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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1016602 times)
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« Reply #6585 on: May 26, 2013, 07:10 AM »

Afghan security forces praised after routing Taliban assault on Kabul

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, May 25, 2013 10:13 EDT

The Afghan government lauded its security forces Saturday for beating back a Taliban assault on central Kabul that left one policeman, two civilians and all four militants dead.

Explosions rocked the city for several hours on Friday after insurgents launched a coordinated suicide and gun attack centred on a compound of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The effectiveness of Afghan security forces is crucial to the government’s ability to defeat the Taliban insurgency as NATO-led troops withdraw by the end of 2014.

The police, army and special forces are being trained up by the international coalition, but there are widespread fears that they will not be able to impose security after 12 years of war.

“The fact that our special force police kept the civilian casualties to a minimum was a great success,” interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told a news conference in Kabul.

“The attackers were brainwashed to kill our people… but our forces contained and killed them. There were four attackers with heavy and light weapons.”

Sediqqi said one insurgent detonated himself at the entrance of the IOM compound at the start of fighting, which eventually left several buildings destroyed or damaged by rocket-propelled grenades, gunfire and explosions.

“The gunmen moved to four other buildings. The fight continued till 11:00 pm, and the three remaining attackers were killed,” he said.

The IOM, a UN-affiliated body that works to improve management of cross-border migration, said that doubts remained whether it was the specific target of the attack.

“It could have been an NDS (National Directorate of Security spy agency) building next door,” IOM spokesman Richard Danziger told AFP.

The Taliban claimed the attack was against a guesthouse allegedly used by Afghan and US intelligence staff.

Danziger added that one Italian female staff member badly wounded by a grenade blast was evacuated to Europe overnight.

A total of 17 people were wounded, including seven Nepalese guards and one eight-year-old Afghan boy.

Also on Friday evening, a large explosion inside a mosque in Ghazni province killed eight Taliban and three civilians.

The provincial government said the bomb, hidden in fuel jugs, exploded accidentally when insurgents were praying with villagers.

The continuing threat to Kabul was underlined on Saturday when a suicide bomber killed himself in the south of the city as he was preparing explosives, police said.

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« Reply #6586 on: May 26, 2013, 07:18 AM »

May 25, 2013

Indians Grow Impatient With Taciturn Premier Amid Troubles


NEW DELHI — He speaks so softly that even his public comments are sometimes nearly inaudible. He has not held a formal news conference in India since 2011. And a pack of reporters were driven to hold a protest recently when he refused to participate in the routine political act of being photographed while filing for re-election in Assam State.

When India’s technocratic prime minister, Manmohan Singh, came to office in 2004, his obvious shyness was widely applauded as a virtue, a sign of the probity and quiet dignity of this accidental politician.

In recent months, however, Mr. Singh’s diffidence has taken on a darker cast as he refuses to address a growing number of controversies swirling around him. The magazine India Today ran a cover article this month titled “Dr. Dolittle,” which called him a political liability. Tehelka, another major newsmagazine, asked on its cover, “How long can the prime minister evade scrutiny in a season of scams?”

Rajdeep Sardesai, a television journalist and analyst, labeled Mr. Singh’s reserve a curse in a recent column in The Hindustan Times.

“His silence is now construed as weakness, his limited communication seems evidence of a leader with much to hide, and the ‘privacy’ argument is now seen as a sign of political nonaccountability.”

The prime minister’s wallflower personality has come to define India on the world stage. When Chinese troops camped out for weeks recently on mountainous territory claimed by India, Mr. Singh’s muted response infuriated opposition politicians. And as the world’s great powers — the United States, China and Russia — have sought closer ties with India in recent years, Mr. Singh has either quietly rebuffed them or left them wanting more.

Troubled by corruption scandals, Mr. Singh’s Indian National Congress Party and its coalition partners in the government must face voters no later than next year. Their great hope is that a lackluster economy will rebound by then to provide enough of a lift to overshadow the coalition’s missteps.

The most damaging controversy concerns the corrupt allocation of licenses to mine coal. Mr. Singh was the coal minister when the licenses were given out, so his role is central. But the country’s leading corruption investigator revealed this month that Mr. Singh’s office had demanded changes to what was supposed to be an independent inquiry into the scandal.

Mr. Singh’s personal integrity, a signature asset in a country awash in political corruption, was suddenly in doubt. Members of his own party began calling for his resignation, albeit in anonymous remarks. Even allies who still believe in his honesty say that he is failing.

“In the Congress Party, people generally think that he is honest,” a senior member of the party said in a recent interview, speaking on the condition of anonymity so that he could discuss internal party affairs. “But they think, ‘What is the point of this honesty?’ It must be reflected in the quality of administration.”

Opposition politicians demanded the resignation of the law minister and, because of a separate bribery inquiry, the railways minister as well. And they renewed calls for Mr. Singh to resign as well. In the past, India’s governing coalition has blithely brushed aside such demands. But after repeated criticism by commentators for a failure to act, Sonia Gandhi, the president of the Congress Party, met with Mr. Singh on May 10, and the resignations of the two ministers were announced the same day.

That meeting demonstrated once again the odd dynamic at the top of India’s government. Mr. Singh holds administrative power; Mrs. Gandhi holds political power. Does Mr. Singh run the government or does Mrs. Gandhi? It is a question that has been asked again and again for nearly a decade, but it is one that neither Mr. Singh nor Mrs. Gandhi has chosen to answer convincingly. Even insiders say they have trouble explaining the relationship between the two, and a top party official recently said publicly that having two power centers had not worked well.

The two leaders sought this week to dispel rumors of a rift between them by publicly praising each another. “There are no differences between the prime minister and me,” Mrs. Gandhi said Wednesday. “There is collective leadership.”

Few analysts interviewed were persuaded. “It’s taken an excessively long time for commentators to recognize how thoroughly incompetent as a prime minister Manmohan Singh is and how politically weak he has always been,” said Ramachandra Guha, a historian and analyst.

The government’s two-headed power structure has resulted in a confusing mix of policies. Over the past nine years, India’s government has built a vast infrastructure of welfare programs to feed and employ the rural poor and give them access to private hospitals — programs thought to result from Mrs. Gandhi’s socialist tendencies. But the government has also sought to attract foreign investment by opening protected sectors of the economy like retail and airlines to foreign competition — policies thought to result from Mr. Singh’s economic realism.

“Sonia and Manmohan have long been at odds on basic issues, and that has resulted in policies and politics that are at best confused and at worst contradictory,” said Sanjaya Baru, a former spokesman for the prime minister.

One of the few bright spots for the governing coalition is that its main political opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party, is in disarray. It was trounced this month in elections in a southern state, Karnataka, and a crucial ally in Bihar State has threatened to end its alliance. Its most prominent leader is a man reviled by many Muslims for having failed to prevent bloody riots in 2002.

So despite its many setbacks and worsening poll numbers, the governing coalition could win again next year. Some commentators have even suggested that Mr. Singh may serve a third term as prime minister, in part because Rahul Gandhi, Mrs. Gandhi’s son, does not seem to want the job.

Pankaj Pachauri, the prime minister’s spokesman, said the government’s main problem was that neither Mr. Singh nor Mrs. Gandhi liked to brag, so few were aware of the government’s accomplishments. As a result, the government this month began a $3 million advertising campaign focusing on its achievements and recently released statistics showing major gains in income and life expectancy and decreases in infant and maternal mortality.

“The gift of this prime minister to this country is five years of extra life for everyone,” Mr. Pachauri said. “And that’s why Dr. Singh and Mrs. Gandhi have full confidence in each other.”

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« Reply #6587 on: May 26, 2013, 07:31 AM »

'The Sumatran rainforest will mostly disappear within 20 years'

In only a few years, logging and agribusiness have cut Indonesia's vast rainforest by half. The government has renewed a moratorium on deforestation but it may already be too late for the endangered animals –and for the people whose lives lie in ruin

John Vidal   
The Observer, Sunday 26 May 2013   

Link to video: Sumatra, Indonesia: the rainforest's last stand

Our small plane had been flying low over Sumatra for three hours but all we had seen was an industrial landscape of palm and acacia trees stretching 30 miles in every direction. A haze of blue smoke from newly cleared land drifted eastward over giant plantations. Long drainage canals dug through equatorial swamps dissected the land. The only sign of life was excavators loading trees onto barges to take to pulp mills.

The end is in sight for the great forests of Sumatra and Borneo and the animals and people who depend on them. Thirty years ago the world's third- and sixth-largest islands were full of tigers, elephants, rhinos, orangutan and exotic birds and plants but in a frenzy of development they have been trashed in a single generation by global agribusiness and pulp and paper industries.

Their plantations supply Britain and the world with toilet paper, biofuels and vegetable oil to make everyday foods such as margarine, cream cheese and chocolate, but distraught scientists and environmental groups this week warn that one of the 21st century's greatest ecological disasters is rapidly unfolding.

Official figures show more than half of Indonesia's rainforest, the third-largest swath in the world, has been felled in a few years and permission has been granted to convert up to 70% of what remains into palm or acacia plantations. The government last week renewed a moratorium on the felling of rainforest, but nearly a million hectares are still being cut each year and the last pristine areas, in provinces such as Ache and Papua, are now prime targets for giant logging, palm and mining companies.

The toll on wildlife across an area nearly the size of Europe is vast, say scientists who warn that many of Indonesia's species could be extinct in the wild within 20-30 years. Orangutan numbers are in precipitous decline, only 250-400 tigers remain and fewer than 100 rhino are left in the forests, said the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Millions of hectares are nominally protected, but the forest is fragmented, national parks are surrounded by plantations, illegal loggers work with impunity and corruption is rife in government. "This is the fastest, most comprehensive transformation of an entire landscape that has ever taken place anywhere in the world including the Amazon. If it continues at this rate all that will be left in 20 years is a few fragmented areas of natural forest surrounded by huge manmade plantations. There will be increased floods, fires and droughts but no animals," said Yuyun Indradi, political forest campaigner with Greenpeace southeast Asia in Jakarta.

Last night the WWF's chief Asian tiger expert pleaded with the Indonesian government and the world to stop the growth of palm oil plantations. "Forest conversion is massive. We urgently need stronger commitment from the government and massive support from the people. We cannot tolerate any further conversion of natural forests," said Sunarto Sunarto in Jakarta.

Indonesia's deforestation has been accompanied by rising violence, say watchdog groups. Last year, more than 600 major land conflicts were recorded in the palm plantations. Many turned violent as communities that had lost their traditional forest fought multinational companies and security forces. More than 5,000 human rights abuses were recorded, with 22 deaths and hundreds of injuries.

"The legacy of deforestation has been conflict, increased poverty, migration to the cities and the erosion of habitat for animals. As the forests come down, social conflicts are exploding everywhere," said Abetnego Tarigan, director of Walhi, Indonesia's largest environment group.

Scientists fear that the end of the forest could come quickly. Conflict-wracked Aceh, which bore the brunt of the tsunami in 2004, will lose more than half its trees if a new government plan to change the land use is pushed through. A single Canadian mining company is seeking to exploit 1.77m hectares for mining, logging and palm plantations.

Large areas of central Sumatra and Kalimantan are being felled as coal, copper and gold mining companies move in. Millions of hectares of forest in west Papua are expected to be converted to palm plantations.

"Papuans, some of the poorest citizens in Indonesia, are being utterly exploited in legally questionable oil palm land deals that provide huge financial opportunities for international investors at the expense of the people and forests of West Papua," said Jago Wadley, a forest campaigner with the Environment Investigation Agency.

Despite a commitment last week from the government to extend a moratorium on deforestation for two years, Indonesia is still cutting down its forests faster than any other country. Loopholes in the law mean the moratorium only covers new licences and primary forests, and excludes key peatland areas and existing concessions which are tiger and elephant habitats. "No one seems able to stop the destruction," said Greenpeace International's forest spokesman, Phil Aikman.

The conflicts often arise when companies are granted dubious logging or plantation permissions that overlap with community-managed traditional forests and protected areas such as national parks.

Nine villages have been in conflict with the giant paper company April, which has permission to convert, with others, 450,000 hectares of deep peat forests on the Kampar Peninsula in central Sumatra. Because the area contains as much as 1.5bn tonnes of carbon, it has global importance in the fight against climate change.

"We would die for this [forest] if necessary. This is a matter of life and death. The forest is our life. We depend on it when we want to build our houses or boats. We protect it. The permits were handed out illegally, but now we have no option but to work for the companies or hire ourselves out for pitiful wages," said one village leader from Teluk Meranti who feared to give his name.

They accuse corrupt local officials of illegally grabbing their land. April, which strongly denies involvement in corruption, last week announced plans to work with London-based Flora and Fauna international to restore 20,000 hectares of degraded forest land.

Fifty miles away, near the town of Rengit, villagers watched in horror last year when their community forest was burned down – they suspect by people in the pay of a large palm oil company. "Life is terrible now. We are ruined. We used to get resin, wood, timber, fuel from the forest. Now we have no option but to work for the palm oil company. The company beat us. The fire was deliberate. This forest was everything for us. We used it as our supermarket, building store, chemist shop and fuel supplier for generations of people. Now we must put plastic on our roofs," said one man from the village of Bayesjaya who also asked not to be named.

Mursyi Ali from the village of Kuala Cenaku in the province of Riau, has spent 10 years fighting oil plantation companies which were awarded a giant concession. "Maybe 35,000 people have been impacted by their plantations. Everyone is very upset. People have died in protests. I have not accepted defeat yet. These conflicts are going on everywhere. Before the companies came we had a lot of natural resources, like honey, rattan, fish, shrimps and wood," he said.

"We had all we wanted. That all went when the companies came. Everything that we depended on went. Deforestaion has led to pollution and health problems. We are all poorer now. I blame the companies and the government, but most of all the government," he continued. He pleaded with the company: "Please resolve this problem and give us back the 4,100 hectares of land. We would die for this if necessary. This is a life or death," he says.

Greenpeace and other groups accuse the giant pulp and palm companies of trashing tens of thousands of hectares of rainforest a year but the companies respond that they are the forest defenders and without them the ecological devastation would be worse. "There has been a rampant escalation of the denuding of the landscape but it is mostly by migrant labour and palm oil growers. Poverty and illegal logging along with migrant labour have caused the deforestation," said April's spokesman, David Goodwin.

"What April does is not deforestation. In establishing acacia plantations in already-disturbed forest areas, it is contributing strongly to reforestation. Last year April planted more than 100 million trees. Deforestation happens because of highly organised illegal logging, slash-and-burn practices by migrant labour, unregulated timber operations. There has been a explosion of palm oil concessions."

The company would not reveal how much rainforest it and its suppliers fell each year but internal papers seen by the Observer show that it planned to deforest 60,000 hectares of rainforest in 2012 but postponed this pending the moratorium. It admits that it has a concession of 20,000 hectares of forest that it has permission to fell and that it takes up to one third of its timber from "mixed tropical hardwood" for its giant pulp and paper mill near Penabaru in Riau.

There are some signs of hope. The heat is now on other large palm oil and paper companies after Asia Pacific Resources International (APP), one of the world's largest pulp and paper companies, was persuaded this year by international and local Indonesian groups to end all rainforest deforestation and to rely solely on its plantations for its wood.

The company, which admits to having felled hundreds of thousands of acres of Sumatran forest in the last 20 years, had been embarrassed and financially hurt when other global firms including Adidas, Kraft, Mattel, Hasbro, Nestlé, Carrefour, Staples and Unilever dropped products made by APP that had been made with rainforest timber.

"We thought that if we adopted national laws to protect the forest that this would be enough. But it clearly was not. We realised something was not right and that we needed a much higher standard. So now we will stop the deforestation, whatever the cost. We are now convinced that the long term benefits will be greater," said Aida Greenbury, APP's sustainability director. "Yes. We got it wrong. We could not have done worse."


'Indonesia is seeing a new corporate colonialism'

Multinational companies have been encouraged to seize and deforest land owned by indigenous people, say human rights groups

John Vidal   
The Observer, Saturday 25 May 2013 23.00 BST   

Land conflicts between farmers and plantation owners, mining companies and developers have raged across Indonesia as local and multinational companies have been encouraged to seize and then deforest customary land – land owned by indigenous people and administered in accordance with their customs. More than 600 were recorded in 2011, with 22 deaths and hundreds of injuries. The true number is probably far greater, say watchdog groups.

The Indonesian national human rights commission reported more than 5,000 human rights violations last year, mostly linked to deforestation by corporations. "Deaths of farmers caused by the increase in agrarian conflicts all across Indonesia are increasing," said Henry Sarigih, founder of the Indonesian Peasant Union, which has 700,000 members.

"The presence of palm oil plantations has spawned a new poverty and is triggering a crisis of landlessness and hunger. Human rights violations keep occurring around natural resources in the country and intimidation, forced evictions and torture are common," said Sarigih. "There are thousands of cases that have not surfaced. Many remain hidden, especially by local authorities," he says.

Communities complain that they are not warned, consulted or compensated when concessions are handed out and that they are left with no option but to give up their independence and work for minimal wages for the companies.

At fault are badly drafted laws, unclear regulations, corruption and heavy-handed security and paramilitary forces – all of which favour large business over the poor. Illegal land purchases and logging are mostly supported by police, armed forces and local government staff. Companies are even allowed to work with security forces.

Feelings run high when land is taken and livelihoods are wiped out by deforestation. In December 2011, 28 protesters from a logging concession area on Padang island in Sumatra sewed their mouths shut in front of the parliament building in Jakarta in a protest against having their land "grabbed" by a giant paper and pulp company.

Last year, three people were killed in a clash with security forces during a protest over gold prospectors in Bima on the island of Sumbawa. Farmers from Mesuji in Sumatra claimed that security forces murdered residents to evict them from their land.

Over 10m hectares (24.7m acres) of land has been given away and converted to plantations in the last 10 years, forcing thousands of communities to give up forest they have collectively used for generations. Politicians offer land to supporters and give permission to develop plantations with little thought for the human or ecological consequences. In addition, government attempts to move landless people from densely populated areas to less populous areas with "transmigration" policies have caused major conflicts with indigenous groups in provinces like Papua and Sulawesi.

"Who controls the land in Indonesia controls the politics. Corruption is massive around natural resources. We are seeing a new corporate colonialism. In the Suharto era you were sent to prison for talking about the government. Now you can be sent there for talking about corporations," says Abetnego Tarigan, director of Friends of the earth Indonesia in Jakarta.

Three of the group's staff members, including its south Sumatra director, are in prison following protests at the involvement of the police and military in a land dispute involving a state-owned palm oil plantation firm. "The scale of the conflicts is growing. Every day new ones are reported. More and more police are now in the plantations. Government is trying to clamp down on mass protests," said Tarigan.

"These developments are classed as 'growth' but what we are seeing is the collapse of communities of fisherfolk or farmers and increasing poverty. We are exchanging biodiversity for monocultures, local economies for global ones, small-scale producers are becoming labourers and community land is becoming corporate. This is the direction we are going."


Industry, fires and poachers shrink Sumatran tigers' last stronghold

No Sumatran wild animal is safe as contact with humans rises with disastrous results

John Vidal   
The Observer, Sunday 26 May 2013   

Karman Lubis's body was found near where he had been working on a Sumatran rubber plantation. His head was found several days later a mile away and they still haven't found his right hand. He had been mauled by a Sumatran tiger that has been living in Batang Gadis National Park and he was one of five people killed there by tigers in the last five years.

Contact between humans and wild animals is increasing disastrously in Sumatra as deforestation, mining and palm oil concessions expand, fragmenting forest habitats and driving animals out of protected areas. The exact number of tigers left in the wild is uncertain but latest estimates range from under 300 to possibly 500 in 27 locations.

Batang Gadis is one of the last strongholds of the Sumatran tiger with anywhere between 23 and 76 tigers in the dense forests, making up nearly 20% of all Sumatra's tigers. But with a single tiger worth as much as $50,000 to a poacher on the black market, hunting is rampant. Conservationists fear that unless concerted action is taken, the Sumatran tiger will go the way of two other Indonesian subspecies. The Bali tiger was hunted to extinction in 1937 and the last Javan tiger was recorded in the 1970s.

Many Sumatran tigers, says Greenpeace, are being killed by accident. In July 2011, one was found dying in an animal trap on the border of an Asia Pulp and Paper acacia tree concession where rainforest had recently been cleared. Others have been found caught in electric fences or have been killed by farmers in retaliation for the killing of humans.

No wild animal is now considered safe in Sumatra. An Australian-owned gold mining company has a 200,000-hectare concession which overlaps into Batang Gadis and illegal logging is encroaching upon the park from all sides.

Other Indonesian animals are faring even worse than the tiger. Widespread forest fires, many set deliberately to clear land for oil palm plantations, have been disastrous for Sumatran orangutans. Thousands are thought to have burned to death, unable to escape the flames both in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

The species' range is now severely circumscribed, says WWF in Jakarta. Of nine populations left in Sumatra, only seven are thought viable. "The fate of Sumatran orangutans is inextricably linked to the island's fast-disappearing forests. If we want to save the Sumatran orangutan we have to save their forest home," said Barney Long, WWF's Asian species expert.

The Sumatran rhino could be extinct within a few years because of poaching and habitat destruction. A report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature last month estimated that there were now fewer than 100 in small, fragmented populations.

Conservationists fear that the whole species may be extinct in 20 years and are planning to move individual rhinos between Indonesia and Malaysia. Last year the first Sumatran rhino calf was born at a semi-wild sanctuary in Indonesia. It was only the fourth time in a century that captive Sumatran rhinos have given birth. A similar sanctuary, with large pens in natural forest, has also been established in Malaysian Borneo. These two sanctuaries, which house eight rhinos between them, are increasingly being seen as insurance policies against extinction.

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« Reply #6588 on: May 26, 2013, 07:39 AM »

Pig Putin's Russia....

Police arrest 30 at gay pride rally in Moscow

Activists march to protest at rising Orthodox intolerance of homosexuality across Russia

Alexander Winning in Moscow
The Observer, Saturday 25 May 2013 17.57 BST   

Russian police arrested at least 30 activists in central Moscow on Saturday at a gay pride rally to mark 20 years since homosexuality was decriminalised.

Police officers pounced on the gay campaigners moments after they unfurled banners and rainbow-coloured flags outside the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, on Saturday afternoon. Several protesters were attacked by Orthodox Christian vigilantes. The arrests were made outside the Duma and the Moscow mayor's office where the rally ended. Activists chose to rally by the Duma to protest against a federal bill that would impose fines of up to 500,000 roubles (£10,500) for promoting homosexuality among minors. More than 10 regional legislatures across Russia have passed similar laws which have been widely condemned.

More than two decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia remains deeply conservative and independent opinion polls show that about three-quarters of the population support suppressing public displays of homosexuality.

Officers patrolling outside the Duma shouted from megaphones: "Your rally is not sanctioned, you're disrupting passers-by" while police trucks fitted with metal cages waited nearby. Moscow authorities had refused permission for the rally for the eighth year in a row, saying it would interfere with students out celebrating the last day of term.

"I don't understand why police are hauling people away," said Gleb, an activist who was soon detained. "We're only asking for equal rights, the same as for everyone else."

Police also arrested several nationalists and Orthodox Christian believers, who sang hymns and crossed themselves as if to ward off evil spirits. "Gay people need medical treatment. It's simply disgusting to look at them," said Konstantin Kostin, a member of the Holy Rus movement. "Russia used to be a great superpower. Now look what's become of us. Marriage is a sacred union between man and woman, and this lot want to defile the sanctitude of our country."

The Orthodox Christian church, which enjoys pride of place among the country's many faiths, has stoked intolerance towards gays, describing homosexuality as a moral threat to Russia. Last week, Patriarch Kirill, Russia's top religious official, said his church would never recognise same-sex marriages.

Nikolai Alexeyev, an organiser of the rally and a leading gay rights campaigner, said in an interview on the eve of the rally that he had been forced to spend Friday night away from home in order to evade capture. He blamed President Vladimir Putin, who Alexeyev said has presented himself as a champion of traditional Russian values, since returning for a third term last year, and for discrimination against sexual minorities. In the Netherlands last month, Putin criticised same-sex couples for not contributing to Russia's flagging birthrate.

Alexeyev, who was also arrested, said: "Putin is personally responsible. If he gives the order to allow gay pride events, then people's perception of the gay community will radically change. In Russia, everything is done by the tsar's decree."

The gay pride rally comes weeks after the brutalised body of a 23-year-old man was found in Vologograd, southern Russia . The killing outraged the LGBT community, which says such attacks are on the rise.

Alexeyev, who was fined 5,000 roubles in St Petersburg a year ago for "homosexual propaganda", said Russian authorities continued to portray gay people as "freaks" to distract public attention from the government's wider failings.

With little to show for the past eight years of campaigning, he said activists now believe intolerance towards gay people could persist for many years to come. Alexeyev added: "When we started applying to hold gay pride events, I thought we'd make people listen, but now, I have my doubts."


May 25, 2013

Interpol Rebuffs Russia in Its Hunt for a Kremlin Critic


MOSCOW — Interpol has rejected a Russian request for a worldwide police hunt for William F. Browder, a British investment banker and a Kremlin nemesis who has made no secret of his whereabouts or of his battle against the government of President Vladimir V. Putin over accusations of human rights abuses.

The decision, announced on Friday by Interpol, to delete all information about Mr. Browder from its databases amounted to a rare — and sharp — rebuke of Russia for trying to use international law enforcement agencies in a political dispute.

Mr. Browder, once the largest private foreign investor in Russia, has crusaded against Russia’s government since the death of his lawyer, Sergei L. Magnitsky, in a Russian prison in 2009, apparently after he was denied proper medical care.

Mr. Magnitsky was arrested while trying to expose a government corruption scheme, in which a company once owned by Mr. Browder was used to file a fraudulent $230 million tax return.

In December, President Obama signed a law named for Mr. Magnitsky that aims to punish human rights abuses in Russia by prohibiting Russians accused of such violations from traveling to the United States or holding financial assets there. Russia retaliated with its own law on human rights abuses by Americans, and barred American citizens from adopting Russian children.

Mr. Browder was a major force behind the American legislation and has been pushing for similar laws to be adopted in Europe.

Mr. Putin and other officials have brushed off questions about why no one has been convicted in Mr. Magnitsky’s death, and they have increasingly sought to portray Mr. Magnitsky and Mr. Browder as criminals.

The Russian government is prosecuting Mr. Magnitsky posthumously on tax evasion charges, and prosecutors have charged Mr. Browder with illegally acquiring shares in Gazprom, the state-controlled natural gas company, from 2001 to 2004, at a time when foreign ownership was restricted. In April, a court in Moscow issued a warrant for his arrest.

It was in connection with this case that Russia requested that Interpol issue a “blue notice” asking law enforcement agencies worldwide to report on Mr. Browder’s whereabouts and provide other information about him.

Interpol said that its independent Commission for the Control of Interpol’s Files had “studied a complaint brought before it by Mr. Browder and concluded that the case was of a predominantly political nature.”

A spokesman for the Russian Interior Ministry told Russian news agencies on Saturday that the government had only asked Interpol for information and had not yet requested that Mr. Browder be declared a fugitive.

But the chairman of the Russian Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, Aleksei Pushkov, characterized Interpol’s decision as politically motivated.

“I think some international quarters have put pressure on Interpol,” Mr. Pushkov said, according to the news agency Interfax. He said Mr. Browder “has apparently managed to mobilize significant political resources” to block an inquiry.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Browder, who is scheduled to be in Berlin on Monday, said he was pleased by the Interpol announcement, which he called “a clear sign of how far Russia has stepped over the line in the Magnitsky case.” In a separate statement, Mr. Browder’s office said the decision showed “that a deeply corrupt regime will not be allowed to freely persecute whistle-blowers.”

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« Reply #6589 on: May 26, 2013, 07:47 AM »

Three more suspects and suspects’ friend arrested in London ‘beheading’ case

By Arturo Garcia
Saturday, May 25, 2013 17:46 EDT

Police in London, England arrested three more men on Saturday in connection with the May 22 fatal attack on a British soldier, while counter-terrorism authorities also picked up a friend of one of the suspects on separate terrorism-related charges.

The Huffington Post UK reported that three unidentified men, a 21-year-old, a 24-year-old and a 28-year-old, were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit murder in the death of the service member, identified as 25-year-old Drummer Lee Rigby. Police used a taser on the 21-year-old man and the 28-year-old man while apprehending them. Neither suspect was seriously injured.

Police said the two men accused of carrying out the attack, identified in reports as 22-year-old Michael Oluwatobi Adebowale and 28-year-old Michael Adebolajo, were in stable condition after being shot by authorities before being arrested. The two men allegedly hit Rigby with a car before attacking him with a knife and a meat cleaver.

CNN reported on Saturday that Abu Nusaybah, who identified himself as a friend of Adebolajo’s, was also arrested on Friday night after saying in an interview with the BBC that Adebolajo had been approached by MI5, the British intelligence service and offered a position. Nusaybah said Adebolajo rejected the offer.

“Initially they wanted to ask [Adebolajo] if he knew certain individuals,” Nusaybah said. “That was the initial issue. But after he said that he didn’t know these individuals, what he said is if he’d be interested in working for them.”

Nusaybah also said Adebolajo was supposedly recruited following a trip to Kenya during which he was detained by Kenyan troops.

“He told me he was physically assaulted,” Nusaybah said. “He told me he was sexually threatened. And he indicated, from what I know of him, when he said ‘I feel ashamed to tell you what happened to me,’ as far as I understand that, it’s sexual abuse.”

Without mentioning Nusaybah by name, police said a 31-year-old man was arrested on counter-terrorism charges Friday night.


Anti-Muslim violence rises in England after soldier’s death

By The Guardian
Saturday, May 25, 2013 21:48 EDT

By Daniel Boffey, The Guardian

YouGove poll shows rise in proportion of people who believe British Muslims pose a threat to democracy

Nearly two-thirds of people believe there will be a ‘clash of civilisations’ between British Muslims and white Britons in the wake of the murder of a British soldier in Woolwich, a new poll shows.

The number of those who believe such a clash is inevitable has increased by 9% from last year.

There has also been a small increase in the proportion of people who believe British Muslims pose a serious threat to democracy, up to 34% on Thursday and Friday from 30% in November 2012, according to the YouGov survey of 1,839 adults.

The poll will fuel concern of an explosion of race hate, with one interfaith charity reporting a huge increase in anti-Muslim incidents since the murder of soldier Lee Rigby in south-east London on Wednesday.

Faith Matters, which runs a helpline, said they had received 162 calls since the attack, up from a daily average of six.

A number of people have also been charged by police after allegedly offensive messages were posted on social media websites. These include a 22-year-old man from Lincoln, a 28-year-old man from London, a 23-year-old woman from Southsea, and a 19-year-old man from Woking.

The BNP has also announced it will be demonstrating in Woolwich. National organiser Adam Walker claims the brutal murder meant a “line has been drawn in the sand and it signals the beginning of the civil war we have predicted for years”.

However the YouGov poll provides evidence that Britain does remain a tolerant country and that the far-right support remains at the margins of society. Nearly two-thirds (63%) believe the vast majority of Muslims are good British citizens, up by 1% from last November.

There has also been an increase from 24% to 33% in the proportion who believe Muslims are compatible with the ‘British way of life’. Around two-thirds (65%) said on the whole most people tend to get along well with each other.

Half of respondents said they felt positively about demonstrations being held against last week’s terror attacks.

However, two-thirds said they felt negatively about such protests led by the BNP or English Defence League (EDL). Asked if they would join the EDL, 84% said they would never do so, although there has been a 9% increase in the proportion of respondents who had heard of the far-right organisation.

Dr Matthew Goodwin of Nottingham university, who commissioned the poll, said: “Compared to last year, when we ran the exact same survey, today people are either just as likely, or more likely, to endorse a series of more positive statements: that Muslims are compatible with the national way of life; are good citizens; make important contributions to society; and share British culture and values.

“In fact, while far right groups were pointing to the murder as evidence that Islam poses a fundamental threat to modern Britain, the percentage of respondents who view Muslims as compatible actually jumped by almost ten points, to 33%.

“Clearly, the numbers remain low, and point to wider challenges facing government, and our local communities. But in the aftermath of events that could well have triggered a more serious backlash, the direction of travel remains positive, and suggests there has not been a sharp spike in prejudice.”

The underlining tolerance appears to back up the prime minister’s statement last week in which he said the murder of Rigby on a Woolwich street was “not just an attack on Britain, and on the British way of life, it was also a betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities who give so much to this country.”

On Saturday a demonstration by the EDL in Newcastle was met by a anti-fascist protest, chanting: “Nazi scum, off our streets.”

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said groups such as the EDL were fuelling division and helping those behind terror attacks. She said: “Anyone who seeks to divide our communities is doing the work of the extremists they say they oppose.

“Mindless acts of violence against any of our communities serve no-one. Some people are trying to use the vile attack in Woolwich as an excuse for more hatred, violence, and extremism. We must not let them.

“The police, security services and all right minded people in this country will do everything they can to make sure any act of violence and intimidation is dealt with robustly and quickly.

“The clear message from the overwhelming majority of British people is ‘not in my name’. We stand together against violent extremism, intolerance and hatred – whether it comes from Islamist extremists, the EDL, the BNP, or extremists of any kind.”


French police hunt man who stabbed soldier in Paris

Anti-terrorist police seek man who stabbed 25-year-old Private Cedric Cordierin the neck before fleeing the scene

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris, Sunday 26 May 2013 09.58 BST   

French anti-terrorist police are searching for a man who stabbed a soldier in the neck in a business neighbourhood west of Paris before fleeing the scene on Saturday night.

The 25-year-old soldier, Private First Class Cedric Cordier, was patrolling in uniform with two other troops in a shopping area adjoining the station at La Défense as part of France's Vigipirate anti-terror surveillance plan.

He was approached from behind at around 6pm and attacked with a knife or box-cutter. Cordier was wounded in the neck and is being treated in hospital, but his injuries are not life-threatening. He lost a large amount of blood but his condition was said to be "satisfactory" on Sunday afternoon.

Initial reports said the attacker had said nothing and made no comment during the attack. He is still on the run. News agencies reported that police were hunting for a man who was about 30 years old and possibly of North African origin and bearded.

The area where the attack took place was heavily monitored by CCTV run by the Paris transport network and shopping centre and police are sifting through footage. The investigation is being run by the state anti-terrorism unit.

The soldier who was attacked was walking behind other soldiers who did not witness the assailant before he fled.

French ministers urged caution on drawing comparisons to or links with the recent killing of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich, south-east London.

The interior minister, Manuel Valls, said the sudden violence of the attack was similar to the London murder but he stressed it was too early to offer any theories on who had carried out the attack or why.

"Let's be prudent for now," Valls said. "Everything is being done to arrest this individual." He said the attacker had intended to kill.

On a visit to Ethiopia on Saturday night, the French president, François Hollande, was cautious on making any comparison to the Woolwich murder.

"I don't think at this stage that there could be a link," he said, adding: "We must look at all options and won't neglect any."

Christophe Crepin, spokesman for the police union Unsa, said there were similarities with the London attack. "I think this person wanted to imitate what happened in London," he told Itele television.

The defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, told journalists near the site of the attack in Paris: "The soldier was attacked because he is a soldier."

France is on high alert for attacks by Islamist militants following its military intervention in Mali in January, which prompted threats against French interests from Aqim, the north African wing of al-Qaida.

The latest warning was published on YouTube a few weeks before armed gunmen last week attacked a military base and a French uranium extraction site in the central African state of Niger, killing 24 soldiers and one civilian.

Valls said France would retain its terror alert level at "red, reinforced", one step down from "scarlet", which is activated only in case of a serious and confirmed attack.

France is still reeling from the murders last year of three French paratroopers by Mohamed Merah, a 23-year-old unemployed panel-beater from Toulouse, who went on a 10-day killing spree across south-west France.

Police were criticised for not tracking down Merah after two separate shooting incidents against soldiers before he then went on to shoot dead three children and a rabbi at the gates of a Jewish school. Questions remain over failings in the operation and how Merah – who claimed inspiration from al-Qaida, was heavily armed, on police intelligence files and had been under surveillance – was not picked up earlier and his attacks prevented.

« Last Edit: May 26, 2013, 07:53 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #6590 on: May 26, 2013, 07:56 AM »

Gay marriage protest draws thousands to Paris

Up to 200,000 expected to take part in demonstration as France becomes 14th country to legalise same-sex marriage

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris, Sunday 26 May 2013 12.47 BST   

Thousands of police took up positions across Paris on Sunday after the government warned of possible violence and disruption at the final mass demonstration against same-sex marriage before the first wedding ceremony takes place next week.

On Saturday night 50 people were arrested after chaining themselves to metal barriers in the middle of the Champs Elysées and firing smoke canisters. A van carrying masks, banners and smoke bombs was seized by police.

The new law to allow same-sex marriage and adoption – the key social reform of the Socialist president, François Hollande – was adopted officially last week.

This followed months of bitter political debate and the biggest rightwing street demonstrations in decades. Hundreds of arrests were made after clashes between police and demonstrators in the runup to the parliamentary vote.

Rights groups also recorded a sharp increase in homophobic acts across France.

The first wedding will take place between two gay activists in Montpellier on Wednesday after France became the 14th country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage. But divisions over the law continue to cause tensions on the French right, with the government warning of a resurgence among far-right groups and a small number of "ultras" on the fringes.

Police expect between 150,000 and 200,000 people to demonstrate in Paris on Sunday afternoon in four different, simultaneous protest marches. Three marches will be led by the anti-same-sex-marriage movement, converging at Les Invalides in central Paris. A fourth will be led by the traditionalist Catholic lobby group, Civitas.

However, the comedian Virginie Tellene, known by her stage-name Frigide Barjot, who has been the figurehead of the anti-gay marriage movement, said she would not attend the demonstration in order to defend what she called "peace and freedom of expression". She is under police protection having complained of death threats and pressure from the extreme right.

The most radical protesters have grouped together under the banner "Printemps Français" (French spring), a loose grouping of traditionalists and far-right associations, which the French interior ministry last week threatened to outlaw due to its inflammatory positions.

Tensions were exacerbated by the suicide last Tuesday of the far-right essayist Dominique Venner, who shot himself at the alter of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris after leaving a blogpost railing against immigration and the "vile" law legalising same-sex marriage.

Sunday's demonstration was planned long before the government rushed through a vote on the law earlier than expected. Coaches and trains are expected to bring demonstrators from across France.

The demonstrations have caused a spat between mainstream political parties. Jean-François Copé, leader of the rightwing UMP party, who is keen to capitalise on the protest movement in the runup to next year's local elections, called on party members to join Sunday's demonstration. But other key figures in his party, including the former foreign minister Alain Juppé, advised people not to participate.

The prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, attacked UMP politicians for supporting the demonstration, warning that they would be responsible for "sparking tension and radicalisation".

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« Reply #6591 on: May 26, 2013, 07:59 AM »

Swedish riots spark surprise and anger

As inequality and segregation start to rise, the spread of youth disorder has shaken ethnic Swedes and older immigrants alike

Richard Orange   
The Observer, Saturday 25 May 2013 16.27 BST   

The pace of the neighbourhood watch suddenly picks up. "Here's the fire we've been waiting for," grins Samiy, an Iraqi in a bulky jacket.

It's half past two in the morning and Samiy, along with dozens of others from local Islamic groups and community organisations, has spent the night patrolling the streets of Husby, the suburb at the centre of riots in Stockholm.

Soon there's an acrid stench of burning plastic, and flickers become visible around the footbridge that the group is now jogging towards. A dumper truck on the road below is burning as a crowd of young men look on. Most claim to be watchmen, but as soon as a fire engine arrives, 10 or more rush to the bridge and begin pelting a firefighter who runs up.

"It's enough. It's enough," cries Jamil Hakim, from a group called Safe Husby. "Two nights was fun. But it's enough. It's not fun any more."

The crowd turns to see a phalanx of police in full riot gear marching up a ramp to the bridge, protected by a wall of transparent shields. Immediately, the stone throwers – most barely more than children – sprint into the darkness, while Hakim confronts the police. "Get lost! Please, just disappear," he says.

By Saturday morning, the usually calm Swedish capital had been rocked by six nights of disorder, with up to 200 cars set ablaze, fires in schools, police stations and restaurants, and about a dozen police officers injured. Police estimate that more than 300 young people have been directly involved, of whom 30 have been arrested.

What began in Husby last Sunday has spread to more than a dozen of the city's other suburbs. And on Friday night, while police reported a quieter night in the capital, fires and stone-throwing were also reported in Uppsala, Södertälje, and even further afield in Linköping and Örebro, in central Sweden.

The morning after the truck-burning, however, Husby seems idyllic. There's a busy vegetable stall in the main square and a group of elderly men sipping beer in the sun. The rows of seven-storey blocks, built in the 1960s and 1970s as part of Sweden's "million homes" project, are all freshly painted, the gardens and playgrounds well-tended. At the local school, the windows broken the previous night are already being fixed.

"If you have broken windows and they see it, they will crack other windows, so we must fix it immediately," says Christer Svensson, who has come in to do the work. "I don't care, I make money out of this."

Outside the new library, which opened last month, another white, ethnically Swedish handyman is busy painting. "This place behind me, they've just spent 40m kronor [£4m] on it," he grumbles. "They don't talk about that when they talk to the TV, do they? They talk about the problems, they don't talk about everything people are doing for them.

"These people, they should integrate in this society and just try a little bit more to be like Swedish citizens."

Scratch beneath the surface and this is a sentiment shared by many in a country that arguably has the world's most generous asylum policies. Sweden has taken in more than 11,000 refugees from Syria since 2012, more per head than any other European country, and it has absorbed more than 100,000 Iraqis and 40,000 Somalis over the past two decades. About 1.8 million of its 9.5 million people are first- or second-generation immigrants.

"This is one of the countries that treats immigrants the best," says Mohammed Hassan, a Bangladeshi studying in Husby's new library, who previously lived in Brick Lane in east London. "It's much, much better than any other European country in which I've travelled."

So it has come as a shock for many Swedes to discover the scale of resentment. It's not hard to find it. Aleks, whose parents came from Kosovo, says: "I hate the police. I hate the cops. I think setting fire to cars in the neighbourhood should stop, but I don't think throwing rocks at the cops should stop."

The trigger for the riots – police shooting dead a 69-year-old Portuguese man called Lenine Relvas-Martins – has been dismissed as an excuse. But his neighbours are still incensed. "They had a bastard-load of police here. You would have thought there was a huge group of terrorists, not a man with a little knife," complains Milos, 73, Relvas-Martins's neighbour since 1984. "If he was Swedish they never would have shot him. I'm sure about that."

Martins had been brandishing a knife on his balcony, angry after a confrontation with local youths. Police then broke into his house and shot him in front of his Finnish wife. They say she was at risk. She denies it.

The police then inflamed the situation last Sunday, reportedly calling young people causing a disturbance "monkeys" and "negroes".

"They seize people, and strip them and really embarrass them in front of their friends," complains Yusuf, a young Somali. Yusuf used to live in Birmingham, but says he prefers Husby. And there's no doubt Husby has better facilities than deprived areas in Britain. But it is also more segregated. About 85% of people here have their origins outside Sweden.

"The politicians are thinking the wrong way. They want to help people, but you never help people when you put 30,000 to 50,000 in one place," complains the man painting at the library.

Camila Salazar, who works for Fryshuset, a Stockholm youth organisation, says: "For a lot of people who live in segregated areas, the only Swedes they meet are social workers or police officers. It's amazing how many have never had a Swedish friend."

A third of the 2,500 white, ethnic Swedes who lived in Husby 10 years ago have left. "My children say: 'Why don't you leave there? All the Swedish have gone,'" complains Milos. "There's only three Swedish families left in this whole block."

Inequality has also grown faster in Sweden over the past decade than in any other developed country, according to thinktank the OECD, which puts the blame partly on tax cuts paid for by reductions in welfare spending.

According to official statistics, more than 10% of those aged 25 to 55 in Husby are unemployed, compared with 3.5% in Stockholm as a whole. Those that do have jobs earn 40% less than the city average. But Aleksandar-Pal Sakala, an IT consultant and politician for the centre-right Moderate party, has little sympathy. "It's nonsense, this leftwing propaganda that the schools are bad and there's no jobs. Some people are too lazy. They feel they have less respect if they work in a low-status job," he says. "When I came here from Belgrade, I was cleaning. I worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week."

Kista, only 20 minutes' walk away, is Sweden's Silicon Valley, with more than 20,000 people working in IT, but Sakala says most Husby people can work only in Kista's giant shopping centre. "Many people living in the area are not qualified for IT jobs."

More than a quarter of Husby's adult population has only GCSE-equivalent education, compared with a tenth for Stockholm as a whole, and only a third have any further education.

However, Esmail Jamshidi, a 23-year-old medical student born and educated in Husby, says young people don't lack opportunities.

"It's a very recent development, this ghetto mentality," he says. "Immigrants come here, and most leave after a decade or two. A very small percentage of them don't, and this last group are left. And then the next war erupts and another group of people come, and, again, the vast majority make it. What we see now is the kid brothers of those who got stuck here, and now there are so many of them that it's starting to be a problem."

The older generation of immigrants seems as puzzled by the anger as Swedes. Ali, the owner of Café Unic, a Persian cafe in Husby's main square, says he tried living in America but came back. "I love this country. I mean it," he says. "I'm telling my kids every day to remember that you are born here, in Sweden. I love this country because of the way they built it: because of my taxes, and other people's taxes, everyone has a nice place to live. It's a very, very nice and good idea."

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« Reply #6592 on: May 26, 2013, 08:03 AM »

Former Guatemala president Alfonso Portillo extradited to U.S.

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, May 25, 2013 10:21 EDT

Guatemala extradited former president Alfonso Portillo to the United States to face charges of laundering $70 million of swindled government funds through US banks.

Portillo, president 2000-2004, is the first former Latin American leader ever to be extradited to the United States.

“Hasta luego (see you later), people of Guatemala,” Portillo, 61, said as he boarded a small plane escorted by US agents at the main Air Force base south of the capital.

Wearing a black jacket and holding two books, Portillo claimed his extradition was a “kidnapping,” and accused the Guatemalan government of breaking the law because he still had cases pending in his country.

“They have acted illegally against me from the beginning. They have violated all my rights,” he declared, adding that the government was “responsible for anything that may happen to my health.”

The ex-president was picked up unannounced from a military hospital in Guatemala City, where he had been convalescing in recent weeks, and rushed to the Air Force base under heavy protection.

Portillo was flown “in a hospital airplane equipped with cardiac and respiratory equipment,” the US Embassy said in a statement, adding that the plane crew included a doctor, a nurse and a respiratory therapist.

Washington welcomed the extradition as “an important affirmation of the rule of law and due process in Guatemala.”

“We commend the commitment of Guatemalan authorities to strengthen the rule of law and combat organized crime and corruption,” William Ostick, a US State Department spokesman, told AFP.

Portillo had been fighting extradition since it was approved by then president Alvaro Colom in 2011.

Following a request from a New York court, he was arrested in January 2010 during an attempt to flee to Belize. Portillo has described the case against him as a “political persecution.”

Portillo was indicted by a US grand jury on charges of embezzling tens of millions of dollars of public funds and laundering the money through US and European banks, including $1.5 million intended for Guatemalan school children.

His attorney Mauricio Berriondo said the extradition was “outside any legal framework” and was conducted “by force.”

In 2011, a Guatemalan court acquitted Portillo and two of his former ministers of conspiring to embezzle $15 million from the defense ministry in 2001. His acquittal was confirmed by an appeals court in April.

Portillo was a member of the Guatemalan Republican Front, a party founded by former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, who was convicted on May 10 of genocide and war crimes and sentenced to 80 years in prison.

A Guatemalan court, however, overturned the verdict and sent the case back to trial, raising questions about the country’s judicial system.

Mario Estrada, a losing candidate in the 2011 presidential election, stood with other Portillo supporters outside the air base to protest the extradition.

“What they did was inhuman because the former president’s life was put at risk,” Estrada said. “They kidnapped him from the hospital to take him away.”

Portillo is not the first Latin American ex-leader to wind up in a US facing criminal charges: Panama’s former dictator Manuel Noriega was ousted by US troops in 1989, convicted on drug trafficking charges and jailed in Florida for 20 years.

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« Reply #6593 on: May 26, 2013, 08:09 AM »

May 25, 2013 09:30 AM

TPP: An International Deregulation Treaty, Not A Trade Treaty

By Dave Johnson

The upcoming Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement is using a process that is rigged from the start. It is not being negotiated by governments for the benefit of their people, it is being negotiated by executives (or future executives/lobbyists currently in government) largely for the benefit of the giant corporations they serve. The process has these giant corporations "in the loop" but groups citizens, working people, consumers, the environment, human rights groups and especially democracy are not part of the process. That can only go one way: if you don't have a seat at the table you are on the table -- the meal.

Chile's TPP Negotiator Quits, Warns Citizens

Rodrigo Contreras, Chile's lead TPP negotiator recently up and quit to warn people of the dangers this agreement poses to everyone except the giant multinational corporations. In The New Chessboard, (English translation) Contreras warns that the TPP is solidifying multinational corporate control over the Internet, copyrights, patents (especially drug patents), and in particular warns that the giant financial interests are solidifying their current control over the regulatory process. He writes that this will block countries that are trying to "restore the space for applying financial safeguards. In these circumstances it does not makes sense to further liberalize capital flows, depriving us of legitimate tools to safeguard financial stability."

In particular, Contreras warns that smaller countries face a threat from this agreement's solidifying of the control of the giant multinationals, concluding,

    It is critical to reject the imposition of a model designed according to realities of high-income countries, which are very different from the other participating countries.

    Otherwise, this agreement will become a threat for our countries: it will restrict our development options in health and education, in biological and cultural diversity, and in the design of public policies and the transformation of our economies. It will also generate pressures from increasingly active social movements, who are not willing to grant a pass to governments that accept an outcome of the TPPnegotiations that limits possibilities to increase the prosperity and well-being of our countries.

Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism, in Chile’s Recent Lead Negotiator on Trans-Pacific Partnership Warns It Could Be a “Threat to Our Countries”, gives us a look at the context of what it means for a country's TPP negotiator to quit and sound the alarms. She writes that this is "a statement of principle that comes at considerable personal cost" and that "his call to Latin American negotiators has deep-sixed his chances of getting another senior government role or being retained by large companies as a lobbyist or advisor."

A job as a lobbyist or advisor to the multinationals is the golden goose that drives the negotiators. The last US negotiator, Ron Kirk, recently left that post to join the law firm Gibson Dunn where he will advise giant multinationals, probably for free. (Just kidding, he isn't doing it for free.) The Financial Times notes that "Other former US trade representatives, including Charlene Barshefsky and Mickey Cantor under President Bill Clinton, also joined law firms after their tenures in government." They probably also are not advising giant multinationals for free, either.

Smith at Naked Capitalism notes that, "Some of Asian participants in the negotiations (particularly Japan) are also believed to have serious reservations about the provisions of the TPP that would weaken national sovereignity by allowing corporations to challenge laws and regulations as violations of the TPP."

Americans are also reacting to the threat that the TPP poses to national sovereignty -- government's ability to control the wealth and power of the giant multinationals. Bloomberg News yesterday, in Wall Street Seeks Dodd-Frank Changes Through Trade Talks warns that, "U.S. bankers and insurers are trying to use trade deals, which can trump existing legislation, to weaken parts of the Dodd-Frank Act designed to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis."

The Bloomberg report gets into some specific problems that watchdog groups see. For example, “The trade talks could easily become a Trojan Horse,” said Marcus Stanley, the policy director for Americans for Financial Reform, a group that includes labor unions, civil rights organizations and consumer advocates.

Trade agreements, once signed, override national sovereignty and limit a country's ability to regulate giant corporations. The Bloomberg report noted that the financial industry is already trying to use existing trade agreements to roll back regulations required by the 3-year-old Dodd-Frank law,

    The financial services industry has already invoked international trade rules in its bid to weaken proposed regulations, notably the Volcker rule that would ban proprietary trading. Named after former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, the rule is a signature part of Dodd-Frank.

    The U.S. Chamber of Commerce sought a review of the rule by U.S. trade authorities, arguing it violated existing agreements.

So the financial industry is trying to use the upcoming TPP to overturn portions of Dodd-Frank and other rules in other countries they see as restricting their power.

Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke of this at a recent Senate hearing:

Fix The Process

The process that we use to negotiate our "trade" agreements needs to be changed to relect that this country is supposed to be run by We, the People. The current secrecy must give way to an open, transparent participative process that serves citizens, workers, the environment, consumers, human rights and other considerations of all the stakeholders.

The way the process is currently set up, the giant multinationals have a seat at the table, and they are salivating as they await the main course. We the People and our silly laws and regulations that are in the way of the profits of the 1% are being prepared to be served up. And a fine meal we will be.


This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary
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« Reply #6594 on: May 26, 2013, 08:18 AM »

In the USA....

On Memorial Day, it’s time to make sure our veterans suffering from burn pit diseases get the care they need

By Nora Eisenberg
Friday, May 24, 2013 12:04 EDT

This Memorial Day weekend, amid barbeques and picnics, many Americans will make time to remember the troops that have died in the twelve years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the number, 6,521, tells only part of the price our troops have paid. The longest wars in U.S. history have actually claimed far fewer American lives than our other extended foreign wars in the past century (WWI: 116,516; WWII: 405,399; Korea: 36,574; and Vietnam: 58,220). It’s in the living that we see the full catastrophic toll of our recent wars on our service men and women. Over 900,000 of the 1.6 million veterans of these wars are patients in the VA system, and over 800,000 have applied for disability benefits. The dead are at peace, we hope, but the living casualties still suffer the wounds of war.

Traumatic brain injury, post traumatic stress disorder, amputations, burns and facial disfiguration -— all these we have seen on our TV screens, however fleetingly. But another signature injury that has scrawled its misery across veterans’ lives remains largely unknown. It goes by different names — Burn Pit disease, Gulf War 2 Syndrome, Iraq and Afghanistan War Lung Injury, Post-Deployment Illness — but what veterans and contract workers who have it, and the small cadre of physician-scientists dedicated to understanding and treating it, agree on is that, like Gulf War Illness, its cause is wartime toxic exposure. An inhalational injury, it attacks the airways and lungs first, and then can wound most every other organ and system. “Burn pits were constant,” Paul Rieckhoff, director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said, and most everyone was exposed to them “sometime during their deployment.” In 2009, the military admitted that as many as 360,000 veterans may have suffered traumatic brain injury, an, in turn, established programs for research and treatment. But about the systemic disease of our recent wars, the brass is admitting — and doing — almost nothing.

Thousands of sick veterans trace their illness to the burn pits, which the military as well as their contractors KBR and Halliburton used — instead of closed incinerators — to process garbage on US bases in Afghanistan and Iraq. Acres wide and hundreds of feet deep, the open furnaces burned day and night, morphing solid human waste, body parts, blood specimens, plastic water bottles, Styrofoam plates, Humvees, computers and more into black fumes and ash that covered the sky and ground. In the earliest grades, young children learn that solids and liquids when heated at high temperatures becomes gases, and that there are certain things we do not burn in the open air because they become poison gases, which can make us sick or dead.

The torments endured by Captain LeRoy Torres, a Texas state trooper and Army Reservist, are alarming but not uncommon. Stationed at Balad Air Base, the biggest base with the baddest pit, LeRoy immediately felt sick, but the “black goop” that he and the soldiers around him were hacking up was just a sign of “Iraq Crud,” caused by a passing irritation to desert air, commanders said. But back home, LeRoy coughed and wheezed constantly and unable to work or walk more than a few feet, he went from doctor to doctor, from local facilities to the VA War Disease Center in DC. Respiratory infection, mild asthma maybe, the doctors said, as their CT scans and spirometry showed no pathology and they were unaware of war-zone associated lung disease. Finally, a lung biopsy diagnosed constrictive bronchiolitis, a debilitating and often degenerative lung disease associated with inhaling industrial chemicals. Today, LeRoy has spleen cysts and a brain lesion, suffers excruciating headaches and is bed-bound most days. A registry that his wife, Rosie, founded to document and help the many troops suffering profound illness they trace to the burn pits now has thousands of names, though sadly some on the list have died, a couple from cancer.

As early as 2006, Lt. Col. Darrin Curtis, a bioenvironmental flight commander at Balad, warned of “an acute health hazard” of exposure to toxins and “chronic” health hazards from the smoke of the base pit. In 2007 Army and Air Force health teams found dioxin at 51 times the EPA’s acceptable levels and cancer risk from exposure to dioxins at eight times acceptable levels for people at the base for more than a year. They also found particulate matter at 50 times the acceptable levels — a high toxicity associated with premature death and serious disease of most every organ according to Dr. Anthony Szema, an allergist and pulmonologist at Stony Brook University School of Medicine and pioneer in the field of post-deployment lung disease. “It’s clear that the burn pits spewed health-threatening toxins into the air,” Dr. Szema said. “Burning plastic, styrofoam, and jet fuel, widely used as a pit fire accelerant, yields known carcinogens. Burning medical waste and body parts and solid waste in the open air can disperse dangerous microbes. And burning computers and other electronics yields metal particulate matter, from aluminum to lead to titanium.” Dr. Szema and his colleagues, who are studying biopsied lung tissue of post-deployment pulmonary patients, have identified what they’re calling “titanium lung.” In the condition, lung tissue is riddled with titanium in a form (bound to iron in a fixed ratio not found in nature) thought to be from toxic exposures such as those pluming from burn pits.

The pit fumes, though a prime and powerful offender on their own, appear to often operate with accomplices — the distinctly fine sand of Iraq and Afghanistan and the extreme winds and sandstorms brought on by climate change. “A working theory is that extreme winds disperse fumes and ash from the base to the outlying desert,” Dr. Szema said. “The toxins attach to and infiltrate the fine sand, which barreling tanks and more winds and sandstorms further disperse over great distances, in the form of sand dust.” And the research is bearing this out. Dr. Szema’s team has exposed mice to Iraq sand dust and found “titanium lung” along with reduced immune function. Captain Mark Lyles, a scientist at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I., has studied the sand of the region and found viruses, funghi, bacteria and heavy metals linked to a host of serious and potentially deadly diseases. Dr. Robert Miller at Vanderbilt, who performed LeRoy Torres’s biopsy, has found metal particulates in the scarred tissue of veterans with the same severe constrictive bronchiolitis LeRoy suffers. As Dr. Miller and his colleagues reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, the vast majority of the veterans whose lungs they’ve biopsied have the disabling disease.

The VA and DoD have stopped sending pulmonary patients to Dr. Miller for lung biopsies and its own facilities do not perform them, viewing them as an undue expense of taxpayer money for a what will prove a largely minor and temporary condition.

Powerful and deceitful governmental bureaucracies vs sick troops and veterans — it’s a repeated plot in the tragic drama of war. In 2008, Michael Kilpatrick MD, the Deputy Director of the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Health Protection and Readiness said that the military had done extensive sampling of the air in Balad but had “not identified anything, where there are troops, where it would have been hazardous to their health.” And as Deputy Director of the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illness, Dr. Kilpatrick similarly denied obvious scientific findings. Steve Robinson of the National Gulf War Resource Center charges that during Dr. Kilpatrick’s five years in charge of oversight of research and treatment for Gulf War Illness, the office spent $25 million but failed to even issue research reports, let alone develop treatment programs. According the General Accounting Office, Kilpatrick’s fixed position that psychological stress alone could explain Gulf War Illness discouraged scientists from even applying for research funds, and thwarted progress. Pioneering scientists in the field, like epidemiologist Dr. Robert Haley at Southwestern Texas University, depended on private funding from millionaire Ross Perot for his investigations of the biological origins of Gulf War Illness, which as early as 1998 had suggested that brain injury from wartime toxins was the source of the problem.

With only occasional breaks, the VA and DoD have evaded responsibility for medically ill veterans from Desert Storm. In 2008, after extensive re-examination of scientific investigation, a group of high-level scientists making up the congressionally-mandated Research Advisory Committee (RAC) for Gulf War Illness concluded that the cause of the illness plaguing more than 200,000 veterans was not psychological but physical. While depleted uranium was not ruled out, neurotoxins that the military had released through experimental anti-nerve gas pills, as well as pesticides and sarin gas from bombed Iraqi munitions facilities were the exposures most conclusively linked to the multi-symptom, multi-system conditions of Gulf War Illness. The RAC, headed by eminent Boston University neruoscientist Dr. Roberta White, urged quick action on the VA’s part not only because ill Gulf War veterans had been neglected for years but because veterans of the new wars were returning reporting similar symptoms. This January, the RAC charged the VA with still promulgating “fictions” that Gulf War Illness’s causes were unknown and could be psychosomatic despite the RAC’s clear determinations five years earlier.

In March, a leading VA epidemiologist told a House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee that VA officials routinely manipulate or hide data linking exposure to wartime toxins and Gulf War Illness, as well as illnesses emerging in veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. Dr. Steven Coughlin, who resigned his post last December, testified that VA’s Office of Public Health buried and even destroyed data that demonstrated the organic nature of veterans’ illnesses in both the earlier and more recent wars. His own research showing a “sizable percentage” of veterans had been exposed to burn pits and a significant association of exposure with pulmonary disease was quashed, and important data of congenital disorders in children of Gulf War veterans has gone missing “permanently,” he’s been told. Dr. Coughlin said his conscience forced him to leave a VA sick with “an epidemic of serious ethical problems.”

President Obama promised that the burn pits of Iraq and Afghanistan will not be America’s new Agent Orange. But neither the President nor Congress has put forth any comprehensive treatment or research programs for victims of burn pits and other war-zone exposures. In large part through Rosie Torres’s lobbying, the VA must now establish a national burn pit registry — just a start for gathering data. But there is nothing to mandate benefits or treatment for veterans who register.

In addition, Rep. Timothy Bishop (D-NY) is currently developing legislation that would establish centers of excellence for treating burn pit injuries and diseases, like those established in 2011 for veterans with traumatic brain injury. Hopefully, Congress will do the right thing and found and fund such centers, where veterans with profound post-deployment disease can benefit from state-of-the-art research and therapies—without bureaucrats’ obstruction.

But still more is needed. Compensation, of course, as well as full and permanent benefits for those afflicted with systemic post-deployment illness, instead of the need to file claims symptom-by-symptom until the veteran gives up or dies. And certainly an investigation into the relationship between PTSD and toxic exposures (which are linked to neurological damage and psychiatric symptoms) But none of these can be accomplished without resecting and disinfecting a morally diseased bureaucracy.

In the wake of the VA backlog scandal, four high-level VA officials resigned in the last month. Will VA’s obfuscation of science and denial of medical services provoke comparable outrage and shake-ups? Will there be resignations? Investigations? What do we even call it when a government sickens hundreds of thousands of its own and then hides the truth, purposely thwarting scientific study and medical treatment? A human rights violation? Amnesty International tells us that victims of extraordinary acts of systematic and extreme cruelty “have a right to know the whole truth about the crimes they suffered and the reasons behind it” and the affected society has a right to know “the circumstances surrounding and reasons that led to violations being committed to ensure that they will not be committed again.”

On Memorial Day and every day, Americans have a right to know about the environmental and health disasters our government and its contractors inflicted on our own service men and women and why, and the right to be sure it will never happen again.

Nora Eisenberg’s articles, interviews, and fiction have appeared in the Village Voice, Tikkun, the Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The Guardian and Alternet, among others. Her novels include The War at Home,a Washington Post “Rave Book of the Year” in 2002; Just the Way You Want Me, the Foreword Magazine’s Fiction Book of the Year 2004; and When You Come Home (Curbstone, 2009), a Grubb Street Fiction Prize finalist. Eisenberg, who holds a PhD in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University, is academic director of the Faculty Publications Program at the City University of New York.


Senate Republicans Attempt to Sink the Economy by Blocking Their Own Appointees

By: Rmuse
May. 25th, 2013

Any business understands that sound economic policy is crucial to success, and few business owners would put a child in charge of a company’s finances. America is different in that when a Republican is in the White House and the GOP holds majorities in both houses of Congress, their childish economic policy generally leaves a fiscal mess Democrats have to clean up when they are in power. Republicans have complained that the Senate has not passed a budget for four years, and now that they finally acted, several senate teabaggers are blocking progress on the federal budget and creating a minor rebellion in the Senate between old-guard Republicans and idiots representing the tea party.

In normal times, the Senate appoints members to serve on a conference committee to negotiate with the House to work out the differences between the two budgets each side has passed, but teabaggers Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Mike Lee are blocking appointees to a conference committee and efforts to craft a federal budget unless the Senate meets demand that prospective conference members refuse to engage in any negotiations that might raise the federal debt limit. Senators John McCain and Susan Collins, both Republicans,  lambasted the teabaggers this past week for their unprecedented demands with McCain accusing the teabaggers of not understanding “how business has been done” in Congress, and asserted that most GOP senators agree it is time to stop stalling and go to conference. McCain’s warmonger buddy, Senator Lindsey Graham, backed up the Arizona senator’s claim and said, “I think it’s a good idea to get a commitment not to raise the debt limit, but I trust the normal course of business — that we’re not going to use reconciliation to raise the debt limit, we can have a motion to instruct our conferees not to raise the debt limit so I’m fine with going to conference.”

Inter-party bickering aside, it is Graham, and most Republicans’ comment that a commitment to “not raising the debt limit” informs Republicans are Hell bent on economic terrorism as well as shunning their duty to support the U.S. Constitution. Graham is not a freshman teabagger, and he knows full well that demanding that America defaults on its debts is a violation of Article 4 of the 14th Amendment that clearly says, “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, shall not be questioned.” When Bush and Republicans were piling up debt for two unfunded wars, tax cuts for the rich, and an unfunded Medicare prescription plan to enrich the pharmaceutical industry, Republicans never questioned the debt and raised the limit 19 times to cover their wild spending. Those debts are still adding to the national deficit and did not stop when Barack Obama was sworn in as President because except for the Bush tax cuts for the rich that ended in the waning days of 2012, the wars’ costs and prescription plan are still adding to the deficit.

The idea of not raising the debt limit implies that Republicans want America to default on its debt and go bankrupt, and that is precisely what Boehner and Republicans proposed nearly three weeks ago with an insane debt prioritization bill.  The bill was sold as a means of avoiding an American default, but by prioritizing paying certain debt obligations held by the public as well as Social Security benefits and defaulting on the rest is the definition of a bankruptcy sans a bankruptcy court judge.  President Obama railed on the Republican plan and said, “No one should threaten the default of the United States for any reason, no one should use the default of the United States as a budget path or negotiating tool, American families do not get to choose which bills to pass and which ones not to pay, and the United States Congress cannot either without putting the Nation into default for the first time in its history.” The President also reminded Republicans that “This bill would threaten the full faith and credit of the United States and do damage to the economy. This legislation is unwise, unworkable and unacceptably risky.” It is also childish and economic treason, and yet Republicans are “committed to not raising the debt limit.”

The debt Republicans want to default on is nearly all due to their economic malfeasance including the wars, tax cuts, prescription plan, the stimulus, bank bailouts, and added safety net costs as a result of crashing the economy during the Bush years. If Republicans had not deregulated the banking industry that precipitated the Great Recession, the numerous bailouts and President Obama’s stimulus would have been unnecessary, and the economy would be healthy.  The Republican leadership in both houses of Congress have promised to repeat their 2011 debt limit fiasco, and it portends that the GOP will  follow through on their threat despite President Obama’s warning he will not negotiate the debt ceiling increase again. In 2011 Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told Republicans that “as a negotiating strategy you say: ‘If you don’t do things my way, I’m going to force the United States to default–not pay the legacy of bills accumulated by my predecessors in Congress.’ It’s not a credible negotiating strategy, and it’s not going to happen.” However, it did happen and Republicans are prepared to do it again based on their assertion that budget negotiations are predicated on a “commitment not to raise the debt limit.”

For eight years Bush Republicans’ economic malfeasance decimated the economy and racked up debt that continues to this day, and they have spent the past four years attempting to finish what they started. For four years they made the American people pay the price with Draconian budget cuts, and despite their efforts, President Obama managed to mastermind a tepid recovery and get Americans back to work. It appears that absent success at completely destroying the economy by obstruction, they intend on causing a default they failed to achieve in 2011, and new Senate and House debt limit threats expose their plan to default on the nation’s debts regardless the consequences to the country’s fiscal health. It is important to remember that just holding the debt limit hostage in 2011 caused a credit downgrade, slowed recovery, and created more economic hardship for Americans, and if they intend on entering budget negotiations with default as condition for a deal, there will be no good outcome for the economy. However, that is the result of economic terrorists intent on violating the Constitution’s directive that “The validity of the public debt of the United States…shall not be questioned” because it is Republican debt and a Democrat is President.


Originally published Saturday, May 25, 2013 at 2:37 PM
Big companies, low taxes: ‘a broken system’

The soda industry’s success at legally avoiding taxes shows why so many economists and tax experts believe the U.S. corporate-tax code is terribly flawed.

The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Ireland and Singapore have no natural resources that make them obvious places to manufacture the concentrate used in soda, nor have they developed innovative new soda-making techniques. Yet they have nonetheless become global capitals for making soft-drink concentrate.

In Singapore, Coca-Cola recently opened a plant with the capacity to produce the underlying ingredient for 18 billion cans of soda a year. In Cork, Ireland, PepsiCo has located its “worldwide concentrate headquarters,” which until 2007 had been in New York. More than half of all PepsiCo soda sold worldwide starts, as concentrate, in Ireland.

What Ireland and Singapore share is a low corporate tax rate. And because soda is such a simple product, with so much of its financial value stemming from the concentrate, Coke and Pepsi can reduce their overall tax rates by manufacturing it in low-tax countries.

Partly as a result, the industry paid a combined corporate income-tax rate — spanning federal, state, local and foreign taxes — of only 19.2 percent over the past six years, according to an analysis for The New York Times by the financial research group S&P Capital IQ. The average rate for the companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index was 29.1 percent.

The soda industry’s success at legally avoiding taxes shows why so many economists and tax experts believe the U.S. corporate-tax code is terribly flawed. It includes a notoriously high statutory rate that causes companies to devote resources to avoiding taxes. It has so many loopholes, however, that the effective corporate tax rate in the U.S. is slightly lower than the average for rich countries.

The decline in corporate-tax collection in recent decades has contributed to budget deficits. It has also aggravated income inequality: A company’s shareholders ultimately pay its taxes, and with a smaller tax bill, shareholders, who tend to be much more affluent than the average American, see their wealth increase.

“It’s clearly a broken system,” said Michelle Hanlon, an accounting professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Corporate taxes were highlighted last week with the release of a Senate committee report on Apple’s tactics to reduce its tax payments. More quietly, but perhaps more significantly, the House Ways and Means Committee has begun work on a potential overhaul of the tax code.

The effort has a long way to go, but if it succeeds, liberal and conservative tax experts hope it will reduce the statutory rate while eliminating tax breaks. The net effect could be to close the gap between companies that pay relatively little in taxes and those that pay much more. The market, rather than the tax code, would then play a bigger role in determining companies’ success and failure.

Low-tax firms: Boeing, Amazon

Low-tax companies are often large, global companies with the ability to use accounting maneuvers to shift earnings around the world. Having intangible assets (such as a computer algorithm) or portable ones (such as soda concentrate and pharmaceutical ingredients) can also help.

Carnival, the cruise-ship company, paid a minuscule 0.6 percent of its earnings in taxes in the past five years, according to Capital IQ. Starwood Hotels and Resorts, which owns the St. Regis, Sheraton and W chains, paid 8 percent. paid 6 percent; Boeing, 7 percent; Apple, 14 percent; General Electric, 16 percent; Google, 17 percent; eBay, Eli Lilly and Raytheon, 19 percent; and FedEx, 23 percent.

Individual executives also matter. The most creative can “play a significant role” in reducing taxes, according to a published study by accounting professors Scott Dyreng, Edward Maydew and Hanlon. They built a database of 908 top executives who switched companies and identified some who were successful at holding down taxes wherever they went.

The professors did not name names. But a few executives — such as John Samuels, head of the General Electric tax department — are famously shrewd.

Some companies with low tax rates, including Coca-Cola, have recently started a lobbying group, the LIFT America Coalition. Their main goal is to protect their advantages, if not bring down their taxes further. Other companies, such as General Electric, are also major donors to Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and to Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

On the other end of the corporate-tax spectrum are smaller companies and those whose businesses tend to be tied down and less easily moved than Coca-Cola syrup or technological know-how. The retailers Best Buy, CVS, Gap and Whole Foods each paid a combined rate of between 35 percent and 40 percent in the past five years. Wal-Mart paid 31 percent. Oil companies also pay relatively high rates, with Exxon Mobil at 37 percent.

Searching for fairness

To many economists, a fairer system would not lavish billions of dollars of tax breaks on only some industries for reasons that are almost accidental. “No one likes the current system,” said Donald Marron, a former official in the George W. Bush administration who is now at the Tax Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

Why, for example, should the government tax a retailer that sells soda at a much higher rate than a company that makes soda? Public-health experts note that the soft-drink industry is an especially odd candidate for taxpayer generosity, given its central role in increasing obesity and health costs.

Edward Kleinbard, a tax expert and former Democratic congressional aide, says the only kind of overhaul that can get through Congress is one that reduces the headline corporate tax rate, from its current 35 percent to between 25 and 28 percent. In exchange, Congress most likely would force companies to pay more taxes on their overseas profits.

Business lobbyists such as the LIFT coalition are pushing for the opposite: lower overseas taxes. They say the federal government puts U.S. companies at a disadvantage by trying (if often failing) to tax their overseas operations on top of the taxes that foreign governments collect. Instead, many companies want a territorial system, in which only the local government imposes a tax.

The weakness in such a system is that some countries allow companies to operate almost tax-free. And in a globalized economy, many companies have figured out how to put much of their operations in those countries. Thus Ireland has become the world’s cola maker.

One compromise being discussed in Congress is a version of the territorial system — but with a minimum tax for any overseas operations. If companies were not paying at least that minimum to a foreign government, they would have to pay the difference in the U.S.

So many companies are paying such low tax rates that even a modest minimum tax may result in a tax increase. Doubtless, though, the companies and their lobbyists will do the work to figure out how any proposed overhaul will affect them. If Congress is really going to reverse the long slide in corporate-tax collection, it will have to make enemies along the way.
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Beirut rocket attack on Hezbollah area raises fear of all-out sectarian conflict

Strikes come hours after Hezbollah leader's speech admitting Shia militia is fighting Sunni rebels in Syrian town of Qusair

Martin Chulov in Beirut
The Guardian, Sunday 26 May 2013 19.32 BST   

The Lebanese capital has lurched ever closer to a long-feared sectarian spillover from the Syrian war after a rocket attack pummelled Beirut's southern suburbs near the heartland of Hezbollah.

One rocket struck a building in Shiyyah, while a second struck close to the nearby Mar Mikhael Christian church. The explosions injured four Syrian labourers, but caused no deaths. However, with sectarian battles already raging in the north and east of the country, their impact had a much wider potency.

Security chiefs quickly identified the launching points of each rocket and reportedly found a third that had failed to fire. All were traced to the foothills of the Druze mountains, a corner of the country that offered no clue as to who may have fired them. The Syrian opposition denounced the attack.

Political leaders pointed to the timing of the attack – less than 12 hours after the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, gave a speech acknowledging his Shia militia was deeply involved in fighting Sunni rebels for control of the Syrian border town of Qusair.

The speech was one of the most important ever given by either Nasrallah, or his predecessors, marking the group's direct involvement in a battlefront far from its traditional wars against Israel.

After months of slowly shifting rhetoric, Nasrallah admitted that Hezbollah members were deployed in large numbers in Qusair fighting what he described as "takfiri", or Sunni jihadist, militants.

"I say to all the honourable people, to the mujahedeen, to the heroes," Nasrallah said in a televised speech that was met with celebratory gunfire throughout the southern suburbs. "I have always promised you a victory and now I pledge to you a new one. Syria is the backbone of the resistance … we will not let this bone break."

Nasrallah also said the fall of Damascus would derail the Palestinian cause and claimed that Israel was driving the push to unseat the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad.

Hours after the blasts early on Sunday morning, the Free Syria Army, which attempts to act as an umbrella organisation for many of the opposition militias in Syria, released a statement denouncing them.

"We condemn in the strongest terms the act of sabotage and terrorism that targeted [south Beirut] and reiterate our commitment to Lebanon's security, sovereignty and stability," said FSA spokesman Fahd al-Masri. However his denunciation was preceded by a warning from an FSA leader that the fighting in Qusair would imperil Lebanon.

Lebanese leaders, who have watched on helplessly as security has deteriorated since the start of the year, again urged caution, but in increasingly strident tones. Fighting between Sunni groups and an Alawite community in the second city Tripoli raged across the weekend, with two ceasefire attempts failing and the violence there appearing increasingly intractable.

Sunni leaders said Hezbollah's now open role in Syria has given impetus to the Tripoli clashes and the expressed fears that it may inflame other sectarian tinderbox areas, particularly parts of Beirut where Sunni and Shia communities live among each other.

Nasrallah's speech was derided by former prime minister Saad Hariri who went into self-imposed exile between Riyadh and Paris in January 2011 after being ousted in a Hezbollah-led political push. As regional tensions have since intensified, Hariri has gradually been re-positioned as a prominent Sunni voice in the Levant.

"The resistance announced its political and military suicide in al-Qusair," he said, referring to the popular term for Hezbollah. "The time of exploiting Palestine, resistance and national unity has ended, and the Lebanese people, as well as the Arab and Islamic peoples everywhere are aware that the lie of exploiting slogans has become uncovered and time will reveal more lies".

Meanwhile, moves to convene a conference in Geneva to start a political dialogue between the warring Syrian factions edged ahead tentatively on Sunday, with Syria's foreign minister, Walid al-Moualem, suggesting such a summit offered a "good opportunity for a political solution for the crisis in Syria".

Hailed initially as potentially a landmark moment in the crisis that has claimed at least 80,000 lives and left large parts of Syria in ruin, there is little faith among western and Arab states that a series of objectives can be articulated, let alone met. States opposed to the Assad regime have suggested that they will step up aid to rebels if the regime does not negotiate in good faith. However, the ongoing disunity in opposition ranks could sink the summit before it is held.

Hezbollah forces continued to advance in Qusair on Sunday, again taking heavy casualties. Regime forces hold part of the east of the strategically important town of 30,000 people, but rebel groups inside are continuing to hold out. Rebel reinforcements from Aleppo and Idlib are rallying north of Qusair, but are unable to enter town, which remained under siege for a 10th day.


Beirut hit by double rocket attack

Attack on Shia Muslim district in Lebanese capital injures five a day after Hezbollah says it will continue fighting in Syria

Reuters in Beirut, Sunday 26 May 2013 10.22 BST   

Two rockets have hit a Shia Muslim district of southern Beirut and wounded several people, residents have said, a day after the leader of Shia militant movement Hezbollah said his group would continue fighting in Syria until victory.

It was the first attack to apparently target Hezbollah's stronghold in the south of the Lebanese capital since the outbreak of the two-year conflict in neighbouring Syria, which has heightened Lebanon's own sectarian tensions.

One rocket landed in a car sales yard next to a busy road junction in the Chiah neighbourhood and the other hit an apartment several hundred metres away, wounding five people, residents said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility and the army said it was investigating who was behind the attack.

A Lebanese security source said three rocket launchers were found, one of which had misfired or failed to launch, in the hills to the south-east of the Lebanese capital, about five miles (8km) from the area where the two rockets landed.

The rocket strikes came hours after the Hezbollah leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, a powerful supporter of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, said his fighters were committed to the conflict whatever the cost.

"We will continue to the end of the road. We accept this responsibility and will accept all sacrifices and expected consequences of this position," he said in a televised speech on Saturday evening. "We will be the ones who bring victory."

Syria's two-year uprising has polarised Lebanon, with Sunni Muslims supporting the rebellion against Assad and Shia Hezbollah and its allies standing by Assad. The Lebanese city of Tripoli has seen frequent explosions of violence between majority Sunnis and its small Alawite community.

The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, condemned the violence in Lebanon. He told reporters in Abu Dhabi on Sunday: "The war in Syria must not become the war in Lebanon."

Until recently, Nasrallah insisted Hezbollah had not sent guerrillas to fight alongside Assad's forces, but in his speech on Saturday he said it had been fighting in Syria for several months to defend Lebanon from radical Islamist groups he said were driving Syria's rebellion.

Hezbollah forces and Assad's troops launched a fierce assault last week aimed at driving Syrian rebels out of Qusair, a strategic town close to the Lebanese border that rebels have used as a supply route for weapons coming into the country.

Lebanese authorities, haunted by Lebanon's own 1975-90 civil war and torn by the same sectarian rifts as its powerful neighbour, have sought to pursue a police of "dissociation" from the Syrian turmoil.

But they are unable to prevent the flow into Syria of Sunni Muslim gunmen who support the rebels and Hezbollah fighters who support Assad, and have struggled to absorb nearly half a million refugees coming the other way to escape the fighting.

At least 25 people have been killed in Tripoli in the north of Lebanon over the past week in street fighting, which has coincided with the battle for Qusair across the border.

Nasrallah's speech was condemned by Sunni Muslim former prime minister Saad al-Hariri who said that Hezbollah, set up by Iran in the 1980s to fight Israeli occupation forces in south Lebanon, had abandoned anti-Israeli "resistance" in favour of sectarian conflict in Syria.

"The resistance is ending by your hand and your will," Hariri said in a statement. "The resistance announced its political and military suicide in Qusair."

Hariri is backed by Saudi Arabia, which along with other Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab monarchies has strongly supported the uprising against Iranian-backed Assad, whose minority Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shia Islam.


Syria: EU split over push to lift rebel arms embargo

Britain and France argue that supplying arms to 'moderates' will lead to less killing, but others say it will only escalate conflict

Patrick Wintour and Ian Traynor, Monday 27 May 2013 12.57 BST   

British efforts to persuade the European Union to lift the arms embargo to Syrian rebels are facing defeat, with strong opposition from EU members alarmed that weapons could fall into the wrong hands.

The foreign secretary, William Hague, joined the French on Monday in arguing that supplying arms to "moderate" opposition forces would lead to less killing in Syria. Others argued the opposite, saying that arms supplies would only escalate the conflict.

Several countries – notably Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden – oppose it for fear that weapons may fall into the hands of Islamic extremist groups, such as Jabhat al-Nusra. Germany has been trying to fashion a compromise.

Guido Westerwelle, the German foreign minister, said he would try to "build bridges" at the meeting of EU foreign ministers, but consensus looked elusive, with participants delivering contradictory statements.

Both Westerwelle and Hague said the EU could fail to find a common position on the sanctions package that expires automatically on Friday unless there is agreement.

Hague added that if the negotiations collapsed, individual EU states would have to mount their own national sanctions against the Assad regime.

Britain and France have been pressing for a partial lifting of the arms embargo to the moderate sections of the Syrian opposition since November. Hague has argued that lifting the arms embargo would complement, rather than contradict, a peace process, since a militarily strengthened opposition could force President Bashar al-Assad to the negotiating table.

But Labour has questioned whether lifting the embargo would be legal or politically wise. "How would the government prevent British-supplied weapons falling into the wrong hands, and how does supplying weapons help to secure a lasting peace?" asked Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary.

"Syria today is awash with arms and in the House of Commons this week, MPs on all sides expressed real concern about the identity, intent and tactics of some of the rebel forces.

"In Washington, the prime minister clearly failed to convince President Obama of his case, so tomorrow in Brussels the UK's use of the veto would confirm that the prime minister had also failed to convince our European partners."

In Brussels, Turkey's foreign minister voiced strong support for the Anglo-French position. But last week in the US the White House strongly rebuffed Ankara for its hawkish position against Assad.

Oxfam's head of arms control, Anna Macdonald, said: "Allowing the EU arms embargo to end could have devastating consequences. There are no easy answers when trying to stop the bloodshed in Syria, but sending more arms and ammunition clearly isn't one of them.

"Transferring more weapons to Syria can only exacerbate a hellish scenario for civilians. If the UK and France are to live up to their own commitments – including those set out in the new arms trade treaty – they simply must not send weapons to Syria."

There were signs at the weekend that the Assad regime may attend an international peace conference in Geneva next month after the foreign minister, Walid al-Mouallem, said the meeting could present a "good opportunity for a political solution for the crisis in Syria". But he added: "No power on Earth can decide on the future of Syria. Only the Syrian people have the right to do so."

The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, is due to meet his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, and the US secretary of state, John Kerry, in Paris on Monday night to discuss the prospects for the meeting.

The UK-French attempt to lift the arms embargo has not been made any easier by the continued lack of unity within the rebel movement. Talks failed on Sunday to end a factional dispute over proposals to dilute Qatar's influence on rebel forces, with Saudi Arabia angling to play a greater role now that Iranian-backed Hezbollah is openly fighting for Assad.

Labour argued that the EU common position – an agreement that is usually a precursor to legislation – says member states must deny an export licence if there is a clear risk that the equipment may be used to commit violations of international humanitarian law or human rights.

The UN commission of inquiry in Syria reported in February that the rebels have committed war crimes, saying "war crimes, including murder, extrajudicial killings and torture, were perpetrated by anti-government armed groups".

UN security council resolution 2083 (2012) says all states shall take measures to prevent the direct or indirect supply of arms and related materiel to al-Qaida and other individuals and entities associated with them. Jabhat al-Nusra is linked with al-Qaida in Iraq.

A broader package of EU sanctions against Syria must in any case be renewed at this week's meeting, and if there is total deadlock on the related issue of an arms embargo the entire EU sanctions regime could collapse.

Many obstacles remain in the way of a peace conference taking place, including Russia's insistence that Iran be allowed to attend.

At the weekend Fabius said Iran's presence in Syria, through its officers who were "directing operations" and through its Hezbollah proxy, demonstrated that it had no place at the negotiating table.

"Yes, the Russians want Iran to take part in Geneva, but we're opposed because Iran is not after a political solution and, on the contrary, has thrown itself directly into that battle," he said.

Iran has denied it has forces in Syria supporting Assad's army, saying the accusations were invented by the "true enemies of Syria".


Rebels wary as Syrian regime indicates willingness to join peace talks

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, May 26, 2013 19:53 EDT

Riven by internal divisions, Syria’s opposition is battling with itself over whether to participate in a US-Russian peace summit, in stark contrast to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which has already indicated it will take part.

Forging a united position on the proposed Geneva talks is all the more urgent given military setbacks on the ground and a forthcoming flurry of diplomatic activity that aims to stop the conflict that has claimed 90,000 lives.

A massive battle in the central Syrian town of Qusayr, which pits rebels against pro-Assad forces led by Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, increasingly appears to be turning against the rebels.

A source close to Hezbollah said on Sunday that pro-Assad forces held “80 percent” of Qusayr, which has been in rebel hands for more than a year.

“I think the fact that the situation on the ground is so bad should make these Coalition members start sweating,” said a high-level source close to the rebel Free Syrian Army.

“The rebels are resisting but the onslaught is massive,” added the source.

Also increasing the pressure on the opposition to put aside their differences is a top-level Paris meeting on Monday between the foreign ministers of Russia, France and the United States.

On the same day, EU foreign ministers will meet in Brussels to discuss whether to lift an arms embargo, allowing weapons to flow to the rebels fighting Assad.

An EU embargo on Syria expires at the end of May but Britain and France are pressuring other EU member states to lift it.

The opposition Coalition “had better have a decision” on whether to attend the so-called Geneva 2 peace talks before the Brussels meeting starts, said the source.

While the opposition dithering extended into an unscheduled fourth day of talks, Syria Foreign Minister Walid Muallem announced on Sunday a decision “in principle” to participate in the talks.

The main point of division in the Syrian opposition, which relies on foreign backing for survival, revolves around whether to include new members in the group.

Some have raised objections to the inclusion of veteran Christian dissident Michael Kilo, accusing him of being backed by Saudi Arabia and of trying to play off Qatar’s influence over the group.

Though the secular Kilo would bring in several new women and members of Syria’s religious minorities, opponents say his entry would shrink the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and force Saudi control on the coalition.

“You have Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates pushing to include up to 30 new members in the National Coalition. Their goal is to downsize the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence over the group,” a Coalition member told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“The issue is about much more than just names. It’s about which states want to control the opposition,” the rebel army source said.

A Western diplomat, who also asked not to be named, said it was important the Coalition expand, not just because that would bring in more women but also because it would avert “the alienation of certain donor countries” such as Saudi Arabia.

Getting agreement is “crucial” before the Paris and Brussels meetings kick off on Monday, the diplomat said, “so that we can show the Syrian opposition is united.”

Another diplomatic source said a solution needed to be reached “to be able to bring together a delegation that is up to the task” if negotiations begin between rebels and the regime.

But outside the Istanbul hotel playing host to the talks, a group of some 15 protesters gathered, enraged by the Coalition’s failure to clinch agreement.

“We want them to decide. They’ve been in there four days, discussing expansion while they should be taking a stand against Iran and Hezbollah’s attack on Qusayr. What are they doing?” said one activist from Daraa in Syria’s south.

Another rejected the idea of talks outright.

“We don’t even want negotiations. We just want weapons. We don’t want to negotiate with the criminal regime,” said one young activist from Damascus who identified himself as Motasem.

“If the international community does not want to intervene directly, we’ll get rid of him ourselves. We just want weapons.”

« Last Edit: May 27, 2013, 07:24 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #6596 on: May 27, 2013, 07:21 AM »

John Kerry unveils plan to boost Palestinian economy

US secretary of state says an independent Palestinian economy is essential to achieving a sustainable peace

Phoebe Greenwood in Tel Aviv, Sunday 26 May 2013 19.54 BST   

John Kerry revealed his long-awaited plan for peace in the Middle East on Sunday, hinging on a $4bn (£2.6bn) investment in the Palestinian private sector.

The US secretary of state, speaking at the World Economic Forum on the Jordanian shores of the Dead Sea, told an audience including Israeli president Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas that an independent Palestinian economy is essential to achieving a sustainable peace.

Speaking under the conference banner "Breaking the Impasse", Kerry announced a plan that he promised would be "bigger, bolder and more ambitious" than anything since the Oslo accords, more than 20 years ago.

Tony Blair is to lead a group of private sector leaders in devising a plan to release the Palestinian economy from its dependence on international donors. The initial findings of Blair's taskforce, Kerry boasted, were "stunning", predicting a 50% increase in Palestinian GDP over three years, a cut of two-thirds in unemployment rates and almost double the Palestinian median wage. Currently, 40% of the Palestinian economy is supplied by donor aid.

Kerry assured Abbas that the economic plan was not a substitute for a political solution, which remains the US's "top priority".

Peres, who had taken the stage just minutes before, also issued a personal plea to his Palestinian counterpart to return to the negotiations.

"Let me say to my dear friend President Abbas," Peres said, "Should we really dance around the table? Lets sit together. You'll be surprised how much can be achieved in open, direct and organised meetings."
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« Reply #6597 on: May 27, 2013, 07:29 AM »

Sunni grievances drive deadly spike in Iraq unrest

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, May 26, 2013 8:57 EDT

A feud between Iraqi Sunnis and the Shiite authorities they accuse of marginalising their community is driving a deadly spike in violence that stops short of all-out conflict for now, experts say.

Attacks including bombings that ripped through worshippers in mosques and cut down shoppers in markets killed over 430 people in Iraq so far in May, 461 in April and 220 or more every other month this year, according to AFP figures.

Crispin Hawes, the Middle East and North Africa director for the Eurasia Group consultancy, said policies of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that have politically isolated Iraqi Sunnis are the main factor behind the spike in violence.

They have encouraged both “radicalisation” and passive tolerance of militants.

“Pretty much since the last US soldier knocked the dust from his boots as he crossed the border (in late 2011), Maliki has gone after a succession of Sunni Arab politicians,” Hawes said.

Maliki made an unsuccessful call on MPs to remove Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak, a Sunni who had said the premier was “worse than Saddam Hussein,” the day that the last US soldiers left, while an arrest warrant was issued for then-vice president Tareq al-Hashemi, another Sunni, the following day.

Hashemi fled Iraq and has since been sentenced to death multiple times in absentia for crimes including murder.

Maliki also sought to remove “Sunni Arab officers from the military (and) militarised, increasingly, population centres in western and northwestern Sunni Arab-dominated provinces in Iraq,” Hawes said.

“It has been a consistent ratcheting up of pressure on that community that has progressively isolated and restricted their role in Iraqi politics,” he said.

Discontent has been growing among Iraq’s Sunni minority, which ruled the country from its establishment after World War I until US-led forces toppled dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, bringing the Shiite majority to power.

Sunnis say Shiite authorities have marginalised their community and targeted them with unwarranted arrests and spurious terrorism charges.

Still-ongoing demonstrations erupted in Sunni-majority areas of Iraq in late December, and an April 23 security forces raid on a protest site that sparked clashes in which dozens died sent tensions soaring higher.

While the government has made some concessions aimed at placating protesters and Iraqi Sunnis in general, such as freeing prisoners and raising the salaries of Sunni anti-Al-Qaeda fighters, underlying issues have yet to be addressed.

John Drake, an Iraq specialist with risk consulting firm AKE Group, also pointed to Sunnis’ feelings of marginalisation as the cause of the violence.

“There is an ongoing sense of marginalisation amongst the Sunni community, exacerbated by frustrations over a lack of jobs, development and improvements in standards of living,” Drake said.

This has increased the motivation of Sunni militant groups to strike.

“If they target the government and security forces, they may succeed in gaining sympathy from antagonised Sunni residents,” Drake said.

Sunni militants, including those from Al-Qaeda’s Iraqi front group, carry out frequent attacks.

Shiite militant groups such as Asaib Ahl al-Haq have meanwhile officially made their peace with the government, though some are thought to still be active, albeit more discretely.

It is unclear what direction the violence will take, but even the current heightened level of unrest is a far cry from the worst of Iraq’s sectarian war from 2006 to 2008, when tens of thousands of people were killed.

Hawes said the rise in violence increases the likelihood of movement toward civil war or the disintegration of Iraq, but he believes an “intensified version of what we have now” to be the more probable outcome.

Maria Fantappie, an Iraq analyst with the International Crisis Group, said that “there will be a situation of continuous local clashes (between) protesters’ armed factions and government-affiliated forces.”

But this “violence will remain highly local, however, as the protesters’ armed factions are many, and mostly disconnected from one province to another,” she said.

“Conditions have worsened over recent weeks and the violence is strongly linked to core social divisions in the country,” said Drake. “If the situation deteriorates further, it could certainly resemble a civil war.”
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« Reply #6598 on: May 27, 2013, 07:32 AM »

May 26, 2013

For New Breed of Rustlers, Nothing Is Sacred


NEW DELHI — When night falls in this gritty capital, gangs troll the darkened streets looking for easy prey among a portion of the city’s vast homeless population; thousands have been rounded up and carried off in trucks in recent years.

The police say they have increased patrols and set up roadblocks in an effort to stop the trafficking. In some cases, officers have infiltrated gangs in hopes of catching them in the act. But the brutal kidnappings continue, and the victims — scrawny cows, which are slowly losing their sacred status among some in India — are slaughtered and sold for meat and leather.

Cattle rustling, called “lifting” here, is a growing scourge in New Delhi, as increasingly affluent Indians develop a taste for meat, even the flesh of cows, which are considered sacred in Hinduism. Criminals round up some of the roughly 40,000 cattle that wander the streets of this megacity and sell them to illegal slaughterhouses located in villages not far away.

Many of the cattle in Delhi are part of dairy operations and their owners have neither the land nor the money to keep them penned. So the animals graze on grassy medians or ubiquitous piles of trash. Others too old to be milked are often abandoned and left to wander the streets until they die — or get picked up by the rustlers.

Posses of police officers give chase to the outlaws, but the desperados — driving souped-up dump trucks — think little of ramming police cars and breaking through barricades. They have even pushed cows into the pathways of their pursuers, forcing horrified officers to swerve out of the way to avoid what for many is still a grievous sin.

“These gangs mostly go after stray cattle, but they will also steal motorcycles and scooters,” one police officer, Bhisham Singh, said in an interview. “They kidnapped a woman recently and gang-raped her.”

Behind the cattle rustling is a profound shift in Indian society. Meat consumption — chicken, primarily — is becoming acceptable even among Hindus. India is now the world’s largest dairy producer, its largest cattle producer and its largest beef exporter, having surpassed Brazil last year, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

Much of that exported beef is from buffalo (India has half of the world’s buffalo population), which are not considered holy. But officials in Andhra Pradesh recently estimated that there are 3,100 illegal slaughterhouses in the state compared with just six licensed ones, and a recent newspaper investigation found that tens of thousands of cattle are sold annually for slaughter from a market in just one of that state’s 64 districts. Killing cows is illegal in much of India, and some states outlaw the possession of cow meat.

Much of the illicit beef is probably sold as buffalo, an easy way to hide a sacrilegious act. But sometimes it makes its way to meat sellers in Delhi whose cellphone numbers are passed around in whispers. Steaks can be ordered from these illicit vendors in transactions that are carried out like drug deals.

Beef from cattle is also widely consumed by Muslims and Dalits, among India’s most marginalized citizens. Indeed, meat consumption is growing the most among the poor, government statistics show, with overall meat eating growing 14 percent from 2010 to 2012.

Anuj Agrawal, 28, said he grew up in a strictly vegetarian Hindu household but tried chicken for the first time in his teens when he was at a restaurant with friends. He now eats every kind of meat, including beef steaks and burgers. “Once you taste meat, you’re not going back to just fruits and vegetables,” Mr. Agrawal said.

He says many of his friends have made similar transitions. But he never eats meat with his grandparents: “I would be excommunicated if I did, so I go pure ‘veg’ when I’m with them. I want to inherit something.”

To some extent, the growing acceptance of beef is a result of the government’s intense focus on increasing milk production, which has led to a proliferation of foreign cattle breeds that do not elicit the same reverence as indigenous ones, said Clementien Pauws, president of Karuna Society for Animals and Nature, an animal welfare agency in Andhra Pradesh.

“Cows are all about business and money now, not religion,” Ms. Pauws said. “They’re all taken to slaughterhouses. It’s terrible.”

This is not to say that eating beef from cattle is widely accepted. The vast majority of Hindus still revere cows, and the Bharatiya Janata Party, one of the country’s two major political parties, has demanded that laws against cow slaughter be strengthened.

Some landlords even refuse to rent to those who confess to a taste for meat.

But the demand for beef keeps rising, many here say, and with it the prevalence of cattle rustling. Last year, the police in Delhi arrested 150 rustlers, a record number. This year, arrests have continued to surge, Mr. Singh said.

Typically, the rustlers creep into the city at night. When the criminals spot stray cattle and few onlookers they stop the truck, push out a ramp and use a rope to lead the cow to its doom.

The thieves can usually fit about 10 cows on a truck, and each fetches 5,000 rupees — about $94. In a country where more than 800 million people live on less than $2 a day, a single night’s haul of more than $900 represents serious temptation.

One man who has helped the police in neighboring Uttar Pradesh said the rustlers were often able to bribe their way to freedom. “Even if they’re sent to jail, they come out in 10 to 15 days and commit the same crimes again,” said the man, who did not want his name used for fear of reprisals.

The unfortunate fate of some of Delhi’s cattle has led some Hindus to establish cattle shelters on the fringes of the metropolitan region. One of the largest is Shri Mataji Gaushala, where thousands of cattle live on about 42 acres.

Sometimes, the rescue comes too late. Brijinder Sharma, the shelter manager, whose office walls are decorated with drawings of Lord Krishna hugging a calf, showed a video of a truck packed with cattle that was seized on its way to an illegal slaughterhouse. Many of the cows had already died of heat exhaustion.

“The social and religious status of cows has been under attack in India,” Mr. Sharma said. He hopes that his shelter, which has an annual budget of $5.4 million, underwritten almost entirely by wealthy Indians who have emigrated to the United States, will help reverse that trend.

The afternoon feeding at the shelter attracted a crowd of happy onlookers. Abhishek, a one-named cowhand, called out among the lowing throng: “Sakhi! Sakhi!” A large cow with huge horns rushed to the front of the herd, and Mr. Abhishek kissed her on the nose. The cow responded by licking one entire side of his face, and Mr. Abhishek beamed.

Hari Kumar contributed reporting.
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« Reply #6599 on: May 27, 2013, 07:40 AM »

Julia Gillard refuses to commit to political career beyond election

In exclusive interview with Guardian Australia, prime minister declines to confirm that she will stay in parliament if Labor loses

Lenore Taylor, Sunday 26 May 2013 20.10 BST          

Labor would be able to deliver better government if re-elected in its own right, Julia Gillard has promised, but the prime minister refused to guarantee that she would continue in parliament if she loses the poll on 14 September.

In a wide-ranging interview with Guardian Australia, Gillard appealed to voters for a chance to govern with a majority, saying it would give her “an opportunity to deliver solely the Labor vision for Australia backed in by a majority Labor government”, free from the need to compromise with the Greens and independents in both houses, as she has had to since forming a minority government in September 2010.

It “would give [Labor] opportunities we haven’t had during this parliament” she claimed, saying she had never taken to the parliament anything she “didn’t believe in”, but citing the design of the carbon price and the fact that Labor was forced to abandon spending cuts to get parliamentary approval for its reconstruction levy after the Queensland floods as examples of difficult compromises her party had made.

But Gillard refused to commit to staying in parliament if Labor lost the election, which looks likely according to current opinion polls.

“I am not going to sit here wargaming what would I do if we were in government, what would I do if we were in opposition. I don’t spend my time thinking about it, so I couldn’t give you a thought through answer. That’s not what I spend my efforts doing,” she said.

“You would have to talk to me about that in the days afterwards. I don’t spend time thinking about the days beyond.”

Gillard claimed Tony Abbott’s signature policy for women, his $4.3bn paid parental leave offering mothers 26 weeks’ leave at their full wage – a benefit worth up to $75,000 – was in fact an anti-women policy, and against Australian values.

The scheme – which has been strongly backed by some feminist commentators – is to be paid for by a 1.5% levy on big business.

Gillard said the levy would be passed on to citizens and “would require the poorest women in our society to pay more for things they buy in order to benefit upper income women”. She added: “The Australian way has been either we share benefits equally like Medicare … or we give a fair go to people who need a fair go the most. This scheme upends Australian values and asks the lowest paid to pay a benefit to the most generously paid.”

She rejected the argument that the levy on business meant it was not a welfare program, but rather a worker’s entitlement, like annual leave.

“It is not funded by business … business will pay an extra tax which will go into government revenue. How do we normally pay social benefits out of government revenue? Well, we give them to everyone equally … or we share so that people at the bottom end get the biggest advantage.”

She said the Coalition’s policy to abolish Labor’s low income superannuation contribution scheme was also a policy that would hurt women because they made up most of the scheme’s 3.6 million beneficiaries.

The prime minister also contested the Coalition’s central political attack that her government could not be trusted because she had reversed policy pledges, saying there were now “broken promises littered on both sides” of politics because both she and Abbott had been forced by economic circumstances to change their minds.

“According to the leader of the opposition, if he changes his mind then it is simply that, a change of mind; if I change my mind then it is something going to character and honesty. Well we can all play this game. Is it broken promises littered on both sides or is it that people have had to respond to the facts?” she asked. She cited  Abbott’s promise that there would be no “adverse changes” on superannuation before he deferred for two years an increase in compulsory employer superannuation payments from 9 to 12%, and the Coalition’s previous vehement opposition to cuts to the baby bonus for second and subsequent children, which the shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey, said late last year was a policy that had been “tried in China”.

“This is the same leader of the opposition,” she said, “who said we will always protect the baby bonus and there was Joe Hockey wittering on about China’s one-child policies, only now to say, ‘We’ll endorse Labor’s abolition of the baby bonus,’ and actually it looks like they will go further and take more away from people who have a new child from the family payment system.”

In 2012 the Coalition opposed Labor’s proposal to cut the baby bonus for second or subsequent children, but in the light of what it calls a “budget emergency” it is now supporting Labor’s plan to axe the payment.

Last week Hockey confirmed the Coalition was also likely to scrap Labor’s smaller replacement benefit – a means-tested family payment worth $2,000 for a first child and $1,000 for subsequent births, although that decision is opposed by some in the shadow cabinet.

Gillard also said she was disturbed that abortion law was again emerging as a political issue, with DLP senator John Madigan seeking to legislate to ban “gender selection abortions” and vowing to pursue the issue if he gained a balance of power vote in the Senate after the election.

“I think it is always possible for abortion to become a political issue and it always disturbs me when I see the start of what looks like voices once again coming out in the debate to try to create community sentiment so that women no longer have the ability to govern their own bodies and make their own choices. I don’t think as women we can ever rest easy on this, we always have to always be mindful there are forces in Australian political debate and Australian political life who would seek to impose the alternative: no choice for women,” she said.

After a term in office wracked with leadership tension and political scandals, Gillard also reflected on the challenges of political leadership and her personal feelings during the last botched challenge to her leadership, which rival Kevin Rudd did not, in the end, join.

She conceded it was difficult for leaders to meet public demands that they present themselves as “real people” when they were often judged harshly for showing any sign of the doubts or second thoughts that most people feel.

“It is hard for me … and leaders in the modern age,” she said, “it’s hard to say, ‘I’m still thinking about it, or I’m not sure yet, or it’s a very hard decision.’ I think all of those things are quite difficult to communicate because people rightly want to know that, you know, you’ve got it, you’re getting it done, you’ve got their back, they don’t have to worry about a set of things because you’re doing it for them. Sometimes that can feel hard for the individual, but mostly I feel a sense of privilege at having that responsibility, and I don’t feel frozen by it. If anything I feel energised by it.”

She said she had taken personally the decision of her long-time friend, supporter and former Labor leader Simon Crean to call the leadership spill in March in which she ended up being the only candidate.

“Yes, you do take things like that personally, absolutely, you do. How much can you take it with you … I am just not someone who feels it is a good thing or a healthy thing to take those emotions with you. But yes I mean that was a tough day … I felt very let down by what Simon did,” she said. Gillard sacked Crean from her ministry soon after he demanded the leadership ballot.

Asked what her agenda would be if she did defy the polls and win re-election, she nominated the two policies Labor sees as among its strongest achievements this term – the national disability scheme and the schools funding package – saying both would need “patient nurturing” to be fully implemented.

She said her recent tears during a debate about the disability reforms, which she has said came from thinking about some of the disabled people she had met while developing the scheme, were also a result of the way policy-making can remove emotion from a debate.

She said the process can “take the emotional connection out of it” and that at the moment she spoke in parliament, “in that moment for whatever reason I think it was the moment when I got to stand back and say after all of this, here it is and it is going to change lives in the hundreds of thousands”.

In the lead-up to the 2007 poll the then prime minister, John Howard, said he was likely to retire from politics during the following term, even if the Coalition won the election. He didn’t get to make the decision because he lost his Sydney seat of Bennelong in the election.

Parliament resumes on Monday for the final four weeks of sittings before the formal election campaign. The writs will be issued on 12 August, a week before it had been due to resume after a winter break.

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