want to know more about the people who have destroyed lives and imposed deep burdens on others. Most of the families still haven't had a chance to properly deal with what has happened to them. They're demanding "maximum" clarification. "This is not just an issue of whether the defendants are guilty of having committed the crimes," said attorney Sebastian Scharmer. "We want to know how the 'National Socialist Underground' could even come to be? Who supported it. Who selected the victims of the crimes?"

The families of the deceased and those injured in the NSU attacks also want to finally be taken seriously for what they are: the victims of the gravest of crimes who had for years been subjected to "degradingly racist and amateurish investigations," Scharmer said. Both privately and publicly, these people have been "discredited and criminalized," added lawyer Lex.

When witnesses, clues and profiles began to suggest that the killings had been the product of a right-wing extremist series of attacks, the lawyer said, the investigators seemed to ignore that fact. "Even to this day, no one has apologized to our clients," she said, not a single government minister, nor a regional minister, nor a police president nor even the head of a single agency. This has led to "considerable loss of trust in Germany as a country that adheres to the rule of law," she added.

Despite the risk of playing into the accused's hands, lawyers for the families of the victims say their clients want to know if any, if not all, of the crimes could have been prevented had investigators and domestic intelligence agencies reacted with greater urgency when the NSU first became active, by taking the far-right threat seriously and responding accordingly.

According to the charges brought by federal prosecutors, the NSU consisted of just three, highly dangerous members. But the co-plaintiffs believe this is unlikely, citing the fact that investigations into a number of other suspected members are ongoing. There are indications, they maintain, that the cell had been helped by others while committing their crimes.

Questions about the NSU's Funding

"Were informants being paid and were these funds used to finance the NSU?" is another question the co-plaintiffs want answered. The term informants is a reference to members of far-right extremist groupings who may have had knowledge of the crimes of the NSU and also served as informants to the German government's domestic intelligence agencies.

"We also refute the claim, made in some quarters, that it is not the job of the court to examine investigative failure, nor the possibility that the network had further support in place," they argue.

Clearly, the Munich court has to ensure the case doesn't spiral out of control, they say. But they are convinced that it will prove impossible to shed any light on the role of the accused without looking into how the NSU's activities were financed.

According to Sebastian Scharmer, who is representing Gamze Kubasik, the daughter of Mehmet Kubasik, who was killed by the NSU in Dortmund in 2006, the co-plaintiffs "want to establish more than the information contained in the charges, even if this leads to conflict with the court."

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« Reply #6186 on: May 06, 2013, 06:53 AM »

May 5, 2013

Slovenia Falls From Economic Grace, Struggling to Avert a Bailout


LJUBLJANA, SLOVENIA — Only a few years ago, Bine Kordez was feted as Slovenia’s star entrepreneur. After transforming a home-improvement chain, Merkur, into a regional giant, he drew on easy credit from state-run banks to help orchestrate a €400 million management buyout of the company, the largest in the country’s history.

The rewards of success included an imposing mountainside retreat and frequent mention of his name as a possible future finance minister of this small, idyllic Alpine country.

Now, though, Mr. Kordez stands convicted of forgery and abuse of office for financial dealings as Merkur struggled under a mountain of debt.

“My mistake and the mistake of the banks was to vastly underestimate the risk,” Mr. Kordez, 56, said in a recent interview at his home near the picturesque town of Bled, with a view of Slovenia’s highest peak. He awaits a decision later this month on an appeal of his conviction, which could send him to prison for five years.

As fears grow that Slovenia could follow Cyprus and become the sixth euro zone country to seek a bailout, his rise and fall have come to symbolize the way easy and cheap credit, combined with Balkan-style crony capitalism and corporate mismanagement, fueled a banking crisis that has unhinged a country previously praised as a regional model of peaceful prosperity.

The recent bailout of Cyprus at a cost of €10 billion, or $13 billion, which included stringent conditions forcing losses on bank depositors, has focused minds in Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital. Slovenia’s struggling banking sector is saddled with about €6.8 billion worth of nonperforming loans, about one-fifth of the national economy. Slovenia is now in recession, and the gloom across the euro zone shows little sign of abating. A European Commission forecast released Friday said that France, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands — four of the five largest euro zone economies — will be in recession through 2013.

Last Thursday, Slovenia bought time by borrowing $3.5 billion on international markets. That was two days after Moody’s Investors Service cut the country’s credit rating to junk status, citing the banking turmoil and a deteriorating national balance sheet. Analysts said the bond sale would probably enable the government of the new prime minister, Alenka Bratusek, to stay afloat at least through the end of the year.

The Cypriot debacle has shown how bailing out even a small country can damage the credibility of the euro currency union. But Slovenia, with two million people, insists that it is not Cyprus and will not seek emergency aid.

“For the time being, I have a sound sleep,” Ms. Bratusek, the 42-year-old prime minister, said in a recent interview.

This week, on Thursday, Ms. Bratusek, only a little more than a month in office, is expected to present a financial turnaround plan to the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union. She said that privatizing Slovenia’s largely state-owned banking sector was a priority, along with creating a “bad bank” to take over nonperforming loans.

Her government, she said, will also unveil plans by July to sell the country’s second-largest bank, Nova Kreditna Banka Maribor, along with two large state companies that she declined to specify. The sales could raise up to €2 billion, she said.

Ms. Bratusek, who once headed the state budget office at the Finance Ministry, said Slovenia’s government debt, which analysts say rose from about 54 percent of gross domestic product to around 64 percent with last week’s bond sale, still ranked at the lower end of that scale in the euro area.

But the 6 percent interest rate Slovenia offered on the 10-year bonds in last week’s debt sale, at a time when some euro zone countries are enjoying historically low borrowing costs — Germany’s equivalent bond is trading below 1.2 percent — might only add to the country’s financial problems.

Mujtaba Rahman, director of Europe at Eurasia Group, a political risk consulting firm, said the new financing could backfire if it lulled the government into laxity about making vital structural changes.

“The new financing was not a vote of confidence in the Slovenian government or in the economy, but rather reflects investors attracted by high bond yields,” Mr. Rahman said. “A bailout could still prove inevitable.”

What went wrong in Slovenia? The country, wedged between Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, was considered the most promising among the 10 new European Union entrants when it joined in 2004. That was 13 years after it declared independence from Yugoslavia, avoiding a bloody Balkan war that had swept up other countries in the region.

When Slovenia was admitted to the euro club in 2007, the single currency helped fuel easy credit and a construction boom. It was the same sort of heady access to cheap money that led to economic disasters in Ireland and Spain. But economists say the Slovenian variety of euro-euphoria hangover can be traced to a failed transition from communism to a fully functional market economy.

After gaining independence in 1991, Slovenia — conditioned by centuries of foreign subjugation — was determined to retain local control of its prized assets. It embarked on a spree of management buyouts of partially state-owned companies, overseen by executives who in many cases were uncomfortably close to people running the government and the state banks.

“After the transition in Slovenia, the state retained a stranglehold over the economy,” Mr. Rahman said, “and the country today is suffering the consequences.”

Bine Kordez at Merkur was not the only head of big Slovenian company whose involvement in a bank-aided management buyout ended badly, or whose access to easy credit backfired. Two of Slovenia’s biggest construction companies, Vegrad and SCT, are now in bankruptcy proceedings. Istrabenz Holding, a sprawling food, tourism and energy conglomerate that once owned a vast swath of Slovenia’s economy, is undergoing a court-mandated debt restructuring.

Igor Bavcar, Istrabenz’s former chief executive, was charged with money laundering, and Bosko Srot, former chief of the big brewing company Pivovarna Lasko, with abuse of authority, in connection with a 2007 deal. Prosecutors say Mr. Bavcar attempted to buy a stake in Istrabenz from Lasko through a series of shady intermediaries. Both deny any wrongdoing.

A big provider of buyout loans was Slovenia’s largest state-owned financial institution, Nova Ljubljanska Banka, or N.L.B. The government installed new management late last year, as the bank’s lending portfolio turned increasingly sour.

Janko Medja, N.L.B.’s new chief executive, said that the rush to privatize Slovenian state-controlled companies, combined with the money coursing through Europe before the 2008 financial collapse, had prompted banks like N.L.B. to practically give money away “for free.”

In the case of Merkur, which Mr. Kordez joined as finance director in 1988, the advent of the euro sent the home-improvement company’s profit soaring, as newly prosperous Slovenians rushed to renovate their apartments and houses. By 2008, the once modest group of neighborhood hardware stores had €1.3 billion in annual revenue, and the number of employees had more than doubled to 5,000.

Mr. Kordez decided to consolidate his grip. He recounted recently how he convinced a group of 10 banks, including 4 foreign ones and N.L.B., to lend him more than €350 million.

“I had no real collateral for a deal of that size,” he said. “Just my house , a few hundred thousand euros, a smart business plan and my reputation.”

So he offered as collateral the assets of Merkur, a company he did not yet own.

The trouble intensified in 2009 when, with the global economic downdraft in full force, Slovenia’s construction bubble burst. As home improvement projects fell idle, Merkur sales dropped by about 20 percent.

Mr. Kordez described taking out fresh loans to repay the outstanding ones, even as Merkur paid dividends to Mr. Kordez’s investment vehicle, Merfin, which he then used to help pay off spiraling debts.

“In some countries this could be called a Ponzi scheme,” said Primoz Cirman, a leading economic writer for Dnevnik, a Slovenian newspaper. “But here it was called financial engineering.”

By 2010, the banks had lost patience and Mr. Kordez was pushed out. An audit later revealed that the buyout had destroyed €200 million of Merkur’s value. The company is now majority owned by the banks and undergoing a court-mandated debt restructuring.

In 2011, prosecutors accused Mr. Kordez of embezzling €9 million from Merkur in 2008 through a byzantine deal in which his investment firm, Merfin, bought a shopping center with an improper €10 million loan from Merkur. A few days later, Merfin sold the property to a construction company for €21 million, an artificially high price.

Merfin, prosecutors said, then used the profits to help pay back its soaring loan costs.

Last September Mr. Kordez was found guilty of forgery and abuse of office. He said he was trying to save the company and had not broken any laws. Prosecutors counter that he abused his position to save himself from financial ruin.

As he awaits a ruling on his appeal, Mr. Kordez has been riding his mountain bike throughout the country, and he says he refuses even to contemplate a possible prison term that he compares to a diagnosis of cancer. He would leave behind his wife, and an adult daughter and son.

The country’s financial disease, he said, is hardly his fault.

“Someone needed to be blamed for this mess,” he said, “And I have become the sacrificial lamb.”

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« Reply #6187 on: May 06, 2013, 06:58 AM »

French voters have had enough of François Hollande and his government

Austerity and corruption – and disgust at the style of the presidency – have created profound disillusionment on the left

Philippe Marlière   
The Guardian, Monday 6 May 2013 13.39 BST   

On Sunday, an estimated 150,000 people marched in Paris and gathered in the Place de la Bastille to listen to Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of the Left Front. Afterwards , the Socialist Party officials were prompt to call the event highly divisive for the left. Accusations of populism and gauchisme (unrealistic policies) also rapidly surfaced from Solférino, the Socialist headquarters. To paraphrase Bertolt Brecht: would it not be easier for the government to dissolve the people and elect another?

It would seem rather unwise to admonish those who marched against finance and austerity because they were responsible for sending François Hollande to the Elysée Palace in the first place. Although the event was organised by the Left Front, an electoral coalition of nine parties, large segments of the left were represented, including Eva Joly, the Green Party presidential candidate, trade-unionists, the New Anticapitalist Party and socialist sympathisers. Most had one thing in common: they voted for Hollande in May 2012 to defeat Nicolas Sarkozy.

A year ago, expectations were rather low on the left. Yet people were hoping for a break with Sarkozy's "hyper-presidency" as well as with his economic reforms, which had largely benefited the rich. As Mélenchon put it in his speech: "Mr Hollande's trial period is over and the results are not there."

Indeed, what happened to the man who singled out finance as his main enemy during the presidential campaign? What happened to Mr Normal who promoted an "Exemplary Republic"? Hollande ended up defending until to the bitter end Jérôme Cahuzac, a finance minister responsible for fighting tax evasion who turned out to have used a secret Swiss bank account to avoid paying taxes in France. What happened to the droll and down-to-earth candidate who, without a qualm, is now embracing the Bonapartist style of Charles de Gaulle's presidency? What happened to the moderate Socialist who promised French voters to reform an unfair tax system, protect workers' rights or stand up to Angela Merkel's austerity policies and promote growth-oriented reforms in Europe?

It would be wrong to argue that Hollande's abysmal unpopularity has to do with his rather unpresidential style, his alleged weakness and indecision, or France's record unemployment. Those factors may play a part, but only a marginal one. In truth, by not honouring his electoral promises and by not departing from Sarkozy's pro-financial markets agenda, Hollande has let his electorate down. By the same token, he has let himself down.

To argue that Hollande pandered to the left during his campaign and that he now has to confess that he follows a progressive social democratic strategy is also wide of the mark. If only this were true. If Hollande has an economic strategy, it is one in line with his predecessor. Mélenchon accused Hollande of contributing to Europe's economic crisis by focusing on "the interests of shareholders, of big business and of European austerity policies, to the detriment of the workers". This cannot be easily dismissed as leftwing nonsense, as it is now received wisdom among most of the people who elected Hollande a year ago. Just look at a few of the banners carried on Sunday: "We don't want the world of finance in power"; "Sarko-Hollande: presidents change, but the system remains the same"; "The 5th Republic is no democracy: it generates a cast of corrupt people who avoid paying taxes while we struggle to save money"; "We can't take those austerity policies any more".

The government has resorted to discrediting the Left Front by branding it as populist. The accusation won't wash. French voters have had enough with those tired and authoritarian institutions of the 5th Republic, the corruption at the heart of government (Cahuzac and more to come) and the cynical and one-dimensional management of the country by the dominant Socialist and UMP parties. Politicians who claim to have the people's best interests at heart while refusing to hear what they say are the real populists: so far, this is what Hollande has done. Should he persist, things can only get worse for him.

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« Reply #6188 on: May 06, 2013, 06:59 AM »

Croatia: After accession, next comes Schengen

3 May 2013
Der Standard

Croatia, which will officially join the EU on July 1, aims to be part of Schengen by 2015, reports Der Standard. However, the Austrian daily explains, inclusion in the free movement area, which will effectively make the country responsible for some of the EU’s external borders, still represents —

    an equipment and manpower challenge for Croatia. According to the newspaper Novi List, an additional 750 police will have to be recruited. And the country will need more thermal cameras, helicopters, and specific vehicles for use on land and sea to protect Europe’s borders.

Although checkpoints on Croatia’s borders with, Italy, Slovenia and Hungary will remain in operation after the state joins the EU, Zagreb is eager to begin preparations to fulfill the criteria for Schengen membership, adds Der Standard. Croatia has also begun talks on conditions for common procedures with Slovenia and Hungary to facilitate tourist access to its territory.

Checks on EU citizens on the state’s borders with EU countries, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and in its ports and airports should be facilitated, explains Der Standard, which points out that two checkpoints on the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina were opened at the end of April — a measure that was one of the conditions for Croatia’s accession to the EU.
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« Reply #6189 on: May 06, 2013, 07:01 AM »

On the frontline of the fight against cybercrime

Symantec's Dublin hub, with 800 workers including 60 in its security division, plays a key part in global computer security

Henry McDonald in Dublin, Sunday 5 May 2013 15.37 BST   

Inside the tightly controlled security area of Symantec's Dublin headquarters, a screen on the wall flashes up hacking hotspots as they are detected around the world. Last year the company estimated it blocked nearly 250,000 cyber-attacks. One out of every 532 websites was infected with viruses, it said, and 1.6 million instances of malware were detected.

Overall, cyber-attacks were up 42% in 2012. They range from "hacktivist" targeting of industries such as defence to the fast-growing area of "ransomware" blackmail attempts, but more than a third of attacks focused on small- to medium-size businesses employing fewer than 500 people.

Orla Cox, the senior manager of security response at Symantec's office in north-west Dublin, said hackers – including criminal gangs, individuals and even states – regarded smaller enterprises as "stepping stones" to enable them to attack larger corporations.

In a briefing last week, Cox also said Twitter was perceived as a weak link. Last month Syrian hackers claimed responsibility for a bogus tweet from an Associated Press account that sent stock markets into temporary freefall. "The security of Twitter is not strong and Twitter is going to have to do something about that," Cox said.

Symantec's Dublin hub, with 800 workers including 60 in its security division, plays a key part in global computer security because in terms of timezones it lies between the company's two other main operations, in California and Tokyo.

The Irish office was the first to detect the Stuxnet virus, which has caused severe damage to the Iranian nuclear programme in Natanz. The virus, which entered the country's nuclear industry system via computers sold to Iran from Europe, caused centrifuges used in uranium enrichment to spin out of control. Symantec is reluctant to state its view on the origin of the highly sophisticated virus but most security analysts believe Israel was behind it.

Cox said Stuxnet was probably not the end of it. She predicted those behind the virus were probably developing a new "son of Stuxnet" in the campaign to sabotage Iranian nuclear efforts.

Ransomware has become a bigger challenge in the last 12 months, according to Symantec. The company has identified 16 cybercrime gangs using ransomware, which in the space of 18 days in 2012 alone infected 500,000 computers.

"It works by shutting down your computer with a virus and then sending out a bogus warning that a user has been looking at something illegal," Cox said. "They tell the user they can only get the computer back running if they pay a ransom, in some cases of $100, usually by buying a moneypack voucher and then sending the code transferring the amount to the gang. If the user for instance has been browsing a porn site they are going to believe the warning and pay up.

Such scams netted the 16 gangs about $5m in 2012, she said. In many cases paying through an anonymous money transfer system did not necessarily ensure an infected computer was unlocked, the company pointed out. In some cases ransomware can capture images of the targeted user via webcam, which is displayed when a computer screen is frozen to intimidate the victim.

Cox said there were now online toolkits hackers could buy on the internet to enable them to break into bank accounts. She said hacking into the financial system and online banking theft was mainly the work of gangs from Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet states.

Symantec also expressed concern about teenagers and young adults being targeted on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks because they were less guarded about their personal data and in particular their usernames and passwords. The company said the intersection of smartphones and social media would become an important security battleground.

Cox said Symantec believed Apple products were less prone to attack, with iPhones for instance being safer because they are "completely locked down". However, she said Apple Macs are "not impervious" to hacking.

In the last weekend of April the Guardian also came under a cyber-attack from Syrian hackers who have targeted a series of western media organisations in an apparent effort to cause disruption and spread support for Bashar al-Assad's dictatorship. The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) claimed responsibility for the Twitter-based attack, having previously also targeted the BBC, France 24 TV, and National Public Radio in the United States.

Cyber-attacks believed to emanate from North Korea have recently caused disruption to media organisations in South Korea.

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« Reply #6190 on: May 06, 2013, 07:03 AM »

Time to revisit Rembrandt's The Night Watch, a glowing symbol of democracy

The Netherlands' Rijksmuseum is reopening after a 10-year renovation, with a symbol of tolerance and diversity at its heart

Jonathan Jones, Monday 6 May 2013 12.48 BST   

On a sunny morning in Amsterdam with banners welcoming a new monarch still decorating the streets, thousands of Dutch people crowded the other day into the recently reopened Rijksmuseum to enjoy their artistic heritage. And the world's.

A lot has changed in that museum during a rebuilding that kept it closed for 10 years, but one thing has remained constant. At the heart of its grandest gallery hangs, just as it ever did, Rembrandt van Rijn's masterpiece The Night Watch. Better lit than ever before, commanding a beautiful expansive hall, this national treasure holds the stage before a swarming, admiring crowd for whom – in a Dutch spring that has drawn eyes to the commonsense scale and attitudes of this polity where a monarch rationally retires to make way for the future – The Night Watch is plainly a symbol of Dutch nationhood.

A patchwork parliament of varied individuals congregate in Rembrandt's democratic painting. The Night Watch was painted in the 17th century as a group portrait of a militia company led by one Frans Banning Cocq. Companies of urban militia were part of the everyday life of the Dutch Republic, as it asserted its independence from the Spanish empire. Yet Rembrandt's masterpiece is nothing like a conventional patriotic painting. It simultaneously transcends and mocks its context.

Instead of a distinguished company of worthy officers and well-trained men Rembrandt shows a baroque profusion of gestures and expressions, a raggle taggle crowd of comic types from an old soldier hunched over his gun to the preening figures of the militia captain and his lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch. He also adds enigmatic details – why is there a little girl among the soldiers and why does light fall on her in such a moving golden glow?

No two faces point the same way: everyone is looking somewhere else and every figure is differently aligned. Instead of discipline, Rembrandt suggests something close to chaos. In British terms it is more Dad's Army than Lady Thatcher's funeral. So why is The Night Watch so stirring? Why is it considered a national symbol when it seems to mock the Dutch as part-time soldiers and foolish burghers?

The comedy of this immense pairing is counterposed with tragedy. It is, truly, a watch through the night. The human, all too human company stand together against encroaching shadows. A soft, enfolding fog of night surrounds them. The light that illuminates them is a flash in the dark. They are all the more heroic for being so vulnerable, flawed and eccentric. Most of all, they stand together, as a human community. Rembrandt's masterpiece in modern times has come to epitomise Dutch national pride, and the reopening of the Rijksmuseum in which it holds court was a national event on a par with the coronation. Yet it also has a universal political significance.

No other great painting so powerfully depicts democracy. In classical Athens, the sculpted Parthenon frieze represented Athenian democracy to itself in an image of a communal procession. The Night Watch too epitomises an entire community. But in a daringly modern move it makes that community look vulnerable.

In the 21st century, as democracy and community are beset by menaces from climate change to the violent economics of austerity, The Night Watch ought to be cherished as political art. It portrays not only what the Dutch, but all democracies ought to hold dear – the courage of flawed human beings to come together while acknowledging one another's individuality and difference. It is an icon of tolerance, diversity and the magic golden light that makes a society work. While these ordinary people stand guard, we feel a bit safer in our collective defiance of the dark.

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« Reply #6191 on: May 06, 2013, 07:08 AM »

May 5, 2013

German Outpost Born of Racism in 1887 Blends Into Paraguay


NUEVA GERMANIA, Paraguay — The year was 1887 when two of the best-known German anti-Semites of the time put down stakes here in Paraguay’s remote jungle with 14 German families screened for their racial purity.

The team of Bernhard Förster and his wife, Elisabeth, the sister of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, had an ambitious plan: nothing less than the establishment of a colony from which an advance contingent of Aryans could forge a claim to the entire South American continent.

But the continent had other plans for this new Fatherland.

“Some were able to survive,” said Lidia Fischer, 38, a blonde-haired descendant of a family that was among Nueva Germania’s first settlers. Those pioneers struggled with disease, failed crops, infighting and the megalomania of the Försters, who lorded over the colony from an elegant mansion called the Försterhof.

“Some returned to Germany,” said Ms. Fischer in an interview on her farm, where she lives with her husband and their five children. “Some committed suicide.”

Within two years the dream had been shattered, and today the Försterhof, where a sign that read “Over all obstacles, stand your ground” once hung on the wall, lies in ruins. The forest grows over its charred remains. Not long after founding the outpost and envisioning its mission as the “purification and rebirth of the human race,” Mr. Förster grew despondent over Nueva Germania’s progress. He swallowed a mixture of morphine and strychnine, killing himself in 1889.

Mr. Förster’s wife left Paraguay in 1893 for Germany, where she spent her later years staining her brother’s reputation. While Nietzsche derided anti-Semitism and expressed disdain in correspondence with his sister for the anti-Semitic character of Nueva Germania, she went on to reinvent his legacy after his death in 1900, transforming the philosopher into a kind of prophet for the Nazi propaganda machine.

Somehow, the remote settlement the Försters left behind survived, drawing meager income from the cultivation of the yerba mate tree, the leaves of which are used to make tereré, the infused drink consumed across Paraguay. In what would be a shock to its founders, today’s Nueva Germania has skewed sharply from its mission of elevating the white race with Aryan pioneers.

While there are still a few blond-haired children running around, after generations of intermarriage, many of the town’s 4,300 residents have German surnames but are indiscernible from other Paraguayans. Nueva Germania’s dominant language is Guaraní, the indigenous language widely spoken in Paraguay; even those families who still hew to old ways, speaking German at home, mix it with high-pitched, nasal Guaraní and some Spanish.

Describing a towering tree in the yard of her farm with few branches around its trunk, making it daunting to climb, Ms. Fischer, the descendant of Nueva Germania’s pioneers, called it simply “ka’i kyhyjeha,” an indigenous term roughly translating as “monkey’s fear.” “Guaraní and German are so different from each other,” she said, “but they mix well for us.”

The poverty that persists in Nueva Germania also makes it stand in contrast to some other agricultural colonies in Paraguay founded by European immigrants, like the prosperous Mennonite towns where new pickup trucks barrel down country roads. Some descendants of the first German colonists here scrape by as subsistence farmers, moving crops like cassava, an important staple, on horse-drawn carts.

In hindsight, it might seem absurd for ideologues from across the seas to have hinged their dreams on impoverished Paraguay. But this landlocked nation, with territory about the size of California, has a long history of luring utopian settlements.

In 1893, a teetotaling faction of Australia’s labor movement created Nueva Australia, which survives to this day. Finnish vegetarians started Colonia Villa Alborada in the 1920s. More recently, Sun Myung Moon, the founder of the Unification Church who died in 2012, bought 1.5 million acres of Paraguayan land and sent an advance group of followers to set up a “Victorious Holy Place.”

Few projects had the ambitions, however, of Nueva Germania. From the start, the Försters envisioned it as an idyllic “Naumburg on the Aguarya-umí” river, where crops would grow in abundance and Lutherans could worship in isolation away from Jewish influence, as the writer Ben Macintyre recounts in “Forgotten Fatherland,” a 1992 book on the colony and its founders.

While some people from other parts of Paraguay have settled here over the years, aspects of the town seem aimed at a tenuous connection to Europe, like the two unfinished, fortresslike towers, built in mock-medieval style, greeting travelers on the road into town. Light posts are decorated with the colors of both the German and Paraguayan flags.

A one-room museum, while lacking electricity, provides visitors with a simplistic account of Nueva Germania’s origins, focusing on the hardship that the colonists had to overcome. The museum remains locked on most days, the key to its door held by Waltraud Kück, 48, who also operates a boardinghouse for children from the countryside who attend school in the town.

“We don’t get many visitors,” Ms. Kück said one recent afternoon. “A man came from Ciudad del Este not long ago, wanting to speak only in German.”

Away from the town, in adobe houses built near winding dirt roads, some of Nueva Germania’s residents are taken aback when asked about the racist ideology that propelled their ancestors to come here in the first place.

“We don’t like to talk about that,” said Brigitte Haudenschild, 60, on the porch of the farmhouse where she cares for her parents. “Life isn’t easy here, you know?” she added, describing how she had to bake cakes and sell them door to door in Nueva Germania in order buy food for her children.

But others are more forthcoming about their views.

“According to the experts, they say that Germans have the best judgment in the world, and then come the Koreans, or rather, the Japanese,” said Guillermo Fischer, 40, a farmer. “And Paraguayans come in last place,” he added, within earshot of his Paraguayan wife, Delia, 28, who is not of German ancestry but has learned to speak German fluently.

Nueva Germania’s first wave of colonists was reinforced in subsequent decades by some other German-speaking families, reflecting Paraguay’s openness to accepting German immigrants, especially after World War II during the 35-year dictatorship of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner, who was the son of a brewer who had immigrated from Germany.

Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who did experiments on concentration camp inmates, fled to Paraguay after the war and lived under his own name in Hohenau, a German farming colony near the borders with Argentina and Brazil. He was said to have passed through Nueva Germania, but proof of that contact remains elusive.

Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche did not survive to see Paraguay shelter Nazi war criminals, but she counseled and supported the Nazis until her death at age 89 in 1935, when Hitler gave her a state memorial service.

The colony is less isolated than it once was. The road to the capital, Asunción, has been paved, reducing by about half the seven hours it once took to get here by bus. After the Försterhof was destroyed in a fire, one of the only testaments left to the philosopher’s sister is a sign on a peaceful street.

The name on the sign is spelled “Elizabeth Nigtz Chen.”

Nadia Sussman contributed reporting.

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« Reply #6192 on: May 06, 2013, 07:09 AM »

Scholar: Ancient Babylon’s hanging garden was in northern Iraq

By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Sunday, May 5, 2013 17:20 EDT

The whereabouts of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – the fabled Hanging Garden of Babylon – has been one of the great mysteries from antiquity. The inability of archaeologists to find traces of it among Babylon’s ancient remains led some even to doubt its existence.

Now a British academic has amassed a wealth of textual evidence to show that the garden was instead created at Nineveh, 300 miles from Babylon, in the early 7th century BC.

After 18 years of study, Stephanie Dalley of Oxford University has concluded that the garden was built by the Assyrians in the north of Mesopotamia – in modern Iraq – rather than by their great enemies the Babylonians in the south.

She believes her research shows that the feat of engineering and artistry was achieved by the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, rather than the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar.

The evidence presented by Dalley, an expert in ancient Middle Eastern languages, emerged from deciphering Babylonian and Assyrian cuneiform scripts and reinterpreting later Greek and Roman texts. They included a 7th-century BC Assyrian inscription that, she discovered, had been mistranslated in the 1920s, reducing passages to “absolute nonsense”.

She was astonished to find Sennacherib’s own description of an “unrivalled palace” and a “wonder for all peoples”. He describes the marvel of a water-raising screw made using a new method of casting bronze – and predating the invention of Archimedes’ screw by some four centuries.

Dalley said this was part of a complex system of canals, dams and aqueducts to bring mountain water from streams 50 miles away to the citadel of Nineveh and the hanging garden. The script records water being drawn up “all day”.

Recent excavations have found traces of aqueducts. One near Nineveh was so vast that Dalley said its remains looked like a stretch of motorway from the air, and it bore a crucial inscription: “Sennacherib king of the world … Over a great distance I had a watercourse directed to the environs of Nineveh …”

Having first broached her theory in 1992, Dalley is now presenting a mass of evidence in a book, The Mystery of the Hanging Garden of Babylon, which Oxford University Press publishes on 23 May. She expects to divide academic opinion, but the evidence convinces her that Sennacherib’s garden fulfils the criteria for a wonder of the world – “magnificent in conception, spectacular in engineering, and brilliant in artistry”.

Dalley said: “That the Hanging Garden was built in Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar the Great is a fact learned at school and … ‘verified’ in encyclopaedias … To challenge such a universally accepted truth might seem the height of arrogance, revisionist scholarship … But Assyriology is a relatively recent discipline … Facts that once seemed secure become redundant.”

Sennacherib’s palace, with steps of semi-precious stone and an entrance guarded by colossal copper lions, was magnificent. Dalley pieced together ancient texts to reveal a garden that recreated a mountain landscape. It boasted terraces, pillared walkways, exotic plants and trees, and rippling streams.

The seven wonders appear in classical texts written centuries after the garden was created, but the 1st-century historian Josephus was the only author to name Nebuchadnezzar as creator of the Hanging Garden, Dalley said. She found extensive confusion over names and places in ancient texts, including the Book of Judith, muddling the two kings.

Little of Nineveh – near present-day Mosul – has so far been explored, because it has been judged too dangerous until now to conduct excavations.

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« Reply #6193 on: May 06, 2013, 07:13 AM »

Experts now agree: Humans could walk on Mars within 20 years

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, May 5, 2013 16:49 EDT

AFP – NASA and private sector experts now agree that a man or woman could be sent on a mission to Mars over the next 20 years, despite huge challenges.

The biggest names in space exploration, among them top officials from the US space agency and Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, will discuss the latest projects at a three-day conference starting Monday in the US capital.

Renewed interest in the red planet has triggered the launch of several initiatives in recent months, including one proposing a simple one-way trip to cut costs.

The American public also favors sending astronauts to Mars, according to a survey by non-profit group Explore Mars and aerospace giant Boeing.

The poll in March of more than a thousand people published in March found that 71 percent of Americans expect that humans will land on Mars by 2033.

Seventy-five percent say NASA’s budget should be doubled to one percent of the federal budget to fund a mission to Mars and other initiatives.

NASA receives only 0.5 percent of the US federal budget, compared to four percent during the Apollo project to conquer the moon in the 1960s.

The US space agency’s chief Charles Bolden has stressed that “a human mission to Mars is a priority.”

But the US financial crisis is a major obstacle to such a project.

“If we started today, it’s possible to land on Mars in 20 years,” said G. Scott Hubbard of Stanford University.

“It doesn’t require miracles, it requires money and a plan to address the technological engineering challenges,” added Hubbard, who served as NASA’s first Mars program director and successfully restructured the entire Mars program in the wake of mission failures.

Placing a mass of 30-40 tonnes — the amount estimated to be necessary to make a habitat on the red planet — would be one of the greatest challenges, along with the well-known problem of carrying or producing enough fuel to get back, Hubbard stressed.

The Curiosity rover took a nail-biting seven minutes in August to make its descent on Mars. But it only weighed one tonne.

The $2.5 billion Curiosity mission, which is set to last at least two years, aims to study the Martian environment and to hunt for evidence of water in preparation for a possible future manned mission.

Robotic missions will therefore be necessary to prove the system works before scientists can even contemplate sending humans aboard.

NASA is developing a Space Launch System and the Orion capsule for distant space exploration.

Hubbard said a nuclear engine should be developed for any vehicle headed to Mars because it would provide a continuous thrust and thus reduce travel time by about three months, as well as reduce the risk of radiation.

The distance between Earth and Mars varies between 35 million and 250 million miles (56 million and 400 million kilometers), depending on the planets’ position.

In addition to the technological challenges, the negative impact of long space journeys on the human body are not yet well known, especially with respect to cosmic radiation.

“Space radiation exposure is certainly a human risk we need to address and understand,” said Stephen Davison, manager of NASA’s Space Biology and Physical Sciences Program at Johnson Space Center where astronauts are trained.

Davison said it was important to understand “both the cancer risk to our crew members in more detail and also the effects on the central nervous system.”

He added that more than half of crew members at the International Space Center have experience some degree of change in their vision, and also have experienced intra-cranial pressure.

Other physiological changes, such as reduced bone density and muscle loss, can be mitigated by exercise.

The third major challenge is a psychological one, for isolated astronauts who spend long periods of time confined in cramped spaces.

Davison said scientists need a “minimum” of 10 years to complete research about the trip’s impact on the human body before going to Mars.

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« Reply #6194 on: May 06, 2013, 07:35 AM »

In the USA...

May 5, 2013

A Homemade Style of Terror: Jihadists Push New Tactics


WASHINGTON — Aware that intensified American counterterrorism efforts have made an ambitious Sept. 11-style plot a long shot, Al Qaeda propagandists for several years have called on their devotees in the United States to carry out smaller-scale solo attacks and provided the online education to teach them how.

“I strongly recommend all of the brothers and sisters coming from the West to consider attacking America in its own backyard,” wrote Samir Khan, an American who joined Al Qaeda’s Yemen branch and emerged as a fervent advocate of homegrown, do-it-yourself terrorism before he was killed in an American drone strike in September 2011.

“The effect is much greater, it always embarrasses the enemy, and these types of individual decision-making attacks are nearly impossible for them to contain,” Mr. Khan wrote in a Web publication.

The Boston Marathon bombing — which the authorities believe was carried out according to instructions that Mr. Khan posted online — offers an unsettling example of just how devastating such an attack can be, even when the death toll is low. It shows how plotters can construct powerful bombs without attracting official attention. It offers a case study in the complex mix of personality and ideology at work in extremist violence. And it raises a pressing question: Is there any way to detect such plotters before they can act?

The bombing killed three people, compared with 3,000 in the 2001 attacks. But it achieved the spectacular media impact that terrorists covet, marring an American institution with television footage of gruesome injuries and panicked crowds. Officials are worried about its copycat appeal.

The Boston case remains under investigation, and some facts set it apart from other domestic plots. F.B.I. agents are still studying whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, who investigators believe carried out the attack with his younger brother, Dzhokhar, 19, received any training during a six-month visit last year to turbulent Dagestan in southern Russia. Intelligence agencies are reviewing whether two Russian warnings about the older brother in 2011 were handled properly.

At a news conference on Tuesday, President Obama suggested that the bombers had acted on their own, saying that “one of the dangers that we now face are self-radicalized individuals who are already here in the United States.” Mr. Obama said such plots “are in some ways more difficult to prevent.”

So far, the Tsarnaev brothers appear to have been radicalized and instructed in explosives not at a training camp but at home on the Internet. Their bombs were concocted from inexpensive everyday items whose purchase set off no alarms: pressure cookers, nails and ball bearings, gunpowder from fireworks and remote controls for toys. Their choice of an open-air event meant no gate, metal detector or security inspection to pass through with their bombs.

In other words, as Dzhokhar told investigators, they followed the script from Inspire magazine, which Mr. Khan published in Yemen along with his mentor, the cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in the same drone strike on Sept. 30, 2011. Mr. Awlaki’s incendiary sermons and Mr. Khan’s training articles survived them on the Web, where the brothers found them.

Just a month before the Boston attack, the Qaeda branch in Yemen posted on the Web the “Lone Mujahid Pocketbook,” a compilation of all the do-it-yourself articles with jaunty English text, high-quality graphics and teen-friendly shorthand.

“R U dreamin’ of wagin’ jihadi attacks against kuffar?” the 64-page manual asks, using a pejorative term for unbeliever. “Have u been lookin’ 4 a way to join the mujahideen in frontlines, but you haven’t found any? Well, there’s no need to travel abroad, because the frontline has come to you.”

Some of the manual’s ideas seem harebrained — spilling oil on the road to cause car wrecks or welding blades to a pickup truck and driving into a crowd. But specialists say its bomb-making instructions are quite accurate. The Boston attack seems to have followed Inspire’s tips: gunpowder emptied from fireworks, shrapnel glued inside the pressure cooker, a commercial remote control as detonator.

“The pressurized cooker should be placed in crowded areas and left to blow up,” the manual says. “More than one of these could be planted to explode at the same time.”

Philip Mudd, a former top C.I.A. and F.B.I. counterterrorism official, said the news from Boston came as no shock to those who reviewed the daily compilation of intelligence reports on terrorism. “Like everyone who looked at the threat matrix every day, I was surprised that this didn’t happen sooner,” he said.

He said he was struck by the lack of sophistication of the brothers, who made no attempt to hide or disguise their faces.

“They’re angry kids with a veneer of ideology that’s about skin-deep,” Mr. Mudd said. He said the brothers might have as much in common with self-radicalized terrorists of completely different ideologies — say, white supremacism or antigovernment extremism — as with the committed Qaeda operatives who organized the Sept. 11 attacks.

In the reports on Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Dr. Ronald Schouten, a Harvard psychiatrist who studies terrorism, sees what might be a classic portrait of a man vulnerable to extremist recruitment. He had failed at his dream of becoming an Olympic boxer and dropped out of college, disappointing his family and himself.

“People who fail,” Dr. Schouten said, “sometimes latch onto a cause that makes their anger legitimate.”

In recent years, Qaeda propagandists have “made a particular effort to recruit lonely people who are looking for a cause,” said Jerrold Post, a former C.I.A. psychiatrist now at George Washington University and the author of “The Mind of the Terrorist.”

He points to, among others, Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of shooting 13 people to death at Fort Hood, Tex., in 2009. Major Hasan was held up as an example for others in a two-part video released by Al Qaeda’s core group in Pakistan in June 2011 titled “You Are Only Responsible for Yourself,” urging Muslims in the West to stage attacks without waiting for orders from abroad.

There is no consensus on how best to detect such homegrown attacks. Some law enforcement officials say that the Boston case vindicates their aggressive strategy of dispatching informants posing as Qaeda operatives to meet young men who are flirting with violent jihad. Such sting operations often end when the aspiring terrorist attempts to detonate an ersatz bomb provided by the F.B.I.

But some Muslim activists say that identifying potentially violent people requires close, trusting relations between law enforcement and the Muslim community, which are undermined when informants invade the mosque and draw impressionable young men into talk of terrorism.

Had such trust prevailed in Boston, they say, perhaps Tamerlan Tsarnaev would have gotten more attention after two outbursts at a Boston mosque, where he denounced clerics’ references to Thanksgiving and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as contrary to Islam. The outburst, they say, might have led community leaders to go to the police.

John D. Cohen, a top counterterrorism adviser at the Department of Homeland Security, said the department was studying the common elements in the psychological profiles and behavior of people planning an attack — whatever their ideology or motivation. Working with religious and community groups and local law enforcement, officials want to identify signs of impending trouble and find ways to intervene.

But Michael German, a former F.B.I. agent who is now at the A.C.L.U., said the problem with focusing on extremist views was that the vast majority of people who express them never turn to violence. Instead, the bureau should focus on illegal acts, he said.

In the 2011 Russian warning about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Mr. German said, the key point was not that he had embraced radical Islam but that he planned to travel to Russia to join underground groups — potentially an illegal act of support for a terrorist organization. But while a Customs official got word of Mr. Tsarnaev’s plan to fly to Russia, no follow-up took place.

Finally, some specialists wonder whether it might have been possible to detect the brothers’ bomb building. In 2011, Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo of the Army set out to build the pressure-cooker bombs described in Inspire magazine. He was arrested because of a blunder: He tried to buy explosive powder at the same gun shop near Fort Hood that Major Hasan had patronized in 2009. A clerk got suspicious.

The Tsarnaevs, by contrast, collected their powder from fireworks, including some bought at a Phantom Fireworks outlet in New Hampshire. William Weimer, Phantom’s vice president, said the episode had prompted his company to seek training for sales personnel from the New York Police Department.

“Obviously the industry is abuzz about this,” Mr. Weimer said. But he said there was nothing about Mr. Tsarnaev that flagged him as dangerous.

“He came in and asked, ‘What’s the most powerful thing you have?’ ” Mr. Weimer said. “That might sound suspicious. But 90 percent of the men, especially, who come in say, ‘What’s the loudest thing you sell? What’s the most powerful?’ ”


May 5, 2013

Girl’s Death by Gunshot Is Rejected as Symbol


BURKESVILLE, Ky. — Last Monday, Kristian Sparks and his sister, Caroline, visited a Fred’s Super Dollar store here. A store manager recalled that it was an ordinary shopping trip, saying that the boy was outgoing and energetic, his little sister was cute and their grandmother was “like any grandmother — she bought them anything they wanted.”

The next day Kristian, 5, shot and killed his 2-year-old sister with a gun marketed for children as “My First Rifle” in what the authorities said was an accident.

The death has convulsed this rural community of 1,800 in south-central Kentucky, where everyone seems to know the extended Sparks family, which is now riven by grief. But as mourners gathered for Caroline’s funeral on Saturday, there were equally strong emotions directed at the outside world, which has been quick to pass judgment on the parents and a way of life in which many see nothing unusual about introducing children to firearms while they are still in kindergarten.

“This town, there’s nothing like it. They pull together,” Anne Beall, a family friend, said as she left the Norris-New Funeral Home. Its online obituary showed Caroline as a smiling cherub in a flower-petal collar.

Ms. Beall, a 64-year-old retiree, said she had not heard anyone in town call the parents irresponsible for giving a gun to a 5-year-old or for leaving it unlocked. “Pointing fingers doesn’t really accomplish anything,” she said. “Terrible mistakes happen, and I think that’s what happened here.”

The authorities said the children’s mother, Stephanie Sparks, briefly stepped outside the family’s trailer home when Kristian shot his sister in the chest. Their father, Chris Sparks, shoes horses and works in a lumber mill.

The parents “are taking this really hard,” said a woman leaving the funeral who declined to give her name. A teenage girl said strangers from around the country had written scathing comments online blaming the parents, deepening the town’s pain and anger.

The shooting came after the recent failure in Washington of gun control legislation inspired by the shootings in Newtown, Conn., which exposed a bitter divide on guns. But Burkesville seemed to want no part of being a symbol in a national debate.

“I think it’s nobody else’s business but our town’s,” said a woman leaving a store, who like many people here declined to be interviewed. A woman who answered the phone at the office of John A. Phelps Jr., the chief executive of Cumberland County, whose seat is Burkesville, said, “No, I’m sorry — no more statements,” and hung up.

After the funeral service, two men advanced across North Main Street toward a single television crew present, from the German network RTL, and punched the cameraman, bloodying his face and knocking him down.

Two other men told a newspaper reporter, “If you had any sense, you’d get out of here. You’re next, buddy.”

The county coroner, Gary White, said Kristian’s gun, a .22-caliber single-shot Crickett rifle designed for children and sold in pink and blue, had been stored in a corner, and his parents did not realize it was loaded.

“Down in Kentucky where we’re from, you know, guns are passed down from generation to generation,” Mr. White told The Associated Press. “You start at a young age with guns for hunting and everything.”

After the shooting, the Crickett’s maker, Keystone Sporting Arms in Milton, Pa., deleted a Web page promoting it, but archived images show the company featured a “kids corner” with dozens of pictures of young children and their Cricketts at shooting ranges and out hunting.

The company, which specializes in children’s firearms, said that in 2008 it made 60,000 Cricketts and another model, the Chipmunk, and that it ranks as the country’s 10th largest manufacturer of long guns.

The shooting here, in a region of farms and timber mills, followed a spate of other gun accidents around the country involving young children.

They included a 4-year-old boy who accidentally killed the wife of a sheriff’s deputy at a cookout near Nashville, and a 6-year-old boy who was fatally shot with a .22-caliber rifle by a 4-year-old playmate in Toms River, N.J.

A spokesman for the Kentucky State Police said last week that it was too soon to determine if charges would be filed in the death of Caroline Sparks. Although some states have strict laws aimed at negligent gun storage, including criminal liability for adults, Kentucky’s laws are looser, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The state does not hold adults liable when a child gets hold of a firearm and causes an injury or death.

A few Burkesville residents expressed skepticism of the parents for having a loaded, unlocked gun in the house.

Curtis Spears, 59, a retired mechanic, said he introduced his three sons to hunting and shooting when they were about 8. “But they never touched a gun unless I was with them,” he said. He kept the firearms locked up. His grandson Ryan, who is 5, owns the same Crickett model that Kristian used. But it is equipped with a safety that can be unlocked only with a key kept by his father, Mr. Spears said.

April Anderson, a cashier, said that she, too, owned a gun at age 5. “We went deer hunting,” she said. “I had a .22. You have to teach them at an early age,” she noted, adding that she and her husband own more than 20 guns, but that they keep them secure. “Our guns are put up,” she said.

Her 11-year-old daughter, Taylor, said, “Since that little girl died, Dad got rid of all the guns in the house.”

Not quite, her mother corrected her. They removed at least one shotgun from their home, but not all. “You can’t put your children in a bubble,” Ms. Anderson said.


Surging U.S. oil production pushes reserves to highest levels in 30 years

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, May 4, 2013 14:11 EDT

Surging oil production has put the United States on track toward greater energy independence, pushing US reserves to their highest levels in 30 years.

But analysts say bottlenecks in the distribution system are keeping oil from reaching markets.

US oil stocks reached 395.3 million barrels last week, a level not seen since US authorities began publishing weekly figures in 1982. The Energy Department’s monthly figures show it to be the highest since April 1981.

The accumulation of oil is linked in part to cyclical seasonal factors, with refineries cutting back consumption this time of year as they prepare for production of gasoline to meet rising demand in summer.

But the rise in oil reserves has also occurred in tandem with an oil boom that has been underway in the United States since 2008, propelled by new technologies.

With the emergence of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling to extract oil and gas from new sources, US oil production has increased from five million barrels a day to 6.5 million barrels in 2012, and the US Energy Information Administration anticipates production will hit 8.2 million barrels a day in 2014.

But David Bouckhout, an analyst with TD Securities, says “there is a little bit of a disconnect with the infrastructure.”

“We are still waiting on pipeline capacity to be built out of the areas where this production growth is coming from (so it) can actually be accessible for refiners to use it,” he said. “But it takes some time.”

Pipelines that once moved imported oil from the Gulf of Mexico to refineries in the central United States are now being reversed to carry oil from production areas in Texas and Oklahoma to the gulf.

The Seaway pipeline, for instance, is now transporting 400,000 barrels of oil a day to gulf refineries from Cushing, Oklahoma, where the benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude quoted in New York is stored.

When it is fully online in the first quarter of 2014, it will move 850,000 barrels a day.

The flow is also being reversed on the Magellan Longhorn pipeline, which this year began transporting oil from west Texas, where the shale oil boom is in full swing, to the gulf refineries. It is expected to reach peak capacity in the third quarter.

Sunoco Logistics also has a number of projects that will drain oil from the Permian Basin, a huge oil and gas producing area in west Texas, toward the gulf, said independent oil analyst Andy Lipow.

And the oil markets haven’t given up hope that President Barack Obama will authorize an extension of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which if completed would ship oil from Canada’s tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico.

Pipelines account for about 90 percent of the oil products shunted around the United States, but companies also are turning to rail as an alternative, particularly in areas where the infrastructure has not caught up, like North Dakota, a big producer of shale gas.

In just the past year, transport of oil products by rail has shot up 50 percent.

As the US distribution system adapts over time, analysts say US dependence on foreign oil will decline.

“At some point we are likely to see less import coming to the US because domestic supply will be able to fill out,” said Bouckhout.

The latest EIA report shows a 15 percent drop in US oil imports in February from a year earlier, falling to 9.2 million barrels a day, their lowest level since March 1996.

But the United States cannot totally stop importing oil, if only because it has long-term supply contracts with oil producing countries, said Robert Yawger, an analyst with Mizuho Securities USA.

Moreover, he said, “there is always going to be a scenario where for certain blends, the price of Saudi crude oil, very easy to extract, plus transportation, will still be cheaper than a price of a barrel of tar sands from Alberta or shale oil from the US.”


First new U.S. slaughterhouses since 2007 slated for 2013 openings

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, May 4, 2013 19:00 EDT

Americans don’t want to eat horse meat and Congress is trying to forbid its sale and export. Yet for the first time since 2007, new horse slaughterhouses are set to open in the United States.

While Europe has been embroiled in a horse meat scandal since January, five new US slaughterhouses have filed requests for licensing at the Agriculture Department (USDA), a spokesman told AFP.

One of them, in the New Mexican city of Roswell in the US Southwest, could start processing a hundred horses a day starting as early as this month.

“Everything is completed and ready to go,” said lawyer Blair Dunn, who represents owner Ricardo De Los Santos. According to Dunn, the USDA has confirmed the plant has passed inspection and that final authorization should come through within a matter of days.

The meat will be exported, mainly to Japan and to Europe, where controversy has erupted over products labeled as beef containing horse meat, but where horse meat nevertheless has a market.

But the future of the plant and others like it is far from assured, with animal protection groups and their allies in Congress trying to pass laws banning horse meat production.

Lawsuits and votes in Congress led to the closure of the last three horse slaughterhouses between 2007 and 2011. However, lawmakers later failed to renew the ban, a lapse some now want to correct.

“Horses are not bred for human consumption — they’re companion animals, similar to dogs or cats,” said Patrick Meehan, a Republican from Pennsylvania who has proposed a complete ban on the industry in the House of Representatives.

“Not only is it inhumane, it’s unsafe: over the course of their lives, horses are regularly treated with drugs that are potentially toxic to humans if ingested,” he told AFP over email.

In addition to prohibiting slaughterhouses on US soil, lawmakers also want to ban the shipping of horses for slaughter abroad, where they say the animals face a “cruel” death.

Nancy Perry, of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or the ASPCA, agreed that slaughtering horses “simply can’t be done humanely.”

“The process of slaughter is supposed to be done in such a manner that the animal is not supposed to feel any pain,” she explained.

But horses “will immediately throw their head when the stun gun is supposed to be applied to a precise place in the brain,” so they will have to “be hit two, three, four, multiple times,” Perry added.

After the 2007 closures, horses began to be sent to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada — to the tune of around 100,000 a year, peaking in 2012 at 167,000 horses.

This year, sales to Mexico have already grown 18 percent over the same period in 2012.

The animals — unwanted because they are too old, tired, sick or simply because they failed to meet their owner’s expectations — sell for an average of $2,140, according to government figures from 2004 and 2010.

The horse industry, supported by veterinarian association AVMA, says that a slaughterhouse is better than the alternatives.

With euthanization costing about $500 per horse, many owners are more likely to abandon the unwanted animals into the wild, where, especially in the drought-stricken Great Plains of the central United States, they risk dying of hunger.

“Some people abandon them; I’ve heard stories of people in the middle of the night bringing them to other people’s farms, bringing them on neighbors’ properties,” said Ericka Caslin, director of the Unwanted Horses Coalition, which is fighting against a ban on horse slaughterhouses.

But Perry stressed that there were other options available beyond slaughterhouses, abandonment or euthanization.

There are more than 700 sanctuaries where horses can finish their days in peace, without fear of ending up on a plate.


House Republicans Are Planning to Eliminate Food Assistance for 13 Million Americans

By: Rmuse
May. 6th, 2013

It is safe to say that all human beings have at one time or another experienced a compelling desire for food, and in extreme cases, hunger produces a painful sensations or a state of weakness caused by the lack of food that most Americans assume is not a problem in the richest nation in the history of the world. It is also safe to say that any American who deliberately withheld food from other Americans when they had resources to feed them would epitomize profound immorality or in the Christian biblical sense, sheer evil. There is an epidemic of evil in America characterized by Republicans who are intent on withholding food from Americans knowing full well that nearly 25% of children living in poverty and one out of six American adults experience hunger on a daily basis, and as part of the conservative agenda are on an active crusade to increase those numbers to enrich the wealthy.

In the waning months of the 112th Congress, House Republicans failed to pass a farm bill because they could not agree on steep enough cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, food stamps) even after the Senate that Speaker John Boehner said had to “get off their asses” and get to work passed a bipartisan agreement cutting food stamps by $4.5 billion over the next decade. The Senate cuts were predicated on projections that as unemployment dropped, fewer Americans would require food assistance, but it was not nearly harsh enough for House Republicans. Since they failed to pass a bill in the last  Congress, both the Senate and the House have to begin anew coming up with a new round of cuts to increase hunger among the working poor, children, and seniors who experience hunger every day of their lives. The issue for Republicans in the House last years was their proposed food stamp cuts of $16.5 billion that eliminated over 3 million recipients was not enough for fiscal hawks who determined that until they could reach Paul Ryan’s Path to Prosperity food stamp cuts of $125 billion over five years, they would let the farm bill languish and wait until this year to create despair for the working poor, farmers, and the economy.

In the new Congress, House Republicans are proposing that a new farm bill mandate at least $20 billion over five years in (SNAP) cuts as a temporary fix until they can convince Democrats and President Obama to accept the Ryan plan and cut $125 billion over five years as a starting point of a ten year plan and eliminate food assistance for 13 million more hungry working Americans and seniors in their version of common sense cuts. The good news for Republicans is that not only will their proposal increase hunger for Americans primarily in Republican states, but they can claim victory in creating harm for farmers and the American economy they have been yearning to deal a death knell  to so they can portray President Obama as a failure for driving America into another recession. The Republican sequester will do enough damage to the economy and raise unemployment, but that is just the opening salvo in their drive to send the nation into deeper recession than their 8-year assault during the Bush administration.

When most economic experts are calling for increasing funding for food stamps to alleviate hunger and stimulate the economy, House Republicans are angry the Senate’s proposal last year was far too generous, and it is likely they were counting on a different election result and holding out for real damage inherent in the Ryan budget. Speaker John Boehner admitted  the reason the House refused to pass any farm bill was “we’ve got people who believe there’s not enough reform (read cuts) in last year’s bill” coupled with their opposition to the President who they claim expanded food stamps as “the food stamp President” that Newt Gingrich parroted during last year’s Republican primaries.  The rise in food stamp use is directly correlated to the rise in poverty as the result of massive job losses from Republican malfeasance, and created an inordinate amount of poverty-level Americans who were eligible for the program.  What is curious, is that Republican counties are responsible for most of the food stamp growth in the nation and their support for Republican demands to enact deeper cuts is a crude manner of self-punishment for themselves and millions of other low-income working Americans who depend on food stamps to stave off hunger Republicans pant to increase.

There is an economic downside to cutting food stamps that Republicans seem oblivious to and it is another level of the evil inherent in the GOP fiscal lunacy preventing economic growth. For every dollar the government spends on food stamps, there is $1.84 in economic benefit, and the level of cuts Republicans are demanding will hit the Midwest particularly hard because it depresses food sales that hurt farmers who are typically Republican voters. As food sales slump, the downstream job losses will  drive the number of Americans in poverty higher, but unfortunately for them, the program will be slashed and more Americans will be hungry which seems to be the intent of Republicans in Congress.

The level of immorality Republicans are demonstrating toward the American people who are struggling  has not gone unnoticed in some Washington circles. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s communication director said, “Just when you think you’ve seen the extent of the House GOP’s misguided priorities, they strike at the ability of millions of low-income children, the elderly, and American families to put food on the table.” One of the Senate Republicans, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, who supported the Senate bill last year opposes the proposed House cuts because, like so many Republican states, their working poor, seniors, and child residents rely on nutrition assistance leading him to say, “I come from a state where we have higher-percentage participation than the national average, and I have never had to apologize in Mississippi for supporting it.” Democratic leaders in the House wasted little time assailing the Draconian cuts in the Republicans proposal and said, “SNAP doesn’t just offer much-needed support to vulnerable Americans, it provides a significant boost to the economy, nearly doubling the return of every dollar we put into it.” Still, House Republicans are unfazed by humanitarian calls to stop deliberately creating an epidemic of hunger, and the working poor, children, and seniors will be fortunate if only 3 million Americans are thrown off the food stamp program.

With such devastation inherent in cutting something as beneficial as food stamps that up until 2009 enjoyed wide bipartisan support, one can only conclude Republicans have begun a full-on shift toward following the Ayn Rand ideology of punishing the poor just because they are poor. Subsequently, Republicans will impose hunger on seniors, children, and poverty-level working Americans regardless they are white, Republicans, and farmers that typically support the Republicans who are creating hunger for millions of Americans for no apparent reason other than they lack an ounce of humanity, and that is, beyond a shadow of a doubt the definition of sheer evil; and the Republican Party.


Republicans Shred the Constitution By Passing Unconstitutional Nullification Laws

By: Rmuse
May. 4th, 2013

Comprehension or understanding (intellection) is a psychological process whereby one is able to fully grasp the meaning, or importance, of an idea or concept, and make decisions based on the idea they understand. If a person does adequately understand a simple concept such as a law, and makes decisions contrary to their understanding they are either willfully stupid or consider the law invalid or that it does not apply to them. Most Americans have a fairly good comprehension that the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and that the Supreme Court is the arbiter of a law’s constitutionality and thus Constitutional. Republicans claim to be the only political party in America that truly understands the Constitution and the Framers’ intent in writing it, but they have shown that, not only do they lack rudimentary understanding of the document, they are rejecting it on grounds it is invalid according to their ideology.

Shortly after the American people re-elected President Obama to serve a second term, a rash of states appealed to the White House to secede from the Union because they objected to the election’s outcome. When they were not granted permission to rip the United States apart, they immediately began taking steps to shred the Constitution they claim to love and declare they were laws unto themselves by way of nullification.

The same nullification frenzy that led to the American Civil War is spreading through Republican-controlled states where legislators in at least seven states passed laws nullifying federal laws involving firearms. Although Republicans are prone to claim anything President Obama supports is dictatorial overreach regardless he does not pass laws, nullification supporters have taken their outrage to a new level best expressed by Tennessee State Senator Mae Beavers who said, “You think that the Supreme Court is the ultimate arbiter of any of these laws. I don’t believe that. I don’t believe it was ever granted the authority under the Constitution; the Supreme Court is a dictatorship.” The Republican, who swore an oath to support the Constitution, ignores a 1958 Supreme Court decision involving southern state’s nullifying desegregation orders, and its ruling addressed Beavers’ contention and said, “No state legislator or executive or judicial officer can war against the Constitution without violating his solemn oath to support it,” but since Republicans do not acknowledge the Constitution as the law of the land, supporting it is moot and their oath is irrelevant.

Most of the nullification efforts in states are aimed at the Affordable Care Act that South Carolina legislators recently nullified and made a criminal offense to enforce because they determined the health care reform law is “null and void,” and according to South Carolina Republicans new Freedom of Health Care Protection Act,  the state “prohibits certain individuals from enforcing or attempting to enforce such unconstitutional laws.” As a reminder to Republicans, the ACA was legally passed by the U.S. Congress, signed into law by the legally elected President, and ruled Constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Apparently, Republicans fail to comprehend the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause that plainly says, “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land.” However, since Republicans have declared the Constitution “null and void” when it conflicts with their ideology, and holds that the Supreme Court is not the arbiter of the Constitution, the law of the land falls under Republican Party purview making the Federal government itself null and void; at least in Republican-controlled states such as Kansas.

Last month Kansas Republicans passed a law, and governor Sam Brownback signed it, asserting that any gun made, assembled, or owned in Kansas is exempt from federal regulation and to prove they are serious, made it a crime for federal agents to enforce federal gun laws. Attorney General Eric Holder wrote to Brownback informing him the Kansas nullification law is “unconstitutional,” and that the U.S. is prepared to sue Kansas to prevent the state from “interfering with the activities of federal officials.” Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach responded to Holder and informed him that “the Obama Administration has repeatedly violated the United States Constitution for the past four-and-a-half-years. That abuse cannot continue.” According to Kobach, the state of Kansas is not subject to any federal laws or regulations and it is a sentiment rampant among states under Republican control.

It is not that Republicans cannot comprehend the Constitution, or the Supremacy Clause; they cannot comprehend they are part of the United States and instead have deemed they are a law unto themselves regardless the Constitution, Supreme Court, or legitimacy of the U.S. Congress.  It is the same sentiment that drove the South to secede and wage war on the United States and is not a harbinger of peace and security for the American people. It also explains the willingness of Republicans to break their oath of office to support the Constitution they have all but declared null and void; except for the 2nd and 10th Amendments.

In at least three other states, bills similar to the Kansas law nullifying federal gun laws are advancing in Louisiana, Missouri, and Alabama, and an Alaska bill exempting any gun possessed from federal law was approved and is awaiting action from Governor Sean Parnell. In 37 additional states, bills attacking federal gun laws have been introduced so far this year and in Montana, Wyoming, and Tennessee, bills prohibiting federal agents from enforcing federal law give local sheriffs the right to arrest federal agents if they arrest gun law violators.

All of the Republicans’ nullification efforts do not bode well for America, or the Constitution, and the recurring theme that federal laws, including the Affordable Care Act, are unconstitutional inform that, at least at the state level, Republicans are repeating a dangerous precedent that led America into its bloodiest war. The persistent claim that President Obama has violated the Constitution is Republicans projecting their own agenda, and in fact, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach implied  President Obama began violating the Constitution months before he was sworn into office. The message state Republicans are sending is that the federal government, Constitution, and Supreme Court are violations of Republican ideology and in doing so they have effectively declared the United States is itself null and void.


The Republican Party and the un-Founding of America

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
May. 5th, 2013

Thus we are sowing the Seeds of Ignorance, Corruption, and Injustice, in the fairest Field of Liberty ever appeared upon Earth, even in the first attempts to cultivate it.

John Adams to Joseph Hawley, August 25, 1776

My fellow writer RMuse wrote yesterday about the U.S. Constitution and Republican nullification laws designed to undermine the Constitution. This is all very funny of course because, speaking of ignorance, corruption, and injustice, the Republicans claim to be the defenders of the Constitution; this while wishing to do away with every amendment save the Second and the Tenth- narrowing Republican goals to guns and secession.

And thinking about the Constitution got me thinking about the Declaration of Independence, that other all-important Founding document. We think now of the Declaration as the document that got the ball rolling; that laid out the ideological and philosophical framework of the country-to-be.

But at the time, to the committee assigned to write the Constitution – Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman – the Declaration of Independence was just an administrative detail. The whole point of the document was to justify the withdrawal of the thirteen colonies from England’s not-so-affectionate embrace, a deed that was, by the time of Bunker Hill, already largely accomplished, for Boston was all that remained of British rule in North America. The Declaration was, in effect, putting the punctuation point on something – independence – that was already a done deal.

Thomas Jefferson himself got “stuck” with writing it because he was the least busy of the committee members and because Franklin cited not only his gout but an unwillingness to ever again write anything that would be subject to review by committee (a feeling Jefferson would soon come to share). And even then, Jefferson didn’t even want to do it, but wanted instead to return to Virginia where the “real important” work was taking place. Who could have seen at the time what would come of him being forced to remain in Philadelphia?

The committee, perhaps because they were so preoccupied with more important things, suggested only changing “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable” to “self-evident” in the second paragraph’s opening lines. But this part of the document was not considered important and so this stylistic change was the only one made to the second, while the first paragraph was heavily revised.[1] When the document was presented to Congress for consideration, the focus was not on the first two paragraphs but on the list of grievances. The core of the Constitution for Jefferson and others was not “all men being equal” but the list of charges against the king. Not the first two paragraphs, but especially the last, a complete reversal of how we read it today.[2]

As Eric Slauter wrote, for readers, the Declaration was not that all men are created equal, but the statement that:

    these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political Connection between them and the State of Great-Britain, is an ought to be totally dissolved; and that as FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which INDEPENDENT STATES may of right do.

As Slauter points out, this was a declaration of national independence “and not a declaration of individual rights.6]

Our use.

The Declaration was becoming something else, as Jefferson was beginning to realize before he died in 1826, and he became eager to attach his name to it, putting at the top of his list of accomplishments on his tombstone. Lincoln’s words above are his view in 1857. In 1859, Lincoln said,

    All honor to Jefferson – to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecaste, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, and so to embalm it there, that today and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling block to the very harbingers of reappearing tyranny and oppression.[7]

Now the Declaration is a “merely” revolutionary document that happens to contain a greater truth and its value lies not in justification for rebellion but in the assertion that by nature all men equal.

Lincoln turned again to the Declaration in 1863, when, in the midst of the Civil War, he began his Gettysburg Address by saying that, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

We could no longer say that men just happen to be equal. That equality is now the very basis of the founding of our country. As Slauter concluded,

    Though for most of the Declaration had not taken on its modern meaning as a charter of rights, a small group of black and white readers beginning in 1776 asserted that it should and, in doing so, made the Declaration their own and helped to make it modern.[8]

Now America’s conservative voices would have it that the Declaration does not mean this at all, that “all men are created equal” does not mean all women too, let alone those who dare to be a color other than white, or a religion other than Christian. Liberalism vouches for the truth of Jefferson’s assertion today as it did yesterday; it was the radical liberal Thomas Paine, after all, who championed the rights of the landless and the old and the poor, and those are the same rights liberals champion today. They are the same rights conservatism battles endlessly against as it seeks to substitute the words “We the People” found in the Constitution with “We the Corporations.”

Political power in a democracy, as the founding Fathers realized, derives from the consent of the governed, which is why the Constitution begins with those words, “We the People.” It does not derive from the few rich, or from corporations, or from religious denominations, but from the people. And those people, all of them, says the Declaration of Independence, are equal.

As Lincoln said, Jefferson’s words should be “a rebuke and a stumbling block to the very harbingers of reappearing tyranny and oppression.” We see every day that they are. But how potent a rebuke to a party that has embraced all the dark excesses of the authoritarian mind?

Neither Jefferson nor Lincoln had to contend with the influence modern propaganda can bring to bear. For Jefferson’s words to continue as a rebuke, a sufficient rebuke, we must rally to them; we must insist they are relevant still. And they and they alone must be the ruler against which all laws are measured. The United States Constitution passes muster. The Republican platform? Their proposed laws at local, state, and federal level since 2008? Not so much.

It is touching the extent to which various Founding Fathers thought ahead, even (or especially) in the midst of crisis, to the “millions yet unborn,” sentiments expressed in their correspondence. That would be us. And that debt passes down to us. I hope that we equal to it, and in the midst of our own crises, can ourselves take time to think of the millions yet unborn who depend on our own decisions, and on our fortitude.


Things Go Horribly Wrong For Fox News When They Ask GOP Congressman for Benghazi Evidence

By: Jason Easley
May. 5th, 2013

Fox News tried to push their Benghazi conspiracy theory today, but things went horribly wrong when they asked Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz for evidence and he couldn’t provide any.

WALLACE: Congressman Chaffetz, has the Obama admininstration blocked potential witnesses from testifying or not?

CHAFFETZ: Absolutely, and more than one. We’ve asked for the non-classified version of how did these people get an attorney who has a degree of classified information, and they still haven’t given us that. No, there are people out there that wanna testify that have been suppressed.

WALLACE: But you heard the State Department person just say that nobody either a lawyer or a witness has requested to testify.

CHAFFETZ: Because they’re scared to death of what the State Department is doing to them. That’s what. Look we’re the other branch of government. They’re supposed to be able to come to congress, and be able to share this type of information. That has not happened, because the administration has suppressed. We have a person who was injured eight months ago who’s still in the hospital. They changed his name on the medical records. This is a story of the State Department doing things that haven’t been done in any other case.

WALLACE: Are you saying? Again, I want to bring in Congressman Lynch. Tell me-a direct threat, a direct act of intimidation against a potential witness?

CHAFFETZ: Yes, and I think we’ll probably…

WALLACE: Tell me one… tell what’s been said.

CHAFFETZ: There are people, more than one, that have felt intimidation from the State Department.

Notice that Chris Wallace provided Chaffetz with the perfect setup. He let him weave the conspiracy theory. Wallace never stopped him, or challenged him. But when it came time for Rep. Chaffetz to deliver the money shot, he threw up all over his own shirt.

Ever since it was revealed that Boston bombings weren’t carried out by an overseas terrorist group, Fox News has gone back to relentlessly pushing Benghazi conspiracies. It has been subtle, but you can see it in Chaffetz’s remarks, the focus of the Benghazi conspiracy has shifted away from Obama and to the State Department.

Their conspiracy theory focus has shifted because the runaway favorite for the 2016 Democratic nomination just so happens to be the same woman who used to be Secretary of State. Fox News is only the propaganda arm. Chris Wallace did his job, but the Republican/Fox News plan to bring down Hillary Clinton with Benghazi fell flat on its face when Rep. Chaffetz has zero evidence to back up his charges.

Fox News could have gotten a week’s worth of programming out of anything that Chaffetz said, but he gave them nothing specific that they could use.

The big “news” bit of the segment quickly turned into a trainwreck, as Rep. Chaffetz’s conspiracy not could hold up even under the gentlest of scrutiny by Chris Wallace. What was supposed to be a big moment turned into a huge Fox fail that ended up proving the emptiness of their own Benghazi conspiracy.


Issa's 'New' Info on Benghazi? Speculation from Diplomat Not Present

By Nicole Belle
May 6, 2013

The Republicans are determined not to let their trumped up, clearly partisan-based outrage on the attack on the Benghazi consulate go down the memory hole, like so many of the Republican failures of the last dozen years. Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Rep Darrell Issa promised brand new information to CBS News on Benghazi attack.

So the CBS News breathlessly brings on Issa to deliver this new information which will implicate the Obama administration in this great conspiracy that will no doubt bring the presidency down.


This great new information? It's testimony from US deputy chief of mission in Libya, Gregory Hicks. The problem? Hicks wasn't in Benghazi at the time of the attacks and has no actual idea what happened. Everything he testified about was his suppositions based on reports. The same reports that have issued forth in the months after the attack.

    "I think everybody in the mission thought it was a terrorist attack from the beginning," Greg Hicks, a 22-year foreign service diplomat who was the highest-ranking U.S. official in Libya after the strike, told investigators under authority of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Hicks, the former U.S. Embassy Tripoli deputy chief of mission, was not in Benghazi at the time of the attack, which killed Chris Stevens - then the U.S. ambassador to Libya - and three other Americans.

    When he appears this week before the committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Hicks is expected to offer testimony at odds with what some American officials were saying in public - and on "Face the Nation" - just five days after the attack. Benghazi whistleblowers have rallied attention to discrepancies among the administration's reaction to the attack, which The Weekly Standard suggests was frayed by ever-evolving talking points that sought to remove references to al Qaeda.

    On Sept. 16, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice hit the media circuit, appearing on all five Sunday talk shows to dispel the notion that the strike was a premeditated terrorist act and to perpetuate the case that it began "spontaneously" out of protests in Egypt. Rice's spot on "Face the Nation" that day was preceded by the new President of Libya Mohammed al-Magariaf, who said his government had "no doubt that this was preplanned, predetermined."

    "For there to have been a demonstration on Chris Stevens's front door and him not to have reported it is unbelievable," he said. "I never reported a demonstration; I reported an attack on the consulate. Chris - Chris's last report, if you want to say his final report - is, 'Greg, we are under attack.'

    "...I've never been as embarrassed in my life, in my career, as on that day," Hicks continued in his interview with investigators. "The net impact of what has transpired is, [Rice,] the spokesperson of the most powerful country in the world, has basically said that the president of Libya is either a liar of doesn't know what he's talking about. ....My jaw hit the floor as I watched this."

    Though the White House has said it was in contact with officials in Libya the night of the attack, Hicks said in the days following, he was never consulted about the talking points. One day after Rice's Sunday show blitz, Hicks said he called Beth Jones, acting assistant secretary for near eastern affairs at the State Department, and asked, "Why did Amb. Rice say that?" The tone of her answer - "I don't know," he said - indicated that "I perhaps asked a question that I should not have asked."

    The net impact of Rice's statements, Hicks said, was "immeasurable." On top of his personal belief that "the reason it took us so long to get the FBI to Benghazi is because of those Sunday talk shows," he said, Magariaf lost face "in front of not only his own people, but the world" at a time of democratic transition in his country. He added, "I have heard from a friend who had dinner with President Magariaf in New York City that he was still angry at Amb. Rice well after the incident."

Notice anything particularly evidentiary about Hicks' testimony? It's "unbelievable" that Stevens didn't call in a demonstration? Rice's statements have caused "immeasurable" damage? Um, hearsay anyone? Why is Hicks' opinion any more compelling than anyone else not actually there?

You know what I noticed didn't get mentioned in Schieffer's interview of Issa? The seven other attacks on US consulates between the years of 2002 and 2008 that haven't got Republicans' collective knickers in a bunch:

    Benghazi was not unique. There have been eights attacks on six different U.S. consulates in and around the Mideast since the 9/11 attack. They include:

        Karachi, Pakistan, 2002, 2003, and 2006
        Tashkent, Uzbekistan, 2002
        Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 2004
        Damascus, Syria, 2006
        Sana’a, Yemen, 2008
        Benghazi, Libya, 2012

And what role Congress itself played:

    Congress also shares a portion of the blame for the fate of Ambassador Stevens and the three others killed:

        The State Department is still reeling from deep cuts made by Senate and House appropriations panels to the Obama administration’s budget requests for next year, with some officials warning of national security risks. (2011-10-01)

    The quote seems particular damning, but read the whole article. There was an 22% across the board cut, but a separate request for spending on Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan was approved. Including the separate request the State Department budget was still down $3.5 billion from the prior year, a very short sighted move given that Arab Spring was only ten months old at the time the decision was made.

    Three autocratic governments blown away, two countries sliding into sectarian conflict, two others facing massive protests, and four that were compeled to introduce reforms by their restive population. And the response from Congress to this seismic shift? Budget cuts.

But yes, let's all wring our hands over Gregory Hicks' feelings and assumptions. It's so much easier than taking an honest look at Benghazi.

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