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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1082774 times)
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« Reply #8220 on: Aug 19, 2013, 06:12 AM »

Germany will be first European country to recognize babies as gender ‘undetermined’ come November

By The Guardian
Sunday, August 18, 2013 21:55 EDT

From 1 November babies born in Germany without clear gender-determining characteristics will be able to be registered

Germany will become the first country in Europe to join a small group of nations which recognise a third or “undetermined” sex when registering births, according to a report in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

From November 1, babies born in Germany without clear gender-determining physical characteristics will be able to be registered without gender on their birth certificates, according to the report.

The change is being seen as the country’s first legal acknowledgement that it is possible for a human being to be neither male or female – which could have far-reaching consequences in many legal areas.

While transsexuals – people born of one gender who feel they belong to the other and wish to be recognised as such — are already legally recognised in Germany, hermaphrodites – those with both male and female genitalia – have always been forcibly registered as one or other gender at birth.

The German decision to recognise a third gender was based on a recommendation by the constitutional court, which sees legal recognition of a person’s experienced and “lived” gender as a personal human right.

People of “undetermined” sex will be allowed at any point throughout their lives to identify themselves as one or other gender — and go back to register the change on their birth certificates. Alternatively, they may also choose to keep their gender undefined.

While lawyers have rejected the idea that legislators intended to create a third legal gender with the law change, some are arguing that in practise, anyone registered as “undetermined sex” will in future have to be given their own separate defacto status in legal matters. © Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #8221 on: Aug 19, 2013, 06:14 AM »

Glenn Greenwald's partner detained at Heathrow airport for nine hours

David Miranda, partner of Guardian interviewer of whistleblower Edward Snowden, questioned under Terrorism Act

Glenn Greenwald: a failed attempt at intimidation

Guardian staff
The Guardian, Monday 19 August 2013   

The partner of the Guardian journalist who has written a series of stories revealing mass surveillance programmes by the US National Security Agency was held for almost nine hours on Sunday by UK authorities as he passed through London's Heathrow airport on his way home to Rio de Janeiro.

David Miranda, who lives with Glenn Greenwald, was returning from a trip to Berlin when he was stopped by officers at 8.05am and informed that he was to be questioned under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The controversial law, which applies only at airports, ports and border areas, allows officers to stop, search, question and detain individuals.

The 28-year-old was held for nine hours, the maximum the law allows before officers must release or formally arrest the individual. According to official figures, most examinations under schedule 7 – over 97% – last less than an hour, and only one in 2,000 people detained are kept for more than six hours.

Miranda was released, but officials confiscated electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles.

Since 5 June, Greenwald has written a series of stories revealing the NSA's electronic surveillance programmes, detailed in thousands of files passed to him by whistleblower Edward Snowden. The Guardian has also published a number of stories about blanket electronic surveillance by Britain's GCHQ, also based on documents from Snowden.

While in Berlin, Miranda had visited Laura Poitras, the US film-maker who has also been working on the Snowden files with Greenwald and the Guardian. The Guardian paid for Miranda's flights.

"This is a profound attack on press freedoms and the news gathering process," Greenwald said. "To detain my partner for a full nine hours while denying him a lawyer, and then seize large amounts of his possessions, is clearly intended to send a message of intimidation to those of us who have been reporting on the NSA and GCHQ. The actions of the UK pose a serious threat to journalists everywhere.

"But the last thing it will do is intimidate or deter us in any way from doing our job as journalists. Quite the contrary: it will only embolden us more to continue to report aggressively."

A spokesperson for the Guardian said: "We were dismayed that the partner of a Guardian journalist who has been writing about the security services was detained for nearly nine hours while passing through Heathrow airport. We are urgently seeking clarification from the British authorities."

A spokesperson for Scotland Yard said: "At 08:05 on Sunday, 18 August a 28-year-old man was detained at Heathrow airport under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. He was not arrested. He was subsequently released at 17:00."

Scotland Yard refused to be drawn on why Miranda was stopped using powers that enable police officers to stop and question travellers at UK ports and airports.

There was no comment from the Home Office in relation to the detention. However, there was surprise in political circles and elsewhere. Labour MP Tom Watson said he was shocked at the news and called for it to be made clear if any ministers were involved in authorising the detention.

He said: "It's almost impossible, even without full knowledge of the case, to conclude that Glenn Greenwald's partner was a terrorist suspect.

"I think that we need to know if any ministers knew about this decision, and exactly who authorised it."

"The clause in this act is not meant to be used as a catch-all that can be used in this way."

Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act has been widely criticised for giving police broad powers under the guise of anti-terror legislation to stop and search individuals without prior authorisation or reasonable suspicion – setting it apart from other police powers.

Those stopped have no automatic right to legal advice and it is a criminal offence to refuse to co-operate with questioning under schedule 7, which critics say is a curtailment of the right to silence.

Last month the UK government said it would reduce the maximum period of detention to six hours and promised a review of the operation on schedule 7 amid concerns it unfairly targets minority groups and gives individuals fewer legal protections than they would have if detained at a police station.

The government of Brazil issued a statement in which it expressed its "grave concern" over the detention of one of its citizens and the use of anti-terror legislation. It said: "This measure is without justification since it involves an individual against whom there are no charges that can legitimate the use of that legislation. The Brazilian government expects that incidents such as the one that happened to the Brazilian citizen today are not repeated."

Widney Brown, Amnesty International's senior director of international law and policy, said: "It is utterly improbable that David Michael Miranda, a Brazilian national transiting through London, was detained at random, given the role his partner has played in revealing the truth about the unlawful nature of NSA surveillance.

"David's detention was unlawful and inexcusable. He was detained under a law that violates any principle of fairness and his detention shows how the law can be abused for petty, vindictive reasons.

"There is simply no basis for believing that David Michael Miranda presents any threat whatsoever to the UK government. The only possible intent behind this detention was to harass him and his partner, Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, for his role in analysing the data released by Edward Snowden."

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« Reply #8222 on: Aug 19, 2013, 06:22 AM »

Angela Merkel quashes retirement speculation

German chancellor says she wants to complete third term if her party wins next month's general election

Associated Press in Berlin, Sunday 18 August 2013 18.04 BST   

Angela Merkel has dismissed suggestions that she might step down before completing third term as chancellor of Germany if her party is victorious in next month's general election, and insisted that she wants to continue the centre-right coalition she has led since 2009.

German media have speculated that the country's first female chancellor, who is highly popular with voters, might retire before the end of a third term to pave the way for a successor from within her party.

"I want to be chancellor for four years," Merkel said in an interview with public TV broadcaster ZDF five weeks before the vote. She even left open the possibility of standing again in 2017.

Merkel, 59, also played down talk of reviving the grand coalition from her first term, when her conservative party ruled the country with the Social Democrats from 2005 to 2009.

Surveys put her Christian Democrats far ahead of their leftist rivals in the runup to the 22 September ballot.

But Merkel's junior coalition partner, the pro-business Free Democrats, have fared poorly in opinion polls and could complicate her re-election if they win less than the 5% share of the vote needed to enter parliament.

If they fail to pass that threshold, Merkel could be forced to work with the Social Democrats, who are led by her first-term finance minister, Peer Steinbrück.

"Nobody wants this," said Merkel, adding that in her view "the election will be very, very close".


David Cameron: gambling on Germany

David Cameron has three particular reasons for wanting Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right CDU to be re-elected

The Guardian, Sunday 18 August 2013 21.11 BST          

Next month's German general election will naturally have most impact in Germany itself. But the rest of Europe's politicians are watching the German campaign very closely too – and so should Europe's peoples. This is partly because a prosperous and growing Germany is a more dominant player than ever in today's EU. But it is also because the choice that Germans make on 22 September will directly affect us all, whether we are members of the eurozone or not. The list of interested parties therefore includes Britain.

David Cameron has three particular reasons for wanting Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right CDU to be re-elected next month. The first is that, in spite of real differences over what it means to be a centre-right party in 21st-century Europe, the CDU and the Conservatives remain sister parties. They have become distanced, notably because of Tory Euroscepticism – not shared by the CDU – and by Mr Cameron's withdrawal of the Tories from the European People's party grouping. But the Tories clearly have even less in common with the CDU's principal rivals, the Social Democratic party of Germany (SPD).

Mr Cameron's second reason is that it would be good news for incumbents like him. For a while, after the 2008 financial crisis, European voters simply took it out on incumbent governments – whatever their political stripe. Brown and Zapatero on the left, Berlusconi and Sarkozy on the right – all lost out. If Mrs Merkel manages to buck the trend, not least in the wake of her commitment to economic austerity and deficit reduction, the Tories will see light at the end of their own tunnel too.

But Mr Cameron's principal reason for wanting a CDU victory next month is that a re-elected Mrs Merkel would be pivotal to his own EU strategy if he, too, secures re-election in 2015. Last week, in an important interview, Mrs Merkel signalled that, if re-elected, she is willing to look at EU moves to "give something back" to member states. This is what Mr Cameron says he wants to do too, so that he can offer British voters a renegotiated relationship with the EU to approve in his 2017 referendum. If reports are to be believed, two areas on which the UK and Germany might agree are migrant benefits and labour market regulation.

The upshot of all this is deeply paradoxical. Tories like Mr Cameron, who want to stay in the EU after renegotiations of the sort which the German leader seems now to be sanctioning, will obviously want Mrs Merkel to be re-elected. But there are few things the Tories' out-and-out anti-Europeans should fear more than a German chancellor willing to make concessions to keep the UK in the EU. For anti-EU Tories, nothing would be worse than Mrs Merkel's re-election and the boost it might give to an eventual yes vote in a UK referendum.


Germany's first guerrilla gardener

When a little bit of East Berlin got left on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall, Osman Kalin built a home on it from scraps of rubbish, and cultivated flowers and vegetables

Louise Osborn
Sunday 18 August 2013 18.00 BST The Guardian     

The land that West Berlin resident Osman Kalin rescued from East Germany and turned into a home and garden.

This month marks 52 years since the night in August 1961 that the East German government erected a wall that would encircle West Berlin, cutting it off from the East of the city and East Germany. The wall may have gone, but a small triangle of land in Bethaniendamm, a street in West Berlin's alternative Kreuzberg district, is a lasting reminder of that era. Flanked by two roads and close to a dirty canal, the spot marks the victory of one man over the East German authorities.

When the wall went up, this scrap of East Germany ended up on the wrong side. Marooned on the West but owned by the East, the area became a dumping ground. West Berlin resident Osman Kalin seized the land in 1982 and spent weekends clearing it. On it now stands the home he built from scraps of rubbish, and a garden that has become a buzzing tourist destination.

Three decades later, the ramshackle building covered in brightly coloured graffiti may not look like much to some, but it is on this rough-looking spot that this original guerrilla gardener created his own vegetable patch.

Kalin was unaware that the land he had proudly occupied belonged to East Berlin. The pensioner now has Alzheimer's, but Detlef Kämmer, a neighbour and a resident in the area for more than 60 years, recalls that soon after Kalin started digging up the soil, he was visited by East German border guards. They came through a door in the wall to confront him about the tunnel they thought he was building to the East. Kalin simply "gave them vegetables," as a way to placate them, says Kämmer.

People were pleased with the towering flowers Kalin grew on the plot. "There were sunflowers in his garden that hung over the top of the [Berlin] wall," adds Kämmer. "He just cleaned away the rubbish and grew tomatoes."

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« Reply #8223 on: Aug 19, 2013, 06:23 AM »

August 18, 2013

A Call for Aid, Not Laws, to Help Women in Italy


ROME — Responding to the persistent problem of violence against women, Prime Minister Enrico Letta this month announced “very harsh, very tough” measures to counter domestic abuse and what he called “femicide,” the killing of women because they are women, often at the hands of current or former husbands or boyfriends.

The 12-point decree, effective immediately, sets stricter penalties for the perpetrators of domestic abuse, sexual violence and stalking, and it expands protections for some of the most vulnerable women, including immigrants who lack residency permits.

“We think that in our country it is necessary to send a strong signal” to combat domestic violence, Mr. Letta said when he announced the measures on Aug. 8. After a spate of widely reported attacks on women, the decree is “a sign of radical change on the issue,” he said.

But new attacks in the wake of Mr. Letta’s announcement have bolstered criticism from victims’ advocates who say that stiffer penalties alone are not enough to protect women and stem domestic violence.

Last week, a woman in northern Italy was fatally stabbed by her former partner, who then hid her body in his car; a Sicilian woman was murdered in front of her child by her former husband, who then committed suicide; and a man whose motives are still unknown threw acid in a woman’s face in Genoa.

More than 80 women have been killed so far this year, most of them by husbands, boyfriends or former partners, according to an unofficial tally kept by the Italian news media. Many of the victims had called the police to report stalking or harassment. About 75 percent of the 2,200 women murdered from 2000 to 2012 — roughly one murder every two days — were killed by partners or former partners, according to a study carried out by Eures, a European Union agency that monitors social affairs and employment issues, in collaboration with the Ansa news agency.

A United Nations report last year on violence against women in Italy called domestic abuse the “most pervasive form of violence” in the country, affecting nearly 32 percent of women between the ages of 16 and 70, according to a 2006 survey. It also noted that more than 90 percent of the Italian women who were raped or abused did not report it to the police.

Victims’ advocates and counselors who work with battered women say they welcome the attention the government is focusing on a long-neglected social problem, but they contend that for the most part the decree misses the mark.

Italy does not need tougher laws, the critics say, because existing legislation is adequate, if arbitrarily applied. What is missing, they contend, is a better-organized, better-financed network of psychological, legal and financial assistance for women who decide to leave an abusive relationship.

“To make changes to the penal system without addressing the issue of how to better protect women means being blind to reality,” said Barbara Spinelli, a feminist and a lawyer who wrote a report on domestic violence in Italy for the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

Reports by United Nations and European agencies underscore “the failure of Italian institutions and authorities to give adequate protection to women victims from their partners or ex-partners,” Ms. Spinelli said. “Either you carry out the necessary structural reforms, or this decree won’t help women.”

One such structural problem is the paucity of emergency housing for abuse victims. Rome’s principal emergency shelter for battered women consists of a nondescript three-room apartment near the once-legendary Cinecittà film studios. Serving Rome as well as the entire Lazio region of central Italy, it can accommodate no more than three women at a time, for a maximum stay of a week.

Given the scale of the need, there are “dramatically few places” for battered women to go to in Italy, said Emanuela Donato, one of the workers at Servizio Antiviolenza S O S Donna H24, a 24-hour-a-day service for victims of domestic violence and emergency shelter. So far this year, she said, more than 220 women have called the center’s help line. “Multiply that across Italy, and you get a sense of the emergency,” she said. “And that’s just the number of women who have the courage to recognize that they are victims and come to us for help.”

According to the recommendations of a Council of Europe task force, countries should have one shelter place for a woman and her children for every 10,000 residents. By this measure, Italy should have about 5,700 spots available in shelters nationwide, but it has just 500.

Italy also falls short when it comes to legal, medical, psychological and financial assistance for women who leave an abusive relationship, domestic abuse workers said.

“The message that emerges is stay home, because if you leave there is nothing, or very little to help you,” Ms. Donato said.

In fact, in the current bleak economic situation, “many shelters and anti-violence centers around Italy are closing because of lack of funding,” said Oria Gargano, the president of Be Free, the association that manages the S O S shelter with Rome’s municipal administration. The government decree “doesn’t really touch this question,” she said.

Indeed, Italy’s prolonged recession is likely to “aggravate the problem” of domestic violence, said Patrizia Romito, a professor of social psychology at the University of Trieste, by making it more difficult for women to find the money they need to leave an abusive situation. Moreover, for potentially abusive men, the loss of a job can remove those “social anchors that can restrain violent behavior,” Ms. Romito said.

Victims’ advocates also say that cultural factors contribute to violence against women. So-called honor killings of women said to have disgraced their family were legal until 1981, said Luisa Pronzato, who runs a blog about women for the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera. Paternalism “is part of our culture,” and it continues to permeate Italian society, she added.

Even police officers and health care workers called to respond to domestic violence are not immune from such attitudes, others say. “We had a recent case where a woman was threatened by her husband with a knife, and after calling the police, she was told by the officer, ‘Why don’t you cook a nice plate of pasta and make up?' ” said Nadia Somma, the president of Demetra, an association that runs a shelter in Ravenna, in northeastern Italy.

The new decree, Ms. Somma said, overlooks the reality that victims and abusers often continue to live together even after charges are filed because of Italy’s notoriously slow legal system, and victims’ advocates say that even convicted abusers rarely stay in jail for long.

The government has defended the decree, which still requires the approval of both houses of Parliament to become law, and Maria Cecilia Guerra, the deputy labor minister who led the task force that drafted the decree, said that beyond offering more protection for victims, the measures were intended “to increase awareness about domestic violence.”

Ms. Guerra acknowledged that while the network providing assistance to battered women needed to be improved, Italy’s economic crisis would require groups offering services to victims to develop better “synergy among existing structures.”

But Ms. Donato, the shelter worker in Rome, said it was difficult to operate the center with the little money it received. The lack of resources is “its own form of violence against women,” she said.

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« Reply #8224 on: Aug 19, 2013, 06:25 AM »

British warships arrive in Gibraltar amid tension with Spain

By Reuters
Monday, August 19, 2013 7:52 EDT

By Silvio Castellanos

GIBRALTAR (Reuters) – British warships arrived in Gibraltar on Monday for scheduled exercises amid tensions with Spain over fishing around the British Mediterranean enclave.

Although British, Spanish and Gibraltarian authorities have said the navy’s arrival at the British overseas territory is long-scheduled, some in Spain see it as provocative.

At about 0800 GMT (4:00 a.m. EDT) the frigate HMS Westminster sailed into the port of Gibraltar flanked by two smaller ships.

It was followed an hour later by the auxiliary ship Lyme Bay, part of a task force of four warships and five other vessels that left Portsmouth and Plymouth about a week ago for exercises in the Mediterranean and the Gulf with various allies.

Gibraltar’s creation of an artificial reef with concrete blocks, which Spanish fishermen say blocks their access to certain waters, has prompted Spain to toughen its border checks, leading to long queues for workers and tourists entering Gibraltar.

Spain claims the territory, population just 30,000, which it ceded to Britain by treaty 300 years ago.

In Monday’s German Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo accused the Spanish government of creating conflict to distract attention from corruption allegations against the ruling People’s Party.

“In the 19th century, gunboats were used to do politics,” he said.

“Today our aim is to improve the living conditions of our citizens by means of cooperation. Unfortunately, Spanish politicians are currently bringing the situation to a head and therefore making things worse for their own citizens in the surrounding regions.”

Picardo said the concrete reef was necessary to help marine life recover from overfishing.

As well as tightening border controls, Spain has threatened to charge tourists a 50 euro ($67) border levy, restrict the use of Spanish air space or block Gibraltar’s lucrative ship fuelling business.

While Spain has threatened to take its claim to Gibraltar to the United Nations, Britain has asked the European Commission urgently to send monitors to verify whether the border checks breach EU rules.

($1 = 0.7500 euros)

(Additional reporting by Michelle Martin in Berlin; Writing by Sarah Morris; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

[British Royal Navy frigate HMS Westminster is towed towards the port after arriving at Gibraltar bay, south of Spain August 19, 2013. REUTERS/Jon Nazca]

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« Reply #8225 on: Aug 19, 2013, 06:46 AM »

In the USA...

August 18, 2013

U.S. Workers Are Grounded by Deep Cuts


WASHINGTON — Geological visits to monitor volcanoes in Alaska have been scaled back. The defense secretary is traveling to Afghanistan two times a year instead of the usual four. For the first time in nearly three decades, NASA pulled out of the National Space Symposium, in Colorado Springs, even though representatives from France, Germany and China all made the trip.

Five months after gridlock in Washington triggered the deep spending cuts known as sequestration, much of the United States government is grounded.

Most government travel budgets have been cut this year by 30 percent, the result of an administration directive forcing managers to make difficult policy decisions about whom to send, where to send them and for how long. The result, agency officials say, is a government that cannot conduct essential business and is embarrassing itself abroad.

“We talk about being a leader in space exploration,” said Elliot H. Pulham, the chief executive of the Space Foundation, which sponsored the NASA-free symposium in Colorado. “But it’s hard to be a leader if you don’t show up.”

Not necessarily, say budget hawks like Senator Tom Coburn, Republican from Oklahoma. “Hopefully what you will have is more sound judgment at these agencies about what is critical travel and what isn’t,” Mr. Coburn said. “There is no question that federal employees should have some travel and go to some conferences, but most of it has nothing to do with their jobs. It’s a perk.”

Either way, the grounding of so many federal officials is one of the more tangible examples of the failure by Congress and President Obama to reach an accommodation on how to reduce the nation’s debt. Many workers are already experiencing furloughs because of the impasse. It may soon get worse, as Mr. Obama and lawmakers brace for another standoff in the coming months over how to cut spending.

For now, thousands of employees at scores of agencies are staying put, deskbound by the shrunken travel budgets. Many workers are under orders to trade in plane reservations for car rentals and even bus tickets. The reductions are hitting all pockets of the bureaucracy, including those where travel is considered essential.

In the office of the United States Trade Representative, for example, there is money to send a negotiator to only one of 41 countries — Ukraine — accused of violating American intellectual property rights.

One measure of the decline is the airline industry in Washington, where travel representatives report a steep falloff in the number of people flying on discounted government rates. Intercity bus services like Megabus have meanwhile seen a jump in ridership between Washington and New York.

The impact goes far beyond the elimination of embarrassing junkets like the more than $800,000 the General Services Administration spent on a clown, a comic, a mind reader and airfare for 300 government workers for a retreat near Las Vegas in 2010. Officials have urged agencies to cut travel budgets “in a way that protects mission to the extent practicable and continues to support critical government functions such as national security, safety inspections, and law enforcement,” said Steve Posner, the associate director for strategic planning and communications at the Office of Management and Budget.

But Mr. Posner added: “The depth and breadth of the cuts required by sequestration mean that is not possible in all cases, and cuts are having an impact on agencies’ ability to carry out their mission.”

A July report by the United States Travel Association, made up of companies in the travel industry, found that government participation in meetings and conferences was vital to making it efficient and effective. The report found that canceling participation in these events carried significant costs and undermined important functions of government.

Among those hit hardest by the cuts to travel budgets are scientists, who often travel to academic conferences as part of their jobs. In some cases, they are now turning to video conference calls or online Webinars to replace the in-person visits.

In February, the Defense Department canceled a health systems conference where thousands of military medical professionals would gather to share research and learn the latest treatment techniques.

In March, the National Space Symposium went on as scheduled — just without NASA. The agency has also canceled one trip abroad by Charles F. Bolden Jr., the administrator.

Last year, the United States Geological Survey sent 75 scientists to the annual meeting of the Seismological Society of America to give lectures and trade information. This year, the survey withdrew all but 14, nearly shutting down the Salt Lake City conference in the process.

The conference’s organizer lost more than $15,000 in canceled hotel rooms, food and beverage fees, and printing costs for new programs. Seventeen research papers were withdrawn because their authors could not be there to present them.

The scientists at the survey have also stopped maintenance of their equipment at several active Alaskan volcanoes, in part because of the cost of traveling there. For the same reason, the agency is no longer trying to obtain permits to install monitoring equipment on volcanoes at Mount Hood in Oregon and Glacier Peak in Washington State.

At the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Barbara Reynolds, a spokeswoman for the agency and a psychologist, said the agency has significantly reduced the travel of its 15,000 employees. Ms. Reynolds said she once traveled around the country training local and state officials in crisis and emergency communications.

“But I’m not doing any of that anymore,” she said. Instead, Ms. Reynolds said she conducts the training online. “There is some level of concern about doing it that way,” she said. “But we are trying to be frugal.”

Other agencies have eliminated nonessential travel in an effort to ensure that a core mission can continue.

Managers at the Food and Drug Administration have made it all but impossible for employees to receive approval for travel to conferences. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, in an effort to help supplement reduced travel budgets for field inspectors, cut back on a program aimed at drowning prevention. At the Pentagon, defense officials skipped meetings with the international Afghanistan coalition in London and Rome this year, and without secure conference equipment, they could not participate virtually, officials said.

Even when travel is approved, it is often done with an eye on cost. Take the case of an Air Force officer at the Pentagon who has been ordered to continue traveling to a military base in Tennessee to provide training there. Twice this year, he drove to Dulles International Airport, where he picked up a rental car and drove ten hours to a Tennessee airport. The total bill, about $350, is less than the $1,600 he used to spend for a round-trip flight.

The officer, who requested anonymity because he is not cleared to talk about such issues publicly, cited “the irony of driving to an airport to pick up a rental car to drive to another airport 500 miles away.”

As he put it, “It is kind of baffling.”


August 18, 2013

Braced to Remake Itself, Detroit First Awaits Challenges to Bankruptcy Eligibility


Before Detroit can start remaking itself in bankruptcy court, there is a basic question that stands in its way: Does it even qualify?

That might seem like an odd notion in a place wrestling with an estimated $18 billion debt. But unions, creditors and retirees are expected to file formal objections to Detroit’s eligibility for bankruptcy protection before a Monday deadline, the opening of a legal fight over whether the largest municipal bankruptcy in the nation’s history should proceed.

“This is just getting your ticket punched to get in the door,” said Michael A. Sweet, a bankruptcy lawyer with Fox Rothschild in San Francisco. A trial to consider Detroit’s eligibility for bankruptcy is scheduled for Oct. 23.

To meet the criteria for municipal bankruptcy, known as Chapter 9, Detroit must convince Judge Steven W. Rhodes of federal bankruptcy court that the city is insolvent. It must also show that it received state authorization to seek bankruptcy protection and that it made a good-faith effort to reach a deal with creditors before seeking bankruptcy.

The deadline for filing eligibility challenges is 11:59 p.m. Eastern time Monday. By Sunday evening, only a handful of objections had been submitted.

Since 1954, there have been only 63 Chapter 9 filings that dealt with cities, towns, villages or counties across the country, said James E. Spiotto, a bankruptcy specialist based in Chicago at the law firm of Chapman and Cutler. Of those, 29 cases were dismissed for reasons that included ineligibility, he said.

Bruce Babiarz, a spokesman for Detroit’s fire and police retirement system, which supports 8,500 retirees, said lawyers for the group would argue that Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, did not have the authority to approve Detroit’s bankruptcy filing last month because the decision infringed on Michigan’s constitutional protections for pensions.

Kevyn D. Orr, the emergency manager Mr. Snyder appointed to oversee the city’s finances in March, has said he intends to use the bankruptcy filing to seek reductions to pensions.

With as much as $3.5 billion in unfunded pensions at stake, that constitutional dispute is expected to be critical in the eligibility trial. The issue has already set up a confrontation between Mr. Snyder and the attorney general of Michigan, Bill Schuette, who announced last month that he would defend retirees in the proceedings despite the governor’s support for bankruptcy.

Joy Yearout, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, would not comment on whether Mr. Schuette intends to protest Detroit’s eligibility.

But there are other widely voiced legal objections, including accusations that the city is not as insolvent as it claims and that officials did not adequately try to bargain with creditors before filing for bankruptcy. Mr. Orr set the groundwork for a filing in May, detailing the city’s finances in a report that painted a grim picture of a cash-hemorrhaging city. In June, he proposed a plan that offered 10 cents on the dollar on the city’s debt obligations like unsecured bonds and a portion of unfunded pension liabilities. Critics have described subsequent meetings with Mr. Orr’s team as more presentational than open to substantial negotiations, saying discussions had barely started when Detroit suddenly filed for Chapter 9 last month.

In court documents, Mr. Orr said that unions declined to bargain on behalf of the 21,000 municipal retirees and that multiple lawsuits filed against him and the governor proved resistance from some creditors.

“Negotiations go both ways,” said Bill Nowling, a spokesman for Mr. Orr. “When one party is suing another party, I think it’s safe to assume the negotiations have ended.”

Detroit still is pursuing an aggressive timeline to present a restructuring plan in bankruptcy court by the end of the year, months before the court-set deadline of March 1.

And last week, Judge Rhodes appointed a mediator, Judge Gerald E. Rosen of Federal District Court, to begin overseeing discussions about creditors’ claims and collective bargaining agreements with the city on Sept. 17.

Bankruptcy experts, and even some creditors, said Detroit’s odds of winning the eligibility trial in October are strong, possibly benefiting from rulings in recent municipal bankruptcy hearings, like one in Stockton, Calif., where a judge ruled against objectors. They also said some parties might decide to focus on mediation talks rather than squabble about eligibility, saving the legal costs and arguments for later.

“If you’re not an eligible debtor, the case is dismissed, and that leaves a very chaotic situation,” said Karol K. Denniston, a San Francisco-based bankruptcy lawyer with Schiff Hardin, which represents some Detroit creditors, although she declined to identify them.

“I think that a lot of people are beginning to realize, and I mean all creditors, with the exception of this constitutional issue, that fighting over eligibility in Detroit is the effectual equivalent of fiddling while Rome burns,” she said.


August 18, 2013

Most of U.S. Is Wired, but Millions Aren’t Plugged In


The Obama administration has poured billions of dollars into expanding the reach of the Internet, and nearly 98 percent of American homes now have access to some form of high-speed broadband. But tens of millions of people are still on the sidelines of the digital revolution.

“The job I’m trying to get now requires me to know how to operate a computer,” said Elmer Griffin, 70, a retired truck driver from Bessemer, Ala., who was recently rejected for a job at an auto-parts store because he was unable to use the computer to check the inventory. “I wish I knew how, I really do. People don’t even want to talk to you if you don’t know how to use the Internet.”

Mr. Griffin is among the roughly 20 percent of American adults who do not use the Internet at home, work and school, or by mobile device, a figure essentially unchanged since Barack Obama took office as president in 2009 and initiated a $7 billion effort to expand access, chiefly through grants to build wired and wireless systems in neglected areas of the country.

Administration officials and policy experts say they are increasingly concerned that a significant portion of the population, around 60 million people, is shut off from jobs, government services, health care and education, and that the social and economic effects of that gap are looming larger. Persistent digital inequality — caused by the inability to afford Internet service, lack of interest or a lack of computer literacy — is also deepening racial and economic disparities in the United States, experts say.

“As more tasks move online, it hollows out the offline options,” said John B. Horrigan, a senior research fellow at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. “A lot of employers don’t accept offline job applications. It means if you don’t have the Internet, you could be really isolated.”

Seventy-six percent of white American households use the Internet, compared with 57 percent of African-American households, according to the “Exploring the Digital Nation,” a Commerce Department report released this summer and based on 2011 data.

The figures also show that Internet use over all is much higher among those with at least some college experience and household income of more than $50,000.

Low adoption rates among older people remain a major hurdle. Slightly more than half of Americans 65 and older use the Internet, compared with well over three-quarters of those under 65.

In addition, Internet use is lowest in the South, particularly in Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas.

Willa Ohnoutka, 78, who has lived in the same house in suburban Houston for 40 years, said she did not use the Internet at all. “I use my telephone,” Ms. Ohnoutka said. “I get news on the TV. I’m just not comfortable involving myself with that Internet.”

Others cite expense as the reason they do not use the Internet.

“I am cheap,” said Craig Morgan, 23, a self-employed carpenter from Oxford, Miss. So far, he has made do without the Internet at home, but while he has used a smartphone to connect, that has limitations, he said.

“When we came home from the hospital with our new baby two months ago,” the hospital “took pictures and put them online,” he said. “We had to go to my in-laws to order them.”

Gloria Bean, 41, an elementary school teaching assistant from Calhoun City, Miss., said cost was also a reason she had not had Internet access at home for three years.

“I just couldn’t afford it,” she said. Being cut off, she said, “has affected me and my children.”

“They have to have it for school to do research for a paper or something they need for class,” Ms. Bean said.

As a result, she added, she often rushes from her job at school to pick up her children and take them to the library, where there are 10 computers.

The Obama administration allocated $7 billion to broadband expansion as part of the 2009 economic stimulus package. Most of it went to build physical networks. About half of those infrastructure programs have been completed, with Internet availability growing to 98 percent of homes from fewer than 90 percent.

About $500 million from the package went toward helping people learn to use the Internet. Those programs were highly successful, though on a small scale, producing more than half a million new household subscribers to Internet service, Commerce Department statistics show.

“We recognize more work needs to be done to ensure that no Americans are left behind,” said John B. Morris Jr., director of Internet policy at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, part of the Commerce Department. “Increasing the level of broadband adoption is a complex, multifaceted challenge with no simple, one-size-fits-all solution.”

The percentage of people 18 years and older in the United States who have adopted the Internet over the past two decades has grown at a rate not seen since the popularization of the telephone, soaring nearly fivefold, from 14 percent in 1995. Although that growth slowed in more recent years, it had still moved close to 80 percent of the population by the beginning of the Obama administration in 2009, according to several academic and government studies.

Since then, however, the number has not budged, shifting between 74 percent and 79 percent through 2011, according to one study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Pew’s most recent research shows the figure fluttering this year between 81 percent and 85 percent, a slight uptick that experts attribute to the still-growing popularity of smartphones. Most smartphone users also have home connections, however, and do not face the affordability or digital literacy problems that have caused Internet adoption to remain stagnant.

Even at that level of Internet adoption, however, the United States, with the world’s largest economy by far, ranked seventh among 20 major global economies in 2012, down from fourth in 2000, according to the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations agency. Ranking ahead of the United States were Britain, Canada, South Korea, Germany, France and Australia, as well as nearly every other smaller country in Western Europe.

Aaron Smith, a senior researcher at the Pew Project, said that when the center asked nonusers if they believed they were missing out or were disadvantaged by not using the Internet, most of the older Americans said no, it was not relevant to them. “But when you excluded the seniors,” he added, “most people said, ‘Yeah, I feel like I’m not getting the access to all the things that I need.’ ”

Researchers say the recent recession probably contributed to some of the flattening in Internet adoption, just as the Great Depression stalled the arrival of home telephone service. But a significant portion of nonusers cite their lack of digital literacy skills as a discouraging factor.

Some programs, like the federally financed Smart Communities, have shown promising results. Smart Communities, a $7 million effort in Chicago that was part of the administration’s $7 billion investment, provided basic Internet training in English and Spanish for individuals and small businesses. Between 2008 and 2011, the Smart Communities participants registered a statistically significant 15 percentage-point increase in Internet use compared with that in other Chicago community areas.

The Federal Communications Commission and some Internet providers have started programs to make Internet service more affordable for low-income households. Comcast’s two-year-old Internet Essentials program, which offers broadband service for $10 a month to low-income families, has signed up 220,000 households out of 2.6 million eligible homes in Comcast service areas.

Those types of programs hold promise, administration officials say, but they remain unsatisfied. “I’ve seen enough to know that we’re making good progress,” said Thomas C. Power, the administration’s deputy chief technology officer for telecommunications. “But I also know we need to make more progress.”

Cynthia Howle, Glenny Brock and Alan Blinder contributed reporting.


August 18, 2013

Postal Service Applies Old Promise to New Priority


THE Postal Service is identified with a promise that neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night would stay its couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. But the Internet? Don’t ask.

Although ways to communicate online have made untold billions of pieces of first-class mail vanish, costing the Postal Service untold billions of dollars in revenue, there is a silver lining: strong growth in delivering packages that consumers order through e-commerce. Reflecting that, the Postal Service has been devoting more attention to its delivery services, including changes announced last week in Priority Mail that were described as major upgrades. So it is no surprise that the first round of advertising for the Postal Service from its new creative agency, McCann Erickson Worldwide, is being devoted to Priority Mail. The campaign, which will include commercials, print and online ads, direct marketing and a presence in social media, seeks to elevate itself beyond peddling products by introducing a theme, “Priority: you,” that evokes the unofficial Postal Service “Neither ... nor” creed. The initial commercial, scheduled to begin on Monday, even shows postal employees making deliveries in, yes, snow and rain. “Staying warm and dry has never been our priority,” an announcer declares. Scenes of deliveries in rural areas are accompanied by the announcer’s assertion that “catering to the conveniently located has never been our priority.”

“Our priority is, was and always will be serving you, the American people,” he continues, adding, “We get to see everyone in America, almost every day, and we’ve noticed you’re sending and receiving more packages than ever.” That is a nice segue to the Priority Mail message, which promotes upgrades that include free, improved tracking; free insurance, valued at $50 or $100; and specified delivery dates of one, two or three days.

The goal of the campaign is to focus on “one of the bright spots in the Postal Service’s future,” said Nagisa Manabe, executive vice president and chief marketing and sales officer at the Postal Service in Washington, rather than “our challenging situation” as a result of problems like falling mail volume and revenue.

Ms. Manabe acknowledged how the migration to online is a doubled-edged sword for the Postal Service. Because “the Internet giveth and taketh away,” she said, “the growth in our package business is really mission critical, and it’s very important to continually improve our reliability.”

That responds to “a very clear trend in the marketplace,” she added, of “rising expectations from consumers” for the products and services they buy. The commercial addresses that with phrases from the announcer like “Don’t just take our word for it” and “We’ll never stop delivering for every person in this country.”

The prominent role in the campaign for postal workers — the men and women in the commercial, and the announcer, are actual employees — is based on research that showed how positively the public regards them, Ms. Manabe said.

Leslie Sims, executive creative director at the McCann Erickson New York division of McCann Erickson Worldwide, elaborated. “The idea is to hear from the Postal Service rather than the critics, to let the dedicated work force speak for themselves,” she said, and help convey that “it’s not just about mail anymore, it’s also shipping.”

Ms. Sims summarized what the Postal Service wants to get across in the campaign: “We need people to trust us to send the things that matter. Nobody knows America like we know America, because we see you every day, and that informs every innovation. Priority Mail is a competitive product, and user-friendly.”

The “Priority: you” theme was “staring at us from the box,” Ms. Sims said, referring to Priority Mail packaging, and asserts that the Postal Service’s priority “is the American people, compared with our competitors, whose priority is their shareholders.”

(FedEx and United Parcel Service, which are traded on the New York Stock Exchange, are “frenemies” with the Postal Service — the Postal Service has delivery contracts with them, and vice versa.)

The Postal Service decided four months ago to select McCann Erickson Worldwide, part of the McCann Worldgroup division of the Interpublic Group of Companies, as its creative agency, replacing another Interpublic agency, now known as Lowe Campbell Ewald, after more than 10 years.

The Postal Service also works with other units of the McCann Worldgroup and Interpublic, including Casanova Pendrill, for ads aimed at Hispanic consumers; Draftfcb, for retail marketing; MRM Worldwide, for direct and digital marketing; Universal McCann, for media services; and Weber Shandwick, for public relations and social media.

“We won the business” with the “Priority: you” campaign, Ms. Sims said, and Ms. Manabe confirmed that it “was part of the original pitch” made by McCann Erickson to the Postal Service in a review for the account.

The Postal Service spent about $75 million on advertising last year, compared with $91 million in 2011. Plans call for the ads devoted to Priority Mail to be followed by the Postal Service’s annual holiday campaign, Ms. Manabe said, a crucial initiative because that is “the busiest time of the year for packages and mail.”

Asked if the Postal Service had considered a campaign that would directly address its financial woes, Ms. Manabe said, “We’re not sure there’s much to be gained from ads of that type.”

Ms. Sims, riffing on a suggestion that actors who played postal workers in sitcoms like “Cheers” and “Seinfeld” could be hired for such ads, said, laughing: “Don’t think that hasn’t been thrown around. And don’t think you may never see that.”

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08/19/2013 01:04 PM

Egypt's Tragedy: Military Dictatorship Takes Shape on Nile

Last Wednesday's massacre marked the beginning of a new phase of repression in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood is on the defensive, and the country is threatened by the return of a military dictatorship. It could be the end of the Arab Spring. By SPIEGEL Staff

The paramedics in front of the main Cairo morgue in Sainhum are adamant that the facility cannot handle any more corpses. The cold rooms, the regular rooms and the courtyard, they say, are all full of bodies. There are even bodies on the street outside, making up an eerie queue, lying in rows of three, some shrouded in white sheets or black body bags and others in open coffins.

The dead move forward by half a meter every 15 minutes, pulled and pushed by their relatives. It's 34 degrees Celsius (93 degrees Fahrenheit), but the dead are not in the shade. Instead, they are lying in the middle of the street, surrounded by buzzing flies.

Mohammed Riad, a gym teacher, has brought his cousin to the morgue. He was shot in the head. The cousin supported the Muslim Brotherhood, whose members had pitched their tents on Rabaa al-Adawiya Square, which the police and military cleared last Wednesday, probably the bloodiest day in recent Egyptian history. But the family members standing in line outside the morgue have almost no opportunity to mourn the dead -- and that is intentional.

Every funeral march could also transform into a demonstration, which is why the Kafkaesque bureaucracy was doing everything it could last week to delay the release of the bodies. A doctor's report. and then an attestation from the police, is necessary before the body can be brought to the overcrowded Sainhum morgue. A death certificate can only be issued there. An additional document from the police is necessary before the burial can actually take place. The only way to speed up the process, said those waiting outside the morgue, was to declare that suicide was the cause of death.

The result could be seen on Friday: There was a relative paucity of funerals. But there were protests nonetheless. Tens of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters congregated on Ramses Square in Cairo. Once again, the security forces fired at the demonstrators, and the clashes left over 170 people dead. After state television had broadcast an appeal to Egyptians to form militias, groups of thugs armed with clubs and machetes appeared in many neighborhoods, lying in wait for Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

Early Stages of Civil War?

No one has tried to stop the escalation, not the Muslim Brotherhood, which had called for a "Friday of rage" and has promised additional protests, and not the security forces, which continue to use live ammunition and have pledged to continue pressuring the Islamists. On Sunday, 36 more members of the Muslim Brotherhood were killed, allegedly the result of trying to escape from prison. Reports indicate that they may have suffocated in the back of a packed prison van after tear gas was fired inside. And, on Monday, reports emerged that two police minibuses in the Sinai were ambushed by suspected militants, leaving 24 dead.

The events, taken together, make it seem as though Egypt is in the early stages of a civil war, a conflict that started with the Aug. 14 bloodbath. According to official figures, more than 600 demonstrators and 43 members of the security forces were killed. The Muslim Brotherhood claims that more than 2,000 people lost their lives, most of them killed by shots to the head and chest. The actual casualty figures are probably somewhere in between. Some 4,200 people were injured.

In response, Islamists have ransacked and set fire to dozens of churches and Christian-owned buildings. Several police officers have been lynched.

The divisions in Egypt are deep. Whereas reconciliation had seemed possible, though difficult, until last week, there are now two irreconcilable camps facing off against each other: the military and its secular supporters, on one side, and the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters, on the other. The young activists and the liberals no longer play a role. One of their representatives, Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, resigned in protest on Wednesday evening. Violence begets violence, he wrote, adding that his words would be remembered. But nobody has listened.

The military is in the process of repeating the mistakes of the Muslim Brotherhood, arrogantly invoking a supposed "popular mandate" and pushing for a quick victory rather than a compromise. But the army cannot suppress the roughly 30 percent of Egyptians in the Islamist camp without limiting the freedom of all Egyptians. If it adheres to its course, the country could soon be under a military dictatorship.

'Death for the Arab Spring'

In the wake of the July 3 coup and the tragedy of Aug. 14, it seems possible that the military leaders never truly relinquished their hold on power after the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak two-and-a-half years ago. If that were the case, democracy in the country would be a failure. Yemeni Nobel Peace Price winner Tawakkul Karman makes it clear what this would mean for the Arab world when she says: "The destruction of Egypt's revolution means death for the Arab Spring."

The ecstatic rhetoric about change and a democratic future is gone, and not just in Egypt. Although it is still too early to write off the Arab Spring -- it took centuries for democracy to gain a foothold in the West -- the democratic experiment is clearly in grave danger.

Tunisia, the cradle of the movement, threatens to plunge into chaos after two political murders, and the positions of Islamists and secular Tunisians are also irreconcilable. Despite elections, clan leaders and warlords are still in charge in Libya. The country is also plagued by bombings and has turned into the world's largest openly accessible arms depot. Syria has descended into a civil war that has already claimed 100,000 lives and turned millions into refugees. And Iraq and Lebanon are also on the brink of civil war along religious fault lines.

The Gulf states, which had generally been more liberal, have become more repressive. And it is no accident that undemocratic countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates promised Egypt $12 billion (€9 billion) after the July coup: a bonus to restore the status quo ante.

Former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's one year in office seems like an historical accident. He was the only civilian president the country has seen since the overthrow of the king, in 1952. Although Egypt does have a transitional president, Adly Mansour, the chief justice of the supreme constitutional court, he has little power.

Once again, the country's leader is from the military: General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, 58, clean-shaven, usually seen wearing sunglasses and a dress uniform -- not unlike former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Sissi is the commander-in-chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces, defense minister and deputy premier. He is also a conservative, religious bureaucrat and a holdover from the old regime. Sissi was the one who defended the "virginity tests" being performed on young female demonstrators with the odd argument that it was to protect soldiers against rape accusations.

The Army Has a Country

On the day after the bloodbath, army supporters went to what was left of the protestors' camp and chanted: "Sissi, Sissi." Many praised his tough stance against the Islamists, and some already see him as the next president. Although the general has said that he does not intend to run for political office, he hasn't truly ruled it out, either. The adoration for Sissi is reminiscent of that for former President Gamal Abdel Nasser -- and it is not unintended. One of Nasser's daughters has already written an open letter to the general, begging him to run and arguing that 30 million Egyptians agree with her. There are posters throughout the country that depict Sissi next to Nasser, and there is even a portrait of Sissi hanging above the former president's grave. There is also an old photo making the rounds that depicts a boy saluting Nasser. The rumor is that the boy is the young Sissi. Although this is most likely nonsense, it reveals the extent of the adoration that is being stirred up by the military.

There is an old saying that many are quoting once again today: Egypt has no army, but the army has a country. No other institution permeates society as much as the military does. Half of the country's 440,000 soldiers are conscripts. Those who manage to advance into the higher ranks gain access to an elite parallel world, complete with its own yacht clubs, amusement centers and hospitals. The military has never had to reveal its budget, and it makes strategic decisions on its own. With its cement and pasta factories, hotels and service stations, the military is also one of Egypt's biggest economic players.

Those who grow up in this world, like General Sissi, truly believe that the army is the "guardian of patriotic responsibility," as he wrote to Morsi during his inauguration. The general often uses terms like pride and nationalism, which is also reminiscent of Nasser, a former colonel who came to power in a military coup. Also like Nasser, Sissi has recently become critical of the West. Although he cannot fully emulate his idol, because he lacks the funds for social programs and the global political support, Sissi is taking advantage of Egypt's yearning for a hero.

But Nasser also brutally repressed the Muslim Brotherhood, laying the foundation for the current conflict. In this respect, too, Sissi seems to be channeling his idol.

The Military Dictatorship Returns
It is as though the February 2011 overthrow never happened. Egypt is caught once again in a conflict that has raged for more than 60 years and has dominated the country since those eight bullets were fired on Nasser on Oct. 26, 1954, in a failed, and perhaps staged, coup attempt. At the time, Nasser banned the Brotherhood and imprisoned its leaders. In the ensuing decades, fear of the Islamists was used to justify the military's authoritarian control and the brutal tactics of the security services. In the end, however, the military created precisely what it had claimed it was preventing: even more radical Islamists.

The parallels are difficult to overlook. Once again, the army is arguing that its aim in deposing Morsi and brutally breaking up the Muslim Brotherhood protests is to protect the country from plunging into chaos. But the attacks on the Islamists are only creating more turmoil.

None of the Muslim Brotherhood leaders can currently be reached. They have either gone into hiding or have been arrested or killed. Brotherhood spokesman Gehad al-Haddad wrote on his Twitter account: "We will push until we bring down this military coup," and "It's not about Morsi anymore. Are we going to accept a new military tyranny in Egypt or not?"

But a return to military dictatorship may not just mean a return to pre-2011 conditions, but in fact a return to even darker times. "Under the regime of Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood was repressed, but the repression was never total. The Brotherhood, as the country's largest opposition force, was allowed room to operate, to contest elections, and to have seats in parliament," writes political scientist Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution, the Washington-based think tank. "The current military government is much more ambitious, with its aim to dismantle the Brotherhood and destroy it as a political force." To achieve this, Hamid continues, the generals have "tapped into real, popular anger against the Brotherhood. ... Continuous civil conflict, in turn, will be used to justify permanent war against an array of internal and foreign enemies, both real and imagined."

There are plenty of indications that this is indeed the case. Even before Egypt's bloody Wednesday, dozens of Muslim Brotherhood members were locked up, and former President Morsi has also been held, in an undisclosed location, for the last seven weeks. On the day before the massacre, the government released the names of the new provincial governors. Two-thirds of them are generals. The old state security service is also back in business. And shortly after the massacre, the military announced a state of emergency, claiming that it would only last for one month. But the last time a state of emergency was declared, it lasted 30 years. And under a state of emergency, arbitrary arrests and expedited trials are once again possible.

All Terrorists

The media, at any rate, has fallen back into its old propaganda role. On Thursday morning, the state broadcaster announced that the protesters in the tent camps were all terrorists and had shot themselves to death.

But the Muslim Brotherhood is also spreading conspiracy theories, including the claim that 75 percent of pro-army demonstrators in recent weeks were Christians who had only taken to the streets at the behest of the Coptic patriarch. This apparently resonated with Islamists in southern Egypt, as evidenced by the rise in attacks on Christians.

After the Wednesday massacre, Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim issued a terse statement saying that the security forces had acted in accordance with international standards and with great self-restraint. There was no word of regret over the many dead. The minister was later shown on state television attending the funerals of dead soldiers and police officers.

But the question remains: What really happened on Aug. 14?

Sainab Mahmoud is sitting next to her husband's body in the Health Insurance Hospital near the Rabaa al-Adawiyah Mosque. "He was coming from the ablution fountains in the morning when the first shots were fired. A bullet struck him next to the ear and emerged through his face. After that, they shot at everything for hours. We just wanted to get out, and so we walked toward the military policy with our hands in the air, but they didn't stop shooting."

Abd al-Maula, a math teacher from Ismailia, is squatting on the floor nearby, next to the body of his 21-year-old son, a third-year engineering student. "I was on my way to the camp when I suddenly heard shots fired," says the father. "One of my son's friends called me, saying (my son) had been hit in the neck. We spent seven hours trying to find a hospital that would treat him, but they all turned us away. Then my son was dead."

Samah Hussein, a swimming instructor, is picking up the body of a friend. "Mohammed called me in the morning and said: They're storming the camp. What should I do? I promised that I would come over, and then we spoke a few more times by phone. 'I'm standing outside,' he said. They were his last words. When I found him, he had a hole in his head."

Molotov Cocktails and Gunfire

There are many stories like these. Eyewitnesses all tell the same account of snipers, who were positioned on the surrounding rooftops, unexpectedly opening fire in the early morning, with gunfire coming from the adjacent military base as well. Security forces claim that they used tear gas at first, but that the Islamists responded with Molotov cocktails and gunfire.

The tragedy was not a complete surprise. There had already been two bloody attacks on Muslim Brotherhood supporters since July 3, with about 150 dead. There were international protests, but they faded away before long. And in Egypt itself, the protests died down. Perhaps the generals believed that they could get away with a bloodbath.

For weeks, Western and Arab diplomats had unsuccessfully tried to mediate between the two sides. But Muslim Brotherhood leaders were likely in talks with the military behind the scenes. Just a day before the massacre, Brotherhood spokesman Gehad al-Haddad announced that his group was willing to negotiate "under certain conditions."

But did Sissi and his officers even want a compromise? Since the coup, the military has felt that most Egyptians supported it -- even more so since the end of July when Sissi called upon the people to support the military with a march of solidarity. Millions heeded the appeal.

In addition, state-owned media reported in July that the Muslim Brotherhood was prepared to resort to weapons to defend itself. The military, it would seem, was already preparing an excuse for clearing the protest camps. Indeed, state television showed firearms and ammunition last Wednesday that had allegedly been confiscated in the camps. But verifying such claims will be difficult. No bullet casings to suggest that the Islamists used firearms were found in one of the camps, which had been quickly flattened with bulldozers on Thursday. There were only piles of stones and blackened marbles that had been hurled with slingshots.

Now everyone is trying to claim the mantle of truth. Army supporters see the Muslim Brotherhood and its followers as terrorists. The latter, in turn, see themselves as victims and martyrs for their elected president -- and even for democracy.

Sissi's Thesis

Morsi set the tone in his last hours in office, saying that he would rather die than resign. "We are sacrificing our souls for Morsi," said Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie. Martyrdom is the weapon of the underdogs; instead of admitting defeat, they feel an obligation to continue fighting.

Indeed, it now seems inconceivable for the Muslim Brotherhood to be involved in the political process. And why should they, say many Brotherhood supporters, when the whole purpose of the coup was to exclude them from politics?

In Iman Mosque, located in the Nasr City quarter of Cairo, where there were still 204 bodies on Thursday -- cooled with blocks of ice and shrouded in air freshener to mask the odor of decomposition -- a boy named Hussam Nabil Abdullah was sitting in front of his father's body. "It is now a matter of justice for all the dead," he said. "We will not give up!"

In one of his rare interviews, Sissi recently told the Washington Post that he would "restore democracy." But it's a Faustian pact, with a general behaving as if he were a democrat.

How Egypt's strong man feels about democracy is revealed in his thesis at the US Army War College in Pennsylvania, where he spent nine months in 2005. As if anticipating the problems his government is now facing, the general wrote: "Simply changing the political systems from autocratic rule to democratic rule will not be enough to build a new democracy." Change, he continued, requires a "reasonable economic situation, educated people and a moderate understanding of religious issues."

Perhaps Morsi should have read his defense minister's thesis. "If a democracy evolves with different constituencies," Sissi wrote, "there is no guarantee that the police and military forces will align with the emerging ruling parties."


Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


August 20, 2013

Egyptian Police Arrest Spiritual Leader of Muslim Brotherhood


CAIRO — The Egyptian police arrested the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood early on Tuesday, hours after a court ordered the release of former President Hosni Mubarak.

The arrest of the Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, Mohamed Badie, appeared to represent a red line the police never crossed during Mr. Mubarak’s own crackdowns on the group. Taken together with the fact that the former president’s release for the first time seems conceivable, the twin developments offered a measure of how far and how quickly the tumult shaking Egypt in recent days and weeks has rolled back the changes brought by the revolution of 2011.

The order for Mr. Mubarak’s release, under a government led by former officials who worked for him, conjured the incongruous notion that he might go free even as his democratically elected successor, the Islamist Mohamed Morsi, remained in detention by the military that ousted him in early July and installed an interim government.

In a kind of counterpoint, the arrest of Mr. Badie showed the severity of the crackdown on Islamist forces that has left hundreds dead. A private television network that supports the military leadership broadcast footage of the Islamist leader in custody, with triumphal music playing against images of the 70-year-old Mr. Badie clad in a white robe and sitting on a white couch with a security officer’s automatic rifle visible nearby.

His incarceration, which followed the death of a son, Ammar, in clashes on Friday, was apparently designed to further deflate the Brotherhood’s resolve to maintain its challenge to the military-backed government with street protests clamoring for Mr. Morsi’s release.

Mr. Badie was arrested in an apartment in the northeastern Nasr City neighborhood of Cairo, news reports said, close to a mosque at the center of a six-week sit-in by Islamist supporters of Mr. Morsi at a protest camp that the security forces dispersed with gunfire and tear gas last Wednesday. Raids on that camp and another near Cairo University killed hundreds, sparking violent clashes. In recent days the protests have seemed less intense, suggesting that the Brotherhood may be retreating underground.

Its three top leaders are now in jail, along with Mr. Morsi, and after six weeks of massive protests across the country against the ouster of the deposed president, demonstrations in and near the capital were becoming hard to find on Tuesday.

Charged with incitement to murder, Mr. Badie and his two deputies face trial later this month.

His arrest, made known in the early hours, came as Egyptians struggled to absorb the notion that Mr. Mubarak, overthrown as a reviled despot in February 2011, might be freed. Few legal analysts thought a release was likely, at least in the coming weeks. But under the government installed last month by Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, they say, it is no longer a foregone conclusion that prosecutors will continue to find reasons to detain the former autocrat.

Some analysts said that even the possibility of Mr. Mubarak’s release, previously unthinkable, provided another sign of the return of his authoritarian style of government.

Since the ouster of Mr. Morsi, the interim government has brought back not only prominent faces of the Mubarak era but signature elements of that autocratic state, including an “emergency law” removing the right to a trial and curbs on police abuse, the appointment of generals as governors across the provinces and moves to outlaw the Muslim Brotherhood again as a terrorist threat.

The police scarcely bothered to offer a credible explanation for the deaths of three dozen Morsi supporters in custody over the weekend. After repeatedly shifting stories, they ultimately said the detainees had suffocated from tear gas during a failed escape attempt. But photographs taken at the morgue on Monday showed that at least two had been badly burned from the shoulders up and that others bore evidence of torture.

Security officers have a new bounce in their step. They are again pulling men from their cars at checkpoints for interrogation because they have beards and dealing out arbitrary beatings with a sense of impunity — Mubarak-era hallmarks that had receded in recent years. Among civilians, even those outside the Muslim Brotherhood, fear of the police is growing.

Badr Abdelatty, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, denied any resemblance between the new government and Mr. Mubarak’s. “The emergency law is just for one month and for one objective: fighting terrorism,” he said, using the term that the new government applies to both civil disobedience and acts of violence by Islamist opponents of the military takeover. “The only way to fight terrorism is to apply the rule of law, and some emergency measures for just one month, to bring back law and order.”

More than 1,000 Brotherhood members and other supporters of Mr. Morsi have died since Wednesday in a police crackdown, and his ouster has set off a wave of retaliatory violence from his supporters, mainly targeting churches around the country and security forces in the relatively lawless northern Sinai. In the latest episode there, militants killed 25 police officers and wounded 3 others on Monday in an attack on their minibuses. Officials said the bodies were found face down with bound hands, evidently assassinated.

Egyptian state and private television networks, all pro-government now, broadcast images of the bodies’ return to Cairo, sometimes under a heading about the fight against terrorism. The Muslim Brotherhood, which has denounced the killings, held protests and marches by thousands of its supporters in Cairo and across the country, as it has every day for the six weeks since Mr. Morsi’s ouster.

Some analysts said Monday that the new government was arguably more authoritarian than Mr. Mubarak’s. “The Mubarak state was actually less repressive than what we are seeing now,” said Shadi Hamid, research director for the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. “In terms of sheer number of people killed, what we are seeing is unprecedented for Egypt.”

But where Mr. Mubarak’s supporters were diffident or self-serving, Mr. Hamid said, General Sisi “has the fervent backing of millions of ordinary Egyptians, many of whom think the army has not been sufficiently brutal against the Muslim Brotherhood.”

“That is what makes this new authoritarian order much more resilient and harder to dislodge,” he said.

One human rights advocate said the symbolism of Mr. Mubarak’s release might help change minds. “For someone like me, it would be greatly helpful,” said Hossam Bahgat, founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and one of only a few advocates who have questioned General Sisi’s declaration that he was advancing the 2011 revolution by removing the elected president.

“It is better to end the theatrics and have some clarity,” Mr. Bahgat argued, if only to convince former revolutionaries of the danger that the authoritarianism of “the Mubarak state” may be re-emerging in a different guise.

Judges have dismissed many charges originally brought against Mr. Mubarak, including directing the killing of protesters. But the previous post-Mubarak governments always made clear that they would keep finding new allegations to keep the former leader behind bars. The council of generals that succeeded Mr. Mubarak was too desperate to placate the public and preserve its own legitimacy to release him, and Mr. Morsi campaigned on promises to keep him locked up.

But the Sisi government has no such insecurity about its power, or hostility to Mr. Mubarak. Some members of political factions that had previously joined rallies for Mr. Mubarak’s incarceration, or even execution, said they believed the public did not care so much anymore.

“I don’t think people are paying the slightest attention,” said Hussein Gohar, a spokesman for the Social Democratic Party. “And if it happens, it will not have anything close to the impact it would have had a year ago,” he said of Mr. Mubarak’s release, in part “because people have moved on” and in part “because of the paradigm shift to support for the army.”

Besides, Mr. Gohar said, he did not think the new military-backed authorities would allow massive protests against Mr. Mubarak, once an Air Force general. “At the end of the day, Mubarak is part of the military,” Mr. Gohar said. “He is one of them.”

The interim government bears other resemblances to the Mubarak government. General Sisi, the defense minister, was Mr. Mubarak’s head of military intelligence. The figurehead president, Adli Mansour, a judge, was appointed to a top court under Mr. Mubarak. The interior minister was a high-ranking official under Mr. Mubarak. The foreign minister is a senior ambassador who served in Washington. The finance minister is an economist who worked closely with Mr. Mubarak’s son and designated successor, Gamal, who became a senior figure in the old ruling party. And the justice minister is another judge appointed to a top court under Mr. Mubarak.

But many pointed to crucial differences between now and the Mubarak era.

Mr. Gohar of the Social Democrats said the revolution had inculcated a new demand for participation and accountability that would prevent a return to the old order. “There is still a deep state, of course, but you cannot go back,” he said, adding that continued pro-Morsi protests demonstrated Egyptians’ new assertiveness. “People are not going to be passive anymore and just accept what is handed to them by the government.”

Mr. Bahgat argued that General Sisi’s government might rely on the same people, institutions and tactics that Mr. Mubarak did, but said it was a new authoritarianism, not a restoration. This time, he said, there is a much greater emphasis on “the propaganda machine,” suggesting that attention to public opinion may be the main legacy of the 2011 revolt.

Many analysts say that whatever its inclinations, the government is unlikely to risk even a small public backlash at this volatile moment by releasing Mr. Mubarak. If it does not, his continued incarceration opens the intriguing possibility that he and Mr. Morsi, now detained at an unknown location, might end up in jail together. Mr. Morsi is no stranger to jail: he was there as a political prisoner just before Mr. Mubarak’s ouster.

Alan Cowell contributed reporting from London, and Mayy El Sheikh from Cairo.


Egypt’s media line up behind state against Muslim Brotherhood

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, August 20, 2013 7:56 EDT

Egypt’s media, both public and private, have lined up behind the government in portraying its fight against the Muslim Brotherhood as a “war on terror” and vilifying foreign journalists.

As police and troops chase down members of the Islamist group, from which ousted president Mohamed Morsi hails, the media have fanned the flames against the organisation.

And the foreign media have been accused of taking sides for covering the Islamists as well as the government, earning harsh criticism from the state and local press.

Egyptian media have taken part in a “campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist currents”, political commentator Hisham Kassem told AFP.

“In one year of Morsi’s presidency, more journalists were prosecuted than in the 185 years of the Egyptian press before,” he said.

“Now, the media are exploiting the situation the Brotherhood is in to pay them back.”

For days, Egypt’s three state television channels have broadcast under a banner in English reading “Egypt fighting terrorism”.

They report around the clock on the latest clashes between Morsi supporters and security forces that have claimed nearly 900 lives since Wednesday.

But while they show footage of wounded and killed security forces, they offer no pictures of the hundreds of protesters killed in the violence.

Between broadcasts, patriotic songs play over footage of the armed forces carrying out military exercises and showing kindness to civilians.

A piece entitled “The Black History of the Brotherhood Organisation” purports to show the group’s violent history.

It includes archive footage of Brotherhood members, as well as the attempted murder of president Gamal Abdul Nasser and the assassination of president Anwar Sadat by Islamists.

It ends with clips from recent clashes, showing gunmen purportedly belonging to the group, and buildings set ablaze.

The country’s newspapers have been equally uniform in their criticism of the group and in rallying behind the government and the army chief who installed it, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Government daily Al-Ahram on Monday devoted its entire front page — and nine separate headlines — to a speech by Sisi a day earlier.

Abdel Halim Qandil, editor-in-chief of the independent Sawt al-Ummah daily, sees the media’s united front as a normal response to the country’s “national battle”.

A fierce critic of Islamists, he accuses the Western media of swinging between two extremes: hatred for Islam and love of the Brotherhood.

“This is what has created serious anger and suspicion on the part of Egyptians” towards foreign media, he said.

Since Morsi’s July 3 ouster by the military after mass demonstrations, the foreign media have come under attack from the government and the population, particularly in Cairo.

Al-Jazeera has been a particular target, accused of overtly pro-Brotherhood coverage, and facing a government review of the operating licence of one of its local stations.

The channel said a correspondent for Al-Jazeera Arabic, Abdullah al-Shami, had been arrested during the dispersal of a pro-Morsi protest camp on August 14.

Authorities accuse Western journalists of ignoring the victims of violence committed by Morsi’s supporters, such as police and soldiers.

Simply walking in the street with a camera has become increasingly dangerous, said one Western photographer on condition of anonymity.

“I’m afraid to go into the street with my cameras since the government authorised security forces to open fire” on demonstrators targeting government buildings, he said.

“Today, I managed to take a few pictures from the car. I got out for 45 seconds to take some others,” added the photographer, who has been in Egypt for 18 months.

“The government is inciting public hatred against us,” he said, adding that two photographer friends had recently been beaten up by a mob that accused them of being “spies.”

In front of a morgue in Cairo on Monday, a group surrounded two journalists from an international news agency as they tried to interview relatives of the dead.

They shouted “Al-Jazeera!” at the journalists, who worked for a Western news agency, and quickly turned hostile.

“A group surrounded me, trying to rip the camera out of my hands,” one of them said, adding that he escaped with the help of some relatives of those in the morgue.

Three journalists have been killed in Cairo since Wednesday, when security forces cleared two pro-Morsi protest camps, including a cameraman for Britain’s Sky News.

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« Reply #8227 on: Aug 20, 2013, 06:17 AM »

Libyans fear standoff between Muslim Brotherhood and opposition forces

Tripoli is braced for armed confrontation and threat of a coup as rebels mobilise across the country and blockade key oil ports

Chris Stephen in Tripoli, Tuesday 20 August 2013 09.56 BST   

Fears are growing in Libya of an Egypt-style standoff between the ruling Muslim Brotherhood and opposition forces, with rebels blockading key oil ports and the capital, Tripoli, braced for armed confrontation.

Leaders in the provinces of Cyrenaica and Fezzan are considering breaking away from the centre with rebel militias mobilising across the country.

With oil exports plunging 70%, the government has threatened to use force to capture oil terminals held by armed protesters, raising the risk of civil war.

The capital is tense, with nightly exchanges of gunfire. Diplomats, along with many ordinary Libyans, observe a self-imposed dusk-to-dawn curfew. The president of congress, Nuri Abu Sahmain, has summoned militias allied to the Brotherhood to the capital, deploying troops across the city to forestall what his commanders say is the threat of a coup.

This emergency measure has prompted the main opposition party, the centre-right National Forces Alliance, to desert congress, followed by several smaller ethnic parties, leaving the Brotherhood's Justice and Construction party heading a government with crumbling authority. "Congress has basically collapsed," said one diplomat in Tripoli.

On Sunday, the interior minister, Mohamed Khalifa al Sheikh, resigned, accusing the prime minister, Ali Zaidan, of failing to support him. His resignation, following that of the deputy prime minister, Awadh al Barasi, has further weakened the government's authority.

Zaidan has taken a hard line with protesters, threatening to storm the two biggest oil ports by force and warning international oil companies that their ships will be attacked if they buy oil from the rebels. "Any vessel not under contract to the National Oil Company that approaches the terminals will be bombed from the air and the sea," he said.

The rebel guards blockading the ports in the eastern province of Cyrenaica, home to the bulk of Libya's oil, say they will resist if attacked. But the threats to bomb oil tankers has sent a shudder through the international shipping industry. John Hamilton, a London oil analyst, said: "It's deeply disturbing for [international] companies, that's the problem."

The civil standoff stems from a demand for autonomy by the Cyrenaica Transitional Council, headed by a relative of Libya's former king, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Senussi. The province's MPs have already left the capital. Libya faces the prospect of a blockade of its remaining oil reserves after leaders of the southern province of Fezzan met in solidarity with Cyrenaica.

Ethnic Berbers in the western mountains last week cut one of three pipelines bringing oil and gas north, and Fezzan leaders, who claim that they are starved of funds by central government, are considering a complete shutdown.

"We don't want anything to do with a government that is now Muslim Brotherhood," said an ethnic Tobu delegate in the Fezzan meeting who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We are forming an alliance with Cyrenaica, we have something in common with them – which is that we have nothing."

Critics of the Justice and Construction party accuse it of building up the Libya Shield, a militia organisation, as a parallel force to the army.

Much of Libya is resisting the so-called Isolation Law, which was directed at purging Gaddafi-era officials from the army, police and government, amid accusations that Brotherhood officials will replace them. Even the loyalty of Libya's small army is uncertain: its leaders are unlikely to accept dismissal. Amid these heightened civil tensions, the reach of the government's authority now stretches to the capital and the port city of Misrata, 100 miles west, but little further.

As Tripoli's nightly gun battles roll on, residents are growing weary. Ali Tarhuni, a former US-based dissident who headed the rebel oil ministry during the Arab spring, is trying to mediate between the two sides. "We have a crisis," he said. "The security issue is the only priority that this government should have."

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« Reply #8228 on: Aug 20, 2013, 06:22 AM »

August 19, 2013

Prime Minister of Pakistan Open to Talks With Taliban


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — In his first televised policy speech to the country since assuming office in June, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday hinted at his government’s inclination to hold talks with Taliban militants even while maintaining the option of military action against them.

“Like every Pakistani, I want an early end to this bloodshed, whether it is through the process of dialogue or heavy use of the state force,” Mr. Sharif said. “Being the prime minister, every Pakistani is my kith and kin. I cannot shoulder the funerals of my sons every day.”

Militant violence has continued at a high rate during Mr. Sharif’s first weeks back in office, with at least 70 attacks over the past two months, including a major prison break and an attack on a regional headquarters of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, the main spy agency. The perception in Pakistan is that the pace of attacks has at least partly derailed Mr. Sharif’s desire to focus on the economic challenges facing Pakistan, and in particular the country’s crippling electricity crisis.

Mr. Sharif said he was willing to “hold dialogue with those who have unfortunately adopted extremism.” Still, he warned that “we have more than one option to deal with terrorists — but wisdom and mind-set demand such a way out as to avoid further loss of innocent lives.”

The speech at times felt like a lament over the lawlessness, institutional degradation and dysfunction in Pakistan. And he repeated his plans to fix the economy and utility shortages, including increasing trading and energy ties with China, which he called a “game-changer.”

Addressing the increased tensions with India over Kashmir in recent weeks, Mr. Sharif repeated his call for improved ties with India. Since January, border clashes have killed soldiers and civilians from both sides. “Wars in the past have pushed us back,” he said. “I have always given high priority to good relations with India for the sake of durable peace in the region, and the nation has endorsed this standpoint during the recent elections.”

Political analysts noted a strain of self-contradiction in his stance on dealing with the Taliban. Arif Rafiq, an adjunct scholar with the Middle East Institute, said: “It was a tale of two speeches. Sharif gave a coherent, honest diagnosis of the country’s energy and economic challenges and a relatively clear road map for resolving them. But on national security, he was quite confused. He said that terrorists are an existential threat to Pakistan, but then called for talks with them.”

“He hinted at trying to radically revise Pakistan’s foreign policy, making it a force for regional peace,” Mr. Rafiq added. “But his government currently lacks the machinery to devise and implement a full-fledged national security strategy.”


Pervez Musharraf indicted over Benazir Bhutto murder

Pakistan's former military ruler makes brief court appearance and denies involvement in assassination of ex-PM

Jon Boone in Islamabad, Tuesday 20 August 2013 05.58 BST   

Pakistan's former military leader Pervez Musharraf was formally charged by a court on Tuesday with murdering Benazir Bhutto, the ex-prime minister who was assassinated at a political campaign rally in 2007.

Musharraf was indicted during a short hearing at a court in the city of Rawalpindi, a move that adds to the problems facing the former president who returned from self-exile in March only to be entangled in three legal cases, barred from contesting elections and put under house arrest.

Public prosecutor Mohammad Azhar told reporters that the 70-year-old retired general was charged with murder, conspiracy to murder and facilitation of murder during a short hearing.

Musharraf's lawyer said he denied all the all the charges and the cases against him were fabricated.

Militant groups have vowed to kill the former army chief, who was whisked to court under heavy security, with hundreds of police positioned along the road to the court.

Bhutto warned before her death that Musharraf should be held responsible if she was assassinated. His government was widely criticised for not doing enough to protect Bhutto when she returned to the country in 2007.

Nonetheless, many respected lawyers say the case against him is flimsy.
They believe the prosecution will struggle to prove a link between Musharraf and the assassination of Bhutto, who died after a gun and bomb attack on her car as she left a campaign rally in Rawalpindi.

At the time, Musharraf's government blamed the assassination on Baitullah Mehsued, the Pakistani Taliban chief who was killed by a US drone strike in 2009.

Heraldo Muñoz, an assistant secretary general of the UN and chairman of a panel that investigated the death of Bhutto, has said there is no "proof of culpability" against Musharraf.

But Musharraf does bear "political and moral responsibility for the assassination", Muñoz wrote in an extract of soon-to-be published book into the affair. He said Musharraf did not provide adequate security for the former prime minister.

He quotes a former Pakistani diplomat who said Musharraf taunted Bhutto, allegedly telling her: "I'll only protect you if you are nice to me."

Musharraf is a hate figure within the judiciary and may struggle to receive a fair trial. The enmity dates from 2007 when top judges were put under house arrest after he declared emergency rule – the subject of another of the three cases against him, for which he was formally indicted in June.

The third case relates to the killing during a military operation of a tribal leader in the insurgency wracked province of Baluchistan called Akbar Khan Bugti in 2006.

Potentially far more troubling for Musharraf was the government announcement in June that the former president should be tried for treason, a capital offence.

Only the government can pursue a treason trial and many analysts had assumed newly elected prime minister Nawaz Sharif would avoid picking a fight with the powerful army that does not want to see one of its former leaders imprisoned or executed.

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« Reply #8229 on: Aug 20, 2013, 06:26 AM »

August 19, 2013

China Takes Aim at Western Ideas


HONG KONG — Communist Party cadres have filled meeting halls around China to hear a somber, secretive warning issued by senior leaders. Power could escape their grip, they have been told, unless the party eradicates seven subversive currents coursing through Chinese society.

These seven perils were enumerated in a memo, referred to as Document No. 9, that bears the unmistakable imprimatur of Xi Jinping, China’s new top leader. The first was “Western constitutional democracy”; others included promoting “universal values” of human rights, Western-inspired notions of media independence and civic participation, ardently pro-market “neo-liberalism,” and “nihilist” criticisms of the party’s traumatic past.

Even as Mr. Xi has sought to prepare some reforms to expose China’s economy to stronger market forces, he has undertaken a “mass line” campaign to enforce party authority that goes beyond the party’s periodic calls for discipline. The internal warnings to cadres show that Mr. Xi’s confident public face has been accompanied by fears that the party is vulnerable to an economic slowdown, public anger about corruption and challenges from liberals impatient for political change.

“Western forces hostile to China and dissidents within the country are still constantly infiltrating the ideological sphere,” says Document No. 9, the number given to it by the central party office that issued it in April. It has not been openly published, but a version was shown to The New York Times and was verified by four sources close to senior officials, including an editor with a party newspaper.

Opponents of one-party rule, it says, “have stirred up trouble about disclosing officials’ assets, using the Internet to fight corruption, media controls and other sensitive topics, to provoke discontent with the party and government.”

The warnings were not idle. Since the circular was issued, party-run publications and Web sites have vehemently denounced constitutionalism and civil society, notions that were not considered off limits in recent years. Officials have intensified efforts to block access to critical views on the Internet. Two prominent rights advocates have been detained in the past few weeks, in what their supporters have called a blow to the “rights defense movement,” which was already beleaguered under Mr. Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao.

Mr. Xi’s hard line has disappointed Chinese liberals, some of whom once hailed his rise to power as an opportunity to push for political change after a long period of stagnation. Instead, Mr. Xi has signaled a shift to a more conservative, traditional leftist stance with his “rectification” campaign to ensure discipline and conspicuous attempts to defend the legacy of Mao Zedong. That has included a visit to a historic site where Mao undertook one of his own attempts to remake the ruling party in the 1950s.

Mr. Xi’s edicts have been disseminated in a series of compulsory study sessions across the country, like one in the southern province of Hunan that was recounted on a local government Web site.

“Promotion of Western constitutional democracy is an attempt to negate the party’s leadership,” Cheng Xinping, a deputy head of propaganda for Hengyang, a city in Hunan, told a gathering of mining industry officials. Human rights advocates, he continued, want “ultimately to form a force for political confrontation.”

The campaign carries some risks for Mr. Xi, who has indicated that the slowing economy needs new, more market-driven momentum that can come only from a relaxation of state influence.

In China’s tight but often contentious political circles, proponents of deeper Western-style economic changes are often allied with those pushing for rule of law and a more open political system, while traditionalists favor greater state control of both economic and political life. Mr. Xi’s cherry picking of approaches from each of the rival camps, analysts say, could end up miring his own agenda in intraparty squabbling.

Condemnations of constitutional government have prompted dismayed opposition from liberal intellectuals and even some moderate-minded former officials. The campaign has also exhilarated leftist defenders of party orthodoxy, many of whom pointedly oppose the sort of market reforms that Mr. Xi and Prime Minister Li Keqiang have said are needed.

The consequent rifts are unusually open, and they could widen and bog down Mr. Xi, said Xiao Gongqin, a professor of history at Shanghai Normal University who is also a prominent proponent of gradual, party-guided reform.

“Now the leftists feel very excited and elated, while the liberals feel very discouraged and discontented,” said Professor Xiao, who said he was generally sympathetic to Mr. Xi’s aims. “The ramifications are very serious, because this seriously hurts the broad middle class and moderate reformers — entrepreneurs and intellectuals. It’s possible that this situation will get out of control, and that won’t help the political stability that the central leadership stresses.”

The pressures that prompted the party’s ideological counteroffensive spilled onto the streets of Guangzhou, a city in southern China, early this year. Staff members at the Southern Weekend newspaper there protested after a propaganda official rewrote an editorial celebrating constitutionalism — the idea that state and party power should be subject to a supreme law that prevents abuses and protects citizens’ rights.

The confrontation at the newspaper and campaign demanding that officials disclose their wealth alarmed leaders and helped galvanize them into issuing Document No. 9, said Professor Xiao, the historian. Indeed, senior central propaganda officials met to discuss the newspaper protest, among other issues, and called it a plot to subvert the party, according to a speech on a party Web site of Lianyungang, a port city in eastern China.

“Western anti-China forces led by the United States have joined in one after the other, and colluded with dissidents within the country to make slanderous attacks on us in the name of so-called press freedom and constitutional democracy,” said Zhang Guangdong, a propaganda official in Lianyungang, citing the conclusions from the meeting of central propaganda officials. “They are trying to break through our political system, and this was a classic example,” he said of the newspaper protest.

But Mr. Xi and his colleagues were victims of expectations that they themselves encouraged, rather than a foreign conspiracy, analysts said. The citizen-activists demanding that party officials reveal their family wealth cited Mr. Xi’s own vows to end official corruption and deliver more candid government. Likewise, scholars and lawyers who have campaigned for limiting party power under the rule of law have also invoked Mr. Xi’s promise to honor China’s Constitution.

Even these relatively measured campaigns proved too much for party leaders, who are wary of any challenges that could swell into outright opposition. Document No. 9 was issued by the Central Committee General Office, the administrative engine room of the central leadership, and required the approval of Mr. Xi and other top leaders, said Li Weidong, a political commentator and former magazine editor in Beijing.

“There’s no doubt then it had direct endorsement from Xi Jinping,” Mr. Li said. “It’s certainly had his approval and reflects his general views.”

Since the document was issued, the campaign for ideological orthodoxy has prompted a torrent of commentary and articles in party-run periodicals. Many of them have invoked Maoist talk of class war rarely seen in official publications in recent years. Some have said that constitutionalism and similar ideas were tools of Western subversion that helped topple the former Soviet Union — and that a similar threat faces China.

“Constitutionalism belongs only to capitalism,” said one commentary in the overseas edition of the People’s Daily. Constitutionalism “is a weapon for information and psychological warfare used by the magnates of American monopoly capitalism and their proxies in China to subvert China’s socialist system,” said another commentary in the paper.

But leftists, feeling emboldened, could create trouble for Mr. Xi’s government, some analysts said. Mr. Xi has indicated that he wants a party meeting in the fall to endorse policies that would give market competition and private businesses a bigger role in the economy — and Marxist stalwarts in the party are deeply wary of such proposals.

Relatively liberal officials and intellectuals hoped the ousting last year of Bo Xilai, a charismatic politician who favored leftist policies, would help their cause. But they have been disappointed. Mr. Bo goes on trial on Thursday.

Hu Deping, a reform-minded former government official who has met Mr. Xi, recently issued a public warning about the leftward drift. “Just what is the bottom line for reform?” Mr. Hu said on a Web site run by his family to commemorate his father, Hu Yaobang, a leader of political and economic relaxation in the 1980s.

Mr. Xi will face another ideological test later in the year when the Communist Party celebrates the 120th anniversary of Mao’s birth. The scale of those celebrations has not been announced. But Xiangtan, the area in Hunan Province that encompasses Mao’s hometown, is spending $1 billion to spruce up commemorative sites and facilities for the occasion, according to the Xiangtan government Web site.

“You have to commemorate him, and because he’s already passed away, you can only speak well of him, not ill,” Professor Xiao, the historian, said of Mao’s anniversary. “That’s like pouring petrol on the leftists’ fire.”

Jonathan Ansfield contributed reporting from Beijing.

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« Reply #8230 on: Aug 20, 2013, 06:28 AM »

North Korean defectors give evidence on prison abuses

UN panel in Seoul hears of guards chopping off a man's finger and forcing a mother to kill her own baby, Tuesday
20 August 2013 12.31 BST   

Public executions and torture are daily occurrences in North Korea's prisons, according to testimony from former inmates at a UN commission of inquiry that opened in South Korea's capital on Tuesday.

It is the first time the North's human rights record has been examined by an expert panel. The North denies that it abuses human rights, refuses to recognise the commission and has denied access to investigators.

Harrowing accounts from defectors now living in South Korea related how guards chopped off a man's finger, forced inmates to eat frogs and a mother to kill her own baby.

"I had no idea at all … I thought my whole hand was going to be cut off at the wrist, so I felt thankful and grateful that only my finger was cut off," said Shin Dong-hyuk, punished for dropping a sewing machine.

Born in a prison called Camp 14 and forced to watch the execution of his mother and brother whom he turned in for his own survival, Shin is North Korea's best-known defector and camp survivor. He said he believed the UN panel was the only way to improve human rights in the isolated and impoverished state.

"Because the North Korean people cannot stand up with guns like Libya and Syria … I personally think this is the first and last hope left," Shin said. "There is a lot for them to cover up, even though they don't admit to anything."

There are a 150,000 to 200,000 people in North Korean prison camps, according to independent estimates, and defectors say many inmates are malnourished or worked to death.

After more than a year and a half ruling North Korea, Kim Jong-un has shown few signs of changing the rigid rule of his father, Kim Jong-il, and grandfather Kim Il-sung.

Jee Heon-a, 34, told the commission that from the first day of her incarceration in 1999 she discovered that salted frogs were one of the few things to eat.

"Everyone's eyes were sunken. They all looked like animals. Frogs were hung from the buttons of their clothes, put in a plastic bag and their skins peeled off," she said. "They ate salted frogs and so did I."

Speaking softly, she took a deep breath when describing in detail how a mother was forced to kill her own baby. "It was the first time I had seen a newborn baby and I felt happy. But suddenly there were footsteps and a security guard came in and told the mother to turn the baby upside down into a bowl of water," she said.

"The mother begged the guard to spare her, but he kept beating her. So the mother, her hands shaking, put the baby face down in the water. The crying stopped and a bubble rose up as it died. A grandmother who had delivered the baby quietly took it out."

Few experts expect the commission to have an immediate impact on the rights situation, although it will serve to publicise a campaign that has little visibility globally.

"The UN has tried various ways to pressure North Korea over the years in the field of human rights, and this is a way to raise the pressure a bit," said Bill Schabas, professor of international law at Middlesex University.

"But it's obvious that North Korea is a tough nut to crack and the UN's means are limited. There would need to be profound political changes in North Korea to make headway in the field of human rights."

There appeared to be little interest in the issue in Seoul. Only a few dozen people, including journalists, attended the public hearing at a city centre university.

Defectors are largely shunned or ignored in South Korea and eke out an existence in menial jobs, if they have them at all, according to official data.

Kim Jong-un stepped up the nuclear weapons and rocket programmes launched by his father with a third nuclear test and two rocket launches, and emphasises the military in his speeches.

This year, he threatened the United States, South Korea and Japan with nuclear attack. Although the country's bellicose moves were dismissed as empty rhetoric, Kim succeeded in driving tension on the divided Korean peninsula sharply higher.

The hope of many activists would be for the Kim dynasty to fall and for leaders in Pyongyang to be put on trial at the international criminal court (ICC) in The Hague, although the UN commission says this is not possible for the moment.

On its website, the commission said it was not appropriate to comment on any ICC jurisdiction over potential crimes against humanity as North Korea had not signed the statutes that would enable the court to prosecute.

Activists said word of the commission would seep into the North via unofficial contacts maintained by families. "People living their daily lives here don't realise how important this is. It will have a tremendously powerful impact across North Korea," said Kim Sang-hun, chairman of the Database Centre for North Korean Human Rights, a South Korean group.

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« Reply #8231 on: Aug 20, 2013, 06:35 AM »

08/19/2013 05:16 PM

Merkel and the NSA: A Scandal That Just Won't Die

As the election approaches, Chancellor Angela Merkel is working hard to dissipate anger over controversial surveillance by German and US intelligence agencies. But every time Berlin assures voters that all is well, its claims are discredited.

Monday, August 5, was the day that the German government hoped would finally provide some relief in the ongoing surveillance scandal. That morning, a member of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany's foreign intelligence agency, stationed at the embassy in Washington picked up four German officials at a local hotel. Driving in two dark sedans, they headed for Fort Meade in the state of Maryland, the headquarters of the National Security Agency (NSA), which gathers military intelligence for the US Department of Defense.

The four were part of a high-ranking delegation that had landed in the US capital a day earlier. It included: Gerhard Schindler, the BND chief; Hans-Georg Maassen, his counterpart from the Cologne-based Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany's domestic intelligence agency; Klaus-Dieter Fritsche, a state secretary at the German Interior Ministry; and Günter Heiss, intelligence coordinator for German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Keith Alexander received his German visitors in a windowless, air-conditioned conference room. He greeted them with a friendly "How are you?" -- as if nothing had transpired over the past few weeks. Alexander, 61, is a graduate of the legendary West Point military academy, a four-star general, the father of four daughters and, for the past eight years, director of the NSA. And he was also the man who was supposed to take the pressure off Merkel's conservative government.

And Alexander delivered. He had his people prepare a paper: a single sheet of white paper, but one without letterhead or a cover letter or a name to indicate that someone could later be held accountable. This impersonal list of facts had been approved, word for word, by the agency's legal department. According to a German translation of the document, it says that the NSA abides by all agreements that have been reached with the German government, represented by the German intelligence agencies, and has always done so in the past.

The general's note was what the Germans have been waiting for all these weeks. It was the document that they had long been hoping would absolve Berlin of all responsibility in the data scandal sparked by the intelligence leaks of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. This slip of paper is supposedly proof that the Germans -- and, indeed, the NSA -- have done nothing wrong.

Just one week earlier, a second German delegation in London had received a similar statement from the NSA's British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). The key sentence in that document also says that the GCHQ's work is subject to the legal requirements of both countries at all times.

"The allegation of the purported total surveillance in Germany can now be dismissed," German Chancellery Chief of Staff Ronald Pofalla subsequently announced last Monday. "There are not millions of civil rights violations in Germany, as is constantly erroneously maintained," he concluded. Shortly thereafter, German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich enthusiastically noted that the allegations had "disappeared into thin air."

So, all is well? That was at least the opinion of the Frankfurter Allgemeine, a leading conservative newspaper in Germany, which published a commentary announcing that the "German election chapter 'Worldwide Presence of American Intelligence Agencies' has been closed." But a few pages further on in the same edition was an article by German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger that took the opposite position. The minister, who is a member of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), the junior partner in Merkel's ruling coalition, wrote: "An honest response to the question of how involved we are in this surveillance can only be: right in the middle."

Indeed, ever since Snowden leaked the first classified documents early last June, the true extent of US data surveillance has remained unclear. Hardly any of the allegations have been credibly refuted -- not even by the Chancellery.

Under the search term "#PofallabeendetDinge" (literally, "#Pofalla puts an end to things"), Tumblr bloggers have been poking fun at the sheer chutzpah of the Merkel aide with quips like "In my view, Schubert's 8th Symphony is now over." They have a point: It's certainly not every day that the government itself officially lays to rest a political scandal.

Pofalla's defense strategy rests on a shaky foundation: The German government is relying on the solemn statements of British and US intelligence agencies. Yet it has turned a blind eye to the fact that spreading disinformation, maintaining secrets, bending the rules and using lies and deception are as integral to the game of espionage as Parmesan cheese is to spaghetti Bolognese -- even among the intelligence agencies of democratic states.


Following their meeting with NSA General Alexander at Fort Meade, the four German officials met in early August in Washington with James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence. He also assured the visitors that everything was done by the book.

In Pofalla's eyes, this also makes him a key witness for the government's defense. But Clapper may not be the most reliable source. Last March, he told the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that the NSA did "not wittingly" snoop on the communications of American citizens -- a statement that was shortly thereafter exposed as a lie.

When Snowden leaked the first classified NSA documents, Clapper had to make a swift retraction. He said that the response that he gave the committee, under oath, was "the least untruthful" testimony, but soon admitted that his statement was "clearly erroneous."

As part of a rare act of collaboration, a bipartisan group of 26 US senators sent a written complaint to Clapper maintaining that his statements, and those of other officials, were "misleading the public" and "will unfortunately undermine trust in government more broadly."

The credibility of other key witnesses for Pofalla has also been shaken. Alexander and his NSA have come under increasing pressure for deceiving the public on a number of occasions. The NSA initially reacted to the Snowden leaks with a "fact sheet." Two influential senators from the intelligence committee later criticized this document as "inaccurate" and "misleading" on the issue of whether American citizens could be affected by the NSA's Prism surveillance program.

Now it seems clear that the NSA can search through its database of American citizens' phone calls and emails, even without a warrant, thanks to a legal loophole dating back to 2011. Furthermore, the intelligence agency has the authority to collect the communications of Americans who are in direct contact with "foreign targets," as the NSA calls them.

Last week, Pofalla saw how little credence could be given to official American statements -- only days after US President Barack Obama publicly insisted that NSA surveillance programs were exclusively used to prevent terrorist attacks, and that the agency was complying with all laws and regulations. Earlier, NSA head Alexander went even further out on a limb when he made assurances that reviews of his agency's activities over four years detected "no willful or knowledgeable violations of the law or the intent of the law in this program," adding: "That's the fact."

Last Thursday, however, the Washington Post revealed that the NSA has violated the privacy of US citizens and overstepped its authority thousands of times every year. For instance, the Snowden documents reveal that, due to a programming error, phones calls in Washington (area code 202) were intercepted because of confusion with Egypt (area code 20), the actual target of the surveillance. It comes as little surprise, though, that this escaped the attention of the branches of the government charged with overseeing NSA activity. The most recently disclosed documents reveal that the NSA instructs its analysts not to provide too much detail in their reports to the US Department of Justice and Clapper's Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The NSA's Not-So-Light Touch

The NSA analysts apparently feel that the illegal surveillance of US citizens presents no serious consequences. This is indicated by a document seen by SPIEGEL which states that, if Americans inadvertently fall under the scope of surveillance, it has to be reported internally, but otherwise there is "nothing to worry about."

The public justifications made by the NSA bear a startling resemblance to the fine semantics of statements that have been made by German officials, which must be read very carefully. One example of this is the most comprehensive press release in the history of the NSA, which the intelligence agency released on Friday, August 9.

In one shaded section of its seven-page declaration, the NSA vaguely writes that it "touches" only about 1.6 percent of worldwide Internet traffic every day -- without providing any further explanation of its unusual use of the word "touch" in this context.

It may not sound like much, but this is actually an enormous amount of data. In effect, 1.6 percent of one day's global Internet traffic means that the NSA "touches" or "collects" some 29 petabytes per day. This would be roughly three times as much data as is contained in the Internet Archive, a nonprofit digital library whose stated mission is to provide "universal access to all knowledge." The archive has stored, among other things, 150 billion websites.

But the figure "1.6 percent" is misleading for another reason. Only a fraction of global Internet traffic is interesting for intelligence agencies. Emails and chats are targeted, for instance, but not necessarily the millions of videos that are sent or uploaded every day online.

Writing for London's Guardian newspaper, Internet expert Jeff Jarvis, a professor of journalism at City University of New York (CUNY), said that all pertinent communications in the US amount to just 2.9 percent of Internet traffic. This sheds a totally new light on the purportedly small figure of 1.6 percent. It means that the NSA "touches" roughly half of all communications on the Web -- or, as Jarvis writes, "practically everything that matters."

In view of all this, it would be grossly negligent to rely on the NSA as a key source of information. Not much value can arguably be placed on the assurances made by an agency that has demonstrably deceived and lied to the public -- an agency that Senator Wyden accuses of cultivating a "culture of misinformation."

Empty Explanations

Given these circumstances, the Snowden affair is far from over -- especially for the parliamentary opposition in Berlin.

"We know that Germany is targeted by the NSA's surveillance activities, and we know that Prism and XKeyscore exist. We know that there are hardly any legal limits to the foreign surveillance of the NSA," says Thomas Oppermann of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), who chairs the parliamentary committee in Berlin charged with overseeing the work of German intelligence agencies.

"What we still don't know is from where, and to what extent, the NSA accesses information about German citizens," Oppermann says. "The NSA is saying nothing about this, and the German government has not been able to find out anything," he adds.

"It's not supposed to be in Germany. That's all we know," he concludes.

These are questions that Pofalla failed to answer last Monday during a five-and-half-hour session with the committee. Instead, Merkel's chief of staff first read a long-winded statement, without allowing any interruptions for questions. What's more, he referred to numerous documents that had not been made available to the committee.

As of last Friday evening, the Chancellery had still not met requests to provide copies of the documents. Pofalla, says Social Democrat Oppermann, is pursuing an "unfair, one-sided and selective spreading of information." The minister is acting "like a second general secretary of the CDU," he adds, referring to Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union.

At a press conference following his session with the committee, Pofalla also read from a prepared statement -- and with good reason: After all, this was yet another statement riddled with subtle nuances. On a number of occasions, Pofalla said the US agencies had "explained" processes and provided "written assurances" that they adhered to applicable laws "in Germany." This can be clearly interpreted as follows: Apparently the German government has no knowledge of the situation and has to rely on the assurances of foreign intelligence agencies.

Pofalla's response says little or nothing about what, if any, data related to Germany has been collected by the NSA. These days, very little purely domestic German digital traffic is transferred solely via German telecommunications networks. Even emails exchanged within the same city or chats with a neighbor can be routed via American or British servers and intercepted there by intelligence agencies -- all in accordance with these countries' domestic laws.

The German government is aware of this. In fact, the German Interior Ministry provided detailed answers to a written list of questions from the SPD parliamentary group. The government wrote that it saw no indications that foreign agencies had access to the communications infrastructure "in Germany." Nevertheless, it hastened to add that, even when it comes to "domestic communications," it is "not possible to rule out access to networks and servers abroad that handle the data transfer."

One Scandal That Just Won't Die …

"Not possible to rule out" -- that doesn't sound as if the allegations "can now be dismissed," as Pofalla maintains. Indeed, interpreting the responses provided by the German government is really a job for experts in the art of political and legal hairsplitting. There are no signs of a "national surveillance," according to government officials. But does the word "national" have much meaning when dealing with global data streams? The "personal data" of Germans is not passed on, the government insists. But does this mean that other data is transferred to the Americans?

Members of the Bundestag, Germany's parliament, are also baffled by the response to Question 31, which reads: "To the government's knowledge, what surveillance stations in Germany are still used/partially used by the NSA?" The answer: "The German government is not aware of any surveillance stations in Germany that are used by the NSA."

Only last week, though, SPIEGEL reported that the NSA maintains a cryptology center in Griesheim, near the western German city of Darmstadt. In fact, the NSA says that this center is its largest analysis and production unit in Europe. The NSA also reportedly has operations at the Mangfall military base, in the Bavarian town of Bad Aibling, and in Wiesbaden, in the central German state of Hesse. Yet the German government allegedly knows nothing about any of this.

Still, at least the government's response provided a bit of new information. For example, attentive readers learned the Federal Prosecutor's Office, based in the western city of in Karlsruhe, has received roughly 100 criminal complaints based on the Snowden leaks.

Indeed, despite all of the government's assertions, the affair is far from over.

…and Another One in the Making

This Monday, Pofalla is due to testify once again before the parliamentary intelligence committee. It will probably not be his last appearance. The opposition intends to summon him again before the German general elections are held on September 22.

It's very possible that Merkel's close aide will then be asked to testify on another related matter. For weeks now, as a direct consequence of the Snowden affair, Chancellor Merkel and Economics Minister Philipp Rösler (FDP) have been calling for Germany and Europe to free themselves from their dependence on the US in the realm of IT technology. The government has issued an official cabinet decision on this issue.

However, the Interior Ministry in Berlin has confirmed to SPIEGEL that the German government and the consulting firm Booz & Co have concluded a framework agreement. For a contract value of between €16.5 million and €19.5 million ($22 million and $26 million), the company will reportedly support the government with "strategic, fundamental IT decisions and help implement them in practice." The contract covers services for "data protection" and "guaranteeing security."

At least the German government has hired professionals. Consulting giant Accenture is currently interested in purchasing Booz. For many years, Accenture's key accounts included the US Department of Homeland Security -- and the NSA. Booz is also a company with an interesting past. In 2008, the firm broke away from Booz Allen Hamilton. Today, this NSA service provider's most prominent former employee has gone into hiding in Russia: His name is Edward Snowden.


Translated from the German by Paul Cohen


German chancellor Angela Merkel to make historic visit to Nazis’ Dachau camp

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, August 20, 2013 7:47 EDT

Angela Merkel will become the first German chancellor to visit the former Nazi concentration camp Dachau as she steps up warnings about the far-right threat while campaigning for a third term.

Ahead of an evening election rally in Dachau, northwest of Munich, Merkel will arrive at the memorial at 1645 GMT on Tuesday and, after making a short speech, lay a wreath of flowers and tour the remnants of the camp.

Merkel, 59, will be joined by the president of the Dachau camp committee of former prisoners, Max Mannheimer, and other survivors. Only part of the visit will be open to media.

The 93-year-old Mannheimer had long lobbied for Merkel to pay a visit to the camp and said he saw her decision as “historic” and a “signal of respect for the former detainees”.

The Nazis opened Dachau as a concentration camp for political prisoners in March 1933, just weeks after Adolf Hitler took power.

It was the first such site in Germany and served as a model for all the camps to follow.

More than 200,000 Jews, gays, Roma, political opponents, the disabled and prisoners of war were imprisoned in Dachau during World War II.

Over 41,000 people were killed, starved or died of disease before US troops liberated the camp in April 1945.

The memorial now attracts some 800,000 visitors each year.

Although it will be the first visit by a German chancellor to Dachau, Merkel has gone to other former Nazi concentration camps including Buchenwald with US President Barack Obama in April 2010.

And former president Horst Koehler, whose office is largely ceremonial, attended commemorations of the 65th anniversary of the Dachau liberation three years ago.

In her weekly podcast, Merkel on Saturday warned ahead of the visit that Europeans must remain vigilant against Holocaust deniers and right-wing extremists.

“We must never allow such ideas to have a place in our democratic Europe,” Merkel said, stressing how “inconceivable” the Nazis’ atrocities seemed today.

After her visit, Merkel will hold a campaign rally the same evening in the town of Dachau ahead of a Bavarian state poll and the German general election next month.

The director of Bavaria’s historic memorials, Karl Freller, said that interest in the former concentration camps had jumped since the start of a neo-Nazi murder trial in Munich in May.

A far-right trio known as the National Socialist Underground is believed to be behind 10 murders over a seven-year period, with most of the victims immigrant shopkeepers.

The case exposed serious failings of the German security services, which had focused their investigation almost entirely on Germany’s large Turkish community and ignored clues pointing to the neo-Nazi scene.

“Apparently the trial has had the effect of making people want to focus more on National Socialism” or Nazi ideology, Freller told Die Welt newspaper.

Historian Michael Wolffsohn of the German military’s Bundeswehr University in Munich said there was no reason to believe that the visit to the Dachau camp had anything to do with the popular Merkel’s re-election campaign.

“For starters it’s hard to draw much enthusiasm in this country with policy on (German) history, particularly in relation to National Socialism,” he told the daily Tagesspiegel Monday.

“However something has changed in recent years — there is apparently no longer any (political) risk involved in visiting a Nazi memorial at the height of the election campaign.

“Merkel’s choice is… a sign that Germans’ relationship with their history is becoming more relaxed.”


08/19/2013 05:22 PM

Hostage Situation: Merkel Campaign Speech Cancelled

Chancellor Angela Merkel was forced to cancel a campaign speech in Ingolstadt after a convicted stalker took three people hostage in the town hall facing the square where she was due to speak. Police freed the hostages after about nine hours.

An armed man took three people hostage in the town hall of the southern German city of Ingolstadt on Monday, forcing Chancellor Angela Merkel to cancel an election campaign speech she was due to hold on the square outside the building.

The 24-year-old man had a conviction for stalking a woman who works in the town hall, and there was a court order banning him from entering her place of work. She was among the hostages, along with another man. The third hostage, deputy mayor Sepp Misslbeck, was released on Monday afternoon after five hours, following negotiations with police.

Police freed the two remaining hostages in the early evening after overpowering the man. Eyewitnesses reported hearing four shots. The man was wounded but is alive, police said.

The man, who had reportedly been receiving psychiatric treatment, entered the building shortly before 9 a.m. and headed straight for the woman's office, police said. He was believed to have been armed with a pistol but it's not known if the gun was real.

It wasn't clear what the man's demands were. "The term stalker seems something of an understatement given that he has a whole list of previous convictions that go far beyond what one calls stalking," said Ingolstadt mayor Alfred Lehmann. The man had convictions for causing bodily harm and threatening behavior, he added.

Over 200 police officers including a SWAT team surrounded the building in the Bavarian city, where Merkel had been scheduled to address a campaign rally at 5 p.m. together with state governor Horst Seehofer.

Police said they didn't believe there was any connection between the political event and the hostage taking.

cro -- with wire reports


Desperate SPD May Jettison Tax Hike Pledge

08/19/2013 05:22 PM

For a party that is trailing as badly in opinion polls as Germany's opposition center-left Social Democrats, it's a seriously bad idea to keep promising tax increases, even if they would only target high-earners. Just four weeks before the September 22 general election, the SPD has finally realized that.

The party is a full 16 points behind the Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in the latest poll by Emnid released on Sunday, and there's no hint of improvement.

That could explain why SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel is quietly distancing himself from his party's pledges to hike the top rate of income tax to 49 percent from 42 percent and reintroduce a wealth tax.

The moves, written into the election manifesto at the insistence of the SPD's left wing, would boost tax revenues by an estimated €30 billion ($40 billion).

"Combating tax fraud and tax dumping is a better way to reduce debt and increase investment in Germany than tax increases," said Gabriel, according to SPIEGEL. "We can reduce taxes in Germany again if we can finally succeed in effectively fighting tax fraud effectively."

Gabriel, it seems, wants to increase tax revenues through a pan-European harmonization of corporate taxes. "Every tradesman and small business owner today pays higher tax rates in Germany than big companies like Google that can find themselves a tax haven in Ireland or the Netherlands even though they earn their money in Germany," said Gabriel.

No More Bailouts without Tax Harmonization

European countries are losing up to a trillion euros in tax revenues in this way, Gabriel added.

He said an SPD-led government would stop cooperating in euro crisis bailout operations unless its proposed tax measures were introduced throughout Europe. "Germany can't continue agreeing to European bailouts if we at the same time lose €160 billion per year at the national, regional and municipal level through tax fraud and tax dumping," said Gabriel.

The SPD's chancellor candidate, Peer Steinbrück, has also recently hinted that he would be prepared to forego tax increases if certain conditions were met.

It remains to be seen whether abandoning tax hikes will help improve the party's poll ratings, though. After all, one of the SPD's main problems in the campaign -- apart from Steinbrück's string of verbal gaffes -- is its lack of real policy differences from Merkel's CDU.

If the SPD removes one of the few policy areas where it really distinguishes itself from the CDU, and alienates left-wing voters in the process, it might not be doing itself any favors

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« Reply #8232 on: Aug 20, 2013, 06:46 AM »

David Miranda detention: White House was given 'heads-up'

US says it did not sanction holding Glenn Greenwald's partner at Heathrow, but was told his name was on passenger list

Nicholas Watt, and Adam Gabbatt in New York
The Guardian, Tuesday 20 August 2013   

Britain is facing intense pressure to give a detailed explanation of the decision to detain the partner of the Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald after the White House confirmed that it was given a "heads up" before David Miranda was taken into custody for nine hours at Heathrow.

As the UK's anti-terrorism legislation watchdog called for an overhaul of the laws that allowed police to confiscate Miranda's electronic equipment, the US distanced itself by saying British authorities took the decision to detain him.

The intervention by the White House will put pressure on Downing Street, which declined to comment on the detention of Miranda on the grounds that it was a police operational matter and added that the Met would decide whether its officers had acted in a proportionate manner.

The No 10 position was immediately challenged by David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, who described the detention as unusual and said decisions about proportionality were not ultimately for the police. He told Radio 4's The World at One: "The police, I'm sure, do their best. But at the end of the day there is the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which can look into the exercise of this power, there are the courts and there is my function."

Last night, the Metropolitan police, which is due to meet with Anderson today, issued a statement in which it said the detention was "legally and procedurally sound". The statement said: "The procedure was reviewed throughout to ensure the examination was both necessary and proportionate. Our assessment is that the use of the power in this case was legally and procedurally sound."

It added: "As with any power, it is important that it is used appropriately and proportionately. There are a number of safeguards in place to ensure this happens."

Link to video: US warned before David Miranda detained

Miranda, a Brazilian national who lives with Greenwald in Rio de Janeiro, described his nine hours' detention - the maximum time allowed under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. He said: "They were threatening me all the time and saying I would be put in jail if I didn't co-operate. They treated me like I was a criminal or someone about to attack the UK ... It was exhausting and frustrating, but I knew I wasn't doing anything wrong."

The prospect of an investigation by the IPCC is likely to have been enhanced by the disclosure that the US authorities were given advanced notice of Miranda's detention after his name appeared on a passenger manifest. Miranda was detained at Heathrow on Sunday morning as he flew home from Berlin to Rio.

During his trip to Berlin, Miranda met Laura Poitras, the US film-maker who has been working with Greenwald and the Guardian. The Guardian paid for Miranda's flights. Miranda is not a Guardian employee but often assists Greenwald in his work.

Josh Earnest, the principal deputy White House press secretary, said at the daily briefing: "There was a heads up that was provided by the British government. This is something that we had an indication was likely to occur but it is not something that we requested. It was something that was done specifically by the British law enforcement officials. This is an independent British law enforcement decision that was made."

Earnest had earlier said: "This is a decision that was made by the British government without the involvement - and not at the request - of the United States government. It is as simple as that."

The White House spokesman confirmed that Britain alerted the US authorities after Miranda's name appeared on a passenger manifest of a flight from Berlin to Heathrow on Sunday morning. "I think that is an accurate interpretation of what a heads up is," Earnest said.

He would not rule out whether the US authorities had been passed any information from Miranda's electronic equipment seized at Heathrow, which included his phone, laptop, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles. "I'm not in a position to do that right now," Earnest replied.

Miranda said he was questioned by six agents on his "entire life" while held at Heathrow. Arriving at Rio de Janeiro airport yesterday, Miranda said: "There were six different agents coming and going. They asked questions about my entire life, about everything. They took my computer, video game, mobile phone, my memory card. Everything."

In the World at One interview, Anderson said only 40 of the 60,000 to 70,000 people questioned under schedule 7 were detained for more than six hours. "You can see what an unusual case this was if it is correct that Mr Miranda was held right up to nine-hour limit," Anderson said.

The government is proposing, on the basis of a recommendation from Anderson, to reduce the maximum detention period from nine to six hours.

Anderson added: "At the moment anybody can be stopped under this power. There is no need for the police to believe they are a terrorist or to suspect they are a terrorist. The only reason they can talk to them is in order to determine whether they are a terrorist. It seems to me there is a question to be answered about whether it should be possible to detain somebody - to keep them for six hours, to download their mobile phone - without the need for any suspicion at all. I hope at least it is something parliament will look at."

Keith Vaz, the Labour chair of the commons home affairs select committee, wrote to the Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, to ask him who took the decision to detain Miranda. Vaz, who said his committee would examine the use of the law used as part of an inquiry into terrorism, said: "This is an extraordinary twist to an already complex story. It is right that the police have these powers but it is important that they are used appropriately."

The White House's explanation contrasted with the attitude of Downing Street, which declined to answer questions on the grounds that it was an operational matter. The prime minister's spokesman said: "The government takes all necessary steps to protect the public from individuals who pose a threat to national security. Schedule 7, which was used in this case, forms an essential part of the UK's border security arrangements."

David Davis, the former shadow home secretary, said the Home Office should issue a detailed response in light of the White House disclosure. Davis told the Guardian: "I find it wholly implausible that the Metropolitan Police would have taken such a decision and somehow notify the White House but not notify the home secretary ... Therefore the government has to say what was going on here. We are a country where freedom of speech and freedom of movement are fundamental and that is never more true when you are talking about journalists holding the light up to the actions of government."

The Liberal Democrats indicated they would be looking for assurances that police had acted in a proportionate manner. A spokesperson said: "The independent reviewer of terrorism legislation has already asked for more information on this incident and we will wait to hear his conclusions."


David Miranda: 'They said I would be put in jail if I didn't co-operate'

Partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald gives his first interview on nine-hour interrogation at Heathrow airport

Jonathan Watts in Rio de Janeiro
The Guardian, Monday 19 August 2013 21.30 BST   

David Miranda, the partner of the Guardian journalist who broke stories of mass surveillance by the US National Security Agency, has accused Britain of a "total abuse of power" for interrogating him for almost nine hours at Heathrow under the Terrorism Act.

In his first interview since returning to his home in Rio de Janeiro early on Monday, Miranda said the authorities in the UK had pandered to the US in trying to intimidate him and force him to reveal the passwords to his computer and mobile phone.

"They were threatening me all the time and saying I would be put in jail if I didn't co-operate," said Miranda. "They treated me like I was a criminal or someone about to attack the UK … It was exhausting and frustrating, but I knew I wasn't doing anything wrong."

Miranda – a Brazilian national who lives with Greenwald in Rio – was held for the maximum time permitted under schedule seven of the Terrorism Act 2000 which allows officers to stop, search and question individuals at airports, ports and border areas.

During that time, he said, he was not allowed to call his partner, who is a qualified lawyer in the US, nor was he given an interpreter, despite being promised one because he felt uncomfortable speaking in a second language.

"I was in a different country with different laws, in a room with seven agents coming and going who kept asking me questions. I thought anything could happen. I thought I might be detained for a very long time," he said.

He was on his way back from Berlin, where he was ferrying materials between Greenwald and Laura Poitras, the US film-maker who has also been working on stories related to the NSA files released by US whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

Miranda was seized almost as soon as his British Airways flight touched down on Sunday morning. "There was an announcement on the plane that everyone had to show their passports. The minute I stepped out of the plane they took me away to a small room with four chairs and a machine for taking fingerprints," he recalled.

His carry-on bags were searched and, he says, police confiscated a computer, two pen drives, an external hard drive and several other electronic items, including a games console, as well two newly bought watches and phones that were packaged and boxed in his stowed luggage.

"They got me to tell them the passwords for my computer and mobile phone," Miranda said. "They said I was obliged to answer all their questions and used the words 'prison' and 'station' all the time."

"It is clear why they took me. It's because I'm Glenn's partner. Because I went to Berlin. Because Laura lives there. So they think I have a big connection," he said. "But I don't have a role. I don't look at documents. I don't even know if it was documents that I was carrying. It could have been for the movie that Laura is working on."

Miranda was told he was being detained under the Terrorism Act. He was never accused of being a terrorist or being associated with terrorists, but he was told that if – after nine hours – his interrogators did not think he was being co-operative, then he could be taken to a police station and put in jail.

"This law shouldn't be given to police officers. They use it to get access to documents or people that they cannot get the legal way through courts or judges," said Miranda. "It's a total abuse of power."

He was offered a lawyer and a cup of water, but he refused both because he did not trust the authorities. The questions, he said, were relentless – about Greenwald, Snowden, Poitras and a host of other apparently random subjects.

"They even asked me about the protests in Brazil, why people were unhappy and who I knew in the government," said Miranda.

He got his first drink – from a Coke machine in the corridor – after eight hours and was eventually released almost an hour later. Police records show he had been held from 08.05 to 17.00.

Unable immediately to find a flight for him back to Rio, Miranda says the Heathrow police then escorted him to passport control so he could enter Britain and wait there.

"It was ridiculous," he said. "First they treat me like a terrorist suspect. Then they are ready to release me in the UK."

Although he believes the British authorities were doing the bidding of the US, Miranda says his view of the UK has completely changed as a result of the experience.

"I have friends in the UK and liked to visit, but you can't go to a country where they have laws that allow the abuse of liberty for nothing," he said.

The White House on Monday insisted that it was not involved in the decision to detain Miranda, though a spokesman said US officials had been given a "heads up" by British officials beforehand.

The Brazilian government has expressed grave concern about the "unjustified" detention.

Speaking by phone from the couple's home in the Tijuca forest, Miranda said it felt "awesome" to be back. "It's really good to be here. I felt the weight lift off my shoulders as soon I got back. Brazil feels very secure, very safe," he said. "I knew my country would protect me, and I believe in my husband and knew that he would do anything to help me."


Miranda had 'highly sensitive stolen information', Home Office suggests

Home Office claims nine-hour detention of Guardian journalist's partner was justified to protect public from threat of terrorism

Nicholas Watt and Rowena Mason, Tuesday 20 August 2013 12.38 BST   

The government has embarked on an aggressive offensive to justify the detention of David Miranda by suggesting that the partner of the Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald possessed "highly sensitive stolen information that would help terrorism".

Amid calls from across the political spectrum for a fuller explanation of the treatment of Miranda at Heathrow after a detailed statement from the White House, the Home Office made clear that his nine-hour detention was fully justified on the grounds that he was carrying leaked documents.

A Home Office spokesperson said: "The government and the police have a duty to protect the public and our national security. If the police believe that an individual is in possession of highly sensitive stolen information that would help terrorism, then they should act and the law provides them with a framework to do that. Those who oppose this sort of action need to think about what they are condoning. This is an ongoing police inquiry so will not comment on the specifics."

The statement by the Home Office, including a challenge to critics to think about condoning the leaking of sensitive documents, marks a significant change in tone by the government.

Downing Street and the Home Office had declined to answer questions about the detention of Miranda on the grounds that it was an operational police matter.

But in the face of growing criticism across the political spectrum, the Home Office has decided to go on the offensive and offer wholehearted support for the police with some details of the operation that led to the detention of Miranda.

The suggestion that Miranda was in possession of stolen documents, following the White House disclosure that Britain gave the US authorities a "heads-up" before he was detained, suggests that the intelligence services had been monitoring his movements and communications in some detail between Berlin and London.

Miranda was stopped at Heathrow en route to Rio de Janeiro, where he lives with Greenwald, who has written a series of stories for the Guardian revealing mass surveillance programmes by the NSA.

He was returning to their home from Berlin when he was stopped at Heathrow under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, allowing officials to take away his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles.

During his trip to Berlin, Miranda met Laura Poitras, the US film-maker who has been working with Greenwald and the Guardian. The Guardian paid for Miranda's flights. Miranda is not a Guardian employee but often assists Greenwald in his work.

The statement from the Home Office was issued shortly after Labour stepped up the pressure on the government to give a full explanation of the detention of Miranda by demanding a statement from the home secretary, Theresa May.

The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said: "If the White House knew about the decision to detain David Miranda at Heathrow, surely the home secretary knew too? It isn't good enough for the Home Office to dismiss this as a matter for the police. The White House have made clear it was 'a decision by the British government' and the police have said it was a 'detailed decision making process … reviewed throughout'.

"Given the sensitivity of this operation and the continued questions about the use of terrorism legislation in this case, Theresa May cannot simply refer this to the police."

The Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, Julian Huppert, said he was concerned about "political interference" in the police's use of anti-terror laws to hold Miranda. He said it looked like the Guardian was "being victimised for publishing stories" and called on the government to clarify exactly who knew about the decision to take Miranda into custody at Heathrow airport on Sunday.

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« Reply #8233 on: Aug 20, 2013, 06:54 AM »


Russian athlete denies kiss with relay partner was in protest at anti-gay law

Ksenia Ryzhova says she locked lips with Yulia Guschina in celebration at their team's winning the women's 400m relay

Alec Luhn in Moscow
The Guardian, Monday 19 August 2013 18.14 BST   

When two Russian athletes locked lips after taking gold at the World Athletics Championships, speculation was rife that the pair were protesting against the country's recently passed anti-gay law.

After narrowly edging out the US team to win the 400m relay at Moscow's Luzhniki stadium on Saturday, Ksenia Ryzhova and Yulia Guschina celebrated their victory with a lingering kiss. They kissed again on the podium as their two teammates looked on.

But in her first comment on the incident, Ryzhova told the Guardian on Monday that the kiss was not a political statement and had nothing to do with the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

"It was just happiness for our team," which has trained together for many years, Ryzhova said on Monday. She declined to comment on her attitude toward LGBT rights.

"If people want to write all sorts of dirt about us, they should at least know that Yulia and I are both married," she added.

Although the former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev was famous for kissing other leaders on the lips, including men, such platonic kissing is not a common occurrence in modern Russia.

The World Athletics Championships were widely seen as a trial run for next year's Winter Olympics in Sochi, where Russian officials have repeatedly said that authorities will enforce the law against "gay propaganda".

A growing international backlash against the legislation has led to a series of protests and calls for Russia to be stripped of the Sochi games.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist Yelena Isinbayeva defended the legislation after she won the pole vault at the championships, saying two Swedish competitors who painted their fingernails with rainbows in support of LGBT rights were being disrespectful to Russia.

"We consider ourselves like normal, standard people, we just live boys with women, girls with boys … it comes from the history," Isinbayeva said in English on Thursday.

But she backtracked from her comments in a statement on Friday, saying she opposes discrimination against gay people and "may have been misunderstood" due to her imperfect English.

On Tuesday, the US runner Nick Symmonds became the first international athlete to denounce the anti-gay law while in Russia, dedicating his silver medal in the 800m to his gay and lesbian friends back home and calling for LGBT equality.

Russia's sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, said at the weekend that the law does not violate any rights and called worries that it would infringe upon the freedoms of athletes and spectators "overblown," the state R-Sport news agency reported.


08/19/2013 12:30 PM

Anti-Gay Law: Shunning Sochi Hurts Olympians, Merkel Says

Russia's new anti-gay "propaganda" law has some Western leaders considering a boycott of the Winter Olympics there next year. But German Chancellor Merkel says such a move would only harm athletes.

As the debate over how Russia's ban on gay "propaganda" will affect next year's Winter Olympics in Sochi wears on, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has weighed in.

Some Western politicians, including Merkel's justice minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, have suggested that the new law, which discriminates against gays and lesbians, could be grounds for boycotting the event.

But Merkel opposes the idea. According to SPIEGEL, sources within the Chancellery say that the world's attention will be focused on Russia next February, which will do far more to influence the situation there than a boycott, as was the case last year with regard to human rights during the Eurovision Song contest in Azerbaijan.

In the Chancellor's view, athletes would suffer unduly from a boycott, sources told SPIEGEL.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who is himself gay, expressed a similar view last week, saying that although the new law is "unacceptable," the discussion over boycotting the Olympic Games is "counterproductive."

"It would be wrong to leave the field to those who are against tolerance and the protection of minorities," he told daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Saturday.

Moscow Promises Protection

Westerwelle's comments came in response to controversial statements made over the weekend at the world athletics championships in Moscow by Russian pole vaulting idol Yelena Isinbayeva, who criticized a Swedish athlete for showing solidarity with gay and lesbian athletes by wearing rainbow nail polish.

But on Sunday, Russia's sports minister assured that the country's new law would not cause problems for athletes or spectators during the Winter Games. As the competition in Moscow drew to a close, Vitaly Mutko said that "the freedoms of Russian and foreign athletes and guests who come to Sochi will be absolutely protected," though he compared homosexuality to drug abuse.

Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993, and officials insist that the new law passed in June does not penalize gay and lesbian orientation, but the spread of the lifestyle's non-traditional "propaganda" to young people. The law's failure to define what exactly constitutes distribution has many worried that it could be misused.

kla -- with wire reports

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« Reply #8234 on: Aug 20, 2013, 06:56 AM »

08/20/2013 12:54 PM

'Private Money': Bitcoins Gain Ground in Germany

Bitcoins have rapidly gained popularity, but what is the currency's legal status? This week Germany revealed that it sees the virtual payment method as "private money," but its tax status remains unclear.

The value of bitcoins has become widely accepted. The virtual, Internet-based currency can currently be traded in for about $120 each, according to Mt. Gox, a popular bitcoin exchange.

But now they are also gaining a legal footing -- at least in Germany, where the Finance Ministry has declared bitcoins to be a "unit of account." The designation stops well short of treating bitcoins as currency or even e-money, but it does classify the virtual currency as a kind of "private money." This comes as a result of a parliamentary inquiry made by Frank Schäffler, a member of the Bundestag with the business-friendly Free Democrats, Chancellor Angela Merkel's junior coalition partners.

Bitcoins have been in the headlines recently due to the massive volatility of their exchange rate. When they were first introduced in 2009, they were essentially worthless, trading for just five cents per bitcoin in July 2010. This year, however, they rocketed up in value to a high of $230 per bitcoin in April before plunging back to their current rate of exchange. Some have attributed the rise to concerns about the ongoing euro crisis in Europe.

Governments have been uncertain of how to approach the bitcoin, though. In late July, Thailand banned bitcoin transactions out of concern that the state could lose control over money flow. In the US, meanwhile, state officials in New York and federal officials recently opened an investigation into the virtual currency. The aim, according to a letter sent to financial regulators by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, was to determine the "threats and risks related to virtual currency." New York state has subpoenaed 22 companies involved with bitcoin transactions, according to The New York Times.

A First Step

The implications of Germany's new designation remain uncertain. In June, the Finance Ministry declared that profits on bitcoin investments are tax free after a year. But now it appears that some transactions involving bitcoins could be taxed after all. A tax advisor told the Berlin-based daily Die Welt that VAT would only have to be paid by people who use bitcoins commercially.

Oliver Flaskämper, head of the leading German bitcoin market,, told Die Welt that "from our perspective, our customers are engaged in private portfolio management from a tax point of few." That would mean that transactions would be tax free.

Still, the question of how bitcoins should be taxed remains pertinent. Some 7,500 shops and restaurants worldwide accept payment by bitcoin, according to the site Ultimately, rules will have to be established for taxing transactions with those places of business. Germany has taken a first step.

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