Eurozone hauled out of 18-month recession by Germany and France
Economic commissioner Ollie Rehn warns crisis far from over as eurozone reports 0.3% second quarter growth
Larry Elliott, economics editor
theguardian.com, Wednesday 14 August 2013 10.53 BST
A strong performance by Germany and France helped haul the battered eurozone out of recession in the three months to June.
Figures released in Brussels showed that the 17 nations using the single currency expanded by 0.3% in the second quarter of 2013.
The return to growth brings to an end six successive quarters of contraction but the data from Eurostat, the European statistical agency, revealed a big disparity in growth rates and Ollie Rehn, Europe's economic commissioner, said it was too early to celebrate.
"Yes, this slightly more positive data is welcome – but there is no room for any complacency whatsoever", Rehn said. "I hope there will be no premature, self-congratulatory statements suggesting the crisis is over. For we all know that there are still substantial obstacles to overcome: the growth figures remain low and the tentative signs of growth are still fragile."
Financial markets had been expecting the eurozone to grow by 0.2% in the second quarter and the slightly stronger outcome was the result of the big two economies both exceeding forecasts. Germany, the eurozone's biggest economy, grew by 0.7% while France – the second biggest – grew by 0.5%.
But Italy and Spain both remained in recession. Spain's economy shrank by 0.1% percent on the quarter, while Italy posted a 0.2% decline.
The Dutch economy also contracted by 0.2% but Portugal – one of the three countries that required a financial bailout – recorded the fastest growth of any eurozone country with 1.1% quarterly growth.
David Brown, of New View Economics said: "These are better than expected second-quarter GDP numbers from the eurozone, but it's nothing for the ECB to celebrate.
"After six quarters of unrelenting recession misery, the eurozone has finally broken back into positive growth. It is going to be a very long, hard haul back into sustainable, strong growth again.
"It is a tale of two very different economies. Germany is doing all the hard work in the vanguard of strong recovery as its 0.7% second-quarter GDP expansion showed.
"On the other side of the equation, the troubled eurozone economies are still mired down in the mud of deep recession risk."
08/13/2013 05:24 PM
People Power: Young Greeks Team Up to Combat Crisis
By Julia Amalia Heyer
Young Greeks are combating the euro crisis by setting up self-help initiatives to provide free medical care, repair street lighting and monitor public spending. A new, unprecedented communal spirit is emerging to tackle the hardship of cutbacks and reforms.
There is a question that Mary Karantza has had on her mind for some time, and she's asking it again on this August afternoon. But this time she's asking it out loud. The question is: What makes Greece different from the rest of Europe?
Why do the Greeks tick differently from the Germans? Why do they blithely live beyond their means for years, denying their government the taxes they owe, and tossing their garbage into large container without separating out recyclables even though they know that it's taken to illegal garbage dumps?
Karantza is sitting in her bright, loft-like office in the dstrict of Psiri near downtown Athens. A steel gate with an intercom system restricts access to the building. The junkies in the neighborhood recently started injecting a cocktail laced with battery acid, says Karantza. It makes them unpredictable.
The slim 33-year-old designer, wearing a black jersey dress, isn't asking these questions because she wants to list unfriendly clichés about the Greeks. On the contrary, says Karantza, she does so because it's time to get rid of these clichés. Her loft serves as a laboratory. Her experiment involves building Greek civil society. Karantza and others like her are the pioneers of a new movement.
Treated 'Like Underage Children'
For Karantza, the crisis represents an opportunity for change. She and Stephania Xydia, 26, founded a non-governmental organization called "Imagine the City." It is both a coordination office for citizens' initiatives and a reeducation program of sorts, with the aim of improving the management of cities and villages.
The Greeks, says Xydia, have never learned to participate in and shape public life. "The government treated us like underage children, and most people were happy about it." Xydia grew up in Luxembourg and attended university in England. She returned to Athens in 2011, after giving up her job as a management consultant in London. Her parents weren't happy about that. "What are you going to do in Athens?" they asked? Change things, she answered.
Now she and Karantza are keeping local governments throughout Greece on their toes. With the help of Imagine the City, Greeks can exchange information more easily, including reports and statistics. As a result, it's no longer as easy for mayors to build new town halls or village squares that no one needs -- except the local officials who award the construction contracts to their friends.
Things have started changing in Greece in recent months. People are doing more than just strike, rant and throw yoghurt in protest. Triggered by the crisis, a new, unprecedented community spirit is taking shape.
There is now a civil resistance movement with different goals than simply championing a particular group's interests.
In Thessaloniki, people aren't just fighting the planned privatization of the city waterworks, but have formed a collective and submitted their own purchase offer. The movement is called "136," because anyone who participates would have to pay €136 ($181) if the offer were accepted.
On the Chalkidiki Peninsula, Greeks are suddenly protesting against plans by a Canadian company and Greek construction tycoon to develop a gold mine. Protecting the environment has never been a particularly Greek virtue.
What is happening in the country, and what has come over the Greeks?
The State Was The Enemy
It isn't necessarily a question of mentalities, says Karantza. "If a Greek lives in Denmark, he eventually behaves like a Dane, paying taxes and recycling. A German living on the Peloponnese, on the other hand, stops paying his water bill -- because he only receives it sporadically and because no one asks about it."
The rules of the game in a given country determine the way people behave in a society, says Karantza. And for most Greeks, the state was primarily an enemy for a long time. The community was sabotaged wherever possible. It began with politicians unscrupulously lining their pockets and ended with taxi drivers, and some of the problems still exist today. And no one cared.
"Other nations have institutions. We have mirages," author Nikos Dimou wrote in 1975 in his famous collection of aphorisms "On The Misfortune Of Being Greek."
In the sixth year of the crisis, even the bogus institutions are in decline. The healthcare system has all but collapsed. The national health authority owes its creditors more than €2 billion. And the government itself owes the private economy about €7 billion.
No Money Left For Corruption
It was the old rules of the game that led Greece into the crisis. The political class may have set the rules, but almost everyone adhered to them. Now the game is over, and there is no money left for fakelaki and rousfeti, corruption and nepotism, two basic principles of Greek political life until now.
Suddenly there is room for those who want to set up new rules, and who want change and more cooperation. Some 3,000 initiatives were established throughout Greece in the last three years. They all have the same goal: to do things better than before. There are food cooperatives, community gardens, social pharmacies and neighborhood assistance programs for the poor.
"For decades, all that mattered to us was a BMW outside the door and a Miele washing machine in the bathroom," says Andreas Roumeliotis, a former journalist who has summed up the efforts of young Greek civil society in a new book called "I Can Do It Without the Euro." The title is not a reference to a return of the drachma, but to the notion that Greece is a rich nation, even without BMWs, because it is a fertile country.
Roumeliotis, 52, lost his job nine times in the last three years. He used to host a radio show on state broadcaster ERT, until Prime Minister Antonis Samaras closed the station from one day to the next. The journalist now lives in Crete and is setting up a social network. Starting in September, Roumeliotis hopes to combine all the new social movements in the country under a single web address, enallaktikos.gr. It will then be possible to search the new infrastructure of solidarity, from soup kitchens to second-hand clothing stores, on Google Maps.
A Barter Economy
"What we have to do now is actually the government's job," says Roumeliotis. But the government is finished, both financially and morally. This is not necessarily bad news. But the nation is undergoing a pretty brutal awakening.
In Crete alone, there are now five alternative currencies. For some, services are replacing the euro as a form of payment, but the real currency is trust. If a carpenter needs an attorney, for example, he'll make him a chair in return for his legal advice.
There are cafés in Athens where a guest pays for a stranger's cappuccino, along with his own, so that people who can't afford it can occasionally go to a café. In Thessaloniki, theatergoers can purchase tickets wth food.
If the new Greek solidarity had an icon, Giorgos Vichas would be a likely candidate. The 55-year-old cardiologist runs a clinic in a prefabricated building on the old Elleniki air base in the southern part of Athens. He works for free, as do 90 other doctors, and almost all fields of medicine are represented. Medical equipment, beds, chairs and drugs are all donated. Vichas and his colleagues do not accept money.
For almost two years now, they have served as a stand-in for the government, which can no longer guarantee basic medical care for its citizens, because they in turn can no longer afford their health insurance policies.
Up to 3,000 patients a month go through the waiting room, which looks like a makeshift bus stop, and the numbers continue to rise. At first glance, the clinic is a symbol of the hardship Greeks are going through. But it is also proof of a new communal spirit.
The Crisis is Bringing Out The Good in Greeks
In the past, he didn't know anyone who would join in a common project without being paid for it, says Giorgos Vichas. "I would never have believed that a society that was so superficial for so long could behave with such unity."
Until the crisis, says Vichas, the only things that mattered to people were their own families and their wellbeing. And now, although they are less affluent, the Greeks are more sympathetic and compassionate. The crisis is bringing out the good in the Greeks.
Mary Karantza und Stephania Xydia, the two women behind Imagine the City, used their network to install 200 lamps on an unlit street in downtown Athens last winter. People came from all over the city to help, each bringing a lampshade. The campaign attracted so much attention that Coca-Cola offered to be its sponsor. The mayor sent the two women a thank-you card.
The city has long tried to make its downtown area, mostly home to refugees and drug addicts today, livable again. Karantza and Xydia achieved more with the new lamps than the special forces units the interior minister deploys on a regular basis. New shops have opened on the street, there are tango parties once a week and students want to live there again.
It is primarily younger people who want change and are working hard to get it. Older Greeks never learned how to do this. They became accustomed to living in a system in which connections to influential people were more important than performance. For a long time, the most fervent wish many parents throughout Greece had for their children was that they land a job in the public sector.
While the crisis may not have changed the parents much, it has clearly changed their children. "Many are still searching for a savior in politics, someone who fill feed them," says Karantza.
She has often thought of leaving her country. Until recently, Karantza shared her office with two fashion designers. One is now living in Los Angeles and the other is in Berlin. "There are so many opportunities here to change something," she says. "We can't leave."
The two women are launching their new project in the fall. This time their focus is not on cities, but on the national government.
They are planning a constitution convention of sorts, which they call Politeia 2.0. They encourage anyone who wants something new for Greece to participate. Giorgos Vichas, the cardiologist, has already agreed to be part of it.
They really do want to change the rules of the game.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
Italian president says Berlusconi's conviction must be respected
President warned it will be 'fatal' for Italy's coalition government to be plunged into crisis over the issue
theguardian.com, Wednesday 14 August 2013 01.59 BST
The Italian president, Giorgio Napolitano, said on Tuesday night that Silvio Berlusconi's landmark conviction for tax fraud must be respected, warning that it would be "fatal" for Enrico Letta's coalition government to be plunged into crisis over the issue.
Following the former prime minister's first definitive conviction on 1 August, the 88-year-old head of state has come under pressure from members of the centre-right Freedom People (PdL) party to allow their leader to continue in politics.
But, breaking his silence over the issue that has exacerbated the divides in the three-month-old coalition government and called into question its very future, Napolitano presented Berlusconi with no easy way out.
"Any definitive sentence, and the consequent obligation of applying it, cannot but be taken into account," he said in a statement.
He said he had not received a formal request for a presidential pardon or act of clemency, and therefore could not respond to it.
While his four-year jail sentence was reduced under a 2006 amnesty, Italy's longest-serving postwar prime minister still faces the prospect of serving a year under house arrest or in community service. At 76, he is deemed too old for prison.
He will also be the subject of a potentially explosive vote in the upper house of parliament over whether to strip him of his senate seat and bar him from running for office for six years.
The situation has enraged his loyalists, who are reportedly planning a series of barnstorming events over the coming long weekend to highlight the return of Forza Italia, Berlusconi's first political party.
Napolitano, while saying he understood some of their anger, condemned any threats of retaliation against the government as unacceptable.
He said his and the great majority of Italians' fundamental concern was ensuring the stability of a government capable of leading the eurozone's third-largest economy out of its longest recession since the second world war.
"A crisis in a government formed with great effort little more than 100 days would … be fatal," he said, referring to the prolonged uncertainty that led to the creation of the awkward coalition. "The relapse of the country into instability and uncertainty would prevent us from seizing and consolidating the chance for an economic recovery which is at last taking shape."
Amid the stern warnings, there were some crumbs of comfort for Berlusconi. Napolitano did not explicitly rule out a pardon or form of clemency, saying that such moves were in general only possible in certain circumstances and following a formal request.
He also singled out the reform of the judiciary − Berlusconi's theme of the moment − as one of the key areas the government needed to tackle.
The intervention seems unlikely to dampen reported plans to inject a little summertime glow into the Forza Italia rebirth. In recent days, posters advertising the return have appeared in towns and cities throughout Italy, and newspapers close to Berlusconi have reported that there are plans for several aeroplanes to fly past beaches trailing banners declaring "Forza Silvio!"
Contacted on Monday, a spokeswoman for the PdL said the plan was "a possibility" but that the details remained "top secret". She added: "Berlusconi will never step back. He is a great man. The great men of history, like Napoleon, do not step back when there are attempts to eliminate them."
Hague war crimes ruling threatens to undermine future prosecutions
Legal experts say proof that accused 'specifically directed' atrocities now required after tribunal acquits Serbian commanders
Owen Bowcott, legal affairs correspondent
theguardian.com, Tuesday 13 August 2013 18.55 BST
Generals and politicians could evade responsibility for war crimes in future because of a ruling requiring proof that they "specifically directed" atrocities, say some international lawyers and senior judges.
A series of acquittals by the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) have created a novel judicial precedent that human rights groups fear will make it difficult to deliver justice in the wake of massacres.
Three senior Serbian generals or police officers have been cleared of all charges in recent months. The judgments relate to charges of "aiding and abetting" war crimes levelled against those who were not on the ground when civilians were systematically targeted and murdered by paramilitary or specialist forces.
The issue of their complicity revolves around legal interpretations of what constitutes mens rea, or intent, and how far "specific direction" must be proved to find a defendant guilty.
The dispute has touched off a debate within the international law community that has global political implications. Accusations that the US and Israeli governments applied improper pressure on the tribunal to ensure military commanders could never be convicted of war crimes are among allegations in circulation. Other commentators have dismissed such fears as conspiracy-mongering.
An early test of how persuasive the legal precedent has become will be the appeal by the former president of Liberia Charles Taylor, who was sentenced to 50 years in prison last summer.
The 65-year-old was convicted of "aiding and abetting" rebel groups in neighbouring Sierra Leone in a long-running conflict involving the use of child soldiers, enforced amputations, sexual slavery and the control of so-called blood diamonds.
The UN-backed special court for Sierra Leone in The Hague is expected to release its judgment on Taylor's appeal against conviction and sentence within the next two months.
Among submissions made by his lawyers this year were arguments that the tribunal had misinterpreted the mens rea standard and had wrongly found the evidence to have met a required proof of specific direction. Taylor's logistical support of the rebels in Sierra Leone was not intended to facilitate their atrocities, his lawyers argued.
The prosecution, by contrast, is seeking to have his sentence increased to 80 years. If the conviction is upheld Taylor is scheduled to serve out his sentence in a British prison.
One of the first judgments that overturned legal expectations was handed down by the ICTY in February. The presiding judge on its appeal chamber was Theodor Meron, an 83-year-old Holocaust survivor who has served as an Israeli diplomat and now holds American nationality. By a 4-to-1 majority, the judges quashed a 27-year jail sentence for Momičlo Perišić, a former chief of staff of the Yugoslav army, for providing military support for the Bosnian-Serb Army of the Republika Srpska between 1993 and 1995.
He had previously been convicted of aiding and abetting war crimes in Sarajevo and Srebrenica. Perišić was freed immediately by ICTY appeals chamber, which concluded: "Evidence establishing a direct link between the aid provided by an accused individual and the relevant crimes committed by principal perpetrators is necessary." There had been no such "specific direction" by Perišić to the Bosnian-Serb forces, the judges found.
Only one of the five judges on the panel disagreed. In a powerful dissenting opinion Judge Liu Daqun, from China, noted: "To insist on a [specific direction] requirement now effectively raises the threshold for aiding and abetting liability. This shift risks undermining the very purpose of aiding and abetting liability by allowing those responsible for knowingly facilitating the most grievous crimes to evade responsibility for their acts."
In May the court's lower tribunal returned not guilty verdicts by a 2-1 majority in the case of two Serbian intelligence officers, Jovica Stanišić and Frank Simatović. A French judge, Michele Picard, dissented, stating: "If we cannot find that the accused aided and abetted those crimes, I would say we have come to a dark place in international law … even if the evidence would 'only' establish that the accused were indifferent that these heinous crimes be committed in pursuit of their ultimate 'military' objective, I believe the majority has erred by acquitting them of all charges."
Other ICTY judges have sounded an even louder alarm. A non-permanent Danish judge, Frederik Harhoff, sent an email to 56 international lawyers and friends in which he expressed his despair at the acquittals.
It had been the tribunal's practice, Harhoff explained, that military commanders were held responsible for war crimes that their subordinates committed during the 1992-95 war in the former Yugoslavia. How could senior commanders not have known what was planned in the war in Bosnia?
"You would think," Harhoff speculated, "that the military establishment in leading states [such as USA and Israel] felt that the courts in practice were getting too close to the military commanders' responsibilities … in other words: the court was heading too far in the direction of commanding officers being held responsible for every crime their subordinates committed. Thus their intention to commit crime had to be specifically proven."
But military commanders are paid to ensure that crimes are not committed, Harhoff said. Had US or Israeli officials exerted any political pressure on the court? "Now apparently the commanders must have had a direct intention to commit crimes – and not just knowledge or suspicion that the crimes were or would be committed."
One consequence of the furore has been that three defendants, including the Serbian politician Vojislav Šešelj, who is being tried by Harhoff, have now appealed to the court on the grounds that the Danish judge lacks impartiality.
Those defending Meron point out that he was not on the panel that acquitted Stanišić and Simatović. Moreover, they say, the judge has a record of being liberal within the context of Israeli politics, having advised against settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Marko Attila Hoare, a reader in south-east European history at Kingston University in London, has accused Meron's detractors of feeding "off familiar antisemitic themes of alleged Jewish power and manipulative behaviour; themes that strike a chord among the wider public, which explains the vibrancy of the campaign".
Meron, in an interview with Tanjug, Serbia's official news agency, denied that it was "now virtually impossible to obtain convictions against the commanders and generals whose units perpetrated war crimes unless evidence shows that they issued direct orders to the units to do so". Wait and see the final results of the ICTY's work, he added.
US officials say they have never applied pressure on the court. Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, exonerated Meron from any "nefarious influence", describing the president of the ICTY as a man of "integrity and principle".
But he deplored the precedent set by the tribunal's new legal line of reasoning. "The Bosnian-Serb war effort was built on systematic atrocities," he wrote last month. "Since there was no evidence that Perišić gave a specific direction that the arms not be used for atrocities, anyone supplying arms would have known that they would aid atrocities.
"The danger of the Perišić precedent is not merely theoretical. It could affect [the] separate tribunal that is considering whether to uphold the conviction of former President Charles Taylor of Liberia … And the ruling undermines the ability of international criminal law to deter other leaders from similar murderous assistance – so long as they refrain from specifically directing the crimes that they assist. Russia and Iran's assistance to Syria comes to mind."
Eastern European autocrats pose new test for democracy
From Hungary's Orbán and Czech Republic's Zeman to Erdoğan in Turkey, a new breed of democratic strongman is emerging
Ian Traynor in Felcsút, Hungary
The Guardian, Tuesday 13 August 2013 13.52 BST
A 40-minute drive south-west of Budapest, Felcsút is a typical Hungarian village on the surface, its cottages strung out neatly along either side of the long main street. Untypical of the Hungarian countryside, however, is the frenzy of building activity here. Private security guards watch over armies of men in hard hats, bulldozers, and cranes toiling in the sweltering heat to complete a fancy football stadium dwarfing the pretty cottage gardens and vegetable patches.
Then there are half a dozen practice pitches plus a "football academy" named after Hungary's soccer saint, Ferenc Puskás, the Real Madrid maestro of the 1960s.
The village of 1,800 seems a strange location for such an investment. But Felcsút is also home to Viktor Orbán, Hungary's powerful prime minister who is a football fanatic and has changed the law to facilitate such developments.
Megalomania? Vanity project? Or just another aspect of the dizzying pace of change in Hungary since Orbán and his Fidesz party won a landslide in elections three years ago?
Orbán has given Hungary a new constitution and hundreds of new laws, sometimes reckoned to amount to one a day, including changes to the tax code making business investment in, and sponsorship of sports, tax-deductible.
The result has been a bonanza for the village where he grew up and keeps a family house. According to two independent Hungarian media investigations, businesses donated some 6bn forints (£17m) to football projects in Hungary last year. Staggeringly, almost half of that total flowed to Orbán's village.
The bounty suggests that Hungary's businessmen are very eager to please their strongman prime minister who enjoys an electoral mandate that other leaders in Europe can only dream about, but is also broadly seen to be abusing that mandate to establish a system perpetuating his power.
"There is a very clear tendency of concentrating power and deciding everything on his own," says Péter Molnár, a civil rights activist and former close associate of Orbán. "They're very seriously weakening democracy in Hungary. He has changed things to concentrate power in his hands."
But the Hungarian leader is not alone in eastern and southern Europe, where democratically elected populist strongmen increasingly dominate, deploying the power of the state and a battery of instruments of intimidation to crush dissent, demonise opposition, tame the media and tailor the system to their ends.
In Russia and Turkey, the two big former imperial powers that bracket Europe to the east and south, president Vladimir Putin and prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lash out aggressively at opponents, trying and jailing opposition figures and routinely resorting to violence to crush peaceful protest. They are both popular and utterly dominate their national politics.
In Romania last year, the prime minister, Victor Ponta, attempted what was widely seen as an abortive constitutional coup to unseat and impeach his rival and enemy, president Traian Basescu. He failed.
In Prague, president Milos Zeman has sought to exploit a government crisis to boost his power. The Czech Republic is a parliamentary democracy under cabinet government, but when the government collapsed under the weight of a corruption scandal in June, Zeman moved to appoint a close ally as a technocratic prime minister.
Parliament has revolted, voting against Zeman in a confidence vote last week, and on Tuesday the cabinet resigned, clearing the way for early elections which could resolve the deadlock.
With the exception of Russia, where democratic standards are far weaker, all these power-hungry leaders have been democratically elected and are careful to operate within the letter of the law. "I'm sure he believes there should be fair and free elections, but the system he's building now is working against those principles," says Ákos Maróy, an IT specialist and freedom of information campaigner at Atlatszo, of Orbán's tactics.
"Orbán is really world class at doing things in a way that is, or at least looks, formally legal when often it is obvious they are abusing the law," says Molnár, who shared student rooms with Orbán as law students in the 1980s and was a co-founder of Fidesz with Orbán in 1988, a year before the collapse of communism across the region. He quit Fidesz in the 1990s.
While the different countries vary hugely in their politics, the strongmen leaders tend to exhibit strikingly similar characteristics and often resort to identical tactics. Orbán, Erdoğan, and Putin head political parties or elites very much focused on and dominated by the leader.
Molnár describes Orbán's approach to policymaking as follows: "There might be some very limited discussion, but I'm telling you the result, and I'm doing it for the good of my country."
Like Putin and Erdoğan, Orbán also views politics as a zero sum game where the winner takes all. Opponents are reviled as extremists and traitors. Whether genuinely believed or used simply as a populist tactic, paranoia about foreign plots is regularly invoked to disarm critics. Nationalist rhetoric is used to brand opponents as unpatriotic puppets of foreign powers.
"There is an anti-Hungarian campaign," says Enikő Győri, the minister for European affairs. "Foreign businesses are going to Brussels to complain about new taxes. Some in Europe say we're reducing democracy. It's not true. But the new constitution, plus the speed of reform and legislation, is seen as politically incorrect in Europe. Our critics say stupid things and that provokes anti-EU sentiment."
She sees Orbán as a visionary leader bent on restoring Hungary to regional prominence and arresting a long process of national decline: "No one wants to reshape the borders in Europe, but we want to survive. The long-term vision is that the Hungarian people has to survive, and for that you need more children.
"The population is declining. It's awful. It's frightening. If you want to survive in the Carpathian basin, if you want these people to remain, we maybe need more Hungarians. You need to encourage people that it's a good thing."
"Crisis management needs fast, decisive action. That's exactly what our leader is doing," says Balázs Orbán, a constitutional lawyer at the pro-government thinktank, Szazadveg. "He's a role model for others in eastern Europe. He's capable of many things that other European leaders couldn't do."
With a two-thirds majority and the Hungarian parliament effectively reduced to a rubber stamp for the prime minister's will, Orbán can do whatever he wants. But his antics have brought him in conflict with Brussels. The latest spat involves a highly critical and detailed report from the European parliament demanding a special EU monitoring system to scrutinise Orbán's actions.
Events in Hungary have caused Berlin and other EU capitals to call for a EU system of monitoring democracy in the 28 member states, with penalties for perceived transgressions. It appears that such calls will gain traction in Brussels this year.
A tone of authoritarian nationalism pervades the discourse of the Orbán government, according to critics. A Fidesz declaration after Orbán's landslide interpreted his mandate as "a new social contract" for the country.
"Hungarians decided to create a new system, the national co-operation system… It is shared by every Hungarian inside or outside the country… It is not only an opportunity, but a requirement for every Hungarian," with the parliament and government "obliged by the Hungarian nation to take the helm in this endeavour".
Molnár describes such language as "Orwellian, a total lie," a throwback to the language of the 1930s. Orbán's government ordered the declaration to be hung prominently in every public building.
Outside parliament on the banks of the Danube in Budapest, the large park area that has frequently been the site of political protests has also been cordoned off and turned into a giant building site. Under Orbán, the site is being redeveloped into a replica of how it looked in the 1930s under the authoritarian regime of Admiral Miklos Horthy.
There has been no opposition of note, in contrast to Turkey, where last month's protests, crushed by teargas and water cannon, were sparked by the prime minister's determination to destroy an Istanbul park also to build a 1930s replica of a military barracks and mosque.
If Orbán, Erdoğan and others share an intolerance of dissent and an aversion to pluralism, these tendencies are most sharply felt in the media. The instruments of control range from the legal framework, regulators packed with political cronies, state media homogenisation, private media in the hands of loyal businessmen and oligarchs who depend on government contracts for their wealth and discourage critical reporting or holding policymakers to account.
Orbán brought in a controversial media law that centralised and homogenised all news production for state television, radio, and the national news agency and appointed all five members of the regulatory media council.
"They've succeeded in domesticating and chilling the media. You don't get jailed or shot like in Russia. But you lose your job," says Bodoky.
"Censorship is internalised," adds his colleague, Maróy. "People are protecting their livelihoods, behaving as they're expected to. That's what is happening."
Other instruments commonly wielded to coerce loyalty and punish dissidence include the selective use of tax inspectors to intimidate business leaders and individuals, and the awarding of government contracts and licenses.
Orbán, for example, brought in a new system of tobacco sales licensing, destroying around 40,000 small family businesses then reissuing some 5,000 licences in an operation that critics and independent journalists say was used to reward cronies and buy loyalty to the government.
He is also giving citizenship and the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of Hungarians outside the country. They will be able to vote for the first time in general elections next April. The expectation is they will vote for the party that gave them that right, helping Orbán to another term.
Gordon Bajnai, an opposition leader and former prime minister, described the political project in Hungary last week as the building of "Orbánistan", citing the Felcsút football stadium as a typical example.
Tamás Bodoky, an investigative journalist who runs the freedom of information website, Atlatszo, describes the Felcsút football project as "pure feudalism", somehow symptomatic of the new climate being wrought by Orbán in Hungary.
"He is a very clever and a very authoritarian person. He's a control freak," says Bodoky. "He knows very well how the state works. He's putting all his officers in all key positions and has no respect for independent institutions that can control or limit his power."
But Orbán's supporters – and he remains far ahead in the opinion polls – insist that the leader is simply daring to "deviate" from the European mainstream and put his country first.
They are confident that Hungary and Orbán, who utterly dominates national politics, are winning. Others are less sure. "It's a really tragic story," says Molnár.
"It's a drama of how a very talented political person is being destroyed by his own hubris. I think he's lost."
Strongmen at the top
Post Prime minister
Time in office Three years
Majority 263 seats in 386-seat parliament
Political orientation Right
Supporters say Fast and decisive in a crisis
Critics say Has used two-thirds majority in parliament to focus power in his own hands, and stifle press freedom
Public response Huge protests in 2012 against the "Viktator" and his attempts to redraw the constitution
Time in office Five months
Majority/margin Won March election with 54.8% of the vote
Political orientation Centre-left
Supporters say Enjoys more legitimacy than PM as he was directly elected
Critics say Is exploiting government crisis to boost his own power
Public response Small protests this summer
Post Prime minister
Time in office Fifteen months
Majority 395 seats in parliament of 588
Political orientation Centre-left
Critics say Violated constitution with bid to unseat president Traian Basescu last year
Supporters say He is just trying to break the president's iron grip on the country
Public response Protests throughout 2012
Posts President; prime minister; president again
Time in office 13 years
Majority/margin 63.6% of vote in March 2012 elections
Political orientation Right
Supporters say Has made Russia a power again
Critics say Has muzzled opposition and stifled democracy
Public response Protests of late 2011 fizzled out in rackdown against leaders such as Alexei Navalny
Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Post Prime minister
Time in office: Ten years
Majority 327 seats out of 550-seat parliament
Political orientation Moderate Islamist
Supporters say Restored growth; made country a regional powerbroker
Critics say Becoming more Islamist and authoritarian; ignoring Turkish heritage with redevelopment plans
Public response Mass protests, mainly in Istanbul, refuse to die down
Click here: http://www.theguardian.com/world/interactive/2013/aug/13/eastern-europe-the-new-autocrats
08/14/2013 11:18 AM
Code Name 'Kid': American Stasi Spy Tells His Story
By Jürgen Dahlkamp
One of East Germany's top spies was actually an American soldier. Jeff Carney defected to the Communist state in 1983 and fed the notorious Stasi with reams of valuable information. He has now written a book about his experiences.
Berlin's Marienfelde district in the fall of 1983: The day Jeff Carney helped save the world was just four hours old. Carney, a 20-year-old surveillance specialist with the United States Air Force, was sitting in the early morning in front of the equipment he used to eavesdrop on the East. He was on the night shift, and there was nothing special to report.
Then his supervisor told him about a secret operation that was set to take place just a few hours later. It was a war game of sorts, and it involved US fighter jets that would come within threatening range of Soviet airspace, triggering alarm signals on the Russians' radar screen and a general state of confusion. The planners expected that the other side would become so unnerved over the maneuver that emergency response procedures would be set in motion, revealing them to US reconnaissance.
But what if the Russians thought it was an actual attack and launched a counter-attack? Carney, who had been working as an agent for the East German Ministry for State Security, known as the Stasi, for a few months, had mere hours to act. First, he had to finish his shift, but then he hurried to see his Stasi contact, a teacher in West Berlin. His message made it in time; the Soviets were alerted that it was a fake maneuver, but not an actual attack.
Later, after defecting to East Germany, Carney received the gold "Brotherhood in Arms Medal" from Stasi head Erich Mielke. Even later, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a US court sentenced Carney to 20 years in Fort Leavenworth, a military prison in Kansas. Carney, code-named "Kid," was one of a pair of top agents the Stasi had used to infiltrate the US military in West Berlin. The Americans estimated the damage that the "Kid" had caused by betraying secrets over a period of more than two years at $14.5 billion (€10.9 billion).
A World of Lies and Betrayal
Carney, released early after serving 11 years of his sentence, has now written his memoirs about life on both sides of the Cold War. In the 700-page book, he reveals the views of a former spy and offers insights into a world that vanished 25 years ago. It was a world of lies and betrayal, disguises and deception, of dead drops in the woods and a Lipton ice tea can with a miniature camera screwed into its base. Carney, as an agent for the Stasi, used the camera to take pictures of row upon row of US surveillance files.
The many blacked-out passages suggest that the book itself is largely free of lies and falsifications. The US Air Force and the NSA spent about a year examining the book, and there were many passages that they felt should remain secret to this day, which they redacted. Still, what the censors left untouched offers a thrilling look into everyday life on the invisible front of East-West espionage.
Carney joined the Air Force in the summer of 1980. He was only 17 at the time, and the Air Force offered an escape from a broken family in which there was not always enough to eat. His three years of high-school German were his ticket to the 6912th Electronic Security Group in Berlin's Marienfelde district, where trouble with his commanding officers, his fragile mental state and the fear that his homosexuality would be discovered prompted him to change sides on April 22, 1983. After going to a bar, he then walked across the border between East and West Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie and addressed the baffled East German border guards without the Western intelligence agencies realizing what had happened. Stasi agents were immediately called to the scene, and Carney told them that he wanted to live in East Germany. But they had a better use for him. They sent him back to West Berlin and placed him as a mole inside his unit.
A year later, the Air Force transferred Carney to the United States and promoted him to be a trainer of other surveillance specialists. He continued his spying activities before ultimately losing his nerve and fleeing to East Berlin through the East German embassy in Mexico. In East Berlin, the Stasi turned Jeffrey Carney into Jens Karney (visit his website here), a postal employee. And because he not only understood English, but also US military jargon, he eavesdropped on communications from the US embassy in East Berlin and the US military mission in Potsdam until the fall of the Berlin Wall. In April 1991, when Carney was working as a metro driver for the Berlin Transport Authority, he was seized by a team with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) and taken back to the United States.
'I Really Shouldn't Tell You This ...'
His early transfers to the Stasi, made while he was still in Berlin in 1983, included thick training manuals for US surveillance specialists. Carney had hidden them in the rubber boots of his NBC protective suit and smuggled them out of the American listening post in Marienfelde. While working there, he had discovered that classified US military documents were often left lying around and that secrets sometimes turned into gossip, prefaced by the phrase: "I really shouldn't tell you this, but…"
For his deliveries to the Stasi, he was generally only paid 300 deutsche marks. He writes that the money wasn't that important to him; instead, he had wanted to do something against what he felt was aggressive US policies. But he realized how important the information was to East Germany when he told his contact officer that he wanted to try out some muscle-building drugs for his hobby -- long bicycle rides through Berlin. Before long, the Stasi had provided him with the best that the East German doping machine had to offer: oral turinabol, an oral anabolic steroid in the form of blue pills, with which East Germany had pumped up its swimmers and track-and-field athletes and turned them into Olympic medalists.
Later, in an Air Force library in Texas, Carney photographed the contents of large numbers of file folders containing classified documents. He claims that one of the documents he uncovered revealed that the Americans were fudging the numbers when comparing the military strength of East and West. To exaggerate the threat from the East, he says, they included in their weapons estimates large numbers of decommissioned tanks that had been put on display in many cities after the war as monuments to the glory of the Red Army.
According to Carney, another list he found contained seven names: members of death squads who had been trained in the United States for contract killings in their respective countries. But the Air Force blacked out further details in Carney's memoirs.
Cables from the Embassy
After defecting to East Germany, Carney quickly realized that he had no friends there, only intelligence agents who wanted to use him. Or get rid of him. At first, East Germany wanted to send him to Sweden. But fearing that he might reveal East German secrets there, the Main Reconnaissance Administration found work for him at home, with a radio reconnaissance unit that eavesdropped on cables from the US Embassy and the US military mission in East Germany.
The recordings were made using West German Uher SG-561 tape recorders, which East Germany was only able to afford after receiving a sizable loan in a deal brokered by then Bavarian Governor Franz Josef Strauss. Cassettes for other Uher devices were obtained directly at the border, where they were confiscated from Western tourists.
In his memoirs, Carney talks about how he searched the recorded conversations for the preferences of secretaries at the US Embassy, so that Romeo agents with the Stasi could court the women, armed with a precise profile. On one occasion, he listened in on a conversation in which a female embassy employee said she was looking for a cleaning woman. Soon afterwards, a cleaning woman posted a job search ad at bus stops along the woman's route to work. When she was later hired, the cleaning woman readily opened the diplomat's door to Stasi agents.
Nostalgia for the Old Regime
The Americans, of course, were aware that they were being monitored, which sometimes led to bizarre conversations. After the 1986 bombing of the West Berlin nightclub La Belle, which was frequented by US soldiers, a suspicious-looking car drove past the US Embassy in East Berlin. A concerned diplomat said into his phone: "If you East Germans are listening, I have a license plate number for you." Libya was suspected of being behind the attack and the car the diplomat had seen was registered to the Libyan mission in East Berlin. The Americans wanted the Stasi to deter the Libyans from committing further attacks.
Today, 10 years after his release from military prison, Carney lives in Ohio with his adopted son. As an ex-convict and a traitor, he is unable to find a permanent job and his attempt to gain a foothold in Berlin once again -- from the fall of 2010 to the fall of 2011 -- was also a failure. Acquaintances from the past, including some who were not with the Stasi, tried to help him, and they found him a job with a publishing house that specializes in books for those nostalgic for the old regime by authors such as Margot Honecker and Egon Krenz. Initially, Carney's book was to be published there as well, but ultimately the publishing house declined.
His book likewise didn't coincide with the worldview of former Stasi officials -- because it presents both the Americans and the Stasi in an unfavorable light. "You're not fair to us," a former Stasi colonel complained.
Carney's monthly wages began to decline, until he was no longer making enough money to qualify for a residence permit. With his return to the United States, the publisher lost the book rights and Carney lost his last shred of faith in his old comrades. "Some were visibly happy to get rid of me. I'm finished with those people." But this only makes things more difficult for Carney in the future. He hardly has any friends left, not even his old, phony companions.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
Dutch art heist trial adjourned in Bucharest with fate of paintings unclear
Romanians accused of stealing artworks deny burning paintings by Lucian Freud, Picasso, Monet, Matisse and Gauguin
Maev Kennedy and Romana Puiulet in Bucharest
The Guardian, Tuesday 13 August 2013 19.18 BST
Romanians accused of stealing artworks by Lucian Freud, Picasso, Monet, Matisse and Gauguin deny burning the paintings and are willing to give them back, their lawyers said on Tuesday in a case dubbed the bonfire of the masterpieces.
The trial of the accused opened in Bucharest and was promptly adjourned amid continuing confusion over whether any of the paintings stolen last year from the Netherlands have been destroyed.
The mother of one of the suspects said last month she had burned at least three of the works – the seven stolen paintings are together insured for €18m (£15.4m) – in her kitchen stove, but then withdrew her statement. One analysis of the ashes painstakingly raked out from the stove suggested traces of painted canvas, but a lawyer for one of the accused on Tuesday insisted all the pictures are intact.
Maria Vasii, representing Eugen Darie – accused of driving the getaway car – said: "Our customers are waiting for the right procedural framework before they can make all necessary steps to hand over these paintings to Dutch authorities. Our customers have informed us that the paintings have not been burnt."
If indeed the pictures have survived, they appear to have become bargaining chips in a complicated tangle of legal actions.
A lawyer for Radu Dogaru, accused of being the ringleader of the gang, also said that none of the paintings have been damaged. Catalin Dancu, who said Dogaru wants to be tried in the Netherlands and to serve any jail sentence there, said he has "control" over five of the paintings, and that it was "certain" they had been brought to Romania but not burnt. He also wants to send the ashes from the stove for further testing at the Louvre in Paris to support this claim.
The theft in October 2012 of the seven paintings from the Kunsthal gallery in Rotterdam was one of the most spectacular art heists in decades and mortifying for the gallery: at least one film director is considering making a film about the raid.
The Romanian prosecutors, who are seeking 20-year sentences for Dogaru and his mother, Olga, as well as for Darie, and lesser sentences for other associates, claim that the gang, already under suspicion of other thefts and people-trafficking into the Netherlands, carefully investigated the art scene in Rotterdam after one member used his car's sat-nav to identify museums. They rejected the contents of the Natural History Museum as too difficult to sell, but then saw a poster for the first public exhibition of masterpieces from the privately owned Triton Foundation, assembled by a Dutch shipping magnate.
The paintings were selected from those on display for portability, to fit canvas bags they had already bought. When they broke in through a fire door, before dawn on 16 October 2012, it took them less than three minutes to remove the pictures, four oil paintings and three watercolours.
The prosecution's indictment records Olga Dogaru's detailed account, which she later retracted, of what happened after some or all of the pictures reached Romania, and the gang realised after various approaches to potential middlemen just how identifiable and how difficult to sell their loot would prove.
She told the police that she became scared following her son's arrest in January, because she saw on television how valuable the stolen paintings were. The paintings were buried first in the overgrown garden of an old house, then in a ravine behind the graves in a local cemetery, in her remote home village of Carcaliu.
"From the moment we buried the paintings in the cemetery, my psychical state must have deteriorated as I was more and more scared and I didn't know what to do to protect Radu. I wanted to help him and hurt neither him nor the others … without consulting with anyone and without telling anyone, four days after the raid of 13 February 2013 I decided one night to destroy those paintings by burning them. I first lit the fire in the stove, then I went to the cemetery and unearthed the paintings and brought them home. Without unwrapping the package – the bag which contained the seven packed paintings – I put it in the stove, I put some wood, the slippers, the rubber overshoes I had been wearing and I waited for them to burn completely."
An analysis of the ash from the stove by scientists at the National History Museum of Romania found that it included handmade nails older than the late 19th century, which they presumed were used to attach the canvases to the wooden stretchers, suggesting that at least three oil paintings had been burned.
The watercolours, including a glowing view of the Thames at Waterloo Bridge by Monet, could have been reduced to ashes beyond identification. Or, just possibly, they could still be wrapped up safely with the others, in the canvas bags, pillow cases or old suitcases described by various witnesses, waiting to be rediscovered.
Cosmic ‘Cold Spot’ Challenges Inflation Model Of The Early Universe
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 23:10 EDT
This past spring, the most detailed mapping of the early universe was released to the public. Certain anomalous features of this map have attracted the intense scrutiny of astrophysicist and cosmologists. In particular, there appears to be a massive “cold spot” in the data distribution whereas the current Inflationary Model of the universe says there should be none. And there are other puzzling observations as well.
The cosmic map referred to here was compiled from data collected by the European Space Agency’s Planck spacecraft. Specifically, the data concerned fluctuations in the cosmic radiation temperature known as the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) — the energy “footprint” or remnant of the mighty explosion — the Big Bang — that began our universe.
At some point within the first 10-36 seconds following this massively energetic explosion, the universe underwent an “inflationary epoch” in which the size of the universe expanded a great many orders of magnitude — eventually dispersing the initial energy of the Bang throughout space-time.
But here’s the problem: according to the Inflationary Theory (first posited by Alan Guth in the 1980′s) , since all parts of space expanded equally, this cosmic microwave energy should be distributed uniformly throughout the universe (at its largest scales). So, if the data collected by Planck is good (and there’s no reason to question its quality), then scientists who study the origin and evolution of our cosmos have a major problem or puzzle to work out: the data shows a “cold spot” — an area of unusually high density (possibly from highly compacted matter) that does not fit neatly with the inflation model of the early universe.
This anomalous feature was discussed in a recent roundtable comprised of three key members of the Planck observatory team and held at the Kavli Foundation (Oxnard, CA), a research foundation dedicated to the study of cosmology. And the central question that arose from this roundtable was loud and clear: Will our present model of the early universe have to be altered and/or fundamentally changed?
At the roundtable discussion (as reported by World Science), astrophysicist George Efstathiou at the University of Cambridge (and director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmology at Cambridge), commented:
[The inflationary model] “predicts that today’s universe should appear uniform at the largest scales in all directions. That uniformity should also characterize the distribution of fluctuations at the largest scales. But these anomalies, which Planck confirmed, such as the cold spot, suggest that this isn’t the case…This is very strange. And I think that if there really is anything to this, you have to question how that fits in with inflation…. It’s really puzzling.”
Efstathiou, who has been involved with the Planck mission since its inception in 1993, added:
“Perhaps our theory of inflation is not correct, despite its beauty and simplicity.”
And there are other anomalous features, such as the recently discovered “super cluster” of quasars (a large quasar group, LQG) which seems to defy the Einstein principle governing the maximum achievable size of cosmic structures. This structure — found amongst millions of galactic images from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) — would represent another non-uniformity (or anisotropy) in the background energy distribution.
(Note: The third member of the roundtable discussion was Anthony Lasenby, professor of Astrophysics and Cosmology at the University of Cambridge)
(see this graphic of what is being discussed about satellites below)
This graphic illustrates the evolution of satellites designed to measure ancient light leftover from the big bang that created our universe 13.8 billion years ago. Called the cosmic microwave background, this light reveals secrets of the universe’s origins, fate, ingredients and more.
The three panels show 10-square-degree patches of all-sky maps created by space-based missions capable of detecting the cosmic microwave background. The first spacecraft, launched in 1989, is NASA’s Cosmic Background Explorer, or COBE (left panel). Two of COBE’s principal scientists earned the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2006 for the mission’s evidence supporting the big bang theory, and for its demonstration that tiny variations in the ancient light reveal information about the state of the universe.
These variations, called anistotropies, came into sharper focus with NASA’s next-generation spacecraft, the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, or WMAP (middle panel). This mission, launched in 2001, found strong evidence for inflation, the very early epoch in our universe when it expanded dramatically in size, and measured basic traits of our universe better than ever before.
The most advanced satellite yet of this type is Planck, a European Space Agency mission with significant NASA contributions. Planck, launched in 2009, images the sky with more than 2.5 times greater resolution than WMAP, revealing patterns in the ancient cosmic light as small as one-twelfth of a degree on the sky. Planck has created the sharpest all-sky map ever made of the universe’s cosmic microwave background, precisely fine-tuning what we know about the universe. [credit: NASA/JPL/Cal Tech/ESA]
Alternative Explanations of Cosmic Inflation
To explain the so-called cold spot, some astrophysicists are beginning to modify their view of the current inflation model, allowing that the initial cosmic inflation may have been much more limited in scope than originally thought.
Other scientists assert that anomalous features like the cold spot are indications that one or more “other universes” — at some distant point in the cosmic past — bumped into our universe. This view lends support to the bouncing branes theory of cosmogenesis (that’s ‘branes’ as in membranes as in cosmic boundaries) proposed by Paul Steinhardt and Neil Turok in 2007.
In the bouncing brane theory, two cosmic membranes make contact for a short period (aided by a “springy” 5th dimension and drawing upon the gravitational field for energy) causing a tremendous volume of energy to spill from one into the other; the recipient (cosmos) of this sudden energy influx experiences a Big Bang and rapid expansion. An interesting component of this theory is that this membrane contact and energy transfer is not localized, but spread out over the entire (recipient) cosmos — non-uniformly.
One other thing: the theory does not limit the number of time such bounces, or bumps, can happen. So, in theory, there may have been any number of previous big Bangs (and inflationary epochs) prior to this current one. Here, the universe does not at some point in the future begin contracting irreversibly (the “Gnab Gib”) back to a singularity. Rather, it receives long-time scale infusions of energy from a neighboring (but invisible to us) cosmos, starting the whole operation over, in a kind of cosmic renewable energy system. And, there may have been an infinity of previous brane bounce cycles.
An Earlier CMB Map With a ‘Ring’ of Truth
An earlier mapping and analysis of the CMB drawn from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) data revealed another curious feature of the CMB: the appearance of a “concentric ring” structure in the CMB temperature flux. It has been posited (Penrose and Gurzadyan, 2010) that these rings (i.e., circular bands of temperature variations, or anisotropies) represent pulses of energy transfers due to collisions from earlier Big Bangs; these “echos” have been preserved in the microwave background (a form of cosmic memory, if you will). Interestingly, in this theory — known as Conformal Cyclic Cosmology (CCC) — the ring structure represents both non-uniformity and pattern in the CMB.
But if these rings are indeed echos of past Big Bangs, then that would imply that our universe has had several previous “creations”, perhaps an infinite number of them.
One of the Planck Collaboration team scientists, Krzysztof Gorski, speaking at the roundtable, observed:
“Perhaps we may still eliminate these anomalies with more precise analysis; on the other hand, they may open the door to something much more grand—a reinvestigation of how the whole structure of the universe should be.”
One thing seems ironically clear: the universe that we inhabit is a far more mysterious and strange place (and time) than we know.
Some source material (and quotes) for this post came from the July, 2013 World Science article: “Inflation” theory of infant cosmos may need revision by the World Science staff (and courtesy of the Kavli Foundation)
In the USA..
August 13, 2013
North Carolinians Fear the End of a Middle Way
By CAMPBELL ROBERTSON
EDEN, N.C. — When Pat McCrory, a Republican former mayor of Charlotte, was elected governor last year, he pledged to “bring this state together,” and to focus on bread-and-butter issues amid an ailing economy.
But with Republicans controlling all branches of the state government for the first time in more than a century, the legislature pushed through a wide range of conservative change. The Republicans not only cut taxes and business regulations, as many had expected, but also allowed stricter regulations on abortion clinics, ended teacher tenure, blocked the expansion of Medicaid, cut unemployment benefits, removed obstacles to the death penalty, allowed concealed guns in bars and restaurants, and mandated the teaching of cursive writing.
Just this week, Mr. McCrory signed into law strict voter identification requirements, prohibiting same-day registration and cutting early voting. “Many of those from the extreme left who have been criticizing photo ID are using scare tactics,” he said in a video on his Web site. “They’re more interested in divisive politics than ensuring that no one’s vote is disenfranchised by a fraudulent ballot.”
Lawsuits have been filed — including one on Monday by the N.A.A.C.P. — and protests are taking place almost weekly in Raleigh, the capital, and other cities, leaving North Carolinians across the political spectrum worried that the state’s often-hailed political pragmatism may have given way to the ideological warfare of Washington.
“This is a definite break from what I would consider normal behavior for North Carolina,” said David French, 27, who is looking for a job in industrial design here in rural Rockingham County. “The whole political system nowadays is becoming more extreme.”
In an interview, Mr. McCrory said that critics had obscured what he called a pragmatic and fiscally responsible agenda. “It’s a combination of people on the two extremes wanting to bring up and exaggerate controversial issues,” he said, adding that he had pushed back against earlier versions of the abortion and tax bills, and was planning to veto other bills this week.
But the agenda that did pass was unquestionably a right turn for a state that only five years ago voted for Barack Obama, the first Democratic presidential candidate to win here since Jimmy Carter. With a run of Democratic governors stretching back to 1993, North Carolina was considered such a promising state for the Democrats that they held their convention in Charlotte in 2012.
“It shocked everybody,” said Sam Hummell, a 76-year-old retired investment adviser who was arrested last month in Raleigh wearing an Uncle Sam costume and taking part in the protests that have come to be known as “Moral Mondays.”
North Carolina has long had a strong conservative strain, even when its political leadership was almost entirely Democratic. There have historically been libertarian-leaning Republicans in the western mountains, and social conservatives have been peeling away from the Democrats for years. The state was the home of Senator Jesse Helms, known for his small-government defiance as Senator No.
But it was also the home of Senator John Edwards, the Democratic populist who ran for president and became John Kerry’s running mate. For decades, the state’s contradictory inclinations came to something of a stalemate, resulting in its pragmatic political style.
Things began to change in 2010.
President Obama drew antipathy from rural white voters, and state Democrats were dogged by troubles: federal investigators were looking into the campaign finances of former Gov. Mike Easley, while the sitting governor, Bev Perdue, was dropping in the polls. The state’s economy had been rocked more than most by the recession, and places like Rockingham County, on the Virginia border, which traditionally swung in its partisan allegiances, had been growing steadily more desperate after the loss of thousands of jobs with the closing of textile and furniture mills and tobacco plants.
The tipping point may have come in the suburbs. Conservatives and pro-business groups had been building a formidable organizational and donor structure, as part of a national Republican strategy to win control of statehouses in time to shape legislative redistricting.
Most active in these efforts in North Carolina was Art Pope, a retail magnate, who founded groups that put over $1.7 million into the 2010 elections and whose financing of conservative candidates and policy groups was described at length in a 2011 article in The New Yorker, as well as a series of articles by the Institute for Southern Studies, a liberal group based in the state.
John Hood, the president of the John Locke Foundation, which Mr. Pope helped found, said that Democrats had enjoyed a substantial spending and organizational advantage in the past, and that his effort “was partly a response to a liberal party infrastructure that had been built over the previous decades.”
Other business leaders began leaping into the fray, like Allen E. Gant Jr., the president of Glen Raven, a 133-year-old textile company based in Burlington. He started a group called Carolina Business Coalition, which pushes for low taxes and pro-management policy.
“We finally found some people who are willing to listen to us,” Mr. Gant said of the new Republican leadership.
With all of this brought to bear in the 2010 elections, a cycle deeply unfavorable for Democrats nationwide, North Carolina Republicans won both houses of the legislature for the first time in a century. More critically, they also won control of redistricting. One year later, they drew districts guaranteeing safe seats for a Republican majority for years to come.
In 2012, with Ms. Perdue’s late decision not to run again, Mr. McCrory won the governor’s office easily. Naming Mr. Pope as his budget director, he promised an agenda focused on economic growth, even pledging not to sign into law new restrictions on abortion. But Republicans in the legislature were not interested in half-measures.
“I think part of it was the frustration of being out of power for such a long time,” Mr. Hood said.
Mr. McCrory, who was in Rockingham County on Tuesday morning to announce the coming of a gun manufacturing plant, said he had “spent 95 percent of my time on jobs and the economy, but the media has probably spent 95 percent of the time on other issues.” He added that he had met most of his major economic goals.
But many voters, those neither cheering nor protesting, are frustrated.
Doug Clark, a columnist for The News and Record of Greensboro, welcomed the partisan change, but he now sees the state’s Republican leadership as fostering “extreme partisanship and abuse of power.” He questioned why the legislature, after passing laws governing abortion, guns and voter identification, and frequently trying to exert control over issues traditionally left to local governments, never got around to passing the governor’s plan to overhaul job recruiting.
“That was his signature economic development initiative,” Mr. Clark said. Mr. McCrory says that the money for the initiative is in the budget, and that he can proceed without new legislation.
Senator Phil Berger, the Republican president pro tem of the State Senate, who represents this region, takes issue with any suggestion that the legislature was overly aggressive or that it was not responding to voters’ wants.
“There’s not, in my view, an issue that we’ve addressed that was not articulated as this is something that needs to be done, changes that need to be made in North Carolina,” he said.
But voters now seem to be souring on both parties. While the number of North Carolina voters over all has risen since 2008, the number who are registered as either Republicans or Democrats has shrunk.
Unaffiliated voters now make up more than a quarter of the voting population.
“Honest, I’m not much into North Carolina,” said Cyril Seacat, 78, who moved here decades ago to work in a Glen Raven-owned mill and was sitting in his truck outside a Walmart. “I don’t think they’re doing much of anything right.”
August 13, 2013
Still Marching on Washington, 50 Years Later
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
WASHINGTON — John Lewis was the 23-year-old son of Alabama sharecroppers and already a veteran of the civil rights movement when he came to the capital 50 years ago this month to deliver a fiery call for justice on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Mr. Lewis’s urgent cry — “We want our freedom, and we want it now!” — was eclipsed on the steps that day by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. But two years later, after Alabama State Police officers beat him and fractured his skull while he led a march in Selma, he was back in Washington to witness President Lyndon B. Johnson sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Today Mr. Lewis is a congressman from Georgia and the sole surviving speaker from the March on Washington in August 1963. His history makes him the closest thing to a moral voice in the divided Congress. At 73, he is still battling a half-century later.
With the Voting Rights Act in jeopardy now that the Supreme Court has invalidated one of its central provisions, Mr. Lewis, a Democrat, is fighting an uphill battle to reauthorize it. He is using his stature as a civil rights icon to prod colleagues like the Republican leader, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, to get on board. He has also met with the mother of Trayvon Martin and compared his shooting to the 1955 murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till.
Mr. Lewis has an answer for those who say the election of a black president was a fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream: It was only “a down payment,” he said in an interview.
“There’s a lot of pain, a lot of hurt in America,” Mr. Lewis said in his office on Capitol Hill, which resembles a museum with wall-to-wall black-and-white photographs of the civil rights movement. Current events, he said, “remind us of our dark past.”
But Mr. Lewis, a longtime practitioner of civil disobedience (he has been arrested four times since joining Congress), is also encouraged. He said he found it gratifying to see peaceful throngs “protesting in a nonviolent fashion” after George Zimmerman was acquitted in Mr. Martin’s killing. Last week, he created a minor dust-up by telling Britain’s Guardian newspaper that Edward J. Snowden, the national security contractor who leaked classified documents, could argue that he was “appealing to a higher law,” but later condemned the leaks.
Now Mr. Lewis is introducing himself to a new generation by telling the story of his life as a Freedom Rider in “March,” a graphic novel that he wrote with a young aide, Andrew Aydin. The book, released this week, is modeled on a 1958 comic about Dr. King, which inspired early sit-ins.
Mr. Lewis remains a link to that past. At a National Urban League convention in Philadelphia last month, he was on fire as he told the crowd how his parents reacted when he asked about colored-only signs a lifetime ago in the Deep South.
“They would say, ‘That’s the way it is, don’t get in the way, don’t get in trouble,’ ” Mr. Lewis thundered in a preacher’s cadence. “But one day, I was inspired to get in the way, to get in trouble. And for more than 50 years, I’ve been getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble! And it’s time for all of us to get in trouble again!”
Last month, the congressman made a splash at Comic-Con in San Diego, where Lou Ferrigno, the original “Incredible Hulk,” was among the fans who lined up to see him. But it was serious business, a way for him to reach young people, Mr. Lewis said, and fulfill his duty to “bear witness.”
Each year, Mr. Lewis leads an emotional re-enactment in Selma of the “Bloody Sunday” march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where the brutal police response horrified the nation. Mr. Cantor participated this year, bringing his college-age son, and said he came away “very moved” — a sentiment that Mr. Lewis will play on during negotiations over a new bill.
“John is what I call a gentle spirit,” said Roy Barnes, a former Georgia governor, recalling a visit by Mr. Lewis in 2001 when he was wrestling with removing the Confederate emblem from the state flag.
“He said, ‘Right before I lost consciousness, I looked up and saw an Alabama state trooper beating me on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and all I could see was a Confederate flag on his helmet,’ ” Mr. Barnes recalled. “He said, ‘I want you to remember that.’ ”
At the Urban League conference, a pantheon of civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton, mingled backstage, but all eyes were on Mr. Lewis. Convention workers asked for pictures. Benjamin Crump, the Martin family lawyer, clutched a copy of “March,” hoping for an autograph. Strangers asked for hugs.
It is often this way for Mr. Lewis. He seems sheepish about the attention, and his speeches hint at survivor’s guilt. “All I did was give a little blood on that bridge,” he often says. Pointing to old photos, he refers to himself as “young John Lewis,” as if he were seeing someone else.
It is a long way from dusty Troy, Ala., where Mr. Lewis, one of 10 children, picked cotton and preached the Gospel to his chickens. His life took a turn when, at 18, he wrote to Dr. King. Mr. Lewis was studying at a Baptist seminary in Nashville, but was thinking about trying to integrate his hometown college, Troy State, now Troy University. Dr. King sent bus fare for Mr. Lewis to meet him in nearby Montgomery.
His parents, he has written, were “deathly afraid” that his integration dream would bring the family harm. So he returned to Nashville, where he organized lunch counter sit-ins, got arrested and met a theologian, Jim Lawson, whose teachings about Gandhian nonviolence had a profound effect on him. In his quest to build what Dr. King called “the beloved community” — a world without poverty, racism or war — Mr. Lewis routinely votes against military spending.
“For most of us, nonviolence was a tool we used to achieve an end,” said another movement veteran, Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina. “John Lewis internalized that.”
In 1963, as the new chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Mr. Lewis helped organize the Washington march. His prepared remarks were so bold — he branded President John F. Kennedy’s civil rights efforts “too little, too late” — that older leaders persuaded him to tone them down.
He went on to settle in Atlanta, won a seat on the City Council, and in 1986 challenged Julian Bond, a state lawmaker and a close friend from their movement days, for Congress.
Mr. Bond, handsome and erudite, was the favorite, but Mr. Lewis, with a speaking style that some describe as an impediment, fought hard and brought up Mr. Bond’s refusal to take a drug test. Mr. Bond later became chairman of the N.A.A.C.P. It took years for them to repair the breach. “He did what it took to win,” Mr. Bond said, “as you would expect a hard-knuckled politician to do.”
On Capitol Hill, Mr. Lewis and Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin, recently testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the voting bill. “It’s hard to look John Lewis in the eye and say, ‘We don’t need this,’ ” said Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the committee chairman.
On Aug. 24, at an anniversary march on Washington, Mr. Lewis will speak again at the Lincoln Memorial. He goes there every so often to reflect. A few weeks ago, he walked there alone from the Capitol, wearing a ball cap and workout clothes. It was peaceful. No one recognized him.
August 13, 2013
Custody Battle Continues Despite Ruling by Justices
By DAN FROSCH
DENVER — It has been nearly two months since the Supreme Court ruled that an American Indian child should not have been taken from her white adoptive parents in 2011 to live with her biological father, a member of the Cherokee tribe. But the decision has done little to bring a swift resolution to this bitter custody battle, which has become a crucible for debate over how adoptions involving Indian children should be handled.
The case has spurred a flurry of hearings and legal maneuvering as the child’s father, Dusten Brown, has fought a family court order to return the girl to the South Carolina couple with whom she spent her first 27 months.
On Monday, Mr. Brown turned himself in to Oklahoma authorities for failing to appear in South Carolina with the child, Veronica, to start the girl’s transition back to her adoptive parents, Matt and Melanie Capobianco.
Mr. Brown’s family said he would willingly face jail rather than lose custody of Veronica.
“Dusten plans to continue to fight for the right to keep his daughter and the right to raise her with her family where she belongs,” said Robin Brown, his wife. “She has the right to know where she comes from and know who she is.”
But for Mr. Brown, who is free on bond and fighting extradition to South Carolina on felony charges of custodial interference, time may be running out.
In June, the United States Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that a 1978 federal law intended to keep Indian families together did not apply in this case because Mr. Brown gave up his parental rights before the child’s birth, and her biological mother had agreed to let the Capobiancos adopt her.
Four months after Veronica was born, Mr. Brown changed his mind and sought custody, saying he did not realize his former fiancée was going to put her up for adoption.
The South Carolina Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of Mr. Brown, citing the National Indian Child Welfare Act. He was awarded custody of Veronica while the Capobiancos were still in the process of adopting her.
In light of the high court ruling, however, the South Carolina Supreme Court ordered a family court judge to approve Veronica’s adoption by the Capobiancos. The adoption became final July 31.
On one aspect of the dispute, virtually everyone agrees: Both the Capobiancos and Mr. Brown have created a safe, loving home for Veronica, almost 4, who has lived half of her life with each.
That may have complicated the dispute. Last month, Mr. Brown’s parents and his wife were granted temporary guardianship of Veronica in Cherokee tribal court while Mr. Brown was away on Oklahoma National Guard duty; the tribe has supported his efforts to keep the child.
For the Capobiancos, the latest turns in the case have been wrenching. In a statement read outside their home on Monday, the couple tearfully pleaded with Mr. Brown to return Veronica.
“Our daughter has been kidnapped, and I expect the situation to be treated as such,” Matt Capobianco said. “The legal games are over; it is time for our daughter to come home. Veronica, your daddy is coming.”
The Capobiancos were in Oklahoma on Tuesday, hoping they could see the child, said Mark Fiddler, their lawyer. The couple still want to let Mr. Brown remain a part of her life, though the situation has grown increasingly tense, he said.
“Imagine winning a case at the Supreme Court, you win in South Carolina, a court finalizes the adoption, you’re the child’s legal parents, and you haven’t seen the child in two years,” Mr. Fiddler said. “It has just been a searing ordeal.”
Late Monday, the office of Gov. Nikki R. Haley of South Carolina signed a requisition warrant for Mr. Brown’s extradition from Oklahoma.
But on Tuesday, Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma issued a statement saying she would not act on the warrant until Mr. Brown had a chance to contest the extradition at a Sept. 12 hearing.
“As a mother, my heart goes out to Veronica, who has been placed in a terrible situation. I can also imagine the pain that both her adopted and biological parents are feeling,” Ms. Fallin said in the statement, urging both parties to resolve the case outside of the courts.
A family court hearing is set for Wednesday in Charleston to discuss the order to move Veronica back to the Capobiancos, but Mr. Fiddler was unsure if she would be reunited with them anytime soon.
John Nichols, a lawyer for Mr. Brown, acknowledged that little could be done to fight the adoption in South Carolina, but Mr. Brown was still hopeful the Oklahoma courts would intervene.
“The child doesn’t care why or where she is, based on a lower court misreading of the law,” he said. “You have to take into account where she is now and what is in her best interest.”
August 13, 2013
Government Must Continue Review of Nevada Nuclear Waste Site, Court Says
By MATTHEW L. WALD
WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was “flouting the law” when it stopped work on a review of the proposed nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain, despite the Obama administration’s insistence that the site be shut down.
The 2-to-1 decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit allows an increment of progress that could help push the project forward and was embraced by supporters of the Yucca site, the focus of a quarter-century-old fight.
In a strongly worded opinion, Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh wrote that “the president may not decline to follow a statutory mandate or prohibition simply because of policy objections.”
Judge Kavanaugh, who was largely supported by a second judge in the three-member panel, A. Raymond Randolph, added that “it is no overstatement to say that our constitutional system of separation of powers would be significantly altered if we were to allow executive and independent agencies to disregard federal law in the manner asserted in this case by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”
Congress chose Yucca, a volcanic ridge, as a nuclear waste site in the 1980s, over the objections of the State of Nevada. President Obama, while still a candidate for president, promised to scuttle it.
Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic majority leader and a longtime opponent of the site, has in recent years prevented Congress from appropriating money for the project. But $11 million for review of the site remains on hand from earlier years, which Judge Kavanaugh said by law must be spent.
“Congress speaks through the laws it enacts,” Judge Kavanaugh wrote. “No law states that the commission should decline to spend previously appropriated funds.”
A third judge, Merrick B. Garland, dissented, and said the court was ordering the commission to “do a useless thing” because there was not enough money left to reach a conclusion about whether the site was suitable for nuclear waste.
At a news conference in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Mr. Reid dismissed the ruling. “With no disrespect to the court, this decision means nothing,” he said. “Yucca Mountain is an afterthought.”
Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, the Energy Department submitted an application to build a repository at Yucca, which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission began to review. If the commission found the site to be adequate — which is still very much in question — the plan was for it to grant a license so construction on Yucca could begin.
Anticipating years of hearings, the commission built a courtroom in Las Vegas and a computer link to a hearing room in its headquarters in Rockville, Md.
But the Energy Department asked to withdraw its license application, and a previous commission chairman, Gregory B. Jazcko, a former aide to Mr. Reid, shut down the program. The Las Vegas courtroom was disassembled, as was a special computer network that would have provided access to the thousands of documents submitted in the case. Before the work stopped, the commission staff had completed most of the work on a first step in the review, a Safety Evaluation Report. A first volume of the report was published, but other volumes were published only as technical reports, with the conclusions removed.
A former head of the Energy Department’s civilian radioactive waste program, Lake Barrett, said in in a telephone interview on Tuesday that the $11 million would allow completion and publication of the Safety Evaluation Report — or, he said, it could be wasted by using the money “unpacking and repacking boxes” with files from the case.
The case was brought by the States of South Carolina and Washington, which have military wastes that could be buried at Yucca, and several other entities.
A commission spokesman said the agency had not decided whether to appeal.
The current head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Allison M. Macfarlane, a geologist, expressed strong reservations about the site before she was appointed, and once organized a conference of experts to look for better alternatives.
The appeals court’s decision comes after a bipartisan group of four senators introduced legislation to try to restart the search for a location for a nuclear waste repository.
Keith Chu, a spokesman for one of the four, Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, said in a statement on Tuesday that it was clear that the $11 million would not go very far, “which means the ball is still in Congress’s court when it comes to deciding the direction of U.S. nuclear waste policy.”
School boards searching for Obamacare loopholes to avoid paying some staff health care benefits
Wednesday, August 14, 2013 7:36 EDT
By Yasmeen Abutaleb
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Hit by years of budget cuts, some U.S. public school boards are looking to avoid providing health benefits to substitute teachers and supporting staff under President Barack Obama’s reform law, education officials say.
According to the law, employers will have to offer health coverage to all full-time employees, defined as those who work an average of 30 or more hours per week each month, or else pay a fine starting in 2015.
School boards, already struggling to manage after years of state budget cuts, are trying to get ahead of the potential costs of Obamacare for the current academic year, education and labor officials say. The need to find creative solutions, or risk cutting back staff hours further, will increase as they finalize their budgets, they say.
In Pennsylvania’s Penn Manor School District, Superintendent Mike Leichliter said there is no room in its constrained budget to provide additional employee insurance. Instead of cutting hours, the district used a substitute-teacher contracting service to pay part of the salaries for 95 employees. Money for such a service does not count against the school’s budget.
“When we looked at our costs, (healthcare) was one area that really had the potential to skyrocket,” Leichliter said. “This is absolutely the worst time for school districts to be faced with mandated increases.”
The National School Board Association said many states and school districts have at least explored reducing hours, according to Linda Embrey, a communications officer. Several school officials contacted by Reuters said they could not find a way around cuts.
In Indiana’s Fort Wayne Community Schools district, one of the state’s largest, administrators reduced hours for 610 of its 4,050 employees, including substitute teachers and support staff, who were working 30 or more hours a week. Providing them with health insurance would have cost $10 million annually, said Krista Stockman, public information officer for Fort Wayne.
“You get to a point where there’s a danger that you’re cutting too much and that the quality of education you’re providing isn’t as great,” Stockman said. “We’re just going to have to do the same amount or more with less.”
Most of the employees affected are substitute teachers, classroom aides, cafeteria workers, bus drivers or similar support staff, according to school officials and labor representatives. They had not been receiving healthcare coverage from their employers in the past. Now, instead of getting such employer-sponsored benefits under the reform law, they may be eligible for government-subsidized coverage that will be offered by new state insurance exchanges starting on October 1.
SEQUESTER TAKES A SECOND TOLL
During the 2012-2013 school year, 26 states provided less money to local school districts than the prior year, and 35 states provided less funding than in 2008 (a better year), according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
This year they are also grappling with across-the-board “sequester” spending cuts introduced after Congress deadlocked over how to fix the deficit. An Obama administration official said those cuts plus the states’, and not healthcare reform, are the main reasons for staff losing work-time at schools.
“We are seeing no systematic evidence that the Affordable Care Act is leading to a shift to part-time work,” the official said. “There are a variety of factors impacting schools, including sequestration, which is cutting budgets and is a completely separate issue.”
The National Education Association is working with union leaders across the country to figure out how to encourage employers to avoid cutting hours as a result of healthcare reform, said Joel Solomon, NEA senior policy analyst. The effort has included a training session for dozens of labor representatives in June, and more sessions are planned for this year.
Solomon said one popular solution offered by the NEA is to help schools get a more precise accounting of employee hours to see whether staff are truly working an average of 30 hours a week each month when holidays and other time off are included. That has helped some schools make less drastic cuts in employee hours, he said.
Many school employees are expected to qualify for Obamacare’s tax subsidies, which are available starting in January to people who make within 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($45,960 for an individual and $94,200 for a family of four in 2013).
Even if they don’t, the new plans are preferable to what they currently have to buy on the individual market because insurers cannot deny coverage based on prior illness.
In Nebraska, the Plattsmouth Community School District is limiting the hours of permanent substitute teachers, who typically work every day, said Marlene Wehrbein, a labor union official who advocates for employees in the state’s public school districts.
“It creates a lot of inconsistency in staffing, and I can’t see how that would be good for students,” Wehrbein said. “How could you have a teacher teaching English four days a week and then on the fifth day you have someone else?”
(Reporting by Yasmeen Abutaleb; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Prudence Crowther)
White House insists NSA surveillance review will be independent
By Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 20:34 EDT
The White House has moved to dampen controversy over the role of the director of national intelligence James Clapper in a panel reviewing NSA surveillance, insisting that he would neither lead it nor choose the members.
Statements by Barack Obama and Clapper on Monday night were widely interpreted as the director of national intelligence being placed in charge of the inquiry, which the president had announced on Friday would be “independent”.
The apparent involvement of Clapper, who has admitted lying to Congress over NSA surveillance of US citizens, provoked a backlash, with critics accusing the president of putting a fox in charge of the hen house.
But the White House national security council insisted on Tuesday that Clapper’s role would be more limited.
“The panel members are being selected by the White House, in consultation with the intelligence community,” national security council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.
The DNI had to be involved for administrative reasons, because the panel would need security clearance and access to classified material, she added.
After the White House and the Pentagon released their statements saying Clapper had been asked by Obama to “establish” the panel and report its findings, media outlets reported this to mean Clapper heading the panel and choosing the members.
Republican congressman Justin Amash, who led a revolt that narrowly failed in its effort to cut NSA funding, tweeted: “Pres Obama believes man who lied to public in congressional hearing about NSA should lead NSA review process meant to build public trust”.
Clapper apologised last month for misleading a Senate hearing by denying that the NSA collects information about millions of Americans.
In response to leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Obama announced at a press conference on Friday that an independent panel of outsiders would be set up to investigate concerns about the scale of NSA surveillance.
The president appeared to backtrack on Monday evening when he said he was directing Clapper “to establish a review group on intelligence and communications technologies” that would brief and later report to the president through Clapper by December.
Clapper, in a separate statement, echoed this but described the investigatory body as “the director of national intelligence review group on intelligence and communications technology”.
Timothy Lee, writing in the Washington Post, said: “The announcement doesn’t inspire confidence that the president is interested in truly independent scrutiny of the nation’s surveillance programs. The panel will be chosen by, and report to, director of national intelligence James Clapper.”
But on Tuesday the White House repeated Obama’s promise that the panel would be independent and contain outsiders. It described media reports of Monday’s statements by Obama and Clapper as inaccurate. “I can confirm we are not backtracking on what the president announced,” said Hayden.
She added that the panel members woul be appointed soon.
“The panel will not report to the DNI. As the DNI’s statement yesterday made clear, the review group will brief its interim findings to the president within 60 days of its establishment, and provide a final report with recommendations no later than December 15 2013.”
She added: “As we announced on Friday, the review group will be made up of independent, outside experts. The DNI’s role is one of facilitation, and the group is not under the direction of or led by the DNI.
“The members require security clearances and access to classified information so they need to be administratively connected to the government, and the DNI’s office is the right place to provide that. The review process and findings will be the group’s.”
One of the US senators who has led the challenge to NSA domestic surveillance, Ron Wyden, said he hoped that the creation of what he described as an independent board would be one part of ensuring that the security and civil liberties of American are protected.
In an email to the Guardian, Wyden, a Democrat, said: “That board must be able to take an unbiased look at intelligence gathering and surveillance practices, so that the Congress and the public can be confident that an honest and straightforward review is taking place.”
He added: “It is my hope that DNI Clapper will take just such an approach to establishing this review panel, because anything less will do little to improve the confidence the public has in the intelligence community.”
Wyden was the senator to whom Clapper admitted giving an “erroneous” answer at a Senate hearing about the extent of domestic surveillance.
Michelle Richardson, a legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, who specialises in national security and transparency, said: “We hope Clapper constructs a panel with a diversity of views and expertise. He needs to look outside the immediate intelligence community that has been creating and operating these programs over the years.
She added: “It was disappointing to see that the DNI’s press release didn’t even mention privacy or the constitution.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
Federal Judge Finally Orders Changes to NYC’s Racially Biased Stop-and-Frisk Policy
By: Becky Sarwate
Aug. 13th, 2013
It’s been a tough summer to be a minority entangled in the dispiriting web of the criminal justice system. Florida’s NRA advocated, vigilante-promoting Stand Your Ground law degenerated into inevitable ugliness with the 2012 shooting death of 17 year-old, unarmed teen Trayvon Martin. In the trial that followed, a jury of women upheld shooter George Zimmerman’s contention that he was not a racist, overreaching cop wannabe, just a regular neighborhood watchman protecting his property. Unfortunately, despite the uproar, pain and public demonstrations which followed the verdict, the jury’s decision was well-founded according to strict application of the horrendous law. Zimmerman need only have felt the appearance of imminent danger to warrant a discharge of his weapon.
The badly needed public discourse that accompanied the case forced American citizens of all stripes to ask themselves and their neighbors the tough questions: Just how far has race equality actually advanced in the post-Civil Rights era? Is our justice system really as blind as our stated ideals desire? Where is the middle ground located between protection of public safety and respect for individual freedom and liberty?
In the local and national conversations which ensued, New York City’s controversial Stop-and-Frisk policy figured prominently. The public data warehouse, Wikipedia, defines the program as “a practice of the New York City Police Department by which a police officer who reasonably suspects a person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a felony or a penal law misdemeanor, stops and questions that person, and, if the officer reasonably suspects he or she is in danger of physical injury, frisks the person stopped for weapons.”
The rightfully suspicious regarded this expansion of street level police authority as rife with racial profiling possibilities. New York City’s outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg has found his seat of defense perpetually hot as he weathered public and private demonstrations against the law. Arguing that the policy has reduced crime and saved lives, the Mayor has repeatedly refused calls to abolish or at least amend the statute. The Supreme Court of the United States previously ruled that such practices were constitutional under the vaguely worded, “certain conditions.”
Opponents of the law have long argued that Stop-and-Frisk searches have been unevenly directed at young minority men, particularly African Americans. And this week, that constituency found a powerful ally in the form of federal judge Shira A. Scheindlin. In a decision rendered Monday morning, the judge had strong words of rebuke for Bloomberg and the NYPD. According to a story published in the New York Times, the judge “found that the city ‘adopted a policy of indirect racial profiling by targeting racially defined groups for stops based on local crime suspect data.’ She rejected the city’s arguments that more stops happened in minority neighborhoods solely because those happened to have high-crime rates.” Writer Joseph Goldstein further reports, “To fix the constitutional violations, the judge designated an outside lawyer, Peter L. Zimroth, to monitor the Police Department’s compliance with the Constitution.”
Mr. Zimroth has yeoman’s work ahead in the attempt to fix a law that has displayed “a widespread disregard for the [protections of the] Fourth Amendment,” but the rewards will be well worth the effort. Let this week’s ruling serve as a warning to other municipal locations across the nation who may have been inspired by the Big Apple’s example. Public safety concerns do not equate to free rein to harass “the other.”
Rand Paul Face Plants On Fox News By Not Knowing What The President Actually Does
By: Jason Easley
Aug. 13th, 2013
Sen. Rand Paul tried to convince America that Obama is committing a crime, but instead he fell flat on his face and showed the world that he doesn’t know what the president actually does.
Sen. Paul was trying to build the case that it is illegal for President Obama to delay parts of the ACA when his intellectual choo-choo went off the tracks. Paul said, “The way our country works is that legislation is written by Congress, passed by your representatives, the president doesn’t get to write legislation, and it’s illegal and unconstitutional for him to change legislation himself.”
Rand Paul doesn’t understand what the role of the president is. The Executive Branch is in charge of implementing the law. The whole problem with Sen. Paul’s argument is that he referred to the ACA as legislation, but it isn’t legislation. The Affordable Care Act is the law, and Executive Branch has been constitutionally given the power to implement the law. These sorts of delays in implementation are common. Both Democratic and Republican administrations have used them.
The Supreme Court has found that it is constitutional for the Executive Branch to delay the implementation of a law, “As held by former Chief Justice William Rehnquist in a leading case on this subject, Heckler v. Chaney, courts must respect an agency’s presumptively superior grasp of “the many variables involved in the proper ordering of its priorities.” Chief Justice Rehnquist suggested that courts could lose their deference to Executive Branch judgment if an “agency has consciously and expressly adopted a general policy that is so extreme as to amount to an abdication of its statutory responsibilities.” The Obama Administration has not and is not about to abdicate its responsibility to implement the statute on whose success his historical legacy will most centrally depend.”
This means that Rand Paul exhibited not only an ignorance of the constitution, but I think the Kentucky senator doesn’t know what the Executive Branch actually does. The president doesn’t write or change legislation. He implements the law. The law is not legislation. The Executive Branch can’t rewrite it. How can President Obama be both breaking the law, and rewriting legislation at the same time on the ACA? The ACA can’t be both legislation and a law, so which is it? As soon as President Obama signed it, the ACA was a law.
Rand Paul’s ignorance of the how the government that he is supposed to be serving in works is astounding. Rand Paul wants to be president. He will be running for the Republican nomination in 2016, and lots of Republicans will probably vote for him.
Paul symbolizes the ignorance of a political opposition that is completely clueless about how their government operates. Anybody who stands with Rand should be forced to wear an I’m With Stupid t-shirt.
August 14, 2013
Fierce and Swift Raids on Islamists Bring Sirens, Gunfire, Then Screams
By KAREEM FAHIM and MAYY EL SHEIKH
CAIRO — Hayam Hussein had gone to sleep, with her infant daughter by her side, after early-morning prayers. One moment, silence. Then, the sound of war.
Tear gas canisters fell from the sky. Sirens announced the arrival of armored cars. There were screams of panic and pain, and frantic warnings of snipers roaming on rooftops and bullets raining down on the encampment in Rabaa al-Adawiya Square. She ran for cover with her daughter, toward a mosque in the center of the protest camp.
For weeks, Ms. Hussein and tens of thousands of other supporters of Mohamed Morsi, the ousted president, had anticipated a military attack on their sit-ins. They built barricades of bricks, sandbags and steel. They put sentries at the entrances. They gathered sticks and rocks. Despite their preparations, they knew the raid would eventually come.
When it did come, shortly after sunrise on Wednesday, they appeared stunned by its fury. The military-backed government had hinted at a milder siege, leaking plans about a clearing operation that would last days and include warnings, nonlethal weapons and safe passage for women and children.
This was nothing like that.
“I just can’t stand all the blood I’ve seen,” Ms. Hussein said, sobbing, as she tried to call her husband on her cellphone again and again, receiving no answer. Egypt’s new leaders moved against protesters with brutality and resolve.
Using heavy armor and deadly weapons, the army and the police swept into Rabaa al-Adawiya and another smaller encampment across town, in Nahda Square in Giza, in what was the third mass killing of civilians since the military took power on July 3. Like the other killings, the government’s gunmen appeared to strike their victims with terrible accuracy, with gunshots to the head and chest.
The raids were just one front in the violence that coursed across Egypt on Wednesday. Churches were attacked or torched across the country, in a wave of vicious reprisals by Islamists.
The government said that 43 police officers were among the hundreds of people killed.
In the days before the raids in Cairo, the sit-ins had become raucous urban villages, with tents equipped with televisions, clinics stocked with drugs, communal kitchens, souvenir shops and bouncy castles for the children.
After the raid, there was little left on the streets but rubble.
In Nahda Square, Mohamed Bedawi, 29, was already awake when the attackers advanced from all sides, through the zoo, a nearby garden and from the grounds of Cairo University. The fortifications were useless against the waves of soldiers and police officers in Humvees, bulldozers and other armored vehicles. “They didn’t want to deprive us of anything,” Mr. Bedawi said. An hour and a half later, he and the many others had been forced from the square. Smiling soldiers posed for pictures with local well-wishers.
When a man on a nearby rooftop waved his support for the demonstrators, a captain yelled at him before firing a shot over his head. Another officer launched tear gas canisters indiscriminately toward a nearby highway, as if they were fireworks. Everyone laughed.
In nearby Giza Square, Islamists burned tires and fought running battles with the riot police as a helicopter buzzed overhead. A few minutes’ drive away, gunfights broke out near upscale cafes. On an overpass snaking through the city, drivers stopped their cars, watching spontaneous protests erupt. In the distance, smoke rose over Rabaa al-Adawiya Square, where the battle was far from over.
In a fog of tear gas and smoking tires, a man shouted at buildings near the square, cursing the residents inside for holding mass protests in support of the army.
“You traitors!” the man yelled. “You gave them a mandate to do this, and now people are dying!”
Ms. Hussein sat inside the medical center in the square as it filled with victims, and bodies. In the rush of the initial attack, she had forgotten to give her 18-month-old daughter, Sarah, her shoes. The girl sat on the hospital floor, stained with blood.
A man directed traffic at the hospital door, telling people how to avoid the snipers who appeared to target anyone approaching or leaving the facility. Protesters raised pitiful shields, including a children’s swimming board and a metal dinner tray.
An old man yelled at them, urging them to accept what was coming.
“We only meet one death,” he said. “Let it be martyrdom.”
Groups of protesters tried to reach the besieged square, their chants rising behind the crack of weapons.
“It’s for God,” they said. “Not for position, or prestige.”
Outside the square, the army extended its cordon, taking control of a hospital and forbidding journalists from entering. At the door to its morgue, a woman screamed at an attendant, demanding to be let inside.
A few blocks away, a mosque became another hospital. On the carpet, a teenage boy sat near the body of his father, covered in a sheet decorated with green leaves.
The father, Mohamed Ahmed Rushdy, an engineer, had been on his way to work early on Wednesday morning. Mr. Rushdy had telephoned home to tell his family that he was joining a protest march. He was never to be heard from again.
His family called his cellphone but received no answer. Eventually, a friend answered and told them that Mr. Rushdy had been shot.
The son, Amr Rushdy, pulled up the sheet covering his father’s body and pulled back his father’s left ear, to show the entrance wound.
He searched for ways to explain who his father was, as if needing to prove to a vengeful country that Mr. Rushdy was undeserving of his fate.
“This one was innocent,” the boy said in a voice made calm by shock.
Back at the morgue, another man kept a tearful vigil over the body of a friend, Assem Gamel, who was from an upscale neighborhood, had three children and worked as an engineer.
Mr. Gamel and his friend, Mohamed Ali, were occasional visitors at the sit-in, and came on Wednesday around 9 a.m. to show their allegiance to the ousted president.
“This is the result,” Mr. Ali said. “He was shot in the neck directly, from far away.”
Outside, the fighting grew nearer, as a voice on the mosque loudspeaker urged the protesters on.
Asmaa Al Zohairy contributed reporting.
Cairo: Egyptian PM defends crackdown as death toll rises
Hazem Beblawi says Egypt cannot move forward without security, and interior minister says protesters incited violence
Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
theguardian.com, Thursday 15 August 2013 12.30 BST
Egypt's interim government and its backers remain defiant amid a rising death toll and widespread international condemnation of Wednesday's massacre of Islamist supporters of the ousted president Mohamed Morsi – the country's third mass killing in six weeks.
The prime minister, Hazem Beblawi, said the crackdown was essential to create stability, and praised security forces for what he characterised as maximum restraint – despite Egypt's health ministry on Thursday saying 525 had died in the violence that ensued when pro-Morsi camps on either side of Cairo were cleared.
"Egypt cannot move forward, especially economically, in the absence of security," Beblawi said in a televised statement. In 2011 Beblawi resigned from a previous government after a massacre of Coptic Christians.
The interior minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, said the protesters had "threatened national security, incited violence and tortured and killed people". Protesters at both camps had been largely peaceful.
The vice-president, Mohamed ElBaradei, appointed last month in an attempt to give the new military regime a respectable face, resigned in protest at Wednesday's events.
But in an indication that public sentiment remains strongly behind the military, even the liberal coalition he once led, the National Salvation Front, distanced itself from his decision and saluted the police's actions. A television host later called for ElBaradei to be placed under house arrest.
Dissenting voices were few and far between. But Egypt's Revolutionary Socialists, active during the 2011 uprising against the Mubarak regime, said the day's events were counter-revolutionary; "part of a plan to liquidate the Egyptian revolution and restore the military-police state of the Mubarak regime".
The first night of a dusk-till-dawn curfew – enacted under Mubarak-era laws – achieved mixed results. The usually bustling streets of central Cairo were largely empty on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Military roadblocks restricted access between parts of the city.
Elsewhere Islamists vowed to defy the curfew, and there were reports of clashes outside the finance ministry and other parts of Cairo. Fighting spread to several provinces.
On Wednesday, several Christian churches were reported to have been attacked. Christians, who make up 10% of Egypt's population, are blamed by some Islamists for Morsi's downfall.
The United States has led a chorus of international concern about the crackdown, publicly condemning the violence that resulted in the worst loss of life on a single day since the overthrow of Morsi.
The White House said "the world is watching", but there was still no sign that the US was prepared to characterise Morsi's removal by the army as a coup – which would trigger an automatic congressional ban on $1.3bn (£834m) in annual aid to the Egyptian military.
Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague, said he was "deeply concerned" at the escalating violence and unrest. "I am disappointed that compromise has not been possible. I condemn the use of force in clearing protests and call on the security forces to act with restraint," he said.
Lady Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, who met Morsi in his place of detention this month, said in a statement: "Confrontation and violence is not the way forward to resolve key political issues. I deplore the loss of lives, injuries and destruction in Cairo and other places in Egypt."
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, condemned the violence and urged an effort at "inclusive reconciliation". France and Germany also called for dialogue.
The strongest language came from Turkey, whose government has been a firm supporter of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. It urged the Arab League to act quickly to stop a "massacre" and the prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan, called for the UN security council to meet.
Iran warned of the risk of civil war. Rachid Ghannouchi, president of Tunisia's governing moderate Islamist party, Ennahda, called the crackdown an "abject crime". He expressed solidarity with the pro-Morsi backers' efforts to "recover their freedom and oppose the coup d'etat".
08/14/2013 10:44 PM
The Horror of Cairo: Scenes of War Between Two Egypts
By Ulrike Putz in Cairo
Horribly battered corpses lie in the streets, and there are more than 1,000 injured. The government sought to bring calm to Cairo by clearing the Morsi camps, but now the entire country is under a state of emergency. Residents fear a "war between two Egypts."
Dr. Mohammed Abdelazim wants me to take a very close look at the dead: the man whose eyes burst out of their sockets when he was shot in the head; the man whose guts are piled up on his stomach in red loops; the man with a bandaged chin and empty eyes staring into nothingness.
"You must look at them," the doctor tells the foreigner, who would rather look away. "You are a witness. You must tell the world what is happening here. After all, no one believes us," says the doctor, in his bloodstained T-shirt.
It is Wednesday afternoon in the courtyard of the Mustafa Mahmoud Mosque, in a neighborhood in Gizeh, near Cairo. Dozens of men crowd around the ground floor of an administrative building, where the dead lie between office chairs and desks. Inside, the air conditioning is running at full blast, and still the air is filled with the stench of blood and fecal matter. An obese man is holding blue pieces of paper in his hand, which is balled into a fist. By his count, 19 dead have already been identified.
"Twelve have been taken away, and the others are being moved now," says the obese man, just as the crowd begins to chant "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great," parting to allow men carrying a body on their shoulders to reach the exit. The dead man is one of the victims of a massacre that many in Cairo, Egypt and around the world have feared would happen for days.
Since the Egyptian military leadership announced on Sunday that it intended to clear the two large protest camps where supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood were protesting the ouster of former President Mohammed Morsi, it was clear that the country was heading toward a new bloodbath. After the military coup in early June, the security forces had repeatedly demonstrated that they had no qualms about using deadly force against the Islamists' supporters. The bloody clashes that followed had already claimed 200 lives when, at dawn on Wednesday, the police advanced on the two tent cities filled with Muslim Brotherhood supporters.
The Bloodiest Day in Recent Egyptian History
By sundown, it was still completely unclear how many more victims had been added to the death toll on Wednesday. The Health Ministry estimated 149 dead, while the Muslim Brotherhood reported much higher casualty numbers during the course of the day, including up to 2,000 dead. By evening, the United Nations estimated that the day's events had claimed several hundred lives.
It is doubtful whether it will ever be clear how many people lost their lives on this bloodiest day in Egypt's recent history. During the course of the day, it became apparent that the two hostile camps in Egypt were reporting two diametrically opposed versions of the events. According to the army, the government it has installed and the media it controls, it was the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood who, after their camps had been cleared, resisted the security forces with weapons, triggering the bloodshed. The Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, claims that the security forces mowed down two peaceful sit-ins, without concern for the loss of life, while soldiers fired at the crowd with tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition.
While the truth is somewhere in between, hardly anyone questions that the army and police are responsible for the most deaths. Their claim that they had fired in self-defense is precarious. Although there are images showing civilians with guns, the army has yet to prove that the Muslim Brotherhood supporters used firearms in a coordinated and large-scale manner.
It doesn't matter to the Egyptian media, which toes the government line and unquestioningly reports what the leadership tells it to report. The Muslim Brotherhood must rely on foreign media to portray its version of events, which is why its members insist that reporters look at the bodies.
The army leadership, supported by the overwhelming majority of Egyptians, had hoped to rid itself of a lingering problem by storming the protest camps. But the plan has failed, at least for now. Instead of going home, the Morsi supporters occupied other, smaller squares in Cairo. And now the police and military are dealing with many smaller protests instead of two large sit-ins. The protests are already spreading to other cities, as the violence threatens to engulf the whole country.
'The War Begins Tonight'
In the evening, about 4,000 Morsi supporters, after being driven away from their sit-in in front of the nearby University of Cairo, gathered in front of the Mustafa Mahmoud Mosque. The mosque is in Mohandessin, an upscale neighborhood oddly disfigured by the effects of the fighting. The treads of armored vehicles had torn up the asphalt in front of a store that sells Whirlpool products. Shell casings from AK-47 assault rifles, used by the Egyptian police, littered the ground outside a jewelry shop. Sidewalks were covered with glass from broken windowpanes, interspersed with drying pools of blood. Exhausted men and weeping women sat in the shade. Many prayed and were trying to brace themselves for the coming night.
"The army and the police will return when it gets dark," says Mahmoud Lutfi, who survived the fighting of the day by staying inside the high-end bath showroom where he works. The neighborhood's wealthy residents will certainly use their connections to prevent the Islamists from settling down in Mohandessin, says Lutfi, who identified himself as a Morsi supporter. "The war between the two Egypts begins tonight."
Egypt: global outcry steps up pressure on US to suspend aid to military
White House 'watching' as state of emergency called and Mohamed ElBaradei resigns in protest against killings
Ian Black, Middle East editor, and Dan Roberts in Washington
The Guardian, Thursday 15 August 2013
The United States has led a chorus of international concern about Egypt's crackdown on demonstrators, publicly condemning the violence that resulted in the worst loss of life on a single day since the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi last month.
The White House said "the world is watching" after a day on which at least 278 people were killed. But there was still no sign that the US was prepared to characterise Morsi's removal by the army as a coup – which would trigger an automatic congressional ban on $1.3bn in annual aid to the powerful Egyptian military.
"The violence will only make it more difficult to move Egypt forward on a path to lasting stability and democracy and runs directly counter to the pledges by the interim government to pursue reconciliation," said spokesman Josh Earnest.
Lasting stability appeared further away than ever on Wednesday evening after the military declared a month-long state of emergency and the liberal Mohamed ElBaradei resigned as vice-president in the military-backed interim government.
The first night of the curfew imposed in Cairo was enforced by police and soldiers, aided by self-styled "popular committees" of civilian vigilantes armed with clubs and machetes, Reuters reported. They searched cars and checked identity cards of people passing through makeshift checkpoints made of tyres and concrete blocks.
Despite the lockdown, hundreds of Morsi supporters tried to gather at El Iman mosque in the neighbourhood of Nasr City in an attempt to start a new sit-in. The BBC broadcast footage of numerous fires burning in the city, but no large-scale conflict was reported overnight.
The National Alliance to Support Legitimacy had called on "all Egyptian people" to take to the streets "to stop the massacre" after police attacked its two sit-ins in Cairo's Nahda and Rabaa al-Adawiya squares early on Wednesday.
The alliance is an Islamist grouping led by the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been demanding Morsi's reinstatement as president since he was ousted by the army. Morsi supporters called for further nationwide protests.
Fatalities on Wednesday included the 17-year-old daughter of Mohamed Beltagi, a Brotherhood leader. Three other senior figures were reportedly detained in what appeared to be the start of a wide-ranging crackdown on the Islamist movement. Egypt's health ministry said that 235 civilians had been killed and 1,400 injured, while Interior minister Mohammed Ibrahim said 43 policemen had died. A statement issued by the Egypt Anti Coup Alliance said "more than 2,000" had been killed.
Trouble also spread beyond Cairo, with reports of a church set on fire in Sohag, 250 miles south of the capital. Ten people were killed in Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast.
ElBaradei's resignation statement underlined the dilemma faced by liberal and secular supporters of the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. "It has become difficult for me to hold responsibility for decisions that I do not agree with, whose consequences I fear," ElBaradei said as a curfew was imposed across the country.
"I cannot be responsible for one drop of blood in front of God, and then in front of my conscience, especially with my faith that we could have avoided it." The Nobel laureate said that those who incited "violence and terrorism" – language the government has used to describe the Brotherhood – would only benefit from the turmoil.
Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague, said he was "deeply concerned" at the escalating violence and unrest. "I am disappointed that compromise has not been possible. I condemn the use of force in clearing protests and call on the security forces to act with restraint."
Baroness Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, who met Morsi in his place of detention earlier this month, said in a statement: "Confrontation and violence is not the way forward to resolve key political issues. I deplore the loss of lives, injuries and destruction in Cairo and other places in Egypt."
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, condemned the violence and urged an effort at "inclusive reconciliation". France and Germany also called for dialogue.
The strongest language came from Turkey, whose government has been a firm supporter of the Egyptian Brotherhood. It urged the UN security council and the Arab League to act quickly to stop a "massacre". Iran warned of the risk of civil war. Rachid Ghannouchi, president of Tunisia's governing moderate Islamist party Ennahda, called the crackdown an "abject crime". He expressed solidarity with the pro-Morsi backers' bid to "recover their freedom and oppose the coup d'etat".
Analysts said that the response from Washington fitted a pattern of weak statements that had allowed the Egyptian military to act with impunity. "[The] US had several chances to demonstrate [that] its threats to suspend aid were credible, but each time backed down," tweeted the Brookings Institution expert Shadi Hamid. "That policy has a price." Hamid also told al-Jazeera TV: "Clearing all the sit-ins without addressing fundamental political issues won't stop the clashes."
Marc Lynch commented in Foreign Policy: "It's time for Washington to stop pretending. Its efforts to maintain its lines of communication with the Egyptian military, quietly mediate the crisis and help lay the groundwork for some new, democratic political process have utterly failed. Egypt's new military regime, and a sizable and vocal portion of the Egyptian population, have made it very clear that they just want the United States to leave it alone.
For once, Washington should give them their wish. As long as Egypt remains on its current path, the Obama administration should suspend all aid, keep the embassy in Cairo closed, and refrain from treating the military regime as a legitimate government."
Military crackdown: Egypt's Tiananmen Square
The Egyptian military's bloody assault on its own people marks a point of no return for the government
Guardian G logo
The Guardian, Wednesday 14 August 2013 21.32 BST
Egypt's military-installed government crossed a Rubicon on Wednesday by sending in the security forces to clear the camps of demonstrators demanding the reinstatement of President Mohamed Morsi. Within hours, the contours of the landscape the country had entered became brutally clear: 235 confirmed deaths and the possibility of many more; running battles breaking out in cities around the country; a state of emergency; night-time curfews imposed on 10 provinces. The bloodshed caused by interior ministry troops opening fire with shotguns, machine guns and rooftop snipers on largely peaceful sit-ins took its first major political casualty on Wednesday evening. The leading liberal who had supported the military coup, Mohamed ElBaradei, resigned as acting vice-president. The streets around Rabaah al-Adawiya became Egypt's Tiananmen Square.
The Rubicon being crossed is clear: before Wednesday, there had been the possibility, however faint, that cooler counsel would prevail in the Egyptian military mind – that, with the release of Muslim Brotherhood leaders arrested on phoney charges, a way could be found to announce a national unity government pending fresh parliamentary and presidential elections. Formidable obstacles remained, not least the undoubted unpopularity of Mr Morsi's rule among a large section of the population and his non-negotiable demand to put the constitutional clock back to the eve of the coup that toppled him. The prospect of an early reconciliation between the two camps has now disappeared.
Spurred on by voices in the liberal and secular camp that the opportunity had finally arrived to deal the Muslim Brotherhood a mortal blow – the running banner on Egypt's private television coverage on the demonstrators was "War on Terrorists" – General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the defence minister and head of the army, took the opposite course. Rejecting any hope of reintegrating Islamists into the political process, he has declared war on Egypt's largest political movement.
The government vowed last night that there would be no cabinet resignations, but with the departure of Mr ElBaradei, the liberal fig leaf has dropped off what has become full military rule. The day before these traumatic events, 19 of 25 provincial governors appointed were generals (17 from the military, two from the police). The idea even then that the military would take orders from a transitional civilian government appointed by them was far-fetched.
Today, military rule has been revealed for what it is, and anyone thinking that it will be temporary or last for just one month has got to be supremely optimistic. Calm and a national dialogue cannot be restored in that time. More likely are repression and further rounds of arrests – the Brotherhood leader Mohammed El-Beltagy, whose 17-year-old daughter was killed in the storming of the camps, was one of those detained last night – that will in turn provoke fresh protest. The defiance of the Brotherhood, and especially of those leaders who have lost family members, will be redoubled. There were already revenge attacks on Christian churches in upper Egypt by militants whom the Brotherhood do not and can not control.
The reaction of the international community failed lamentably to match the significance of these events. John Kerry, the US secretary of state, called last night for all sides to take a step back. He stated his strong opposition to emergency law, and repeated that the only solution will be a political one. These are all rhetorical statements, unless and until the US is prepared to cut its $1.3bn aid to Egypt's military. The state department said Wednesday evening that this was still under review. Mr Kerry's assertion that the political route was still open last night appeared to belie the basic facts on the ground – a military intent on crushing all expression of dissent, peaceful or not. International inaction in circumstances of the growing military crackdown in Egypt amounts to acquiescence. The bet the US is taking is that General Sisi will prevail. That is looking like a risky one.
Egypt’s ElBaradei: liberal with ‘troubled conscience’
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, August 14, 2013 18:02 EDT
Mohamed ElBaradei, who resigned from his post as vice president in Egypt’s military-backed interim government in protest at Wednesday’s bloodshed, is a respected former UN nuclear watchdog chief.
The ex-diplomat, UN executive and Nobel laureate turned liberal political leader stepped down after scores were killed in a crackdown by security forces on loyalists of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
“It has become too difficult to continue bearing responsibility for decisions I do not agree with and whose consequences I fear,” ElBaradei said.
He said his conscience was troubled over the loss of life “particularly as I believe it could have been avoided.”
ElBaradei was named vice president after the army ousted Morsi on July 3. He had first been tipped to lead the cabinet, but that was rejected by the ultra-conservative Salafist party Al-Nur.
He returned to Egypt in 2010 after retiring as International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief, and he forged close ties with the liberal pro-democracy movement that spearheaded the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule in February 2011.
In January 2012, his decision to quit the race for the presidency that Morsi won was seen as a slap in the face for post-Mubarak military rulers and one depriving liberals of a key champion.
Last June, he urged Morsi to resign after a year in office for the sake of national unity, ahead of record opposition-backed rallies calling on the Islamist leader to step down.
Rather than join a political party, the 71-year-old Nobel Peace laureate created a movement of his own to act as an umbrella for a range of opposition groups — the National Association for Change.
But ElBaradei, while untainted by corruption allegations that surrounded Mubarak’s circle, was criticised by opposition groups for having spent too much time abroad and being out of touch with Egypt’s reality.
His 12 years as the public face of the UN nuclear watchdog nonetheless earned him respect at home.
Ahead of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, he won admiration around the world and infuriated Washington by challenging claims that Saddam Hussein was hiding a secret nuclear programme.
No nuclear weapons were later found by US-led forces.
ElBaradei is not a noted orator, but has earned a reputation for speaking his mind. He has lambasted what he calls the double standards of countries which have nuclear weapons but prevent other states from obtaining them.
He was born on June 17, 1942, in Cairo, where his lawyer father headed the bar association, a position that sometimes put him at odds with then president Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Following in his father’s footsteps, ElBaradei earned his law degree at the University of Cairo in 1962.
Two years later, he joined the diplomatic service. He was assigned to Egypt’s missions in Geneva and in New York, where he earned a doctorate in international law and later taught.
He has written that his New York years were among his most formative, helping to broaden his world view.
As special assistant to the foreign minister, ElBaradei served on the negotiating team at the historic Camp David peace talks that led to Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
ElBaradei began his UN career in 1980, and was sent to Iraq in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War over Kuwait to dismantle Saddam’s nuclear programme.
In 1997, he was chosen as head of the IAEA, a role that gave him a global profile and led to confrontations with Washington, first over Iraq and later over Iran.
When Washington claimed Iraq was buying uranium in Africa, ElBaradei dismissed as fake the evidence before the UN Security Council.
The Washington Post reported that ElBaradei’s Vienna telephone was bugged by the US Central Intelligence Agency.
In 2005, ElBaradei and the IAEA won the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts “to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes and to ensure that nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is used in the safest possible way.”
ElBaradei, who is married to kindergarten teacher Aida Elkashef, has a son, Mostafa, and a daughter, Laila.
Doctors Without Borders closes all operations in Somalia after 22 years
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, August 14, 2013 13:15 EDT
NAIROBI — Medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders (MSF) closed all its operations in war-torn Somalia on Wednesday, warning of growing insecurity, after 22 years of working in the Horn of Africa troublespot.
“The closure of our activities is a direct result of extreme attacks on our staff, in an environment where armed groups and civilian leaders increasingly support, tolerate, or condone the killing, assaulting, and abducting of humanitarian aid workers,” MSF president Unni Karunakara told reporters.
The pullout by MSF, an aid agency that has earned a reputation for working in the toughest of conditions, is a major blow to the reputation of the internationally-backed government in Mogadishu.
“We are ending our programmes in Somalia because there is an increasing imbalance between the risks and compromises that our staff must make, and our ability to provide impartial care to the Somali people,” Karunakara said in the Kenyan capital.
MSF has treated more than 300,000 people so far this year alone in Somalia, a statement added.
Karunakara, who said MSF’s activities had been put under “unparallelled levels of risk”, cited the killing of two staff in Mogadishu in December 2011 — and subsequent release of the gunman — as well as the kidnapping of two MSF workers from the Kenyan refugee camp Dadaab in October 2011.
The two kidnapped staff, Spanish women working as logisticians, were released last month after 21 months in captivity in Somalia.
But MSF said that wider attacks had forced it to make the “painful” decision to shut operations.
“Respect for humanitarian principles, always fragile in conflict zones, no longer exists in Somalia today,” Karunakara added.
“There have been dozens of attacks against people, against vehicles, hospitals… we’ve just reached our limit,” he said, adding that 16 MSF staff have been killed in Somalia since 1991.
The closure of MSF medical operations in at least 11 sites — including in the capital Mogadishu, where MSF runs the only intensive care unit for children — will impact hundreds of thousands of the most needy Somalis, he said.
Many of those areas are not under the control of central government, including Burao in the self-declared independent region of Somaliland, Galkayo in the northeastern Puntland region and the flashpoint southern port of Kismayo.
Operations were also shut in areas under the control of the extremist Shebab, who had allowed MSF to work despite expelling almost all other international aid agencies.
As MSF announced the pullout, Shebab gunmen stormed their compound in Dinsor in the southern Bay region.
“Shebab fighters broke in, ordered all the staff to leave and have taken everything, including their laptops,” said a local MSF worker, who asked not to be named.
“Gunmen entered the hospital and set up base there, ordering patients to leave,” said Ali Mohamed, a resident in Dinsor.
Last year, MSF’s more than 1,500 staff provided over 624,000 medical consultations and admitted more than 41,000 patients to hospitals.
Armed groups targeted MSF’s already insufficient funding, Karunakara said, and the “tolerance of these abuses” by civilian leaders had “taken away what little access to medical care is available to the Somali people”.
Somalia’s embattled government, selected in November in a UN-backed process, was hailed at the time by the international community as offering the best chance for peace in Somalia since the collapse of central government in 1991.
A 17,700-strong African Union force fighting alongside the national army has forced Shebab fighters from a string of towns in the past two years.
But Somalia’s often rag-tag security forces, incorporating multiple militia forces into its ranks, has also been repeatedly accused by rights groups of a string of abuses.
Shebab fighters remain a potent force, with suicide commandos staging a brazen attack on a key UN compound in the centre of Mogadishu in June that killed 11.
August 14, 2013
Mideast Talks Start After Rocket Fire and Airstrikes
By ISABEL KERSHNER
JERUSALEM — Shortly before Israelis and Palestinians sat down Wednesday for the first direct negotiations here in five years, Israeli war planes struck two sites in Gaza in response to rockets fired from the Palestinian enclave.
The rocket fire and counterattack showed the obstacles the talks face in achieving Washington’s stated goal of reaching a resolution within nine months. With animosity and distrust high, the talks were shrouded in secrecy, lest any detail leak out and further inflame the participants.
An Israeli official involved in the process said that the idea was for “serious, intensive and intimate negotiations” aimed at achieving the most progress possible with the least amount of public engagement.
The site of the talks and the exact hour they were to start were not disclosed ahead of time. The Israeli official said there would probably be no public statements. It was even unclear whether the session would wrap up on Wednesday night or continue on Thursday.
What was clear was that the Israeli team was being led by the justice minister, Tzipi Livni, and Isaac Molho, the special envoy to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; the Palestinian side was being led by the senior negotiators Saeb Erekat and Mohammed Shtayyeh.
Martin S. Indyk, the senior American envoy to the talks, and the deputy envoy, Frank Lowenstein, were also in Jerusalem.
But the secrecy did little to disguise the issues that continued to fuel distrust and animosity between the parties. Israel’s decisions in recent days to continue construction of settler housing in disputed areas have infuriated the Palestinians. And rockets fired from Gaza into Israel underlined the simmering tensions and potential for confrontation in the volatile area after weeks of relative quiet.
Even as peace talks were taking place, the Israeli military said it hit concealed rocket launchers in the northern Gaza Strip after a rocket fired from Gaza, which is controlled by the Islamic militant group Hamas, landed in an open area across the border.
“This is an absurd situation that would not be tolerated anywhere else in the world,” Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, said in a statement. He said the military “will continue to operate in order to safeguard Israel’s civilians and combat terror and its infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.”
Israel is conducting peace negotiations with Hamas’s arch rivals, the leaders of the Palestinian Authority, who exercise limited self-rule in the West Bank. The goal of the talks is to reach a final settlement for a Palestinian state alongside Israel. But many Israelis and Palestinians are skeptical about the outcome. Among other things, Israelis point out that the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has no control over what happens in Gaza.
Hamas has made an effort to enforce a cease-fire along the Israel-Gaza border that was brokered by Egypt after a fierce round of cross-border fighting last November. But some smaller, more radical groups in Gaza sometimes operate against Israel, with or without permission from Hamas.
For many Palestinians, meanwhile, Israel’s recent announcements of more settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas sought by the Palestinians for their future state, cast a pall over the talks before they even started.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior Palestine Liberation Organization official authorized by the Palestinian leadership to comment on the talks, said Israel’s position that it was authorizing new building in areas it intends to keep would “lead to the collapse of the negotiations.”
“We are dealing with thieves who steal the land and do not respect any human or international rules,” Mr. Abed Rabbo told the official Voice of Palestine on Wednesday.
The Israelis, for their part, complain of continuing incitement by Palestinian officials against Israel.
The timing of the settlement announcements was probably intended to appease members of the Israeli governing coalition who are opposed to a Palestinian state, ahead of the release late Tuesday of 26 long-serving Palestinian prisoners, many of whom had been convicted of deadly attacks on Israelis.
Secretary of State John Kerry brokered a deal to get the sides back into the negotiating room without an Israeli commitment to a settlement freeze, even though the United States opposes settlement construction.
Mr. Kerry said this week that Mr. Netanyahu had been clear that some announcements about settlement building could be expected but that he had agreed not to disturb the potential for progress in the peace process.
But Mr. Netanyahu’s minister of housing and construction, Uri Ariel of the pro-settlement Jewish Home Party, said Wednesday that the recent announcements would not be the only ones.
“This is just the first course, and you know that usually the first course is the smaller course,” Mr. Ariel told Army Radio.
Brazil threatens to take claims of U.S. spying to the U.N.
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, August 14, 2013 20:03 EDT
Brazil said Wednesday that it may go to the United Nations over US spying, which it said was not only used to combat terrorism, but also for industrial espionage.
“We are not satisfied with the explanations presented” by US Secretary of State John Kerry during a visit Tuesday, Communications Minister Paulo Bernardo told a congressional panel.
“Consequently, we will bring the case to international organizations, probably the United Nations.”
American officials have defended the espionage programs as entirely lawful measures that have helped foil dozens of terror attacks globally.
But Bernardo voiced skepticism, saying the programs were not “just to combat terrorism. They (also) involved industrial, trade and diplomatic espionage.”
Kerry met with Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff and other top officials and sought to reassure them after media reports of widespread US spying based on documents leaked by the rogue intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.
The top US diplomat said Brazil was “owed answers with respect to those questions and will get them.”
Kerry suggested that electronic snooping by the National Security Agency (NSA), whom Snowden had worked for, aimed to provide “security, not just for Americans, but for Brazilians and the people of the world.”
Last month, the daily Globo, citing documents provided by Snowden, reported that Washington eavesdropped on Brazilians’ phone calls and Internet communications.
It also said Washington maintained an intelligence base in Brasilia, part of a network of 16 such stations operated by the NSA around the world to intercept foreign satellite transmissions.
Bernardo dismissed claims by US officials that the NSA is only collecting metadata — logs of phone numbers called and the duration of such calls — and not listening in.
Washington’s biggest spy agency, he said, is conducting a “much deeper surveillance.”
Guatemala urged to investigate trade unionist murders
International delegation says Guatemala risks losing its trade status with the EU and US if it fails to take action over murders
Anna-Claire Bevan, Guatemala City
The Guardian, Wednesday 14 August 2013 15.18 BST
International labour activists have called on Guatemala to investigate a wave of murders targeting trade unionists in the country, or risk losing its favoured trade status with the European Union and the US.
The Central American nation is considered to be the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist, according to the International Trade Union Confederation: in the past five years it is estimated that at least 58 trade union members have been killed in Guatemala, but no one has ever been convicted of the crimes.
An international delegation of trade union members is meeting the Guatemalan president on Wednesday to urge his government to investigate the deaths. The delegation from Public Services International (PSI), a global trade union federation representing 20 million public service workers worldwide, hopes its visit will help stop the violence directed at its affiliates in Guatemala.
"We stand in solidarity with our members who are being targeted for simply exercising their legal rights to belong to a union, for their bravery in exposing corruption and nepotism and defending public services against privatisation," said Rosa Pavanelli, PSI general secretary.
In March 2013 the Guatemalan government signed an agreement with the International Labour Organisation to investigate and prosecute crimes against trade union members. However, days after the mission left the country three trade unionists were murdered.
Carlos Hernández, an executive member of the National Trade Union of Health Workers, was shot dead by two men on a motorbike in his home town of Chiquimula, close to the Honduran border.
The prominent leader had previously received death threats while campaigning for better rights for workers and indigenous land owners.
The current union membership in Guatemala stands at 1.6% of the working population.
Luis Alberto Lara Ballina has been a trade unionist for 20 years: "I've received a lot of death threats because of my involvement in el sindicato. They're delivered to my door, to my neighbours' doors or sometimes as blood-stained invitations to my own funeral. But we keep on fighting because there's no justice for workers here."
The delegation hopes that Wednesday's meeting with President Otto Pérez Molina will spur the Guatemalan government to take action over the deaths and ensure workers' lives and legal rights are respected. PSI has arranged to meet with members of the European Parliament next month to discuss Guatemala's free trade agreement with the EU.
"There can be no trade without justice for workers and their communities," said Pavanelli.
• This article was amended on Thursday 15 August to give the full name of Luis Alberto Lara Ballina.
Fidel Castro: I didn't expect to live long enough to see 87
Cuba's former leader talks of illness that ended presidency and how Soviet premier said Russia wouldn't step in if US invaded
Associated Press in Havana
theguardian.com, Wednesday 14 August 2013 18.47 BST
Fidel Castro did not expect to live long enough to turn 87 after illness forced him from office in 2006, according to an essay carried by official media.
In a long, wide-ranging article taking up three pages of the Granma newspaper, Castro, whose birthday was Tuesday, wrote about being stricken with a near-fatal intestinal ailment seven years ago. "As soon as I understood that it would be definitive I did not hesitate to cease my charges as president ... and I proposed that the person designated to exercise that task proceed immediately to take it up," he said, referring to his successor, younger brother Raúl Castro.
"I was far from imagining that my life would be prolonged seven more years," he added.
Fidel Castro stepped aside provisionally in 2006 and retired permanently in 2008. He has rarely appeared in public since, though photographs and video of him are released occasionally through official media.
It was Castro's first essay in more than four months. He stopped penning his semi-regular columns called Reflections last year, and ended a nine-month hiatus in March with a piece urging restraint amid elevated tensions on the Korean peninsula.
In Wednesday's essay, Castro also reflected on topics such as the death in March of his friend and ally Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan president, as well as the wonders of science.
"The sciences should teach us above all to be humble, given our congenital self-sufficiency," he said. "Thus would we be better prepared to confront and even enjoy the rare privilege of existence."
Castro also touched on key cold war moments such as the Cuban missile crisis and the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, and said the Soviet premier Yuri Andropov told him in the early 1980s that Moscow would not step in if Cuba were to be invaded.
"He said that if we were attacked by the United States, we should fight alone," Castro wrote. "We asked if they could supply us with free arms as (they had) up until that time. He said, 'Yes'. We told him then: 'Don't worry, send us the weapons and we will take care of the invaders ourselves.'"
"Only a few of us knew about this because it would have been very dangerous for the enemy to have that kind of information," Castro said.
He added that former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung also aided Havana by providing 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles "without charging a cent".
Last month Panama detained a cargo ship carrying an undeclared shipment of arms including missile systems and live munitions that were bound from Cuba to North Korea. Havana has called it obsolete equipment and said it was being sent for repairs in North Korea.
On Tuesday a team of UN experts began inspecting the armaments and interviewing the ship's crew to determine whether the shipment violated UN sanctions aimed at blocking the sale of sophisticated weaponry to North Korea.