Edward Snowden: US-China relations tested as extradition battle looms
Chinese media awash with news of scandal as the internet surveillance whistleblower says he plans to remain in territory, despite Washington 'trying to bully' Hong Kong
Jonathan Kaiman in Hong Kong
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 13 June 2013 11.34 BST
Hong Kong is bracing itself for what could become a protracted legal battle after the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed to a local newspaper that he had no plans to leave the territory.
"I am not here to hide from justice, I am here to reveal criminality," Snowden told the South China Morning Post, adding that he had evidence of US-led cyberespionage in both Hong Kong and mainland China and that Washington had been "trying to bully" the territory into extraditing him.
Regina Ip, a member of Hong Kong's legislative council who was once the city's top security official, said: "It's not a question of bullying or not bullying. I can't speak for the Hong Kong government now, but if the US gives a request, the government will deal with it in accordance with due process."
Hong Kong, a city of seven million people, is technically a part of China but maintains an independent judiciary, media and education system. The territory has an extradition agreement with the US but can offer protection for fugitives who face political persecution or torture at home.
Chinese web portals and newspapers were awash with news of the scandal on Thursday morning, the first business day after a three-day national holiday. Snowden's revelations were "certain to stain Washington's overseas image and test developing Sino-US ties", said the China Daily newspaper in a front-page article, the first in China's state-run media to address Beijing's stance on the NSA leaks.
"For months, Washington has been accusing China of cyberespionage, but it turns out that the biggest threat to the pursuit of individual freedom and privacy in the US is the unbridled power of the government," Li Haidong, a researcher of American studies at China Foreign Affairs University, told the newspaper.
The article continued: "How the case is handled could pose a challenge to the burgeoning goodwill between Beijing and Washington given that Snowden is in Chinese territory and the Sino-US relationship is constantly soured on cybersecurity."
Beijing could intervene in Snowden's case if it decides that the outcome would affect its interests "in matters of defence or foreign affairs".
Snowden told the South China Morning Post that the NSA had hundreds of cyberespionage targets in mainland China and Hong Kong. "We hack network backbones – like huge internet routers, basically – that give us access to the communications of hundreds of thousands of computers without having to hack every single one," he said.
He named one target as the Chinese University of Hong Kong, home to a handful of advanced internet research facilities such as the Hong Kong Internet Exchange, which "essentially connects all of the city's internet access providers to a single infrastructure," the newspaper reported.
The university said in a statement that it had not detected any intrusions. "Every effort is made to protect the university's backbone network as well as the Hong Kong Internet Exchange operated by the information technology services centre of CUHK, which are closely monitored round-the-clock to ensure normal operation and defend against network threats," it said. "The university has not detected any form of hacking to the network, which has been running normally."
Local activists and civil society groups plan to express support for Snowden by marching in front of the city's government headquarters and US consulate on Saturday afternoon.
Hong Kong politicians expressed scepticism that Snowden's revelations about the NSA's cyberespionage in the territory would change the city government's attitude towards his case.
"I don't think this changes the game that much, he hasn't said a lot or given any detail," said Charles Mok, a legislative councillor and former chairman of the Hong Kong Internet Service Providers Association. "I think the Hong Kong government is still playing wait and see."
Emily Lau, chair of the city's Democratic party, said: "For those of us in the political field, we always feel as if we're under surveillance anyway, whether it's from Hong Kong authorities or mainland authorities or the US. Hong Kong for many years has been known as a spy centre – many people come here to pursue espionage activities."
Mugabe cannot decide on election date on his own, says Zimbabwe PM
Morgan Tsvangirai says any elections held without consent of other leaders in power-sharing government would not be 'legitimate'
Associated Press in Harare
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 12 June 2013 18.41 BST
Zimbabwe's prime minister has said he won't agree to hold elections in July after President Robert Mugabe said he would go ahead with the long-awaited polls.
The prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, said on Wednesday that Mugabe cannot decide on an election date without consent from other leaders in the power-sharing government.
Tsvangirai said any elections held at Mugabe's behest would not be deemed "legitimate".
"It seems they are determined to commit suicide, it is what they want," he said at a press briefing of civic leaders.
Mugabe was forced by regional leaders to form a coalition government with former opposition leader Tsvangirai after violent and disputed elections in 2008.
The nation's highest court in May ordered Mugabe to hold polls by the end of July, arguing that the elections should be linked to the dissolution of the parliament at the end of its current five-year term on 29 June.
Mugabe has said he will abide by the ruling and hold the vote on 31 July despite objections from his partners in the coalition. Tsvangirai has said he wants polls to end the four-year-old coalition in September at the earliest.
A lawsuit was brought to the court on 24 May to force Mugabe to call early polls. The private court application claimed the country could not be run without the existence of the parliament, rendering the government illegal.
A new constitution overwhelmingly accepted in a 16 March referendum requires amendments to voters' lists as well as a 30-day registration of new voters that will end on 9 July.
Tsvangirai claimed the lawsuit was instigated by Mugabe's Zanu-PF party loyalists eager for early polls so that they can take advantage of loopholes in the electoral laws to rig the vote.
"That ruling is a political directive which has been given a legal effect, it doesn't create an environment for a legitimate election," Tsvangirai said.
Mugabe, 89, who has ruled the country since independence from colonial rule in 1980, has been accused of appointing sympathetic judges from the justice ministry and the legal profession.
Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change party is also demanding media reforms to end bias by the nation's dominant state media controlled by Mugabe loyalists and an end to political intimidation by the partisan police and military.
"We want to remove all obstacles to a free and fair election. If Zanu-PF wants to roughshod us, I will just stand up and say I will not agree with you," Tsvangirai said.
June 12, 2013
Starved for Arms, Syria Rebels Make Their Own
By C. J. CHIVERS
SARAQIB, Syria — The workers arrive by darkness, taking their stations at the vise and the lathe. Soon metal filings and sparks fly, and the stack of their creations grows at their feet: makeshift mortar shells to be fired through barrels salvaged from disabled Syrian Army tanks.
Across northern Syria, rebel workshops like these are part of a clandestine network of primitive arms-making plants, a signature element of a militarily lopsided war.
Their products — machine-gun mounts, hand grenades, rockets, mortar shells, roadside bombs and the locally brewed explosives that are packed inside — help form the arsenal of a guerrilla force that has suffered serious setbacks this year in its effort to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
“Everybody knows we do not have the weapons we need to defend ourselves,” said Abu Trad, a commander of the Saraqib Rebels Front, shortly before he allowed visitors into this mortar-round plant. “But we have the will, and we have humble means, and we have tools.”
The value of workshop-grade weapons, while once crucial to the rebels’ success in claiming territory in northern Syria, may have substantially declined.
Last spring, when Mr. Assad was struggling to confront the armed opposition that his crackdown had fueled, shops like these forced Syria’s military to change tactics. The roads became so laced with their output of hidden bombs that the army stopped roaming areas where the rebels were strongest, and pulled back to defensive positions. The shops were a marker of the rebels’ budding organization and lethal skill.
But the government has spent a year refitting its troops, Hezbollah has sent in reinforcements, and Iran and Russia have kept Mr. Assad’s forces resupplied.
These days the government’s forces are less likely to venture out on patrols or expose themselves in small checkpoints, reducing their vulnerability to the rebels’ makeshift bombs. And most of the shops’ other weapons systems lack the accuracy, range or explosive punch to drive the army from the positions where it is entrenched and from where soldiers can fire back with barrages of more powerful and precise weapons.
Moreover, some of the locally made weapons are prone to malfunction, which can kill those who use them.
And yet the arms plants remain a prominent feature of the opposition’s logistics, as arms flows from the Arab world fail to keep up with demand. Though the European Union lifted its embargo on arms transfers to the opposition last month, many rebels said they see the decision as a diplomatic tactic intended to pressure the Syrian government, and unlikely to lead to shipments from Western governments soon.
“They promise things all the time,” said Maj. Mohammad Ali, who commands the fighters in northern Syria for the Grandsons of the Prophet, a large rebel formation. “We are now in the third year, and so far we have had so many decisions from the West and nothing was acted on.”
Abu Trad and other rebels said the workshops have been as essential as the fighters on the front lines, and the laborers are part of a revolution’s foundation. “The mother who cooks for the fighters is a revolutionary, the medic who helps the wounded is a revolutionary, and the man who makes the mortar and the shell is a revolutionary, too,” he said.
On several trips into Syria, journalists for The New York Times visited four active arms workshops in Idlib and Aleppo Provinces, interviewed other bomb- or weapons-makers who agreed to discuss their work but not to allow access to their plants, and examined other workshops’ products on rebel bases and front lines.
The plant in Saraqib is one part of a larger and more complicated supply chain. On this night, it had received a batch of freshly cast shell bodies from a rebel foundry elsewhere. (Its workers declined to discuss its location, beyond saying that it was “underground.”)
One man tightened the shells in a vise before sweeping over them with a grinder to remove surface imperfection. Each round was then passed to a welder who affixed precut fins, designed to stabilize the rounds in flight.
The shells were then worked on by a machinist at a lathe, who shaped the nose so that a locally made fuze might be inserted. The workers said the rounds would be moved to yet another shop to be packed with explosive fill.
Finally, the rounds would be provided to front-line units equipped with sections of the 125-millimeter main guns from former government T-72 tanks. The barrels had been cut and converted to makeshift mortar systems, the fighters said.
Abu Trad said that these weapons had been effective in attacking Syrian Army checkpoints, and that the power of a 125-millimeter shell had frightened government soldiers.
But shells made in these ways carry many risks, including the danger that as a round accelerates after being fired, its crude fuze will be driven backward, causing the round to detonate in the tube.
This might have been what killed Azzam Alzier, the owner of an Internet cafe, one of the men in Saraqib first to take up arms. He had volunteered for mortar duty, his friends said, and was killed when a locally made round exploded as he fired it.
Another risk is that each round, because of inconsistencies inherent to workshop production, will fly a different height and distance, making the weapon dangerous to other rebels and potentially indiscriminate when fired in areas where soldiers are near civilians or civilian infrastructure.
Several workers in the shops noted that the dangers lie not just in using such weapons, but in manufacturing them.
At another plant, in the Aleppo countryside, Abu Walid, a young electrical engineer who said he and his colleagues principally make RDX, a plastic explosive for which manufacturing instructions are available online, said that he knew of roughly 10 people who had been killed in accidents while working with explosives for grenades and bombs.
And at a third plant, several workers described the perils that accompany one of their methods of obtaining explosives. One man displayed a plastic bag of foamlike chips of a TNT mix removed from old Soviet aircraft bombs that had been dropped from Syrian Air Force jets but failed to explode. “What Bashar sends to us, we reuse,” he said.
“It takes only 10 minutes to open a bomb,” another worker said. “We disassemble the front fuze; we cut the bomb using the lathe.”
Then the workers extract its contents to be repacked into rocket warheads. “We first find the explosive material as solid as a stone, then we grind it and it will break into pieces, and then we grind it again into powder,” he said.
Given the amount of explosive in an aircraft bomb — sometimes more than 200 pounds, compared with roughly two ounces in a hand grenade — there is no chance of surviving a mistake. “It is not only about losing a limb,” he said. “You and where you are will vanish.”
Rockets from this shop go by the name Rakan 1, and are sections of pipe that together form a weapon about four feet long. The longest section is a fuel cell containing a mix of potassium nitrate and sugar. To one end is threaded a nozzle through which the burning propellant vents, driving the rocket into flight after the weapon is launched with an electric charge.
To the other is threaded a warhead containing a high-explosive fill, which in turn is fitted with an aluminum fuze well and a simple striker assembly designed to initiate the explosion when the warhead’s nose strikes the ground.
The shop produces two of its rockets each day, the workers said. Abu Fawzi, 23, a furniture maker by trade who helped design Rakan 1, said that it was the result of trial and error, and that the Internet, hailed by security analysts as a virtual academy for waging war, was of little value.
“The first six or seven months we kept trying and held experiments, tests,” he said. “At first we searched the Internet, and we failed. We didn’t find anything useful. After that we relied on ourselves and bit by bit, with God’s help, we learned how.”
Rebels disagree about the value of homemade projectiles. Some welcome them. Others noted that rockets and mortars often fail to fire, or fly unpredictable paths.
And the weapons, they said, are almost no match for the incoming fire the rebels face.
On a front in the arid farmland north of Hama, Khaled Muhammed Addibis, a rebel commander, pointed to a stack of rockets his fighters had tried to fire the previous day. They had failed to launch. Others had veered far off-target in flight. And none had reached their expected range.
“All we need is effective weapons,” he said. “Effective weapons. Nothing else.”
Confirmed death toll in Syrian conflict nearly 93,000, says UN
UN human rights office says it has confirmed the deaths of 92,901 people between March 2011 and end of April 2013
Ian Black, Middle East editor
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 13 June 2013 10.57 BST
Syria's conflict has now claimed nearly 93,000 lives, the UN human rights commission has said, but it warned that the true deathtoll after 27 months of violence is likely to be even higher.
The figure of 92,901 was reached at the end of April, with an average of over 5,000 people being killed every month since July last year. Other killings, however, may be undocumented.
"This extremely high rate of killings, month after month, reflects the drastically deteriorating pattern of the conflict over the past year," Navi Pillay, the UN's high commissioner for human rights, said in a statement in Geneva.
The latest casualty statistics are published against a background of urgent international efforts to convene peace talks between Bashar al-Assad's government and rebels seeking to overthrow him – as well as intensifying discussion in the west about supplying weapons to opposition fighters if negotiations fail.
The previous UN figure, which was issued in mid-May, was that 80,000 people had been killed in the conflict, which began with peaceful and initially localised protests against the Assad regime in March 2011 and turned into a countrywide armed rebellion a few months later.
The latest analysis is based on data from eight sources, including the Syrian government and the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Killings were only included if the name of the victim and date and location of death were known. "The status of the victims as combatants or non-combatants is unknown for all but a few records," says the report by the Human Rights Data Analysis Group.
"This report finds that when the fully identified records were combined and duplicates identified, the eight databases collected here identified 92,901 unique killings.
"The enumeration is likely undercounting the true total number of conflict-related killings that have occurred during this time period. This is because an unknown number of conflict-related killings are likely to have occurred without being documented anywhere."
Pillay added: "There are also well-documented cases of individual children being tortured and executed, and entire families, including babies, being massacred - which, along with this devastatingly high death toll, is a terrible reminder of just how vicious this conflict has become."
Meanwhile in Syria, activists say rebels have gained control of a key military base in the central Hama province. The base is on the northern edge of the town of Morek, which straddles the country's strategic north-south highway leading to the province of Aleppo.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rebels seized the base after intense clashes with regime forces on Thursday. It said the rebels killed six government troops and seized weapons and ammunition. A video posted on Facebook shows flames rising from the burning compound and the bodies of some of the killed fighters.
President Bashar Assad's forces are waging an offensive to drive rebels out of the central provinces of Hama and Homs, and the northern Aleppo province.
Nicaragua waterway to dwarf Panama canal
Chinese firm to build and run $40bn trans-oceanic plan as opponents demand proper scrutiny of environmental impacts
Jonathan Watts, Latin America correspondent
The Guardian, Wednesday 12 June 2013 19.42 BST
Nicaragua's parliament is due to vote on Thursday on one of the biggest infrastructure projects in Latin America's history – a trans-oceanic canal that is to be built and run by a Chinese company.
If it goes ahead, the $40bn (£26bn) scheme, which is twice as expensive as Brazil's Belo Monte dam and likely to be three times longer than the Panama canal, looks set to transform global shipping and jump start the economy of this Central American nation.
As well as the waterway, the draft agreement between Nicaragua and a Hong Kong registered firm — Nicaraguan Canal Development Investment Co Limited – includes provisions for two free trade zones, an airport and a "dry canal" freight railway.
"This will be the largest project in Latin America in 100 years," Ronald Maclean, the executive fronting the operation in Managua told the Guardian. "If Nicaragua gets to do this, it is going to be a transformational project not only for Nicaragua but for the region."
Given the government's large majority, parliamentary approval is expected to be a formality, but critics warn the plan is being rushed through without adequate scrutiny of the environmental impact, business viability and public well-being.
A one-year viability study is now under way and the operators soon plan to tap international financial markets in New York, London and Tokyo for investment in a scheme that they say will be entirely privately funded. President Daniel Ortega is also said to be promoting the scheme in meetings with ambassadors from Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Canada.
Although hydro-engineering techniques have advanced considerably since the 48-mile (77 km) Panama canal was completed in 1914, the logistical challenge will be enormous. The new canal, which will pass through a much wider stretch of land, is likely to be more than 250km long. It will also be much wider to allow passage by the biggest container ships. The project will be operated by HKDN — a Hong-Kong based firm set up last year that has established a holding company in the Caiman Islands. It will pay $10m a year for 10 years to the Nicaraguan government.
Bigger benefits are expected in the wider economy. Paul Oquist, secretary of public policies of the presidency of the republic, said the Great Interoceanic canal will allow Nicaragua's GDP to double and employment to triple by 2018.
Legislators have complained that congressional committees had only two days to review a bill that could shape the country for a century.
"Given its complexity, the length of the concession and its importance for all Nicaraguans, this project deserves to be fully discussed and explained, seeking the broadest national consensus," noted the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development, an independent think-tank. "How can we as Nicaraguans be sure that the conditions stipulated in the bill are the best that could have been achieved?"
Details of the possible route have yet to be disclosed, though it is thought likely that it will run through Lake Nicaragua, the most important source of freshwater in the country and a home to sharks and numerous other species.
Jaime Incer, a renowned environmentalist and presidential adviser, urged caution. "There are alternatives for linking one ocean to the other, but there are no alternatives for cleaning a lake after a disaster has happened. We don't have another Lake Nicaragua," he told the Confidencial newspaper.
Indigenous groups also say they have not been adequately consulted.
The operator says it has hired one of the world's leading consultancies, Environmental Resources Management to conduct impact assessments: "HKND Group has committed to develop the project in a manner that conforms with international best practices, delivers significant benefits to Nicaragua and its people, generates local job growth and economic development, honours the local population and heritage of the country, and serves the best interests of Central America and, indeed, the world."
But little is known of the group behind the project, which is headed by Wang Jing, the head of one of China's biggest telecom firms Xinwei. It is unclear whether he has any experience in the field of hydroengineering, shipping or infrastructure, but earlier this year his company signed an agreement with the state-owned China Railway Construction Company, and Jing has met senior leaders in Beijing, including president Xi JInping.
Margaret Myers, director of the China and Latin America programme at the Inter-American Dialogue, said Wang's involvement did not necessarily mean the involvement of the Chinese government.
"The extent to which this project will increase 'China's' influence in the region and on global trade routes is unclear. This would depend on a wide variety of factors, including HKC's connections to the Chinese government and who else, if anyone, decides to invest in the project," she wrote.
The Nicaraguan government was due to be a 51% shareholder in the projects, according to preliminary legislation passed last year. There is no mention of this in the latest bill, but Maclean said there has not been a change.
"I think it involves a gradual transfer from the company to the government over the life of the concession and that eventually the government will own the canal," he said.
Opposition lawmakers said immunity, tax breaks and other preferential treatment for foreign investors in a still-to-be determined project was a violation of nation sovereignty.
The Sandinista Renovation Movement said it would oppose the bill and "any document that gifts a concession, privileges, exonerations and tax exemptions to an unknown company, for an unknown route, for a period of 100 years."
"We are going to hand over the country's sovereignty without knowing where the canal is going to go, how much it is going to cost, its ecological impact or how long its construction is going to last," Independent Liberal party legislator Eliseo Núñez, told La Prensa.
Mexican authorities rescue 275 tomato workers from ‘slave-like conditions’
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, June 12, 2013 13:42 EDT
Mexican authorities have rescued at least 275 people who were being held in slave-like conditions at a camp where tomatoes are sorted and packed for export, officials said.
Thirty-nine teenagers were among those being held against their will at the Bioparques de Occidente camp in Toliman, in the western state of Jalisco, regional prosecutor Salvador Gonzalez said late Tuesday.
Five foremen were arrested for “grave violations and crimes, including the illegal privation of liberty and human trafficking,” Gonzalez told AFP.
The victims were rescued when a worker escaped and made it to the state capital Jalisco to file a complaint.
Gonzalez said the contractors ran ads on the radio seeking workers, and offered room and board.
But when the workers arrived they found themselves in overcrowded housing and were paid half of what had been offered, much of it delivered in vouchers redeemable at the company store, where items were sold at a high markup.
One of the victims, Valentin Hernandez, went to work at the site with his wife and children. He told AFP he was housed in a tiny room with two other couples who also had children.
“The food was rancid and rotten. They held us as slaves,” Hernandez said.
“They told us that we could leave if we wanted to, but they didn’t let us. They would hide our belongings and threaten us to stay. And if someone tried to escape and they were discovered, they were brought back and beaten.”
Gonzalez said as many as 280 people may have been held against their will at the site.
Scientists unravel Cheetahs’ ability to twist and turn
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, June 12, 2013 18:47 EDT
Cheetahs are renowned as the fastest things on legs, but just as important as their speed is their ability to brake, enabling them to twist and turn in pursuit of prey, a study published on Wednesday says.
British researchers fitted three female and two male cheetahs in Botswana with special collars equipped with GPS, accelerometers and gyroscopes to track their location and movements.
The animals were released back into the wild and their activities were archived over the next 17 months, notching up a total of 367 hunts.
The top speed recorded during this period was 93 kilometres (58 miles) per hour, just 7 kph (4 mph) off the fastest cheetah ever.
It was nearly double the fastest recorded pace set by a human, which was 43.2 kph (27 mph), once reached by Usain Bolt in a 100m race.
The cheetahs’ average sprint was far lower, though, at 50 kph (31 mph) — and they sustained this pace for only one or two seconds.
Even more impressive was the cheetah’s ability to hit the accelerator and then the brake.
In a single stride, the animal can speed up by up to three metres (10 feet) per second, or choose to slow by up to four metres (13 feet) by second.
This fast-start, sudden-stop ability — almost double that of polo horses — is due to the cheetah’s remarkable skeleton, which is supplemented by limb and back muscles that account for around 45 percent of its body mass.
These are supplemented by ridged footpads and claws that act as cleats, grabbing hold of the ground to provide extra grip for sideways acceleration or deceleration.
“We recorded some of the highest measured values for lateral and forward acceleration, deceleration and bodymass-specific power for any terrestrial mammal,” says the study, led by Alan Wilson of the Structure and Motion Laboratory at the Royal Veterinary College at the University of London.
For all their prowess, the cheetahs still had to work hard for their dinner.
Out of 367 hunts, only 94 — 26 percent — were successful.
In the USA....
June 12, 2013
N.S.A. Chief Says Phone Logs Halted Terror Threats
By DAVID E. SANGER, CHARLIE SAVAGE and MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT
WASHINGTON — The director of the National Security Agency told Congress on Wednesday that “dozens” of terrorism threats had been halted by the agency’s huge database of the logs of nearly every domestic phone call made by Americans, while a senator briefed on the program disclosed that the telephone records are destroyed after five years.
The director, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, who heads both the N.S.A. and United States Cyber Command, which runs the military’s offensive and defensive use of cyberweapons, told skeptical members of the Senate Appropriations Committee that his agency was doing exactly what Congress authorized after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
General Alexander said he welcomed debate over the legal justification for the program because “what we’re doing to protect American citizens here is the right thing.” He said the agency “takes great pride in protecting this nation and our civil liberties and privacy” under the oversight of Congress and the courts.
“We aren’t trying to hide it,” he said. “We’re trying to protect America. So we need your help in doing that. This isn’t something that’s just N.S.A. or the administration doing it on its own. This is what our nation expects our government to do for us.”
But in his spirited exchanges with committee members, notably Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, General Alexander said he was seeking to declassify many details about the program now that they have been leaked by Edward J. Snowden, a former N.S.A. contractor who came forward to say he was the source of documents about the phone log program and other classified matters.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who is chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was the first to disclose that the records are eventually destroyed. She said that she planned to hold a classified hearing on Thursday on the program. But at the Wednesday hearing, where testimony about the government’s planned $13 billion spending on cybersecurity was largely swept aside for a discussion of the surveillance program, Ms. Feinstein also revealed that investigators had used the database for purposes beyond countering terrorism, suggesting it might have also been employed in slowing Iran’s nuclear program.
Analysts can look at the domestic calling data only if there is a reason to suspect it is “actually related to Al Qaeda or to Iran,” she said, adding: “The vast majority of the records in the database are never accessed and are deleted after a period of five years. To look at or use the content of a call, a court warrant must be obtained.”
In a robust defense of the phone program, General Alexander said that it had been critical in helping to prevent “dozens of terrorist attacks” both in the United States and abroad and that the intelligence community was considering declassifying examples to better explain the program. He did not clarify whether the records used in such investigations would have been available through individual subpoenas without the database. He also later walked back the assertion slightly, saying the phone log database was used in conjunction with other programs.
In his testimony, General Alexander said he had “grave concerns” about how Mr. Snowden had access to such a wide range of top-secret information, from the details of a secret program called Prism to speed the government’s search of Internet materials to a presidential document on cyberstrategy. He said the entire intelligence community was looking at the security of its networks — something other government officials vowed to do after the WikiLeaks disclosures three years ago.
Under the Prism program, the N.S.A. collects information from American Internet companies like Google without individual court orders if the request is targeted at noncitizens abroad. That program derives from a 2008 surveillance law that was openly debated in Congress.
As part of the review from the fallout of leaks about Prism and the phone program, intelligence agencies will seek to determine whether terrorist suspects have increased their use of code words or couriers, have stopped using networks like Facebook or Skype, or have “gone silent” and can no longer be found, current and former senior American officials said separately from the hearing.
The review, which will most likely last for months to determine the long-term impact of the disclosures by Mr. Snowden, will also include a “cost benefit analysis” of the programs.
“Now that it’s out there, it will be looked at in a different way,” one of the current officials said. “Everyone’s raising questions about whether they have been compromised and whether to continue with them at the same pace. They are wondering whether or not they are going to continue to yield good information.”
While senior intelligence officials — including James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence — have asserted that the disclosures have significantly damaged the government’s intelligence capabilities, the current and former officials were far less sure of the lasting impact.
Philip Mudd, a former F.B.I. deputy director for national security, said that there could be some short-term impact on the programs but that terrorists would find it very hard to function without using electronic communications. “Good luck trying to communicate in this world without leaving a digital exhaust — that’s not going to happen,” he said.
Representative Peter King, Republican of New York, called for the prosecution of journalists who published the classified information in the documents leaked by Mr. Snowden. Mr. King told Fox News he was specifically talking about Glenn Greenwald, the columnist for The Guardian, whom he accused of threatening to release the names of covert C.I.A. agents.
On Twitter, Mr. Greenwald said it was a “lie” that he had made such a threat, and shot back with a reference to Mr. King’s past support for the Irish Republican Army: “Only in America can a renowned and devoted terrorism supporter like Peter King be the arbiter of national security and treason,” he wrote.
Public opinion, judging by two polls with differently worded questions that yielded different results, is divided over the government’s tracking of the communications of Americans. In a Pew Research Center/Washington Post poll conducted June 6-9, 56 percent of Americans said the N.S.A’s program tracking the phone records of “millions of Americans” was an acceptable way to investigate terrorism, while 41 percent said it was unacceptable. But a CBS News poll conducted June 9-10, which instead asked about collecting phone records of “ordinary Americans,” found that just 38 percent supported it and 58 percent opposed it.
National Security Goes From ‘Big’ to ‘Even Bigger’
By: Crissie Brown
Jun. 12th, 2013
The anti-establishment mindset that gave us the personal computer, the internet, and smartphones – ironically – also produced the NSA’s surveillance programs.
I’m currently reading Nicco Mele’s The End of Big and we’ll discuss it in depth next week at BPICampus.com. But Mele’s core thesis explains how 9/11 happened and why it changed our perception of “national security.”
Mele uses the term “radical connectivity” to describe the nexus between the personal computer, the internet, and smartphones. His argument is not simply that we can now connect to each other in more ways than ever before, but also that the technology we use to do that was developed by people with an anti-establishment worldview, and that worldview is embedded in the technology and how we use it.
Before the PC, we lived in the age of Big Computers that cost millions of dollars and filled entire rooms. Needless to say, only Big Government, Big Education, and Big Business could afford Big Computers. The internet was created by Big Military and then branched out to Big Education for scientific research, decades before it was opened to the rest of us. Cellular phones, once status symbols for Big Spenders, now put a personal computer and the internet into the hands, literally, of almost human being. In fact, more people have cellular phones than toilets.
Each of those advances was led by anti-establishment nerds-cum-icons, and each faced resistance from the Big institutions it challenged. That, Mele argues, baked an individualistic, anti-establishment worldview into the technologies and the ways we use them. The nexus of “radical connectivity” now challenges most of our Big institutions: Big Media, Big Politics, Big Entertainment, Big Government and – on and since 9/11 – Big Military.
“National security” used to mean protecting Americans from other nation-states and their militaries. The asymmetric clashes we call “terrorism” did not begin on 9/11, but the horrific scope of that attack catapulted that asymmetry into the national security spotlight. The U.S. could be attacked with devastating effect by a relative handful of individuals who took full advantage of radical connectivity – personal computers, the internet, and cell phones – to plan, fund, and coordinate their operations.
That nexus has enabled other events that, while not terrorism as most of us define that term, also threaten Big institutions. Arab Spring activists used the same radical connectivity to help topple their governments. Groups like Anonymous employed the same tools to challenge a drug cartel … and one of the nation’s largest website hosts, and the Department of Justice.
The anti-establishment credo, of course, holds that these Big institutions should be toppled. Josh Marshall, whose Talking Points Memo is part of the online challenge to Big News, explored that credo in a column yesterday:
Here is I think the essential difference and where it comes back to what I referred to before – a basic difference in one’s idea about the state and the larger political community. If you see the state as essentially malevolent or a bad actor then really anything you can do to put a stick in its spokes is a good thing. Same if you think the conduct of US foreign policy is fundamentally a bad thing. Then opening up its books for the world to see is a good thing simply because it exposes it or damages it. It forces change on any number of levels.
From that perspective, there’s no really no balancing to be done. All disclosure is good. Either from the perspective of transparency in principle or upending something you believe must be radically changed.
On the other hand, if you basically identify with the country and the state, then indiscriminate leaks like this are purely destructive. They’re attacks on something you fundamentally believe in, identify with, think is working on your behalf.
Now, in practice, there are a million shades of grey. You can support your government but see its various shortcomings and even evil things it does. And as I said at the outset, this is where leaks play a critical, though ambiguous role, as a safety valve. But it comes down to this essential thing: is the aim and/or effect of the leak to correct an abuse or simply to blow the whole thing up?
In The End of Big, Mele writes that the anti-establishment ethos that spawned and is embedded in radical connectivity can be summarized in a paraphrase from the 1960s: “Burn the System Down … But Let Me Make Money.” And he emphasizes that the emerging nerdocracy values the last part just as much as the first. In many sectors we’ve replaced Big with Even Bigger: high tech behemoths whose market dominance and global influence exceed the institutions they are displacing. All of this, Mele writes repeatedly, has been happening with little thought for how the end of Big (and the rise of Even Bigger) will impact privilege, privacy, freedom of expression, and challenges whose inherent scope requires Big solutions.
Meanwhile our government struggles to address national security threats that are less about the military forces of rival nation-states and more about small groups using radical connectivity to magnify their destructive capacity. The end of Big Military, it seems, leaves us with Even Bigger computers sifting Even Bigger data to identify and stop those small groups.
Welcome to the Not-So-Brave New World.
Franken and Group of Bipartisan Senators Try to Shine a Little Light on the Patriot Act
By: Sarah Jones
Jun. 11th, 2013
On June 6th, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) called for FISA Court opinions to be made public when possible, and on Tuesday, he and a panel of bipartisan Senators made good on that call. This legislation would require the Attorney General to declassify significant Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC, aka FISA Court) opinions.
Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Al Franken (D-MN), Mike Lee (R-UT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dean Heller (R-NV), Mark Begich (D-AK), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced the bill Tuesday that would offer more transparency to Americans regarding the government’s interpretation of the PATRIOT Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
“Americans deserve to know how much information about their private communications the government believes it’s allowed to take under the law,” Merkley said in a statement. “There is plenty of room to have this debate without compromising our surveillance sources or methods or tipping our hand to our enemies. We can’t have a serious debate about how much surveillance of Americans’ communications should be permitted without ending secret law.”
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC, aka FISA Court) was established in 1978. It oversees requests for surveillance warrants by federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI and NSA, inside and outside the United States. FISA Court rulings are highly classified, and thus it operates as a secret court. One of the scandals during the Bush administration was that they had been conducting surveillance against U.S. citizens without the knowledge of the court since 2002, as reported by the New York Times in December of 2005:
President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.
They got this authority via a Presidential order signed by Bush in 2002. It’s worth noting that the Times delayed their article for a year after the Bush White House asked them not to publish it, saying it would threaten U.S. security. The Times did omit certain segments due to that request.
Franken pointed out last Thursday that there’s a balance between our privacy and national security, but we haven’t achieved that balance yet due to a lack of transparency, “There’s a balance to strike between protecting Americans’ privacy and protecting our country’s national security. I don’t think we’ve struck that balance. I’m concerned about the lack of transparency of these programs. The American public can’t be kept in the dark about the basic architecture of the programs designed to protect them.”
Where are the alleged freedom lovers on this bill? Words are relatively worthless, whereas legislation speaks volumes. You are either for reasonable transparency or you are not. But for those who argue that this is the exact same thing as what the Bush administration did, a history lesson is in order. President Bush’s order was unconstitutional, and even went around the court. His administration required no warrant for actual wiretapping. Obama is not Bush, and anyone making that argument is “misunderestimating” the egregious history of civil liberties under George W. Bush.
Under Obama, NSA is engaging in a legal, classified program whereas Bush bypassed the legal process all together. One was secret from the public, the other was secret from the public and also the courts. One was legal, one was illegal.
Good legislation that balances our privacy with national security in a reasonably transparent manner is the way to shine a real light on the Patriot Act.
June 12, 2013
Police Agencies Are Assembling Records of DNA
By JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN
Slowly, and largely under the radar, a growing number of local law enforcement agencies across the country have moved into what had previously been the domain of the F.B.I. and state crime labs — amassing their own DNA databases of potential suspects, some collected with the donors’ knowledge, and some without it.
And that trend — coming at a time of heightened privacy concerns after recent revelations of secret federal surveillance of telephone calls and Internet traffic — is expected only to accelerate after the Supreme Court’s recent decision upholding a Maryland statute allowing the authorities to collect DNA samples from those arrested for serious crimes.
These local databases operate under their own rules, providing the police much more leeway than state and federal regulations. And the police sometimes collect samples from far more than those convicted of or arrested for serious offenses — in some cases, innocent victims of crimes who do not necessarily realize their DNA will be saved for future searches.
New York City has amassed a database with the profiles of 11,000 crime suspects. In Orange County, Calif., the district attorney’s office has 90,000 profiles, many obtained from low-level defendants who give DNA as part of a plea bargain or in return for having the charges against them dropped. In Central Florida, several law enforcement agencies have pooled their DNA databases. A Baltimore database contains DNA from more than 3,000 homicide victims.
These law enforcement agencies are no longer content to rely solely on the highly regulated network of state and federal DNA databases, which have been more than two decades in the making and represent one of the most significant developments in the history of law enforcement in this country.
The reasons vary. Some police chiefs are frustrated with the time it can take for state crime labs to test evidence and enter DNA profiles into the existing databases. Others want to compile DNA profiles from suspects or low-level offenders long before their DNA might be captured by the state or national databases, which typically require conviction or arrest.
“Unfortunately, what goes into the national database are mostly reference swabs of people who are going to prison,” said Jay Whitt of the company DNA:SI Labs, which sells DNA testing and database services to police departments. “They’re not the ones we’re dealing with day in day out, the ones still on the street just slipping under the radar.”
The rise in these local databases has aroused concerns among some critics, worried about both the lax rules governing them and the privacy issues they raise.
“We have been warning law enforcement that when public attention began to focus on these rogue, unregulated databases, people would be disturbed,” said Barry Scheck, a co-director of the Innocence Project, which seeks to exonerate wrongfully convicted prisoners. “Law enforcement has just gone ahead and started collecting DNA samples from suspects in an unregulated fashion.”
For their part, law enforcement officials say that the crime-solving benefits of local databases are dramatic.
“Our take is that it’s good for law enforcement and good for the community,” said Doug Muldoon, police chief of Palm Bay, a city of about 100,000 in Central Florida, about its database, which has produced 1,000 matches. He said his officers could now use DNA to address the crime conditions “in our community — property crimes and burglaries.” State crime labs can take months to analyze evidence from low-level felonies like that, he said.
As local authorities devise their own policies, they are increasingly taking DNA from people on the mere suspicion of a crime, long before any arrest, and holding on to it regardless of the outcome. Often detectives get DNA samples simply by asking suspects for them.
Other times, investigators take DNA surreptitiously, from discarded trash. Or the DNA might originate from a warrant issued in a specific case, authorizing the authorities to compare it against crime scene evidence — with the resulting profile then stored in a database for future use.
In some jurisdictions, it is not only suspects whose DNA goes into the database, but occasionally victims, too.
“If an officer goes to your house on a burglary, they will swab a door handle and then they will ask, ‘Can we get a sample from the homeowner so we can eliminate them as the source?’ ” Chief Muldoon said. “They say, ‘Sure.’ ”
The homeowner’s sample goes into the database, too, Chief Muldoon said. In many jurisdictions, so would samples from others even briefly considered potential suspects.
“That’s so profoundly disturbing — that you would give DNA to the police to clear yourself and then once cleared, the police use it to investigate you for other crimes, and retain it indefinitely,” said Stephen B. Mercer, the chief attorney of the forensics division of the Maryland public defender’s office and one of the lawyers involved in the case that resulted in the recent Supreme Court decision on DNA. “If that doesn’t strike at a core value of privacy, I don’t know what does.”
The Supreme Court’s decision last week, in Maryland v. King, was its first to squarely address DNA collection and databanking. While that decision said nothing explicit about the authority of local law enforcement to keep DNA databases, it could well encourage local jurisdictions to push ahead, several experts said.
“In light of the Supreme Court decision, more and more organizations are going to be doing this,” said Frederick Harran, the public safety director in Bensalem Township, a Philadelphia suburb that is aggressively building its own DNA database.
The court’s decision readily accepted the utility of DNA collection as a routine station house booking procedure, comparing it to fingerprinting.
“King is a green light,” said Erin E. Murphy, a New York University law professor who has written about DNA databases and DNA profiling. “It’s a ringing endorsement of DNA testing, and many law enforcement agencies would see this as a dramatic opportunity to expand DNA collection.”
It is not clear how many local jurisdictions maintain DNA databases. DNA SI Labs provides databanks for nine police departments, including those in Bensalem and Palm Bay, Mr. Whitt said, and has contracts with a dozen other departments to build more.
Palm Bay shares its database of 15,000 profiles with nearby departments, creating a regional pool. It is more common for prosecutors, the police and local crime labs to maintain their own DNA data, typically from suspects, which may be ineligible for upload to the national database.
Few states have laws regarding local DNA databases. Alaska prohibits them. California and Hawaii are explicit in not precluding them. In many states, including New York, the law is silent on the issue. And there is little consensus about what DNA retention policies are appropriate at the local level.
“There really are no rules as to what you can specifically keep,” said Jill Spriggs, who runs the Sacramento district attorney’s crime lab. “The forensic community is all over the board.”
The issues raised by these local databases include what type of DNA testing should be permitted. In Denver, which keeps a local database, the district attorney, Mitchell R. Morrissey, is a leading proponent of familial DNA searching. The technique uses special software not to identify matches, but for clues as to whether a relative of a person whose DNA is on file may be the source of crime scene DNA.
Because local databases operate without the stricter rules governing federal and local ones, local authorities have been able to set the pace for how DNA is collected and used in criminal investigations. That pace, experts say, could accelerate if rapid DNA testing devices capable of quickly developing DNA profiles from samples are deployed in station houses.
The ability to very quickly generate DNA profiles, experts say, could provide a greater incentive for local authorities to build and maintain their own database.
Mentioned in last week’s Supreme Court opinion, such technology is not yet generally in the hands of law enforcement, although the Palm Bay Police Department is field testing one such device.
June 13, 2013
Census Benchmark for White Americans: More Deaths Than Births
By SAM ROBERTS
Deaths exceeded births among non-Hispanic white Americans for the first time in at least a century, according to new census data, a benchmark that heralds profound demographic change.
The disparity was tiny — only about 12,000 — and was more than made up by a gain of 188,000 as a result of immigration from abroad. But the decrease for the year ending July 1, 2012, coupled with the fact that a majority of births in the United States are now to Hispanic, black and Asian mothers, is further evidence that white Americans will become a minority nationwide within about three decades.
Over all, the number of non-Hispanic white Americans is expected to begin declining by the end of this decade.
“These new census estimates are an early signal alerting us to the impending decline in the white population that will characterize most of the 21st century,” said William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution.
The transition will mean that “today’s racial and ethnic minorities will no longer be dependent on older whites for their economic well-being,” Dr. Frey said. In fact, the situation may be reversed. “It makes more vivid than ever the fact that we will be reliant on younger minorities and immigrants for our future demographic and economic growth,” he said.
The viability of programs like Social Security and Medicare, Dr. Frey said, “will be reliant on the success of waves of young Hispanics, Asians and blacks who will become the bulwark of our labor force.” The issues of minorities, he added, “will hold greater sway than ever before.”
In 2010, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, more non-Hispanic whites died than were born in 11 states, including California, Florida and Pennsylvania. White deaths exceeded births in a majority of counties, including Los Angeles, the most populous.
The disparity between deaths and births in the year that ended last July surprised experts. They expected that the aging white population would eventually shrink, as it has done in many European countries, but not for another decade or so.
Nationally, said Kenneth M. Johnson, the senior demographer at the Carsey Institute, a research center based at the University of New Hampshire, “the onset of natural decrease between 2011 and 2012 was not anticipated.” He attributed the precipitous shift in part to the recession, adding that “the growing number of older non-Hispanic whites, which will accelerate rapidly as the baby boom ages, guarantees that non-Hispanic white natural decrease will be a significant part of the nation’s demographic future.”
Professor Johnson said there were 320,000 more births than deaths among non-Hispanic whites in the year beginning July 2006, just before the recession. From 2010 to 2011, the natural increase among non-Hispanic whites had shrunk to 29,000.
Census Bureau estimates indicate that there were 1.9 million non-Hispanic white births in the year ending July 1, 2012, compared with 2.3 million from July 2006 to 2007 during the economic boom, a 13.3 percent decline. Non-Hispanic white deaths increased only modestly during the same period, by 1.6 percent.
The census population estimates released Thursday also affirmed that Asians were the fastest-growing major ethnic or racial group. Their ranks grew by 2.9 percent, or 530,000, with immigration from overseas accounting for 60 percent of that growth.
The Hispanic population grew by 2.2 percent, or more than 1.1 million, the most of any group, with 76 percent resulting from natural increase.
The non-Hispanic white population expanded by only 175,000, or 0.09 percent, and blacks by 559,000, or 1.3 percent.
The median age rose to 37.5 from 37.3, but the median declined in Alaska, Hawaii, Kansas, North Dakota and Oklahoma. It ranged from 64.8 in Sumter, Fla., to 23 in Madison, Idaho.
The number of centenarians nationally neared 62,000.
Democrats on Warpath: Biden Speaks the Truth About Al Gore’s 2000 Victory
By: Sarah Jones
Jun. 12th, 2013
Vice President Joe Biden let the truth fly Tuesday night at a fundraiser for Massachusetts Senate candidate Ed Markey, saying of Al Gore, “This man was elected president of the United States of America,” according to the pool report.
“But for the good of the nation, when the bad decision, in my view, was made, he did the right thing for the nation.” Speaking to Al Gore, who introduced him, Biden continued, “Al, you set an example for this country that is going to live as long as recorded history, about the man who won by a decision that I think constitutional scholars now and in the future will conclude was an ill-fated decision.”
Retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has said publicly that it was a mistake for the Supreme Court to anoint George W. Bush as president, thereby stopping the stopped the recounting in Florida, after he lost the popular vote: “Obviously the court did reach a decision and thought it had to reach a decision. It turned out the election authorities in Florida hadn’t done a real good job there and kind of messed it up. And probably the Supreme Court added to the problem at the end of the day.” Gee, you think?
Top Democrats have made news recently with well placed jabs at Republicans. Senator Boxer called House Republicans “losers with a deadbeat agenda” and David Plouffe called Darrell Issa ‘Mr. Grand Theft’ and ‘insurance swindler’. Howard Dean called Darrell Issa a “fraud” and a “propagandist”.
The key difference between the Republican name calling and the Democratic responses is the Democrats tend to be accurate, and therefore their jabs have a better chance of sticking. The change in tone from Democrats probably reflects their frustration with Republicans, who are pulling the same Scandalrama-Instead-of-Legislating that they did when Bill Clinton was President.
In light of Republicans drumming up non-existent scandals in order to set up 2014 so that they can run against their trumped up charges in order to avoid running on their records, Democrats must be bitterly recalling the past.
Democrats they thought they were putting country first by not contesting the 2000 election (clearly a mistake, especially in hindsight), and again by not prosecuting the Bush administration for various war crimes and established abuses of governmental power. Look where that got them. The Republican Party has not only not returned the favor, but they have spit in Democrats’ faces with five years of rule-breaking and tradition-destroying obstruction, topped off with embarrassingly fake accusations, such as their alleged belief that the President’s birth certificate is phony.
The truth is out: The Republicans of the Bill Clinton era were not a fluke. The names of the players have changed, but the game is the same. This is a party that has nothing to offer except ad hominem attacks. This is a party that must rely on fallacies in order to maintain any power. Worse yet, this is not a party that can handle any real power, as evidenced by the complete collapse of legislation in the House, which is the only body currently led by Republicans.
Democrats may be finally realizing their rightful place as the party of fiscal responsibility and national security, on top of being the party for the working and middle class, and equal rights for all. This is the Obama Democratic Party, and quite frankly, they wouldn’t have rolled over and played dead while Republicans stole an election.
Yes, many people think Obama takes too much crap and negotiates too much with Republicans. No doubt he does, but then he has to in order to get his job done. But one thing he has never done while campaigning is allow ugly, false attacks to go by unanswered. His campaign changed that game for Democrats. And he doesn’t have to run anymore, so he is now free to unleash the Obama Democrats on Republicans — while governing, and in advance of 2014. The message is the Democratic Party isn’t having a 2010 redo. They’re fired up and ready to go.
Republicans are probably too blinded by their Achilles’ heel (hubris) to see Democrats coming, after all this is the party that still believes their “unskewed” polls, even though experts were pointing out the flaws to them at the time. Speaker John Boehner should have realized he overstepped on Tuesday when he announced that Republicans would once again be holding the debt ceiling hostage. But Republicans aren’t known for their self-awareness, and Boehner is barely keeping it together for public appearances, let alone leading his unruly caucus of fringe extremist juveniles.
I see a Democratic Party that’s had it, and they’re bringing their A game.
Democrats Are Now Openly Mocking Ted Cruz’s Obamaphobia
By: Jason Easley
Jun. 11th, 2013
Sen. Robert Menendez responded to Sen. Ted Cruz’s claim that President Obama is the biggest obstacle to immigration reform by saying that Cruz suffers from Obamaphobia.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) responded to Ted Cruz’s claim that the White House is the biggest obstacle to passing immigration reform by diagnosing the Texas Senator with Obamaphobia. Sen. Menendez (D-NJ) said, “I think he has Obamaphobia. The reality is that it is the Gang of Eight that came together, four Democrats and four Republicans, and said that we need a path to citizenship, that it’s a tough path, it’s a long path, but it’s a fair path at the end of the day. We see in Europe when people can’t find a way towards becoming part of a country, the challenges that Europe has faced, we don’t want an underclass in America, and these individuals are going to have to earn their way, go through a criminal background check and pay taxes and learn English and after nearly a decade, they will get their shot. so I think Ted Cruz is fixates on this issue and it’s amazing to me representing a state like Texas he doesn’t understand a pathway to citizenship is really what is desired. by all of those not only who aspire to become part of America but by the american electorate that in poll after poll says they want to fix this broken system and certainly by Latino and immigrant community who overwhelmingly looks at this as a civil rights issue of their time.”
Ted Cruz is beloved by the rank and file Republicans, but he is a joke among his own Senate colleagues. Sen. Cruz doesn’t care about what would be best for the people in his home state. He is trying to win the 2016 Republican nomination by being the anti-Rubio. If Rubio is for immigration reform, Cruz is going to the Hispanic option who is against anything that even resembles a path to citizenship.
Cruz suffers from Obamaphobia, because he is a reflection of the voters that he is courting. He is preaching to the choir. Those who love Ted Cruz are obsessed almost to the point of mental illness with the “evils” of Barack Obama. For this reason, it is Ted Cruz’s egomaniacal political ambitions that are the biggest challenge to immigration reform.
Cruz’s behavior used to be called Obama Derangement Syndrome, but I think Obamaphobia is a better description. People like Cruz have progressed from derangement to a full on phobia of anything that is associated with the President of the United States.
Millions of Americans are suffering from this disorder, and those are the people that Ted Cruz desperately hopes will vote for him if he runs in the the 2016 Republican primary.
It is hard to see Ted Cruz as any kind of a leader when the people who serve with him in the Senate mock him as both a wacko bird and an Obamaphobe. Sen. Ted Cruz has moved from tea party hero to national joke to still potentially a 2016 Republican presidential candidate.
With the FBI On Her Trail, Michele Bachmann Raises Money For Non-Existent Reelection Bid
By: Jason Easley
Jun. 11th, 2013
An FBI investigation into money laundering, wire fraud, and mail fraud has not stopped Rep. Michele Bachmann from continuing to raise money for a reelection campaign that she isn’t running.
According to the University of Minnesota’s Smart Politics blog, Nearly two weeks after announcing she would not seek a 5th term from Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District, Republican Michele Bachmann’s congressional campaign website is still locked and loaded to take in money. The campaign’s donation page is still featured and functional.” The donation page is still claiming that, “Obama and the Democrats are targeting Michele for speaking out against their extreme liberal agenda. They will do, say and spend whatever it takes to defeat her.”
According to David Shuster, the FBI may be in the process of gathering evidence against Bachmann herself, “According to sources close to the criminal investigation of Bachmann’s presidential campaign, the FBI has now been given sworn testimony and documents alleging Bachmann approved secret payments to Iowa state Senator Kent Sorenson in exchange for his help and support in that state’s 2012 Presidential caucuses. Ethics rules explicitly prohibit Iowa lawmakers from accepting payments from Presidential campaigns or PACs. Investigation sources tell Take Action News the FBI is examining money laundering allegations against Bachmann, as well as possible wire fraud and mail fraud.”
If this is the case, it is very clear why Bachmann high tailed it out of the House by announcing her “retirement.”
Usually, it wouldn’t be a big deal for a “retiring” member of Congress to continue to raise a small sum of money before they leave office. However, when the person raising the money is possibly facing mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering charges, it looks pretty bad to have a message up on your website soliciting donations for a reelection campaign that doesn’t exist.
It could be that Team Michele is distracted by other things, like the fact that members of her own presidential campaign team are possibly giving evidence against her to the FBI, or it could just be one of those things that Bachmann just hasn’t gotten around to yet.
When the FBI is investigating you for potential money laundering, it probably isn’t the best idea to be raising money by using a reelection campaign that no longer exists.
It is possible that Bachmann could change her mind and run for reelection, but after her “retirement” announcement the ethical thing to do would have been to change the language of the fundraising pitch on her website.
Then again, a lack of ethics is what got Michele Bachmann into this mess in the first place.
Senate Democrat Slams House Republicans as ‘Losers’ with a Deadbeat Agenda
By: Sarah Jones
Jun. 12th, 201
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) is over House Republicans and their debt ceiling games. Announcing new legislation on Wednesday to withhold Congressional pay if the debt ceiling is not raised, Boxer said the House Republicans have a deadbeat agenda, “They are losers. Their strategy is a losing strategy and they are doing it all over again. Earth to John Boehner: The deficit has already been cut in half.”
As Republicans threaten to once again demand cuts in exchange for paying off their own spending (aka, refusing to raise the debt ceiling), Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) introduced legislation on Wednesday to withhold pay for members of Congress if they don’t raise the debt ceiling.
The “Pay Your Bills or Lose Your Pay Act of 2013″ legislation would prevent Members of Congress from being paid should they fail to raise the debt ceiling and the government defaults on its bills. Congressional pay would be put into an escrow account until the end of the session, much like the Republican ‘No Budget, No Pay’ law.
Boxer explained in a news conference Wednesday that we should pay for the spending already authorized by Congress, aka our debts, and that using the debt ceiling as a hostage part of House Republicans’ ‘deadbeat agenda’.
“It’s a deadbeat agenda,” she said, pointing out that Republicans cost taxpayers $18.9 billion over 10 years with their 2011 politicking with the debt ceiling. (She is correct, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center.)”They are losers. Their strategy is a losing strategy and they are doing it all over again. Earth to John Boehner: The deficit has already been cut in half.”
“President Obama is clear he is not going to allow hostage taking over the debt ceiling… The bottom line is we shouldn’t be holding the debt ceiling hostage.”
Senator Boxer is also correct about the deficit being cut in half. On May 14, the nonpartisan CBO updated its analysis of the deficit, saying that if current law holds, it will be less than half as large as 2009:
If the current laws that govern federal taxes and spending do not change, the budget deficit will shrink this year to $642 billion, CBO estimates, the smallest shortfall since 2008. Relative to the size of the economy, the deficit this year—at 4.0 percent of gross domestic product (GDP)—will be less than half as large as the shortfall in 2009, which was 10.1 percent of GDP.
“If members of Congress are willing to let America become a deadbeat nation by not paying our bills, we should not be paid our salaries,” Senator Boxer said in a statement. “Our legislation would help prevent a catastrophic default by putting pressure on lawmakers to do the right thing and honor our nation’s financial obligations.”
“America has always paid our bills,” Representative McDermott said in a statement. “We are not a nation of deadbeats. This isn’t a debate about curbing expenses, it’s about fulfilling the promises we’ve already made.”
If Republicans think they are going to be allowed to drive America off the cliff again without a fight, they are incorrect. They will pay a high political price, and that’s really the point of this legislation. It reminds the press and therefore the public that we’ve been here before and it cost us 18.9 billion dollars.
John Boehner Puts Out Dimwitted Deranged SOS Blaming Democrats For Student Loans
By: Jason Easley
Jun. 12th, 2013
John Boehner is trying to blame Obama and the Democrats for not supporting the House Republican bill that would raise loan rates for students.
You know, after Friday’s jobs report it’s pretty clear that the economy is not growing the way the American people want it to grow. We’ve had four years of anemic economic growth. I believe the president’s policies continue to get in the way of small businesses and investors willing to invest in this economy. That’s why House Republicans are going to continue to stay focused on our economy and the issue of jobs in our country.
In addition to that, the House has passed a student loan bill to make sure that interest rates on students doesn’t double on July 1st. The Senate had a couple of show votes last week, but I’m hoping that they’re going to be willing to sit down with us and the administration to resolve this issue. We’ve done our job, it’s time for the Senate to sit down with the House to make sure that students aren’t harmed…by the lack of work in this Congress.
As with everything John Boehner says, the devil is in the details. Notice Boehner said student loan rates won’t double on July 1st in the House bill, but what he didn’t say is that the House bill would permanently more than double student loan interest rates by turning the program into a variable rate scheme. The House passed plan allows lenders to reset the interest yearly for students.
What John Boehner was really complaining about the Senate’s refusal to go along with the House Republican scheme to hand student loans back over to the big banks. House Republicans aren’t trying to save students. They are trying to make their financial situation worse, so that the wealthiest Americans can have more tax cuts.
Speaker Boehner’s attempts to fool the American people should only work on the most dimwitted true believers on the right. Behind the gibberish, Boehner was sending out a desperate SOS. His ship is sinking, and he once again needs Senate Democrats and the White House to bail him out. The Speaker of the House is using talking points that complete contract the legislation that he has passed.
John Boehner’s tactics are an insult to the collective intelligence of our nation. When Boehner starts blaming Obama and the Democrats, the white flag has been raised, and the ship is going down fast.
Pig Putin's Russia ....
06/13/2013 06:35 PM
Exiled Economic Adviser: 'Pig Putin Is Afraid of the Public'
In a SPIEGEL interview, prominent Russian economist and former government adviser Sergei Guriev discusses the Kremlin's retaliation campaign against the opposition and why he recently fled to France.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Guriev, why did you flee to France?
Guriev: I was under pressure for months. My wife had already predicted this development three years ago, despite the political thaw under then-President and current Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. She didn't want our children to grow up in a country without freedom, so she decided to move to Paris. I, on the other hand, was still hopeful.
SPIEGEL: At the time, you were part of a small group of people who shaped Medvedev's economic policy. When did you decide to flee?
Guriev: The turning point came in late April, when investigators turned up at my office with a search warrant and seized all of my email correspondence since 2008 -- 45 gigabytes. The same mistakes, in terms of names and spelling, were made on both the court order and the documents the investigators presented. In other words, the court in question simply copied the investigators' documents, with their absurd accusations, and will continue to do so in the future. I felt that it was too dangerous for me to stay.
SPIEGEL: What were you afraid of?
Guriev: That I would be barred from leaving Russia and, in a next step, that I would be arrested. I am a patriot, and I love my country. But I am not willing to give up my freedom. Paris is better than Krasnokamensk.
SPIEGEL: That's the Siberian city near the Chinese border where oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky was held in a prison camp for many years. You are now accused of having been paid by Khodorkovsky to prepare an expert report that recommends his release.
Guriev: That's ridiculous. In 2003, Moscow's New Economic School (NES) received $50,000 (€37,500) from a partner of Khodorkovsky's. I didn't receive a single kopek of that money. I was a visiting professor at Princeton University at the time, and only a year later did I become the rector at NES. Besides, I prepared the expert report in 2011 for then-President Medvedev, together with colleagues.
SPIEGEL: One of them was Otto Luchterhandt, a German legal scholar.
Guriev: He, at least, hasn't had a visit from Moscow yet. Russia is now refusing entry to one of the foreign experts.
SPIEGEL: How is the New Economic School funded?
Guriev: We are a private university. We derive our funding from tuition and donations from Russia and abroad.
SPIEGEL: Of course the Kremlin doesn't like that. Are you disappointed that Medvedev couldn't or wouldn't protect you?
Guriev: I prefer not to comment on that. He's in a difficult situation. No one seems to mention the modernization he promised anymore. (President) Vladimir Putin decides everything.
SPIEGEL: Sergey Markov, a political scientist with ties to the Kremlin, has practically accused you of treason because of your ideas on the privatization of state-owned companies, which Medvedev took up, and he has described you as the intellectual center of the opposition to Putin. Do you intend to overthrow Putin?
Guriev: Of course not. I'm an academic, not a politician.
SPIEGEL: Are we correct to assume that the reason the Kremlin has targeted you is not as much your sympathy for Mikhail Khodorkovsky as your support for opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is currently on trial?
Guriev: Navalny merely gave a talk at our university. Neither he nor other members of the opposition have ever received so much as a kopek from our university.
SPIEGEL: But you donated money privately to Navalny?
Guriev: Yes. It's not forbidden. The equivalent of €250, together with my wife. I'm not a wealthy man. I was trying to send a message that I support Navalny's anti-corruption campaign. Only 16 people dared to do so publicly, including financial magnate Alexander Lebedev. He and most of the others have run into problems.
SPIEGEL: Does Navalny have what it takes to be president?
Guriev: What impresses me is that he isn't afraid. He is prepared to fight to the end and go to prison for his convictions. I'm not willing to do that. Navalny is by far the most impressive of all of the opposition politicians. That's precisely why they are now trying to launch a show trial against him, which could put him behind bars for a few years, even though the accusations are baseless. I'm not sure who would win if there were free elections and Putin and Navalny had to debate each other on television. But Putin has never participated in such debates.
SPIEGEL: Navalny has no experience whatsoever in political office. He sympathizes with nationalists, and when he demands that Putin and his team be thrown in prison, he is flatly provoking a harsh reaction from the Kremlin.
Guriev: I don't like this furor. I don't agree with him on other issues, either. I don't like the fact that he wants to introduce a progressive tax, or that he used to march at the very front during the nationalists' "Russian march." We've had intense arguments about that. Navalny has changed his position and didn't attend the nationalists' march last year. Like every politician, he is evolving.
SPIEGEL: Three days after Putin's re-election in March 2012, you said that the president clearly knows the difference between the fates of Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. What did you mean by that?
Guriev: Berlusconi was voted out of office and is enjoying life. But Gadhafi held onto power for so long that a revolution ended up flushing him away and he was killed.
SPIEGEL: What don't you like about Vladimir Putin?
Guriev: The problem isn't Putin or Medvedev. It's the policies Putin has pursued since his return to the Kremlin. I still like many of his campaign promises, his programmatic articles and his initial decrees. For example, shortly after he took office there was talk of moving Russia up the ladder in a rating of countries based on business-friendly policies. But because that isn't happening, capital flight is on the rise, and Russian stocks are significantly undervalued compared to Brazilian or Polish stocks. Investors don't have confidence in Russia.
'We Need Reforms'
SPIEGEL: Does the Kremlin have a general plan to neutralize everyone who doesn't agree with Putin?
Guriev: Some think so. Because Putin supports Prime Minister Medvedev, there is no pressure on Medvedev himself. But Medvedev stepped on many toes in the four years of his presidency. It's quite possible that some of the attacks on his projects and his followers are really just a way to indirectly take revenge on him.
SPIEGEL: How much longer will Medvedev be able to survive politically?
Guriev: That depends entirely on Putin. It's certainly strange to hear Medvedev, as head of the government, saying that this government will step down sooner or later.
SPIEGEL: Why does Putin, after an election victory in which he officially captured 63.6 percent of the vote, need to crack down on his opponents?
Guriev: Evidently he himself doesn't believe in this support. Putin is afraid of the public's growing dissatisfaction. This leads to a paradoxical situation: Even though the elections are over, Putin is still fighting the opposition by constantly enacting new, repressive laws.
SPIEGEL: We have noticed there is also growing dissatisfaction with Putin within the Moscow power elite.
Guriev: Many top people were dismayed, for example, over the law that bars Americans from adopting Russian orphans. It was revenge for a US law that bars entry to the United States for Russian officials implicated in human rights violations. In Russia, the women of Pussy Riot are sent to prison camps for two years for their act of protest in a church, and then a law is passed against gay propaganda, which only fuels homophobia. Under these conditions, how are senior government officials supposed to attract foreign investment?
SPIEGEL: Critics of your economic policy want less privatization and more government spending on roads and ports and for social purposes. They accuse you of making the case for "irresponsible" capitalism.
Guriev: I'm also in favor of better roads and good infrastructure. And I'm delighted that we are hosting the World Cup in 2018 and the Winter Olympics next year. I'm just opposed to massive amounts of taxpayer money being stolen in the process. When money from the national budget is indiscriminately pumped into the economy and social services, inflation rises and then economic growth declines. Russia would be threatened with a recession and, in the worst case, the fate of the Soviet Union: collapse.
SPIEGEL: How could corruption be contained?
Guriev: Russia needs reforms that will make our country more democratic: free and fair elections, freedom of the press, freedom to demonstrate and new parties.
SPIEGEL: Medvedev wanted to make it easier to establish new parties with one of the last bills he signed into law…
Guriev: …which has just been completely watered down. The Justice Ministry suspended the registration of the People's Alliance party, for example, which is aligned with Navalny.
SPIEGEL: One of the investigators who searched your office said that you should be thankful that you are not suffering the fate of Soviet Nobel Peace Prize winner and nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov, who was banished to the Volga region for years. Does this threat feel like a compliment to you?
Guriev: I'm not a dissident. I don't need scandals and I'm not seeking a political career. I lost a great deal as a result of my flight. I like Paris, but I don't speak French. Still, I'll manage.
Interview conducted by Christian Neef and Matthias Schepp
06/14/2013 11:53 AM
The Roma Conundrum: Looking for Clues in a Romanian Village
By Özlem Gezer
Large numbers of Roma immigrants from southeastern Europe are proving to be a serious integration problem for many cities, including Berlin. A local politician recently traveled to Romania to learn more about the challenge.
Franziska Giffey is sitting at a wooden table in Romania and trying to grasp what is happening in her neighborhood back in Berlin. Giffey, 35, is a member of the local council in the Berlin district of Neukölln. She's traveled 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) in the hope of finding an answer to her question: Why do people in Romania leave their home country to come to Neukölln, one of the poorest city districts in Germany?
She's sitting in the office of the mayor of Fântânele, 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the Romanian capital of Bucharest. The town once had 3,000 residents, all of them Roma, but a third of them no longer live here. They've moved elsewhere in Europe, and a majority of them have come to Neukölln in Berlin. There are many villages like Fântânele throughout southeastern Europe and most of them now have an outpost in Germany.
Fântânele's mayor is excited. He's wearing a sash in the colors of the Romanian flag and his shirt is neatly ironed. It's clear he wants everything to be perfect for Giffey, the politician and Ph.D. from Germany. He presses a packet of informational materials into her hand and serves peanuts, as well as espresso in paper cups. A European Union flag stands in one corner of the room. The mayor has called all city administrators here, as well as the town's two priests, and the school principal, who has lost 300 of her students to other countries around Europe.
Giffey stands up and introduces herself, and then she talks about her district. Berlin's Neukölln district has 300,000 residents of 160 nationalities, and there are 65 schools, of which nearly half offer "welcome classes" for children -- many of them Roma -- with no knowledge of German. "I open a new school class every month," she tells the town administrators gathered before her. "You must be missing those children here, aren't you?" There is laughter. Then a priest answers: "Go ahead and set up a couple more classes."
Since Romania joined the EU in 2007, the number of Romanians in Germany has nearly tripled, to 205,000. This includes both highly skilled workers and the poorest of the poor. They enter the country legally, as free citizens of the EU, and represent the greatest challenge for German integration policies. German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich of the center-right Christian Social Union (CSU) recently threatened to expel at least those who are unlawfully receiving public assistance benefits.
Giffey has observed firsthand what happens when large Roma families move en masse from one village in Romania to Neukölln and fill up an entire street. They form closed microcosms, many miniature Fântâneles, which go unnoticed by politicians until it's too late.
Giffey doesn't want to arrive too late. She wants to understand how things are for people in Romania. She says it's the piece of the puzzle she needs in order to be able to make the right decisions back in Berlin. This is why she's traveled here and why she's now sitting in the mayor's office.
"At some point the limit is reached in Germany, too," she says and casts a friendly smile around the table. No one reacts. Her problems aren't of interest here. Instead, the mayor explains that he has great hopes for German investors in the region.
Giffey is wearing her blonde hair up, a string of pearls around her neck and a gold-colored Esprit watch with small, glittering stones on her wrist. She has a calm voice and a patient manner. For the people gathered around this table, she represents Germany.
'Take Note of These Faces'
The mayor takes Giffey on a tour of his new cultural center, an unused room financed by the EU, as well as a daycare center that still smells of fresh paint. The bathrooms were sponsored by Britain, but haven't been used in the last six months. The mayor asks if Giffey could send €400 ($530) a month to cover operating costs for the center, as if he sees a German politician primarily as a traveling salesperson with a fat checkbook. Then he shows Giffey around each of the classes at the local school and comments drily, "Take note of these faces. They'll be sitting in your schools in Neukölln soon, too."
He offers to come, too, and to teach in the Roma language. "In Germany, the children need to learn German first," Giffey replies.
Their walk back to Giffey's car takes them past a grocery store that's having a clearance sale because its proprietors are moving to Berlin. Before Giffey leaves, the deputy mayor has one last question. He wears patent leather shoes and Ray-Ban sunglasses, and drives a BMW X5. He wants to know how to go about opening a restaurant in Berlin. Giffey will later comment that she isn't here to recruit workers. She doesn't understand the expectations here. And after three hours in Fântânele, she is angry. "I feel like a development aid worker," she says, as she drives past cornfields, a Penny Markt discount supermarket and a sign bearing the EU's circle of stars, a symbol of the freedom of movement that here has come to stand for the freedom to escape.
When Giffey first joined Neukölln's district council, she was in charge of EU matters. She wrote funding proposals and brought in millions for the district. She knows both the good and the bad sides of the EU.
In 2010, when she took over responsibility for education in Neukölln, Giffey toured the schools and discovered that there were many pupils from southeastern Europe who spoke no German. She had these children counted, requested more teachers from Berlin's city government, and received funding for 11 new positions.
Giffey has heard a number of statements recently that aggravate her, for example one from a Bulgarian diplomat who suggested that anyone who truly wants to come to Germany has come already, and these new immigrants from southeastern Europe are just "rotating Europeans," immigrants who shuttle back in forth, not settling in Germany but eventually returning to their home countries instead.
Next Giffey visits the national Roma authority in Bucharest to find out how the experts here appraise this emigration trend. The two bored-looking women across from her call to mind the Weather Girls. They suggest Giffey should hire Roma women, because blonde women, they say, don't stand a chance within the Roma community. Giffey asks why the children who arrive in Berlin haven't received immunizations. "If they're at home and their parents are willing, then we immunize them," the women say. Then they tell stories of parents who oppose vaccination and of Roma children with AIDS and tuberculosis. The women sound as if they have given up.
How can it be, Giffey wants to know, that some of the Roma children in Neukölln reach the age of 15 without ever having seen the inside of a school? Education is compulsory in Romania, but this is not enforced, officials at the Education Ministry explain. They could perhaps send teachers to Germany, they suggest, so that the children there could be taught in Romanian, just in case they eventually return to Romania 20 or 30 years from now.
Last on the List
But how likely is it that Roma children will return to a country that is poor and where they are "last on the list," as an adviser to Romania's prime minister puts it?
That adviser is sitting at a conference table in Bucharest. Water is served in plastic bottles here and two iPhones rest on the table in front of him. The man has closely cropped hair, wears a suit and speaks English well. He himself is Roma and used to travel through the country making music. Romania has a Roma strategy, he says, but only because the European Commission, the EU's executive, requires one, and it's only on paper. "If you marry a woman knowing she's an alcoholic, you can't complain about it afterward," he says. In this analogy, Romania is the drunken wife and the EU the naïve husband.
He keeps asking: "Do you understand, Franziska?" If she has a problem, he says, he's glad to help. If too many Roma from Fântânele are going to Berlin, he suggests, he can initiate some projects in the village -- Giffey only needs to say the word. She laughs, and he laughs, when she tells him the child benefits that families can receive in Berlin are 20 times what they are in Bucharest. "Bullshit," he says over and over again, and rants about his country.
That evening, Giffey sips a glass of water at a reception on the 18th floor of a modern skyscraper in Bucharest, where she has come at the invitation of the German embassy. There are hors d'oeuvres of cream cheese and salmon, and men in suits are drinking sparkling wine. A foundation representative explains that mayors in Romania are glad to see their Roma residents go.
Shortly before flying back to Germany, Giffey meets with a diplomats' working group on Roma issues in Bucharest. The representative from Switzerland says his country has no problems with integration: Roma come over during the day to beg, then travel back to France to sleep. From the French representatives, Giffey learns that their country has quietly ceased its program of returning Roma to their home countries. There is no point, the representatives say, since the Roma always come back again and in fact are glad to have been sent away (with money from the French government), saying: "Thank you, (former French President) Sarkozy, for paying for my vacation trip home." Giffey notes all of this down in her black notebook. Outside, it's raining. She heads to the airport and back to Germany.
A Growing Number of Children
Five days after her return from Romania, Giffey is attending a district council meeting on the second floor of Neukölln's district town hall. It's early evening and some women are relaxing on the town hall steps, knitting pink sweaters. These are the long-established immigrants, but Neukölln's newest arrivals are here as well, represented by a Roma woman breastfeeding her child on the steps.
The topic before the district council today is school meals. There are sausages and slices of cheesecake in the lobby, where Heinz Buschkowsky, perhaps Germany's most famous mayor of a city district, is sitting by the counter. Buschkowsky, Neukölln's mayor, was recently re-elected by the district council for a term lasting until 2016. He's eating potato salad from a paper plate and looks tired.
Giffey, waiting at the next table, says that when she returned to Berlin she requested a list of new arrivals and learned that since the beginning of this year, 68 new children have entered the local school system from Romania and Bulgaria alone.
Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein.
June 13, 2013
Czech Premier Says He Won’t Resign, Despite Raid and Arrests of Officials
By DAN BILEFSKY
Prime Minister Petr Necas of the Czech Republic said Thursday that he had no intention of resigning after the authorities from an organized crime unit raided government offices in Prague and arrested several officials, including one of his senior aides.
Several hundred officers took part in the nationwide raid that included the Defense Ministry, government headquarters and City Hall in Prague, the capital, the Czech news media reported. The reports said the police had also searched safe deposit boxes at a branch of Komercni bank in Prague and conducted a sweep of the offices of influential lobbyists.
Interior Minister Jan Kubice told Parliament on Thursday that Mr. Necas had been visited by the head of the organized crime unit and two state attorneys. He said the visit was “in connection with a step in the criminal proceedings,” but did not elaborate.
According to the online version of Mlada fronta DNES, a leading Czech newspaper, those arrested included Jana Nagyova, the prime minister’s chief of staff and a close and influential aide. Czech news media reports said she had come under scrutiny in the past for receiving large bonuses from the state.
Lubomir Poul, the chief of the government office, was also detained, as were Milan Kovanda, the head of military intelligence, and his predecessor, Ondrej Palenik, the newspaper reported.
Petr Tluchor and Ivan Fuksa, former members of Parliament from Mr. Necas’s party, were detained. Both had recently resigned under unexplained circumstances.
While the motives for the arrests remained unclear on Thursday, analysts said that the detention of a senior member of Mr. Necas’s inner circle threatened to bring down the center-right coalition government, already weak after a series of corruption scandals that had pushed it to the brink of collapse.
But Mr. Necas told reporters that he remained confident in Ms. Nagyova and had no reason to think she had done anything illegal. He said he had no intention of resigning.
“I am personally convinced that I did not do anything dishonest and that my colleagues have not done anything dishonest either,” he said. “I expect that law enforcement agencies will quickly explain their reasons for launching such a massive operation.”
President Milos Zeman’s office said he would meet on Friday with Mr. Necas, Justice Minister Pavel Blazek, the national police chief, the chief of public prosecutors and the head of the opposition Social Democrats to discuss how to proceed.
The opposition Social Democrats called a party leadership meeting for Thursday afternoon to discuss its response. Some opposition members were already calling for early elections.
Jiri Pehe, a political scientist who is director of New York University in Prague, said that if people close to the prime minister were implicated in corruption, he would come under heavy pressure to resign or face a no-confidence vote. His coalition partners could also withdraw their support and bring the government down. “Unless the police have completely misfired, this could have serious and far-reaching repercussions because it concerns people close to the prime minister,” Mr. Pehe said.
The police declined to comment on the reasons for the arrests. But Pavel Hantak, the spokesman for the organized crime unit, confirmed that an extensive operation had taken place in which several people had been arrested. “We have to be careful about what information we make public and when, so as not to endanger the future of the operation,” he told reporters.
The Czech news media reported that the organized crime unit raided the government headquarters in Prague at 12:30 a.m. on Thursday, about 90 minutes after cabinet members had left the building. About 400 officers conducted raids across the country on Wednesday and Thursday, and the raids were continuing.
Across east and Central Europe and the Balkans, countries have been grappling with a surge of corruption, a hangover from decades of Communist rule.
The European Union is so concerned about rampant lawlessness among its newest members that Romania and neighboring Bulgaria have so far been denied entry into the Union’s passport-free area. In Croatia, which is set to join the European Union in July, former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader has been charged with embezzlement.
In the Czech Republic, the arrests come amid a growing backlash against corruption that has blighted confidence in the political class. In Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perception Index — in which the lower the ranking, the more corrupt the country is perceived to be — the Czech Republic was ranked 54th alongside Latvia and Bahrain on a list of 176 countries.
When former President Vaclav Klaus issued an amnesty decree at the beginning of the year that exonerated dozens of individuals on trial on financial corruption charges, the national outrage was so fierce that some mayors and teachers took his portrait off the walls of their offices and classrooms. Mr. Klaus was subsequently accused of treason, an accusation for which he was later cleared.
Karel Janecek, an entrepreneur and leading anticorruption campaigner, said the arrests appeared to be a milestone in a country that had turned a blind eye to corruption for decades. He said that corruption was a byproduct of the crony capitalism of the 1990s when, in the aftermath of communism, state assets were privatized, financial regulation was weak and collusion flourished between government agencies and corporate interests.
Vaclav Laska, a lawyer specializing in corruption cases, added that the prosecution of corruption cases until recently had been rare in a country where graft and bribery were considered a normal part of daily life. “Bribery has been perceived in Czech society as something normal,” he said. “Nobody is even surprised to hear about it anymore.”
Corruption is so endemic that one industrious Czech started a corruption bus tour around Prague. The stops on the tour include fancy villas, hospitals with a reputation for graft and a nonexistent house that 589 companies have registered as their headquarters.
Hana de Goeij contributed reporting from Prague.
Greece: Closure airs party splits
13 June 2013
I Kathimerini Athens
The sudden closure of state television channel ERT has split the fragile governing coalition and set the troubled country on the path to fresh elections. But a new vote could leave the nation even more divided and just as deadlocked.
The unity of Greece’s power-sharing administration is under severe strain and the country could possibly be heading toward general elections. If political memory went no further back than a year ago, it would be clear to everyone that the outcome of the May and June 2012 elections effectively derailed the nation’s fiscal adjustment programme, added more debt to the country’s empty coffers, and exacerbated recession and unemployment.
On a political level, the outcome of those two ballots was the election of leftist SYRIZA as main opposition, the emergence of Golden Dawn as the most vigorous party in the existing Parliament, the near-elimination of PASOK from the political map and growing tension within New Democracy.
There is little love for PASOK or its current leader, Evangelos Venizelos. Democratic Left leader Fotis Kouvelis may be irritating in the same way that the leader of a debating society can be annoying. Having been away from the country’s executive powers – barring some very short breaks – the Left has a rather theoretical understanding of politics.
But these are the only politicians Prime Minister Antonis Samaras can depend on at the moment. And he has an obligation not to insult their dignity, not to present them with tough dilemmas – regardless whether the issue at stake is a serious or an insignificant one and whether they beg to differ on certain issues.
Primative political leadership
The crisis has underscored the primitivism of the Greek political leadership. The politicians of the European north tend to work for the stability of the system and its adaptation to the needs of a constantly evolving environment. In the minds of the Greek political leader it is all about self-affirmation and survival. He is allergic to others. He is the provincial man on the European stage.
New Democracy could well win the next election but neither PASOK nor Democratic Left would again join hands with Samaras, leaving the country in a deadlock. Even if a government were formed, the prime minister would be different, so the risk of a deeper conservative break-up is evident. But even if ND were to achieve a full majority in Parliament, on the back of Greece’s electoral law, it would find it impossible to govern as it would face all opposition parties given the absence of a rigid state apparatus and generalised corruption.
For better or for worse, the country’s two-party system is no more. Voting for Golden Dawn is a political act and expresses the will to destroy the political system – Valhalla on fire, Wagner’s twilight of the gods, not on the safety of the stage but in society.
It’s questionable if we should cry over the death of political dwarfs at a time when the country is in risk of going up in flames.
Reaction: Elections – collective suicide
Giorgos Delastik, one of the most prominent leader writers in Greece, does not believe that Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' decision to shut down the public radio and TV outlets – against the advice of his coalition partners – means that "the collapse of the ND-Pasok-Dimar [coalition] is imminent,". Writing in Greek daily To Ethnos, Delastik notes that –
The only red line for [Pasok leader] Evangelos Venizelos and [the leader of Dimar] Fotis Kouvelis is participating in the government! The only thing they do not mention is leaving the government! Everything else is negotiable. A withdrawal of Pasok and Dimar from the government would signify the toppling of the Samaras government and early elections. [...] Are Venizelos and Kouvelis crazy enough to willingly leave the government when that will lead them to the political guillotine known as elections? [...] Samaras knows that he holds Venizelos and Kouvelis in his power and that is why he is unscrupulously blackmailing them.
By brandishing the threat of early elections, Samaras also wants to "scare the people," adds Delastik, "because only fear and violence ensure that citizens submit to the order established by the memorandum" providing international financial aid.
Erdoğan issues stark 'final warning' to Turkey's Gezi Park protesters
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan says government has reached end of its patience with 'troublemakers' camped out in Istanbul
Peter Beaumont in Istanbul
The Guardian, Friday 14 June 2013
Link to video: Turkey: Gezi Park protesters sceptical about referendum promisehttp://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2013/jun/13/turkey-gezi-park-protesters-referendum-video
Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, delivered a stark "final warning" on Thursday to thousands of defiant protesters still camped out in Istanbul's Gezi park, demanding that they end their occupation.
Describing the protesters as troublemakers, Erdoğan said the government had reached the "end of its patience" over the continuing demonstrations against his leadership, in which five people have been killed since 31 May. Erdoğan had earlier issued a 24-hour deadline to clear Taksim Square and Gezi park.
Erdoğan spoke as the latest person to die in the demonstrations was named as 26-year-old Ethem Sarısülük, who had been on life support for days. He was pronounced dead after he was hit in the head by a tear gas canister on 1 June during a protest in the capital, Ankara.
Reports early on Friday said Erdoğan was holding talks with protesters in the capital, Ankara, and Istanbul's governor had offered to meet protesters in a cafe near Taksim Square through the night in a bid to find a solution. News agencies said the talks involving Erdoğan broke up amicably but without a clear outcome. The protest group Taksim Solidarity told Reuters that Erdogan had promised to abide by the outcome of an ongoing court case filed against the redevelopment and reiterated his plan to hold a referendum if the court finds in the government's favour.
The protests erupted after a violent police crackdown on 31 May following a sit-in by activists objecting to a development project that would involve cutting down the trees in Gezi Park and replacing them with a replica of an Ottoman-era barracks. Since then, protests have spread to dozens of cities and been transformed into a broader complaint over Erdoğan's style of government.
Erdoğan also hit out at criticism by the European parliament of the force being used. The European parliament has voted to condemn the use of "harsh measures" against peaceful protesters and urged Erdoğan to take a unifying and conciliatory stance.
"We have arrived at the end of our patience," Erdoğan told local party leaders in a speech in Ankara yesterday. "I am giving you my final warning."
He urged parents with children at the park to convince them to pack up and go home. Erdoğan added that he had instructed police that "we cannot allow lawbreakers to hang around freely in this square … We will clean the square".
Responding to a vote in the European parliament in Strasbourg, Erdoğan added: "I won't recognise the decision that the European Union parliament is going to take about us … Who do you think you are by taking such a decision?"
Although there were no fresh clashes yesterday, many have interpreted Erdoğan's remarks as a clear signal that he will move soon to clear the park of protesters.
A new poll of those occupying Gezi park suggests that almost 60% are protesting about Erdoğan's style of government, which opponents have criticised for its creeping authoritarianism.
Despite the warnings, new protesters of all ages continued to arrive in the camp, insisting they would not be frightened away. Among them was Kerim Ozken, 63, a retired bank worker and writer. "I think the police might attack again tonight," he said, reflecting the fears of many in the camp, which is surrounded in places by makeshift barricades. "Tayyip [Erdoğan] said it will be over tonight. He thinks it is a war. It is idiotic. Really idiotic. He thinks he can change people's minds by force."
So far during the protests, 5,000 protesters and 600 police have been reported injured.
Erdoğan's defiant tone comes despite the floating of a proposal to have a popular referendum on the fate of the park. Pouring cold water on that notion, a senior judge insisted that the courts had already ruled on the development.
Istanbul governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu went on a nationally-televised talk show on Thursday and offered to meet with the demonstrators.
Link to video: Ekumenopolis: the roots of Istanbul's protestshttp://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2013/jun/13/ekumenopolis-istanbul-protests-video
He said no police raid was yet planned for the park, though he did not rule one out. He said the public would be informed ahead of time if one was imminent.
***********Press freedom groups condemn Turkish police violence against journalists
Thursday 6 June 2013 14.44 BST guardian.co.uk
At least 14 journalists have been injured, some seriously, since the outbreak of violent protests in Turkey. The offices of media organisations have also come under attack.
The police have been accused of brutality towards media workers who have been covering the demonstrations against the development of Gezi Park on Taksim Square. Journalists report suffering from the effects of tear gas and water hoses.
***********Turkish police: we're fighting inhuman work conditions, not protesters
Officers in Istanbul's Gezi Park and elsewhere have been on duty for weeks without rest, yet face major hurdles in unionising
Constanze Letsch in Istanbul
guardian.co.uk, Friday 14 June 2013 10.02 BST
Tired after spending the second night in a row sleeping on his shield on a city centre pavement, deprived of washing and toilet facilities, hungry and thirsty, the Turkish police officer sounded rather fed up.
"We have now been working for 56 hours straight," he said.
The 30 exhausted riot police officers sitting on a pavement in a side street by Istanbul's Taksim Square had had one hour of rest the night before. Some of them dozed, their heads against a wall.
The officer lifted his security vest, filled with teargas cartridges. "Between this, the teargas gun and my shield, I carry about 10kg. But after a couple of hours on duty, it feels like I am carrying 100."
His colleague interrupted: "All of us are completely exhausted. We have been working like this ever since the protests began two weeks ago." Another laughed. "We are too tired to even do this interview." They requested anonymity for fear of repercussions.
After almost a fortnight on the frontline of the most significant street unrest seen in Turkey in years, the officers are disgruntled at the way they are being treated by their superiors. They all criticised the lack of facilities for riot police on duty around Taksim Square.
"There are no toilets, no washrooms," said one. "We have to ask in hotels and shops. That's unacceptable." Others join in: "Our food supply is very bad. Sometimes there is nothing to eat all day, sometimes the food has gone bad."
Some say that they buy their own food instead, but expenses cannot be claimed.
"How are we supposed to respect other people's rights if nobody respects ours?" one police officer wondered.
The police have been accused of using excessive force against the protesters in Gezi Park and in demonstrations that spread all over the country. According to the Turkish Medical Association, 4,345 people sustained injuries as a result of the police's heavy-handed interventions. Three are still said to be in critical condition.
Faruk Sezer, head of the newly formed police union Emniyet-Sen, linked the police violence directly to a lack of sleep and mistreatment of police officers by their superiors.
"How are people supposed to respect the police when they see them sleeping on the pavement in their uniforms? This is not how the governor and the Turkish police directorate should treat their employees. It's inhuman," he said.
"Fatigue and constant pressure lead to inattentiveness, aggression and a lack of empathy. It's irresponsible to keep riot police on duty for such long hours without any rest."
He added that around 500 riot police have been injured over the past two weeks. In Adana, one policeman fell off a bridge and died, an accident reportedly caused by exhaustion.
Police officers in Turkey have major problems attempting to organise to represent themselves and press for better working conditions. So far attempts to form a democratic union have been met by bans and threats of disciplinary action. The police officers who founded Emniyet-Sen seven months ago have all been suspended.
Despite a court decision to the contrary, neither the Turkish government nor the police directorate recognise the union, and new recruits to the organisation – so far, Emniyet-Sen counts about 10,000 members – face disciplinary threats and investigation.
Human rights groups say the Turkish government imposes tough restrictions on police rights.
"Police officers like everyone else have the right to join a union, a fundamental right stemming from the right to organise and the right to freedom of association," said Andrew Gardner, Turkey researcher for Amnesty International.
"Given the events of the last few weeks it is particularly important that police officers are given access to such representation, with direction being given from their superiors to use excessive force against demonstrators."
In Gezi Park, where the protesters have been camping for a fortnight, many taking part underline that their quarrel is not with the police.
"We do not fight or want to fight against the police," said Hamit Menemencioglu, 21. "Our criticism is against the Turkish government, and they should be the ones dealing with us, talking to us."
Just a few streets away, the officers could not agree more.
"These protests will not be quashed with teargas," said one. "There needs to be dialogue. They need to find a consensus." His colleagues nod. "We do not enjoy fighting citizens, and we hope that there will be an end to this soon."
Reuters photojournalist Osman Orsal was seriously injured when he was hit on the head by a tear gas grenade last Friday (31 May). He was taken to hospital where his condition is said to be improving.
The same night, Selçuk Samiloglu, a photographer with the daily paper, Hürriyet, was wounded on the hand by a rubber bullet and then suffered a head injury when hit by a projectile. He underwent surgery in a nearby mobile clinic before being taken to hospital.
Also on Friday, Ismail Afacan, who reports for the paper Günlük Evrensel and the national TV station, Hayat TV, was injured in the eye when a water hose was used by a police armoured vehicle.
A reporter for the newspaper Sol, Onur Emre, was injured by a tear gas canister. An Ankara-based colleague, Fatos Kalaçay, was reported to have been assaulted by police officers. And two other reporters - Ugur Can of the Dogan News Agency and Tugba Tekerek of the Taraf daily - claimed to have been roughed up.
Mesut Ciftçi, a reporter for the privately-owned pro-government TV station ATV, and cameraman Ismail Velioglu were injured in the shoulder and the hand respectively by rubber bullets. Olgu Kundakçi, a reporter for the left-wing daily Birgün suffered a head injury due to a rubber bullet.
On Monday (3 June), Eren Güvenlik, a cameraman for the IMC television, recorded police firing tear gas directly at him. He said only one pellet hit him.
Daily Milliyet correspondent Sertaç Koç sustained bruises to his left leg after being hit by tear gas pellets in Ankara.
TV and newspaper offices attacked
On Monday night (3 June), protesters threw stones at the Ankara offices of the pro-government media outlets Kanal 24 TV and the daily paper, Star. Demonstrators in Istanbul broke the equipment of a CNN Türk camera crew while they were conducting interviews in Taksim Square.
CNN news editor Ali Güven told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that camera crews were now afraid to go into Gezi Park. He said: "It is understandable that there is a reaction to the media's coverage, but the media have corrected their stance now."
He was referring to criticism of some Turkish media for not covering the early stages of the protests or covering them only from a pro-government viewpoint.
Demonstrators in Taksim Square, along with actors, writers, musicians and intellectuals, have all registered objections to the coverage - or lack of coverage - by the main media outlets, including rolling news channels.
They accuse the television stations NTV - whose bus was overturned by demonstrators - CNN Türk, Haber Türk, Kanal D, ATV, Star TV, Show TV and TRT, as well as the newspapers Star, Sabah and HaberTürk of biased coverage.
The government, led by prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has also come under verbal fire for suggesting that it might restrict internet use. On Sunday, access was suspended for several hours in some parts of Istanbul.
Prime minister criticises social networking sites
It is generally accepted that the demonstrations have been organised through social networking sites and Erdogan has openly criticised Twitter.
The New York-based CPJ, the Paris-based press freedom watchdog, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) and the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) plus its affiliate, the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), have all condemned the Turkish police actions against journalists and the possibility of internet access being denied.
An RWB statement said: "We strongly condemn the deliberate targeting of journalists by the police during the protests. In common with dozens of organisations, including the Journalists' Association of Turkey, we express our outrage.
"We call for the safety of journalists covering the protests to be guaranteed and for the protest movement to be treated fairly impartially by government media."
And the CPJ's Europe and central Asia programme coordinator, Nina Ognianova, said."Restrictions on the internet will only promote rumour and conjecture at a time that the country needs facts and freely expressed views.
"The free exchange of news and information is important at all times, but it is vital at times of unrest as only a well-informed society has the capacity to restore and heal itself."
François Hollande gears up to overhaul French pensions system
Report to French government expected to outline tough measures to reform welfare state system for which it can no longer pay
Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 13 June 2013 17.40 BST
François Hollande is gearing up for potentially the most explosive reform of his presidency as a report on Friday outlines tough measures to overhaul the French pensions system while unions meet employers to agree a deal which the government hopes will avoid crippling strikes and mass street demonstrations.
As a debt-ridden France struggles to preserve the cherished welfare state system for which it can no longer pay, the fraught issue of how to tackle its pensions system, which will fall more than €20bn in the red by 2020, has left the government with difficult choices. Hollande is walking a tightrope to reduce the public deficit while not infuriating his electoral base, with some MPs in his own Socialist party nervous about the reform.
Pensions reform is a highly charged issue in France, previously sparking massive protests which paralysed the country. In 1995, the right's attempt to tweak pensions sparked the biggest strikes since May 1968, bringing the country to a standstill for a month. The government eventually backed down but was still ejected from office two years later. In 2010, the rightwing Nicolas Sarkozy's pensions reform, which included raising the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62, was passed only after millions took to the streets, oil refineries were blockaded, high schools, universities and even the Louvre museum were picketed as fuel shortages and public transport disruptions cost the economy €400m.
Until now, the French left has never reformed pensions; instead, François Mitterrand lowered the retirement age from 65 to 60 when he took office in 1981.
The exact nature of Hollande's reform is not yet known. Suggestions in an expert's report to government released on Friday range from longer working lives for French people to higher payroll taxes to merging the system for private and public sector workers. Hollande's consensus-style approach means unions and business leaders will hold talks all summer before the Socialist president makes a decision in September. But unions have already threatened strike action in the autumn if they perceive changes to be too brutal.
The French system follows a pay-as-you-go model, with retired people highly dependent on state pensions. Certain professions such as railway workers or staff at the national opera have privileged deals allowing them to leave their jobs earlier than the average citizen.
In a departure for the French left, Hollande warned at his major press conference last month: "When we live longer we must work a little bit longer."
So far, Hollande's reforms, including recent family benefit changes, mostly hit the wealthiest the hardest and did not spark protests. But pensions reform is potentially more contentious as it concerns all French people including the poorest. "Everyone will have to make an effort," the social affairs minister said recently.
So far, Hollande's only move on pensions has been to partially overturn Sarkozy's changes by returning the retirement age to 60 for the relatively few workers who started working very young in physically demanding jobs.
France, which with Ireland has the highest birthrate in Europe, is not facing the same long-term, ageing time bomb as other nations, but its short-term problem of plugging the pensions funding gap is critical.
With Brussels breathing down Paris's neck over deficit reduction, the Socialist government has said that the only way to preserve the French welfare state is to adapt it.
EU's free-trade talks with US under threat of French veto
Paris stands fast over cultural policies that protect its film and TV industries, which could come under threat from new accord
Ian Traynor in Brussels
The Guardian, Thursday 13 June 2013 12.15 EDT
Paris is threatening to block an agreement on the European Union's terms for a free-trade pact with the US, worried that Hollywood blockbusters combined with Silicon Valley internet servers will wipe out the French film and music industries in the digital age.
EU trade ministers are to meet in Luxembourg on Friday to try and hammer out a mandate for the ambitious but highly complex free-trade negotiations which Barack Obama is keen to launch.
But under colossal pressure at home to protect the domestic arts industries from a transatlantic flood, President François Hollande is expected to block agreement on the EU mandate unless France's "exception culturelle" is observed and the audio-visual sector is removed from the scope of the negotiations.
The likely French veto could cause the negotiations, which have taken years to get to even the starting point, to collapse before they have begun. David Cameron may also be a principal casualty of a French refusal.
Chairing the G8 summit in Northern Ireland next week, the prime minister had hoped to announce the launch of the free-trade talks as a climax to the event.
"The British are so desperate to announce the trade breakthrough," said a senior EU official. "But if there is no deal with the trade ministers, there will be no party time in Lough Earne."
France has for decades practised a policy of subsidising the arts and using quotas to guarantee the survival of domestic television and film production against overwhelming Anglophone domination, setting quotas for broadcasting and levying cinema tickets to fund domestic film production to the tune of around €1bn (£850m) a year.
The policy has long been a centrepiece of French arts policy. Hollande, whose popularity has collapsed after a little more than a year in office, would face a strong backlash if he was seen to ditch the policy.
Dozens of French and other European film directors and actors have been lobbying strongly at the European commission to take the arts out of the remit of the negotiations. Britain has been the strongest advocate of leaving the sector in, on the grounds that it is a mistake to start dictating conditions and exempting areas before the negotiations even start. The US side makes the same point about so-called carve-outs.
But the nature of the dispute has been radically altered by the migration of audio-visual entertainment to the internet and its supply by servers that are overwhelmingly based in the US, and American providers from Apple's itunes to Android, and smartphone apps.
"The Americans are in pole position because they have all the service providers," said an EC official involved in preparing for the negotiations. "If you carve out things from the mandate, the Americans will do the same. On geographical indicator rules, for example. Then we'll have Californian champagne and Michigan camembert."
The ministers will examine a compromise formula on Friday from the commission, leaving everything intact in the negotiating mandate but specifying three "red lines" which could not be changed during the trade talks, essentially meaning that nothing would change in the French regime. Nonetheless, there is little sign of Paris being willing to back down.
"The way the French see it, it's a symbol. Always has been. Now why would Hollande be the first French president to give up l'exception culturelle. It's a symbolic fight," said the senior official.
The European parliament strongly supports the French position and until a few weeks ago there were 16 of the 27 EU governments on the French line. But as compromises have been forged, support for the French has collapsed to only Belgium and Hungary just days before Obama arrives in Europe for the G8 and to go to Berlin.
Germany initially supported France but has shifted. As Europe's biggest exporter by far, Germany has most to gain from as comprehensive a trade deal as possible.
Karel de Gucht of Belgium, the EU trade commissisoner who will head the negotiations with the Americans, has refused to toe the French line, although his staff insist that he supports preserving the French exception.
The aim of the talks is to boost transatlantic commerce by 10s of billions, according to supporters, and to set new rules and regulations for trade that would effectively become the global template since between them the US and the EU conduct more than half of global trade. China, say officials in Brussels, would effectively be obliged to adopt the same rules
Irish abortion law bill published
Law would permit abortions in Ireland for the first time if a woman's life is in danger medically or she is at the risk of suicide
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 13 June 2013 11.23 EDT
Irish doctors with conscientious objections to abortion will be allowed to opt out of emergency terminations in the Republic under the Dublin government's new abortion law.
If the law is passed, abortions will be able to be performed in Ireland for the first time if a woman's life is in danger medically or she is at the risk of suicide.
The bill, published this morning, includes a list of the 24 hospitals where abortions in these circumstances could take place.
Irish doctors will also have the right to refuse to perform emergency terminations if they object on moral and religious grounds.
The 18-page Protection of Life During Pregnancy bill, , also includes a clause allowing medics who "intentionally destroy unborn human life" to be jailed for up to 14 years.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who has received hate mail because of his government's willingness to change the long-standing abortion ban, said that although he is a Catholic he is not a "Catholic Taoiseach" and had to represent all religions and none in the state.
The legislation was unveiled hours before a final Irish health service executive (HSE) review into the death of Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar. Her death last autumn in Galway University hospital focused global attention on Ireland's strict anti-abortion laws after her widower Praveen claimed she had been denied an emergency termination to save her life.
The report found there was "inadequate assessment and monitoring" by medical staff when Halappanavar became gravely ill with septicaemia.
As the Fine Gael-Labour government prepares to put the legislation to both houses of the Irish parliament, an opinion poll showed strong public support in Ireland for allowing limited abortion.
An Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI survey found 75% in favour of allowing for abortion based on the guidelines of the so-called X case ruling by the supreme high court.
The court ruled as far back as 1992 that women whose lives were under threat either for medical reasons or through the risk of suicide could have their pregnancies terminated in Irish hospitals. The X case concerned the plight of a 14-year-old rape victim whom the Irish state initially tried to stop leaving the country to have a termination abroad.
The poll was conducted at the start of this week as Irish Catholic bishops issued their sternest warning against any change to the country's virtual ban on abortion.
The survey came after a rally in Dublin last weekend by anti-abortion groups. Despite this pressure from the once powerful anti-abortion lobby, the forthcoming legislation appears to have widespread public support across most age groups.
To appease the more conservative Fine Gael backbenchers, the government inserted the clause allowing doctors to refuse to carry out terminations on grounds of conscience. The addition of a 14-year prison sentence – criticised by abortion reformers and pro-choice groups as draconian – is also seen as a sop to some disgruntled Fine Gael TDs in religiously devout rural constituencies.
Both government parties have refused to allow a free vote when the bill is debated in the Dáil and Ireland's second chamber, the Seanad, over the summer.
Ireland's health minister Dr James Reilly has expressed concern after reading the report into Halappanavar's death.
Reilly said: "It's fairly straightforward, straight-hitting, spares nobody and says it like it is … I can say, having read the report, I have grave concerns."
Reilly also defended the abortion reform law: "It's very, very clear where a woman has a right to a service where no other action than a termination can avert the risk to her life as opposed to her health, that there is no right conferred on her or anybody else to terminate the life of a new-born child," the Minister said.
But Praveen Halappanavar's lawyer Gerard O'Donnell criticised the timing of the report.
O'Donnell said the HSE's failure to send a final draft of the report to the Halappanavar family before publication was disrespectful to both Savita Halappanavar and to her family.
Pussy Riot documentary directors: 'They are awakening the world' - video interview
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 13 June 2013 12.02 BST
Maxim Pozdorovkin and Mike Lerner, co-directors of a documentary about the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, tell Catherine Shoard why the group are being persecuted by the Russian Orthodox church – chiefly because they are women – and how we could all afford to be a little more radical
Click to watch: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/video/2013/jun/13/pussy-riot-documentary-persecuted-orthodox-video
Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer – first look review
Sheffield Doc/Fest kicks off with a film on Russia's feminist punk collective, an at-times unsubtle study of naivety forced into acuity
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 13 June 2013 12.02 BST
Link to video: Pussy Riot on Putin, 'punk prayers' and superheroeshttp://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2012/jul/29/pussy-riot-russia-interview-video
The best translation of the word "pussy", explains a man halfway through the opening night film of Sheffield Doc/Fest, is "deranged vagina". Other definitions include "kitten" and "uterus". He pussyfoots round actually saying the word, this man, sweaty in woolly beard and vast hat and "Orthodoxy or Death" T-shirt, and, when he does, it's impossible not to recall Sean Connery. Vowels, it turns out, can sound Scottish, said with a Russian accent.
One wouldn't have thought there was a lot more to goggle at in the saga of the feminist punk collective, three members of which were sentenced to two years in penal camps after a 40-second performance in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in February 2012. And yet directors Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin spike their summary with enough shocks to make even the well-acquainted gulp.
First, it has to be said, is the amateurism of the performance itself: an awful, attention-hustling racket, musically horrible, lyrically adolescent; poetry-free provocation. It's an ill-planned shambles – they've barely had time to strap on their guitars, let alone belt out the chorus ("Shit! Shit! It's God shit!") before they're hustled off by security guards. The second is the naivety of the band. These are kids, mostly in their early 20s, genuinely inspired by the Spice Girls, caught short by the hardline nature of the regime they were protesting against.
The regime raises its eyebrows; initial questions levelled by police at the women include whether they dream of getting married and having children, but the film also takes care to lay bare the broader cultural background. The orthodox men defame the Pussy Rioters as witches; their female counterparts despair of the girls' behaviour as unpatriotic vulgarity: "It's like someone walked into the heart of Russia and took a shit." Parallels peddled by the band between their experience and the Stalinist showtrials are then illustrated with archive footage, to ambiguous effect.
Yet the main surprise is the increasing poise of the young women themselves. Initially it's superficial – "I always look good," says the most telegenic, in reply to a compliment from her husband, the other side of the courtroom glass – but as the case proceeds and its implications for them, their families, and for Putin's image outside Russia, percolate down, so they wise up. They admit their failings – we're not saying we're ethically flawless, says one – and express genuine contrition for offence caused. By the end, they are speaking with enormous precision and passion, an intellectual rigour miles superior to the work that landed them in trouble in the first place. Being on the receiving end of Putin's wrath turns out to be something of a public-speaking boot camp.
The 90-minute documentary – granted theatrical release in the UK in a few weeks, but a HBO number in the US – is, have no doubt, modulated propaganda, that leaves you in no doubt which hymnbook you're supposed to sing from. Putin is seen drifting smoothly through corridors as scared lackeys salute; the girls are inevitably only shown in captivity, with sympathetic choruses from their parents. Difficult questions – about the young children of two of the three – are skirted around, and the spotlight stays with the key trio. Of the eight other members of the troupe, we hear and see nothing.
"Art is not a mirror to reflect the world, but a hammer with which to shape it," says the opening quote, from poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. A Punk Prayer holds up a glass that doesn't need to be quite so flattering, nor so selective, to hold our attention.
Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer (Pokazatelnyy Protsess: Istoriya Pussy Riot)
Production year: 2013
Country: Rest of the world
Runtime: 90 mins
Directors: Maxim Pozdorovkin, Mike Lerner