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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1004289 times)
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« Reply #8370 on: Aug 28, 2013, 07:00 AM »

08/28/2013 10:57 AM

Third Wave: Thousands from Chechnya Seek Refuge in Germany

By Benjamin Bidder and Maximilian Popp

A decade after the end of the war against Russia, thousands of Chechens have headed for Germany seeking asylum. They are fleeing from Chechnyan leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who many say is a brutal strongman who ruthlessly persecutes his enemies.

When Adam leaves for Germany, his mother tells him to have a good trip -- and hopes that he won't be coming back. "Here's to your never returning to Chechnya," she says, "God willing and with the help of German officials."

Adam lives in Grozny, the capital of the Chechen Republic, which is part of Russia. He is traveling with very little luggage: two T-shirts, some mashed potatoes and a roast chicken as food for the journey for him and his five young sons. Adam is also carrying a document for the officials in Berlin: a letter from a prison doctor describing welts and hematomas, the traces Adam's tormentors left behind on his body.

His mother's real name is not Malika, and when she gave birth to her eldest son more than 30 years ago, she didn't name him Adam, either. We can't print Adam's real name because it appears on a death list circulating in Chechnya. According to the list, he faces the threat of "execution without trial."

Adam picks up his wife from the doctor's office in Grozny, where she has just had an ultrasound. Zamira is nine months' pregnant. She hopes that she won't go into labor until she sets foot on German soil. The family takes a taxi to the train station, passing the skyscraper where Gérard Depardieu, the French actor who now lives in Russia, has an apartment.

The car passes the boutiques along Putin Prospect, Grozny's magnificent mile. President Ramzan Kadyrov named the street after his benefactor, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who gives Kadyrov free rein. Adam and family leave behind the glass façades of the new Grozny and board the train to Moscow, for the first stage of their trip to Germany.

Eerie Exodus

Thousands like Adam are also making their way to the West, in a mass exodus from Chechnya. It is the third wave of refugees triggered by the two Chechen wars in the 1990s. What makes the current exodus so eerie is that it is not accompanied by fighting.

In the first seven months of this year, more than 10,000 Chechens applied for asylum with German government offices, almost three times as many as in all of 2012. The small Caucasus republic, with a population of one million, is suddenly appearing at the top of German asylum statistics. More people are coming to Germany from Chechnya at the moment than from Syria and Afghanistan combined, two countries racked by civil war. According to Russian state security estimates, some 600 families have left Argun, a provincial city of 30,000 people, where Kadyrov is having glass-and-steel office buildings erected that resemble the structures in London's Canary Wharf commercial district.

Putin values Kadyrov, because he has brought a funereal calm to the Caucasus republic. Moscow waged two devastating wars to prevent Chechnya from seceding. But it was only Kadyrov who managed to wrestle down the Chechen rebels, albeit with brutal methods.

In return, the Kremlin provides him with virtually unlimited credit, including more than €1.6 billion ($2.14 billion) in annual subsidies. Moscow also pays for the despot's escapades without blinking an eye. They include Kadyrov's private stud farm, worth millions of euros, and a giant new mosque in Grozny, which he built in honor of his father.

But the gleaming facades are nothing but smoke and mirrors, in a republic where many people already have their suitcases packed. One of them is Tamara from Grozny, who wants to go to Germany because a cousin tried to kill her after she allegedly brought shame on her family. Another is Arbi, a poor rural resident who hopes that Germany will provide his mother with a new prosthetic leg and give him work.

The Chechens pose a difficult challenge to German authorities. In their offices in Berlin and elsewhere, they must evaluate which refugees are merely in Germany for financial reasons, whether the refugees include Islamists prepared to use violence and which asylum seekers truly deserve protection, because they became innocent victims of the Kadyrov regime.

A Shocking Story

Adam runs his hand across a scar on his head. He got the scar, he says, after being hit with the butt of a Stechkin pistol, a police officer's service weapon. He says that men from the interior ministry pulled him into a car, blindfolded him and threw him into a basement room at a police station. They described the act as the arrest of a suspected terrorist. According to Adam, they hit him with water bottles, and later with clubs. He also says that they connected wires to his fingers and ears and gave him electroshocks.

There was only one other prisoner in the basement. Adam heard his screams for two days. There was no sound on the third day, because the man was dead. According to Adam, police officers blew up the body in the woods and wrote in their records that they had eliminated terrorists with explosives.

It is a shocking story, and one which Chechens find plausible. Human rights activists are aware of an investigator who kept half a dozen men captive in a cell in the Achkhoy-Martan administrative district. He planned to shoot them to death in the forest, and then to claim that the bodies were the remains of Islamist rebels, so that he could collect a reward.

In Grozny, a young man is being tried on charges of illegal possession of firearms. Yussup Ektumayev was allegedly involved in a bombing attack. When he heard that he was wanted, he went to the police voluntarily, accompanied by his mother Azya. They both believed that it was a misunderstanding, but then Yussup was beaten and given electroshocks. Police officers held a pistol to the head of his brother Khalid, demanding that he testify against his brother.

Adam's uncle fought against the Russians. He was a follower of rebel president Dzhokhar Dudayev, but not a radical Islamist. The police beat a confession out of Adam, forcing him to say that he had bought food for his uncle at the time. In Chechnya, that alone is enough to convict someone of aiding and abetting terrorists. Under torture, Adam also revealed the location along a river where he had once hidden his uncle's Kalashnikov.

'Safer than Great Britain'

The next time his mother Malika saw her son alive, Adam was spitting blood. A judge sentenced him to two years in prison. A criminal investigator named Ruzlan occasionally came to his prison cell and had him brought to the warden's office, where he beat Adam.

Chechen President Kadyrov claims that such descriptions are pure fiction. His spokesman characterizes the reports on refugees as an "invention of German journalists." Chechnya is "safer than Great Britain," says Kadyrov, noting that the Chechen economy is the most effective in all of Russia.

Grozny looks imposing enough, but when night falls and the busses depart for Germany, the leadership's deception becomes evident. There were two busses a week a year ago, but now there are five. Those with money choose a less onerous mode of transportation. A developer, for example, bought airline tickets and obtained visas for Europe to bring her daughter to safety. Kadyrov's supporters were among her customers, "but instead of paying their bills, they are now threatening my family."

Under the eyes of his patron Putin, Kadyrov has established a feudal system, more of a medieval sultanate than a modern state. And his rule is an arbitrary one. At one moment, he is pardoning a Chechen convicted of murder in Russia and appearing with him in public. At the next, he is sending an Internet user to a labor camp because she had joked online about a fire at one of the buildings he owns.

The Kremlin is practicing a dangerous laissez-faire policy in the Caucasus. It lets Kadyrov do as he pleases, even when this includes establishing his own paramilitary force, the black-clad "Kadyrovtsy," as Chechens call them. This spring, when investigators with the Russian domestic intelligence service FSB tried to take action against Kadyrov bodyguards who had kidnapped and tortured a man in Moscow, they were called off.

Kadyrov's realm exists practically outside Russian laws. Kadyrov himself once put it this way: "As long as Putin supports me, I can do as I please." His friends control various companies. Like dark knights, they race around the country in their SUVs. The letters KRA appear on their license plates: Kadyrov's initials, but with the last name first.

Welcoming Money?

In the dark of night, a man steps underneath the trees along Putin Prospect. Despite the gloom, he wears a cap pulled down over his face. "If they recognize me, they'll kill me," he says. Despite the risk, he wants to tell us how he was once in favor and then fell out of favor with the Chechen despot. He is the opposite of Adam, the man who was abused in prison. He built his career with Kadyrov's security forces. His family was influential in Chechnya and had money, until "Ramzan gave the order to destroy us," he says. No one knows why. He was fired from his job and an uncle was tortured. His brother is in prison. The man is getting ready to flee the country and, like Adam, he wants to go to Germany.

Adam crosses into the EU in early August, near the Belarusian city of Brest. Polish border agents document the family's personal data and take fingerprints. Almost all Chechens enter the EU through Poland. Warsaw houses some refugees in prisons, and family members are sometimes separated. According to a report by the Society for Threatened Peoples, the sick have only limited access to medical care.

Zamira hasn't gone into labor yet. Adam gives a taxi driver the last of his money, about €1,000, for the trip to Berlin. Poland has approved only a few hundred asylum applications in the last three years. Germany, on the other hand -- as a popular rumor would have it -- receives Chechens with open arms and welcoming money.

But the opposite is the case. Only 8.3 percent of refugees from the Caucasus are allowed to stay in Germany. The German government refuses to accept responsibility for the refugees, citing the Dublin Regulation, under which refugees can only apply for asylum in the EU country in which they first arrive. As a rule, Germany sends them back to those countries. The approach is controversial, but it benefits Germany.

The skepticism of security officials complicates the situation for those arriving from Chechnya. Just in April, the Chechen brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev killed three people by detonating bombs during the Boston Marathon. Caution is warranted in Germany as well. There is one case, for example, of a Chechen woman who is in a Berlin hospital and hopes to bring her husband from Turkey to Germany. But the husband is part of a Chechen rebel clan and has fought in Syria.

Running Inside

The head of the German police union proposes isolating Chechens deemed dangerous in guarded accommodations.

Adam's mother Malika is sitting in the kitchen of a wooden barrack in Grozny. Someone from the mayor's office has just been to see her. After her son's escape, the city now wants to evict her from the emergency shelter. Malika, her husband and their two children are expected to move in with another grown son. He lives in a 30-square-meter (323-square-foot) shack on the outskirts of Grozny, where there is no electricity or sewage service.

A police officer has told Malika that her son lied to her, that he is in fact a terrorist and has gone to Syria. After the meeting, Malika reread the text message Adam sent her from abroad. It was sent with a German mobile phone, from a number preceded by the German country code, +49.

The authorities in Berlin have placed Adam and his family in a former school building. The German doctors say that Zamira weathered the trip well and is expecting a girl. The shelter manager tells Adam that their chances of being allowed to stay are slim, and they will probably be sent back to Poland, where they will likely be deported to Russia. The manager says that every Chechen she encounters at the shelter tells her the same story of torture and persecution.

Adam sits down at the small table the management has placed in his room and reaches for a pen and paper. Then he writes down what happened to him in Chechnya. He writes about his uncle's Kalashnikov and being tortured with electroshocks. He describes many details, hoping that this will make it difficult for the Germans not to believe him.

His sons are playing in the courtyard. When a black SUV pulls up in front of the hostel -- a vehicle like those driven by Kadyrov's men in Chechnya -- they run inside and hide.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #8371 on: Aug 28, 2013, 07:01 AM »

08/28/2013 01:21 PM

Schäuble's Honesty: Transparency Poses Risks in Euro Crisis

By David Böcking

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has raised the possibility of a third bailout for Greece. Now many are calling for leaders to lay out all they know about the euro crisis. But total transparency carries serious risks.

In a time when people wrote in autograph books and not on Facebook walls, one sentence from the 18th- and 19th-century German poet Matthias Claudius became immortalized: "Say not all that you know, but know all that you say." That would be a good lesson for those politicians who are handling the euro crisis. Absolute honesty, which many are now demanding of the German government after its most recent comments on Greece, is simply not wise.

Of course politicians should not lie or twist the facts. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has been guilty of the latter over the last week. First he stated publicly what many have long accepted as obvious -- that Greece will need a third bailout package. Amid the ensuing uproar, Schäuble defended himself with the following words: "The German government states what it knows at each point in time."

Such words are not credible. Schäuble certainly didn't suddenly become aware yesterday that Greece needs more money, yet he's only talking about it now. In the European Union, such small-step approaches to problem solving are unavoidable.

The euro crisis has bound Europe together in a common fate -- the Germans, Finns and Dutch putting billions of euros on the line for Greeks, Portuguese and Irish. Yet political institutions in the EU and euro zone remain weak. That's why in the past, virtually all member states, from southern Europe through to Germany and France, flagrantly disregarded the bloc's rules on sovereign debt limits. They knew there was no reason to fear sanctions when they spent beyond their means. The rules have since been strengthened. But the EU still has no real government, its parliament has severely limited powers and real policy-making occurs almost exclusively on the national level.

Selling Policies at Home and Abroad

It's under these constraints that the EU approaches the euro crisis through negotiations between member states. And a fundamental principle of these negotiations is that not all cards are laid on the table at once. It's a classic way in diplomacy of avoiding bursts of outrage.

Especially problematic is the fact that negotiations don't occur among EU policymakers alone. Rather the maneuvering increasingly resembles what political scientist Robert Putnam describes in his two-level game theory: Politicians have to sell their policy goals both at home and abroad. And all too often, one side is pitted against the other -- as when the Greek prime minister says he personally opposes draconian budget cuts, but that his EU partners give him no choice but to accept them.

This game of contortionism will never win the prize for most graceful politicking. Yet in today's European Union it is often the only way to push through legitimate demands. A prime example is the list of conditions imposed on Greece in exchange for emergency loans. Despite all justified criticism of the specifics of those conditions, the fact that Greece needs reform is just as evident as the fact that Greek domestic politics is incapable of making that reform happen. Only under pressure from abroad did change ultimately come.

This pressure occurs only when aid is given out piece by piece. Why should Greek politicians adhere to fiscal discipline or implement reform when they know they can count on unlimited credit from abroad? The threat of stopping payments is the only weapon the so-called troika of lenders has when it makes its repeated visits to Athens.

Slow Pace of Change

And the political contortionism works both ways: Schäuble himself doesn't have to ask for billions of euros at home in Germany when he can simply point to the findings of the troika. In the end, the haggling over releasing loan payments is frustrating for both sides. It brings only a very slow pace of change to a political system that even most Greeks regard as broken.

Bearing all this in mind, it would make sense for German politicians not to make public all their thoughts on the euro crisis at once. Yet voters expect not to be lied to. The only way through this conundrum is for politicians, when in doubt, to admit that they cannot answer certain questions while the crisis continues.

However, they can make clear the direction in which they are headed: Long before Wolfgang Schäuble raised the possibility of a third bailout for Greece, Social Democrat Peer Steinbrück told SPIEGEL in September 2011: "Of course the Germans have to pay." Who would have guessed back then that the current candidate for chancellor would be considering not just loaning, but actually giving money to Greece -- something that is increasingly part of the discussion?

In the long run, there's one thing that will help Europe through its crisis management: a stronger European Union -- in the form of truly binding rules, perhaps even a European finance minister who could directly intervene in national budgets and put an end to the cumbersome quibbling among member states. Schäuble himself has raised the idea of such a master minister. Perhaps out of frustration with the endless diplomatic game playing.

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« Reply #8372 on: Aug 28, 2013, 07:11 AM »

08/27/2013 06:16 PM

Bitter Euro Truths: Crisis Could Damage Merkel's Campaign


Chancellor Angela Merkel has been forced to concede that Greece will require additional aid -- an admission that has dented her reputation as a crisis manager ahead of the election. But she still hasn't revealed the true scope of the costs facing Germany.

When a politician is planning a campaign lie, he has to be able to rely on one thing: No one in his own party must come out with the truth prematurely. The Social Democrats adhered to this rule in the 1976 election, when then Chancellor Helmut Schmidt promised higher pensions and then announced sharp cuts after the election. And the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) also closed ranks in 1990, the year of German reunification, when then Chancellor Helmut Kohl appeared on market squares throughout the country to announce that taxes would not be raised. It was a promise that, as we now know, was followed by the strongest postwar increase in taxes and other charges.

Current Chancellor Angela Merkel was still an up-and-coming member of the eastern German CDU and Kohl's eager pupil, so it came as no surprise that she urged her party's executive committee to stay the course on Greece at all costs last week. "There is too much talk in Europe about debt haircuts," the chancellor told her party's executive committee at a meeting last Monday.

But after SPIEGEL had reported two weeks ago that the Bundesbank, Germany's central bank, had new doubts about Greece's bailout program, the debate over additional aid packages or debt forgiveness was reignited. This would be extremely dangerous, the chancellor told CDU MPs, as it would create "uncertainty in the markets." In other words, she was saying, it was critical to maintain discipline in the debate.

Less than 24 hours later, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble appeared on a campaign stage in Ahrensburg, a town in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, and said: "There will have to be another (bailout) program in Greece."

So there it was. At first, Schäuble's aides tried to dismiss the treacherous sentence as a regrettable slip of the tongue, but by then the debate could no longer be stopped. "So there will be more money for the Greeks, after all," the tabloid Bild wrote in a front page story. Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder accused the chancellor of having told "a very big lie," and campaigners for the euroskeptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party were delighted at this unexpected boost to their campaign. Greece, said party chairman Bernd Lucke, "should withdraw from the euro."

Many in the CDU and its junior partner, the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), were unhappy about Schäuble's remarks. They accused him of seeking to portray himself as a straight-talking politician, at the expense of the chancellor. And Merkel herself, after a day of speechlessness, gritted her teeth and conceded that her finance minister was right. But she noted that it was still unclear how large the new Greece package would be.

Another Red Line Crossed

Once again, the chancellor was forced to place herself in the unpopular role she has assumed so often in the course of the euro crisis: as a master of crossing red lines. First she said Germany would not be sending a cent of aid to Greece. Then she assured Germans that Europe's bailout funds would only be temporary. Finally, she denied that Greece's first bailout package would soon be followed by a second one. Each time, she was forced to break her promises, and each time the amount of money the Germans are committing to support the euro became larger. By now, German taxpayers are guaranteeing loans worth a total of €122 billion ($163 billion).

For weeks, the CDU/FDP coalition had managed to keep the monstrous numbers involved in the euro rescue out of the campaign. A series of favorable economic figures from Southern Europe even raised hopes that the crisis could soon be over. The message from the government in Berlin was that everything necessary had been done and that the worst was over.

But there is a different reality, as Schäuble's admission reveals: Although the politicians involved in saving the euro have treated a few symptoms of the disease, the patient is by no means cured, and more treatments are necessary. Despite green shoots of economic recovery, the mountain of debt in Spain and Ireland continues to grow, Europe's banks still have large quantities of bad loans on their balance sheets, and if the euro is to be rescued, the Germans will have to relinquish additional political powers to Brussels. The truth is that after the election, the Germans will be presented with even more bills for saving the euro.

'There Will Be No Debt Haircut'

But the German government wants none of it at the moment. When it comes to restructuring European bankers, Berlin still gives the impression that the costs could simply be passed on to the government budgets of crisis-hit countries. And even on the issue of Greece, the government is once again making promises that it probably won't be able to keep. In an interview with the business newspaper Handelsblatt last week, Schäuble said that the repayment periods of loans to Greece could be extended and the interest rates on them reduced. But he ruled out the possibility of Germany directly waiving a portion of its claims. "There will be no debt haircut," he stressed.

It is clear, however, that Greece will not get back on its feet without new aid. The country currently doesn't stand a chance of returning to the capital markets to borrow money on its own by the end of next year. Greece's national debt has now reaching a dizzying 160 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP). Under the bailout programs, this number is expected to decline to 120 percent in the next seven years. European leaders hope that a debt-to-GDP ratio of this magnitude is sufficient to enable a country to return to the capital markets and obtain its own financing once again. But no one seriously believes that Greece can reach this level without further assistance.

That's why the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has long called upon Greece's creditors to agree to another debt haircut. The Bundesbank also believes that new bailout programs will become unavoidable soon after Germany's general election on Sept. 22.

In Brussels, the European Commission assumes that the Greek bailout is proceeding in small steps, each at a cost of billions. "The subject of Greece reappears on the agenda every six months," says a Commission member. This makes sense, because it ensures that the Greek government remains under pressure to enact reforms.

For Eurocrats, the notion of substantial additional funds flowing from Brussels to Greece is absurd. Even today, for investments from the structural fund, for example, the Athens government contributes only five percent of the funding itself, whereas other countries must come up with 25 to 50 percent of total funding. For this reason, the experts in Brussels are desperately searching for Greek infrastructure projects that make at least some sense.

In September, the troika will pay Athens another visit to assess the country's reform progress. The government has managed to push spending below revenues and is likely to be rewarded with a new aid package, to be approved this fall. The interest rates on the current loans, which are now averaging 2.3 percent, according to IMF calculations, are to be pushed down even further toward zero. But the troika also wants to see the loan repayment dates postponed for as long as possible. Both measures would reduce the country's annual debt burden.

Under a similar plan being discussed in Berlin, loans with a duration of up to 30 years could be extended to 50 years. At the same time, the creditor nations could largely waive their interest claims.

The beauty of the German solution is that it would not be a debt haircut. The creditors, including Germany's state-owned KfW development bank, as well as the European bailout funds, would not have to write off portions of their loans. Instead, the loans would remain on the books until the end of the extended term.

But the costs for the donor countries would remain substantial. Germany would be faced with costs in the double-digit billions, and Greece would still not be recapitalized. EU officials believe Greece will need a real debt haircut in less than a year, and government experts in Berlin agree with them.

Even with sustained budget surpluses, Greece will never escape from the debt trap it has gotten itself into. Sovereign creditors like KfW would have to write off at least a portion of their claims. The European Central Bank (ECB), also one of Greece's creditors, would likely be left out of a debt haircut. If the ECB waived its claims against the Greek government, it would be tantamount to the direct funding of a government, which the central bank is barred from doing.

Ireland, Portugal Also Likely to Need More Help

Ireland, which has so far been lauded as a paragon among ailing EU nations in the debt crisis, is also likely to need more help. The truth will become apparent in October, shortly after the German election. Ireland will have to give up its pretense that it won't need any more help once the bailout package expires.

The €67.5 billion bailout program for the Irish runs out at the end of this year, at which point Dublin will have to start borrowing from banks and private investors again. But as leading Irish politicians see it, that will only be possible if the Europeans provide a generous loan guarantee to fund the Irish government. In mid-July, Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan presented his counterparts in the euro zone with his country's wish list. "What I would like to see is a backstop arrangement which would give additional confidence to the market," he said afterwards. In other words, Noonan wants the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) to provide his country with an unlimited line of credit, which he can access when the capital markets begin to question Ireland's creditworthiness.

At the current 125 percent debt-to-GDP ratio, such doubts can easily arise. Irish interest rates have fallen sharply because banks and investors assume that the Europeans will not abandon the Irish. But the government still spends more than it takes in. In addition, the volume of bad loans on the balance sheets of Irish banks is still growing. Experts estimate that the banks will need several billion euros in additional capital.

With a new aid request in October, Dublin plans to qualify for the ECB's support program, which calls for the unlimited purchase of sovereign debt if necessary. It's ECB President Mario Draghi's Big Bazooka, with which he has kept the markets at bay until now.

So far Portugal, which will probably need new aid from Brussels too, has also relied on the weapons of the monetary watchdogs. This became clear in July, when the yields on 10-year government bonds climbed above 7 percent. The resignation of the Portuguese finance minister had triggered a government crisis. Investors feared that the country would no longer keep its reform promises.

The €78.5 billion in aid commitments the IMF and the Europeans made to Portugal will last until June 2014. After that, Western Europe's poorest country is expected to be able to finance its national debt of more than €200 billion on the capital markets again. Whether it will succeed without the Europeans providing the country with another bailout is more than doubtful. For this reason, officials in Brussels are considering a "preventive credit line" for Portugal within the ESM, which would be used in a worst-case scenario.

Portugal's economic and political crisis has eased somewhat. The conservative government under Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho survived a no confidence vote and remains in power. For the first time in two-and-a-half years, the economy showed growth over a quarter, tourism was on the rise and even exports were up again.

But the government deficit also continued to grow, most recently to 127 percent of GDP. As with Greece, Portugal's international creditors believe that the country should be able to repay its debts at debt-to-GDP levels of 120 percent or less.

So far the Portuguese, despite painful austerity measures, have missed every deficit target that the Europeans and the IMF imposed more than two years ago. Now the government wants to ask for mercy from the troika, which will resume its inspections in Lisbon soon. The country is in fact expected to save another €4.7 billion if it hopes reach the goal of new borrowing amounting to 5.5 percent of GDP.

Cyprus Needs More Help To Avoid Bankruptcy

The situation is also tense in Cyprus. It is all but certain that the country will not be able to avoid a government bankruptcy with the current aid package. According to recent calculations, Nicosia will need a total of €23 billion by 2016, a gap Cyprus will be unable to close by itself. President Nikos Anastasiadis wants the austerity demands on his country be relaxed. According to Anastasiadis, they are stifling the Cypriot economy, because they impose an excessive burden on the Bank of Cyprus, the country's largest financial institution. The economy is running out of money.

Although European leaders had assumed that the Cypriot economy would shrink by 8.7 percent, the recession is likely to be even more severe. Without new aid, the island republic would slip into a national bankruptcy, because the country is unable to cut costs any further. The troika experts will travel to Nicosia in September, and then return to Brussels to present their results.

At first, European leaders had hoped that Southern Europe's crisis-ridden countries would make do with a one-time financial injection from the new bailout funds. But those hopes have now been dashed. In fact, bailout programs threaten to become the norm. A large part of the Mediterranean region will soon be requesting new aid, while the creditor countries of the north will try to fend off the requests.

The German government is also playing for time, as it pursues a strategy of stalling, applying the brakes and kicking the can down the road. This was Berlin's approach when the European bailout funds were created, and this is the way the government is approaching the most important project to restructure the monetary union, the so-called banking union. Under the uniform, Europe-wide supervision of the ECB, the continent's banks are to be subjected to a thorough inventory, while troubled banks will be restructured or liquidated.

In this way, European leaders want to ensure that banks in the euro zone will resume lending money to companies and property developers at affordable interest rates. But the German government has been blocking this important program for months.

Germany Putting Brakes on Banking Union
So far, Merkel and Schäuble have only been able to accept a plan that calls for the joint supervision of the 44 largest banks. However, a functioning settlement regime for banks that operates under the same principles throughout the euro zone, as well as credible protection for savers' deposits, are at least as important.

Merkel and Schäuble want to prevent German money from being used to bail out French banks or guarantee Italian savings deposits. German leaders are hiding behind legal arguments. Schäuble repeatedly insists that the European treaties would have to be amended to create a banking union.

Still, the German government is coming under growing pressure, partly because many German banks are also looking fragile. The state-owned banks still have toxic securities from the financial crisis on their books, and Commerzbank, the country's second-largest lender, remains dependent on billions in government assistance. Not all of the banks' balance sheets have been cleaned up, and German lenders could get into trouble again.

Nevertheless, Schäuble insists on organizing bank bailouts strictly along national lines. But as the recent example of the ailing Spanish savings bank sector has shown, a banking crisis can quickly create problems for a country. Many banks are still considered too big to fail, and many countries are too small to be able to bail out their banks without international help.

A European solution would not only create far greater firing power, but it would also strengthen confidence in the banks. This is the needed so that the European banks resume lending each ther money. The consequences would be especially positive for the ailing nations, which would see interest rates on their debt decline.

It is becoming clear that the German government will also revise its position on the banking union after the election. To rehabilitate the continent's ailing credit sector, German taxpayers may even have to guarantee banks in other countries. In return, the Germans could demand that non-viable lenders be liquidated, in Spain, Ireland and elsewhere. The risk is nevertheless substantial, with experts estimating the cost of restructuring the European banking sector at about €300 billion.

Polls show that Germans are increasingly skeptical about Europe. But in the banking sector as well as in economic and financial policy, Germany will be unable to avoid transferring more powers to the community. The next government in Berlin, no matter which parties are in power, will have to prepare the Germans for the fact that the euro is leading to deeper European integration.

Germany Will Have to Relinquish More Powers to Brussels

In the campaign, however, the chancellor is singing a different tune. There is "no need to transfer even more rights to the Commission in Brussels in the coming years," she says, even though this is precisely what the German government has done in recent years. The Stability Pact was tightened and, within the framework of a so-called fiscal pact, the member states even installed a debt ceiling based on the German model. The only problem is that the new precautions aren't working properly, or the member states are not sticking to the rules. For instance, French President François Hollande recently raised eyebrows when he said that he would not be dictated to by Brussels.

To confront these issues, Finance Minister Schäuble has already introduced the idea of a European finance minister, who would have extensive powers to intervene in national budgets. If a country were living beyond its means, the European finance minister would be able to use his or her veto. The next German government faces the difficult task of preparing the public for the idea of relinquishing more power, at least in the key areas of economic and financial policy, to Brussels, Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Euro Group Chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem.

This is unpopular, as is the assumption of additional financial risks. Until now, politicians could argue that the monetary crisis has cost taxpayers next to nothing so far, because the support payments are bailout loans that will eventually be repaid. This interpretation will no longer apply if Greece is indeed forgiven some of its debts next year. And in the case of Portugal, it is questionable whether the country can avoid a debt haircut. Should sovereign creditors be affected, as is unavoidable in the case of Greece, bailout policy will in fact become a subsidy arrangement.

'Deception of German Voters'

With the figures in question running into the double-digit billions, it isn't surprising that the parties were so electrified by Schäuble's admission. Coalition politicians resented the finance minister for going it alone, while the opposition saw it as an opportunity to finally force the conservatives into the defensive. "You don't get the people's trust with cover-ups," former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said at a campaign event in the northern city of Detmold.

Throughout the country, the Social Democrats are now deriding their opponents as "liars" and "frauds." SPD chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück said: "This government is revealing the truth in bits and pieces, if at all. There is no leadership, no clarity and no truthfulness."

SPD Chairman Sigmar Gabriel was willing to offer praise, albeit of the toxic variety, to the finance minister, when he said: "At least Schäuble has the courage to tell the truth." Gabriel also characterized the government's approach as a "deception of German voters."

But Gabriel was also self-critical when he conceded that the former SPD/Green Party government had made mistakes when Greece joined the euro in 2001. "Accepting Greece into the EU was certainly the right thing to do, but accepting it into the monetary union was certainly wrong." Nevertheless, he added, all conservative governments had also agreed to accept Greece at the time.

The upset shows that Schäuble's admission has clearly thrown the chancellor's campaign off balance. To be sure, the euro was meant to feature in her campaign. But, her party strategists wanted the focus to be on her as a prudent manager in times of crisis -- not on the fear of additional billions in aid for broke Southern European countries.

Merkel's Crisis Manager Image at Stake

The crisis was supposed to serve as a grim background against which Merkel could portray herself as an effective euro manager, someone who doesn't squander the hard-earned assets of Germans. Pollsters have concluded that Merkel's image as a safe pair of hands in a crisis is the key to her re-election. If that image is lost, there are no longer many reasons to vote for the CDU.

Not surprisingly, the strategists with the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), are alarmed. Schäuble's remark was the "first mistake" in the campaign, say CSU officials. "Now we don't have to talk about aid commitments for the year 2015 anymore," CSU Chairman Horst Seehofer said heatedly. "This doesn't help to increase enthusiasm for reforms in Greece." And Christine Lieberknecht (CDU), the governor of the eastern state of Thuringia, says the party would be better off talking about the successes of the Greece policy rather than constantly citing new risks.

The CDU/CSU parliamentary group is also incensed over Schäuble. "We knew that Greece would become an issue," says one lawmaker, "but we didn't expect that we and not the SPD would raise the issue."

However, hardly any CDU/CSU politician dared to publicly criticize the finance minister. After all, how do you fault someone for telling the truth? At least parliamentary floor leader Volker Kauder has warned party members not to emulate Schäuble, saying that too much talk about new programs and aid for the troubled countries doesn't exactly promote "reform efforts in Greece."

An especially touchy subject is the fact that Schäuble's prediction could be enough to push the AfD above the five-percent threshold for entering the Bundestag. In recent weeks, the anti-euro campaigners seemed to have disappeared. In fact, they were using the time to collect substantial donations. And now Schäuble has provided them with yet another argument. The narrow majority that the current CDU/FDP coalition has in the polls could be threatened.

Schäuble The Whistleblower

Not surprisingly, the chancellor isn't overly amused by Schäuble's remark. Merkel's team claims that it wasn't such a bad thing, since it led to an open discussion of the euro. But there is in fact growing frustration within the party over the minister, especially over the way he staged his remarks, portraying himself as the upstanding whistleblower who caught the chancellor in a campaign lie.

Schäuble, on the other hand, is clearly pleased with his image as an honest champion of the truth. Last Thursday, he spoke to supporters at the Maria Laach monastery in the western Eifel region. His listeners wanted to know what had prompted him to make the statement about Greece.

He is always a little cranky in the morning, the minister replied. And he was in one of those moods at breakfast recently, he added, when his wife asked him what was going on with Greece and whether there would be any nasty surprises after the election. "After the election? Well, everything we already know and that's already been decided," the minister replied. "If my wife is asking," he said, to the amusement of his audience, "I have to set things straight."

Peter Müller, Christoph Pauly, Christian Reiermann, Michael Sauga, Christoph Schult

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #8373 on: Aug 28, 2013, 07:15 AM »

Pakistan's chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry suffers public backlash

Critics speak out against outgoing influential judge, who is accused of meddling in politics for personal aggrandisement

Jon Boone in Islamabad, Wednesday 28 August 2013 11.30 BST

An unprecedented surge of criticism directed at Pakistan's chief justice by lawyers, politicians and even sections of a once-fawning media threatens to bring to a close years of interference in government affairs by the country's top judges.

After he ordered the sacking of a sitting prime minister and the cancellation of host of critical economic initiatives, many analysts have come to regard Iftikhar Chaudhry as second only to the country's army chief in his ability to influence the civilian government.

But as the 64-year-old edges towards retirement in December, a backlash has begun and increasingly his critics are speaking out.

"He's a dictator! A judicial tyrant!" said Abid Saqi, the president of Lahore's high court bar association, a powerful body representing 20,000 lawyers that in July called for the chief justice and two other judges to charged with misconduct.

Saqi added: "He has destroyed the judiciary as an institution and destroyed the constitutions as a sacred document for his own personal aggrandisement."

Until recently few dared to speak out, let alone with such colourful language. That was partly due to Chaudhry's immense popularity – a 2011 Gallup poll found he was the most popular public figure in the country.

He became a key national figure during the struggle by the "lawyers' movement" to force his reappointment in 2007 after he was sacked and put under house arrest by former military dictator Pervez Musharraf.

After returning to power on the back of one of the biggest popular movements the country has seen, Chaudhry burnished his reputation further by picking causes and hauling ministers and officials into his grand marble court building in Islamabad, where, in a holdover from the colonial era, judges are addressed as "my lord".

It amounted to a judicial revolution. Or, as one critical lawyer puts it, "ripping up the entire supreme court jurisprudence that had gone before".

"Iftikar Chaudhry has enjoyed a degree of power that is unparalleled," said a lawyer. "He does whatever the hell he wants, he is outside the law and, most of the time, he is making it up as he goes along."

He made extensive use of two once obscure legal tools: suo motu powers to investigate any issues of his choice, and contempt of court rules that bar the "scandalising" of the judiciary, which has been used to silence critics.

Suo motu, a Latin phrase meaning "of his own volition", has become almost a household phrase in Pakistan such is the chief justice's enthusiasm for picking up populist causes highlighted by the media.

Some of its initiatives have won praise from human rights campaigners, particularly Chaudhry's scrutiny of security agencies engaged in a dirty war against separatists in the province of Baluchistan.

He ordered individuals who have been "disappeared" without formal arrest to be produced before his court. And he was the architect of a major extension of rights to Pakistan's transgender community.

But others of his actions have been much more controversial, particularly in the area of government contracts, privatisations and major infrastructure projects, which his court has cancelled or delayed on several occasions.

Critics say the court's orders display an ignorance of economics and international business and have deterred badly needed investment, particularly in projects to help solve the country's crippling energy shortages.

The court regularly involves itself in other matters of public policy, at various times ordering the almost insolvent government to slash prices of sugar, flour and gas. One of the few tax-raising initiatives in this year's national budget had to be reversed after Chaudhry weighed in.

But it is his recent meddling in politics that has prompted attacks on him.

In July, he asked the country's election commission to hold the presidential election a week earlier than planned, to which the main opposition party strongly objected but was not allowed to put its case.

It prompted intense anger within the political class over what was regarded as blatant violation of the independence of the election commission.

It also provided an opportunity for his enemies in the legal community – many bitter at what they claim is Chaudhry's favouritism in appointing judges – to lash out.

Before this year's general election in May, the previous government led by the Pakistan People's party was reluctant to confront Chaudhry, even though it was continually subjected to his suo motu investigations.

In June last year, the party's prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, was forced to step down after Chaudhry found him guilty of contempt of court. The candidate proposed as his replacement was seen off by the supreme court even before he could be appointed while his ultimate successor was also threatened with being ousted.

"If we spoke out he was just calling everyone in contempt," complained Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmed, a former PPP member of parliament. "The party was divided over whether to confront him because of fear that if we did so the whole system could be derailed."

But fears that such standoffs could scupper Pakistan's fragile transition to democracy have faded since the successful elections in May, which ousted the PPP that had been widely regarded as corrupt and worthy of Chaudhry's investigations.

Chaudhry has also picked a fight with Imran Khan, the leading opposition politician whose Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) bagged the second largest number of votes in May's national elections.

He was accused of contempt after criticising the judiciary for failing to prevent alleged election rigging. The court ultimately backed down, however. If found guilty a national icon with millions of diehard supporters could have been barred from elected office.

Babar Sattar, a lawyer who was recently reprimanded by the court for some of his newspaper columns, said the court had stepped up its efforts to quell mounting public criticism with contempt laws that are barely used in other parts of the world.

"The court is trying to control the narrative at a time when criticism is mounting, and to a certain extent it has succeeded," he said, claiming newspapers are carefully vetting articles on the supreme court before they are published.

One person who could afford to throw caution to the wind was controversial billionaire property tycoon Malik Riaz Hussain, who last June launched a blistering assault on the chief justice.

He produced reams of documents detailing how Chaudhry's son, a doctor-turned-businessman called Arsalan, had accepted gifts from him worth more than £2m in the form of stays in luxury London flats, hotels in Park Lane and gambling debts in Monte Carlo.

Riaz said he had been effectively bribed by Arsalan, who was trading on his father's name for favours. Chaudhry responded, initially with a suo motu investigation that he led himself, before recusing himself from the case.

Although the investigation has since gone quiet, some suspect the many enemies Chaudhry has made in the legal profession and politics will try to get the issue revived after he steps down in December.

Most lawyers are anticipating calmer times under a new chief justice, with fewer challenges to the authority of government and parliament.

"The supreme court has evolved under Chaudhry into one of the country's paramount institutions, and I don't think that's going to change," said Sattar. "But criticism of this chief justice and his suo motu reign has focused attention on some big problems and I think the next chief justice will want to address some of them."

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« Reply #8374 on: Aug 28, 2013, 07:19 AM »

August 27, 2013

Spices’ Link to Food Ills Prompts Changes in Farming


IDUKKI, India — Spices grown in the mist-shrouded Western Ghats here have fueled wars, fortunes and even the discovery of continents, and for thousands of years farmers harvested them in the same traditional ways. Until now.

Science has revealed what ancient kings and sultans never knew: instead of improving health, spices sometimes make people very sick, so Indian government officials are quietly pushing some of the most far-reaching changes ever in the way farmers here pick, dry and thresh their rich bounty.

The United States Food and Drug Administration will soon release a comprehensive analysis that pinpoints imported spices, found in just about every kitchen in the Western world, as a surprisingly potent source of salmonella poisoning.

In a study of more than 20,000 food shipments, the food agency found that nearly 7 percent of spice lots were contaminated with salmonella, twice the average of all other imported foods. Some 15 percent of coriander and 12 percent of oregano and basil shipments were contaminated, with high contamination levels also found in sesame seeds, curry powder and cumin. Four percent of black pepper shipments were contaminated.

Each year, 1.2 million people in the United States become sick from salmonella, one of the most common causes of food-borne illness. More than 23,000 are hospitalized and 450 die. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps that begin 12 to 36 hours after infection and can last three to five days. Death can result when infection spreads from the intestines to the bloodstream and affects vital organs. Infants and older people are most at risk.

Mexico and India had the highest share of contaminated spices. About 14 percent of the samples from Mexico contained salmonella, the study found, a result Mexican officials disputed.

India’s exports were the second-most contaminated, at approximately 9 percent, but India ships nearly four times the amount of spices to the United States that Mexico does, so its contamination problems are particularly worrisome, officials said. Nearly one-quarter of the spices, oils and food colorings used in the United States comes from India.

The findings, the result of a three-year study that F.D.A. officials have on occasion discussed publicly and recently published in the journal Food Microbiology, form an important part of the spice analysis that will be made public “soon,” agency officials said.

“Salmonella is a widespread problem with respect to imported spices,” Michael Taylor, deputy F.D.A. commissioner for food, said in an interview. “We have decided that spices are one of the significant issues we need to be addressing right now.”

Westerners are particularly vulnerable to contaminated spices because pepper and other spices are added at the table, so bacterial hitchhikers are consumed live and unharmed. Bacteria do not survive high temperatures, so contaminated spices present fewer problems when added during cooking, as is typical in the cuisine of India and most other Asian countries.

Mexico’s chief of food safety inspections insisted that Mexican spices are checked daily and are safe, although a separate study found high levels of salmonella contamination in some Mexican vegetables.

“We have a constant, daily scheme of verification” of food products, said Álvaro Pérez Vega, sanitary operations commissioner at Mexico’s Federal Commission for the Protection Against Sanitary Risk. “We don’t have reports of spices or condiments being out of norm,” he added.

In India, the world’s largest producer, consumer and exporter of spices, government officials are taking Washington’s concerns seriously.

“The world wants safe spices, and we are committed to making that happen,” said Dr. A. Jayathilak, chairman of the Spices Board of India, a government agency that regulates and promotes spices.

F.D.A. tests found that contaminated spices tend to have many more salmonella types than is typically found on contaminated meat. The agency, which visually inspects less than 1 percent of all imported foods and performs lab tests on a tiny fraction, rejects imports with any signs of salmonella contamination because as few as 10 cells have been shown to cause serious illness.

Illnesses caused by spices are hard to trace. When asked what might have made them sick, people rarely think to mention adding pepper to a salad. Spices sit on kitchen shelves indefinitely, so linking illnesses that can occur years apart is often impossible.

But sophisticated DNA sequencing of salmonella types is finally allowing food officials to pinpoint spices as a cause of repeated outbreaks, including one in 2010 involving black and red pepper that sickened more than 250 people in 44 states. After a 2009 outbreak linked to white pepper, an inspection found that salmonella had colonized much of the Union City, Calif., spice processing facility at the heart of the outbreak.

The United States is one of the world’s largest spice importers, bringing in 326 metric tons in 2012 valued at $1.1 billion, according to the Department of Agriculture. Of those imports, which account for more than 80 percent of the total United States spice supply, 19 percent were from India and 5 percent from Mexico.

The F.D.A. now has offices in New Delhi and Mumbai, and its commissioner, Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, intends to visit soon.

New agency rules governing imported foods have given the agency the power to restrict imports based solely on suspicion that foods may be unsafe, a powerful cudgel to demand changes.

On a tour through a tropical landscape teeming with pepper and cardamom farms, rubber plantations, tea estates and wild elephants, Indian spice officials showed some voluntary changes they are pushing.

The first stop was Noble Joseph’s 10-acre pepper farm, about a four-hour drive from the southwestern port city of Kochi, in the state of Kerala, up several thousand feet of twisting mountain roads.

Mr. Joseph’s hilly farm is dominated by slim silver oaks and erythrina trees planted every eight feet; each tree is encircled by four or five pepper vines.

During harvest season, starting in February, 15 workers cram into a small farmhouse for nearly two months and use long, single-rail bamboo ladders to pluck the pepper seeds from the vines as high as 40 feet.

Not so long ago, pepper farmers almost universally dried the seeds on bamboo mats or dirt floors and then gathered them for manual threshing. Dirt, dung and salmonella were simply part of the harvest, so much so that in 1987, the F.D.A. blocked shipments of black pepper from India. The ban was lifted two years later, after the Indian government began a testing program.

Now, the Josephs boil their harvest in water to clean the kernels, speed drying and encourage a uniform color. They are then placed on tarps spread over a concrete slab with nets above to catch bird droppings. Ovens would be even more sanitary, but ovens and electricity are expensive “and sunlight is free,” Mr. Joseph said.

The spices board underwrites a third of the cost of concrete slabs, tarps and mechanical threshers, and since most farms are smaller than an acre, it has organized growers’ cooperatives to pool facilities. Board officials recently attended F.D.A. training seminars in Maryland.

Salmonella can survive indefinitely on dried spices, and killing the bacterium on the craggy surface of dried peppercorns without ruining their taste is especially challenging.

Government officials in India emphasized in interviews that spices slated for export are often treated to kill any bacteria. Such treatments include steam-heating, irradiation or ethylene oxide gas. But F.D.A. inspectors have found high levels of salmonella contamination in shipments said to have received such treatments, documents show. Much of the contaminated pepper in the 2010 outbreak had been treated with steam and ethylene oxide and had been certified as tested and safe, officials said.

At another spice farm, in the village of Chemmanar, Bipin Sebastian is in the midst of a four-year transition to organic farming in hope of earning a premium price for his pepper, cloves, cardamom, turmeric and coffee. Mr. Sebastian says he has used government subsidies to buy tarps, netting and a machine thresher.

“We used to put our pepper directly on the ground,” Mr. Sebastian said. “Now, we put down tarps and netting over it to protect it from the birds. And I’ve been getting a higher price. It’s been great.”

Hari Kumar contributed reporting from Kerala, India, and Karla Zabludovsky from Mexico City.

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« Reply #8375 on: Aug 28, 2013, 07:21 AM »

Chinese general's son in gang-rape trial

Li Tianyi, 17, denies raping woman in Beijing hotel with four other men as high-profile case gets under way

Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing, Wednesday 28 August 2013 11.28 BST   

A prominent Chinese general's teenage son accused of gang-rape denied the charges against him as his trial began on Wednesday, in a case that has triggered outrage about entitlement and misbehaviour among the country's privileged elite.

Li Tianyi, 17, stands accused of raping a woman in a Beijing hotel with four other men in February. Li claimed that he was drunk at the time and had no knowledge of the incident, according to state media reports.

Li's father, Li Shuangjiang, is a People's Liberation Army general and the dean of the music department at the army's Academy of Arts. His mother, prominent singer Meng Ge, was present at the Beijing courthouse on Wednesday, but refused to answer reporters' questions, according to China's state newswire Xinhua. The proceedings will not be made public because the defendant is an adolescent, Xinhua said.

The complainant did not appear in court for health-related reasons, her lawyer told the newswire. Li's family members have said that she was a bar hostess and argued that the case is one of prostitution, not rape.

The children of China's moneyed and powerful elite, often pejoratively referred to as "second-generation rich", are routinely represented in China's media and online chatrooms as spoiled, reckless and confident that their family connections put them above the law.

Li's case sparked controversy in July, when Tsinghua University law professor Yi Yanyou wrote on his microblog that the rape was less harmful because of the woman's profession. "Chaste women and prostitutes have different views on chasteness," he told the Wall Street Journal after the post went viral, "so [rape has] a different impact on them."

Li Tianyi was the second most-read topic on Sina Weibo, China's most popular microblog, on Wednesday afternoon; it has dominated Chinese newspaper headlines for weeks. This month the Beijing Times quoted an "insider" as revealing details of the rape. The report said Li and his friends forced the complainant into a hotel room and beat her after she refused to take off her clothes. Li allegedly raped her first then his friends followed. They allegedly gave the woman 2,000 yuan (about £200) and dumped her on the roadside.

Li has been in the spotlight before – in 2011 he and a friend, driving expensive cars without licences, attacked a couple that allegedly stood in their way as their five-year-old child looked on helplessly. Li was detained for assault and spent a year in a correctional facility, according to state media. His father offered the couple compensation.

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« Reply #8376 on: Aug 28, 2013, 07:23 AM »

Officials now say New Zealand milk scare was a false alarm

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, August 28, 2013 7:28 EDT

A botulism scare that sparked global recalls of Fonterra milk products was a false alarm and there was never any danger to consumers, New Zealand officials said on Wednesday after new tests.

The crisis led to infant formula being taken off shelves from China to Saudi Arabia earlier this month and damaged New Zealand’s “clean, green” reputation in key Asian markets.

However, New Zealand’s Ministry of Primary Industries said a barrage of tests ordered after it sounded the alarm had confirmed the contaminant was not the potentially fatal clostridium botulinum, but a milder bug called clostridium sporogenes.

“It is therefore not capable of producing botulism-causing toxins,” the ministry said in a statement.

“There are no known food-safety issues associated with clostridium sporogenes, although at elevated levels certain strains may be associated with food spoilage.”

It said the initial tests had pointed to botulism contamination but subsequent checks on a further 195 samples in laboratories in New Zealand and the United States showed no sign of the bacteria.

“We are very, very relieved that this is not a food-safety issue and that none of the children in the world were affected by this event,” Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings told reporters.

The dairy industry accounts for about a quarter of New Zealand’s exports and ministry acting director-general Scott Gallacher said officials had been right to issue a public warning early.

“We needed to act on what we knew at that time,” he said. “The information we had then said there was a food-safety risk to consumers and we moved quickly to address it.”

Spierings, who rushed to Beijing at the height of the crisis to apologise to Chinese consumers, agreed, saying quick recalls and transparency on the issue had helped reassure anxious parents.

“Not many people would have taken this drastic step but for us, even the risk that one child in the world (falls sick) is unacceptable,” he said.

He said the fact that Fonterra effectively “blew the whistle on ourselves” would help restore its image in places such as China, where the baby formula market is worth about NZ$3.0 billion ($2.4 billion) a year to New Zealand.

The Fonterra chief said the tests that incorrectly identified botulism, sparking the global recalls, were carried out by a New Zealand government agency called AgResearch.

Asked if the dairy giant was considering legal action against the agency after the scare saw it scrambling to maintain its international reputation, he replied: “It’s too early to say.”

Spierings also refused to say whether a senior executive, Gary Romano, who quit after the recalls, and two other managers placed on leave, would be reinstated.

Fonterra faced criticism from the New Zealand government over its handling of the crisis and Spierings said reviews by officials and the company were still being carried out.

The company is sensitive to contamination issues after a 2008 scandal when six children died and 300,000 fell ill after a Chinese company it part-owned illegally laced milk with the chemical melamine.

“The past few weeks have been very difficult for parents in a number of countries, as well as for our customers, our farmers, and our staff,” said Spierings.

“For me, as Fonterra’s CEO and as a father of three children, I truly believe that in initiating the recall, we took the right decision and did the right thing at the most critical moment.

“Given the same circumstances, and with food safety always front of mind, I would do the same again.”
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« Reply #8377 on: Aug 28, 2013, 07:28 AM »

Panama Canal arms cargo was for North Korea to keep, say experts

Examination proves fighter jets, parts and missiles hidden on ship leaving Cuba were not for repair and return, report argues

Associated Press in Washington, Wednesday 28 August 2013 05.09 BST   
Fighter jets and parts seized from a ship in Panama were likely intended for use by North Korea, an apparent violation of UN sanctions, an arms control institute has said.

The findings by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute contradict Cuba's claim that it was only sending equipment to North Korea for repairs and expected it to be returned. The contraband hidden in a cargo of sugar included MiG aircraft and motors, missiles and anti-aircraft missile systems.

UN sanctions forbid North Korea from trading arms to deprive it of technology and revenue because of its pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. If the Cuban equipment was intended for North Korean use it would suggest Pyongyang is struggling to maintain its ageing conventional armaments.

The ship, Chong Chon Gang, was intercepted on 15 July in the Panama Canal with 25 containers of Cuban military equipment found beneath the 10,000 tonnes of sugar. The equipment was not listed on the ship's manifest.

Experts at the Stockholm institute say they have seen a report and photographs compiled by Panamanian authorities and the UN Organisation on Drugs and Crime concerning what was found in the containers. The institute's experts said there was other cargo not mentioned by Cuban officials in public statements, including items of ammunition for rocket-propelled grenades and conventional artillery, much of it in mint condition and in the original packing cases.

"They clearly were not 'to be repaired and returned to Cuba,'" the institute says in an analysis.

The analysis was published ib Tuesday by 38 North, the website for the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. It was written by Hugh Griffiths, who heads the Stockholm institute's program on countering illicit trafficking, and Roope Siiritola, a research intern.

After the seizure, Cuba said the cargo included "obsolete defensive weapons" including two MiG-21 jet aircraft and 15 motors, nine missiles in parts and two anti-aircraft systems, all being sent to North Korea "to be repaired and returned". North Korea said it had a "legitimate contract" to overhaul "ageing weapons" and return them to Cuba.

UN sanctions state that members shall prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of all arms and materiel to North Korea, including related spare parts but excluding small arms and light weapons.

The Stockholm institute says the MiG fuselages were packed carelessly, with no padding to protect the extremities from damage at sea, suggesting there were intended to be dismantled for spare parts. The engines were more securely attached and protected, suggesting they were intended to be used as replacements.

The institute says North Korea has a track record of attempted illicit or clandestine procurement of the MiG engines and aircraft, including two other reported instances since 2009 and another in 1999. The July seizure came less than two weeks after a North Korean military delegation met the Cuban leader, Raul Castro, in Havana on 2 July.

In mid-August a UN panel of experts monitoring sanctions against North Korea travelled to Panama to investigate the arms seizure. Their report has yet to be made public. If they find sanctions have been violated they could recommend the security council add individuals or entities involved to a UN sanctions list. Member states may then follow up by imposing travel and financial restrictions on them.

Years of sanctions have restricted if not stopped North Korea's sale of arms in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, as well as hurting its ability to procure conventional military equipment, including for its air force.

The latest arms seizure "tells us the North Koreans are pretty desperate when it comes to air force procurement. They are scraping the bottom of the barrel," Griffiths told the Associated Press.

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« Reply #8378 on: Aug 28, 2013, 07:30 AM »

Bolivian senator's bolt to Brazil sparks diplomatic row

Roger Pinto – accused of corruption – escaped across border after spending 452 days at Brazilian embassy in La Paz

Jonathan Watts in Rio de Janeiro, Tuesday 27 August 2013 19.45 BST   

A controversial asylum seeker, a Latin American embassy and a daring escape from the authorities. The ingredients of the diplomatic drama that has just forced the resignation of Brazilian foreign minister Antonio Patriota may sound familiar, even appealing, to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

But the repercussions are now shaking two of South America's staunchest allies. Brazil and Bolivia are at odds over the flight of Roger Pinto, a Bolivian senator who had for 452 days been seeking asylum at the Brazilian embassy in La Paz.

Like Assange at the Ecuadorean embassy in London and Snowden at Moscow airport, the opposition politician was stuck in diplomatic limbo while governments wrangled over his fate.

Although Brazil offered temporary refuge, Bolivia refused safe passage across its borders, saying Pinto had to face accusations of corruption and 13 other criminal charges.

But Pinto escaped this weekend in a 22-hour dash to the border in the car of a sympathetic Brazilian official, who used his diplomatic immunity to protect him.

That diplomat, Eduardo Saboia, said he was moved to take action because Pinto had grown dangerously depressed as a result of his near-15-month confinement in a small room in the embassy.

"I took the decision to conduct this operation, because there was an imminent risk to life and dignity of senator," he told local media.

The intervention has prompted an angry response by Bolivian officials, who accused Brazil of violating international agreements. The Brazilian government claims it had no prior knowledge of the escape, which it described to local media as a "disaster". An inquiry has been launched and heads have started to roll.

After a 50-minute meeting with President Dilma Rousseff, Patriota took responsibility by standing down as foreign minister on Monday. He will swap jobs with Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, a veteran diplomat and climate negotiator who is the head of Brazil's UN mission in Washington.

The foreign ministry had reportedly decided in June not to arrange asylum unless the Bolivian government promised safe passage.

Now, faced with an apparent fait accompli, Brazil said it would not extradite Pinto, who claims he is victim of political persecution because he accused Bolivian president Evo Morales of links to drug cartels.

How many people were involved in the escape remains unclear. The chairman of Brazil's senate foreign relations committee reportedly met Pinto at the border on Sunday morning and flew with him on a private jet to Brasilia.

In a two-page letter released after his arrival, Pinto thanked Rousseff for granting asylum and the Brazilian ambassador in La Paz, Marcel Biato, for "protecting me and giving me security and shelter". But he expressed the most appreciation to Saboia, whom he described as a "brave and intelligent man" who knew the risk he was exposing himself to.

Foreign ministry officials are now interviewing Saboia and are expected to announced punitive measures.

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In the USA...

ACLU seeks to rein in NSA mass surveillance

By Karen McVeigh, The Guardian
Tuesday, August 27, 2013 20:25 EDT

The National Security Agency’s mass tracking and collection of Americans’ phone call data violates the constitution, has a chilling effect on first amendment rights and should be halted, accord to a court motion filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on Monday.

In a detailed, legal critique of the NSA programme, the ACLU warned that such long-term surveillance “permits the government to assemble a richly detailed profile of every person living in the United States and to draw a comprehensive map of their associations with one another.”

The motion is part of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU in June, one of several against the NSA following the Guardian’s disclosures via whistleblower Edward Snowden, of the agency’s mass surveillance of US citizens. Documents from Snowden revealed a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order directing Verizon to give the NSA all call detail records or “metadata” relating to every domestic and international call for three months, in a court direction that is renewed on an ongoing basis.

It “allows surveillance that is essentially indefinite”, the motion says.

The ACLU document is peppered with quotes from literary, academic and other sources, to illustrate the danger of mass surveillance by the government, including the writings of George Orwell and The Lives of Others, an award-winning movie about the monitoring of East Berlin by the Stazi by director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck.

In statements after the programme was disclosed, intelligence and government officials have stressed that the NSA does not collect the contents of US calls, only the “metadata”, such as the numbers called, the duration and timing of the calls. The information, they say, can only be interrogated if they suspect terrorism.

The legal motion argues that the NSA programme, which the agency says is used for counter-terrorism, has overstepped its bounds. Quoting Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin, the author of the Patriot Act in 2001, it says the NSA has “scoop[ed] up the entire ocean to . . . catch a fish.”

The motion says: “The chilling effect of the mass call-tracking program is apparent: any person hoping to approach plaintiffs with proof of official misconduct would be understandably wary knowing that the government receives, almost in real-time, a record of every telephone call.”

The ACLU’s clients include prospective whistleblowers seeking legal counsel, and “government employees fearing reprisals for their political views”. Phone calls, even the mere fact that a call was made, from such clients are “particularly sensitive or confidential”, it said.

A declaration in support of the motion by Edward Felten, a professor of computer science and public affairs at Princeton, warns that “even basic inspection” of the metadata on the calls made in the US each day allows the government to pry into the population’s most intimate secrets. They include, Felten wrote, the “rise and fall of intimate relationships” the diagnosis of a life-threatening disease or the identity of a prospective government whistleblower.

It can reveal, Felten wrote, “when we are awake and asleep; our religion, if a person regularly makes no calls on the Sabbath, or makes a large number of calls on Christmas Day; our work habits and our social aptitude; the number of friends we have; and even our civil and political affiliations”.

Calls to certain helplines, or support groups, for instance sexual assault, domestic violence or abortion clinics are all tracked by the NSA, the motion says.

The NSA’s mass collection of phone metadata was approved by the Fisa Court but the ACLU says that part of the basis for the court’s approval, a Supreme Court ruling called Smith vs Maryland 1979, involved narrow surveillance directed at a specific criminal suspect over a limited time period.

It argues that nothing in Smith “remotely suggests that the constitution allows the government’s mass collection of sensitive information about every single phone call made or received by residents of the United States over a period of seven years.”

It says that the Supreme Court has “repeatedly recognised” that the government’s surveillance and investigatory activities can infringe on associational rights protected by the first amendment.

The ACLU’s lawsuit, filed on 11 June 2013, names James Clapper, the director of intelligence; Keith Alexander, the NSA director; Chuck Hagel, the defence secretary; Eric Holder; the attorney general and Robert Mueller, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It says that the NSA’s ongoing tracking of their phone calls exceeds statutory authority and violates the first and fourth amendments. © Guardian News and Media 2013


Outgoing U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano warns of ‘major cyber event’

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, August 27, 2013 15:42 EDT

Outgoing US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Tuesday warned of a “major cyber event” in the future that would have a “serious” impact on American society.

In what she described as “a kind of open letter to my successor,” Napolitano warned of terrorist threats, major weather events and the need to reinforce US border security.

“Our country will, for example, at some point, face a major cyber event that will have a serious effect on our lives, our economy, and the everyday functioning of our society,” she said.

The administration has yet to name a successor for Napolitano, who resigned in July and will leave office next month after more than four years as the head of the Department of Homeland Security.

Created after the September 11, 2001, attacks, the department plays a key role, not only in guarding borders and preventing terror attacks, but also in the response to natural disasters.

Napolitano warned of the “increasing likelihood of more weather-related events of a more severe nature as a result of climate change.”

Napolitano’s departure comes at a critical time, as Congress debates a major overhaul of the country’s immigration system that would offer a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Possible replacements include New York police chief Ray Kelly, former US Coast Guard commandant Thad Allen and William Bratton, a former Los Angeles police chief, New York police commissioner and Boston police commissioner.

Other possible candidates include former independent senator Joe Lieberman and senior Homeland Security officials John Pistole and Craig Fugate.


Obama administration asks court to force New York Times reporter to reveal source

By Ed Pilkington, The Guardian
Tuesday, August 27, 2013 20:18 EDT

The Obama administration is trying to dissuade federal judges from giving the New York Times reporter James Risen one last chance to avoid having to disclose his source in a criminal trial over the alleged leaking of US state secrets.

The Department of Justice has filed a legal argument with the US appeals court for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, in which it strongly opposes any further consideration of Risen’s petition. Risen’s lawyers have asked the court to convene a full session of the 15-member court to decide whether the journalist should be granted First Amendment protection that would spare him from having to reveal the identity of his source to whom he promised confidentiality.

A three-member panel of the same court last month issued a 2-1 majority ruling in which they found that reporters had no privilege that would safeguard the confidentiality of their sources in a criminal trial. The judgement leaves Risen, a prominent investigative reporter specialising in national security issues, facing the prospect of having to break his promise to his source or go to jail.

The legal crunch emerged from Risen’s 2006 book, State of War, in which the author reveals details of the CIA’s attempts to foil Iran’s nuclear programme. James Sterling, a former CIA employee, is being prosecuted under the Espionage Act for the criminal disclosure of the information – one of seven officials to face the severe charges under the Obama administration including Chelsea Manning who has been sentenced to 35 years in military jail as the WikiLeaks source.

In a 26-page filing, the US prosecutor Neil Macbride and his team argue that Risen has no grounds to be offered a full hearing of the appeals court because there is no such thing as a reporters’ privilege in a criminal trial. They insist that the New York Times journalist was the only eyewitness to the leaking crimes of which Sterling has been charged and under previous case law has no right to claim First Amendment protection.

“Risen’s eyewitness testimony is essential proof of the disputed identity of the perpetrator that cannot be duplicated or replaced by other evidence in the case,” MacBride writes.

The DoJ’s robust attempt to block any further legal discussion about Risen’s plight will add to the impression that the Obama administration is determined to stamp on official leaking regardless of its implications for press freedom – a syndrome that some critics have dubbed a “war on whistleblowing”. Risen’s lawyers argue that the hardline approach conflicts with the Justice Department’s own recent guidelines in which it talks of a need for balance between pursuing leakers while “safeguarding the essential role of a free press in fostering government accountability in an open society”. © Guardian News and Media 2013


August 27, 2013

The Lasting Power of Dr. King’s Dream Speech


It was late in the day and hot, and after a long march and an afternoon of speeches about federal legislation, unemployment and racial and social justice, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. finally stepped to the lectern, in front of the Lincoln Memorial, to address the crowd of 250,000 gathered on the National Mall.

He began slowly, with magisterial gravity, talking about what it was to be black in America in 1963 and the “shameful condition” of race relations a hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Unlike many of the day’s previous speakers, he did not talk about particular bills before Congress or the marchers’ demands. Instead, he situated the civil rights movement within the broader landscape of history — time past, present and future — and within the timeless vistas of Scripture.

Dr. King was about halfway through his prepared speech when Mahalia Jackson — who earlier that day had delivered a stirring rendition of the spiritual “I Been ’Buked and I Been Scorned” — shouted out to him from the speakers’ stand: “Tell ’em about the ‘Dream,’ Martin, tell ’em about the ‘Dream’!” She was referring to a riff he had delivered on earlier occasions, and Dr. King pushed the text of his remarks to the side and began an extraordinary improvisation on the dream theme that would become one of the most recognizable refrains in the world.

With his improvised riff, Dr. King took a leap into history, jumping from prose to poetry, from the podium to the pulpit. His voice arced into an emotional crescendo as he turned from a sobering assessment of current social injustices to a radiant vision of hope — of what America could be. “I have a dream,” he declared, “my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!”

Many in the crowd that afternoon, 50 years ago on Wednesday, had taken buses and trains from around the country. Many wore hats and their Sunday best — “People then,” the civil rights leader John Lewis would recall, “when they went out for a protest, they dressed up” — and the Red Cross was passing out ice cubes to help alleviate the sweltering August heat. But if people were tired after a long day, they were absolutely electrified by Dr. King. There was reverent silence when he began speaking, and when he started to talk about his dream, they called out, “Amen,” and, “Preach, Dr. King, preach,” offering, in the words of his adviser Clarence B. Jones, “every version of the encouragements you would hear in a Baptist church multiplied by tens of thousands.”

You could feel “the passion of the people flowing up to him,” James Baldwin, a skeptic of that day’s March on Washington, later wrote, and in that moment, “it almost seemed that we stood on a height, and could see our inheritance; perhaps we could make the kingdom real.”

Dr. King’s speech was not only the heart and emotional cornerstone of the March on Washington, but also a testament to the transformative powers of one man and the magic of his words. Fifty years later, it is a speech that can still move people to tears. Fifty years later, its most famous lines are recited by schoolchildren and sampled by musicians. Fifty years later, the four words “I have a dream” have become shorthand for Dr. King’s commitment to freedom, social justice and nonviolence, inspiring activists from Tiananmen Square to Soweto, Eastern Europe to the West Bank.

Why does Dr. King’s “Dream” speech exert such a potent hold on people around the world and across the generations? Part of its resonance resides in Dr. King’s moral imagination. Part of it resides in his masterly oratory and gift for connecting with his audience — be they on the Mall that day in the sun or watching the speech on television or, decades later, viewing it online. And part of it resides in his ability, developed over a lifetime, to convey the urgency of his arguments through language richly layered with biblical and historical meanings.

The son, grandson and great-grandson of Baptist ministers, Dr. King was comfortable with the black church’s oral tradition, and he knew how to read his audience and react to it; he would often work jazzlike improvisations around favorite sermonic riffs — like the “dream” sequence — cutting and pasting his own words and those of others. At the same time, the sonorous cadences and ringing, metaphor-rich language of the King James Bible came instinctively to him. Quotations from the Bible, along with its vivid imagery, suffused his writings, and he used them to put the sufferings of African-Americans in the context of Scripture — to give black audience members encouragement and hope, and white ones a visceral sense of identification.

In his “Dream” speech, Dr. King alludes to a famous passage from Galatians, when he speaks of “that day when all of God’s children — black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics — will be able to join hands.” As he did in many of his sermons, he also drew parallels between “the Negro” still an “exile in his own land” and the plight of the Israelites in Exodus, who, with God on their side, found deliverance from hardship and oppression, escaping slavery in Egypt to journey toward the Promised Land.

The entire March on Washington speech reverberates with biblical rhythms and parallels, and bristles with a panoply of references to other historical and literary texts that would have resonated with his listeners. In addition to allusions to the prophets Isaiah (“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low”) and Amos (“We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream”), there are echoes of the Declaration of Independence (“the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”); Shakespeare (“this sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent”); and popular songs like Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” (“Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York,” “Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California”).

Such references added amplification and depth of field to the speech, much the way T. S. Eliot’s myriad allusions in “The Waste Land” add layered meaning to that poem. Dr. King, who had a doctorate in theology and once contemplated a career in academia, was shaped by both his childhood in his father’s church and his later studies of disparate thinkers like Reinhold Niebuhr, Gandhi and Hegel. Along the way, he developed a gift for synthesizing assorted ideas and motifs and making them his own — a gift that enabled him to address many different audiences at once, while making ideas that some might find radical somehow familiar and accessible. It was a gift that in some ways mirrored his abilities as the leader of the civil rights movement, tasked with holding together often contentious factions (from more militant figures like Stokely Carmichael to more conservative ones like Roy Wilkins), while finding a way to balance the concerns of grass-roots activists with the need to forge a working alliance with the federal government.

At the same time, Dr. King was also able to nestle his arguments within a historical continuum, lending them the authority of tradition and the weight of association. For some, in his audience, the articulation of his dream for America would have evoked conscious or unconscious memories of Langston Hughes’s call in a 1935 poem to “let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed” and W. E. B. Du Bois’s description of the “wonderful America, which the founding fathers dreamed.” His final lines in the March on Washington speech come from a Negro spiritual reminding listeners of slaves’ sustaining faith in the possibility of liberation: “Free at last, free at last; thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”

For those less familiar with African-American music and literature, there were allusions with immediate, patriotic connotations. Much the way Lincoln redefined the founders’ vision of America in his Gettysburg Address by invoking the Declaration of Independence, so Dr. King in his “Dream” speech makes references to both the Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of Independence. These deliberate echoes helped universalize the moral underpinnings of the civil rights movement and emphasized that its goals were only as revolutionary as the founding fathers’ original vision of the United States. Dr. King’s dream for America’s “citizens of color” was no more, no less than the American Dream of a country where “all men are created equal.”

As for Dr. King’s quotation of “My Country, ’Tis of Thee” — an almost de facto national anthem, familiar even to children — it underscored civil rights workers’ patriotic belief in the project of reinventing America. For Dr. King, it might have elicited personal memories, too. The night his home was bombed during the bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., endangering the lives of his wife, Coretta, and their infant daughter, he calmed the crowd gathered in front of their house, saying, “I want you to love our enemies.” Some of his supporters reportedly broke into song, including hymns and “My Country, ’Tis of Thee.”

The March on Washington and Dr. King’s “Dream” speech would play an important role in helping pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the pivotal Selma to Montgomery march that he led in 1965 would provide momentum for the passage later that year of the Voting Rights Act. Though Dr. King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, his exhausting schedule (he had been giving hundreds of speeches a year) and his frustration with schisms in the civil rights movement and increasing violence in the country led to growing weariness and depression before his assassination in 1968.

The knowledge that Dr. King gave his life to the cause lends an added poignancy to the experience of hearing his speeches today. And so does being reminded now — in the second term of Barack Obama’s presidency — of the dire state of race relations in the early 1960s, when towns in the South still had separate schools, restaurants, hotels and bathrooms for blacks and whites, and discrimination in housing and employment was prevalent across the country. Only two and a half months before the “Dream” speech, Gov. George Wallace had stood in a doorway at the University of Alabama in an attempt to block two black students from trying to register; the next day the civil rights activist Medgar Evers was assassinated in front of his home in Jackson, Miss.

President Obama, who once wrote about his mother’s coming home “with books on the civil rights movement, the recordings of Mahalia Jackson, the speeches of Dr. King,” has described the leaders of the movement as “giants whose shoulders we stand on.” Some of his own speeches owe a clear debt to Dr. King’s ideas and words.

In his 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote address, which brought him to national attention, Mr. Obama channeled Dr. King’s vision of hope, speaking of coming “together as one American family.” In his 2008 speech about race, he talked, much as Dr. King had, of continuing “on the path of a more perfect union.” And in his 2007 speech commemorating the 1965 Selma march, he echoed Dr. King’s remarks about Exodus, describing Dr. King and the other civil rights leaders as members of the Moses generation who “pointed the way” and “took us 90 percent of the way there.” He and his contemporaries were their heirs, Mr. Obama said — they were members of the Joshua generation with the responsibility of finishing “the journey Moses had begun.”

Dr. King knew it would not be easy to “transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood” — difficulties that persist today with new debates over voter registration laws and the Trayvon Martin shooting. Dr. King probably did not foresee a black president celebrating the 50th anniversary of his speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial, and surely did not foresee a monument to himself just a short walk away. But he did dream of a future in which the country embarked on “the sunlit path of racial justice,” and he foresaw, with bittersweet prescience, that 1963, as he put it, was “not an end, but a beginning.”


August 27, 2013

Medicaid Expansion Battle in Michigan Ends in Passage


CHICAGO — The fierce struggle among Republicans over whether to make Medicaid available to more low-income people played out in Michigan on Tuesday as the Republican governor, Rick Snyder, narrowly succeeded in swaying enough conservative senators in the State Legislature to accept the expansion, which was part of President Obama’s health care law.

Mr. Snyder’s preferred bill — one he had lobbied for intensely for months — initially fell short by one vote, but the governor salvaged a deal hours later. The vote in the Republican-controlled Senate was 20 to 18, with only 8 Republicans in favor. The Michigan House, which had earlier approved a similar measure, will need to vote on the Senate version before Mr. Snyder can sign the bill.

“The Affordable Care Act has probably been one of the most divisive issues that our country has faced in the last few years, and many people do have strong opinions both for and against,” Mr. Snyder said after the vote. “I just ask that all Michiganders step back and look to say this isn’t about the Affordable Care Act. This is about one element that we control here in Michigan that we can make a difference in here in people’s lives.”

While the authors of the federal health care law intended to expand Medicaid, the federal and state health program for poor people, and at least initially pay for the expansion, the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that states could opt out, setting up a struggle that has played out in the states largely along partisan lines.

Like Mr. Snyder, some Republican governors have found themselves at odds with their own party’s legislative caucuses in state capitals like Lansing that are dominated by Republicans.

In Arizona, which eventually approved an expansion, Gov. Jan Brewer found vehement opposition from some lawmakers. In Florida, legislators have resisted expansion, despite Gov. Rick Scott’s support. And in Ohio, Gov. John R. Kasich’s push for expansion has so far not been successful.

For months, the fight in Michigan, which has the nation’s 10-largest uninsured population, has been intense. Mr. Snyder, a former businessman in his first term, said the expansion would ultimately save money, control medical costs and help the state’s economy. That pitted him against more conservative members of his own party, and led some Tea Party leaders in the state to say he will lose support if he seeks re-election next year.

On the floor of the Michigan Senate on Tuesday, the debate was heated, though lawmakers said the discussions — particularly those within the Republican caucus — had been even more tense behind closed doors.

Advocates praised the measure as fiscally sensible for the state, given the promise of federal money, and crucial for hundreds of thousands of low-income residents without insurance.

Already, Medicaid covers more than 1.8 million people in the state, Michigan officials said, and the expansion would ultimately grant coverage to more than 400,000 others. People making up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level — or about $15,500 a year for a single person — would newly be covered.

“It’s a benefit to every person in the state of Michigan,” said State Senator Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic leader, said on the floor. “It’s good public policy, and it makes good fiscal sense.”

Senator Roger Kahn, a Republican, told his colleagues, “This is not Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act.” Instead, he argued, the measure will reform the costs of medicine across the state and become what he described as “a national model” for other states.

But opponents said a Medicaid expansion would represent tacit approval of Mr. Obama’s health care law. They said it would encourage big government and be an irresponsible promise of spending by Michigan in the years ahead. Senator Mike Green, a Republican, described the plan as a promise of “federal funny money.”

And Senator Patrick J. Colbeck, another Republican opponent, said, “We’re spending money we do not have,” adding, “And we’re forcing decisions right now onto our youth.”

In June, the Michigan House approved the Medicaid expansion with support from Democrats and enough members from that chamber’s Republican majority. But the State Senate, where Republicans hold 26 of 38 seats, moved more slowly, with some conservative Republicans openly rejecting Mr. Snyder’s views, refusing to call a vote and proposing alternatives.

At one point, Mr. Snyder, who regularly promotes a gentle-sounding political philosophy of “relentless positive action,” flew home early from a trade mission to Israel and had uncharacteristically sharp words for the Senate, telling them to “take a vote, not a vacation.”

In recent days, the struggle intensified. The governor’s office took part in urgent, private conversations, lawmakers said, while advocates for and against the measure led demonstrations, ad campaigns and phone banks around Michigan.

“We firmly believe that a vote to support Medicaid expansion is a vote to support the president’s health care law,” said one opponent, Annie Patnaude, deputy state director of Americans for Prosperity-Michigan. Protesters on the other side of the issue appeared in Lansing on Tuesday, saying it was high time for a vote.


With Consumer Confidence Near a Five Year High, Boehner Threatens to Crash Economy

By: Sarah Jones
Aug. 27th, 2013

The AP announced Tuesday that Americans’ confidence is near a fiver year high on growing optimism. Oh, feeling sunny, eh? Not so fast, citizen.

Republicans are gearing up for yet another hostage taking moment, since elections don’t work for them. Republicans are threatening to crash the economy and stick the American taxpayers with another 18.9 billion dollar price tag. They don’t have a good reason for this — in fact, the reasons keep changing.

Republican lawmakers are threatening to crash the economy if ObamaCare isn’t defunded. But Speaker Boehner said Monday that he has new hostages. Boehner said that he can’t get the House to raise the debt ceiling unless changes are made to Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, farm programs and government pensions.

“I made up my mind that we weren’t going to kick the can down the road any more,” the Speaker said, as if the deficit wasn’t actually shrinking. “There is no reason for the government to run out of money. Our goal here is to stop Obamacare. Our goal here is to cut spending.”

Ah, but ObamaCare cuts the deficit. And in 2012 when Republicans were trying to repeal ObamaCare, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that “Republican legislation to repeal the overhaul — passed recently by the House — would itself boost the deficit by $109 billion from 2013 to 2022.” So add that $109 billion to the 18.9 billion they’re going to cost us by delaying raising the debt ceiling, and the Republican party is charging us billions of dollars for nothing — nothing but a seemingly endless tempter tantrum.

The debt ceiling represents money lawmakers already spent. In other words, Republicans are once again refusing to pay their own bills by refusing to raise the debt ceiling. That’s not exactly a conservative or fiscally responsible position.

Republicans like to pretend this is about “debt” and the “deficit”. It’s as if they don’t know that we all know that the defict is shrinking . You want to know which debt fear mongering Republican leaders did their part to increase the debt by 3.4 trillion dollars when the Republican Party was in charge?

    According to data compiled by Bloomberg News in 2011, Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell voted for, “Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts and Medicare prescription drug benefits. They also voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program. These initiatives added $3.4 trillion to the nation’s accumulated debt and to its current annual budget deficit of $1.5 trillion.”

In June, the month we had a huge budget surplus and Dow rallied above its all-time closing high, Standard & Poor said the shrinking deficit improved the outlook for debt and so it boosted its outlook for the U.S. government. In other words, things were looking up. It was Standard and Poor that had lowered our credit rating after the Republicans’ last debt ceiling games.

Consumer confidence is up, so it’s time for Republican killjoys to stamp the sun out, crashing the economy again because they lost yet another election and they don’t know how to tell their base the truth about the campaign promises they made.


John Boehner Claims He Is Saving America by Destroying It

By: Rmuse
Aug. 27th, 2013

Politicians are wont to talk about things that exist in thought or ideas because they have no physical or concrete existence, and speaking about things in abstract allows them to delineate them from the people they effect. Concepts like freedom, law, policy, economics, and even religion are simply abstract ideas that can be beneficial or detrimental to human beings’ lives depending on how they are applied regardless they have no physical or concrete existence. Republicans are notorious for their buzzwords and catch-phrases to manipulate their sad ignorant supporters, but it is indisputable that they never speak to or about the people their abstractions effect. In fact, Republicans never speak about people at all much less in conjunction with their abstract concepts and it is likely because if they did their supporters would realize that each and every idea they have is deleterious to Americans.

Over the past few years Republicans used the concept of deficit and debt (accounting terms) to slash programs that have caused a great deal of harm to the American people and likely they will use them again in the coming months. Republicans have brought governance to a near-standstill over abstract concepts such as sanctity of life, scandals, 2nd amendment rights, sequester, religious liberty, and even “Obamacare” that have no physical or concrete existence even though Republicans refer to them as if they have physical properties of destruction or salvation depending on their application. Even though Republicans parrot abstractions ad nauseum, they have never ever spoken about the effects they have on people because it would inform their cruel and inhuman treatment of Americans they were elected to serve.

Over the past week, Republicans talked about the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, as if it is a real thing they claim is “something we believe will destroy the country,” and the sequester that John Boehner claims is a success and will save the country. However, they cannot bring themselves to talk about the benefits this thing (Obamacare) affords tens-of-millions of Americans, or the damage their beloved sequester is wreaking on the people because their minions would learn their only goal is hurting Americans if they kill Obamacare or keep the sequester in place for the next nine years. One thing Republicans have not said is how healthcare insurance reform (Obamacare) is going to destroy the country, or how indiscriminate cuts to food, housing, and education will save the country. If they say either one affects the nation’s debt, or deficit, even those are accounting terms with no physical existence. However, the people that are denied healthcare, food, and housing assistance do have physical existence and Republicans love harming the American people.

Republicans cannot talk about their intent for eliminating Obamacare or the sequester in human terms because they are cruel, barbaric, and lack human qualities of compassion and mercy. No Republican can tell any American how providing access to healthcare insurance for 30-million people or ending pre-existing conditions will destroy this country any more than the health law reducing the deficit and creating jobs will, but it doesn’t stop them from parroting the apocalyptic warning that “Obamacare will destroy the country.” John Boehner boasts about the sequester saving America but he cannot and will not explain how withholding food from seniors and children will preserve this country for even one day. Regardless, Republicans promote their inhumane policies in abstract terms primarily because their supporters are ignorant and as cruel and inhumane as Republicans and it explains their staunch support for legislation that is damaging Americans whether it is in Congress or red-state legislatures.

It is unclear why, or when, a segment of the population became enamored with physical and mental cruelty Republicans are bound and determined to impose on half the population. It is true that Republicans were successful convincing their supporters that abstract concepts like the Affordable Care Act will destroy America, but now that the health law’s benefits are manifest, teabaggers are as opposed to its benefits as they were in 2010 and it cannot be solely because of their racial animus toward President Obama. The sequester and food stamp cuts are taking food out of the mouths of working-poor Republican supporters and yet they are as opposed to repealing the sequester’s indiscriminate cuts as their representatives in  Congress. As hard as it is to admit, a large segment of Americans are just inhumane by nature and it extends to every policy Republicans and their supporters champion and it has nothing to do with saving America and everything to do with hurting Americans.

Republicans laid waste to Americans immediately after taking control of the House in 2011 and they used misleading buzzwords to garner support from disgruntled Americans unable to comport a majority elected an African America President. Even though they used abstract concepts such as religious freedom, sanctity of life, and budget deficit, their intent was always the same; impose cruel and inhuman punishment on other Americans. John  Boehner may have been the only Republican to openly admit the GOP’s resolve was punishing the people when he cavalierly said “so be it” at news Republican’s budget would kill 1.1 million jobs, and if GOP supporters possessed an ounce of humanity they would have railed on Republicans but they clamored for more. Unfortunately, they are still clamoring for more and they are willing to shut down the government and create a credit default to prove it.

There was a time in America that the people had a semblance of compassion for their fellow citizens, and one hopes the majority of Americans are appalled  at the level of inhumanity typical of Republicans and their supporters. According to a poll, 42% of Americans self-identify as  Republicans, and it implies that over 4 out of 10 Americans support the GOP’s cruel and inhumane treatment of other Americans. It is  true that many Republican supporters fall victim to the GOP’s fear-mongering and claims that the Affordable  Care Act will destroy America, but it does not explain the number of conservative Christians who support policies that cut food stamps, meals on wheels, or school lunch programs that likely affect their Christian brothers and sisters in poverty-ridden red states.

If nothing else, one wonders why GOP and teabag supporters never ask their politicians why they fail to boast their policies’ benefits to the people, or even mention the people at all, but it is possible their racial animus toward the President is too overwhelming, and that is a tragedy. However, Republicans know their supporters are prone to believe simple concepts like “Obamacare will destroy this country” or the “sequester will save America” and rally behind abstract ideas like religious freedom, sanctity of life, and 2nd amendment rights for the sole purpose of perpetuating Republican cruel and inhumane treatment of Americans.


President Obama Refuses to Be Terrorized by GOP Debt Ceiling Threats

By: Sarah Jones
Aug. 27th, 2013

Bad news for Speaker Boehner (R-OH) and the Republican leaders – President Obama won’t be falling for their debt ceiling threat this time around, just like he didn’t fall for it last time around.

Treasure Secretary Jack Lew was on CNBC Tuesday where he reiterated that not only will the President not negotiate over raising the debt limit, but, we do not need another self-inflicted wound (courtesy of the GOP). “I will reiterate. The President made clear he is not negotiating. Since ’70 to ’89, every congress has acted to pay the bills of the United States. This Congress needs to do the same. What we need in our economy is certainty. We don’t need another self-inflicted wound.”

CNBC’s John Harwood talked to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on Tuesday, August 27th:

Transcript via CNBC with slight modifications:

LEW: John, the president has been very clear. We are not going to be negotiating over the debt limit.

HARWOOD: Both of those are total non-starters?

LEW: Congress has already authorized funding, committed us to make expenditures. We are now in the place where the only question is, will we pay the bills the united states has incurred? it is just the only way to do that is for Congress to act. For it to act quickly. What we need in our economy is certainty. We don’t need another self inflicted wound. We don’t need another crisis at the last minute. congress should come book and act.

HARWOOD: Is a clean debt limit with nothing attached to it the only kind the President will accept?

LEW: I will reiterate. The president made clear he is not negotiating. Since ’70 to ’89, every congress has acted to pay the bills of the United States. This Congress needs to do the same.

Lew’s tone is correct; he is talking to children and he needs to scold, shame and threaten them into doing their jobs.

Just yesterday the Speaker was threatening a “whale of a fight” over raising the debt ceiling. With consumer confidence heading toward a five year high, Boehner threatened to crash the economy if Republicans don’t get to rule as if they won 2012.

The Republican leader told a Boise lunch crowd, “But I’ll say this: It may be unfair but what I’m trying to do here is to leverage the political process to produce more change than what it would produce if left to its own devices. We’re going to have a whale of a fight.”

Tough talk from the King of Caving.

In February, Boehner admitted to PBS Newshour that using the debt ceiling as a toy jeopardized the credit of the U.S. Government, “We got the debt limit out of the way so that we weren’t jeopardizing the full faith and credit of the United States government.”

So, the Republican leader knows what he’s doing and he’s going there anyway because Boehner really has no choice. He’s desperately trying to give the Tea caucus something to keep them from destroying the Republican party for the next decade with a government shutdown.

Obama told the GOP children “No” to using the debt ceiling as a toy in January:

    It is interesting that the president preemptively struck down the Republican idea that they could take their losses on a fiscal cliff deal, but get it all back by throwing the nation into chaos over the debt ceiling.
    The president has been stressing that it is going to be a different ballgame on the debt ceiling in 2013, and he started laying the groundwork for his efforts on that issue tonight.
    What was striking was Obama’s tone. This wasn’t a president taking a victory lap. President Obama was more like a shark who smells blood in the water.

And he meant it. What did the big, bad House Republicans do then? Oh, they caved. Of course they caved. They had no choice.

The President also made sure the public knew that Congress tells him what to spend, and Congress is in charge of paying those bills (raising the debt ceiling):

    “This is a matter of Congress authorizes spending. They order me to spend. They tell me, you need to fund our Defense Department at such- and-such a level, you need to send out Social Security checks, you need to make sure that you are paying to care for our veterans. They lay all this out for me, and — because they have the spending power. And so I am required by law to go ahead and pay these bills. Separately, they also have to authorize a raising of the debt ceiling in order to make sure that those bills are paid. And so what Congress can’t do is tell me to spend X and then say, “But we’re not going to give you the authority to go ahead and pay the bills.”

If you notice, Lew used the same tactic in this interview today: This is Congress’ job and they need to do it like every other Congress has. Naughty children.

The President smells Republican blood in the water and he’s coming in for the kill. They set themselves up for this one, by using the economy as a weapon of mass destruction again. Obama isn’t going to play and Speaker Boehner is going to be left hanging out to dry by himself, with no one to blame for caving yet again.

The modern day Republican party stands for economic uncertainty, chaos, refusal to pay its own bills, and radical nihilism. Not exactly big tent.


Republicans Self Destruct as Palin Joins Group That’s Targeting Mitch McConnell

By: Jason Easley
Aug. 27th, 2013

The Republican Obamacare meltdown continues as Sarah Palin has aligned herself with a conservative group that’s running radio ads targeting Mitch McConnell on ACA funding.

Palin put out a statement through the Senate Conservatives Fund:

    Forced enrollment in Obama’s “Unaffordable Care Act” is weeks away. This beast must be stopped — by not funding it. Today, Todd and I joined with many of our fellow citizens to urge those in the U.S. Senate to not fund Obamacare.

    We The People must continue to make our voices heard and hold those elected to serve this great nation accountable. Those in the Senate and those seeking to serve there must stand strong against this devastating program before it reveals its true face now recognized by both sides of the aisle as the bureaucratic and economic beast that will deny our families, our businesses, and our sick the ability to access health care.

    The time for rhetoric and ceremonial votes in Congress is over. The time to take serious action to stop Obamacare is now. Join us in urging Senators — Don’t Fund Obamacare! Just remember – if you fund it, you own it!

Beyond Palin’s usual gibberish, what’s interesting is that she has aligned herself with a group that is currently running a radio ad in Kentucky that is targeting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Here’s the ad:

The radio spot claims that McConnell is refusing to lead the fight to defund Obamacare, “Republicans in Congress can stop Obamacare by refusing to fund it, but Senator Mitch McConnell refuses to lead the fight. Mitch McConnell voted to give President Obama money to implement Obamacare earlier this year, and he’ll do it again if you don’t make your voice heard today. Obamacare is unaffordable, unworkable and it’s unfair. It will hurt Kentucky families. Many could lose their doctors. Others may be forced to pay higher premiums. Obamacare is a job killer, yet Mitch McConnell refuses to stop funding for this liberal train wreck.”

Putting aside for a second the fact that none of the claims made in the radio ad and Palin’s statement are actually true, Republican extremists like Palin and Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee are trying to destroy their own party’s leaders.

Needless to say that when Republicans decided to campaign on Obamacare in 2014, this is not what they had in mind.

The Republican movement to defund the government unless Obamacare is repealed is the gift that keeps on giving to the Democratic Party. While conservatives and Republicans waste their money and resources fighting each other, Democrats can be out defending the law and its benefits to the American people. If Republicans insist on shutting down the government, Democrats can use this against them next year in the 2014 election.

The big story here isn’t that Palin joined the defund Obamacare or shutdown the government movement. The real story is that the Republican Party is in full self destruct mode.

We are watching the Republican Party tear itself apart over something (defunding Obamacare) that is never going to happen.

It’s Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz versus Mitch McConnell and other Senate incumbents, and winners next November will likely be Harry Reid and Barack Obama after Democrats keep control of the Senate.

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« Reply #8380 on: Aug 28, 2013, 10:02 AM »

Bringing Democracy to YOUR Country: New Zealand

August 27, 2013 07:00 PM

I have a joke magnetic sticker on our fridge which my Kiwi partner doesn’t like very much. It reads, “Be Nice to America, Or We’ll Bring Democracy to YOUR Country.” But over the past few weeks, it seems we don’t need to send an army to impose American style “democracy” any longer. Rightwing politicians in New Zealand and Australia are more than happy to impose it on their citizenry all by themselves.

New Zealand has just passed legislation allowing its main intelligence agency to spy on her residents and citizens in contradiction with the New Zealand Bill of Rights, despite strong opposition from civil rights groups, international technology giants and the legal fraternity. Prime Minister John Key, and leader of the rightwing National Party, was keen to push this legislation through Parliament, even claiming most people in the country didn’t care about the spy bill... ignoring polls promptly showing a solid 3/4ths of the country care very much, thank you. Even Google and Microsoft have warned the Prime Minister that such a spy bill is going to be bad for New Zealand business.

Yet, in complete disregard to the passionate opposition from both the public and many in government, the bill to expand the power of the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) passed by 61 votes to 59. The bill is already proving to be very unpopular, with Prime Minister John Key acknowledging it has many in the country feeling “agitated and alarmed.”

Gee, I wonder why.

But the allure of such Draconian power eroding the civil rights of the pesky public is like catnip to the rightwing in any country. After all, if it was good enough for George W. Bush, who started it, and even for Barack Obama, who seems to have found it convenient despite his campaign promises to end civil rights abuses, then why shouldn’t it be good enough for the likes of John Key?

One New Zealand Justice of the Peace and warrant Issuing Officer in Napier has resigned in protest after fifteen years of service, with an eloquent press release stating that he in good conscience could not continue in his unpaid appointee role with all its legal implications for a country which so lightly dismisses the fundamental rights of its citizens.

“The reason that the original Bill of Rights came into being,” Dr Robin Gwynn said, “was that people came to realise that while governments are necessary, they are also potentially so dangerous to their subjects that some basic bounds must be set to their powers. Powers to spy on civilians are, and rightly should be, exceptional – granted only when there is demonstrable cause to suspect particular individuals, at which point the public good overrides their natural rights. But here we have an Act which enables widespread state spying on New Zealanders, and couples it with the ability to collect and retain ‘incidentally obtained intelligence.’ This is not a power that should be held by any democratic government, of any country or any political colour or ideology. It doesn’t make any difference even if the Prime Minister of the day is the most trustworthy person in the world. It is a power that simply should not exist.”

As an historian, Dr Gwynn drew the parallel between the apologists of King James II whose abuse of power led to the original Bill of Rights in 1689, and the current PM now abusing the trust of his country. “When the Defence Force cannot distinguish between journalists and potential terrorists, when ACC cannot control leaks damaging to defenceless individuals, when even our Parliamentary Service will just hand over private phone records, the need for vigilance could hardly be more obvious."

His entire statement is well worth the read.

John Key has used the same excuse for pushing this legislation that Bush did, and now Obama, sadly, as well. “Trust me.” After all, if you’ve done nothing wrong, you should have nothing to hide, right? Just ask those people the NSA has spied on, such as current or former love interests, who probably don’t fall into any category of being a threat to our national security. Just ask those members of the United Nations who had their offices bugged, their videoconferencing and communications hacked. Just ask our friends and allies in the European Union embassy, only one of eighty embassies the NSA has bugged, how they feel about the NSA’s “Special Collection Service” spying on their diplomatic work.

“Trust me?” You've got to be joking.

Spying on your own citizens and friends is bad enough. But the United States government's lack of regard for any other civil rights we as Americans once took for granted as Constitutional protection has emboldened more rightwing politicians elsewhere. Here in Brisbane, the leader of the ludicrously named “Liberal” rightwing party and Premier of Queensland, Campbell Newman, has “apologised” for his unprecedented plans to turn the entire city into an armed mini-fortress during next year’s G20 forum, since these things are pretty much guaranteed to draw large protests. But that’s not going to stop him from imposing what amounts to martial law on Australian citizens.

He had previously expressed the hope the summit would create a “major boost” to small and large businesses and the local and state economy, and welcomed it as a “great opportunity to showcase Brisbane and Queensland to the world.” It certainly will be – nothing like a lock-down on Brisbane citizenry and the imposition of martial law to impress the world. And what a showcase it’s going to be: A huge ring of steel fencing is to be erected around most of the city centre, with any residents trapped inside this zone required to use access passes to move in or out of their own homes. A curfew will be imposed, with anyone out on the street after a certain hour arrested. The penalty for anyone entering these security restricted areas without such access permits will be a 12 month jail sentence.

The Brisbane Airportlink and the Clem 7 tunnels, major traffic routes in and out of Brisbane’s city centre, will be closed, except for transportation of world leaders like Barack Obama and the British Prime Minister David Cameron.

A long list of so-called “dangerous materials,” including bicycles, backpacks, kites and political placards, will be prohibited under special laws, and offenders will be arrested. Five thousand police officers rostered every day, including specialist covert teams and rooftop snipers, will be granted special detention powers and allowed to search anyone, confiscating phones and laptops to search emails and text messages. They will be able to demand names, addresses, fingerprints and identification documents, and strip-search and arrest anyone without charging them with any crime. Your papers, pleeze.

One city block, such as Musgrave Park, is to be set aside for “peaceful protests,” although protest groups will be subjected to the controversial tactic of “kettling,” i.e., confined in a small area where they will not be allowed to move, not allowed to leave, and no one allowed to join the protests for hours on end. The president of the Australian Council for Civil Liberties, Terry O’Gorman, has said that as there is no specific charter of rights for people in Queensland, any challenge in court to such practices would be “difficult.”

As for the economic "benefits", small business caught inside the no-go zone will suffer, but hey! The new $59 million Royal International Convention Centre is now open, and Brisbane City Hall has had a $215 million restoration and can provide catering for up to 1600 guests. The Hilton Brisbane, Rydges South Bank, Sofitel, Brisbane Marriott and Novotel have spent tens of millions of dollars upgrading their facilities so that the G20 delegates can stay in style. Once they've left, however... hard to see where the rest of Brisbane profits from this big business windfall, particularly when it comes to finding money for such less glamorous needs like fixing the rapidly crumbling health care and dangerous road systems.

But, to off-set this massive abuse of power and civil rights, Campbell Newman is giving us all a long-weekend holiday the day before. Go to the beach, throw a few shrimps on the barbie, mate. Have fun, enjoy yourselves. A spokesman for Mr Newman has urged people to be “finding a bit of time with family and friends.” Should you be so unlucky as to actually live in the city centre and not have friends and family outside the restricted zone to take refuge with – well... just stay inside, draw the blinds, and ignore that your city has been turned into an armed camp, and your civil rights quashed. What could better exemplify “democracy” than the G20 coming to impose martial law on a city of more than two million inhabitants and treating Australians like they’re all potentially terrorists or criminals?

So far, like 3/4ths of New Zealanders unimpressed with the new spy laws, most Brisbaners have expressed rather less than enthusiastic support. After all, the G20 is supposed to be all about promoting international financial stability - so why hold the G20 in a major city, costing more than a third of a billion dollars of taxpayer’s money while disrupting the lives of the millions of residents when - as some have suggested - a suitable Army barracks out in the outback could provide more than enough security as well as accommodation, catering, and lecture halls? Or, if G20 leaders are too toffee-nosed for such less-than-five-star accommodation, it would cost far, far less to build a special centre with all the requisite bells and whistles still well away from any city as large as Brisbane, where the security would be even easier to maintain and all without the "necessity" of stamping on civil liberties Australia once guaranteed under the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A few in the G20 themselves have proposed a permanent site to offset the massive expense and security disruptions in hosting such a closed-door summit, even South Korea proposing they all meet in "cyberspace."

Because, as more than one commenter on the Brisbane Courier-Mail has worriedly suggested, this will not end up being “temporary”; once power-hungry rightwing politicians like Key and Campbell and, should he win the upcoming election in Australia, Tony Abbot, get their foot in the door, then just like the collapse of civil liberties in the United States, this will be the first step in making such policing laws a permanent fixture of Australia. I suspect they're right.

New Zealanders and Australians have good reason to fear the “Americanization” of their civil liberties. And the US didn’t have to even employ one single soldier to do it, either.

Click to watch:
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« Reply #8381 on: Aug 29, 2013, 06:09 AM »

Strike against Assad regime stalled by British political rows

Military response to alleged Syria chemical attack may be delayed until Tuesday as Obama warns Syria of 'international consequences'

Nicholas Watt, Julian Borger, Nick Hopkins   
The Guardian, Thursday 29 August 2013       

Allied air strikes against the Syrian government over the alleged use of chemical weapons could be delayed until next week in the face of strong opposition in the UK parliament to British involvement in immediate military action.

The prime minister, David Cameron, conceded that MPs would be given a second vote to approve military action to defuse a parliamentary revolt, ahead of a Commons debate on Syria on Thursday. Whitehall sources indicated that the US, which had planned to launch the strikes by the weekend, is prepared to revive a back-up plan to delay the strikes until Tuesday when Barack Obama is due to set out for the G20 summit in Russia.

Such a move by the Obama administration would effectively hand Cameron a political lifeline after the opposition Labour party threatened to inflict a defeat on the Conservative-led coalition in parliament.

Obama, referring to the chemical attacks in a PBS television interview on Wednesday, said: "We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out."

The president said he had not taken a final decision on air strikes but Syria needed to understand there were "international consequences" for its actions. "If in fact we make a choice to have repercussions for the use of chemical weapons, then the Assad regime will have received a pretty strong signal that in fact it had better not do it again," Obama told PBS.

In an effort to build support for punitive strikes, the US and UK will on Thursday publish a joint summary of the intelligence which they say points towards the Assad regime's responsibility for the poison gas attack of 21 August in Ghouta, eastern Damascus, that killed over 1,000 people.

In a reflection of the different political pressures pulling the transatlantic allies in different directions, Downing Street undertook to return to the security council in a renewed effort to secure a UN mandate for military action after Russia blocked a British resolution at an informal meeting in New York. But the US state department meanwhile insisted it saw "no avenue forward" at the UN for finding an international consensus for armed action, because of Russian support for Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Furthermore, Washington made it clear it saw no need to wait for a report by UN inspectors currently in Damascus investigating the gas attack, estimated to have killed more than 1,000 people.

"We are going to make our own decisions on our own timelines about our response," the state department spokeswoman Marie Harf said. She added that because of initial Syrian government obstruction of the UN investigation, it had "passed the point where it can be credible".

However, the UK is now committed to wait for the UN report. The House of Commons will be asked by the government on Thursday to approve a "strong humanitarian response", possibly including force in principle. Direct action would depend on a second vote which in turn would be held after the UN weapons inspectors had reported back.

UN officials said the report could take another week or more to produce. The inspectors will continue to collect samples at the Ghouta site for the next four days, bringing their presence to the two weeks agreed with Damascus. The samples would then have to be subjected to laboratory analysis.

If the wait for the UN report extends much beyond Tuesday, the transatlantic ties could fray further, putting the prime minister under intense pressure. Cameron had faced the prospect of a defeat, or a politically damaging narrow victory, when MPs vote on Thursday evening on a motion calling for a proportionate response.

Syria warned of "grave consequences" if US-led military action goes ahead. Bashar al-Jaafari, Syria's ambassador to the UN, told reporters outside the security council in New York on Wednesday that the effect could be felt across the Middle East. "We should keep in mind what happened in Iraq and Libya", the envoy said, adding that the toppling of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi by Nato-backed rebels in 2011 had "spread terrorists all over Africa".

Jaafari urged the US, UK and France to back off and allow UN weapons inspectors to complete their investigation into last week's chemical attack outside Damascus. The sole purpose of the threat of airstrikes was "undermining the inspection team." Jaafari added: "We are not war mongers, we are a peaceful nation seeking stability in the area. The Syrian government is against the use of chemical weapons by all means – this is a moral obscenity."

Speaking in London the British foreign secretary, William Hague, said it was time for the UN to act. "This is the first use of chemical warfare in the 21st century. It has to be unacceptable, we have to confront something that is a war crime, something that is a crime against humanity. If we don't do so, then we will have to confront even bigger war crimes in the future."

The state department also gave more details of its intended justification for military action. A spokeswoman said Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons violated "the general law of war" while the use and proliferation of such weapons represented a threat to America's core national interests.

In his interview with PBS, Obama said that it was in America's "core self-interest" to prevent chemical weapons being used in a volatile area, near allies such as Turkey and Israel.

With as many as 70 Tory MPs threatening to rebel, British opposition leader Ed Miliband announced just after 5pm BST that he would instruct his MPs to vote against the government motion if a separate Labour amendment – calling for any action to be delayed – was defeated.

Within two hours the British government announced, as it published its motion for the debate, that a second vote would have to be held before Britain joins any military action. The motion says: "Before any direct British involvement in such action a further vote of the House of Commons will take place."

Downing Street was furious with Miliband and accused him of having suffered a giant "wobble" after he had appeared to indicate on Tuesday night that he would be prepared to support military action, subject to legal approval. But Labour hit back and said that the prime minister had been resisting a second vote until Miliband tweeted his plan to table his own amendment.

A Labour source said: "We will continue to scrutinise this motion but at 5.15pm David Cameron totally ruled out a second vote, an hour and a half later he changed his mind. Ed was determined to do the right thing. It has taken Labour forcing a vote to force the government to do the right thing."

Downing Street said the prime minister offered a second vote because he wants to act in a consensual way. A spokesperson said: "The prime minister is acutely aware of the deep concerns in the country caused by what happened over Iraq. That's why we are committed to taking action to deal with this war crime – but taking action in the right way, proceeding on a consensual basis."

"So this motion endorses the government's consistent approach that we should take action in response to Assad's chemical weapons attack; reflects the need to proceed on a consensual basis, taking account of the work done by weapons inspectors; and reflects the prime minister's respect for the UN process – something he made clear to President Obama several days ago."

The No 10 move is likely to take the heat out of Thursday's parliamentary debate that will be opened by Cameron at 2.30pm and wound up by Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, at 10pm. The debate will be preceded by a meeting of the cabinet that will approve a recommendation from the National Security Council that Britain should join the military strikes. Dominic Grieve, the British attorney general, advised the NSC that such action would be legal under international law.

The National Security Council also agreed a specific plan for a British contribution to military action. This focused on a "limited one-off" operation and the measures that might have to be taken to protect British interests in the region, including the defence of the UK's sovereign base in Cyprus, which is thought to be potentially within range of President Assad's Scud missiles.

Though considered unlikely, sources said it was possible the US would act without British support – which would be a huge embarrassment for the prime minister. It would also be politically difficult for the White House. US officials have stressed that America would not act unilaterally, but in concert with partners.

France has pledged to take part in punitive action against the Assad regime, and its presidential system means that Francois Hollande, like Barack Obama is not obliged to consult the legislature.

However, British abstention would undermine Washington's claims of broad support.

Additional reporting by Ed Pilkington at the United Nations


Barack Obama: no final decision on Syria air strikes

President warns Assad regime of 'international consequences', but insists he has no interest in open-ended conflict

Paul Lewis in Washington
The Guardian, Thursday 29 August 2013   

Barack Obama says that no decision has been taken on an air strike on Syria, but warns the Assad regime its actions have 'international consequences'.

"If in fact we make a choice to have repercussions for the use of chemical weapons, then the Assad regime will have received a pretty strong signal that in fact it had better not do it again," the US president told PBS.

"We are consulting with our allies. We're consulting with the international community. I have no interest in any kind of open-ended conflict in Syria, but we do have to make sure that when countries break international norms on weapons like chemical weapons that could threaten us, that they are held accountable."

Legal experts have said that the United States and its allies are unlikely to build a clear case under international law for a military strike, and may instead make novel arguments about chemical weapons prohibitions.

Britain's resolution to the UN security council condemns the alleged chemical attack last week and calls for the authorisation of "necessary measures to protect civilians" in the country.

However, Russia, which has a veto on the council, is expected to oppose any military action against Syria. Western powers will therefore need to find another basis – outside a security council resolution – to justify a strike against Syria.

The only other universally agreed basis for military action under international law is self-defence. The US would find it hard to argue that the Syrian conflict poses an imminent national security threat.

In Geneva, the UN special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said on Thursday that while inspectors had uncovered some evidence of a chemical attack, "internat­ional law says that any US-led military action must be taken after" agreement at the 15-nation security council.

"At this point the weight of international opinion would be that military action would not be legal," said Ian Johnstone, a professor of international law at Tufts University. "However, I do think that there could be a case where violation of the law would be excused on the grounds of humanitarian necessity."

Barry Pavel, a former director on the national security council under the Bush and Obama administrations, said without UN or even Nato support, the US and its allies would seek to justify a strike on "policy, political, moral and legal grounds".

US, British and French political leaders have so far described the expected assault on Syria as a form of punishment or deterrence over its purported use of chemical weapons in the suburbs of Damascus, which resulted in hundreds of deaths.

Lord Goldsmith, the British attorney general at the time of the Iraq war, said military action would be legal without a UNSC resolution "if it was necessary in order to avert a very serious humanitarian crisis".

He told BBC2's Newsnight: "We don't quite know enough about that. We're not sure, for example, whether or not the chemical weapons attack which took place was in fact by Assad's regime."

Goldsmith said he would be uneasy if it was not clear that was the only purpose of military intervention. He added: "I think the only thing that would be justifiable would be action that was no more than was necessary in order to prevent a further attack by chemical weapons. Not punishment, not reprisals, but in order to stop that happening again."

He added that the west did not need to rely on UN inspectors to determine whether a chemical attack had taken place because there were "other ways to check that out".

The US navy has four destroyer ships in the region equipped with cruise missiles, while the British navy also has a ship and probably submarines in the eastern Mediterranean sea. Some analysts are predicting that the US will also deploy long-range B2 bombers.

The White House has signalled that it will soon release a declassified intelligence assessment, directly linking the chemical weapons attack that claimed hundreds of lives in Damascus last week to the Assad regime. The US and its allies say there is little if any doubt that Assad's forces were behind the attack, but Syria strongly denies involvement, blaming rebel groups.

Reports from Germany and the US overnight suggest that the evidence centres around an intercepted communication, linking the attack to a special Syrian unit that oversees the army's chemical weapons. The reports, in the Wall Street Journal and a German magazine, Focus, suggested that the intercepted call was obtained by Israeli intelligence and passed to the CIA.

The Republican chairman of the US House intelligence committee, Mike Rogers, said he had been briefed on US government intelligence about Syria's involvement in the chemical attack. "I believe that evidence exists that is convincing, if not compelling, that the government of Syria was involved in launching those attacks," Rogers told Reuters. "I do not believe that it was a single source person deciding to do it. I believe it came from the [Syrian] administration."

Meanwhile, the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon urged more time for diplomacy. In Geneva, the UN's special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, confirmed that some kind of "substance" was used in Syria that may have killed more than 1,000 people but insisted that the US would require security-council approval before launching military strikes.

Brahimi did not say whether the information came directly from UN inspectors, who began their second full day of inspections on Wednesday. The Syrian government blocked the team of weapons inspectors for five days. Their work was delayed by security concerns after the convoy of vehicles carrying the scientists came under sniper fire.

Ban Ki-moon said the UN inspectors needed four more days to complete their work. However, the White House said on Tuesday it believed the work of the inspection team was "redundant" because it had already been established that chemical weapons were used by Syria on a large scale.

The Arab League has tacitly backed that assertion, blaming the use of chemical weapons on Syria, but stopped short of providing the US with much needed regional support for punitive military strikes. Jordan said it would not be used as a launching pad for attacks on Syria. The announcement came amid concern that Iran may see through its threats to retaliate against Israel.

An unnamed senior Syrian army officer told the Iranian news agency Fars: "If Syria is attacked, Israel will also be set on fire and such an attack will, in turn, engage Syria's neighbours."

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, said the country was "prepared for every scenario". The Associated Press said reservists had been called up.

Barry Pavel, a former senior director for defence policy and strategy on the US National Security Council staff, said officials would be frequently revising a list of potential targets, seeking to avoid chemical weapons sites, which, if struck, could leak chemical agents. "It looks likely we'll go after air defence radars, air force bases and aircraft, ground force units," he said. "And there would be some targets I imagine that include military command and control facilities."

He said US military commanders would also want to steer clear of civilian areas. "That said, there will be civilian casualties. Things go wrong," he said. "Targets that are not on the target list will get hit as happened in 1999, in Belgrade, with the Chinese embassy."

An advocate of military action, Pavel said it was necessary to make the "cost-benefit analysis" of the lives that might be saved by punishing Assad.


Syrian army may use kamikaze pilots against west, Assad officer claims

At least 8,000 suicide 'martyrs' ready to foil US warplanes hand-in-hand with Hezbollah and Iran, says regime loyalist

Mona Mahmood and Robert Booth   
The Guardian, Wednesday 28 August 2013 19.32 BST   

The Syrian air force is considering using kamikaze pilots against attacks by western forces, a Syrian army officer operating air defences near Damascus has claimed in an interview with the Guardian.

The officer said 13 pilots had signed a pledge this week saying they would form "a crew of suicide martyrs to foil the US warplanes".

The Assad loyalist, in his 30s and serving with the Syrian army's air defence section 10 miles from the capital, said: "If the US and British armies launch a single rocket we will launch three or four, and if their warplanes raid our skies they will face hell fire.

"If we are unable to shoot down their warplanes with artillery, we have military pilots who are ready to attack these foreign warplanes by their own warplanes and blow them up in the air."

The Guardian has been unable to verify the information. The officer has been in contact with the paper on several occasions over the last 12 months during which time he provided reliable information about battles between the troops of Bashar al-Assad and rebel groups. He has declined to provide accounts of events where he has not served.

He claimed: "We have more than 8,000 suicide martyrs within the Syrian army, ready to carry out martyrdom operations at any moment to stop the Americans and the British. I myself am ready to blow myself up against US aircraft carriers to stop them attacking Syria and its people."

Speaking about the chemical attack last week on the outskirts of Damascus, he denied the involvement of government forces and said news of the gassing had come as a shock.

"Why would we use chemical weapons in Al Ghouta, when we have government forces where the attack happened? Over the last few days we have launched a military operation called Capital Shield to protect Damascus and its countryside. We managed to get 75% of the way through the process, but then we were shocked to learn about the chemical weapons in Al Ghouta."

He said the morale of the Syrian army was high. "They have to know that Iran and Hezbollah fighters will be fighting with us, hand-in-hand. We have an alliance of protection. We are the resistance axe in the Arab world.

"We are ready for anything. Only God can take our souls, not America or Britain. The US and UK have been threatening us for more than two years now, they think we would care, but they are stupid to think so. We have been fighting the most criminal terrorists in the world and we have not given up or become tired.

"The Syrian army is at the highest state of alert now. We have taken all measures to avoid the air onslaught and all our rockets are ready now to be launched. We are expecting the US and British forces to attack specific targets, so the Syrian army has changed most of its positions and many barracks and brigades have been moved to different sites."

Reuters news agency said Assad's forces appeared to have evacuated most personnel from army and security command headquarters in central Damascus in preparation for a western military strike.

"It is unbelievable what is happening now in Syria," the officer said. "Lots of Syrian men are flocking to checkpoints asking to join the army to fight for Syria, though some of them were previously with the opposition."

He added: "They say that when Syria is under foreign attack we will fight with the Syrian army and forget about everything. In Damascus, we have registered over 4,000 civilian volunteers in the last 48 hours. We have sent them to training camps to learn how to use different weapons and to form people committees [pro-regime home guards] to protect the streets and districts of the capital, as the Syrian army will be busy dealing with the US warplanes.

"The whole army will be in a state of alert and we will need these people to protect our back, keep security and stop things slipping to chaos.

"Damascus residents are living a normal life and are not scared of any attack. Rockets and mortars are falling on the capital districts every day even in the poshest areas, so they can't be shaken any more if US rockets strike.

"People get used to the war and they do not need to make any more preparations. Today I could see long bread queues in many areas in Damascus, and that may be because of the US threats. People are worried if the US and British forces launch their attack against Syria they can't go out during the air raids."


UN weapons inspectors to leave Syria a day early

Ban Ki-moon's announcment that United Nations experts will depart on Saturday fuels speculation of armed intervention

Julian Borger and agencies, Thursday 29 August 2013 11.35 BST

Ban Ki-moon has said the UN weapons inspectors investigating last week's suspected chemical weapons attack will leave Syria on Saturday, one day ahead of schedule.

The announcement deepened anticipation over imminent air strikes. Under an agreement with the Syrian government, the UN team had until the end of Sunday to complete their investigation.

If they leave a day early, they will not be able to carry out the three other site inspections from earlier suspected chemical attacks they had initially intended to complete.

The move is reminiscent of similar hasty departures of UN weapons inspectors from Iraq over a decade ago, after receiving a tip-off from western intelligence agencies that US air strikes against Saddam Hussein's regime were imminent.

The team was seen leaving its hotel in Damascus early on Thursday morning.

Speaking in Vienna, Ban said the investigators "should be allowed to conclude their investigation activities".

However, the UN secretary general also said the investigators would report to him as soon as they left the country. It is not clear whether such an accelerated report will be possible before laboratory analysis of the samples the inspectors have collected.

UN officials had previously said a proper investigation could take another week at least.

The development comes amid uncertainty over the threat of air strikes, which US and UK officials had suggested would happen within days, probably by the end of the weekend.

That timing has been put in doubt by a parliamentary revolt in London by both the Labour party and Conservative rebels.

Downing Street has suggested it has received US assurances that the White House is willing to wait until Tuesday next week to give the House of Commons time for a second debate on British involvement in air strikes, but Whitehall sources have said it is possible the US could go ahead without Britain, possibly with France.


Typhoon jets sent to Cyprus to guard against possible Syrian retaliation

RAF says fighters' presence is a precautionary measure against any potential attacks on bases if intervention is agreed

Nick Hopkins, Thursday 29 August 2013 11.16 BST

The UK is sending six RAF Typhoon jets to Cyprus to defend the strategically important bases on the island against potential retaliatory attacks from the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed that the fighters were flying to the Mediterranean on Thursday morning, ahead of any possible military action against Syria in the coming days.

The MoD stressed that the jets were not being sent to conduct potential ground-attack missions against Assad's regime, but were there as a precautionary measure.

The UK has two sovereign base areas on the former British colony at Akrotiri and Dhekelia. The aircraft will be based at the Akrotiri base, which has been a key staging post for military flights to and from Afghanistan.

The bases are also home to listening and surveillance stations that provide the British and US militaries, and western intelligence services, with vital information about what is going on across the Middle East.

Military analysts have expressed concern that Cyprus might be in range of Syria's Scud missiles. Assad also has a strong air force.

An RAF spokesman said: "We can confirm that as part of ongoing contingency planning, six RAF Typhoon interceptor fast jets are deploying this morning to Akrotiri in Cyprus. This is purely a prudent and precautionary measure to ensure the protection of UK interests and the defence of our sovereign base areas at a time of heightened tension in the wider region.

"This is a movement of defensive assets operating in an air-to-air role only. They are not deploying to take part in any military action against Syria. The PM has made clear no decision has been taken on our response and the government has said that there will be a Commons vote before direct military involvement".

The MoD said the deployment was meant to deter and protect against attack from the air, and that the Typhoons would be armed with advanced medium range air-to-air missiles (Amraams), advanced short-range air-to-air missile (Asraams) and a Mauser cannon.

The RAF's four frontline Typhoon squadrons are based at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire and RAF Leuchars in Fife. Each squadron operates up to 15 aircraft.

Prof Michael Clarke, the director general of the defence thinktank the Royal United Services Institute, said there was a threat to British interests in Cyprus whether or not it was used to launch strikes on Syria, so sensible measures would be in place to defend it.

"If the Syrians wanted to retaliate, they would retaliate against British bases whether or not it had been used," he said.

"The safety of Cyprus is not an issue here but you would take sensible actions to keep Cyprus properly defended. Defending Cyprus is not a problem but there will be measures taken to be on alert."

The MoD said there were currently around 2,500 military and UK civilian personnel serving on the bases, accompanied by around 3,000 family members.

Two infantry battalions serve there. One provides security to UK defence assets and the other provides a high readiness reserve force for operations.

The base at Akrotiri is home to 84 Squadron, a search-and-rescue helicopter and a range of other units. A number are involved in providing air transport links and other support to operations in Afghanistan, including decompression for personnel returning from operations there.

A further 270 UK personnel are based in Nicosia on peacekeeping duties, as part of the UN force in Cyprus.


August 28, 2013

Pig Putin’s Silence on Syria Suggests His Resignation Over Intervention


MOSCOW — Russia has made its opposition to military intervention in Syria vehemently clear. The foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, warns daily about the risk of an escalating conflagration. A deputy prime minister said the West dealt with the Islamic world like “a monkey with a grenade.” A few commentators on the fringe have warned of World War III.

The one voice that has remained silent, though, is the one that matters most.

President Pig Putin has conspicuously avoided public comment on reports of a chemical weapons attack on civilians outside of Damascus, the Syrian capital, on Aug. 21, which killed hundreds of people. Instead he has carried on, like many ordinary Russians, as if the civil war in Syria had not reached an ominous new phase. In the days after the attack, Pig Putin attended a ceremony for the restoration of a fountain made famous in World War II, visited a breakaway province of neighboring Georgia and toured a mine and dam in Siberia.

There is no doubt about Pig Putin’s opposition to retaliatory strikes. Nor about his support of the government of President Bashar al-Assad in a conflict Mr. Assad has described as a war against Islamic extremism.

Pig Putin’s public reticence, though, reflects a calculation that Russia can do little to stop a military intervention if the United States and other countries move ahead without the authorization of the United Nations Security Council — and that he has little to lose at home, at least, if they do.

Mr. Lavrov, in remarks to reporters this week, made it clear that Russia’s reaction to international intervention in Syria would be limited to a war of words — “We, of course, are not planning to go to war with anybody,” he said. That stance could ultimately benefit Pig Putin.

The crisis has added fuel to an anti-American sentiment — and to a lesser degree anti-Western sentiment — that had already become a refrain of Mr. Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012.

The point is driven home over and over by proxy in the state news media and in comments by officials, like the one about the monkey, posted on Twitter by a deputy prime minister, Dmitri O. Rogozin. Or by Robert A. Schlegel, a member of the lower house of Parliament from the majority United Russia party, who said in a statement on Wednesday that Western retaliatory strikes would aid Al Qaeda and would constitute “the height of cynicism.”

Suspicion of President Obama only intensified after his decision to scuttle a summit meeting next week in Moscow and to describe Pig Putin in unusually personal terms at a news conference, saying his body language often made him look “like the bored kid in the back of the classroom.”

Though Mr. Obama went on to say that their interactions were often constructive, the comment infuriated Mr. Putin, according to one Russian official not authorized to be quoted by name.

More is at stake in Syria than a propaganda coup. While critics accuse Pig Putin of blindly supporting Mr. Assad’s brutality, regardless of the circumstances, Mr. Putin’s abiding concerns are foreign intervention and the rise of Islamic extremism.

In his view, the United States and its partners have unleashed the forces of extremism in country after country in the Middle East by forcing or advocating change in leadership — from Iraq to Libya, Egypt to Syria.

While American and European leaders have cited what they call mounting evidence of the use of chemical weapons by Syrian government forces, Russian officials continue to warn against a rush to judgment so precipitous that it can be seen only as a pretext for what they call the real motive: the overthrow of Mr. Assad.

Mr. Lavrov and other officials here say that the source of the chemical attack could well have been the rebels themselves, with the aim of provoking an international response that would turn the tide of the conflict.

Late Wednesday the Kremlin reported that Pig Putin had spoken with Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, saying that both agreed that the use of chemical weapons was “fundamentally unacceptable,” but adding that the crisis in Syria should be settled “using purely political and diplomatic means.”

In his only other reported interaction with a world leader since the crisis escalated, Pig Putin told Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain that Russia did not have evidence of “whether a chemical attack took place,” or, if it did, who was behind it, according to a statement released by Mr. Cameron’s office.

A few dissenting voices in the United States and Europe have expressed skepticism toward the evidence, but here such skepticism is the consensus.

“It would be absolutely insane for Assad to use chemical weapons when the red line had been so clearly drawn,” said Aleksei K. Pushkov, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee in Parliament’s lower house. “He’s not a madman. He reasons logically.”

Another factor in Pig Putin’s stance has been the general indifference to the war here.

“Of course, we can do without Assad or without Syria,” said Georgy I. Mirsky, a researcher at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, a Soviet research group. “It’s not a matter of life and death for us. The much bigger principle — the global principle — is by no means to be seen as bending down under American pressure.”


08/28/2013 06:32 PM

Letter From Berlin: Merkel's Empty Rhetoric on Syria

By David Crossland

In 2002, the Social Democrats got re-elected by opposing the Iraq war. Now they're against attacking Syria, but it won't help them oust Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sept 22. Deft as ever, she'll keep Germany out of the fight, while firmly backing her allies.

In 2002, Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder, one of the best campaigners Germany has produced, won a dramatic come-from-behind election victory by categorically ruling out any German involvement in the looming Iraq war, snubbing America with less-than-diplomatic rhetoric when he reassured crowds up and down the country: "Under my leadership this country won't take part in adventures."

Eleven years on, his party is even further behind in opinion polls just over three weeks before a general election, and another Western military intervention in the Middle East is imminent with the U.S., Britain and France preparing a strike against Syria.

Chancellor Angela Merkel indirectly voiced support for military action when her spokesman told a regular government news conference on Monday: "It must be punished. It must not be left without consequences. A very clear international response is needed to this."

The opposition Social Democrats and their Green allies have come out firmly against a military strike, providing what has so far been a tepid campaign with a divisive issue. SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel said on Wednesday that an attack against Syria bore "immense risks."

"We mustn't make the mistake now to exclusively follow the military logic," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

Is history about to repeat itself? Could a public debate over Syria knock Merkel off what has been looking like an easy path to a third term in the Sept. 22 election?

The simple answer is most probably not, even though the country retains a strong pacifist streak, a legacy of its defeat and near destruction in two world wars, say pollsters and political analysts.

Pleasing Everyone

Deft as ever, Merkel is avoiding commitment, despite her strong rhetoric. She's siding with Germany's traditional allies by backing firm action -- but, crucially, she's going to keep her country out of the fight, and that's what matters to voters as the clock ticks down to election day.

"Merkel won't distance herself from the US and Britain and France when they take action. But I'm totally sure she will rule out any military involvement by Germany," Jürgen Falter, a political analyst at Mainz University, told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

Lawmakers from her conservatives are already stressing that the German military is stretched to its limits with deployments including Afghanistan, Kosovo and along Turkey's border with Syria where Bundeswehr troops man Patriot surface-to-air missile batteries as part of a NATO operation.

Were the allies to call on Germany for military help -- and there's no sign that they will -- the government is likely to point to legal hurdles such as the lack of a UN Security Council mandate, and the need for a parliamentary vote, said Falter.

Besides, there's a key difference between Iraq and Syria. For the SPD, opposing military intervention this time around won't prove a major vote winner because of the harrowing pictures of hundreds of dead and dying children, women and men, almost certainly killed by a weapon of mass destruction.

"I don't think this will significantly influence the election outcome. The moral aspect of poison gas attacks against one's own people makes this different from the Iraq intervention," Heinrich Oberreuter, a political scientist at the University of Passau, told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

Manfred Güllner, the director of the Forsa polling institute, said the Syrian crisis was unlikely to have much impact on the election. "The situation in Iraq was totally different from Syria and I don't think any of the parties will be able to score points with this as long as Germany doesn't send soldiers," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

No Repeat of Libya Isolation

The force of Merkel's rhetoric on Syria suggests she doesn't want a repeat of Germany's isolation over the Libya air strikes in 2011, when Berlin abstained in a UN Security Council vote on setting up a no-fly zone. That was widely seen as a major diplomatic error that damaged its standing among its Western allies.

At first glance, backing "consequences" seemed like a bold move for Merkel, notoriously adept at shunning controversy, especially ahead of elections. After all, a Forsa institute poll released on Tuesday showed 69 percent of Germans were against a military strike in Syria and only 23 percent supported it.

"For Germans, the crux is that Germany won't get involved -- the government and opposition are in agreement on that," Oskar Niedermayer, a political analyst at Berlin's Free University, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "I think the SPD should be careful with this issue, especially given the aspect of poison gas being used against civilians. It could backfire if they try to turn this into a campaign topic."

Syria has provided a fresh example of the dichotomy between Germany's economic strength and its lack of clout in international political crises.

Germany a 'B Country'

"The West is divided into A-countries that are fundamentally prepared and in a position to use military force -- those are basically the US, Britain and France," center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote in an editorial on Wednesday. "The B countries don't completely rule out military intervention but usually practice big restraint for domestic political reasons. Where possible, they stay out of it. The biggest and most important B country is Germany."

For the time being, Merkel's electoral prospects look safe -- her conservatives are a staggering 19 points ahead of the SPD according to a Forsa poll released on Wednesday.

At the moment, her main Achilles Heel is her junior partner, the pro-business FDP, hovering around the five-percent hurdle needed for parliamentary representation. The FDP could lose crucial points to the euro-skeptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party following an admission by Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble that Greece will need a third bailout program next year.

"I don't think the AfD will get into parliament but if it gets to three or four percent this could indirectly help the opposition because those votes would probably come from the FDP which could be squeezed below the five percent hurdle," said Niedermayer.

In that case, the most likely outcome would be a grand coalition between conservatives and the SPD headed by Merkel -- although some in the opposition Left Party are toying with the idea of tolerating a minority center-left government of SPD and Greens.

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« Reply #8382 on: Aug 29, 2013, 06:21 AM »

08/29/2013 01:01 PM

'Moving Moment': Israel Ends Ethiopian Repatriation Program

Some 450 Jews from Ethiopia landed in Israel on Wednesday, the last arrivals in a program to relocate the community to the Holy Land. The campaign, which lasted for nearly thirty years, has been plagued by controversy.

Natan Sharansky described it as a "moving historical moment." The head of the Jewish Agency for Israel -- the body tasked with overseeing immigration -- on Wednesday accompanied the last group of Ethiopian Jews on their journey to the Holy Land. Some 450 so-called "Falashas" flew to an airport near Tel Aviv in two chartered flights.

65 years after the establishment of the Israeli nation state, the country has concluded its mass repatriation program for Ethiopian Jews. The arrival of the group means that the religious minority's 3000-year history is finally coming full circle, said Sharansky, according to the German news agency DPA.

Over the last three decades, about 100,000 Jews have been repatriated from the East African country to Israel. The program began with three operations dubbed "Moses" (1984), "Joshua" (1985) and "Solomon" (1991-1992).

After these were completed, the operation came to a prolonged standstill due to a political altercation about whether the Falash Mura -- who were forced to convert to Christianity in the 18th and 19th century, but maintained their Jewish rituals -- should be entitled to Israeli citizenship.

Discrimination Rife

Although some ultra-Orthodox Rabbis still refuse to recognize the group's status as Jews, the Israeli government organized a further repatriation effort -- dubbed "Operation Dove Wing" -- in November 2010. Last October, the first of a total of 93 chartered flights arrived in the country. Before leaving Ethiopia, the Falah Mura had spent several years in transit camps in the nothern city of Gondar being prepared for Israeli life.

Around 500 protestors gathered in front of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's official residence on Wednesday. Their aim was to expand the repatriation program to include a further 5,000 Ethiopians who hadn't been acknowledged as practicing Jews, and therefore hadn't qualified for Operation Dove Wing. The Israeli government has introduced a rule whereby Ethiopians wanting to return to the Holy Land are only able to do so by applying on an individual basis.

The black minority group often faces discrimination in Israel. In 1996, the country's daily Maariv newspaper revealed that Magen David Adom -- the country's bloodbank service -- had been destroying all blood samples provided by Ethiopian Jews. Last year, the Israeli broadcaster Channel 2 revealed that 120 landlords in the southern town of Kiryat Malakhi had agreed not to rent out or sell their houses and apartments to members of the African minority.

Many Ethiopian migrants live in low income areas and illegal settlements. Human rights organizations have accused the Israeli government of forcibly sterilizing members of the minority group. The authorities have denied the allegations.

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« Reply #8383 on: Aug 29, 2013, 06:33 AM »


August 28, 2013

Political Endurance Test for Russian Billionaire


TOGLIATTI, Russia — In a karate studio in this provincial Russian town, the lesson seemed as much about politics as about martial arts.

Mikhail D. Prokhorov, the once-secretive Russian billionaire who now leads a political party, was a guest instructor for a class of young men.

“Your body should be soft like water,” Mr. Prokhorov, 48, explained as he rounded his 6-foot-8 frame and then, improbably, rolled on his back along the top of a hardwood bench. If he grimaced, nobody saw it.

“When you were a child, you knew how to relax and roll,” he went on. “If even one muscle tenses, you will get hurt. Be like water. At first, it is uncomfortable for you, but then it will become uncomfortable for your opponent.”

Outside the karate class, flexibility, if not a Zen-like self-restraint in the face of serious affronts from the Kremlin, have defined Mr. Prokhorov’s low-profile role in Russian politics this summer.

The oligarch who is best known in the United States for owning the Brooklyn Nets basketball franchise and spending lavishly on players, leads a small pro-business party in Russia called Civic Platform. It is fielding candidates in 30 or so local elections — for City Council, regional legislature, mayor — here in September.

The most important race is for mayor of Moscow, where a street protest leader, Aleksei A. Navalny, who is a galvanizing and mesmerizing figure running as much for his own freedom as for public office, is the most watched candidate.

A court convicted Mr. Navalny on what were widely seen as trumped-up charges, but released him pending appeal, allowing him to run in the mayoral race; a strong showing could sway the authorities to commute the sentence.

Mr. Prokhorov, in contrast, says he is testing how much can be achieved within President Pig Putin’s political system without resorting to civil disobedience, and risking prosecution, though he does not rule out that he could be arrested.

“In Russia, nobody is guaranteed against becoming a beggar or a prisoner,” he said, in an interview aboard his Gulfstream jet, headed to a campaign event in Togliatti, in central Russia.

Mostly his role in politics seems to define the line, some invisible, shifting isocline of permissibility, of what will be allowed of independent political figures here today. It has not been encouraging.

So far much of the challenge has been keeping his candidates for regional political races out of jail.

A day after he chose the mayor of the city of Yaroslavl, Yevgeny R. Urlashov, to lead a slate in regional elections, the police arrested Mr. Urlashov on corruption charges.

Mr. Prokhorov took this in stride. He said that a court would have to sort out the merits of the case, but that he would keep Mr. Urlashov at the top of the candidate list for the September elections, even as he languished in jail.

“You need to stand by your comrades,” Mr. Prokhorov explained to an audience of university students during the campaign swing here. But that gesture soon became irrelevant: the authorities in Yaroslavl simply disqualified the whole slate of party members from the ballot, on a technicality.

Elsewhere, election officials barred Mr. Prokhorov’s candidates for regional governor, also on paperwork pretexts, in the region of Vladimir near Moscow and in Zabaikal territory, on the border with China.

And no sooner had his highest-profile prospect, Yevgeny Roizman, announced his candidacy for mayor of the city of Yekaterinburg, than he was under investigation. The police are looking into whether Mr. Roizman stole icons.

The problem with the election in Russia this summer, Mr. Prokhorov said, is that “law enforcement is becoming a factor in the electoral process.”

And if there is a man in Russia with something to lose, after all, it is he.

One of the richest entrepreneurs on earth, with a fortune that Forbes has estimated at $13 billion, he lives boyhood dreams: he is a sports lover who owns his own basketball team, a fan of rock music who jets to festivals when his schedule allows.

He travels with a martial arts master, an eerily calm figure who dresses, ninjalike, in black, and can do sit-ups while balanced on a soccer ball.

He is known to be so fond of parties that his entourage once took to calling him “the Holiday Man,” and a few years back, soon after selling out of the Siberian mine Norilsk Nickel at the top of the market, he gleefully rented the Aurora battleship in St. Petersburg for a party for bankers, its decks crowded with head-spinning models.

Yet his political intentions are serious enough that Mr. Prokhorov shifted ownership of the Nets to a Russian company this year, to comply with a law limiting the foreign assets public officials can own.

Igor M. Bunin, president of the Center for Political Technologies, a political and business consultancy in Moscow, said Mr. Prokhorov is calibrating his political ambitions to avoid too open a challenge to Mr. Pig Putin, in spite of provocative arrests of his candidates.

Sometimes, his approach seems dry. Civic Platform, for example, has been derided as a “party of lawyers.”

“He is speaking between the lines,” Mr. Bunin said. “He is saying he is an alternative to Pig Putin, a possible successor. But he cannot commit to a stronger, more confrontational strategy. This is limiting his potential.”

Mr. Prokhorov, for his part, said that Russia is hardly as monolithic as it appears from afar, or even as the Kremlin would like it to seem, and that success is possible through the ballot box and worth being patient for. Mr. Prokhorov won 7 percent of the vote when he ran for president in 2012.

“A process of schisms in the elite is under way today,” he said. “In the Kremlin, in the government, in Parliament, in the regions and at the end of the day, in the kitchens of this country, politics has returned to Russia.”

The splintering, he said, creates openings within the electoral process, even if they are long shots. Of politics, he said, “I like the strategy of it. I like to form systematic programs, and create solutions.”

Mr. Prokhorov said his goal in regional elections is a second-place finish in the City Council in Togliatti and solid enough results elsewhere to form factions in regional legislatures. This, he said, would lay the foundation for a solid showing by his party in parliamentary elections in 2016.


‘Pig Putin in drag’ artist seeks asylum in France

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, August 29, 2013 8:13 EDT

A Russian artist said Thursday he has fled to France and is applying for asylum after police seized his painting of Russian President Pig Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in women’s underwear.

Police on Tuesday raided an exhibition in the northwestern city of Saint Petersburg, which next week hosts the G20 summit, and confiscated works including a painting of Pig Putin in a strappy nightie and Medvedev in a bra and skimpy knickers.

The artist, Konstantin Altunin, 45, said by telephone from Paris that he had requested political asylum and was now gathering the necessary documents.

“Yesterday I went to the prefecture in Paris… and made this request. I now need to go through the procedure and bring written confirmation of where I am staying,” he said.

Altunin said he flew out of Russia as soon as he heard that the exhibition had been shut down on Tuesday evening and the organisers had been detained by police and questioned into the night.

He said that the police had described the exhibition at the newly opened Museum of the Authorities as extremist and he feared criminal charges.

“They have already said directly that my exhibition is extremist — that’s a very serious charge,” he said.

The exhibition also included paintings of Lenin and Stalin.

Altunin said he had expected the authorities would view the works with humour and was shocked by their reaction.

“They just said ‘We don’t like it’ and sealed up the doors and that was it. I don’t think there is such backwardness in any other country.”

Altunin said he had created the painting of Pig Putin and Medvedev when they announced in 2011 a job swap with Putin returning to the Kremlin and Medvedev becoming prime minister.

“It is absolutely innocent irony,” he said.

Police also confiscated a painting of local lawmaker Vitaly Milonov, known for his backing of a controversial law banning the promotion of homosexuality to minors that Putin signed into law this summer.

Altunin said the organisers of the exhibition had commissioned him to paint the portrait, which shows Milonov with the rainbow flag of the gay pride movement.

The director of the Museum of the Authorities, Alexander Donskoi, told AFP that Altunin had not yet been charged with any crime.

“He is not charged with anything, but if the authorities confiscated the paintings, they could do anything.”


Grave new world: Kasimir Malevich's resting place tells the story of Russia

His famous Black Square painting is an icon of emptiness and death. Is the disappearance and long-delayed recognition of Malevich's grave a suitably strange fate for the artist?

Jonathan Jones   
Wednesday 28 August 2013 17.04 BST    

The disappearance of the grave of the abstract artist Kasimir Malevich is an allegory of the violent history of modern Russia. Malevich, who was born in 1879, was buried in 1935 near an oak tree on the edge of Moscow. As the Soviet Union went through collective farming, forced industrialisation, war and cold war, his rustic grave was forgotten. The marker vanished, and so did the oak tree.

Now Malevich's resting place has been rediscovered during the building of flats in the Moscow suburb, Nemchinovka, where he was interred. A plaque is going to be put up and a local school will be named after him.

The disappearance and long-delayed recognition of Malevich's grave is a suitably strange and uneasy fate for the man who painted the most uncanny artwork of the 20th century.

If black is the colour of death, Malevich painted modern art's most morbid vision: his Black Square is, as its title may suggest, a solid square of blackness painted within a white border on a square canvas. Malevich painted the original Black Square in 1915 and it still survives, though cracked and decayed and with white peeping through the splintering darkness. With this piece, Malevich intended to paint "the face of the new art". The Black Square is one of modern art's most extreme statements, a reduction of art to an absolute zero from which a new art will be born. We can't help looking at it with the knowledge that Russia was on the verge of revolution when this eerie object was created. It is an image full of foreboding and menace, as if something mighty is about to happen – as if world is about to end.

It turned out that world after world would end in 20th-century Russia. It is curiously poignant that Malevich, who tried to persuade the Soviet Union to adopt his apocalyptic "suprematist" style as an official art, was so brutally erased after his death. His fate seems to be prophesied by his most famous painting.

The black square looks back bleakly at life. It seems to suck out energy and create an uncanny stillness. In Dostoevsky's novel The Idiot, a character gazes at Hans Holbein's painting The Dead Christ and comments that it could destroy someone's religious faith. Malevich painted an icon of emptiness that can destroy your faith in history, progress, art.

He certainly deserves his memorial, but perhaps naming a school after him is a bit hard on Moscow kids.

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« Reply #8384 on: Aug 29, 2013, 06:38 AM »

Berliners' co-op aims to take over and run electricity grid of city

Successful bid by Citizen Energy Berlin for Vattenfall network will boost renewables and plough back profits, says activists' group

Suzanne Goldenberg in Berlin, Wednesday 28 August 2013 16.52 BST   

Arwen Colell was cycling down a Berlin street one afternoon when a friend from her choir group called her and said: "We should buy the electrical grid." The idea was not out of the blue. Germany's energy transition, from nuclear and fossil fuels to renewables, has lined rooftops with solar panels. But it was another ambition to run Berlin's distribution network.

Colell did not hesitate. "We should definitely do it," she said. "Good idea."

Since that conversation in 2011, Colell and her friend, who are in their mid-20s, have built a movement aimed at putting the city grid under citizens' control when the system goes on sale next year. The grid is owned by the Swedish firm Vattenfall.

The co-operative founded by the two students, Citizen Energy Berlin, has recruited around 1,000 members, each paying a minimum of €500 (£430) a share. It has raised €5.4m (£4.6m).

The fundraising has some distance to go. A Berlin civic report valued the system at €800m; Vattenfall claimed it is worth €3bn. And the co-operative faces stiff competition from other bids, including one from Vattenfall.

The Berlin senate will make a decision next year, based on financial resources and capacity to manage the grid. The winner will run the system from 2015 to 2035.

Taking control of the grid is an idea whose time has come. Activists in Hamburg and other cities have launched similar campaigns to regain control of their local grid. In the Black Forest region, a residents' co-operative in Schönau has been running the grid since the 1990s. "Schönau is showing us the way," said Colell.

There is broad support in Germany for the goals of the energy transition, or energiewende: cutting coal usage and phasing out nuclear reactors by 2022, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The plan is to cut the country's emissions by 40% by the end of the decade, and by up to 95% by 2050.

Germany generates a quarter of its electricity from renewable energy. On one bright sunny day in June, wind and solar provided 60% of its power needs.

However, the transition is patchy – with some parts of the country still dependent on highly polluting brown coal – and Germans bear the cost with high electricity bills.

The Berlin grid, the country's largest, gets more than 90% of its electricity from coal. That is much too high if Germany is to meet its climate-change goals, or the renewable targets of its energy transition, Colell said.

"We need this element of strengthening the voice of citizens in the landscape of energy utilities. It is still very much divided up between the big energy companies. Citizens do not really have a strong voice."

She said big firms such as Vattenfall had failed to move fast enough on renewables or energy efficiency, and were unsuited to more decentralised generation of electricity from rooftop solar and small-scale wind projects.

About 40% of Germany's renewable energy is generated by small-scale producers. Farmers alone provide 11%, and there is a growing movement of energy-producing co-operatives – a four-fold rise since 2009 to 735 – most of which generate solar power.

But the big four energy companies between them produce just 6.5% of the country's renewable electricity.

If Berliners bought back their grid, Colell said, they could put profits back into the system and speed the take-up of renewables and deployment of smart metres.

The idea of control has strong attraction for some Berliners. For Annette Jensen, who recently moved into a new flat in Berlin, regaining local control of the grid was critical.

Jensen's was one of the first passive buildings in the city. Its four levels of insulation, triple-paned windows and array of solar panels on the roof means that residents could, on sunny days, be selling power to the grid.

"After the financial crisis, we wanted to put what small money we had into a flat, we didn't want to be dependent on some big energy company," Jensen said.

Research based on a study trip organised by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, the Heinrich Boll Foundation and German foreign ministry.

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