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« Reply #7020 on: Jun 19, 2013, 06:53 AM »

Brazilian politicians struggle with how to respond to another night of protests

Politicians warned of being 'on wrong side of history' as anger swells about state of nation and World Cup extravagance

Jonathan Watts and agencies, Wednesday 19 June 2013 07.55 BST   

Link to video: Brazil protests: violence flares in São Paulo

As demonstrations continued in Brazil for another night, President Dilma Rousseff attempted to co-ordinate a government response among senior officials who have been stunned by the scale of protests.

Keeping the pressure on the authorities, an estimated 50,000 people flooded Cathedral Square and other main streets in São Paulo for the second night running and rallies were reported in two other cities.

This followed Monday night's demonstrations in at least a dozen cities, which drew a quarter of a million people on to the streets.

Initially driven by opposition to a bus price hike, the marches have rapidly swollen to incorporate a range of grievances, including police brutality, inequality, corruption, dire public services and the extravagent preparations for next year's World Cup.

Faced by the biggest show of public frustration in more than 20 years, officials are struggling to grasp what is happening.

"It would be pretentious to say we understand what's going on," Gilberto Carvalho, Rousseff's secretary general, told a congressional hearing. "If we are not sensitive we'll be caught on the wrong side of history."

After bloody clashes on the streets last week, when police fired rubber bullets at demonstrators and journalists, Rousseff moved on Tuesday to placate the protestors.

"The voices of the street want more citizenship, health, transport, opportunities," said the president, who cut her political teeth in the 1960s as a Marxist guerrilla opposed to the military dictatorship. "My government wants to broaden access to education and health, understands that the demands of the people change."

Rousseff – who faces re-election next year – also convened a series of high-level meetings on Tuesday with her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and regional governors from São Paulo, RIo de Janeiro and Rio Grade de Sul.

According to the domestic media, she particularly praised the restraint of the police in São Paulo during Monday night's demonstrations – which was in marked contrast to the violence of their response the previous week. She is also reportedly pushing for a reduction of bus fares.

But with more protests planned in the coming days regional leaders are nervous. The governor of Minas Gerais, Antonio Anastasia, has asked the state to provide personnel from the National Force to strengthen public security in the face of the unrest. The government has agreed to dispatch 150 personnel, according to the Folha de São Paulo website.

Lucio Flavio Rodrigues de Almeida, a sociology professor at the Catholic University of São Paulo, said the authorities had so far responded only with repressive actions against protests that had morphed in character and size and were being organised by an amorphous social network rather than political parties.

"The strong repression, especially in São Paulo, increased the strength and sympathy for a protest movement that has successfully compared the spending on infrastructure for the Confederations Cup and the World Cup with small investments in public transportation," he said.

The vast majority of the protesters have been peaceful and many reported feeling elated at the mass and spontaneous movement to shake the government into action. On Tuesday marchers bore banners that called for reform, exclaimed "Dilma Out" and demanded an end of corruption.

One group attempted to break into the city hall, prompting police to use pepper spray to block their passage. Other demonstrators formed a human chain to hold back the attackers, chanting: "No violence!"

Television coverage of the protests – the sixth in São Paulo – showed a shop being looted and fires burning in the city centre. A TV van was overturned and set on fire and public transport was temporarily disrupted when protesters occupied and damaged a station control room and threw stones at a train.

Police said four people had been arrested in connection to the thefts of merchandise. It stressed that these were "isolated incidents caused by a small minority".

Crowds also gathered on Tuesday in Florianópolis, the Rio de Janeiro suburb of Sao Goncalo, and in Maringá, in northern Paraná state. Solidarity protests have been staged in several European countries including Britain, Portugal, Spain and Denmark.

Brazilian football players taking part in the Confederations Cup expressed support for the demonstrations. The Chelsea defender David Luiz said it was natural for people to express their opinion, while the midfielder Givanildo Vieira de Souza, known as Hulk, said the protesters were trying to improve things in the country.

"I come from the bottom of the social ladder and now I have a good life. I see these demonstrators and I know that they are right," Hulk told a press conference in Fortaleza. "We know that Brazil needs to improve in many areas and must let the demonstrators express themselves."

Bigger demonstrations are planned for Thursday in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and a wider number of municipalities than anything seen so far.


Brazil protests catch authorities on the back foot

New generation radicalised as protests sparked by fury at bus fare hike mushroom into vast rallies against failing public services and cost of World Cup

Jonathan Watts in Rio de Janeiro
The Guardian, Tuesday 18 June 2013 20.04 BST   

Link to video: Rio de Janeiro police 'fire teargas at protesters'

Brazilians woke up with a mix of euphoria, fear and confusion after the country's biggest night of protest in more than 20 years radicalised a new generation and left the established political class wondering how to react.

Vast demonstrations, in some cases of more than a 100,000 people, swept through at least a dozen major cities on Monday night, with protesters calling for better public services and an end to corruption.

With organisers now planning further protests, the authorities appear to be uncertain what to do next. Although police in some regions cracked down hard, President Dilma Rousseff praised the marchers.

"Brazil woke up stronger today," Rousseff said in a televised speech on Tuesday. "The size of yesterday's demonstrations shows the energy of our democracy, the strength of the voice of the streets and the civility of our population."

The scale is still being assessed. There are estimates of more than 100,000 in Rio, 50,000 in São Paulo and Belo Horizone, as well as many thousands elsewhere. Although these figures are contested, the combined total is likely to be bigger than any demonstration since former president Fernando Collor de Mello was forced from office in 1992.

An increase in bus fares was the spark last week that ignited much of the country, but the huge protests on Monday night were about far more than transport costs. "Far more than the rise in bus fares, this was a mostly peaceful demonstration against a broken transport system, insecurity and heavy investments being made in preparation for the mega sports events that are not mirrored by improvements of our precarious infrastructure," said Paula Paiva Paulo, one of the groups behind the demonstrations.

Many participants said they joined after seeing images of the police violence against protesters in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia last week.

Bruna Rodriguez was one of many students who joined a rally of tens of thousands in Belo Horizonte, which led to violent clashes with police when the protesters attempted to enter the football stadium where a Confederations Cup match was taking place between Nigeria and Tahiti.

"The police were brutal. Although we were chanting 'no violence', they shot people with rubber bullets and punched and beat them. The vast majority of demonstrators were peaceful, even though the Brazilian media are trying to show we were all vandals. That's not true," she said.

She is now planning to join the next march on Thursday. "It's important to fight for our rights. Brazil is a mess. We spend billions on new stadiums, but don't have good hospitals or schools even though we pay some of the highest taxes in the world."

Marcos Barros joined the protests after learning that his friend, Sergio Silva, had lost the sight of one eye after being shot with a rubber bullet during protests in São Paulo last week.

"He was a photojournalist just doing his job," he said. "It is outrageous that police, who are only supposed to target the legs and then under extreme circumstances, would shoot anyone in the eye, let alone a photographer." Others expressed relief and excitement about being able to express their frustration and desire for a better Brazil.

Tatyana Cardoso, a 32-year-old medical assistant in São Paulo, said she had never taken part in a major protest before. After seeing the violence at first hand last week, she felt obliged to participate.

"I think our police, unfortunately, are not prepared to deal with this kind of situation," she said. "I joined because I'm tired of the corruption in Brazil. There's so many wrong things and nobody does anything. We will host the World Cup, but we don't have a decent public transport, for example. Now I'm feeling extremely happy because I think the citizens discovered that something can be done."The demonstrations coincide with the Confederations Cup – a test event for six of the 12 new or expensively renovated stadiums for next year's World Cup. While football is almost a religion in Brazil, the World Cup has focused resentment on a range of issues, as people question why such huge sums are being spent on stadiums for an international event when the country still lacks basic healthcare and education for millions of its citizens.

Hackers from the Anonymous group disrupted the government's official World Cup site and changed the home pages of government websites to call on citizens to take to the streets.

During the protests, placards, graffiti and chants focused on social inequality, a shortage of doctors and teachers, shoddy public infrastructure, corruption, evictions for the World Cup and Olympics, overspends on stadiums and widespread frustration that – 28 years after the dictatorship and 10 years since the Workers' party took power – Brazil is still being run on behalf of an elite.

The marches started peacefully and remained that way for the vast majority. One demonstrator joined the protest in São Paulo bearing a banner reading: "I'm 82. I haven't come here to play." But there were also numerous clashes, as well as fires lit, windows smashed and fighting at the legislative assembly in Rio. State security officials reported 20 officers and nine protesters were injured there, according to O Globo newspaper.

Most of the targets were political: government buildings, regional assemblies and official residences. But there was also evident frustration towards the wider establishment. Windows were smashed at banks and notary offices. The mainstream media, particularly the dominant Globo news group, have also been criticised for their links to those in power, control over football broadcasting schedules and coverage of earlier unrest. Some Globo reporters appear to have removed the icon cubes from their microphones after online calls to target the station.

From their organisation via social networks to their size, the demonstrations bore a resemblance to mass demonstration in other nations. But the comparison with Turkey or the Arab Spring only goes so far, according to historian Marco Antonio Villa. "We live under a system of broad democratic freedoms. Unlike Turkey, we don't have religions involved in a political struggle. Unlike the Arab Spring, there is no theocratic dictatorship to fight against," he said. "In each city here, there is a different cause. But there is a general feeling of exhaustion, of anger, of being fed up with the incompetence, corruption of those in power who had turned their back on the nation."

Some local governments are now offering concessions to the protesters. Officials in the southern city of Porto Alegre and Recife in the north-east have announced plans to lower bus fares.

For Rousseff, the demonstrations should be a wake-up call. Although her ratings are still high at 57%, according to the latest Datafolha poll, they have slipped for the first time since she took office in 2011. The economy is moribund and inflation has pushed prices up by more than 15% over the past 20 months. "My government hears the voices clamouring for change, my government is committed to social transformation," Rousseff said. "Those who took to the streets yesterday sent a clear message to all of society, above all to political leaders at all levels of government."


Will Brazil be left counting the cost of hosting the World Cup and Olympics?

Opinion is divided on whether money spent on construction could be used more profitably on health and education

Jonathan Watts, Latin America correspondent, Tuesday 11 June 2013 11.11 BST   

The growing influence of the Brics nations in world affairs was symbolised by the staging of the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and the World Cup in South Africa 2010, and will be further underlined by Brazil's forthcoming hosting of both events.

Leaving aside the public relations value of putting these host countries in the global spotlight, they have tried to use these mega-events to boost development by accelerating investments in infrastructure and lifting services, governance and local business to international standards.

However, the cost to the public purse and the communities affected can be enormous, prompting criticism that the money would be better spent at grassroots level, on improving health and education, rather than on awarding prestige projects to construction companies.

South Africa and Beijing have been left with expensive white elephants, because the huge stadiums they constructed are now rarely used. Many believe Brazil might suffer the same drain on resources.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) now includes legacy issues in its regulations for the assessment of hosting bids, but Fifa makes no such formal consideration in deciding which nations should stage the World Cup.

Nádia Campeão, the deputy mayor of São Paulo, which will host several matches next year, said Fifa should do more to take the legacy issue into account. "But even if it is not worried, the host city should be," she said. "There has to be more assessment of their demands. Do we really need to do everything?"

Campeão, along with most participants in a panel debate on the subject, said the mega-events were worth the expense.

"Developing countries and cities like São Paulo still have a lot to do, but the big events can help us," she said. "The benefits are not just in tourism and business, but reach all the way through society. They create jobs, which our young people need, and reach all the working population."

Liu Kang, of Shanghai Jiaotong University, said the Beijing Games was an important step in China's efforts to gain greater acceptance in the international community.

"It's worthwhile," said Liu. "The intangible effect is enormous … This is especially important for China, India and Brazil to put us under [the] international spotlight and to show that there is more to these countries than economic capacity."

But there were dissenting voices. Letícia Osório of the Ford Foundation said many people in Rio have become worse off because of forced evictions for sports-related construction projects. Rather than help poor communities, she said the Olympic development was focused on boosting real-estate prices in upmarket Barra, where the infrastructure improvements are largely focused.

The city, said Osório, also suffered a wasteful drain on public funds in hosting the Pan American Games in 2007. Many of the facilities built for that event, at great cost, subsequently proved inadequate for the Olympics and had to be demolished or rebuilt.

A key problem, according to Osório, was that the IOC, Fifa and the local organisers failed to consult adequately with local communities.

"They need to get civil society involved in discussions," she said. "That's true for the government, but Fifa and the IOC also have to change the way they assess bids to include human rights and better values."


Brazil protests take to the pitch as People's Cup highlights evictions

Tournament aims to showcase the concerns of locals who say they are being forced from their homes to make way for World Cup stadiums and Olympic developments

Jonathan Watts in Rio de Janeiro, Tuesday 18 June 2013 11.15 BST   

Physically, it's only a few kilometres away from the Maracanã stadium, but in symbolism, the People's Cup could not be much further removed from the mega sporting events now being staged in Rio de Janeiro and other Brazilian cities.

Instead of the World Cup success story of new stadiums, corporate sponsors and wealthy football stars, it is a protest event staged in a run-down community centre, backed by civil rights groups and played out by those who feel the 2014 finals and 2016 Olympics are being used to push them further down the social lower divisions.

The event was a foretaste of the widespread protests that have hit Brazil. On Monday, more than 100,000 people took to the streets across the country to protest against the high costs of the World Cup and poor public services.

The People's Cup brings together teams from communities that are threatened with relocation by the sporting, transport and housing developments that are now under way in preparation for the upcoming sporting events.

Their banners are tied to the netting around the small, ripped-up, artificial pitch – Vila Autódromo FC, SOS Providência, Comunidade Indiana Tijuca and others representing the estimated 29,000 people who are at risk of losing their homes.

"This is football as a form of protest. We want to remind people that the authorities are using the World Cup and the Olympics to make illegal changes to the city," says Mario Capagnani, who is among the organisers from the Comite Popular Copa e Olimpíados.

The mini-tournament between 10 male and four female teams is timed to coincide with the Confederations Cup, which brings together the continental football champions. The first match of this World Cup test event took place on Saturday at a stadium in Brasilia that cost 1bn reals (£320m).

It is one of 12 venues that have either been built from scratch or lavishly renovated for next year. The government says it wants to use these facilities and the associated improvements of transport, communications and other infrastructure to boost development.

Rio, which will also host the Olympics, has some of the most ambitious plans, including four rapid bus lines, a subway extension, four new highways, the creation of a huge green space at Park Madeira, and new "smart city" command and control centres for the police and other social services.

It has refurbished the Maracanã stadium at a cost of 1bn reals and is now building projects for the Olympics, including an athletes village, Brazil's first public golf course and arenas for handball and rugby. Bigger still is development of the long neglected port area, which will be used in the short term for some Olympic media facilities and accommodation, but is later planned as the home of a dynamic commercial centre including two to five Trump Towers.

Few doubt that the upgrades are necessary, but civil rights groups question whether the money has been used as well as it should be and whether the rights of long-term residents and poor communities are being adequately addressed.

Among the most contentious issues is that surrounding Vila Autódromo, a poor community in the west of the city that is close to the site of the Olympic village. The government has said the residents must move because they are inside what will become the security perimeter. Locals contest this and believe they are being pushed out because the Olympic village will later become an up-market residential compound.

"The Olympics only last 27 days so this is really all about real estate speculation not sport," says Altair Antunes Cumarães, head of the residents' group. "The big construction companies are behind it … For 20 years, they have been trying to move us because there is no more space in the South Zone for the upper middle class so they are looking here."

Antunes, a construction worker who formerly lived in the City of God on Rio's outskirts, says the government has offered his family a new home, but it is less than a 10th of the size of his current house.

The government says its offer is better than this and that the alternative homes will be in modern social housing with better facilities. But many locals say the new places are smaller and far away, which means their communities will be broken up, and they will have no help restarting businesses or finding work.

The organisers of the football protest claim some people in other areas, such as Largo do Tanque, have been given just a month to move and paid only 30,000 reals compensation.

Near the huge port area, they say many run-down, empty buildings have been commandeered for years by housing movements to provide shelter to poor and homeless people. These groups will be relocated.

In nearby Providência, many people are being moved for the construction of a cable car and on the grounds of geological instability (landslides are a deadly problem for many Rio hillside favelas). But in this case too, civil rights groups suspect the government is relocating more people than necessary so it can clear the centre of the city for business and higher-value residences.

The municipal government disputes this. It says there are no forced evictions and that development is aimed at improving run-down areas and providing better transport and other services for poor communities. The World Cup and Olympics, it says, will accelerate the shift towards a safer and more modern Rio.

But Witness, a civil rights group, says 170,000 Brazilians are at risk of losing – or have already lost – their homes in forced evictions tied to preparations for the World Cup and Olympics. It says the phenomenon is not limited to Brazil or to major sporting events: an estimated 15 million people globally are forcibly uprooted from their homes each year.

Rio wants to demonstrate that it is a modern and tolerant society. But the debate is far from over, nor is the contest to find meaning in the mega-events that are reshaping the city.

"We want to show how people are being threatened. The World Cup is not just a happy get-together. Many people are at risk of losing their homes," says Giselle Tanaka, a urban planner and activist. "But this is also about having fun. Football is not just about commercial opportunities and sales of brands. Here we show the pure pleasure of sport."

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« Reply #7021 on: Jun 19, 2013, 06:55 AM »

June 18, 2013

A-List Celebration Traces Leader’s Trajectory, and Israel’s


JERUSALEM — Barbra Streisand did not, as many here had been hoping or openly joking about, don a white fur coat and purr, “Happy birthday, Mr. President.” Instead, Ms. Streisand offered a pleading rendition of “Avinu Malkeinu,” a hymn from the Yom Kippur liturgy requested by the president in question, Shimon Peres, who said he cannot hear her sing it without crying.

There was no cake or candles, only scant canapés, at this gala in honor of Mr. Peres, who is already the world’s oldest leader and turns 90 in August. There were former statesmen (Bill Clinton, Tony Blair), celebrities (Robert DeNiro, Sharon Stone), scholars and scions (five Nobel laureates and authors of 1,412 books, all with a collective net worth topping $24 billion, according to organizers), gathered here at Jerusalem’s convention center to fete Mr. Peres, whose public life has paralleled that of the modern state of Israel.

“We, in Britain, have our queen, and you have your Shimon,” declared Mr. Blair, the Middle East envoy and former British prime minister. Mr. Clinton cracked that Mr. Peres was “the last living Israeli who knew King David,” and had promised to attend Mr. Clinton’s 90th birthday (he would be 113) and speak at his funeral.

They came from across the globe — or sent in glowing video tributes — for a grandfatherly figure whose post is largely ceremonial, with little ability to forge peace with the Palestinians. Long derided across Israel’s political spectrum as a schemer and serial election loser, Mr. Peres has grown in popularity as he has become a symbol of a distant peace. So Tuesday’s two-hour tribute was a hot ticket for the local crowd, and a way for mostly left-leaning international figures to gain the benefits of supporting Israel without wading deeply into its divisive politics.

“We have buried people we loved together, we have celebrated great hopes, we have endured great disappointments,” Mr. Clinton said. “I have watched you in sunshine and storm,” he continued. “And the thing that I love most about you is a remarkable combination of mind and heart.”

In this relentlessly informal nation where people wear flip-flops to Parliament, women were decked out in little black dresses, strappy six-inch sandals and sparkly baubles, though many men stubbornly stuck to shirt-sleeves. (“Why would I wear a tie?” asked Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, though he included his favorite expletive. “I didn’t even bring one.”) There were ministers and moguls, rabbis and raconteurs, a tall blonde model with a plunging neckline, a religious soldier with sidecurls and an Intel executive inexplicably donning a black beret.

The 2,800 guests — including a who’s who of American Jewish leaders — were asked to arrive as early as 4:30 p.m. to get through security for a show that started at 9, so the tiny mushroom tarts and eggplant puffs at the V.I.P. reception went fast. “Where’d you find that?” Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the 85-year-old psychosexual therapist, asked in Hebrew to a young man holding a finger sandwich. She followed him to the small buffet of potato chips, guacamole and salsa, and emerged with three barren rolls, one already bitten into.

“I hate stand-ups,” lamented Abraham Foxman, the director of the Anti-Defamation League, as the celebration entered its third hour. “See and be seen,” he added. “It’s like you can’t afford not to be here.”

In a career spanning 66 years, the Polish-born Mr. Peres served two short stints as prime minister of Israel, played a major role in arms procurement and is credited with creating Israel’s nuclear program. After helping establish early Jewish settlements in the heart of the West Bank, he shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the Oslo accords with the Palestinians. A protégé of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, Mr. Peres is the last of the state’s founding fathers still in office, and in recent months has strained the largely ceremonial contours of his role by speaking out on the urgency of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and against a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program.

In an interview last week, Mr. Peres said that he had no regrets, “because the past for sure is unchangeable,” and that he would not retire when his term expires next year because it is “better to die than to live as a bored person.”

Tuesday’s party kicked off a $3 million conference, financed by 40 individuals and foundations, and expected to draw some 5,000 people for two days of brainstorming and networking around the broad theme of “Facing Tomorrow.” It came after a public brouhaha over a separate speech Monday night at the Peres Academic Center, a private college, for which Mr. Clinton was originally scheduled to be paid $500,000 and guests charged $800. The British physicist and cosmologist Stephen W. Hawking also pulled out of the conference to protest Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.

Mr. Peres, in a dark suit and crimson tie, sat between his onetime rival Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mr. Clinton, and gamely joined in for the chorus of “Jerusalem of Gold.” Throughout, he looked somewhat overwhelmed.

Virtually everyone who took the stage — including Mr. Netanyahu — spoke about peace. There was even a “Give Peace a Chance” singalong. Video greetings poured in from world leaders, Peres descendants, Facebook users and children translating “Happy Birthday” to Turkish, Arabic, Latvian, Ukrainian and Mongolian. Also: Bono.

At one point, Yusef Jarajeh, a Palestinian from Hebron, took the stage after a video showing the lifesaving surgery he had in an Israeli hospital shortly after his birth. It was arranged by the Peres Center for Peace.

“Thank you, Shimon Peres,” Yusef said, “and I wish we would have peace.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: June 19, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated one of the attendees at a gala in honor of President Shimon Peres of Israel. Mikhail Gorbachev did not attend the event.

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« Reply #7022 on: Jun 19, 2013, 06:56 AM »

June 18, 2013

Rebels in North Mali Sign Peace Deal Allowing In Government Troops


DAKAR, Senegal — Nomadic rebels whose revolt in northern Mali last year split the West African nation signed a peace deal Tuesday with the government, resolving a stumbling block to the country’s reconstruction.

The rebels of the Tuareg ethnic group had been clinging to swaths of Mali’s desert north, refusing to disarm or allow the country’s army to enter Kidal, a dusty Sahara outpost near the Algerian border. The peace accord, which calls for the deployment of the Malian Army there, followed a French military intervention at the beginning of the year that itself went some way to putting the fractured country back together.

That intervention did not go all the way, however, and the accord signed Tuesday in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, now appears to resolve the last major sticking point. The agreement also helps clear the way for elections in late July. International donors, whose billions of dollars in promised aid is vital to Mali’s reconstruction, have been calling for elections.

Before a recent series of military confrontations, Mali had been one of West Africa’s most stable nations. In January and February, the French chased out Al Qaeda-allied Islamists, who took over Mali’s north last year. But they did not dislodge the Tuaregs, rankling the government and population in Bamako, the capital.

It was the Tuareg uprising in January 2012 — the latest in a long series of revolts by the Tuaregs dating to the 1960s — and the subsequent rout of the Malian Army that paved the way for the Islamist takeover.

For weeks after the French effectively chased the Islamists out of Mali, the Tuaregs hung on in Kidal, proclaiming their sovereignty. The government announced its intention to retake Kidal by force, if necessary. The agreement Tuesday halts that military campaign. A draft circulated last week called for the “progressive deployment of the Malian Army in Kidal.”

The Malian government’s chief negotiator, Tiébilé Dramé, said Tuesday night that “the agreement re-establishes the international consensus that Malian territory is indivisible and that the state is secular.”

“Even the former separatists have recognized that the national territory can’t be divided,” he said from Ouagadougou.

Mr. Dramé said no concessions on the issue of sovereignty had been made to the rebels. “I think they saw that things were not going in their favor,” he said.
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« Reply #7023 on: Jun 19, 2013, 07:00 AM »

Syria crisis: France open to Iran attending Geneva talks

Matthew Weaver, Wednesday 19 June 2013 08.36 BST   

8.35am BST

Middle East Live is now primarily a forum for readers to share links and offer commentary on developments in the Middle East and North Africa. Please post your comments below.

Here's a roundup of the latest news and commentary:


• French President Francois Hollande opened the door to Iran attending a proposed Syria peace conference in Geneva, but reiterated that there was no future for the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. Paris had previously ruled out Iran taking part. But speaking to reporters at the G8 summit Hollande said: "On the presence of Iran, let's wait for the new president to speak and let's see if he can be constructive. My view is that if he is constructive, then yes he will be welcome."

• The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is willing to see the removal of Assad, but only if it leads to a balanced government and not a dangerous power vacuum of the kind seen in Iraq, British officials believe after two days of intensive talks at the G8 summit. Putin blocked any reference in the subsequent communique to the removal of Assad, but British officials believe the talks have opened the way for a peace settlement if more can be done to organise the Syrian opposition forces politically and militarily.
David Cameron, speaking at the close of the G8 summit in Belfast, says leaders from the eight richest countries have made agreements over a strategy to end the Syrian crisis. The prime minister outlines seven pledges made between the countries, including $1.5bn of money in aid from the international community

• The G8 communique on Syria barely papered over the cracks of international divisions on the crisis, writes Ian Black.

    The G8 politics of the lowest common denominator mean that diplomatic efforts to convene the Geneva negotiations will continue – though their prospects and timing are still uncertain.

    Assad, making significant military gains with the support of Lebanon's Hezbollah, has pledged to send a delegation but the opposition remains divided and deeply reluctant.

    In one sign of change, however, France's François Hollande said he believed that Iran's moderate president-elect, Hassan Rouhani, could be invited — a signal of goodwill towards Tehran.

    Otherwise, the predictable failure in Enniskillen shows there has been little progress since the first Geneva conference in June 2012. Assad, then as now, refuses to negotiate his own departure, insisting he will still be around in 2014.


• The Syrian conflict again spilled over into neighbouring Lebanon when one man was killed and three injured in clashes in Sidon between supporters of Salafist Sheikh Ahmad Assir and a pro-Hezbollah group, Lebanon's Daily Star reports. The Lebanese Army forced rival gunmen to pull out of the streets after three hours of clashes involving mortar and rocket-propelled grenades. The clashes created panic among the residents and brought life in Sidon to a standstill as many shops closed.

• Lebanon's caretaker minister for social affairs has accused Assad's forces of ethnic cleansing of Sunni Muslims by deliberately pushing them across the border. Wael Abu Faour told Reuters that during the 27-month-old conflict Syrian forces had committed what was "tantamount to ethnic cleansing next to the Syrian-Lebanese border". He added: "(Assad) is trying to displace all the Sunnis to Lebanon and this is why I expect to have more displaced people.

• A lawyer for Saif al-Islam Gaddafi has accused the authorities in his country of showing a "blatant disregard" for the international criminal court by announcing they will put him on trial in August. In an urgent submission to the Hague-based court, the British lawyer John Jones asked appeal judges to reject Libya's request to suspend an order that Tripoli surrender Gaddafi to the court.

• The Prime Minister of Qatar is expected to move to Britain when he steps down from office, according to the Times. Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani has told bankers in Doha of his plans to depart for Britain once the reshuffle of Qatar’s ruling elite begins, it said.

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« Reply #7024 on: Jun 19, 2013, 07:02 AM »

Winds on Venus have accelerated to 250 mph over the past six years

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, June 18, 2013 18:12 EDT

Already travelling at super-hurricane speeds, winds on Venus have accelerated by an astonishing one-third over the past six years, the European Space Agency (ESA) reported on Tuesday.

Separate teams of astronomers analysed images from ESA’s Venus Express orbiter, monitoring cloud patterns on our closest neighbour.

When Venus Express started operations in 2006, high-altitude winds between latitudes 50 degrees either side of the equator were recorded at about 300 kilometres (187 miles) per hour on average, they found.

These winds have progressively increased and now are running at almost 400 kph (250 mph).

The probe was carried out by a team led by Igor Khatuntsev from the Space Research Institute in Moscow and another led by Toru Kouyama of Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology.

Just a fraction smaller than Earth, Venus was once touted as a sister planet to ours and, in early science fiction, was portrayed as a potential home from home.

But in 1970, it was found to host an atmosphere of carbon dioxide with a pressure 90 times that on Earth and a surface cooked to 457 degrees Celsius (855 degrees Fahrenheit), possibly the result of runaway global warming.

Its wind system is a yellowish brew of toxic gases that reach their highest speed at the altitude of the cloud tops, some 70 kilometres (44 miles) above the scorching volcanic plains.

These winds are especially intriguing because they are “super-rotating,” meaning that they travel dozens of times faster than the planet’s spin.

The rotation of Venus is agonisingly slow — it takes the equivalent of 243 Earth days to complete a single Venusian day.

Further work is needed to explain the bizarre increase in wind speeds, and whether this phenomenon is long-lasting.

“This is an enormous increase in the already high wind speeds known in the atmosphere,” ESA quoted Khatuntsev as saying.

“Such a large variation has never before been known on Venus, and we do not yet understand why this occurred.”

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« Reply #7025 on: Jun 19, 2013, 07:06 AM »

The Christian Science Monitor

What's that thing in Uranus's orbit – and how did it get there?

Scientists have located three Centaurs – asteroid-comet hybrids – in Uranus's orbit, including one that's moving oddly in the planet's wake.

By Pete Spotts, Staff writer / June 18, 2013 at 4:16 pm EDT

The planet Uranus – already an odd duck for its upended rings and spin axis that means it is spinning on its side – is being chased by two asteroids and is chasing another. One of the asteroids is in an unexpected orbit, by some estimates

As a group, the trio presents a puzzle, because these co-orbiting objects are far fewer than those found orbiting with two other gas giants, Neptune and Jupiter, according to a new study. Some calculations have suggested Uranus shouldn't have any at all.

Solving that riddle could yield additional insights into processes that took place early in the solar system's history as well as test ideas about the evolution of the motions of solar system objects humans see today, notes Scott Kenyon, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics whose work focuses on star and solar-system formation.

Depending on the objects' composition and orbital traits, asteroids co-orbiting a planet could represent building blocks left over from the formation of the planet itself, or they may have migrated from somewhere else, only to occupy their current orbits until something disturbs their trajectory and they move on.

The asteroids co-orbiting Uranus belong to a class known as Centaurs. Centaurs, discovered in the 1920s, tend to orbit among the outer planets – those beyond Mars. They represent a cross between asteroids and comets, with two showing halos of gas similar to a comet's coma. By some estimates, the solar system hosts 44,000 of these objects larger than 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) across. The largest is 260 km (160 miles) wide and orbits between Saturn and Uranus.

Two of the three objects co-orbiting Uranus were discovered between 2002 and 2010. A team of Canadian and French astronomers reported the discovery of the third in March.

Of the three objects, 83982 Crantor was the target of the new study, conducted by researchers Carlos and Raul de la Fuente Marcos at The Complutense University in Madrid.

The object turns out to be one of the ruddiest bodies in the solar system – its reddish hue suggesting the presence of hydrocarbon particles known as tholins, similar to those on Saturn's moon Titan. In addition, 83982 Crantor appears to have water ice and methanol on its surface.

The two researchers were particularly interested in the object's orbit. After running their calculations, the scientists found that, as seen from Uranus's orbital path, 83982 Crantor appears to trace an enormous corkscrew pattern during its travels. When the orbit of this 41-mile wide object is traced relative to the sun and Uranus, it takes on the appearance of loop bent into the shape of a giant horse shoe, rather than forming an ellipse.

The odd shape results from changes in the asteroid's acceleration as it travels. The orbit is “controlled by the sun and Uranus but is unstable due to disturbances from nearby Saturn,” said Carlos de la Fuente Marcos in a prepared statement. It's the close encounters with Uranus, however, that affect the orbit in ways that make it appear as a horse shoe along a path in which the asteroid appears to catch up with, then lag the planet.

In 2006, Uruguayan astronomer Tabaré Gallardo suggested that 83982 Crantor had the same orbital period Uranus did. But another pair of scientists calculated that Uranus was incapable of attracting and holding – even temporarily – anything in an orbit that would share the planet's orbital period. That would help explain the paucity of co-orbiting objects that are far more abundant with Neptune and Jupiter.

But the calculations by the de la Fuente Marcoses indicate that Dr. Gallardo was correct. Indeed, the object reported by the Canadian and French team in March also appears to be co-orbiting with the same orbital period Uranus has – caught in a gravitational sweet spot between Uranus and the sun stable enough to maintain the asteroid's relative position ahead of Uranus throughout their orbits.

Indeed, the de la Fuente Marcoses suggest 83982 Crantor could represent "a Rosetta Stone" for solving the mystery of outer-planet co-orbiting asteroids.

The duo's calculations also suggest that the 83982 Crantor is a transitory object on cosmic timescales, not one that is part of the debris left over from Uranus's formation.

* 0618-Uranus-Centaurs_full_380.jpg (4.53 KB, 380x253 - viewed 26 times.)
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« Reply #7026 on: Jun 19, 2013, 07:09 AM »

NASA wants citizen astronomers to help hunt for deadly asteroids

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, June 18, 2013 19:20 EDT

NASA announced a Grand Challenge on Tuesday to enlist government agencies, industry, academics and citizen astronomers in the hunt for asteroids that could cause massive destruction.

The US space agency said the challenge would complement another recently announced project to use a robot to redirect an asteroid into the Moon’s orbit so astronauts could visit the object and study it.

“NASA already is working to find asteroids that might be a threat to our planet, and while we have found 95 percent of the large asteroids near the Earth’s orbit, we need to find all those that might be a threat to Earth,” NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said in a statement.

The challenge “is focused on detecting and characterizing asteroids and learning how to deal with potential threats,” she added.

“We will also harness public engagement, open innovation and citizen science to help solve this global problem.”

Grand Challenges are part of a White House strategy to set ambitious goals and mobilize scientists and the general public behind them.

“Finding asteroid threats, and having a plan for dealing with them, needs to be an all-hands-on-deck effort,” said Tom Kalil, deputy director at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

“The efforts of private-sector partners and our citizen scientists will augment the work NASA already is doing to improve near-Earth object detection capabilities.”

The challenge also includes a request for information from private industry on how to locate, redirect and explore an asteroid, as well as planning for potential asteroid threats.

In line with a goal set by Congress in 1998, NASA has already discovered and recorded around 95 percent of the asteroids whose diameter is at least 0.6 mile (a kilometer) and that can cause massive destruction.

NASA insists such collisions are quite rare and says it has detected no threats in the foreseeable future.

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« Reply #7027 on: Jun 19, 2013, 07:28 AM »

In the USA...

June 18, 2013

Extending a Hand Abroad, Obama Often Finds a Cold Shoulder


WASHINGTON — Over porterhouse steak and cherry pie at a desert estate in California earlier this month, President Obama delivered a stern lecture to President Xi Jinping about China’s disputes with its neighbors. If it is going to be a rising power, he scolded, it needs to behave like one.

The next morning, Mr. Xi punched back, accusing the United States of the same computer hacking tactics it attributed to China. It was, Mr. Obama acknowledged, “a very blunt conversation.”

Ten days later, in Northern Ireland, Mr. Obama had another tough meeting with a prickly leader, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. At odds with him over the Syrian civil war, Mr. Obama tried to lighten the mood by joking about how age was depleting their athletic skills. Mr. Putin, a decade older and fending off questions at home about his health, seemed sensitive on the point. “The president just wants to get me to relax,” he said with a taut smile.

While tangling with the leaders of two cold war antagonists of the United States is nothing new, the two bruising encounters in such a short span underscore a hard reality for Mr. Obama as he heads deeper into a second term that may come to be dominated by foreign policy: his main counterparts on the world stage are not his friends, and they make little attempt to cloak their disagreements in diplomatic niceties.

Even his friends are not always so friendly. On Wednesday, for example, the president is to meet in Berlin with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who has invited him to deliver a speech at the Brandenburg Gate. But Ms. Merkel is also expected to press Mr. Obama about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, which offend privacy-minded Germans.

For all of his effort to cultivate personal ties with foreign counterparts over the last four and a half years — the informal “shirt-sleeves summit” with Mr. Xi was supposed to nurture a friendly rapport that White House aides acknowledge did not materialize — Mr. Obama has complicated relationships with some, and has bet on others who came to disappoint him.

“In Europe, especially, Obama was welcomed with open arms, and some people had unrealistic expectations about him,” said R. Nicholas Burns, a longtime senior American diplomat. Noting that Mr. Obama continued some unpopular policies like the use of drones, he said, “People don’t appreciate that American interests continue from administration to administration.”

White House officials said Mr. Obama’s meetings with Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin were productive, regardless of the atmospherics. One of the president’s most problematic relationships, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, has improved since he visited Jerusalem in March, with their differences over Iran’s nuclear program narrowing.

Still, for a naturally reserved president who has assiduously cultivated a handful of leaders, it has been a dispiriting stretch.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, whom Mr. Obama views as a new kind of Muslim leader, has used tear gas and water cannons against protesters in Istanbul. Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader whom Mr. Obama telephoned repeatedly after he became president of Egypt, later granted himself unlimited powers, though he also cut off ties with Syria.

Mr. Obama spent nearly four years befriending Mr. Putin’s predecessor, Dmitri A. Medvedev, hoping to build him up as a counterweight to Mr. Putin. That never happened, and Mr. Obama now finds himself back at square one with a Russian leader who appears less likely than ever to find common ground with the United States on issues like Syria.

Administration officials argue that their bet on Mr. Medvedev made sense at the time and yielded benefits, not just in an arms treaty but also in Russian support for sanctions against Iran, acquiescence to the NATO operation in Libya and agreement to allow American troops to travel through Russian airspace to Afghanistan.

While White House officials worry about Mr. Morsi’s authoritarian tendencies, they note that he was helpful in brokering a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Mr. Erdogan’s troubles, they said, do not obscure the fact that at Mr. Obama’s behest, he and Mr. Netanyahu agreed to mend the frayed ties between Turkey and Israel.

As for Mr. Xi, officials said, the body language matters less than the fact that he and Mr. Obama were able to discuss the most difficult issues between China and the United States. On one — how to deal with a nuclear North Korea — they appeared to make progress.

“You don’t need to be buddies with someone to establish an effective relationship,” said Mr. Burns, who now teaches at Harvard. “Not everyone can be Roosevelt and Churchill forming a personal bond to end the Second World War.”

Even with friends, however, there is tension. President François Hollande of France was initially thrilled with Mr. Obama because he saw him as an ally against Ms. Merkel on economic issues.

But by the time they met at the Group of 8 summit meeting in Northern Ireland on Tuesday, the relationship had soured, according to French analysts, because France is frustrated that the United States did not do more to help with the war in Mali and resisted a more robust response to Syria.

Mr. Obama differs from his most recent predecessors, who made personal relationships with leaders the cornerstone of their foreign policies. The first George Bush moved gracefully in foreign capitals, while Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush related to fellow leaders as politicians, trying to understand their pressures and constituencies.

“That’s not President Obama’s style,” said James B. Steinberg, Mr. Clinton’s deputy national security adviser and Mr. Obama’s deputy secretary of state.

Such relationships matter, Mr. Steinberg said, but they are not the driving force behind a leader’s decision making. “They do what they believe is in the interest of their country and they’re not going to do it differently just because they have a good relationship with another leader,” he said.

For Mr. Obama, no relationship is more prickly, and yet more significant, than that with Mr. Putin. Mr. Clinton and Mr. Bush forged strong partnerships with their Russian counterparts, Boris Yeltsin and Mr. Putin, respectively. But even that did not prevent ruptures over NATO military action in Kosovo and the Russian war in Georgia.

Mr. Obama arrived in office determined to invest in Mr. Medvedev, but he underestimated Mr. Putin’s continuing power. Their first meeting was marked by a nearly hourlong lecture by Mr. Putin about all the ways the United States had offended Moscow. At their second, Mr. Putin kept Mr. Obama waiting 30 minutes.

“Obama doesn’t really take kindly to being harangued, so we knew from the beginning that he and Putin weren’t going to have a good basis together,” said Fiona Hill, a former top American analyst about Russia and co-author of a book on Mr. Putin.

However strained their appearance on Monday, Mr. Obama did not publicly criticize Mr. Putin on human rights or the rule of law. While the White House is frustrated by Russia’s refusal to abandon Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, Mr. Obama has been reluctant to intervene more forcefully on behalf of the rebels.

As Ms. Hill noted, even Mr. Bush’s friendship did not stop Mr. Putin from crossing him. “With Obama,” she said, “there’s no pretense of personal chemistry, and the results may be the same.”

David M. Herszenhorn contributed reporting from Moscow.


June 18, 2013

Immigration Law Changes Seen Cutting Billions From Deficit


WASHINGTON — Congressional budget analysts, providing a positive economic assessment of proposed immigration law changes, said Tuesday that legislation to overhaul the nation’s immigration system would cut close to $1 trillion from the federal deficit over the next two decades and lead to more than 10 million new legal residents in the country.

A long-awaited analysis by the Congressional Budget Office found that the benefits of an increase in legal residents from immigration legislation currently being debated in the Senate — which includes a pathway to citizenship — would outweigh the costs. While the report was a clear victory for immigration proponents, it came just hours after Speaker John A. Boehner raised potential new obstacles for the bill, saying he would not bring any immigration measure to the floor unless it had the support of a majority of House Republicans.

The report estimates that in the first decade after the immigration bill is carried out, the net effect of adding millions of additional taxpayers would decrease the federal budget deficit by $197 billion. Over the next decade, the report found, the deficit reduction would be even greater — an estimated $700 billion, from 2024 to 2033. The deficit reduction figures for the first decade do not take into account $22 billion in the discretionary spending required to implement the bill, however, making the savings slightly lower.

The report was immediately seized on by backers of the bill as a significant boost to its prospects. Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, one of the bill’s authors, said the report “debunks the idea that immigration reform is anything other than a boon to our economy.”

The budget office also found that in the next decade the legislation would lead to a net increase of about 10.4 million permanent legal residents and 1.6 million temporary workers and their dependents, as well as a decrease of about 1.6 million unauthorized residents.

Conservatives had expected that an analysis of the second decade — when immigrants would begin to qualify for federal benefits — would bolster their argument that the costs of an immigration overhaul were unwieldy, but that turned out not to be the case in the economic analysis.

Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, a leading opponent of the bill, said that its authors used “scoring gimmicks” in order to conceal the “true cost from taxpayers.” “As a result, the score effectively conceals some of the biggest long-term costs to taxpayers contained in this legislation, including providing illegal immigrants with Medicaid, food stamps and cash welfare,” Mr. Sessions said.

Earlier Tuesday, Mr. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, tried to put to rest discussion that he would consider pushing through an immigration bill with a combination of Democrats and a minority of receptive Republicans in the House, where conservative Republican sentiment runs strongly against allowing those who entered the country illegally to qualify for legal status.

“I also suggested to our members today that any immigration reform bill that is going to go into law ought to have a majority of both parties’ support if we’re really serious about making that happen, and so I don’t see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn’t have a majority support of Republicans,” Mr. Boehner said at a news conference after meeting with House Republicans.

Mr. Boehner’s comments, both privately in the meeting at the Capitol Hill Club and publicly, came as some House Republicans have begun to draw a firm and vocal line in the sand, warning Mr. Boehner that his speakership could be at risk if he tries to force through an immigration bill without his conference’s support.

In an interview with World Net Daily radio on Monday, Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California, said Mr. Boehner “should be removed as speaker” if, on immigration, he violates the “Hastert rule” — an unofficial principle named for J. Dennis Hastert, a former Republican speaker who would rarely allow a vote on a bill that did not have the support of a majority of his conference.

Though Mr. Boehner has passed measures with a minority of Republicans several times this year — to help avert a fiscal showdown, provide relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy and pass the Violence Against Women Act — he explicitly said on Tuesday that he would not take up an immigration bill without the support of a majority of his party.

Mr. Boehner’s comments will make it harder for him to buck conservatives on an immigration overhaul, something that many party leaders consider crucial for Republicans hoping to regain their national standing with Hispanic voters. His position will also make it harder to strike a deal between the House and the Senate on a final immigration measure if the legislative process gets that far.

In insisting on a measure that most of his members can support, Mr. Boehner is calling for legislation that is likely to contain border security requirements and limits on attaining legal status that many Democrats and other proponents of new legislation will resist.

Mr. Boehner is well aware of the difficult political situation he finds himself in. When asked if he believed he could lose his job if he violated the Hastert rule on immigration, he said, to laughter, “Maybe.” Mr. Boehner would not initially say whether he would also require majority Republican support on any legislation to emerge from negotiations with the Senate over a final bill.

“We’ll see when we get there,” he said. But his staff later clarified that he would not violate the Hastert rule on anything coming out of conference, either.

Mr. Boehner’s comments come as conservative Republicans are increasingly worried about how the immigration bill will be handled in the House. Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, a leading opponent of the immigration overhaul making its way through the Senate, plans to hold a six-hour news conference outside the Capitol on Wednesday to voice his concerns about the current bill. The House continued a piecemeal approach to immigration changes with the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee formally drafting a measure opposed by Democrats that would grant states and localities the authority to enforce federal immigration laws.

Erin Banco contributed reporting.


Conservative Republican at IRS casts doubt on conspiracy to target tea party

By Reuters
Tuesday, June 18, 2013 20:54 EDT

By Kevin Drawbaugh and Kim Dixon

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A manager from a U.S. Internal Revenue Service office in Cincinnati where staffers have been accused of unfairly subjecting conservative groups to extra scrutiny has said his agents were not influenced by any political agenda.

John Shafer, who described himself as “a conservative Republican,” told congressional investigators he flagged the first application for tax-exempt status from a Tea Party-aligned group that he and a lower-level agent came across in February 2010 because it was a new, high-profile issue.

Asked if the lower-level agent sought to elevate the case to Washington because he disagreed with Tea Party politics, Shafer said that was not the case.

“We never, never discussed any political, personal aspirations whatsoever,” he said, according to a transcript of his testimony reviewed by Reuters on Tuesday.

The Shafer transcript was released by the top Democrat on the House of Representatives committee leading a probe of the IRS, Representative Elijah Cummings, who said it debunked the Republican “conspiracy theories” that Washington political figures played a role in the IRS scrutiny of the conservative groups.

James Sallah, an attorney for Shafer, said his “testimony speaks for itself. It is clear that Mr. Shafer was carrying out his job without any political motivation.”

The IRS controversy erupted on May 10 when a Washington IRS official apologized at a conference for the handling of tax-exemption applications submitted to the IRS by non-profit conservative groups between early 2010 and early 2012.

The furor has led to the ousting of the IRS chief by President Barack Obama, an FBI investigation and a congressional investigation.

Danny Werfel, named by Obama as the new IRS commissioner, is expected to testify to a congressional committee next week on how the agency plans to respond to the matter.

Leaks from the congressional investigation, now in its sixth week, have neither clearly supported allegations by Republicans of undue influence by Washington officials or the White House, nor ruled them out.

Some material has undermined the allegations by suggesting that the screeners – some of whom were managed by Shafer at the Cincinnati processing hub – acted largely on their own. Shafer said the application screeners on his staff knew when an issue could be difficult and might need to be evaluated by superiors.


“They were folks that had a lot of experience,” he said. “So as they would be reviewing these initial applications, they would be well aware of things that they may not have seen before.”

Shafer said he was in charge of the tax agency’s first look at all tax-exemption applications sent to Cincinnati. Forms that needed a closer look were sent to another unit, he said.

“On an annual basis there would be upwards to 70,000 applications” submitted to the Cincinnati office, he said. “On a monthly basis there would be 4,000 to 5,000 applications that would go through my group.”

Shafer said he did not recall ever discussing Tea Party cases at the manager level from February to May 2010.

After more than half a dozen lengthy interviews with IRS staff, the panel leading the probe, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, aims to interview dozens more people in coming months, aides said.

Representative Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the committee, has released excerpts from some interviews with IRS workers, but resisted calls to release the full transcripts.

Issa’s staff said Shafer played an early role in the Tea Party screening activities, so he was not aware of what happened once interaction with Washington began.

A Cincinnati official in another unit, Liz Hofacre, initially created a “Be on the Lookout” (BOLO) list containing the terms “Tea Party,” “Patriot” and others. She said she was asked to do that by another Cincinnati superior, according to her transcript, also reviewed by Reuters.

(This story has been fixed to change to half a dozen interviews, from a dozen, in paragraph 16)


Full Transcript Reveals That Darrell Issa Lied About Obama Involvement In IRS Scandal

By: Jason Easley
Jun. 18th, 2013

By releasing the full transcript of interview with the IRS Screening Group manager, Rep. Elijah Cummings has proven that Rep. Darrell Issa lied about Obama’s involvement in the IRS scandal.

Rep. Cummings absolutely destroyed Issa’s conspiratorial claims that Obama was masterminding the IRS scandal:

This interview transcript provides a detailed first-hand account of how these practices first originated, and it debunks conspiracy theories about how the IRS first started reviewing these cases. Answering questions from Committee staff for more than five hours, this official—who identified himself as a “conservative Republican”—denied that he or anyone on his team was directed by the White House to take these actions or that they were politically motivated.

Instead, the Screening Group Manager explained that the very first case at issue in this investigation was initially flagged by one of his own screeners in February 2010. He told us he agreed that this case should be elevated to IRS employees in Washington because it was a “high profile” application in which the organization indicated that it would be engaging in political activity. He explained that he initiated the first effort to gather similar cases in order to ensure their consistent treatment, and that he took this action on his own, without any direction from his superiors, and without any political motivation. He also confirmed that one of his screeners developed terms subsequently identified by the Inspector General as “inappropriate,” such as “Patriot” and “9/12 project,” but that he did not become aware that his screener was using these terms until more than a year later.

These statements from the Screening Group Manager directly contradict several serious and unsubstantiated accusations made by you and several other Republican Committee Chairmen over the past month. For example:

• On May 14, 2013, you stated: “This was the targeting of the president’s political enemies effectively and lies about it during the election year, so that it wasn’t discovered until afterwards.”

• On June 3, 2013, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers stated: “Of course, the enemies list out of the White House that IRS was engaged in shutting down or trying to shut down the conservative political viewpoint across the country—an enemies list that rivals that of another president some time ago.”

• On June 12, 2013, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp stated: “We know it didn’t originate in Cincinnati.”

These facts are a far cry from accusations of a conspiracy orchestrated by the White House to target the President’s political enemies. At this point in the investigation, not one witness who has appeared before the Committee has identified any involvement by any White House officials in the identification or screening of Tea Party applicants for tax exempt status, and the Committee has obtained no documents indicating any such involvement.

The full transcript of the interview with the screening group manager reveals that Darrell Issa and his fellow House Republicans blatantly and knowingly lied about President Obama and the White House being behind the “targeting of conservative groups.” The targeting of conservative groups is another lie, because only 1/3 of the groups targeted were conservative.

Rep. Issa has been refusing to release complete transcripts because he knew that he would be exposed as the liar that he is.

It would be nice if the media would learn their lesson from this episode, and stopped giving Issa airtime. Since the mainstream media doesn’t care about truth and facts, it is doubtful that Issa’s lies will have any impact on them at all. Rep. Cummings did a great service for his country by releasing these transcripts.

Darrell Issa is a man with no credibility, and Democrats aren’t going to stand around and let him lie any longer.


Republicans’ latest abortion ban is staggeringly stupid

By Ana Marie Cox, The Guardian
Tuesday, June 18, 2013 15:41 EDT

The white male-dominated Republican party is still living in the stone age on social issues. It just goes from bad to worse

It’s a truism verging on dogma that history favors steady progress toward equal rights for gays. The last election cycle saw incredible gains for marriage equality and representation for gays and lesbians in government. There is a movement in the Republican party to at least stop fighting the issue, and at least a recognition that they cannot hope to grow the party as long as young voters associate opposition to marriage equality with a general stance of intolerance and bigotry.

Funny how attitudes haven’t shifted in the same way when it come to women and, especially, anything to do with sex. Why are debates about reproductive rights mired in Neanderthal attitudes, demonstrably fanciful notions about biology (“legitimate rape”), and pro-life activists stubbornly resistant to even basic attempts at reasonable compromise?

Indeed, many of the most extreme anti-choice measures passed in state legislatures (and, as of this week, potentially the US Congress) stand on weak constitutional grounds; “fetal heartbeat” laws create a whole new standard of fetal viability and legal experts predict costly and ultimately pointless court battles defending them. Many mainstream anti-abortion groups even shy away from supporting these unprecedented decisions: neither National Right to Life, Americans United for Life nor the Roman Catholic Church have campaigned for them. Yet conservatives continue to march out parades of white men to spout aggressively ignorant arguments that alienate even audiences inclined to be sympathetic to their point of view. In the last election cycle, Republicans lost ground with suburban white women, and women in general, and polls suggest that antipathy stemmed almost entirely from the impression that conservatives were coming for their birth control. In 12 swing states in 2012, a plurality of women named abortion as their top electoral priority. Men (especially Republican men) seem befuddled (or in denial) by women’s intractability on the issue. Speaking at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference last weekend, American Values president Gary Bauer insisted, “The social issues we believe in are more popular than the Republican economic agenda.” At best, they assume arguments about abortion to be a “distraction” from the obvious top priority, the economy. This week, moderate Republican congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania expressed exasperation with the House leadership’s decision to bring to the floor a bill a federal ban on abortions 20 weeks after conception:

“I’ll be very frank: I discouraged our leadership from bringing this to a vote on the floor … Clearly the economy is on everyone’s minds, we’re seeing very stagnant job numbers, confidence in the institution of government is eroding and now we’re going to have a debate on rape and abortion. The stupidity is simply staggering.”

Well, he’s not wrong about the stupidity, but his argument explains it: women understand that reproductive rights are an economic issue. Whether you’re for or against a woman’s right to choose, to discuss it as “social issue” is to buy into talking points that haven’t changed since the turn of the last century – and these arguments find traction. Anti-choice gains in limiting access may face uphill legal battles, but that doesn’t change the fact that conservatives keep successfully turning back the clock even as the country, on almost every other measure of civil liberty, moves relentless forward. Prolife activists argue, ironically, that it’s science that undergirds this retrograde motion: They hold up polls that show an decrease in support for abortion being “legal under any circumstances” and a rise in Americans identifying themselves as “prolife” with the rise of the “ultrasound generation”. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, wrote an open letter to that hypothetical contingent earlier this year:

“You have grown up with ultrasound technology that has opened a window into the womb, allowing us to glimpse preborn babies from the earliest weeks of gestation. You have seen your little brothers and sisters before they were born in these grainy videos and photographs pinned to the fridge.”

Belief in the power of those images is so strong that pro-life legislators have rather famously sought to make viewing them mandatory for women seeking an abortion. But if those images are so powerful, how come it’s the “transvaginal probe” laws that finally rallied mass awareness, and mass outrage, about just how dangerous to women’s rights these laws are?

It may have to do with the word “transvaginal”, sure, but I think it parallels the way Americans have to be pushed into a corner when it comes to distasteful outcomes. We have to be faced with the NSA reading our private emails to care about the balance of security and privacy. We have come to believe that marriage equality is bigotry, not mild disapproval, to reject discrimination. And we have to think about a doctor needlessly, and against her will, putting a wand in a woman’s vagina to think twice about her right to do what she want with her body in a more general and less literal way. What the polling trumpeted by anti-choicers really suggests is continued broad support for women being able to make private decisions. I don’t take lightly the steady, overwhelming majority of Americans who say that abortion of definitely be legal under some circumstances – competing with discomfort with the idea of abortion. This disconnect exists because what we live in not a post-sonogram world but a post-back alley abortion, post-free-condom one. It’s the inverse of how we have become acclimated and accepting of gay rights because we now see gay men and women all around us.

Today we have a whole generation a majority of whom has never themselves had a friend get sick from an abortion performed in unsterile environment, never had to had unsafe sex because they simply didn’t have access to birth control, and only on TV seen a teenager give up for adoption an unwanted child – and there, the situation is santitized, if not idyllic. As other feminists have argued, the unspeakable horror that came to light in the trial of Philadelphia abortion “doctor” Kermit Gosnell was not an illustration of the horrors inherit in a post-Roe world, but in a pre-Roe one. And it’s only because abortion is comparatively safe and legal that we confuse the two. Backed into a corner, confronted with the predictable end-game of anti-choice logic, people resist. Why do we have to get to that point? What will it take to awaken voters to the fact that reproductive health does not obey the rhythms of an election cycle? The whole point of reproductive health is exerting some control of over cycles. It begins with women just being present in the halls of power. No woman takes lightly even the most subtle encroachment into these most private of decisions. And lately, the encroachment has been anything but subtle.

© Guardian News and Media 2013


Boehner Tries to Justify the War on Women as House Uses Female Lawmaker in PR Stunt

By: Sarah Jones
Jun. 18th, 2013

The GOP-led House advanced their anti-women abortion bill Tuesday, by a vote of 232-193 in favor of the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act”.

The fact that the measure was initially approved by a committee made up of 23 Republican men and no women wasn’t helping the GOP escape their “war on women” branding. But after Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ) made a fool of himself explaining that it was okay that Republicans were banning abortion after 20 weeks for rape and incest victims because the odds of rape from pregnancy are “low”, the Republicans decided they’d better put a woman’s face on the matter. This theory relies on their notion that American women are so stupid that they’ll buy anything if it’s packaged properly (see Sarah Palin).

So, Republicans shoved Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) out in front to be the face of the debate on Tuesday, because who better to sell a bill limiting freedom than the woman who believes that women don’t want equal pay laws. Also, Marsha used to be an “image consultant” apparently, something that no doubt came in handy for her while she faced 33 scolding letters from the FEC.

Poor Franks with Akin on his face had to sit it out. No more limiting freedom glory for Franks.

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) was outraged that House Republicans got Blackburn to be the new face of their anti-freedom bill, especially since, of course, Ms. Blackburn is not on the all male committee behind the bill. Apparently Marsha can only be trusted to sell the bill, not actually have any input into it.

Slaughter scoffed, “If that’s not a first, I don’t know what is, and if that is not PR I don’t know what is. Such a cowardly move is an insult to the intelligence of women across America.”

If only Ms. Slaughter had heard Speaker Boehner trying to sell his party’s obsession with limiting freedom for women…

When asked why his party was so focused on abortion instead of economy (jobs?), Speaker Boehner pivoted desperately but tripped on his epistemic closure, “After this Kermit Gosnell trial and some of the horrific acts that were going on, the vast majority of the American people believe in the substance of this bill and so do I.”

Actually, unless you watch Fox News or are subjected to people who do, you probably don’t know much about Gosnell. And yet pretty much everyone knows someone who is underemployed or unemployed. Go figure.

The “substance” behind the Republican bill is based on dubious science (aka, the non-science “believed” by conservative voters) that fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks and thus women should be forced to feel pain all of the time.

Perhaps if someone were to explain to Republicans that those fetuses they proclaim to love so much often grow up to be women, they might suddenly care about the pain they force on women. But as Raw Story pointed out today:

    Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Casey’s (D-PA) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler’s (D-NY Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), which requires employers to offer “reasonable accommodations” to pregnant women, was referred to committee on May 14 and has yet to garner even a hearing, let alone a vote.

That’s a no on caring about fetuses in the event that they are females and a no to caring about pregnant women, who are also known as female fetuses that were born and grew up into adult women.

Two Republicans voted against the Republican efforts to limit individual freedom for women, and five Democrats voted for it. The House is doing their big show vote tonight, because they don’t mind actually working for a few hours in order to stop women from running free in the country.

Not to worry, the Senate will kill this and if they don’t, the President has vowed to veto it. But Republicans don’t care about making this bill law. This was just a political game to appease their base — just another way of running for reelection in 2014 on the taxpayer dime.

We now resume our regularly scheduled programing of Republican scandal mongering on the taxpayer dime, also known as setting up a fictional bad guy to run against in 2014, since the Republicans can’t run on their actual record. But with this brief interruption, they’ve managed to reinforce their image as clueless white men so afraid of women’s power that they’re trying to force women back into the dark ages. Winning.


The Associated Press’ Biased Reporting Fueled Anti-Obama Vendetta

By: Crissie Brown
Jun. 17th, 2013

The AP have launched a vendetta to bring down President Obama, and made their agenda crystal clear in this wildly-misleading article:

    NEW YORK (AP) – Apple says it received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from U.S. law enforcement for customer data for the six months ended in May.

    The company, like some other businesses, had asked the U.S government to be able to share how many requests it received related to national security and how it handled them. Those requests were made as part of Prism, the recently revealed highly classified National Security Agency program that seizes records from Internet companies.

Only if you read to the end of the article will you discover this:

    It said that the most common form of request came from police investigating robberies and other crimes, searching for missing children, trying to locate a patient with Alzheimer’s disease, or hoping to prevent a suicide.

    The company also made clear how much access the government has.

    “We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer content must get a court order,” Apple said in a statement on its website.

Of course, leading with that very innocuous information wouldn’t fit the Beltway media’s Orwell fetish, which is especially strong at the AP since news emerged that the Department of Justice subpoenaed AP reporters’ phone records in investigating a leak of classified information. Here’s Michael Calderone quoting former AP reporter Ron Fournier:

    Fournier: "There's going to be more stories broken than Washington has subpoenas." AP's not the kind of news org "who you want to tick off."

    — Michael Calderone (@mlcalderone) May 14, 2013

Have no doubt about it. The Associated Press are now twisting stories to suit their narrative of an Out of Control Surveillance State … even when the story is really about local law enforcement trying to solve crimes, looking for missing kids, lost Alzheimers’ patients, and potential suicides.

The AP are on a vendetta, and the rest of the media will need to call it out and push back to stop it.


The Real Scandal That the Right Will Never Investigate for Fear of Their Lives

By: Dennis SJ
Jun. 17th, 2013

Horror of horrors. Has the IRS no shame? This agency has plunged to the depths of ignominy. Yes, the IRS has been caught red-handed (red-footed?), LINE DANCING!!!

It’s all there on video. A $1,600, 2010 training video, described as “another black eye” by the ever-objective Associated Press. The training video (identical to those used by virtually every government agency and major private corporations) was shown at the end of an IRS training and leadership conference. Two other videos have caught the eye of the crack investigators from the House Committee on Government and Oversight Reform as well.

An observation if I might. I doubt there’s a government agency that, in the last 50 years, hasn’t produced hundreds of “training” videos or films. The private sector does it all the time. $1,600? That would represent about 2 minutes of a Sears or GM training or POP (Point of Purchase) video. I know. As a Chicago free-lancer for a few years, I appeared in and narrated dozens of such presentations for the largest corporations in America, including the aforementioned.

As an aside, Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (the $450 million man) owned Directed Electronics for nearly 19 years until selling it off in late 2000. If 3 training videos get Issa all riled up, imagine if he were to go to this site, View Training Videos. Click on the prompt and it will take you to no less than 22 training videos. Does Issa subpoena his former company to appear before his committee? Uhhhhhhh, no!

Then there’s the Committee’s abiding and relentless concern over the IRS holding a number of tax-evading political propaganda arms of the Republican party accountable for not even remotely meeting the criteria for tax-exempt organizations. And shame on the administration for leaning on two (well, one) news organizations whose irresponsible reporting endangered numerous American lives. How dare Obama! Almost forgot Benghazi. The administration is telling the truth. Local Libyan protectors dropped the ball. End of story.

Of course dismissing, not acting upon or ignoring myriad clues that a catastrophe of radical Muslim initiation was about to sully our country and kill over 3,000 people in the most horrifying way possible, is not a scandal. Nor is the almost complete destruction of our economy through countless illegal and ignorant acts, collectively costing us trillions. No, those aren’t scandals, but $1,600 LINE DANCING???

Or how about a trumped up war to the benefit of the military-industrial complex and most especially a sitting Vice-President with deep ties to the biggest contractor of them all who made multiple millions on the corpses of brave young Americans? Not a scandal?

But they’re Republican scandals, so of no interest. What follows is perhaps the most shining example of all right-wing scandals.

Guns and the daily consequences of gun ownership of 310 million guns yielding 30,000 annual deaths is as scandalous as every Democratic “scandal” combined. Legislators, terrified to follow in Gabrielle Gifford’s life-altering footsteps are petrified; scared stiff or not inclined to even extend background checks at gun shows. Bullets and ricin and, on the plus side, major campaign bucks, will do that to you.

So, the true scandal is the national obsession that will never be brought fully to the fore, no matter how many young children are killed.

Saddleback evangelical millionaire Preacher Rick Warren’s adult son, Matthew, committed suicide with an unregistered gun acquired from some guy on the Internet and you don’t hear a negative peep about guns from ice-cold Warren; “I forgive him.” Warren misses the point. There should be thousands of less “him’s” out there. Warren should be badgering Congress daily for reform, but his “buy anything Rick sells” Evans are all gun-nuts and, as the late Elizabeth Taylor once said when then- husband Mike Todd was killed in a plane crash, “Mike’s dead and I’m alive.”

We have officially reached the point where guns (and fiscal self-interest) are more important than loved ones and a room full of brutally shredded 6 and 7-year-olds. Extraordinarily cowardly and heartless Republicans met President Obama’s genuine concern for the victim’s families lobbying Congress for “something” with accusations of using them as “props”. According to the latest figures from Slate’s gun death project, since the Sandy Hook massacre, 12/14/12, there have been 4,449 gun fatalities in the U.S. as opposed to the loss of 4,409 U.S. Armed Forces for the entirety of the Iraq war.

When an NRA patch is America’s national symbol, any semblance of humanity, culture and restraint disappears. The woodpecker is the national bird of course, because the rattle of beak on bark has such a wonderful symmetry to an automatic weapon.

Here’s another gun story. This one features a disgusting hunk of Alabama excrement who was “caught on tape” in late January grabbing a five-year-old autistic boy off a school bus to hold as hostage. The ABC audio comes from the Huffington Post and features the bus recording of this human sludge boarding the bus and kidnapping a child. This is what guns do. And I’m still struck by the awesome courage of the bus driver, Charles Poland, more of a man by infinity than the armed fool who killed him. Jimmy Lee Dykes


Dykes was killed in his homemade bunker by an FBI hostage rescue team when negotiations proved fruitless. The young boy was unharmed.

So Democrats can’t even squeeze out expanded background checks. In case you’re curious what the huge demands of this life-saving proposal might be, take a look at Form 4473. This is what buyers would be filling out. Firearms Transaction Record Not worth a few minutes to potentially save thousands of lives over time?

Again, does Issa subpoena an industry responsible for over a million deaths before his committee? Doubtful. The fact that Issa was once put on six-months probation and was fined for possession of an unregistered firearm found in his glove compartment, might influence his thinking.

So that leaves the status quo. In point of truth, here is the scenario that about 20-30% of the population believes is imminent from the Obama administration. Cue music for the goober training video!


“Ma, who’s that at the door? Look outside, there must be a dozens of ‘em, all armed to the teeth and shouting something about throwing my guns outside. Look at them jack booted federal thugs wearin’ them jackets with a picture of Obama on the back. I can’t quite make out the writing; oh yeah…”Kenya forever.”

Hand me that AK-47 Ma; gimmie another one for the left hand. Ma, sneak out back an git that M142 HIMARS!!! Git Jr. to help yuh. Ain’t none of these federal b*****ds gitten’ my guns!!! What’s that jes’ went through the window? ‘Am tearin’ up; can’t see a lick! Trouble breathin’. I told yuh! Somebody what weren’t even born here. Whatcha expect?” (Obama heard barking orders as jack booted thugs force the family face down on the floor as the interior of home is being torn up). Sounds of helicopters whirring overhead.

IRS agents rifling through files while line dancing to Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.” .


Marco Rubio’s Epic Fail as the Aspiring Hero of 2016

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Jun. 17th, 2013

Then, on Sunday, Rubio embarrassed himself – badly – by suggesting a Bushian Syria policy that depends on finding the good guys and working with them.

That wasn’t all, for another hammer was about to fall, this wielded by fellow Republican, California’s Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who said, “Rubio is so mixed up and so confused. I think he has given up his rightful place to advise any of us in Washington what to do, and he’s given up any right to be trusted by the American people.”

That’s language usually reserved by Republicans for President Obama.

Seriously, criticism by a Republican doesn’t get any worse than that.

Rubio’s mistake was saying,

    Let’s be clear. Nobody is talking about preventing the legalization. The legalization is going to happen. That means the following will happen: First comes the legalization. Then come the measures to secure the border. And then comes the process of permanent residence.

Rohrabacher did a Coulter in response to this:

    This is just a lot of weasel words that Rubio and these people are throwing in. They’re going to legalize the status of people here illegally. Once they do that, that is an amnesty. And once they do that, there will be no border security improvements. It’ll all be a facade.

Let’s not forget that in May, Rubio, apparently channeling Sarah Palin, demanded that the non-existent IRS Commissioner resign. Or that in April he was forced to admit he opposed a gun control bill that he hadn’t even bothered to read.

It wasn’t long ago that Marco Rubio was the bright young hero of the Republican Party, a young McCarthy in the making (which alone should have endeared him to Ann Coulter) and a potential 2016 candidate and the GOP’s access to the Hispanic vote – even though he was less popular with Hispanics than President George W. Bush (29 to 23 percent).

At this point, any Hispanic votes garnered by Rubio would be offset by the loss of the racist lilly-white base.

Let’s face it: these people did not want a black man in the White House. They are not going to stand for a Hispanic.

As Jason Easley wrote here in April, “Only a party that is operating from a completely race based mindset would think that the elevation of Marco Rubio to Hispanic show pony/gimmick is a good idea.”

Clearly, making Rubio the face of immigration reform has backfired and he has become a target of ridicule instead, not all of it related to immigration but all of it due to any discernible ability to articulate his politics and beliefs.

The GOP hasn’t clued in to a glaring defect in their thinking: that it is difficult to position yourself as a champion of minorities while fielding dullards as your point-men or -women and while being pushed into the KKK section of the political landscape by Tea Party racists and moralizing religious fanatics.

To be fair, Marco Rubio never stood a chance of succeeding in his appointed role as Hispanic Messiah. Even in March, the bigoted Rand Paul was leading Rubio in polls, showing the base really doesn’t care when establishment Republicans think. And that fact might itself be irrelevant as neither man stands a chance against Hilary Clinton.

A worse harbinger yet, Nate Silver, who predicted the outcome of the 2012 election, pointed to Rubio as being as unelectable as Mitt Romney.

At this point, Rubio seems more a sacrificial lamb than the eternal hero, that security guy on Star Trek away teams whose sole job it is to be killed. Using Rubio in that way would at least have shown some method to the GOP’s madness but that sort of credit is undeserved.

They seem really to have genuinely thought their initial impressions after catastrophic defeat in 2012 that some charisma would make their stupidity look good, was a workable strategy. The GOP seems to abound with charismatic young men saying truly reprehensible things.

What the GOP will never learn – Tea Party to establishment – is that smiling while giving the finger to the American doesn’t change the message and I think we all get the GOP’s message in giving us Marco Rubio.

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« Reply #7028 on: Jun 20, 2013, 05:45 AM »

06/19/2013 08:54 PM

Obama's Nuclear Push: Moscow Fears Loss of World Power Status

By Benjamin Bidder in Moscow

A world without nuclear weapons? It's a nearly inconceivable scenario for the Kremlin, even if its arsenal costs Russia billions each year. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, the country has suffered a major drop in influence. Now it's doing all it can to cling to the geopolitical power it has left.

Barack Obama could hardly have chosen a better place to renew his pledge to work toward a world without atomic weapons. "So long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe," the US president said from a stage in front of the Brandenburg Gate, which until 1989 was still part of the front line between East and West. But the Cold War is over, and along with the conflict between the West and the Soviet Union, Obama now wants to bury the weapons systems the rival blocs used to keep each other in check for more than four decades.

Berlin might offer the perfect stage for visions, but other locales are better suited for actual decisions about disarmament. Months ago, the White House sent emissaries to Moscow to try to present Obama's disarmament initiative to the Kremlin. It was just back in 2010, when Obama and Russia's then-president, Dmitry Medvedev, signed the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty. The agreement obliges the United States to reduce the number of its warheads to 1,550 within the next seven years, while its number of carrier systems is to be halved to a maximum of 800. Moscow currently still has about 8,500 warheads, while Washington maintains 7,700.

There's a lot to be said for reducing this expensive arsenal:

    The battles of today are fought using other weapons.

    The modernization and maintenance of bombs devour enormous sums of money. In 2013, the US alone spent nearly $8 billion (€6 billion), with Russia spending a similar sum.

    With Chuck Hagel, Barack Obama for the first time has someone leading the Pentagon who is calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Even before his appointment, Hagel helped formulate "Global Zero," a non-partisan global initiative dedicated to nuclear disarmament.

Obama's vice president, Joe Biden, was driven close to the brink by the Russians at the Munich Security Conference in February. Biden spoke with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about possibilities of further disarmament, but the subject was quickly pushed to the side. Then Obama sent Rose Gottemoeller, an assistant secretary of state responsible for arms control and international security, to Moscow to engage in talks.

Many Russians See Nuclear Weapons as a Guarantor of Peace

Obama's disarmament initiative, which was celebrated during his speech in Berlin on Wednesday, has been met with little enthusiasm in political backrooms in Moscow. During the Gottemoeller talk efforts, Russian defense experts were already pointing out the "monstrous military imbalance" between the US and Russia. In other words, Russia dislikes the disarmament plans because nuclear weapons are one area in which the Kremlin still sees itself as being on a par with Washington. Russia's military is in the midst of a lengthy reform, and its conventional forces are years behind the US military and those of many other NATO countries.

It's still accepted wisdom within the Russian establishment that nuclear weapons are the true guarantor of peace. But behind this assumption, the interests of the Russian defense industry shine through. By 2020, Russia's missile forces are to be equipped with a new version of the Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missile that is supposed to be able to overcome US systems designed to shoot such weapons down. Were they to agree on total disarmament, this system would be almost superfluous.

The Russian economy is growing, but it is still underdeveloped compared with those of the European Union, China and the US. Up until a few years ago, the Kremlin sought to substantiate its geopolitical ambitions with its massive oil and gas exports. Since then, though, Moscow has been forced to recognize that it is just as reliant on revenues from those exports as Europe is on the deliveries. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moscow's global influence has eroded massively. Indeed, its only remaining claims to major power status are its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and its nuclear arsenal.

Russia's Demands Could Be Too High

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle greeted Obama's anti-proliferation push, saying it was a "masterstroke" and that Germany would support the president as much as possible.

But, in Moscow, reactions to the Berlin speech have been cooler. "It's necessary to bring other countries that possess nuclear weapons into the process," Putin foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov told reporters in Moscow. It was a reference in particular to China, Russia's large, dynamic neighbor. Putin himself offered even clearer words, saying the balance of strategic deterrents in the world must be preserved.

It will be difficult for the White House to get the Russians on board. The concessions the Kremlin would likely demand could be so extensive that Washington simply couldn't accept them. One idea circulating would be for the US to abandon entirely the missile defense system it wants to deploy against Iran but which Russia perceives as a threat.

The Russians could also demand that Washington repeal the so-called Magnitsky Act. The legislation, which Obama signed into law last December, prohibits Russian government officials believed to be connected to human rights violations from entering the US or using its banking system.

For the proposed cooperation to go forward, it appears a miracle would be needed, or at the very least, a negotiating partner on the Russian side who would push aside power ambitions for a moment and accept a vision of a world without nuclear bombs.

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« Reply #7029 on: Jun 20, 2013, 05:53 AM »

Greek coalition holds emergency meeting over state broadcaster ERT

Talks to resume on Thursday as PM stages high-stakes attempt to avoid snap election and to appease country's creditors

Helena Smith in Athens, Wednesday 19 June 2013 22.21 BST   

The spectre of Greece reigniting the eurozone crisis hung over an emergency meeting of the country's coalition leaders on Wednesday as the prime minister, Antonis Samaras, sought to defuse the turmoil that followed hisdecision to shut down ERT, the nation's state-run broadcaster.

After 48 hours of high-stakes brinkmanship by his junior partners, Samaras, whose centre-right New Democracy party narrowly won elections last June, went into the talks in reportedly conciliatory mood.

With the alternative being a potentially disastrous snap poll for Greece, aides said it was vital a solution was found. "The other option, putting Greece through fresh elections, would be mad," said one. "A compromise has to be found."

However after three hours of talks ended, Evangelos Venizelos, leader of the Socialist PASOK party, emerged to say the three leaders would reconvene on Thursday at 6.30pm, and sought to dismiss fears of a new crisis over the issue. "It was a long and tough discussion among the three leaders, a discussion that will be continued and in any event completed tomorrow," he said.

"In addition to this discussion, we are concluding a series of issues. Therefore I want to reassure every Greek that our stance is a responsible stance."

But the row over ERT, closed by Samaras in a bid to get 4,000 employees off the public payroll by the end of the year, has increasingly dominated headlines.

Instead of agreeing with a move that was aimed at placating the EU and IMF, the international creditors on which the debt-stricken country depends, his two junior leftwing allies have stringently opposed it, intensifying the faultlines in an alliance that was uneasy from the outset.

Venizelos who has seen his own support plunge since he entered the coalition, has demanded that all 2,700 employees be reinstated before the public broadcaster is restructured.

Fotis Kouvellis, leader of the small Democratic Left (Dimar) party, said the state-run channel must be switched back on, in compliance with a high court decision earlier this week, before he even begins to talk about reforms.

Despite mass protests and opposition from striking trade unions, the conservatives have insisted the public broadcaster remain off air until a leaner and more efficient state TV and radio network is set up.

"It's fairly simple: a mistake has been made and it must be corrected," Pasok's spokeswoman, Fofi Gennimata, said before the meeting. "It requires bravery to correct a mistake, but that is necessary. It's not acceptable for an elected government to fail to comply with a high court order."

Samaras has also come under pressure from Germany, the main provider of Greece's €240bn (£205bn) in rescue funds, to end the crisis. Officials say Berlin is in no mood to have Athens reignite the debt crisis "just when Germans are beginning to forget it" in the countdown to the country's own elections in September.

As the only European country in history to have shut down its own state-run television and radio network, the government has also faced pressure from public broadcasters across the continent to reopen ERT.

With Pasok and Dimar badly trailing in the polls, snap elections, are the last thing either needs. "Samaras clearly miscalculated the effect his decision would have," said the prominent political commentator Pandelis Kapsis. "And since then all three [governing] parties have become victims of their own rhetoric. The possibility, this week, of the government collapsing was very real … From the start this was a crisis that didn't need to happen. It was born of mismanagement."

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« Reply #7030 on: Jun 20, 2013, 06:06 AM »

EU rejects Cypriot leader's plea for more bank aid

Country pledges to stick to terms of €10bn bailout after president's appeal for more help is turned down

Helena Smith in Athens
The Guardian, Wednesday 19 June 2013 22.14 BST   

Cyprus has pledged to stick with the terms of its €10bn (£8.6bn) bailout after EU officials signalled they would reject an appeal from the country's president, Nicos Anastasiades, for additional help.

Three months after accepting a deal with international creditors, the government in Nicosia denied reports that it had demanded an overhaul.

Cyprus claimed that Anastasiades had been trying to alert fellow leaders to the economic problems in the island republic when, last week, he wrote to them pleading for more help for its banking sector.

"There is no attempt to renegotiate the memorandum of understanding," said a spokesman. The programme co-ordinated by the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the EU includes raids on Cypriot bank accounts containing more than €100,000.

The notion of further bank aid was slapped down by EU policymakers on Wednesday. As in Greece, adjustments to the bailout could be made further down the line but only if the island stuck to the conditions of the rescue package, they said.

"There's no chance we'll revise the terms of the bailout," one official told Reuters. The official conceded, however, that the matter could be discussed when eurozone finance ministers meet in Luxembourg on Thursday ahead of next week's summit.

Despite Nicosia insisting it would implement the onerous conditions of the programme, the rejection once again raised the spectre of the island exiting the single currency. Ladbrokes cut the odds on Cyprus leaving the euro in the next 12 months to evens.

Indicative of the frustration felt by officials in Nicosia, Anastasiades described the bailout in his letter as insufficiently prepared. "Artificial measures" such as capital controls, imposed to prevent a mass outflow of money when it became clear that depositors would also be forced to endure losses as part of the bailout agreement, were eroding confidence in the banking sector by the day, he said.

"It is my humble submission that the bail-in was implemented without careful preparation," the leader wrote in his letter. "There was no clear understanding of how a bail-in was to be implemented; legal issues are being raised and major delays in completing the process are being observed." Referring to the haircut to Cypriot bank deposits, he added: "Moreover, no distinction was made between long-term deposits earning high returns and money flowing through current accounts, such as firms' working capital."

As a result, he said, businesses had suffered significant loss of working capital, driving the economy into deeper recession.

"The success of the programme approved by the Eurogroup and the troika depends upon the emergence of a strong and viable Bank of Cyprus. It is for this reason that I urge you to support a long-term solution to Bank of Cyprus's thin liquidity position."

In a first for a eurozone member state, the island accepted to enforce steep losses on large, uninsured deposit holders at its two biggest banks, Cyprus Popular Bank PCL – also known as Laiki – and the Bank of Cyprus. In exchange for €10bn in rescue loans from the EU and IMF, it also agreed to press ahead with €13bn worth of measures to cut its deficit in addition to winding down Laiki.

Anastasiades said Cyprus had been made to pay an excessive price for the restructuring of Greece's own debt to which Cypriot banks had been heavily exposed.

"The heavy burden placed on Cyprus by the restructuring of Greek debt was not taken into consideration when it was Cyprus' turn to seek help," he wrote. "At this crucial juncture, we are calling upon you for active and tangible support."

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« Reply #7031 on: Jun 20, 2013, 06:08 AM »

Italy's Five Stars lose their twinkle as ejection of MP sparks ugly row

Adele Gambaro is defiant after daring to criticise the party's ex-comedian leader Beppe Grillo. But critics say the affair shows the honeymoon is over for the barnstorming protest movement

Lizzy Davies Rome, Wednesday 19 June 2013 19.02 BST   

Sitting in her office in the historic centre of Rome, Adele Gambaro showed no outward sign of being a traitorous dissident or "toxic element". On her desk was a flipped-up iPad and a copy of the Italian constitution open at article no 21, which enshrines a citizen's right to free expression.

"I became a candidate because I was convinced the Five Star Movement (M5S) was a movement that respected Italian constitutional law," she said. "This is fundamental. I respected my rights to express my opinions."

Dramatic though it may have been, Gambaro's parallel between internal party discipline and basic human rights was understandable in the circumstances.

the 48-year-old former business consultant from Bologna, who was elected to the Italian parliament in February on a wave of support for the anti-establishment movement, was expelled from the party she had joined hoping to combat the public's scepticism and change politics.

Her crime? Having granted an "unauthorised" television interview in which she criticised the strategy of the ex-comedian founder of the movement, Beppe Grillo.

In an interview with the Guardian on Tuesday, she remained defiant. "I am relaxed," she said. "I think I did the right thing."

Coming hot on the heels of dismal local election results, the ugly row over Gambaro's ejection has capped a bad month for the barnstorming group, which earlier this year became Italy's biggest single party and one of Europe's most successful protest movements.

Less than four months later, amid rancour, rifts and reams of gleeful commentary in the mainstream Italian media, the euphoria of that stunning breakthrough appears largely to have evaporated.

"I believe that the M5S has seen its peak," said Roberto D'Alimonte, a leading political analyst. "I do not believe they will go back to the success they achieved in February, because the contradictions have been exposed at the voters' level, not just within the movement. A lot of people did not realise in February the kind of party they were voting for. Now they have realised, and they will not vote for it again."

In recent weeks, a limited set of local elections around Italy marked what for many observers was the first sign that the M5S's honeymoon could be coming to an end. The movement won just two of more than 500 town councils.

The media were quick to jump on the results, which they said called a "flop" compared with the national elections. Others, however, warned against reading too much into them, arguing that a fledgling movement with underdeveloped infrastructure and largely unknown candidates was never likely to fare well in a contest fought on local issues and personalities.

"Local elections run on very different logic from the general election," said Duncan McDonnell, a political analyst at the European University Institute near Florence. National surveys, he pointed out, still put the M5S's support on 18-20%.

But while agreeing that the results should not be exaggerated, D'Alimonte still thinks they indicate that the Five Star shine is wearing off among some voters - including those who were irked by the rambunctious figurehead's refusal to support a minority government led by the centre-left Democratic party (PD), thus forcing the PD to form a coalition with Berlusconi's centre-right.

One person who certainly thought the recent election results were disappointing - a "debacle", in fact - was Gambaro. And she wasted no time in saying so. In an interview, she said the M5S was "paying for Beppe Grillo's tone", singling out his "misguided communication" and "rather threatening" blogposts.

For good measure, she added: "We have been here [in parliament] for three months and we have never seen him … I invite him to write less and observe more."

On his blog, the former comedian regularly lambasts and fulminates, in his well-established bombastic style. On one notable occasion, he decried the former PD head Pier Luigi Bersani as a "dead man talking". His nickname for the former prime minister Mario Monti was Rigor Montis.

Gambaro, though, thinks the M5S should have turned down the volume as soon as 163 Grillini marched through the doors of the parliament. "At that point, I believe – and it's not just me, many do – the language has to change. Because we are in parliament for all Italian citizens, not only those who voted for the M5S … the tone needs to be more conciliatory," she said.

Grillo did not appear to take her criticisms on board. He responded by saying he wanted her out. Some of Gambaro's colleagues labelled her a traitor; others defended her. On Monday, in what was likened to a political trial, M5S MPs were called to a live-streamed hearing to debate whether or not she should be expelled. Later, behind closed doors, they voted by 79 votes to 42, with nine abstentions, to let the M5S's network of grassroots activists decide her fate. The verdict on Wednesday night, by 66% to 34%, was expulsion. Roughly a third of those eligible to vote did so.

Meanwhile, another MP, who referred to a "psycho-police climate" and an internal clash between hardliners and "dissidents", also looked likely to face the same punishment.

D'Alimonte believes there is now "a serious risk of split". One of the biggest contradictions within the M5S, he said, was "the claim to participatory democracy, and on the other hand the leadership style of Mr Grillo".

"He [Grillo] talks of himself as the mouthpiece, but he is really the orchestra director. And the musicians are not supposed to play their own music. It reminds me of the Fellini movie [Orchestra Rehearsal]."

Despite its current travails, however, it is too early to call time on the M5S. McDonnell said that, if it can address some of its "growing pains", it will still have potential to stir up trouble for Italy's mainstream politicians. The grand coalition government that Enrico Letta heads is everything the M5S hates, and it already has relatively low approval ratings.

"Their structures haven't grown at the same speed as they've grown electorally, and that's obviously creating a lot of problems," he said. "[But] I think the M5S are in a good position if they can weather these storms. If they can, they are actually structurally in a good position because they are the main opposition against a centre-right and centre-left coalition. But obviously a lot is going to depend on what happens now and over the next couple of weeks."

Back in her Senate office, Gambaro explained why, despite all the controversy her off-message remarks have created, she would have liked to stay in the M5S – if it had wanted her. "Because I never criticised the values on which the movement is based," she said. "And my colleagues: we are working so hard. We need to communicate to the outside world what we are doing. At the moment, though, all we're talking about is allowances, me, my declarations, splits. We are not talking about what we are doing. I think the communication over the past four months has been disastrous."

And what of the man whose "tone" she has found so objectionable? "I think the movement is Beppe Grillo," she says. "It was he who founded it and he who brought it to the parliament. He has incredible qualities. I esteem him greatly for them. The risk is that, for want of experience, on his part as well, he isn't able to manage [the movement]."

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« Reply #7032 on: Jun 20, 2013, 06:10 AM »

Francois Hollande pledge on political transparency watered down by MPs

French anti-corruption law weakened as false information is criminalised but public get only limited access to asset files

Angelique Chrisafis, in Paris, Wednesday 19 June 2013 17.40 BST   

François Hollande's anti-corruption crusade aiming at publishing MPs' assets has ended in a watered-down compromise after parliament voted for details of assets to be accessible to voters but not made public.

The decision sparked criticism concerning the limits to freedom of information and the work of the media.

Following the scandal of the Socialist budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac – who hid €600,000 from the tax authorities in a secret Swiss bank account and repeatedly lied about it – the French president vowed an unprecedented transparency drive this year.

Hollande ordered ministers to publish their assets and promised to introduce a law that would make MPs, elected officials and town mayors do the same.

But he was faced with a rebellion, not just by the rightwing opposition, who described publishing assets as "voyeurism and hypocrisy", but also by his own Socialist MPs, who were reticent to air their finances in public.

The Socialist head of the assembly, Claude Bartelone, warned that publishing all assets amounted to "paparazzi democracy".

The subsequent wrangling and compromise means that assets now will be declared to a new monitoring body and kept on file.

But only voters in a politician's constituency can consult the file, not other members of the public. The voters can refer a complaint to the monitoring body if they fear an anomaly. But no detail of the assets can be published in any form. If any detail is published, there is a risk of a €45,000 fine and one-year jail sentence.

Pascal Riché, editor of the website Rue89, said the law meant that "freedom to inform" in France would be faced with a new restriction. Anti-corruption groups described the law on assets as limited. The Green MP François de Rugy said he was disappointed the measures had been toned down and said it would not help lessen public distrust of politicians.

The French president had ordered political transparency rules that would be among the strictest in Europe, with French politicians declaring all their assets.

Germany and Britain require all MPs to disclose activities or assets that provide an income, although politicians do not have to disclose all their assets.

The new French law will create a tougher monitoring body to check MPs' assets declarations. Providing false information will now be a criminal offence. Elected politicians will also have to declare any conflict of interest.

The Cahuzac scandal is still having repercussions in France. This weekend marks the second round of a byelection which arose following the disgraced budget minister's resignation as MP. The Socialist candidate was knocked out in the first round, leaving a run-off between the right-wing UMP and far-right Front National.

This has prompted soul searching not just about the strength of Marine Le Pen's Front National, but also about the Socialist party, which though it still has an absolute majority in parliament, has had its MP numbers shrink through a series of byelections.

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« Reply #7033 on: Jun 20, 2013, 06:14 AM »

une 19, 2013

Italian Praised for Saving Jews Is Now Seen as Nazi Collaborator


He has been called the Italian Schindler, credited with helping to save 5,000 Jews during the Holocaust. Giovanni Palatucci, a wartime police official, has been honored in Israel, in New York and in Italy, where squares and promenades have been named in his honor, and in the Vatican, where Pope John Paul II declared him a martyr, a step toward potential sainthood.

But at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, the tale of his heroic exploits is being removed from an exhibition after officials there learned of new evidence suggesting that, far from being a hero, he was an enthusiastic Nazi collaborator involved in the deportation of Jews to Auschwitz.

A letter sent this month to the museum’s director by the Centro Primo Levi at the Center for Jewish Studies in New York stated that a research panel of more than a dozen scholars who reviewed nearly 700 documents concluded that for six years, Palatucci was “a willing executor of the racial legislation and — after taking the oath to Mussolini’s Social Republic, collaborated with the Nazis.”

The letter said that Italian and German records provided no evidence that he had helped Jews during the war and that the first mention only surfaced years later, in 1952. Researchers also found documents that showed Palatucci had helped the Germans identify Jews to round up.

There is no established explanation for how the account of Palatucci’s heroics took hold, but some experts say its persistence owed much to the flattering light it shed on Italy after the war. Scholars said the new evidence surfaced in recent years as they gained access to documents. The goal of their research, they said, was to understand the role of Fiume, the city where Palatucci worked, as a breeding ground for fascism; the documents that undermined the account of Palatucci’s selfless heroism were a byproduct of that investigation.

Palatucci has been credited with saving thousands of Jews between 1940 and 1944 while he was police chief in Fiume, an Adriatic port city that was considered the first symbol of Italy’s new Fascist Empire. (It is now called Rijeka and is part of Croatia.) When the Nazis occupied the city in 1943, for example, Palatucci was said to have destroyed records to prevent the Germans from sending Fiume’s Jews to concentration camps. His own death at age 35 in a camp at Dachau seemed to corroborate his valor.

But Natalia Indrimi, the executive director of the Centro Primo Levi, said historians have been able to review these supposedly destroyed records in the Rijeka State Archives.

What they show, said Dr. Indrimi, who coordinated the research, is that Fiume had only 500 Jews by 1943, and that most of them — 412, or about 80 percent — ended up at Auschwitz, a higher percentage than in any other Italian city. The research on Palatucci found that rather than being police chief, he was the adjunct deputy commissary responsible for enforcing Fascist Italy’s racial laws. What’s more, his deportation to Dachau in 1944 was not related to saving Jews but to German accusations of embezzlement and treason for passing plans for the postwar independence of Fiume to the British.

The report said it was possible that Palatucci had helped a handful of people, although it was unclear whether he had done this on the orders of superiors.

Dr. Indrimi said “the myth” surrounding Palatucci started in 1952 when his uncle Bishop Giuseppe Maria Palatucci used the story to persuade the Italian government to provide a pension for Giovanni Palatucci’s parents. The account, she said, gained momentum because it seemed to bolster the reputation of Pope Pius XII, whom Jewish groups have described as being indifferent to genocide.

“If anything, Giovanni Palatucci represents the silence, self-righteousness and compliance of many young Italian officers who enthusiastically embraced Mussolini in his last disastrous steps,” Dr. Indrimi wrote in her letter to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Some of the evidence was presented at a conference at New York University last year.

Perhaps the greatest recognition Palatucci received was being named in 1990 by Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the Holocaust, as one of the Righteous Among the Nations — an honor roll of those who rescued Jews that also includes Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who helped 1,200 Jews avoid the death camps.

After receiving the historians’ report, Yad Vashem said it had “commenced the process of thoroughly examining the documents,” Estee Yaari, the foreign media liaison, wrote in an e-mail.

The narrative of Palatucci’s selflessness became the subject of articles, books and a television movie. Last month the Giovanni Palatucci Association credited his otherworldly intervention for the miraculous disappearance of a man’s kidney tumor as part of the case being made for sainthood.

The Anti-Defamation League awarded Palatucci its Courage to Care Award on May, 18, 2005, which Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in turn declared to be Giovanni Palatucci Courage to Care Day. The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation has a paean to him on its Web site.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said in an e-mail that the Vatican was aware of the questions raised and had asked a historian to study the matter.

An estimated 9,000 Jews were deported from Italy during World War II. But experts have noted that, although the 45,000 Jews in Italy were persecuted, most survived the war.

Still, many scholars portray the belated claims of some Italians that they went out of their way to save Jews as part of an attempt to recast Italy’s Fascist past. “The default statement of every Fascist leader after the war was that ‘I helped the Jews,’ ” Dr. Indrimi said.

Alexander Stille, a professor at the Columbia University journalism school who has reviewed some of the documents, said the Palatucci case is a result of three powerful institutions, all with a vested interest in publicizing what appeared to be a heroic tale: “The Italian government was anxious to rehabilitate itself and show that they were better and more humane than their Nazi allies. The Catholic Church was eager to tell a positive story about the church’s role during the war, and the State of Israel was eager to promote the idea of righteous gentiles and tell stories of right-minded ordinary people who helped to save ordinary Jews.”

Mr. Stille, whose recent family memoir, “The Force of Things,” includes a tale about his Jewish grandfather in Fiume, said, “Palatucci was the beneficiary of that.”

An article last month in the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera said that a growing chorus of historians and researchers have called the Palatucci rescue “a blatant scam orchestrated by friends and relatives.” The Palatucci association dismissed that account in an outraged letter to the newspaper.

The decision to remove the information about Palatucci from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s exhibition, “Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration and Complicity in the Holocaust,” came last week, Andrew Hollinger, the museum’s director of communications, said. The information has already been removed from the exhibition’s Web site, he said, and the museum is working on removing it from the physical display as well.

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« Reply #7034 on: Jun 20, 2013, 06:16 AM »

June 19, 2013

Turkish Liberals Turn Their Backs on Erdogan


ISTANBUL — For Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the antigovernment protests that have shaken Turkey have come with a jarring paradox: some of the protesters voted for him, most prospered from his economic policies, and some of the liberal intellectuals and columnists now calling him a dictator helped him win three successive elections with their writings.

For Turkey’s liberals and urban elite, including some among the young, middle-class protesters who camped out in Gezi Park in Taksim Square here, the intense police crackdown — the use of tear gas and water cannons, and the detention of protesters, lawyers, journalists and medics — represented the final and most painful break with Mr. Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party.

“The Gezi Park-Taksim thing has been the breaking point for the left,” said Cengiz Candar, a popular columnist who once supported Mr. Erdogan for his efforts to reduce the power of the military and to pursue membership in the European Union.

“It’s not us that changed,” he added. “We remain as democrats; we want to extend individual liberties.”

As Mr. Erdogan rose to power, many liberals, unlike members of Turkey’s old secular elite, who worried about a hidden Islamist agenda, overlooked Mr. Erdogan’s religious roots. They saw his faith in the context of personal freedom, not as a threat to Turkey’s secular tradition. They embraced him for his pursuit of European Union membership, now stalled, and for securing civilian authority over the military, whose influence had been pre-eminent in Turkey.

Turks were joined by many Europeans and Americans, including President Obama, who embraced the democratic reforms that Mr. Erdogan implemented. Now, many of those onetime supporters say Mr. Erdogan and his party have taken a decisive turn toward authoritarianism, leaving them to face a period of self-reflection.

“I was one of the European liberals who supported A.K.P. policies,” said Joost Lagendijk, a former member of the European Parliament and columnist who lives in Turkey, referring to the Turkish initials of Mr. Erdogan’s party. “There was a lot of sympathy for the reforms they were implementing.”

Mr. Lagendijk said that he was never an ideological bedfellow of the A.K.P., but that he was attracted by Mr. Erdogan’s early pragmatism and by his support for constitutional changes to secure individual liberties and advances in rights for Turkey’s Kurdish minority.

“I’m a Green, I’m a liberal,” he said. “I’m not conservative or religious, but it didn’t matter.”

These days, Mr. Lagendijk has had to fend off critics from his own liberal flank, who have been sending him Twitter messages and e-mails that all conveyed the same message: We told you so.

Over the past few years, Mr. Erdogan had begun alienating his liberal supporters by intimidating the news media and pursuing large urban development projects without public feedback. Then in recent weeks a group of protesters trying to save a city park from demolition were met with a fierce police response, setting off the larger antigovernment street movement that challenged Mr. Erdogan, whose response to the crisis confirmed for many of his former supporters that he had taken a path they could no longer support.

Beyond his democratic promises, many experts say Mr. Erdogan’s charisma won over many liberals years ago.

Jenny B. White, an anthropologist at Boston University, spent time in Turkey in the 1990s researching the rise of Islamist movements, and followed Mr. Erdogan around while he was mayor of Istanbul.

“He would ignore a table of bearded mayors after an event and talk to me like I was the only person in the world,” she said. “There is that aspect of it that really captured people.”

She added, “The liberals voted for him because when he was elected in 2002 he did all these things liberals only dreamed of.”

Not all on the left have broken with Mr. Erdogan. Nursuna Memecan, a member of Parliament from the A.K.P. who is close to Mr. Erdogan and identifies herself as a liberal, said she helped arrange meetings between some of the protest leaders and Mr. Erdogan in hope of brokering a compromise, and winning back some of his former supporters. That did not happen, though, as a tentative deal to save the park was disavowed by most protesters, and Mr. Erdogan ordered a decisive police raid on Saturday to clear the park.

Referring to Mr. Erdogan’s rise to power, Ms. Memecan said: “The real liberals supported him. They had no prejudices against him or his religion or what class he came from. His piousness did not bother them.”

Another paradox of Turkey’s uprising is that many of those now critical of his position — a cross section of urban, secular, mostly middle-class Turks — have benefited from the growing economy that Mr. Erdogan’s liberalizing policies created.

Merve Alici, 26, works in advertising and participated in the protests. She comes from a secular, upper-middle-class family, but voted for Mr. Erdogan’s party in the last election despite warnings from her family that the prime minister was becoming too powerful.

She said her choice was “mainly pragmatic.”

“First, there was no opposition, and I liked how the A.K.P. challenged the army’s power,” she said. “Then there is the economy. Everyone wants stability and economic prosperity, and this was a campaign promise.”

She said she took part in the Taksim Square demonstrations every day, and because of that she could never vote for Mr. Erdogan again, especially after he called the protesters terrorists and unleashed riot police officers on the crowds.

“He is a political mastermind and is manipulating the truth on purpose to keep his voters,” Ms. Alici said. “He antagonizes the protesters on purpose with his harsh words. I don’t know what he is thinking.”

Another former Erdogan supporter who joined in the protests was Esen Guler, 39, a guitarist whose band played in the square.

“I voted for Erdogan in the past two elections because I thought he would lead us to democracy,” he said. “But power has gone to his head. He is no longer moderate, but a brutal dictator attacking his own flesh and blood.”

Workers have been planting flowers in Taksim Square and scrubbing away the spray-painted epithets against Mr. Erdogan. When the square was filled with thousands of protesters, many of them young and expressing themselves politically for the first time, a common refrain among analysts was that Turkish politics would never be the same. Now that the square has been emptied by the strong hand of the police, the significance of what happened feels less certain.

“The wounds are still fresh,” Mr. Candar said. “The lessons to be interpreted are still at an early stage. It’s hard to say how it will be different, but for sure it will be different.”

Ceylan Yeginsu contributed reporting.

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