French 'old boys' network' far worse than Britain's, book claims
University lecturer Peter Gumbel turns his attention from education to the Gallic corridors of power and business
Kim Willsher in Paris
The Guardian, Tuesday 14 May 2013 15.38 BST
Left, right or centre, France's politicians are a ruling elite that resembles an ancien regime desperately clinging to its privilege and power, according to a new book by a Paris-based British author.
If you thought David Cameron and his Eton and Oxbridge clique were posh toffs out of touch with the real world, take a look over the Channel at the "tiny number of brilliant and charming men and women" who constitute the Gallic ruling class, says university lecturer Peter Gumbel.
In his new book, France's Got Talent: the Woeful Consequences of French Elitism, published on Wednesday, Gumbel takes a hard swipe at France's new nobility: the fewer than 500 graduates of elite schools that dominate the highest echelons of business and politics.
Often arrogant, untouchable, unaccountable – and almost certainly unsackable – Gumbel says France is still controlled by an "old boys' network", that makes the British government and business Britain appear a model of social diversity.
Just three years after he rattled the French establishment with a scathing indictment of the country's highly selective education system, Gumbel has turned his attention to the Gallic corridors of power and business.
"Since the Revolution, France has had this mythology that it is a meritocracy, that anyone can rise to the highest positions in society by virtue of their intellectual brilliance," Gumbel told the Guardian.
"The idea is the brightest kids in the class can go on to run the country, but it doesn't work. Those in this elite come from much the same upper middle-class background and they are not running the country well.
"They may be smart and swots and get grammar and maths but they don't have experience or, necessarily, ability."
Gumbel added: "David Cameron gets a hard time for surrounding himself with old Etonian buddies and being out of touch, but compared with François Hollande, who has surrounded himself with his old classmates, Cameron seems harmless. In France it's still a system of jobs-for-the-boys that was prevalent in Britain back in the 1950s."
Gumbel says the book is aimed at the disillusioned French public, which is fed up with Hollande and turning to the extreme right and left in increasing numbers, but which "may not be aware of the extent to which the elitist culture it endures is anything but normal by international standards".
He said: "It's not so much a glass ceiling as a concrete one. And with a tiny number of people coming up to run everything, everyone else feels frustrated and left behind."
Gumbel's previous book, They Shoot School Kids, Don't They?, detailed how only about 5% of France's top students get into classe préparatoire [preparatory classes], the "military-style boot camps" that provide intense grounding for the country's 200 elite grandes écoles.
The book was widely reviewed in France and prompted an invitation to the Élysée Palace to talk about education reforms.
"Ever since I arrived in Paris in 2002 … I have been surprised by the pervasive culture of elitism in France. If this country were a TV show, it would be France's Got Talent, a fiercely competitive contest to show off how clever you are," Gumbel writes.
However, Gumbel says the entire contest is flawed. "Those chosen aren't always the best suited for the roles they are given, while the losers are marked for life."
Britain, the US, Germany and many other countries have broadened their leadership to better reflect their diverse societies, he says. "France is bucking this trend. Here, the demands, if anything, are becoming more elitist."
France has barely opened up, he says, since a 1900 parliamentary report by Alexandre Ribot noted: "A system that classifies men at the age of 20 based on the diplomas they have received deprives the state of the right to choose those who are outstanding, self-made professionals". The report said the system gave those who succeeded "the illusion they simply have to stand in line in order to receive a government post".
And once in the top job, there is little incentive to change anything: mandarins, says Gumbel, "can't be fired … at worst they're 'put in a cupboard', meaning shunted off to a low-profile job or a comfortable sinecure".
As a civil servant told him: "It's like an elevator. You step in and move up."
Gumbel, who lectures at one of France's most elite educational establishments, the Institute d'Études Politiques, better known as Sciences Po and which has educated five of the Fifth Republic's seven presidents, adds: "France needs elites, but it needs better ones. It needs people who are good at drafting reports, but even better at implementing their recommendations.
"To paraphrase General de Gaulle, how is it possible that in a nation that has 365 varieties of cheese, there are so few paths to the top?"
Facts and figures from Gumbel's book
• The École Nationale d'Administration (ENA) and the École Polytechnique, the most elite of France's top schools, admit just 480 students a year – 0.057% of their age group and "a proportion so minuscule it could be a statistical error".
• In 1980 an American study of managerial practices found 80% of the top executives of France's largest companies came from five grandes écoles.
• A study by Luc Rouban of CEVIPOF, Science Po's political research centre, found that Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, the 1970s president, had 61% of his entourage from Polytechnique and ENA; Sarkozy, 55% of immediate staff; Hollande is back to Giscard's levels.
• Only 12% of ENA students are from what could be described as working or lower-middle class families, according to the social trend monitoring agency, the Observatoire des Inégalités. And just 11% of Polytechnique students qualify for financial grants.
• ENA and Polytechnique take 480 admissions a year; Oxford and Cambridge take 3,400; US Ivy League universities (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Dartmouth College, Cornell, Pennsylvania, Brown) take 24,000.
• Every year around 75 graduates of ENA and Polytechnique join the grands corps de l'État (grand state corps), for fast-track civil service careers and jobs for life. Britain's civil service fast-track scheme chose 390 candidates in 2011 (26% of whom were from Oxbridge).
• Every year 830,000 pupils start secondary school. Of those, 570,000 pass the baccalaureate, but only 280,000 take the "general" bac as opposed to the professional and technical alternatives considered inferior. Of these just 40,000 – around 5% – will go to prep classes and 1,500 will be accepted at Science Po. Of the 260,000 who don't obtain any bac, the majority are from poor or modest backgrounds.
• A 2003 European Central Bank report on the efficiency of the public sector in 23 countries ranked France 20th.
UK elite v French crème
Annual student intake
Oxford and Cambridge (undergraduates): 7,000
ENA and Polytechnique: 480
(Source: the schools)
Oxbridge: 21% of FTSE-100 CEOs and 42% of senior civil service.
ENA and Polytechnique : 40% of CAC-40 CEOs and 60% of senior civil service.
(Sources: The Sutton Trust (UK), Robert Half recruiting agency; Sociologies Pratiques 2010-12, François-Xavier Dudouet et Hervé Joly, Luc Rouban, CEVIPOF, Revue Française d'administration publique 2012-12)
'Fast-stream' civil service career track
Oxbridge graduates: 26% of successful candidates
ENA and Polytechnique graduates: 100%
(Source: UK Cabinet Office)
Top Oxbridge graduates: none
Top 15 ENA and top 60 Polytechnique graduates: guaranteed
Universities: first year drop-out rate
(Source: UK HEFCE; France – ministry of education)
Number of companies judged by employees as great places to work
(Source: Great Place to Work Institute)
Percentage of employees who say they are stressed by work
(Source: European Working Conditions Survey, 2005)
International ranking of quality of relations between employees and employers
UK: 14th out of 32
France: 32nd out of 32
(Source: ISSP international Social Survey Programme, 2005)
May 14, 2013
As Thieves Troll Spanish Farmland, Villagers Begin Patrols
By SUZANNE DALEY
ALBELDA, Spain — José Briá finds it hard to sleep these days. Sometimes when he wakes up in the middle of the night, he drives out to his farmland a few miles from the center of this tiny village just to make sure everything is all right.
He has been robbed three times already this year: Once, chickens were taken. Then, some tools vanished. The last time, eight rabbits disappeared.
Mostly Mr. Briá, 62, worries that the thieves, who cut his locks, will get careless and let his sheep out of the barn to trample across his neighbors’ fields.
“Do you realize how much damage that would do?” he asked. “Do you know what sheep are like when they are scared?”
The farmers in Albelda have gotten so worried about thieves that they have taken to patrolling their fields at night, their cars bumping along between rows of peach and pear trees. They have found strategic spots that overlook the fertile valley here in northeastern Spain, and from there they peer into the dark, watching for headlights or flashlights, or any signs of intruders.
Such vigilance has helped, they think. But for many, it is a sorry state of affairs. For a long time, many of Spain’s small, isolated farming communities seemed all but immune from the economic crisis. The fields still needed to be plowed and the animals tended. Prices were not that great, but no one was really out of work. Now, however, many of the farmers believe the problem is at their doorstep.
“You don’t steal eight rabbits to sell them,” said Rosa Marques, 43, who grew up in this village of 800 and is one of the organizers of the patrols. “You steal eight rabbits for food.”
Albelda is hardly the only farming village where people are worried about rising crime. Police officials say they have seen a steady rise in the crime rate in rural areas since 2009. Just about everything is a target. Three hundred onions one night. A rubber irrigation hose the next. In Albelda, thieves have taken diesel fuel, nail guns, electric clippers — even shampoo and soap that workers use.
Elsewhere in Spain, particularly in coastal regions like Valencia where there is a lot of farming, villagers are organizing themselves into patrols, too. It is not a trend that police officials like much. But they understand it. In many areas, there are too few officers to cover acres and acres of farmland. And yet there are few useful alternatives to a watchful eye.
“You can’t put doors up to protect fields,” said Maj. Jesús Gayoso, an analyst for the Guardia Civil, Spain’s military police.
Police officials say the criminals mostly fall into two categories: local people who are out of work and steal enough to subsist, and more organized bands of Romanians and Moroccans, who once worked in these areas and know them well. They sell whatever they can collect at cheaper prices. Sometimes, Major Gayoso said, stolen tools are melted down and the metal is shipped to China.
Over all, officials say, crime in Spain has been falling slightly. But because of changes in 2010 in the way such statistics are gathered, true long-term comparisons are difficult. And the decrease is not in all categories.
Homicides and drug trafficking appear to be decreasing, for instance. But other categories are rising. Last year “robbery with violence and intimidation” went up 10 percent compared with the year before. In the same period, “robbery with forced entrance into homes” rose 25 percent, according to Interior Ministry statistics.
Thefts in the countryside account for only 5 percent of the crimes in Spain, according to Major Gayoso. But this is small comfort to the residents of Albelda, who were used to leaving their doors unlocked.
In Huesca Province, which surrounds Albelda, 41 thefts were reported in the first three months of 2012, the major said. There were 63 in the same period this year. Villagers say that sometimes they just do not bother reporting them. The thefts, however, have changed the way they do things.
“All of our lives we were safe,” said José Maria Chesa, 52, who has a quail and turkey farm with his brother. “We left the car keys in the ignition around here. But now I spend 20 minutes at the end of the day locking everything up, hiding keys under rocks and over doors. It’s not a nice way to live.”
Before the economic crisis, Albelda had one guard on the payroll who kept an eye on things at night. The village was restoring two stretches of road a year, updating the paving, the sewers and the drainage system. But that is over for the time being, said Mayor Maria Angeles Roca. “We just don’t have the money for it anymore.”
The start time for the nightly patrols varies. On a recent evening, four residents got into two cars for five hours of touring the fields. It is boring work, they said. Their wives pack them snacks (the bar in the village closes at 10 p.m.), but that does not make the time go faster. They pride themselves on knowing the roads, which do not appear on any GPS devices, and tease those who have gotten lost. On an average night, they drive 20 or 30 miles, mostly on dirt roads.
The local police have advised those on patrol not to confront anyone, just to take down license plate numbers. But so far, the farmers have not even been able to do that.
“Basically, we have seen headlights,” said Hector Sediles, 39, one of the men on patrol. “But they can see us coming, too. By the time we get there, they are gone.”
Rachel Chaundler contributed reporting.
May 14, 2013
Iranian Officials Threaten Two Candidates for the Presidency
By THOMAS ERDBRINK
TEHRAN — Iranian officials on Monday issued blunt threats of violence against two last-minute registrants for the June 14 presidential election whose unwanted presence on the ballot has angered the country’s governing establishment.
The two latecomers, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president, and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, an aide to the current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, shook up the landscape of the elections on Saturday. Until they appeared, the registration process had been almost exclusively dominated by candidates representing the country’s establishment of conservative Shiite Muslim clerics and Revolutionary Guards commanders.
On Monday, Iran’s national deputy police commander, Esmael Ahmadi Moghaddam, was quoted by the newspaper Shargh as issuing a warning to President Ahmadinejad and Mr. Mashaei that the “shedding of blood is allowed” if they do not stop claiming to take their orders from the Shiite messiah.
The message, wrapped in ideological and religious wording, is the strongest indication yet that Mr. Ahmadinejad’s faction could be purged, after or even during the elections.
“This statement, by such a senior figure, equals a call to violence against Ahmadinejad, Mashaei and their group,” said one analyst who asked not to be named out of fear for his safety. “I don’t see how they can have any place in the system after the elections.”
Mr. Mashaei, 52, and Mr. Ahmadinejad have hinted in speeches at a personal relationship with the Shiite messiah, the 12th imam.
Those remarks run counter to the founding ideology of the Islamic republic, which is based upon the rule of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the clergy. They are regarded as the messiah’s worldly caretakers in expectation of the return of the imam, who, according to tenets, went into occultation, a kind of suspended state, in the year 941. Every year dozens of people are arrested in Iran for claiming to be the messiah, who is a popular saint, or to have close relations with him.
Mr. Ahmadinejad and Mr. Mashaei have often stated that they are fully submissive to Ayatollah Khamenei, but the men have had public disagreements. In 2009, Ayatollah Khamenei prevented Mr. Mashaei from becoming vice president, and in 2011 Mr. Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei wrangled publicly over the intelligence minister, whom the president dismissed and the ayatollah reinstated.
Indirectly calling the president and his associate members of the “deviant current,” a label given to them by governing clerics and commanders, Mr. Ahmadi Moghaddam, the deputy police commander, said those adhering to Islam must seek allegiance with the country’s supreme leader. “Currently they are not fully following him,” he said. “Koran and the leader are inseparable institutions.”
Also on Monday, the top editor of the country’s influential state-run newspaper invoked the rallying cry of a notorious pressure group whose members shout “Hezbollah Mashallah,” or “Well done, Hezbollah,” as they use violence against political opponents.
“If they again have the idea of creating disturbances, they must know that the devotees, Hezbollah, will not allow them to do so even for a few hours,” he wrote in a column headlined “Hezbollah Mashallah,” warning the two rogue candidates.
The editor, Hossein Shariatmadari, who is appointed by Ayatollah Khamenei, is the most important figure in the Iranian news media. In his editorials he often lays the foundations for state decisions.
Mr. Rafsanjani, he wrote, was a representative for the “American-Israeli sedition” of 2009, referring to the protests that erupted after the last presidential elections, which were considered fraudulent. Those in power widely accuse the former president of engineering the demonstrations and say he is therefore unfit to lead the country.
Mr. Ahmadinejad is “suicidal,” Mr. Shariatmadari wrote, for openly aligning himself with Mr. Mashaei, as when he said recently that he and his aide were one and the same. The editor predicted that the president is preparing to create unrest, in case Mr. Mashaei is not allowed to participate. He also said that Mr. Ahmadinejad, Mr. Mashaei and Mr. Rafsanjani had made a pact in an effort to stay in power.
“Secret messages between both groups are being exchanged,” he wrote, adding that any coordination between both candidates would be useless. “The life of the Ahmadinejad government is over,” he said. “And Mr. Rafsanjani will undoubtedly face defeat.”
May 14, 2013
Front-Runner in Pakistan Offers Truce, and Flowers
By SALMAN MASOOD
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s former and future prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, visited his main political rival, Imran Khan, at a Lahore hospital on Tuesday, and Mr. Sharif later said both leaders had vowed to work together without acrimony.
Mr. Khan, who made Mr. Sharif the main target of his dynamic and invective-filled anticorruption campaign, fell off a speaking platform and fractured his back on May 7. Just four days later, his party took a similar tumble on election day, not only failing to cut deeply into Mr. Sharif’s expected lead, but now possibly not even taking second place in Parliament.
Still, regardless of the final tally, expected later this week, Mr. Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party will become a significant player on the political scene, controlling the regional government of a major province. Considering the challenges ahead, Mr. Sharif buried the hatchet and brought flowers.
“Today, we have made peace,” Mr. Sharif said, smiling for the cameras at a news conference after the meeting. “He was receptive and acknowledged my gesture.”
Mr. Sharif added, “We all have to work together to get the country out of a quagmire of problems.”
Mr. Khan was a giant in the cricket world before mounting his political movement. And throughout the campaign, he always kept a cricket bat close — as a totemic image on his posters and a prop in his campaign speeches. To the boisterous cheering of electrified young crowds, Mr. Khan would wave the bat and warn that he would use it to give the lion — the symbol of Mr. Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party — a heavy beating.
That captured the spirit of the campaign quite well.
Sharif and Khan supporters scuffled, berated one another on social media and dug up old scandals to spice their latest broadsides. Some political analysts faulted Mr. Khan as having allowed things to get too aggressive.
Mr. Sharif tried to appear above the fray during his campaign, but was given to writing off his main political rival publicly as having been a good athlete — and intimating that he had not become much more.
But on Tuesday, with Mr. Sharif well into the work of assembling a cabinet and governing coalition, the talk turned to finding common ground.
Mr. Sharif, himself an avid cricket player in his youth, said that during their brief talk, “I offered to play a friendly match with him.” He said he had left a bouquet.
In recent days, video messages to Mr. Khan’s supporters showed him bedridden and wearing a large neck and back brace, appearing to accept his party’s election disappointment even while vowing to get to the bottom of election fraud reports.
On Tuesday, however, his comments were confined to a press statement, in which his spokeswoman said that the two leaders had met in a “cordial atmosphere” and that Mr. Khan had urged Mr. Sharif to “resolve the Taliban issue; otherwise there could be no peace in the country.”
Mr. Khan has long advocated political outreach to the Pakistani Taliban rather than military efforts against them.
Facing the news media later, Mr. Sharif simply quoted Mr. Khan as assuring him a “good working relationship.”
Delhi gang-rape defendant vomiting blood and in critical condition after jail attack
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, May 15, 2013 7:08 EDT
A defendant on trial over a fatal gang-rape in New Delhi last December is critically ill after being attacked in prison, his lawyer said Wednesday, weeks after the main accused died in the same jail.
Vinay Sharma was rushed to the state-run Lok Nayak Hospital in New Delhi on Tuesday with chest injuries after he was assaulted in Tihar Jail, lawyer A. P. Singh told AFP, also alleging that his client’s food had been poisoned.
“He was vomiting blood and running a very high fever. He was also suffering from chest pains. He is in a very critical condition,” Singh said.
The chest pains came after Sharma, 20, was “beaten up and thrashed” by fellow inmates at the maximum-security jail, the lawyer added.
He said the vomiting had been caused by the “slow poisoning” of his food over a period of several weeks.
“He was being given food mixed with poison since the start of this month.
“He was first admitted to the clinic inside the jail but was later moved to a city hospital. He was shifted again to another hospital when his condition worsened” on Tuesday, Singh said.
The head of the hospital refused to comment on the case, while there was no immediate reaction from authorities at Tihar.
One of Sharma’s co-defendants, bus driver Ram Singh, was found hanged in his cell in the same prison in March. Although an inquest ruled he had committed suicide his lawyers allege that he was murdered.
Sharma is one of four adults still on trial for the murder and gang-rape of a 23-year-old student who was attacked on a bus on December 16.
The victim died of her injuries in a Singapore hospital 13 days later.
A fifth defendant, who is aged 17, is being tried in a juvenile court.
The defendants have all entered not-guilty pleas and their lawyers have accused police of torturing the defendants to obtain confessions.
Prosecutors say they have DNA evidence linking the defendants to the attack in which the student and a male companion were assaulted on a bus as it was driven around the city, having been picked up after a trip to the cinema.
The case led to months of soul-searching over widespread sexual crime in India, and resulted in tougher laws to punish rapists.
Singh said the judge hearing the case at a special fast-track court in the city had Tuesday dismissed his plea that Sharma be granted bail on “humanitarian grounds”.
“The judge dismissed the bail application but he has allowed my client’s family to visit him,” Singh said.
Sharma, who earned 100 dollars a month as a helper at a gym prior to his arrest, has claimed that he was attending a musical function with two of his friends when the gang-rape took place.
The family of the 23-year-old victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has demanded the death penalty for all the accused.
North Korea has ‘no nuclear warhead’ to fit on a missile: U.S. official
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, May 15, 2013 5:42 EDT
North Korea has yet to develop a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on a missile, a senior US official said on Wednesday, contradicting a recent US military intelligence report.
The North claimed its third atomic test staged in February involved a “miniaturised and lighter” warhead, prompting speculation that it had acquired the crucial technology to fit nuclear devices to a missile delivery system.
The latest test — the North’s most powerful to date — came only two months after it successfully launched a long-range rocket in what was widely viewed as a ballistic missile test.
“I don’t believe they have the capability to miniaturise the nuclear warhead, put it on top of the missile, work the launch and reentry problem, and target,” said the senior US official who declined to be identified.
“I don’t think they have been able to put the whole piece together,” he told a press briefing for foreign media in Seoul.
His comments countered a recent report by the US military’s Defense Intelligence Agency which suggested the North may have succeeded in miniaturising its warheads.
The February test drew UN sanctions which in turn triggered a cycle of escalating military tensions on the Korean peninsula that are only now beginning to subside.
At the height of the tensions, Pyongyang threatened pre-emptive nuclear strikes on the United States and South Korea.
The threats prompted some hawkish politicians in Seoul to call for the South to develop its own unilateral nuclear deterrent separate from the “nuclear umbrella” provided by its US ally.
The US official said the deployment of nuclear-capable US B-52s and B-2 stealth bombers in recent joint drills with South Korea were proof of US commitment to providing a complete nuclear deterrent.
“I don’t think South Korea needs to develop its own nuclear capability,” he said, adding that such a move carried “a lot, a lot, a lot of responsibility”.
“And the headache it brings is more than you understand right now. And I think that the US is able to be there to provide what we call an extended nuclear deterrence,” he said.
May 14, 2013
South Korea Proposes Meeting With North
By CHOE SANG-HUN
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea proposed on Tuesday to hold a border meeting with North Korea to discuss bringing finished goods and raw materials from an industrial park that the two countries jointly operated until last month.
The Kaesong Industrial Complex has been idle since North Korea withdrew all its 53,000 workers, accusing the United States and South Korea of plotting to invade the North. South Korea pulled out the last of its citizens from Kaesong on May 3, severing the last economic ties between the Koreas.
Neither the North nor the South has officially closed the eight-year-old complex, the best-known symbol of inter-Korean cooperation. But its fate has become a test for inter-Korean relations.
President Park Geun-hye insisted that South Korea would not reward the North’s bad behavior over Kaesong with compromises. But she said she was open to dialogue with North Korea to “build trust.”
As a token of good faith, she said North Korea should allow South Korean factory owners to return to Kaesong in order to ship out millions of dollars’ worth of finished goods stranded there.
“We call for a positive response from the North,” Kim Hyung-suk, a spokesman for the South’s Unification Ministry, said in a statement.
There was no immediate reaction from the North. It has rejected the South’s two previous offers of dialogue over the fate of the Kaesong complex. It has indicated that it is willing to sacrifice the complex, and $90 million in badly needed hard currency that its workers earn annually, to show its anger at South Korea’s policy toward the North.
The industrial park, where 123 South Korean factories had hired low-cost North Korean labor, was originally conceived as an experiment that its supporters hoped would help advance the economic integration — and eventual reunification — of the two Koreas.
Ms. Park said on Tuesday that South Korea wanted to reopen Kaesong. But she said North Korea must first promise broad changes in the complex to make it globally competitive and must guarantee that it would not use the economic project as a political bargaining chip again.
Meanwhile, Glyn T. Davies, the top American envoy on North Korea, met with South Korean officials in Seoul. He said the United States and its allies wanted the North to get “back on the path of denuclearization by taking concrete steps to demonstrate that they have obligations.”
The United Nations Security Council has tightened sanctions on North Korea for its rocket and nuclear tests. The North said it was abandoning its commitments to denuclearization.
China tries to rein in microbloggers
Authorities show determination to control burgeoning culture of social media by closing accounts of writers and intellectuals
Tania Branigan in Beijing
The Guardian, Wednesday 15 May 2013
China has launched a new drive to tame its boisterous microblogging culture by closing influential accounts belonging to writers and intellectuals who have used them to highlight social injustice.
The strict censorship of mainstream media in China has made social media an essential forum for public debate, but authorities have shown increasing determination to control it. Previous campaigns have warned the public against spreading rumours – a theme that has recurred in this crackdown – and ordered users to register with their real names.
Now attention has turned to the country's opinion formers. A recent commentary in the state-run Global Times newspaper warned that "Big Vs" – meaning verified accounts with millions of followers – had become "relay stations for online rumours" and accused them of "harming the dignity of the law".
State news agency Xinhua said the account of He Bing, a well known professor, was suspended because he had "purposely spread rumours". Other intellectuals have seen accounts deleted outright.
In a powerful essay for the Guardian published on Wednesday, novelist Murong Xuecun – the most high-profile figure to have his account cancelled – compares the atmosphere to the periods before major campaigns against intellectuals in the Maoist era and in 1989, when the crushing of the Tiananmen Square student protests ended the brief flourishing of discussion and debate.
The author, whose real name is Hao Qun, writes: "As in 1957, 1966 and 1989, Chinese intellectuals are feeling more or less the same fear as one does before an approaching mountain storm. The scariest [fear] of all is not being silenced or sent to prison; it is the sense of powerlessness and uncertainty about what comes next … It's as if you are walking into a minefield blindfolded."
The drive appears to be part of a wider ideological campaign by the new leadership. While many hope that President Xi Jinping and his colleagues will introduce financial and economic reforms, few anticipate significant political reforms.
The party has instructed officials to tackle "dangerous" western values and other potential ideological threats and "cut off at the source channels for disseminating erroneous currents of thought".
The South China Morning Post reported last week that universities had been told not to tackle seven subjects in their teaching, including universal values, civil rights and the mistakes of the Communist party.
Mainstream media had already been warned not to use foreign news content without authorisation in a directive from China's media regulator. It also told them that tips from "news informants, freelancers, NGOs and commercial organisations" should not be published without full verification.
David Bandurski of the China Media Project at Hong Kong University said the current mood was strikingly reminiscent of a decade ago, when a new leadership under Hu Jintao attempted to curb the burgeoning commercial media.
Media controls "are at the very centre of maintaining social stability and power as a party," he added. But he argued: "The reason there is a flow of rumour and irrational discussion online is because there are news controls and no professional competitors that can go and verify or deny rumours.
"Media that are capable of doing good, hard, in-depth news are stopped from doing it … There's a vacuum of good information."
Zhang Lifan, a well-known historian, said the increasing crackdown on freedom of speech showed authorities' lack of confidence, although he added that it was not clear whether everyone supported the approach. He added: "Citizens have freedom of speech, and the freedom to make mistakes in their speech as well, as long as they correct them afterwards. The official media also 'spread rumours', then they correct the 'rumour'. If they want to punish rumour-mongers, they should punish the state media, too."
If Weibo (microblogging) controls were further tightened, he warned, "people won't talk on the internet, but will pass the information on the street. If nobody talks, people will take action."
Chinese internet: 'a new censorship campaign has commenced'
Murong Xuecun, who has had his accounts deleted, explains how bloggers compare being silenced on the internet to being put to death
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 15 May 2013 10.48 BST
On 9 May, I posted the following message on Sina Weibo:
"The account you have been managing for years can be deleted in a second. Then you try to plot its reincarnation by writing every word from scratch. The house you have been building all your life can be bulldozed in a moment. Then you try to rise from its rubble by picking up every piece of brick and tile.
"This is my Chinese dream: harbour no illusion about the evil powers, and understand that their evil will only grow.
"Be not depressed or desperate, however: start from zero, from minus, from rubble, and grow with resilience."
These words are the reflection of my true feelings. Not long ago, scholar Zhang Xuezhong, Xiao Xuehui, Song Shinan and lawyer Si Weijiang all saw their Weibo accounts deleted. They each had large numbers of followers, who spread their words to an even wider audience. But all of a sudden their names have disappeared. Nobody knows why, or who ordered it, but we all know that a new round of a censorship campaign has commenced. As in 1957, 1966 and 1989, Chinese intellectuals are feeling more or less the same fear as one does before an approaching mountain storm: the scariest thing of all is not being silenced or being sent to prison; it is the sense of powerlessness and uncertainty about what comes next. There is no procedure, no standard, and not a single explanation. It's as if you are walking into a minefield blindfolded. Not knowing where the mines are buried, you don't know when you will be blasted to pieces.
Two days later, at 10pm on 11 May, my Weibo accounts with Sina, Tencent, NetEase, and Sohu were deleted simultaneously. When the web staff from these sites got in touch with me several minutes later, they told me more or less the same story: they were following an order from a "superior department", whose identity they could not reveal because of a confidentiality agreement. In fact, such departments are as numerous as hairs on an ox: State Council Information Office, State Internet Information Office, Propaganda Department, Public Security Bureau, the secretary of a dignitary … Almost every department and dignitary can order internet companies to delete information and accounts while they themselves hide in the dark. Seeing speeches that trigger their ire, they can make them disappear for ever by simply picking up the telephone receiver.
I am mentally prepared for such things to happen, but when they do, I still feel dismayed and angry. I am a "big V" [verified user] on Weibo, possessing over 8.5m followers across the four web portals, and 3.96m in Sina alone. In a period of over three years, I had posted more than 1,900 Weibo messages totalling more than 200,000 words, each written with deliberation and care. In a split second, however, they were all brought to naught.
I can only guess the reasons. It could be my criticism toward a secret directive called the "seven-no" policy. Just in the previous day, several people confirmed a directive issued by a certain department of the government or the Communist party, which listed seven topics that are not supposed to be mentioned by university teachers: universal values, press freedom, civil society, civil rights, historic errors of the Communist party, the class of crony capitalists, and judicial independence. Soon, the Hong Kong newspaper Ta Kung Pao, known for its pro-Communist stance, ran a report on the same subject.
"The 'seven no's' can actually be summed into one," I wrote on my Weibo page, " 'Don't be civil.' " Perhaps someone was offended by this sentence.
Another possibility concerns the "He Bing incident." He Bing is a professor at Chinese University of Political Science and Law, and has over 430,000 followers on Sina Weibo. According to an announcement issued by Xinhua on 10 May, he has been silenced by the State Internet Information Office for "purposely spreading rumours." He wrote a statement responding to this accusation, arguing that the issuance of the punishment did not follow standard administrative procedure, and declaring that he was preparing to file a lawsuit. He asked me to help him retweet the statement. I tried five times, and saw the message censored each time. The next night, I posted a message on Weibo, asking the State Internet Information Office to answer the following questions: Who gives you the power to deprive citizens of their right to free speech? What are the relevant legal standards and procedures for identifying rumours? On what basis do you accuse He Bing of spreading rumours? Why do you repeatedly delete He's statement? Why would you not allow him to defend himself? As one can imagine, the State Internet Information Office is not interested in answering my questions. In 20 minutes, all my Weibo accounts were deleted.
These are only my guesses. In fact, silencing a person requires no reason at all. As most Chinese know, our country has a blacklist. Having your name appear there turns you into the enemy of the country and the people. Your articles cannot be published, and your name cannot be mentioned. Whatever you do or say – even a simple "Hello" – will get deleted in no time.
Many people have expressed indignation on my behalf. Some held virtual candle vigils and "memorial services" for me on their Weibo pages, while other protested by boycotting Weibo. People started quoting words I wrote during my "lifetime", which populated Weibo in the dozen of hours following my disappearance. Quickly, "Murong Xuecun" became the most searched words on Weibo.
In fact, such incidents do not make news in China, for people have long been inured to them. Individuals are silenced on daily basis, and the pool of sensitive words grows by the hour: Liu Xiaobo, Gao Xingjian, Ai Weiwei, Wei Jingsheng, Liao Yiwu, Ma Jian, Mo Zhixu, Xiao Shu … The list goes on. It now includes me, as well as two more scholars who have since been silenced: Wu Wei and Wu Zuolai, whose accounts were deleted on the morning of 13 May. Lurking in the shadows, the "relevant organs" carry out such work as part of their daily routine, and expect people to remain silent. They have perhaps failed to foresee that in the age of Weibo, their actions could trigger such a severe backlash. To this, they responded with more censorship.
Netizens often compare being silenced on the Chinese internet to being put to death, and registering a new account is likened to reincarnation. Most Weibo users are familiar with the term "the Reincarnation party". It has come to symbolise people's resistance and struggle against censors. Every member of the party shares the same experience: being killed, and reincarnated; killed again, reincarnated again. Xiao Han, a teacher at Chinese University of Political Science and Law and a friend of mine, has reincarnated 212 times. Journalist Yang Haipeng started a game after many reincarnations by registering himself under the names of the 108 heroes in the novel Outlaws of the Marsh, one at a time. He started with Song Jiang, followed by Lu Junyi. Now he is Fei Xuan, hero No 47. The record-holder is a user named "Repair." As of 13 May, she has reincarnated 418 times. If she is unable to use that name, she will become "Re-pair", "Repare" or "ReIpair".
I reincarnated on the night of 12 May, under the new name "Pingyuan Dongfang Shuo," who was a famous minister during the Han dynasty. The first thing I did after reincarnation was to post a thank-you note to the individuals who spoke out for me. The next was to express my opinion toward the statement [reportedly made by Xi Jinping] that "Repudiating Mao would have led to national chaos".
"The evaluation of historic figures should be based on facts. Their merits deserve praise and their crimes warrant criticism," I wrote. "Forbidding repudiation means avoiding, hiding and falsifying certain facts. It is both a blasphemy against history and a violation of intellectual freedom. The truth has no agenda, but it can enlighten our eyes and illuminate our minds. Lu Xun once wrote an essay titled "On Opening Your Eyes to See". If our right to repudiate is denied, the article should instead be called "On Closing Your Eyes to Fabricate".
In my third message, I retweeted an essay from another web user, which discussed the methods people can adopt to protect their rights when the police knock on their doors. I do not know what was wrong with these messages. In just 10 minutes, my account was annihilated, a tragedy that was followed, of course, by more candles and memorial services.
My next reincarnation is going to be more difficult. The Chinese government makes sure its internet technology keeps pace with the times, which leaves me effectively no loophole to exploit. On the morning of 13 May, I attempted to re-register on Weibo, and after an hour of typing almost 30 versions of verification codes, I still couldn't get registered. My IP address, which is static, has been blocked. Registering a new account would require a verification code to be sent to a mobile number. I have only one mobile phone, which has similarly been blocked.
A friend once asked me what it felt like to be silenced. "It's as if you were chatting and laughing with friends in a brilliantly lit house, when you suddenly fell into a dark pit," I told him. "You yell at the top of your lungs, but no one can hear you. You struggle to get out, but only sink deeper." I also need to console those who love me, and let them know everything is fine. In this abyss, I am once again visited by the biting chill of uncertainty, of not knowing what will come next. I am not as prepared as I thought. I am still scared, but I will not stop struggling, because I believe my silence would only embolden those who are trampling on my rights, and will trample on the rights of others. I need to stand bold straight and tell those in the "relevant organs": you can never take away my rights. This abyss, I believe, will not remain dark for ever. As long as I keep up my effort, I will eventually find a piece of flint and kindle a tiny spark to illuminate the square inch in front of my feet.
May 14, 2013
An Atrocity in Syria, With No Victim Too Small
By ANNE BARNARD and HANIA MOURTADA
BEIRUT, Lebanon — After dragging 46 bodies from the streets near his hometown on the Syrian coast, Omar lost count. For four days, he said, he could not eat, remembering the burned body of a baby just a few months old; a fetus ripped from a woman’s belly; a friend lying dead, his dog still standing guard.
Omar survived what residents, antigovernment activists and human rights monitors are calling one of the darkest recent episodes in the Syrian war, a massacre in government-held Tartus Province that has inflamed sectarian divisions, revealed new depths of depravity and made the prospect of stitching the country back together appear increasingly difficult.
That mass killing this month was one in a series of recent sectarian-tinged attacks that Syrians on both sides have seized on to demonize each other. Government and rebel fighters have filmed themselves committing atrocities for the world to see.
Footage routinely shows pro-government fighters beating, killing and mutilating Sunni rebel detainees, forcing them to refer to President Bashar al-Assad as God. One rebel commander recently filmed himself cutting out an organ of a dead pro-government fighter, biting it and promising the same fate to Alawites, members of Mr. Assad’s Shiite Muslim sect.
That lurid violence has fueled pessimism about international efforts to end the fighting. As the United States and Russia work to organize peace talks next month between Mr. Assad and his opponents, the ever more extreme carnage makes reconciliation seem more remote.
Nadim Houry, the director of Human Rights Watch in Beirut, said he sensed “a complete disconnect between diplomacy and events on the ground.”
“The conflict is getting more visceral,” he said. Without concrete confidence-building measures, he said, and with more people “seeing it as an existential struggle, it’s hard to imagine what the negotiations would look like.”
The recent executions, reconstructed by speaking with residents and human rights monitors, unfolded over three days in two Sunni enclaves in the largely Alawite and Christian province, first in the village of Bayda and then in the Ras al-Nabeh district of the nearby city of Baniyas.
Government troops and supporting militias went house to house, killing entire families and smashing men’s heads with concrete blocks.
Antigovernment activists provided lists of 322 victims they said had been identified. Videos showed at least a dozen dead children. Hundreds more people are reported missing.
“How can we reach a point of national forgiveness?” said Ahmad Abu al-Khair, a well-known blogger from Bayda. He said that the attacks had begun there, and that 800 of about 6,000 residents were missing.
Multiple video images that residents said they had recorded in Bayda and Ras al-Nabeh — of small children lying where they died, some embracing one another or their parents — were so searing that even some government supporters rejected Syrian television’s official version of events, that the army had “crushed a number of terrorists.”
One prominent pro-government writer, Bassam al-Qadi, took the unusual, risky step of publicly blaming loyalist gunmen for the killings and accusing the government of “turning a blind eye to criminals and murderers in the name of ‘defending the homeland.’ “
Images of the killings in and around Baniyas have transfixed Syrians. In one video that residents say shows victims in Ras al-Nabeh, the bodies of at least seven children and several adults lie tangled and bloody on a rain-soaked street. A baby girl, naked from the waist down, stares skyward, tiny hands balled into fists. Her round face is unblemished, but her belly is darkened and her legs and feet are charred into black cinders.
Opposition leaders called the Baniyas killings sectarian “cleansing” aimed at pushing Sunnis out of territory that may form part of an Alawite rump state if Syria ultimately fractures. Mr. Houry said the killings inevitably raised such fears, though there was no evidence of such a broad policy. Tens of thousands of displaced Sunnis are staying in the province, largely safe.
Not all reactions followed sectarian lines. Survivors said Christian neighbors had helped survivors escape, and on Tuesday, Alawite and Christian residents of the province said they were starting an aid campaign for victims to “defy the sectarian wind.”
Mr. Qadi, the pro-government writer, labeled the killers “criminals who do not represent the Alawites” and called on the government to immediately “acknowledge what happened” and arrest “those hyenas.”
He added: “This has happened in a lot of places. Baniyas is only the most recent one.”
When the uprising began in March 2011 as a peaceful movement, Sunnis in Bayda raised banners denouncing Sunni extremists, seeking to reassure Alawites that they opposed Mr. Assad, not his sect, said Mr. Abu al-Khair, the blogger.
In May 2011, security forces stormed the village, killing demonstrators, including women.
After that, Bayda remained largely quiet. Most activists and would-be fighters left. But residents said they often helped defecting soldiers escape, a pattern they believe set off the violence.
Activists said that on May 2, around 4 a.m., security forces came to detain defectors, and were ambushed in a fight that killed several government fighters — the first known armed clash in Baniyas. The government called in reinforcements and, by 7 a.m., began shelling the village.
A pro-government television channel showed a reporter on a hill above Bayda. Smoke rose from green slopes and houses below, where, the reporter said, “terrorists” were hiding. A group of men the reporter described as government fighters walked unhurriedly through a square.
“God willing, Bayda will be finished today,” a uniformed man said on camera.
What happened next was described in Skype interviews with four survivors who for their safety gave only nicknames, an activist in Baniyas, and Mr. Abu al-Khair, who said he had spoken from Damascus with more than 30 witnesses.
Men in partial or full military dress went door to door, separating men — and boys 10 and older — from women and younger children.
Residents said some gunmen were from the National Defense Forces, the new framework for pro-government militias, mainly Alawites in the Baniyas area. They bludgeoned and shot men, shot or stabbed families to death and burned houses and bodies.
The activist in Baniyas, Abu Obada, said security forces had told people to gather in the square, and some Bayda villagers, fearing a massacre, attacked them with weapons abandoned by defectors. Other residents disputed that or were unsure because they had been hiding.
A cousin of Mr. Abu al-Khair’s, who gave her name as Warda al-Hurra, or the Free Rose, said her female relatives had described being herded to a bedroom with children, and heard male relatives crying out in pain nearby. At one point, her cousin Ahmed, 10, and brother Othman, 16, were brought in, injured and “limp as a towel,” she said.
Her aunt begged a guard to let them stay, but he said, “They’ll kill me if I make one single mistake.”
Soon another gunman shouted at him and took the boys away. They are still missing.
The gunmen brought more women, until there were 100 in the room. He ordered the guard to kill them. The guard said: “Don’t be rash! Take a breath.”
The man relented. The women heard gunmen celebrating in the square; later they were released. When they ventured out, there were “bodies on every corner,” Ms. Hurra said.
Another resident, Abu Abdullah, said he had fled his house and returned after dark to find stabbed, charred bodies of women and children dumped in the square, and 30 of his relatives dead.
Omar, of nearby Ras al-Nabeh, the man who had dragged dozens of bodies from the streets, said he had helped Bayda residents pick up bodies, placing 46 in two houses and the rest in a mosque, then had run away, fearing the return of the killers. He said he had recognized some bodies, including the village sheik, Omar al-Bayassi, whom some considered pro-government.
One video said to be from Bayda showed eight dead children on a bed. Two toddlers cuddled face to face; a baby rested on a dead woman’s shoulder.
On May 4, shelling and gunfire began to hit Ras al-Nabeh. Abu Yehya, a resident, hid in his house with his wife and two children, who stayed quiet: “Their instincts took over.” Two days later, he said, he emerged to find his neighbors, a family of 13, shot dead against a wall.
On May 6, security forces allowed in Red Crescent workers. Bodies were tossed and bulldozed into trucks and dumped in a mass grave, Mr. Abu al-Khair said.
Residents posted smiling pictures of children they said had been killed: Moaz al-Biassi, 1 year old, and his sister Afnan, 3. Three sisters, Halima, Sara, and Aisha. Curly-haired Noor, and Fatima, too little to have much hair but already sporting earrings.
Mr. Obada said residents on Tuesday were indignant when a government delegation offered compensation for damaged houses, saying, “What do you get if you rebuild the house and the whole family is dead?”
Displaced Sunnis who had sheltered there are fleeing, and some say Alawites are no longer welcome.
“It’s now impossible for them to stay in Syria,” Omar said.
Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, and Sebnem Arsu from Antakya, Turkey.
Syria mutilation footage sparks doubts over wisdom of backing rebels
Anti-Assad fighter appears to eat internal organ of dead government soldier in horrific footage
Ian Black and Martin Chulov
The Guardian, Tuesday 14 May 2013 18.42 BST
Horrific video footage of a Syrian rebel commander eating the heart or lung of a dead government fighter has aroused furious international controversy, fuelling an already heated debate over western support for the armed uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
The grisly film had been circulating for several days, attracting extensive comment on social media networks such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. But in the face of an often vicious propaganda war between the government and rebels, early doubts about the film's authenticity faded when the perpetrator, named as Khaled al-Hamad, admitted that he had mutilated the corpse of an unnamed soldier as an act of revenge.
"We opened his cell phone and I found a clip of a woman and her two daughters fully naked and he [the dead soldier] was humiliating them, and sticking a stick here and there," Hamad told the Time news website.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), an independent monitor, said: "The figure in the video cuts the heart and liver out of the body and uses sectarian language to insult Alawites [Assad's minority sect]. At the end of the video [the man] is filmed putting the corpse's heart into his mouth, as if he is taking a bite out of it."
Hamad, also known as Abu Sakkar, said he also had video footage of himself using a saw to cut a Shabiha government militiaman into "small and large pieces".
Yasser Taha, a fellow fighter, told the Guardian an unnamed female relative of Abu Sakkar had been raped and killed by government soldiers. Time said he had in fact eaten the dead man's lung, not his liver or heart.
The Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC), the main western and Arab-backed anti-Assad political grouping, quickly condemned the incident as a crime and pledged to bring the perpetrator to justice.
Atrocities have been reported since the start of the Syrian conflict in March 2011, but few images have been as repulsive as this one. Film of prisoners apparently being buried alive turned out to have been faked, but other shocking footage proved genuine.
"It is not enough for Syria's opposition to condemn such behaviour or blame it on violence by the government," said Nadim Houry of HRW. "The opposition forces need to act firmly to stop such abuses."
The SOC said: "Such an act contradicts the morals of the Syrian people as well as the values and principles of the Free Syrian Army. The FSA has been [fighting] and continues to fight for the dignity of every Syrian striving for freedom.
"The FSA is a national army above all, formed to defend civilians and deliver the Syrian people from the mentality of revenge and crime. It completely rejects the ill-treatment of the wounded and the disfigurement of the dead."
The video is a blow to faltering western efforts to raise and mentor a credible opposition force to fight for democracy, in the event that the Assad regime falls.
International revulsion seems likely to affect discussions in western capitals about supporting the FSA. Britain and France have been seeking to amend or drop the EU arms embargo on Syria. The Obama administration has signalled that it may start openly supplying the rebels but has not done so yet. The CIA has reportedly been co-ordinating arms deliveries by anti-Assad Gulf states.
Opposition supporters complained that one savage act was getting massive global media coverage while the death of an estimated 80,000 people was being tolerated by the international community.
"This distressing incident is one example of warfare gone completely askew, but it clearly doesn't represent the Syrian opposition at large," said Julien Barnes-Dacey of the European Council for Foreign Relations in London. "It doesn't compare in scale with massacres and atrocities committed by the Syrian regime. But it does play into fears about where the conflict is going and whether arming the rebels is the right approach."
Sakkar was a well-known member of the Farouq Brigades, a unit that rose from the ruins of the Baba Amr suburb of Homs and became one of the rebels' best resourced fighting forces.
During the first 18 months of the war, the Farouq Brigades were seen as a cohesive militia with mainstream leanings, which could credibly fight under the banner of the FSA. Then and now, the FSA has struggled to assemble a command-and-control structure to control the large numbers of rebel-aligned groups, which mostly answer to local leaders.
"It highlights the fact that we are not talking about a centrally controlled and well-organised rebel force," Barnes-Dacey said. "These are rebels fighting in distinct areas according to their own needs and ambitions. Some are driven by a thirst for revenge, criminalisation, sectarianism … These are the array of forces that have been unleashed in Syria today."
Farouq became established in Idlib, where it was backed by Qatar and at times Saudi Arabia. Late last year, Sakkar formed a splinter group, which he called the Independent Omar al-Farouq Brigade.
For the last six months this small unit has joined the fray in Qusayr, which borders Lebanon and is seen as a strategic crossroads by regime and rebels.
Sakkar's sectarian rhetoric has hardened considerably lately, and he has often been recorded denouncing Alawites and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia militia that is heavily involved in battles near Homs.
Hamad told Time that Syria's revolution started peacefully. "They [the Alawites] were the ones who killed our children in Baba Amr and raped our women," he said. Then, referring to the recent massacre of Sunni villagers in Bayda, near Baniyas – attributed by rebels to the regime – he added: "They were the ones who slaughtered the children and women in Bayda. We didn't start it; they started it."
Swearing to avenge every death, he said: "Our slogan is, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth."
Additional reporting by Mona Mahmood
Shocking videos have emerged regularly from Syria over the last two years, but these are some that have attracted wide public attention. In several cases the government and rebels blamed each other for committing atrocities.
• In Aleppo 68 bodies were discovered in a river in January 2013. All the victims had been killed by a single gunshot to the head. Investigations showed that many of the victims were residents of the Bustan al-Qasr district or other areas under opposition control who disappeared when they went into government-controlled areas.
• Syrian forces allegedly buried alive a civilian from al Qusair, Homs in April 2012. Storyful analysed it and found serious doubts about its authenticity. BBC experts noted dubious factors including the Alawite accents of those who appeared in the film.
• Footage from Aleppo showed Free Syrian Army rebels executing four Assad loyalists in August 2012. Under pressure from its western supporters the FSA condemned the incident and promised to investigate and punish the perpetrators.
• Bodies were shown being thrown off a bridge in Hama in August 2011. CNN said the footage could not be independently authenticated.
Austria says UK push to arm Syrian rebels would violate international law
Forceful Austrian position signals deep EU divisions on Syria ahead of this month's embargo decision
Tuesday 14 May 2013 17.37 BST guardian.co.uk
Fighters from Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra take their positions on the front line during a clash with Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al Assad in Aleppo.
Fighters from Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra take their positions on the front line during a clash with Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo. Photograph: Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters/REUTERS
"Die Briten sind not amused," is how Die Presse reported it today. "The Brits are not amused." The Austrian foreign ministry circulated a discussion paper (known in Brussels jargon as a non-paper) among the EU member states yesterday forcefully rebutting British and French arguments for amending the European embargo on Syria to allow weapons shipments to the rebels.
Update: here is a link to an English version of the Austrian paper [click]
The Austrian paper argues that lifting the embargo would "constitute a breach of international and EU law" and be contrary to the "principle of non-intervention and non-use of force" laid down in the UN Charter. If the weapons ended up in the hands of the al-Nusra Front, it would also violate UN Security Council resolutions on al-Qaida, given al-Nusra's stated affiliation.
According to the Austrian press reports the UK asked the Austrians not to circulate the paper, but Vienna did it anyway - a sign of the declining clout of the UK in Brussels as the country sinks into an internecine quagmire on EU membership.
Austria has a particular reason for opposing the lifting of the arms embargo, as it has UN peacekeeping troops deployed in the line of fire on the Golan Heights, but sources in Brussels suggest the Austrians may also be expressing the views of a EU majority that has deep reservations over lifting the embargo, particularly at a time when there is at least the glimmer of diplomatic hope in the wake of the Kerry-Lavrov agreement to hold a new international conference on Syria.
This argument runs directly counter to the case put forward last month by William Hague and Laurent Fabius, for the lifting of the embargo on the rebels, in which they claimed that only such pressure could bring the regime to the negotiating table.
The present embargo is due to expire on June 1, and the final decision on what to do about will probably taken at an EU foreign ministers meeting on May 27. There are technical experts meetings this week and ambassadorial sessions on it next week.
Simply failing to agree and allowing the embargo to lapse is a result nobody really wants as it would let the regime off the hook as well, unfreezing Assad's bank accounts for example. The most likely outcome is that the creative linguists in Brussels come up with a form of words that each member state can interpret in its own way. This is what happened when the embargo was amended in February, to allow "non-lethal support and technical assistance for the protection of civilians". Most EU members took this to mean technical assistance related to non-lethal equipment. The UK took a more liberal interpretation, relating to all forms of technical assistance, including forms of military training.
Hague told parliament in March:
Such technical assistance can include assistance, advice and training on how to maintain security in areas no longer controlled by the regime; on co-ordination between civilian and military councils; on how to protect civilians and minimise the risks to them; and on how to maintain security during a transition.
As a result, the EU pursued two policies under a single formula. That divergence is only likely to get deeper after June 1.
Mali's displaced women organise for long stay away from home
As the donor conference for Mali takes place in Brussels, displaced Malian women aim to tackle more immediate concerns
Alex Duval Smith in Ségou, Mali
Wednesday 15 May 2013 12.13 BST guardian.co.uk
Two things, at least, matter more to Ramata Touré than the outcome of the donor conference in Brussels on Wednesday at which representatives of more than 100 countries will be asked for €2bn ($2.6bn) to help bring peace and development to Mali.
"I need sleeping mats for my grandchildren," said Touré, 58, who arrived in this town on the banks of the Niger river after fleeing Gao, 700km to the north, in March last year. "And I need the rains of June to come because when they do the farmers will go back to work and Gao's markets and banks will reopen,'' she told a meeting of about 50 displaced women in a courtyard in Ségou.
They are among more than 500,000 people in central and northern Mali who in the past 16 months have become dependent on aid – chiefly water pumped by the Red Cross – as a result of destruction caused by the advance of armed groups demanding secession for the north and the imposition of sharia law. Of those, about 300,000 are displaced within the country. An estimated further 175,000 are living in refugee camps in Algeria, Mauritania, Niger or Burkina Faso, according to the UN.
In January, France sent 4,500 troops to defeat fighters linked to al-Qaida. But the former colonial power wants most of its troops out by July. The international community is backing the deployment of an 11,200-strong UN stabilisation force and pressing for elections in July. The donors' conference, at which Mali's interim government will put forward a 12-point development plan covering everything from judicial reform to private-sector incentives, is part of the same urgent timetable that many Malians find unrealistic.
"I would love to go home," says Touré, who used to sell second-hand clothes from Europe in Gao's market. "Here in Ségou I have all the children in the family with me – 15 of them I think it is – and no ability to work because I don't have a client base or suppliers. But I am going to have to stay for now because the rebels are still in Gao. They are just hiding until the French leave."
The donors' conference will emphasise the urgent need to reopen schools and state hospitals in the north and create real economic opportunities in cities such as Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao. However, city administrators, teachers and doctors have not returned to these towns in large numbers. Neither have the majority of international aid agencies, which – because of the fear of abductions – do not generally permit European staff to stay overnight in the north.
Kidal remains occupied by the MNLA (Azawad liberation movement), and the effectiveness of the new UN force, Minusma, is untested. People don't have much faith in Mali's own army, which has been accused of human rights crimes and whose weakness prompted the French intervention.
Touré says other displaced women living in Ségou are as filled with trepidation as she is at the thought of going home. Fatimata Maiga, 32, came from Timbuktu last year with her three children, all under 14. "Our parents and our husbands have stayed behind. Here in Ségou there is no refugee camp. We have to rent or sleep in relatives' courtyards. But we have no way of making money. We are dependent on anything our husbands can send us and on charity."
Care International, with funding from the UN children's agency, Unicef, hands out basic household kits to displaced people. They include sleeping mats, buckets, bowls, cooking pots, water purification tablets and a few utensils. Touré's women's group – Annya, which means joined by the heart – is one of many started by displaced Malian women since the beginning of the war.
"When we started, the idea was simply to make friends and run a tontine [savings bank]. But after a time the city authorities asked us to represent the displaced women and children in Ségou. In the absence of displaced persons' camps, and given that registering as a displaced person is voluntary, we have become an important link in the humanitarian chain," says Touré.
Meetings are held a couple of times a week, at which the women exchange news from the north, their political views and even recipes. Touré says the governor of the Ségou region had begun handing out grants to people who wanted to go home. "We in Annya are staying right here for now and not taking any chances. If there are good rains, some of us may be tempted to go home, at least for a while, to plant the fields. But the earliest it will be safe in Mali will be after the elections."
Mayan pyramid bulldozed by road construction firm
Belize pyramid dating back at least 2,300 years is destroyed by firm to extract crushed rock for road-building project
Associated Press in Belize City
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 14 May 2013 15.14 BST
A construction company has essentially destroyed one of Belize's largest Mayan pyramids with diggers and bulldozers to extract crushed rock for a road-building project, authorities have announced.
The head of the Belize Institute of Archaeology, Jaime Awe, said on Tuesday that the destruction at the Nohmul complex in northern Belize was detected late last week. The ceremonial centre dates back at least 2,300 years and is the most important site in northern Belize, near the border with Mexico.
"It's a feeling of incredible disbelief because of the ignorance and the insensitivity … they were using this for road fill," Awe said. "It's like being punched in the stomach, it's just so horrendous."
Nohmul was in the middle of a privately owned sugar cane field, and lacked the even stone sides frequently seen in reconstructed or better-preserved pyramids. But Awe said the builders could not possibly have mistaken the pyramid mound, which is about 30 metres (100ft) tall, for a natural hill because the ruins were well known and the landscape there was naturally flat.
"These guys knew that this was an ancient structure. It's just bloody laziness," Awe said.
Photos from the scene showed diggers clawing away at the pyramid's sloping sides, leaving an isolated core of limestone cobbles at the centre, with what appears to be a narrow Mayan chamber dangling above one clawed-out section.
"Just to realise that the ancient Maya acquired all this building material to erect these buildings, using nothing more than stone tools and quarried the stone, and carried this material on their heads, using tump lines," Awe said. "To think that today we have modern equipment, that you can go and excavate in a quarry anywhere, but that this company would completely disregard that and completely destroyed this building. Why can't these people just go and quarry somewhere that has no cultural significance? It's mind-boggling."
Belizean police said they were conducting an investigation and criminal charges were possible. The Nohmul complex sits on private land, but Belizean law says that any pre-Hispanic ruins are under government protection.
The Belize community action group Citizens Organised for Liberty Through Action called the destruction of the archaeological site "an obscene example of disrespect for the environment and history".
It is not the first time this has happened in Belize, a country dotted with hundreds of Mayan ruins, though few as large as Nohmul.
Norman Hammond, an emeritus professor of archaeology at Boston University who worked on Belizean research projects in the 1980s, wrote in an email that "bulldozing Maya mounds for road fill is an endemic problem in Belize (the whole of the San Estevan centre has gone, both of the major pyramids at Louisville, other structures at Nohmul, many smaller sites), but this sounds like the biggest yet".
Arlen Chase, chairman of the department of anthropology at the University of Central Florida, said: "Archaeologists are disturbed when such things occur, but there is only a very limited infrastructure in Belize that can be applied to cultural heritage management.
"Unfortunately, they [destruction of sites] are all too common, but not usually in the centre of a large Maya site."
Chase said there had probably still been much to learn from the site. "A great deal of archaeology was undertaken at Nohmul in the 70s and 80s, but this only sampled a small part of this large centre."
Belize isn't the only place where the handiwork of the prolific Maya builders is being destroyed. The ancient Mayas spread across south-eastern Mexico and through Guatemala, Honduras and Belize.
"I don't think I am exaggerating if I say that every day a Maya mound is being destroyed for construction in one of the countries where the Maya lived," wrote Francisco Estrada-Belli, a professor at Tulane University's anthropology department.
"Unfortunately, this destruction of our heritage is irreversible but many don't take it seriously," he added. "The only way to stop it is by showing that it is a major crime and people can and will go to jail for it."
Robert Rosenswig, an archaeologist at the State University of New York at Albany, described the difficult and heartbreaking work of trying to salvage information at the nearby site of San Estevan following similar destruction around 2005.
"Bulldozing damage at San Estevan is extensive and the site is littered with Classic period potsherds," he wrote in an academic paper describing the scene. "We spent a number of days at the beginning of the 2005 season trying to figure out the extent of the damage … after scratching our heads for many days, a bulldozer showed up and we realised that what appear to be mounds, when overgrown with chest-high vegetation, are actually recently bulldozed garbage piles."
However small the compensation, bulldozing pyramids is one very brutal way of revealing the inner cores of the structures, which were often built up in periodic stages of construction.
"The one advantage of this massive destruction, to the core site, is that the remains of early domestic activity are now visible on the surface," Rosenswig wrote.
Millionaire yoga guru Bikram Choudhury accused of rape and human trafficking
By Dominic Rushe,
Millionaire yoga guru Bikram Choudhury has been accused of rape, sexual assault and “human trafficking” in two new lawsuits filed by former students.
According to the suits, filed in Los Angeles this month, Choudhury has “a propensity to sexually assault young women”. The two suits, filed by women named only as Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2, charge Choudhury and Bikram Yoga College of India of sexual battery, false imprisonment, discrimination, harassment and other counts.
Calcutta-born Choudury, the 67-year-old founder of the “hot yoga” chain, runs an international empire of about 650 yoga studios across three continents. Choudhury claims to have taught yoga to presidents Nixon, Reagan and Clinton. Celebrities including Lady Gaga, David Beckham and Madonna have practiced Bikram, a series of 26 yoga poses that take place in rooms heated to over 100F (37.8C).
Another former Bikram student, Sarah Baughn, filed a suit in March claiming Choudhury made sexual advances while she was training to be a teacher. That complaint alleged sexual harassment but not rape. The two new plaintiffs have opted to maintain their anonymity.
All three women are being represented by Mary Shea Hagebols of Shea Law Offices in Oakland, California. “I have worked with the victims of sexual assault for decades,” she said. “It is very difficult for someone to come forward and speak out against someone powerful and wealthy.” She said her clients wished to protect other women from similar assaults.
Petra Starke, president of Bikram Yoga College of India, said she could not comment on the cases.
Jane Doe 1, who filed her suit on 7 May, claims Choudhury raped her twice in the fall of 2011. She claims that Choudhury’s inner circle (identified in the suit as defendants 1-25) were aware of their boss’s behaviour.
“Plaintiff is informed and believes that after defendant Bikram Choudhury lures the young women to his place of business, through various schemes and designs and with the participation of his inner circle who are knowledgeable of and complicit in the abuse, he sexually assaults and/or rapes them,” the suit alleges.
In March this year Jane Doe 1 said she confronted Choudhury and told him his conduct was “unlawful, unwanted, and unconsented to”. She said Choudhury tried to “inflict guilt” on her by saying if she came forward, the Bikram community would suffer.
Jane Doe 2, who filed on 6 May, claims that Choudhury raped her in November 2010 after her boyfriend gave her a gift of a $13,000 nine-week teacher training programme at Choudhury’s Bikram Yoga studio in San Diego. The grueling training programme began at 7am and ended at between 2am and 3am. During the sessions, would-be teachers were told what they could eat, wear (skimpy clothing and nothing green), what they could say and “the expressions on their faces”, Jane Doe 2 alleges.
During weeks of gruelling training Choudhury singled out Jane Doe 2 claiming she was “a piece of gold in a roomful of brass”. His approaches became more sexual and were rebuffed. The suit alleges the exhausted student was raped when she was “too weak and overwrought to fight him off”.
The suits paint a cult-like atmosphere at the training camps. Trainees were allegedly told that Choudhury is on the same level as Jesus Christ or Buddha, that Bikram yoga can cure cancer and that practitioners will be able to live to 100 years old. Trainees were bullied and humiliated as well as praised, the suits say, and Choudhury allegedly gave lectures in which he disparaged gays, Americans and made ethnic slurs.
Jane Doe 2 claims that Choudhury recruits volunteers from overseas who are “so in fear of defendant Bikram Choudhury’s wrath that they will travel to the US and risk violating immigration laws in order to serve him. Once in the US these volunteers work for little or zero pay. “Their duties include grooming him, massaging him, making his tea, bring[ing] him food and being forced to submit to sexual assaults and rapes against their will,” the suit alleges.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
In the USA...
For those living in America you are, yet again, witnessing the absolute corruption of your corporate media ........ and the agenda within it that defines that corruption. You do not have a 'freedom of the press' anymore. You are captives of this corrupted media ............
With Benghazi, Republicans Recruit Beltway Press For Another Whitewater Production
May 14, 2013 10:41 AM EDT
Reporting on ABC News' story about how administration talking points about the September 11 terrorist attack on a U.S. diplomatic facilities had gone through an inter-agency editing process, World News Tonight anchor Diane Sawyer on May 10 introduced the program's coverage by claiming the White House had been "challenged today during a leadership crisis." Sawyer reported the latest round of Benghazi questions and allegations about the talking points revolved around "what the president did on Benghazi" eight months ago, the night four Americans were killed.
Neither claim was true. There's no indication Obama played any role in the crafting of the talking points, which had nothing to do with what the president did during the attack. But for ABC, the editing process for a sheet of talking points is now considered a "leadership crisis."
As wildly inaccurate and misleading as Sawyer's brief introduction was, it helped in terms of marking how deeply the mainstream news media have ventured into the GOP scandal culture in order to help legitimize the right-wing effort to turn Benghazi into full fledged political firestorm at home.
With Republicans working in tandem with Fox News to prop up Congressional hearings that have provided a framework for news coverage in recent weeks, the Benghazi story has taken on a nostalgic, 1990's feel recalling a time when the same Republican Party and the same conservative media noise machine hounded a Democratic president with endless allegations of wrongdoing. Punctuated by hearings, the wild allegations were excitedly churned through news cycles by reporters and pundits in hot pursuit of "scandal." (And used by conservatives to raise campaign cash.)
It's especially reminiscent of Whitewater, the octopus-like investigation that stretched on for years, cost tens of millions of dollars, and even branched out into scrutinizing President Bill Clinton's sex life. Over time, the vast majority of those endless Clinton allegations were proven to be hollow. But aidded by some regrettable journalism, the relentless scandal culture took hold and managed to damage to the Clinton administration. Now it's time for a rerun. ("Getting the band back together," is how Esquire's Charles Pierce describes the right-wing's obvious re-assembling of its `90s scandal machine.)
As the Beltway's Benghazi witch-hunt gathers momentum, and questions about relatively minor events, such as the inter-agency drafting of national security talking points, are portrayed as deeply disturbing news revelations (while previous, disproved Benghazi allegations get quietly shelved), it's uncanny how the storyline more and more resembles the early days of the Whitewater fiasco, and other ancillary Clinton pursuits.
Note how the formerly Whitewater-obsessed Wall Street Journal editorial page is calling for the creation of a Select Committee to investigate Benghazi. The paper insists it's the only way "for the U.S. political system to extricate itself from the labyrinth called Benghazi," when a Select Committee could accomplish the opposite and drag the story out for years. Indeed, the whole point of the GOP's Whitewater model is to create a political labyrinth for the White House, and to then wallow in it and hope the press does, too. That's the Whitewater model; to launch a "scandal" that can sustain itself through endless investigation for months and years on end.
Like Whitewater, look at how the Benghazi production now comes complete with dubious claims about whistleblowers (and their unreliable advocate), controversial talking points, and leaked Congressional testimony used to whip up media anticipation. But it's testimony that ultimately failed to advance the story.
Bill Clinton and his former senior advisers must be suffering severe bouts of déjà vu these days.
"All of this is a grotesque over-reaction - for transparently political purposes," wrote blogger Andrew Sullivan in a recent Benghazi-related post, headlined "Whitewater Round II."
In fact, Whitewater seems to be enjoying a renaissance of sorts within far-right circles and might now be considered a model of partisan attack. This week, Fox's Megyn Kelly referred to Whitewater as "one of the biggest scandals that we've seen in recent years." Kelly then introduced former Whitewater deputy counsel Robert Bittman to comment on the possible need for an independent prosecutor to investigate Benghazi. (In the real world, Whitewater is often used as shorthand for a waste of money and a pointlessly partisan and incompetent investigation.)
The key to the Whitewater formula for Republicans is to get the press to play along and to get the press to hype stories beyond their importance while simultaneously not penalizing Republicans when their previous, laundry list of allegations fall flat. In recent days, that formula has been working for the GOP.
Recall that over last eights months, Republicans, with Fox News and the right-wing media is their amplifier, have claimed Obama never called the Benghazi attack an act of terror. They suggested former CIA director David Patraeus was forced to resign because of Benghazi, that the White House had demanded changes in the original Benghazi talking points. That Obama watched Americans die in real time last September 11 and refused to send help. That so-called whistleblowers were blocked from testifying about the Benghazi, along with Benghazi survivors. Also, that Hillary Clinton was to blame for security cutbacks at the Benghazi facility, and faked a concussion in order to avoid testifying about the terror attack.
False, false, false, false, false, false, and false.
But has that established record of shoddy misinformation slowed the press from embracing Benghazi as a stirring controversy? No. Just like it rarely slowed down the Whitewater coverage, which for years allowed Republicans to swing and miss without ever being called out.
In terms of hyping Benghazi stories beyond their importance, the New York Times conceded in its May 11 report about the fresh controversy surrounding the drafting of the talking points, "the e-mails do not reveal major new details about the attack or other discrepancies in the administration's evolving account of it." But that didn't stop the paper from pushing the article on page one.
Why? Because like the new ground rules that the press established for Clinton, it's the appearance of impropriety that makes it a news event. That, and the fact that Republicans are deeply, deeply troubled by that appearance of impropriety.
At the same time, the scandal culture is reinforced by dubious journalism and commentary that hardens erroneous GOP talking points, such as when NBC's Tom Brokaw claimed on May 13 that United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice went on the Sunday morning talk shows immediately following the Benghazi attack and "in a very emphatic way" she said "it was not a terrorist attack." In truth, Rice stressed during her September 16 appearance on Face The Nation, "it's clear that there were extremist elements that joined in and escalated the violence" at the diplomatic facilities in Benghazi.
The Benghazi circus, created by Republicans and their allies in the right-wing media, has been punctuated by eights months of steady lies about Obama and his administration. For the press to now ignore that avalanche of falsehoods and to then wildly overhype the issue of edits to a sheet of talking points is to return to the dark journalistic days of Whitewater. It's to return to a time when the Beltway press enabled and promoted a dishonest smear campaign.
CNN debunks ABC’s Benghazi ‘scoop’ with new email evidence
By David Ferguson
Tuesday, May 14, 2013 16:02 EDT
CNN’s Jake Tapper has obtained an email from one of President Obama’s top advisors which formed the onus of ABC News’ “scoop” on the purported mishandling of the Benghazi attack. The email, which CNN reprinted in full Tuesday, was characterized by ABC’s Jonathan Karl as a smoking gun in the investigation, proof that talking points about the attack had been massaged in favor of the White House and State Department.
The actual email, from then-Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes, has turned out to be nothing of the sort, undermining the thrust of ABC’s story and the reasoning behind the latest hearings about Benghazi.
Last Friday, ABC claimed that the White House had rewritten the talking points on the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi twelve times and has scrubbed them of any references to terrorism.
The news organization breathlessly reported that, according to a source, the talking points were massaged to protect the interests of the White House, the CIA and the State Department, in particular those of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The Weekly Standard also published portions of an email that appeared damning to Clinton.
“The actual e-mail (from Rhodes) appears to show that whomever leaked it did so in a way that made it appear that the White House was primarily concerned with the State Department’s desire to remove references and warnings about specific terrorist groups so as to not bring criticism to the department,” Tapper wrote Tuesday.
Salon’s Joan Walsh wrote, “Significantly, the Rhodes email doesn’t even mention the controversial Benghazi talking points. Reporting by Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard paraphrased Rhodes’ email the same way – to depict him jumping in behind Nuland and protecting the interests of the State Department.”
According to Tapper, “Whoever provided those quotes seemingly invented the notion that Rhodes wanted the concerns of the State Department specifically addressed.”
The source for the ABC and Standard stories also singled out State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland as being particularly demanding with regard to assuring that her leadership would not look negligent or inattentive to warnings signs and signals leading up to the attack. Tapper said that upon viewing the full email chain, Nuland was merely one of many officials expressing concerns about how their agencies would be viewed by the public.
Further, Walsh posited, “Presumably, someone changed Rhodes’ email before leaking it to Karl, but ABC News hasn’t replied to the scoop by Tapper (who used to work there). ”
“ABC’s story added fuel to the Benghazi fire,” she said, “we’ll see if CNN’s helps put it out.”
ABC Admits That They Never Read Benghazi Emails That They Smeared Obama With
By: Jason Easley
May. 14th, 2013
After Jake Tapper exposed ABC’s Benghazi email scoop as edited to make Obama look bad, ABC News admitted that they lied to America. They never actually read the original emails.
In their May 10th exclusive, ABC News claimed that they had obtained the Benghazi emails, “ABC News has obtained 12 different versions of the talking points that show they were extensively edited as they evolved from the drafts first written entirely by the CIA to the final version distributed to Congress and to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice before she appeared on five talk shows the Sunday after that attack.”
Later in the same story, ABC’s Jonathan Karl wrote, “White House emails reviewed by ABC News suggest the edits were made with extensive input from the State Department.”
After CNN’s Jake Tapper exposed ABC’s report was based on information that was edited in order to make the Obama administration look bad, ABC tried to explain away their lies by claiming that their inaccurate story, and the actual emails are the same thing, “Assuming the email cited by Jake Tapper is accurate, it is consistent with the summary quoted by Jon Karl.”
In the process of trying to defend himself, Karl exposed his own lies, “This is how I reported the contents of that e-mail, quoting verbatim a source who reviewed the original documents and shared detailed notes.” (In his original story, Karl claimed that ABC News had obtained the emails. This obviously wasn’t true.)
Karl also explained that he and ABC News never reviewed the emails, “The source was not permitted to make copies of the original e-mails. The White House has refused multiple requests – from journalists, including myself, and from Republican leaders in Congress – to release the full e-mail exchanges.”
Jon Karl wrote that nobody could get copies the emails. If this was true, how did Jake Tapper get them?
The truth is that Karl’s source was likely someone within the Republican House, because these emails were made available to the Republicans investigating Benghazi months ago. (Before Karl came to ABC he was a congressional correspondent at CNN, so connect the dots. Plus, it wasn’t a coincidence that this story broke days before House Republicans held another Benghazi hearing.)
However, none of this explains why Karl and ABC News would claim to have obtained and reviewed emails that they never saw or had.
ABC News and Karl lied in their original story. They made claims that were not true in order to hype their exclusive. It was not only misleading of ABC News to present the story in this way, but it was also irresponsible and wrong.
What really happened here was that the so-called liberal media at ABC News lied, and furthered the conspiracy laced agenda of House Republicans.
Tapper’s reporting is a bit of vindication for CNN after John King’s dark skinned Boston bomber has been arrested debacle, but the overall portrait of the mainstream media is discouraging.
The corporate media has proven time and again that they can’t be trusted. For profit news is about getting the story first, not getting it right. They have also shown aren’t beneath lying and smearing a president with a bogus conspiracy if it will make their corporate owners even richer.
Is it any wonder why people are turning them off?
May 15, 2013 12:00 PM
The Return of the Alpha Girls
By Susie Madrak
Just the other day, I wrote about how much I despise the corporate media. And here they are, in all their Alpha Girl, Mean Girl finest!
Ed Kilgore writes at the Washington Monthly:
Well, it doesn’t get much more official than this: an VandeHei/Allen “Behind the Curtain” column announcing that D.C. (“the town”) is “turning on” Barack Obama, and there will be nothing but venom coming from any direction for the foreseeable future:
Republicans have waited five years for the moment to put the screws to Obama — and they have one-third of all congressional committees on the case now. Establishment Democrats, never big fans of this president to begin with, are starting to speak out. And reporters are tripping over themselves to condemn lies, bullying and shadiness in the Obama administration.
Buy-in from all three D.C. stakeholders is an essential ingredient for a good old-fashioned Washington pile-on — so get ready for bad stories and public scolding to pile up.
Too bad, voters, and all those who have an interest in their federal government doing something constructive; Obama has to have his spanking from “D.C. stakeholders,” so enjoy it or look the other way.
What amazes me the most about this column is the forthright announcement that the MSM are going to make explicit common cause with the GOP:
Obama’s aloof mien and holier-than-thou rhetoric have left him with little reservoir of good will, even among Democrats. And the press, after years of being accused of being soft on Obama while being berated by West Wing aides on matters big and small, now has every incentive to be as ruthless as can be.
Kilgore is amazed? I'm not. The media is nothing more than junior-high lunchroom cliques!
This open partisanship is excused by the fact that in “this town” (among the “Establishment Democrats” who are a “D.C. Stakeholder”) Democrats aren’t bothering to defend Obama. Which Democrats are we talking about here? Here you go:
The dam of solid Democratic solidarity has collapsed, starting with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s weekend scolding of the White House over Benghazi, then gushing with the news the Justice Department had sucked up an absurdly broad swath of Associated Press phone records.
Yes, MoDo is your representative Democrat. When you’ve lost her, you’ve clearly lost the Blue States altogether. And if that’s not enough, we have the Anonymous Insider Democrat:
One Democrat who likes Obama and has been around town for many years said elected officials in his own party are no different than Republicans: They think the president is distant and unapproachable.
“He has never taken the Democratic chairs up to Camp David to have a drink or to have a discussion,” the longtime Washingtonian said. “You gotta stroke people and talk to them. It’s like courting: You have to send flowers and candy and have surprises. It’s a constant process. Now they’re saying, ‘He never talked to me in the good times.’”
Yep, this is what it's all about: the fucking egos of the Beltway press corps. It's not about paralyzing government, or shortchanging the voters, or destroying the environment. Uh uh. It's about whether Obama gave them their fucking strokes. Unreal.
Another GOP Obama Scandal Falls Apart as It Is Revealed the IRS also Targeted Liberals
By: Jason Easley
May. 14th, 2013
The latest Republican Obama scandal is starting to fall apart too. The IRS didn’t just target conservative groups. They also questioned the tax exempt status of liberal groups too.
In 2012, The Chicago Tribune reported on the IRS denying tax exempt status to a liberal political group,
The IRS announced in May and June that it took the actions against two groups defined as tax-exempt under the 501(c)(4) section of the tax code. The IRS on Thursday declined comment on its tax-exempt final rulings. Tax-exempt groups raising money for both major political parties ahead of the Nov. 6 election walk a fine line between promoting “social welfare” for tax-exempt purposes and purely political interests.
A 501(c)(4) group denied tax-exempt status by the IRS would run afoul of Federal Election Commission rules and could be
required to disclose its donors. Emerge America, a group which helps Democratic women seeking elected office, said it lost it tax-exempt status last October. The IRS invoked the “private benefit doctrine” barring 501(c)(4) status for any group promoting a candidate or political party. The IRS announced its final decision in May.
In June the IRS said it denied 501(c)(4) tax-exemption for an unnamed political group also under the private benefit doctrine. The IRS is barred by law from disclosing the group’s name and the group has not publicly identified itself. The group had one objective: to serve the political goals of its founder, the IRS said. A 501(c)(4) group can spend some funds on political advocacy, but electioneering cannot be its sole reason for existence or comprise a majority of its spending.
It looks like the IRS was not just targeting conservative groups, but was targeting political action groups who may have been violating the tax exemption guidelines. If the IRS wasn’t targeting conservatives, but trying to deal with the surge of dark money groups applying for tax exempt status, this story takes on an entirely different context.
Reuters has obtained part of a yet to be released report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) that confirms that the IRS was targeting groups on the left and right who focused their activities on advocating for expanding or limiting of the size of the government. The report also states that the screening process was not influenced by the Obama administration, and that none of the groups screened were denied tax exempt status.
Without the claims of a partisan witch hunt against conservative groups, this latest Republican fueled Obama scandal is set to lose all of its sizzle.
The real reason why Republicans are desperately trying to drum up a scandal here is because they don’t want the IRS forcing their dark money groups to pay taxes. The IRS is threatening their Citizens United fueled political slush fund, and Republicans want it to stop. Republicans are trying to bully the IRS into backing off.
It turns out that Obama isn’t Richard Nixon after all. He wasn’t using the IRS to attack his enemies. In their own bungling way, the IRS was trying to deal with the problems caused by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. First, Benghazi crashes and burns, and now the IRS scandal could be fading fast.
Republicans will pull from their usual “Obama scandal” playbook and hold lots of hearings, but thing looks to be on the fast track to nowhere. Congressional Republicans will try their best, but the IRS “scandal” could backfire and end up making the case for why we need to get rid of Citizens United ASAP.
Republicans Complain About Incompetence After They’ve Spent Years Defunding the IRS
May. 14th, 2013
There is an old saying that nothing in life is certain except death and taxes, but if one lives in the United States, only death is certain. It is true that few Americans like paying taxes, but they like their roads, schools, police and fire protection, and prisons that keep criminals under lock and key. Republicans detest taxes as a matter of course, and their wealthy corporate paymasters have made sure over the past two years that the Internal Revenue Service tasked with collecting taxes to fund government services all Americans depend on cannot properly execute their jobs of collecting taxes because funding cuts have left the agency woefully understaffed and impotent.
Republicans have spent the past four-and-a-half years jumping from one faux outrage to the next to avoid doing the jobs they were sent to Washington to do, and while they are still embroiled in the fantasy Benghazi scandal, they have latched on to a report the IRS allegedly gave extra attention and over-scrutinized neo-conservative teabagger’s applications for tax exempt status. The IRS’s job is to scrutinize applications for tax exemption and the truth is they do not scrutinize tax exempt organizations nearly enough or thoroughly to guarantee that a group adheres to the rules while they avoid paying taxes like every other American. However, Republicans have their proverbial panties in a wad because the IRS was looking carefully at organizations that are decidedly anti-government and anti-American, and because they did their jobs, Republicans are crying foul and alleging a scandal giving them more reason to defund the IRS. It is not that Republicans needed any reason to defund their paymasters’ mortal enemy, but instead of criticizing the IRS, they deserve praise for doing their jobs.
The prescient question is not why the IRS gave extra attention to the teabaggers’ application for tax exemption, but why they did not look closer at the phony grass roots organization and their billionaire bankroller’s the Koch brothers. Let’s face it, the group materializes within weeks of an African American being administered the oath of office to be President of the United States, and soon thereafter shows up at protests replete with teabags and revolutionary war garb complaining they were “taxed enough already” and warn the government “we came unarmed this time” after being given a substantial tax cut by the Black man in the Oval Office. And why wouldn’t the IRS look closely at a group that gathered near the Capital Building to hurl racial epithets and spit at African American Congressional representatives on their way to vote to give 30-40 million Americans access to affordable healthcare teabaggers claimed was a white privilege and not a human right?
The groups that were scrutinized while applying to avoid paying taxes are reported by Fox News to be various so-called patriot groups (read anti-government militias) that focused on government spending, taxes, education, and the 9/12 Project, or to put it more succinctly; anti-government groups. The same groups, by the way, that advocate arming themselves and starting a civil, race, or revolutionary war to fight imaginary tyranny imposed by the African American President, and crusading to eliminate any program that advances the country for the benefit of all Americans. Doubtless the IRS scrutinized teabagger groups such as the one the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s started, Liberty Central, after receiving $690,000 from the Heritage Foundation that Clarence just happened to deliberately omit from his financial disclosure. There are more than enough reasons to give extra scrutiny to neo-conservative tax exempt applicants, and their anti-government, anti-tax advocacy should be motivation to increase scrutiny, not condemn it as “outrageous.”
Republicans have starved the IRS of funding for much-needed staffing to collect revenue owed to the government for the past two years and it is an absurd funding cut from a fiscally responsible standpoint. Republicans love to tout running the government as a business, but they ignore the simple premise of “Return on Investment.” In fiscal year 2012, the IRS collected $2.52 trillion on a budget of $11.8 billion that translates to an average return-on-investment (ROI) of about 214:1. Last year, the IRS Commissioner appointed by George W. Bush estimated that proposed reductions in the IRS budget would cause tax collections to fall seven times as much, and in a letter to Congress wrote, “No business would fail to fund a unit that, on average, brought in $7 for every dollar spent. Shareholders would rebel and bring lawsuits, or at least oust the management or board of directors.”
Now, with a trumped up scandal that should be celebrated, Marco Rubio called for President Obama to demand the non-existent IRS Commissioner’s ouster, even though it was the Bush appointee who resigned in November who oversaw the extra scrutiny on teabag and patriot (militia) applications for tax exemption. Some neo-conservatives are calling for defunding the IRS, and of course Republicans want to defund the IRS; it is the ultimate anti-tax advocacy and fits the Kochs, Grover Norquist, Heritage Foundation, and Republican campaign to “get government out of the way” by starving it so it is easier to “get government down to size and drown it in a bathtub.” However, there is a better idea that Republicans will particularly bristle at because it is the ultimate expression of equality for all Americans; end all tax exempt non-profit designations regardless they are neo-conservative anti-government advocates or theocrats living off American taxpayers’ forced largesse.
Of course there will be outrage at the suggestion all Americans would have to pay taxes, but Republicans claim “America is broke” and yet protect the top Fortune 500 companies, like political and religious organizations, that pay no income taxes while they depend on law enforcement, street sweepers, air traffic controllers, and healthcare providers that serve the community and still pay their fair share in taxes. It is high time to adequately fund the IRS to scrutinize and collect taxes from all Americans, but especially anti-government groups like teabaggers and uber-patriots clamoring for civil war. President Obama said the IRS giving extra attention to neo-conservative, anti-government groups’ applications for tax exempt status was “outrageous,” but he has to say that; this author does not. In fact, the IRS employees who “harshly scrutinized” anti-government and anti-tax groups deserve kudos and assistance in the form of more investigators to look at giving patriots’ “free-ride” applications added scrutiny, and instead of backing off, they should be instructed to scrutinize them with extreme prejudice because if Americans are paying for them to use our roads, schools, and law enforcement, then they damn sure better not be the groups or their funding machines actively campaigning against this government.
May 14, 2013
U.S. Budget Deficit Shrinks Far Faster Than Expected
By ANNIE LOWREY
WASHINGTON — Since the recession ended four years ago, the federal budget deficit has topped $1 trillion every year. But now the government’s annual deficit is shrinking far faster than anyone in Washington expected, and perhaps even faster than many economists think is advisable for the health of the economy.
That is the thrust of a new report released Tuesday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, estimating that the deficit for this fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30, will fall to about $642 billion, or 4 percent of the nation’s annual economic output, about $200 billion lower than the agency estimated just three months ago.
The agency forecast that the deficit, which topped 10 percent of gross domestic product in 2009, could shrink to as little as 2.1 percent of gross domestic product by 2015 — a level that most analysts say would be easily sustainable over the long run — before beginning to climb gradually through the rest of the decade.
"Revenues have been strong as the economy has outperformed a bit," said Joel Prakken, a founder of Macroeconomic Advisers, a forecasting firm based in St. Louis.
Over all, the figures demonstrate how the economic recovery has begun to refill the government’s coffers. At the same time, Washington, despite its political paralysis, has proved remarkably successful at slashing the deficit through a variety of tax increases and cuts in domestic and military programs.
Perhaps too successful. Given that the economy continues to perform well below its potential and that unemployment has so far failed to fall below 7.5 percent, many economists are cautioning that the deficit is coming down too fast, too soon.
“It’s good news for the budget deficit and bad news for the jobs deficit,” said Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-of-center research group in Washington. “I’m more worried about the latter.”
Others, however, are warning that the deficit — even if it looks manageable over the next decade — still remains a major long-term challenge, given that rising health care spending on the elderly and debt service payments are projected to eat up a bigger and bigger portion of the budget as the baby boom generation enters retirement.
“It takes a little heat off, and undercuts the sense of fiscal panic that prevailed one or two years ago when the debt-to-G.D.P. ratio was climbing,” said Mr. Prakken, of referring to the growth of the country’s debt relative to the size of the economy. “These revisions probably release some pressure to reach a longer-term deal, which is too bad, because the longer-term problem hasn’t gone away.”
With the government running a hefty $113 billion surplus in the tax payment month of April, according to the Treasury, analysts now do not expect the country to run out of room under its debt ceiling — a statutory borrowing limit Congress needs to raise to avoid default — until sometime in the fall. That has left both Democrats and Republicans hesitant to enter another round of negotiations over painful cuts to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, and tax increases on a broader swath of Americans, despite the still-heated rhetoric on both sides.
For the moment, the deficit is largely repairing itself. Just three months ago, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the current-year deficit would be $845 billion, or about 5.3 percent of economic output.
The $200 billion reduction to the estimated deficit comes not from the $85 billion in mandatory cuts known as sequestration, nor from the package of tax increases that Congress passed this winter to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff. The office had already incorporated those policy changes into its February forecasts.
Rather, it comes from higher-than-expected tax payments from businesses and individuals, as well as an increase in payments from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage finance companies the government took over as part of the wave of bailouts thrust upon Washington in the darkest days of the financial crisis.
The C.B.O. said it had bumped up its estimates of current-year tax receipts from individuals by about $69 billion and from corporations by about $40 billion. The office said the factors lifting tax payments seemed to be “largely temporary,” due in part, probably, to higher-income households realizing gains from investments before tax rates went up in the 2013 calendar year.
It also reduced its estimated outlays on Fannie and Freddie by about $95 billion. The mortgage giants, which have required more than $180 billion in taxpayer financing since the government rescued them in 2008, have returned to profitability in recent quarters on the back of a stronger housing market and have begun to repay the Treasury for the loans.
But there is a darker side to the brighter outlook for the deficit. The immediate spending cuts and tax increases Congress agreed to for this year are serving as a partial brake on the recovery, cutting government jobs and preventing growth from accelerating to a more robust pace, many economists have warned. The International Monetary Fund has called the country’s pace of deficit reduction “overly strong,” arguing that Washington should delay some of its budget cuts while adopting a longer-term strategy to hold down future deficits.
In revising its estimates for the current year, the budget office also cut its projections of the 10-year cumulative deficit by $618 billion. Those longer-term adjustments are mostly a result of smaller projected outlays for the entitlement programs of Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, as well as smaller interest payments on the debt.
The report noted that the growth in health care costs seemed to have slowed — a trend that, if it lasted, would eliminate much of the budget pressure and probably help restore a stronger economy as well. The C.B.O. has quietly erased hundreds of billions of dollars in projected government health spending over the last few years.
It did so again on Tuesday. In February, the budget office projected that the United States would spend about $8.1 trillion on Medicare and $4.4 trillion on Medicaid over the next 10 fiscal years. It now projects it will spend $7.9 trillion on Medicare and $4.3 trillion on Medicaid.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: May 14, 2013
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misspelled the author’s surname. She is Annie Lowrey, not Lowery.
Eric Holder defends seizure of AP phone logs to track down ‘the most serious’ CIA leak
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, May 14, 2013 16:54 EDT
The US administration pushed back Tuesday after being accused of undermining press freedom by seizing reporters’ phone records, claiming officials took the drastic steps to protect American lives.
Amid a barrage of criticism, Attorney General Eric Holder said telephone logs were secretly taken from US news agency the Associated Press as part of a probe into a security breach which had put the American people at risk.
“I’ve been a prosecutor since 1976. And I have to say that this is among, if not the most serious … a … very, very serious leak,” Holder said.
“That’s not hyperbole. Puts the American people at risk. And trying to determine who is responsible for that, I think, required very aggressive action,” he declared.
The comments came as President Barack Obama’s administration faced heavy criticism over the Justice Department’s decision to seize two months of phone records from the news operations of the Associated Press.
The investigators’ action is believed to be linked to a probe into a story on a foiled terror plot, which they suspect contained leaked information.
The AP said its story disclosed details of a CIA operation in Yemen that stopped an Al-Qaeda plot in 2012 to detonate a bomb on an airplane bound for the United States.
Holder noted that he had recused himself from the probe because he was interviewed by the FBI about unauthorized disclosures in the matter.
A Justice Department statement said that since Holder’s recusal in June 2012, the investigation “has been conducted by the FBI under the direction of the US Attorney and the supervision of the deputy attorney general.”
The White House, meanwhile, sought to deflect criticism that it was targeting the news media in its war on leaks of classified or secret information.
Obama’s spokesman Jay Carney said the White House was “not involved” in the decisions to seek AP records, noting that the Justice Department operates independently.
“I can’t comment on the specifics of that, but I can tell you that the president feels strongly that we need… the press to be able to be unfettered in its pursuit of investigative journalism,” Carney told reporters.
“And he is also mindful of the need for secret and classified information to remain secret and classified in order to protect our national security interests.”
Carney said Obama has allowed the investigation to proceed and “it would be wholly inappropriate for the president to involve himself in a criminal investigation that… at least as reported, involves leaks of information from the administration.”
The AP protested the seizure Monday in a letter to Holder saying “there can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection” of records.
In a reply to the AP, Deputy Attorney General James Cole said the probe into leaked “classified information” began last year and warned “such disclosures can risk lives and cause grave harm to the security of all Americans.”
Cole said agency rules require that other steps be exhausted before the seizure of phone records, and the action was taken only after “conducting over 550 interviews and reviewing tens of thousands of documents.”
He said the subpoenas were “limited to a reasonable period of time and did not seek the content of any calls.”
The revelation brought a flurry of criticism of the administration for what critics called an unprecedented assault on press freedom.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, a leading member of Obama’s Democratic Party. told reporters: “I have trouble defending what the Justice Department did… it’s inexcusable.”
Trevor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation said: “It’s time to stop looking at all of these leak investigations and prosecutions as ancillary to press freedom; they are a direct attack on it.
“This should be an important wake-up call for journalists.”
Other analysts noted that the Obama administration had already gained a reputation for aggressively pursuing leaks of government secrets, and had gone a step further with the latest seizure.
“It’s surprising and concerning to me that they would sweep so broadly in the search of AP phone records,” David Pozen, a specialist in constitutional and national security law at Columbia University, told AFP.
“It certainly seems like an aggressive interpretation of the Justice Department’s subpoena policy which has been in place since the 1970s to ensure that prosecutors proceed cautiously and narrowly when engaging the news media in such matters.”
Walmart promises to inspect Bangladesh garment factories
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, May 14, 2013 19:45 EDT
Giant retailer Walmart announced Tuesday that it would conduct in-depth safety inspections of all 279 of its Bangladesh suppliers, in the wake of the building collapse that killed more than 1,100 people.
The US retailer said it would release publicly the names and inspection information on each of the factories, and meanwhile also issued a list of more than 200 factories that are blacklisted for failing to meet its standards for suppliers.
“The company will immediately order its production stopped at facilities where urgent safety issues are identified, notify the factory owner and government authorities of the need to take action, and require remediation,” Walmart said in a statement.
“As a result, workers in these facilities can be assured of safer working conditions, and the entire market will be lifted to a new standard.”
The company did not say however if it would join a protocol agreed by a number of other major buyers of clothes made in Bangladesh, the “Accord on Fire and Building Safety” endorsed by Benetton, Mango, Marks & Spencer, Inditex and H&M.
The action comes in the wake of the April 24 collapse of a nine-story building outside Dhaka housing multiple garment factories, including some which reportedly supplied Walmart, killing 1,127 in the worst disaster ever in the global textile industry.
In November 111 workers were killed in a fire at a garment factory in Bangladesh that also supplied Walmart, among other global names in the clothing industry.
Walmart said it was hiring global inspections group Bureau Veritas to conduct fire-safety training for all workers in its Bangladesh suppliers.
It will also contract Labor Voices, a company that works with workers to understand their issues, to help Walmart maintain its factory standards.
“Walmart is committed to a global supply chain that first and foremost provides safe conditions for workers,” said Rajan Kamalanathan, vice president of ethical sourcing for Walmart.
« Last Edit: May 15, 2013, 01:20 PM by Rad »
Pig Putin's Russia..........
Moscow bans another gay pride parade, vows clamp-down if organizers march anyway
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, May 15, 2013 16:15 EDT
Moscow city authorities on Wednesday again turned down demands for a gay rights rally in the Russian capital later this month, warning organisers that police would clamp down on any unauthorised demonstration.
One of the organisers, Nikolai Alexeyev, said early Wednesday that he would fight a ban in court.
“We have prepared answers to all requests submitted by organisers and we will not accept them,” Interfax news agency quoted city hall official Alexei Mayorov as saying.
Mayorov said the ban was motivated by principles of “morality … and patriotism” that had to be taught to younger people.
A gay rights group had asked for authorisation of a May 25-26 demonstration and march in a Moscow park on Monday.
Human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a founding member of the Moscow Helsinki Watch Group, denounced the ban, which has been enforced for years, as homophobic.
“In our country homophobia is state-sponsored,” Interfax news agency quoted her as saying.
Clashes between gay rights activists who try to circumvent a ban and religious groups are recurrent in Russia where homosexuality was a crime until 1993 and a mental condition until 1999, almost a decade after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Saint Petersburg, Russia’s former imperial capital, last year adopted legislation that punishes publicly “promoting” homosexuality and paedophilia, a link rejected by rights activists.
05/15/2013 06:52 PM
New Flurry of Motions: NSU Trial Marred by Angry Courtroom Exchanges
By Gisela Friedrichsen in Munich
Bitter laughter, heckling and loud murmers from the public gallery: the trial of Beate Zschäpe descended into angry, heated exchanges among the lawyers and the judge on its third day on Wednesday. One lawyer even asked the judge to forbid laughter. Nerves are fraying in Germany's biggest neo-Nazi trial.
The third day of the trial of neo-Nazi Beate Zschäpe, accused of complicity in racially motivated murders, brought another flurry of motions from the defense and heated exchanges across the courtroom floor.
The attorneys of Zschäpe and her four co-defendants argued that the trial should be stopped because
• politicians had interfered in the controversy surrounding media accreditations for the trial.
• the case had already been prejudged because the government had paid out €900,000 ($1.1 million) to the families of the victims -- from a state fund dedicated to the victims of far-right extremism.
• because a square in the city of Kassel had been renamed after one of the victims, a Turkish man shot dead in his father's Internet cafe.
• and because the court and the Federal Prosecutor's Office had failed so far to shed light on the shredding of intelligence files on far-right investigations.
Public 'Convinced of Guilt'
Zschäpe is alleged to have formed the National Socialist Underground (NSU) terrorist group with Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt and to have been complicit in killing eight men of Turkish descent, one Greek man and a German policewoman between 2000 and 2007.
Four alleged accomplices are on trial with her. Mundlos and Böhnhardt committed suicide in November 2011.
"The public is already convinced that Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos are guilty," argued Nicole Schneiders, the defense attorney of Ralf Wohlleben, one of the defendants. That posed an insurmountable obstacle to the trial, she argued in a lengthy speech that involved reading out long quotes from media reports.
Her statement triggered a heated exchange with lawyers for the co-plaintiffs and judge Manfred Götzl. The court echoed with bitter laughter and angry exclamations that poisoned the atmosphere.
At one point, one of Zschäpe's three defense attorneys, Wolfgang Heer, called on the court to establish order and said it was unacceptable that people were laughing at him. At which Harald Diemer, the chief federal prosecutor, retorted: "Laughter is a reflex!" Then another Zschäpe attorney, Wolfgang Stahl, stormed out of the courtroom in apparent disgust.
The trial had resumed on Tuesday after an eight-day adjournment during which the court considered -- and rejected -- a defense motion to replace the judge on the ground that he was biased because he had ordered defense lawyers to be frisked before entering the courtroom.
On Tuesday, Dimer read out the charges against Zschäpe in chilling detail. She remained motionless and expressionless.
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.
The police never seriously considered that the motive may be racismand instead suspected that the victims themselves had links with criminal gangs.
A little goodwill and a bit less hotheadedness would go a long way to calming down the proceedings. Yet the judge, Götzl, appears to find it difficult not to rise to every provocation. It's the third day of the trial, and all sides should be settling in by now. But there's a growing sense of tension. Admittedly, it's an unviable task for any court -- dealing with four prosecutors, 11 defense attorneys and more than 60 attorneys representing the victims' families.
On this third day of the trial, the morning is focused on a purely legal problem -- who sits on the judge's bench. Motions against the judges are difficult. They have to be made straight after the charges have been read. A defense that botches this aspect of the trial is doing a bad job.
As if the trial weren't complex enough, one lawyer has filed a motion to bring in even more co-plaintiffs -- people injured in a 2004 nail bomb attack targeting immigrants in Cologne, also believed to have been the work of the NSU.
Some 70 people were not informed of their right to take part in the trial, the lawyer complained.
The daunting prospect of even more plaintiffs and lawyers prompted Götzl to suggest separating the complex nail bombing case from the rest of the trial -- should more victims actually come forward.
Germany backs campaign to keep UK in EU
Government figures in Berlin say they see continued UK membership of the EU as central to helping reverse economic decline
Ian Traynor, Berlin
The Guardian, Wednesday 15 May 2013 18.52 BST
The German government has thrown its formidable weight in Europe behind a campaign to keep Britain in the EU, describing the fallout from a UK exit from the union as a disaster for all parties and also supporting Washington's pressure on London to stay in.
Top government figures in Berlin made absolutely clear they saw continued UK membership of the EU as central to Berlin's priorities in seeking to reverse European economic decline and to counter protectionist pressures in France and other Mediterranean countries.
The intervention came as 114 Tory MPs voted to criticise the government for not including plans for an in-out referendum in the Queen's speech, a greater show of eurosceptic strength than ministers had anticipated.
The leading politicians in Berlin said they wanted to reopen the Lisbon treaty to repair the mess left by three years of financial crisis, supplying David Cameron with an opportunity to try to reset the terms of UK membership before putting the outcome to a referendum. But Berlin concedes that Paris may be the biggest problem in getting its way since the weak and unpopular President François Hollande opposes a treaty renegotiation that could open the way to a referendum in France, too, and bring him down.
The government of German chancellor Angela Merkel appears to see Britain as a key ally in its aim of shifting the focus of the EU's crisis management from austerity to embracing structural economic reforms, restoring competitiveness to European economies and generating growth and jobs, particularly for the young.
Senior figures in Berlin said that Britain was needed unconditionally in the EU to boost the competitiveness drive and because of its more open and global outlook compared with other EU countries. They said the Merkel government wanted to do whatever it could to help Britain in what was described as taking the right decision and avoiding a disastrous move.
A British exit from the EU would send fateful signals around the world, in the US and the far east, of an inward-looking Europe mired in fragmentation, provincialism and bickering.
While Merkel and senior cabinet members such asWolfgang Schäuble, the finance minister, favour renegotiating the Lisbon treaty to push through big political and economic policy shifts in the eurozone, Berlin acknowledges that this is a tall order because of the resistance in many other countries, mainly but not only France.
Cameron argues the single currency crisis has changed the EU, and is transforming the eurozone into a much more integrated core Europe, changing Britain's status, and wants the treaty renegotiated to reflect this fundamental shift. But senior officials in Brussels warn that any moves to substantially rewrite the Lisbon treaty would trigger a referendum domino effect, with not only Britain, but Ireland, parts of Scandinavia, perhaps the Netherlands and then France needing to stage referendums on a new deal.
The leading government figures in Berlin acknowledged that Hollande was opposed. The damage to Hollande could be twofold. The treaty changes would inevitably entail transfers of fiscal and economic policymaking powers to Brussels, something Paris opposes, then possibly a national vote on the new deal in an increasingly Eurosceptic country, according to recent opinion polls. Hollande played a prominent role in the yes campaign for the French referendum on an EU constitution in 2005 and lost. A repeat of the failure could cost him his office.
The differences between Berlin and Paris are reinforcing their estrangement, with no improvement expected until the dust settles after the German elections in September when Merkel is bidding for a third term.
Berlin is also worried that France, Italy, and Spain are stuck in a vicious downward cycle of growing unemployment, austerity, and relative lack of meaningful reform. The Germans are relaxing the austerity that has been the principal response to the sovereign debt crisis of the past three years, but are demanding sweeping structural reforms in return in the form of labour law and labour market changes, longer working weeks, pension and social security reforms. Berlin is prepared to give France and Spain an extra two years to reach budget deficit targets under the euro rulebook, but is insisting that the two years not be wasted in policy paralysis.
While the Germans are not making explicit linkage between easing the deficit targets and launching reform programmes, they are also warning that they are prepared to help struggling countries but only on condition that the time is use properly to tackle what it identifies as the underlying problems. The issues are certain to be raised at two EU summits soon, one next week, the other next month.
While senior government figures are wary of hectoring Paris on the policies Hollande should be pursuing, there is a sense of exasperation in Berlin with Paris, that "something has to happen", that the problems are well-known, but that Hollande is failing to deliver.