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« Reply #8475 on: Sep 02, 2013, 08:00 AM »

Angry mob castrates Papua New Guinea’s cult leader ‘Black Jesus’

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, September 2, 2013 7:59 EDT

An infamous Papua New Guinea cult leader known as “Black Jesus” was castrated by an angry mob after being hacked to death for killing young girls as sacrifices, reports said Monday.

Steven Tari, a convicted rapist who was suspected of cannibalism, was killed in a remote PNG village last week, with gory details of his death emerging.

The National newspaper said he was hunted down by 80 men, killed, castrated and then dragged with a cane tied around his neck to a shallow pit where his body was dumped.

Tari had been on the run since escaping from a prison in Madang in the Pacific nation’s east during a mass break-out with 48 others in March.

His corpse was dug up by police, prison and health workers on Friday. Juith Gawi, a doctor at Modilion Hospital, said he had multiple knife wounds.

“He was chopped and slashed with bush knives on both arms and legs, chest and stomach which revealed his intestines. He was also castrated,” Gawi said.

Tari, a failed Lutheran pastor who was widely known as Black Jesus, was found guilty in 2010 of raping girls who belonged to his Christian-based sect and sentenced to up to 10 years.

At the time, he had thousands of village followers, including a core of armed warriors to protect him, in what is commonly referred to in PNG as a “cargo cult”.

As part of his “culture ministry”, he preached that young girls were to be “married” to him as it was God’s prophecy.

The National said villagers where he was hiding became fed up with cult beliefs and practices, which included “the killing of young girls as sacrifices”.

Local police official Ray Ban said Tari and his followers offered Rose Wagum, 15, last week as a “sacrifice”. She was found with stab wounds and reportedly died of blood loss.

The group also tried to offer another 14-year-old girl but were stopped by the mob which eventually killed Tari.

The National said Wagum’s aunt was the first known “flower girl” for Tari and found young virgins for him, and it was she who took her niece to his camp to be sacrificed.

Ban said at least one other girl was still missing.

“Tari is dead and this cult worship dies with him,” he said.

“Stop this worship now. If I hear any more cult worship here, I will return with my men.”

When he was captured in 2007, there were widespread allegations that Tari’s cult also practised cannibalism along with sacrificial blood rituals, but police only charged him with rape.

PNG is a sprawling nation where black magic, sorcery and cannibalism sometimes occur.

Last year police, also in the Madang region, arrested dozens of people linked to an alleged cannibal cult accused of killing at least seven people, eating their brains raw and making soup from their penises.

There have been several other recent cases linked to cults, witchcraft and cannibalism, with a man in 2011 reportedly found eating his screaming, newborn son during a sorcery initiation ceremony.

In 2009, a young woman was stripped naked, gagged and burnt alive at the stake in the Highlands town of Mount Hagen.

And two years earlier police clashed with members of a cult suspected of human sacrifices in the remote province of Morobe.

In that incident, police were investigating reports of several murders in which people were decapitated, with their heads impaled on stakes and paraded around.


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« Reply #8476 on: Sep 02, 2013, 08:09 AM »


Khmer Rouge war crimes court threatened by pay dispute

Strike by Cambodian staff paralyses court already hit by resignations and accusations of political interference

Reuters in Phnmom Penh
theguardian.com, Monday 2 September 2013 10.50 BST   

Cambodian staff at a Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal have gone on strike as a funding crisis deepened at a court already bogged down by resignations, political interference and the frail health of its elderly defendants.

Two hundred and fifty Cambodians have not been paid since June at the UN-backed court, caught up in a standoff between donors and a government criticised for its lack of support for hearings into one of the darkest chapters of the 20th century.

The national component of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) had a shortfall of $3m (£1.9m) in its annual budget, court spokesman Neth Pheaktra said, confirming that about 100 people have gone on strike and will not return until they have been paid.

Up to 2.2 million people – about a quarter of the population – died under the brutal Maoist Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979, many as a result of hard labour, torture or execution.

Under the agreement for the tribunal, the United Nations was to pay for international staff and operations, while Cambodia paid for the national side. But the government has been repeatedly criticised for its lack of support.

"We are very concerned about the possible risk of disruption to the judicial process through the strike by national staff," said UN spokesman Lars Olsen.

The funding dispute puts the spotlight on the commitment of the government, which has been accused of interfering behind the scenes to undermine the court and limit the scope of investigations that could implicate powerful political figures.

The court, dogged from the outset by allegations of corruption, political interference and profligacy, had spent $175.3m (£112m) by the end of last year. It has only convicted one prisoner, former prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias "Duch", who was jailed for life for the deaths of more than 14,000 people.

The government said on Monday it had already contributed $16.9m to the court.

"If the ECCC is going to fail just because of a budget shortfall, the failure of the court is the failure of the United Nations, the failure of the Cambodian government and the failure of the international community as the whole," government spokesman Ek Tha said. "We hope the international community will not stand and watch."

*************

Abandoned art from Khmer temple complex in Cambodia resuced from obscurity, put on display

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, September 1, 2013 17:30 EDT

Forgotten and abandoned for over 70 years, casts of the art treasures at the Khmer temple complex at Angkor in Cambodia are coming out of storage to be rediscovered in a Europe that first shunned them.

The statues, reliefs and temple decorations in the style of the original ninth to 15-century monuments at the site in northern Cambodia are to be exhibited in Paris’ Musee Guimet in all their splendour.

The casts made between 1870 and the late 1920s were commissioned by Frenchman Louis Delaporte (1842-1925), a member of the expedition team who “rediscovered” Angkor nearly 150 years ago.

Displayed at Paris’ Indochina Museum at Trocadero until its closure in 1936, the works were passed from one storage site to another over the next seven decades, some becoming damaged in the process.

A year ago, the Musee Guimet took the pieces to a secure warehouse where they were inventoried and in certain cases restored, ready for the exhibition entitled “Birth of a Myth. Louis Delaporte and Cambodia” that opens October 16.

Some 250 works will be shown including the casts and original Khmer art plus photographs and drawings.

For several centuries the Angkor complex, now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was the centre of the powerful Khmer Empire.

Stretching over 400 square kilometres (250 square miles), the park contains remains of Khmer capitals, with the impressive 12th-century Angkor Wat temple its best-known treasure.

Delaporte’s collection features reliefs of Angkor Wat with extraordinary detail that far eclipses what visitors to the original can see.

“At the site, the original (reliefs) are high up and barely visible from the ground,” said Pierre Baptiste, exhibition curator and head of the Musee Guimet’s southeast Asia section.

Among the casts is a plaster tower covered with smiling deities, like the one of the Bayon temple, a major monument at Angkor. It was sawed into bits after 1936 but will be partially put back together for the exhibition.

– Left to gather dust –

Angkor had already been visited by Europeans including a French naturalist, Henri Mouhot, who wrote of the wonder, before Delaporte joined the 1866-1868 Mekong expedition

Delaporte was stunned by the sights he discovered and was determined that Europeans see the Khmer art for themselves.

In 1873 he organised a collection of statues, reliefs and architectural pieces found in the temple ruins to be sent to French museums. At the same time, he commissioned the casts.

At first they were ignored by Europe.

“When his 102 boxes of Khmer pieces, including originals, arrived in France in 1874, nobody wanted to know,” said Baptiste. Even the Louvre refused them.

In the end, the works were sent to a chateau north of Paris at Compiegne where Delaporte opened a museum of Khmer art.

Eager to complete his museum collection, Delaporte sent his sculptors to work in Cambodia and produce more casts.

But as the 20th century arrived, interest in casts waned and, after the closure of the Trocadero museum, Delaporte’s collection was homeless.

In 1973, after nearly 40 years, the casts were finally housed in an abbey in northern France but were kept in “dreadful conditions” in humid cellars, said Baptiste.

Finally, in late 2011 the French culture ministry took up the cause, moving the casts into proper storage and treating some for fungus.

It is hoped the casts, at last proudly displayed in a complete exhibition, will seduce a 21st-century public.

The signs are positive: already, people responding to a request by the Musee Guimet for public funds to help restore the cast of a door at Angkor Wat have given thousands of euros.

Nearly 20,000 euros ($26,770) in crowd-funding has also been donated through the MyMajor website, with 10,000 euros more needed to include the door in the exhibition.


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« Reply #8477 on: Sep 02, 2013, 08:12 AM »

Snowden files reveal NSA spied on Brazil and Mexico presidents: Glenn Greenwald

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, September 2, 2013 7:25 EDT

The US National Security Agency spied on the communications of the Brazilian and Mexican presidents, accessing the Mexico leader’s emails before he was elected, Brazil’s Globo television reported.

Rio de Janeiro-based journalist Glenn Greenwald, a columnist for the Guardian newspaper who obtained secret files from NSA leaker Edward Snowden, told Globo on Sunday that a document dated June 2012 shows that Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s emails were being accessed.

That was a month before his election.

The NSA also intercepted some of Pena Nieto’s voicemails. The communications included messages in which the future leader discussed the names of potential cabinet members.

A Mexican foreign ministry spokesman told AFP he had seen the report but had no comment. A presidency spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

As for Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, the NSA said in the document that it was trying to better understand her methods of communication and interlocutors using a program to access all Internet content the president visited online.

Rousseff, who is due to make a state visit to Washington in October, held a working meeting to study the revelations in the Globo report, the channel said.

“If these facts prove to be true, it would be unacceptable and could be called an attack on our country’s sovereignty,” Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo said.

The NSA program allows agents to access the entire communications network of the president and her staff, including telephone, Internet and social network exchanges.

Cardozo met with US Vice President Joe Biden in Washington last week to discuss the matter.

The United States have rejected a Brazilian offer to negotiate a bilateral agreement on surveillance.

In July, Greenwald co-wrote articles in O Globo revealing that the US had a joint NSA-CIA base in Brazil to gather data on emails and calls flowing through the country.

Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, is now a fugitive in Russia under temporary asylum.

He is wanted by Washington on espionage charges linked to media disclosures about US surveillance programs.


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« Reply #8478 on: Sep 02, 2013, 08:37 AM »

In the USA...

Obama’s Decision to Get Congressional Approval Gives Sanity a Chance

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Sep. 1st, 2013
PoliticusUSA

obama-syria-3It isn’t easy being president. Barack Obama was going to draw criticism no matter what decision he made with regard to Syria. And he has.

If he had decided to go ahead and launch attacks on Syria, he would have been accused by Republicans (and let’s not forget progressives) of exceeding his authority as president. Now that he chose to seek congressional approval, he is being accused by Rep. Peter King (R-NY) of weakening the presidency, and not only that, weakening the authority of future presidents.

Given how much worry we’ve seen over a greatly expanded ‘imperial’ presidency, shouldn’t reigning in executive powers be cause for jubilation instead?

It’s true that some Republicans have praised Obama, including Sen. Mitch McConnell, who takes the opposite tack: “The President’s role as commander-in-chief is always strengthened when he enjoys the expressed support of the Congress.”

This echoes Obama, who said, when he announced his decision Saturday, “While I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective.”

And then there is Obama’s personal heckler, John Boehner. Boehner pointed out, correctly, as it happens, that “Under the Constitution, the responsibility to declare war lies with Congress.” The issue of war is addressed in Article One, Section Eight.

Of course, the problem here is that there are things a president can do just short of war. After all, the definition of war is just a little fuzzy. We fought a war in Korea, after all, under the guise of a ‘police action.’ By any definition, Korea was a war, but the U.S. never declared war. It was a war, in effect, that we fought at the behest of the United Nations (authorized by United Nations Security Council resolution).

And Sen . John Conyers (R-TX) is also right when he says, “But we need to understand what the whole scope of consequences is. What the president may perceive as limited…won’t stop there.”
This is true. Look at Iraq. Or Afghanistan. Wars that went on for twice as long as our involvement in World War II. Look at the Vietnam War. Wars are easier to start than to end.

And it’s not just Republicans who are angry with Obama. Believe it or not, he is drawing criticism from overseas. As though it’s his fault Congress won’t return from recess to deal with the issue – a fact which McConnell may want to consider next time the president’s need for immediate action crops up. Crises will not wait for Congress.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has saved her criticism for Russia and China, for failing to work with the West on a resolution to the Syrian crisis, and her foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, says the delay “must be used to reach a common position of the international community within the U.N. Security Council.”

British intelligence said 350 people were killed in the chemical weapons attack. Obama said well over a thousand, and Secretary of State John Kerry said 1,429. The one certainty in all this is that if the U.S. intervenes, many more will die than 350, or a thousand, or 1,429. And the dead, as the United States’ recent record with air strikes and drone missile strikes, will not be limited to the guilty.

Think about it from this perspective: because almost 3,000 Americans were killed in the 9/11 attacks, the United States-led coalition killed 14,953 Iraqi civilians, including 1,201 children. From 2001 to 2003 alone, the United States killed somewhere between 3,100 and 3,600 Afghan civilians in bombing attacks.

So when we complain or show outrage over the deaths of a thousand or so Syrians, or when we call those deaths by chemical weapon attack an “inhuman atrocity,” let us at least put those numbers in perspective. Syria is not the only killer of women and children. The United States’ own hands are red.

And what is an inhuman atrocity anyway? Dropping a bomb on a child’s head or blowing his arms and legs off is not? But putting poison gas in their lungs is? Let’s take a step back and think for a minute, please.

Britain has chosen to stay out of Syria. France won’t act alone, and Germany cannot without UN mandate. Whether the United States is or should be the world’s policeman, we are still the biggest player. That does not mean Syria is without allies: Iran, for example. And Russia and China are both hostile to Western intervention.

Big wars come out of small events. The assassination of one man was the spark that began the First World War, that most horrific of all wars. I think, intellectually, both sides recognize this.

But some sides don’t mind big wars. We know who some of those people are. President Obama says he is war-weary. His war weariness is shared by millions of Americans who are very cool to the idea of U.S. intervention. We’ve seen enough of our young men and women die, be wounded, or go missing.

This president is unafraid of doing what is demanded of him by his office. He is doing what is right by opening Syrian intervention to debate. He is unafraid of doing what is right regardless of the criticism. We may not always agree with the decisions he makes, but we can trust that he does not make them without due consideration for the consequences, and that, ultimately, is the job of the president – and the Congress of the United States.

Whatever ultimately comes out of congressional debate, we will have at least had that debate that common sense – and human decency – require.

***************

September 1, 2013

President Seeks to Rally Support for Syria Strike

By MICHAEL R. GORDON and JACKIE CALMES
NYT

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration began a full-press campaign on Sunday for Congressional approval of its plan to carry out a punitive strike against the Syrian government.

The lobbying blitz stretched from Capitol Hill, where the administration held its first classified briefing on Syria open to all lawmakers, to Cairo, where Secretary of State John Kerry reached Arab diplomats by phone in an attempt to rally international support for a firm response to the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus.

Mr. Kerry appeared on five morning talk shows, announcing new evidence — that the neurotoxin sarin had been used in the attack that killed more than 1,400 people — and expressing confidence that Congress would ultimately back the president’s plan for military action.

Behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, the administration presented classified intelligence to any senator or House member who wished to attend. About 80 did, but some from both parties emerged from the briefing convinced that the draft language authorizing military action would need to be tightened.

The rush of activity came a day after Mr. Obama’s surprise decision to seek the authorization of Congress for a strike on the Syrian government.

Ahead of an Arab League meeting in Cairo, Mr. Kerry sought to mobilize backing for American-led military action at a meeting the group held on Sunday night.

A statement that was issued by the league asserted that the Syrian government was “fully responsible” for the chemical weapons attack and asked the United Nations and the international community “to take the necessary measures against those who committed this crime.”

To the satisfaction of American officials, the statement did not explicitly mention the United Nations Security Council or assert that military action could be taken only with its approval. But it stopped short of a direct call for Western military action against Syria.

Before the meeting got under way, the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, urged the international community to stop the Syrian government’s “aggression” against its people.

Saudi Arabia has been one of the principal supporters of the Syrian opposition, and Mr. Kerry consulted by phone on Sunday with Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief and secretary general of its national security council.

The Obama administration’s calculation has been that a call for tough action by the Arab diplomats would enable the White House to argue to members of Congress that it had regional backing for military action and would make up, at least politically, for the British decision on Thursday not to join the American-led attack.

But Syria’s government on Sunday defiantly mocked Mr. Obama’s decision to turn to Congress, saying it was a sign of weakness. A state-run newspaper, Al Thawra, called the action “the start of the historic American retreat” and said Mr. Obama had put off an attack because of a “sense of implicit defeat and the disappearance of his allies.”

Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad, told reporters in Damascus, “It is clear there was a sense of hesitation and disappointment in what was said by President Barack Obama yesterday. And it is also clear there was a sense of confusion, as well.”

In some measure, part of the challenge that the Obama administration faces in trying to rally support at home for a punitive strike in Syria is the result of the deep ambivalence it has expressed about becoming involved in the conflict.

Part of the White House strategy for securing Congressional support now is to emphasize not only what Syria did, but also how a failure to act against Syria might embolden enemies of Israel like Iran and Hezbollah.

Mr. Kerry, in his television appearances, said that if Congress passed a measure authorizing the use of force, it would send a firm message to Iran that the United States would not tolerate the fielding of a nuclear device, and thus safeguard Israel’s security.

“I do not believe the Congress of the United States will turn its back on this moment,” Mr. Kerry said on the NBC News program “Meet The Press.” “The challenge of Iran, the challenges of the region, the challenge of standing up for and standing beside our ally, Israel, helping to shore up Jordan — all of these things are very, very powerful interests and I believe Congress will pass it.”

One administration official, who, like others, declined to be identified discussing White House strategy, called the American Israel Political Affairs Committee “the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” and said its allies in Congress had to be saying, “If the White House is not capable of enforcing this red line” — against catastrophic use of chemical weapons — “we’re in trouble.”

Israeli officials have been concerned by Mr. Obama’s decision, but have been mostly restrained in their public comments. Mr. Kerry talked on Sunday with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.

Both the House and Senate are expected to have votes sometime after they return from recess on Sept. 9, although Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, said the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would convene hearings on the Syrian issue Tuesday afternoon.

While Mr. Kerry said he was confident Congress would vote to approve the use of force, Representative Peter T. King, the New York Republican and a former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said that if a vote in the House were held today, Mr. Obama would likely lose as a result of the “isolationist wing.”

Much of the debate in Washington concerned the terms of the resolution the White House has proposed for authorizing the use of force.

Representative Chris Van Hollen, a senior Democrat from Maryland, said that while the administration’s resolution limited the purpose of an attack to stopping the use of weapons of mass destruction, the measure left the military too much “running room” and did not set limits on the duration of the military operation.

Congressional advocates of strong action to help the Syrian opposition, in contrast, have complained that the attack that President Obama appears to be planning seemed to be too limited to have enough of an impact.

Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, both Republicans, have warned that they would not support “isolated military strikes in Syria” that were not part of a broader strategy to shift the momentum on the battlefield. Mr. Obama is scheduled to meet with Mr. McCain on Monday at the White House.

As the White House consults with Congress, Mr. Kerry is planning a new round of diplomacy. He is planning to meet next weekend with European Union diplomats in Vilnius, Lithuania, and with Arab League diplomats in Rome.

After Mr. Obama’s change in direction, the reaction in Britain and France has largely been one of surprise and confusion. The French government, which had said on Friday that it would support a military strike, said it would wait for the American Congress to vote before taking any military action.

President François Hollande still intends to proceed with a military intervention of some kind in Syria, French officials said Sunday, but France will await the decision of Congress before taking action.

“We cannot leave this crime against humanity unpunished,” said Interior Minister Manuel Valls, speaking on French radio. But given logistical questions of “intervention capacity,” Mr. Valls said, France must “await the decision of the United States.”

“France cannot go forward alone,” he said. “There must be a coalition.”

A major question for military experts is what effect the delay in acting might have if force was eventually used by the United States.

Jack Keane, a former vice chief of staff of the Army and a retired four-star general, said in an interview that time would work to the advantage of President Bashar al-Assad as the Syrian forces would have more opportunities to move artillery, missiles and other equipment into civilian areas that they knew would not be struck.

Even Syrian command centers that could not be moved, he said, would be emptied of sensitive equipment and personnel.

But Mr. Obama said that he had been assured by Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, that a delay would not affect the United States military’s ability to carry out a strike.

Jonathan Weisman contributed reporting from Washington, David D. Kirkpatrick from Cairo, and Steven Erlanger from London.

************

John Boehner Tells House Republicans That They Can Blow Off Briefing on Syria

By: Sarah Jones
Sep. 1st, 2013
PoliticusUSA

While Senate Democrats are already at work on Syria, drafting new language for an authorization, Boehner and Cantor, the top two House Republicans, didn’t show up to the classified Syria briefing top administration officials gave for House members on Sunday.

Boehner told House Republicans not to worry if they couldn’t make it because there will be many more.

In April, Cantor urged all members to attend a classified briefing on Syria, but now that it’s imminent that the House actually needs to vote on it, Boehner told everyone not to worry about it because there will be others:

    Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) office said Saturday that administration officials will offer a classified briefing to House members on Sunday afternoon.

    The Speaker’s office added that “many classified briefings” will be offered for members who are not in Washington and will be unable to attend Sunday’s briefing.

Way to compel attendance.

There might be many classified briefings offered, but House Republicans are only going to be in session for nine legislative days this month. It would be wise of them to not waste any part of one of those days by attending a classified briefing that they could have gone to on their own time, which the taxpayers are still paying them for.

In fact, Cantor made the case for authorizing engagement in April and demonstrated what it sounds like when a leader compels attendance, “The Syrian conflict has raged for many months, and nearly a hundred thousand Syrian civilians have been killed. The conflict now threatens to spill over Syria’s borders, destabilizing key American allies.

“This dangerous conflict threatens American national security interests in the region, and I wanted to take this opportunity… to urge members to attend the classified briefing that the administration will be providing tomorrow morning at 9:30 a.m. in the CVC auditorium.”

Skipping briefings both after and while complaining that they are not being included and don’t have information is becoming a habit for Republicans, who also skipped the Benghazi briefing. Who can forget John McCain whining on TV, demanding more information about Benghazi as he was skipping the briefing on Benghazi.

Hey, Sunday’s briefing was only the briefing to hear the case for why the administration feels we need to respond after the White House released an intelligence report showing that 1,429 Syrians had been killed in alleged chemical attacks. A vote is imminent.

Perhaps Republicans don’t feel they need information before they vote.

Some Republicans did show. Politico reported, “Among the high-ranking House lawmakers who were seen attending the briefing were House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the third-ranking House Republican; House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.).”

Where were number one and two, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA)? Leading by example and skipping the briefing, apparently.

Eric Cantor, who sets the schedule for the House, has also not called the House back early from their vacation in order to deal with Syria.

This leaves House Republicans 9 days to deal with the debt ceiling crisis they created, the continuing resolution funding crisis they created, and Syria. Nine days for the most dysfunctional House ever in recorded history to handle all three of those issues.

While it doesn’t appear that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made it to the House briefing, the Senate is already working on their version of authorization. Aides to Reid and Senator Robert Menendez are are overseeing the Senate version of Syria authorization, which will limit the scope of the White House’s version.

**************

September 1, 2013

History Aside, Obama Bets on Congress

By MICHAEL D. SHEAR
NYT

WASHINGTON — In President Obama’s telling, Congress plays host to an “endless parade of distractions and political posturing.” It is the “challenging” place where his second-term agenda meets Washington gridlock, forcing him to issue executive orders and make appeals to the public to get anything done.

Yet now the president has chosen to hand over one of his most pressing foreign policy decisions to the very crowd that has vowed to block him at every turn.

By asking Congress for authorization to retaliate against Syria for using chemical weapons, Mr. Obama has put himself at the mercy of an institution that has bedeviled his presidency for years. He has risked his credibility — at home and abroad — on a bet that Washington’s partisan divisions will take a back seat during this debate. And he has bowed to the reality that some of the loudest demands for a Syria vote have come from his allies on Capitol Hill.

“You go to war with the Congress you have, not the Congress you wish you had,” said Matt Bennett, a former senior aide to President Bill Clinton. “He doesn’t have a Congress he can trust, but he feels that this is weighty enough that the Congress should be involved.”

The week ahead will feature a high-stakes lobbying effort by the administration for military action, some of it classified and behind closed doors, even as lawmakers trickle back to Washington from their summer break.

Despite assurances on the talk shows by Secretary of State John Kerry that Congress will approve action, early indications suggest that the Syria debate may face a version of the paralyzing politics that have repeatedly blocked Mr. Obama’s legislative proposals on gun control, immigration, climate change, expanded preschool, infrastructure spending, taxes, housing and the federal budget.

That could be especially true in the House, where a coalition of Tea Party conservatives, liberal Democrats and libertarians already appears to be preparing to oppose the use of military force in Syria. And even some senators began lining up to announce their opposition well ahead of the start of a debate in that chamber.

Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, said he would vote “no” and predicted that lawmakers would not give the president the authorization that he seeks. “I don’t think they will,” Mr. Inhofe said in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”

Mr. Obama’s willingness to place his faith in lawmakers is particularly unexpected for a president who has spent much of his second term trying to find creative ways to work around their judgment.

When Congress refused to approve new spending on infrastructure projects, he announced a faster process for getting federal permits. When it balked at new gun laws, he signed more than 20 executive actions to keep guns from criminals and people with mental illnesses. In his State of the Union, he pledged to enact new rules to combat climate change.

“If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will,” Mr. Obama said, promising executive actions to reduce pollution.

In speeches across the country on housing and education, every mention of the need for Congressional approval for his proposals has become a reliable punch line. In Scranton, Penn., last month, the audience laughed when Mr. Obama said that some of his proposals for college tuition would require action from Congress.

“That’s always challenging,” Mr. Obama agreed.

Earlier, in Galesburg, Ill., he laid out an economic vision for his last three years and said, “We’re going to do everything we can, wherever we can, with or without Congress, to make things happen.”

White House officials are betting that a debate about attacking Syria will be different, and that Congress will not shrink from what Mr. Obama says is the need to hold the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, accountable for gassing his own citizens. By demanding a vote, the president is essentially asking Congress to own the decision to go to war.

David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to the president, said he hoped members of Congress would treat the issue of a military attack differently than they had many domestic issues.

“It would be beyond tragic if, on an issue like this, people started making political calculations about damaging the president,” Mr. Axelrod said. “He’s chosen to put his faith, not necessarily in the Congress, but in our laws and traditions. It’ll be an interesting week to see how that works out.”

Dan Pfeiffer, the president’s senior adviser, said that “the fact of divided government and polarized politics is exactly why it is so important that Congress play a role in such an important decision for our country.”

In 2011, Mr. Obama drew bipartisan criticism for not asking Congress for authorization to participate in an air campaign in Libya that lasted for weeks. The president and his lawyers argued that American law did not require a vote in Congress for the effort, which was aimed at preventing Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan leader, from killing rebels in his country.

Mr. Obama has at least one legislative advantage in the Syria debate: Congressional leaders, including the House speaker, John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, have already pledged to schedule an up-or-down vote in both chambers. That is more than the president often gets in the House, where Mr. Boehner frequently blocks a floor vote on the president’s agenda.

But despite his first-term victories on health care and financial regulation, Mr. Obama is not a president with a keen sense of how to easily move his ideas through a reluctant Congress. With the Syria vote, he must find a way to ensure victory without setting a precedent that requires him — and future presidents — to do the same before every strike.

Within moments of Mr. Obama’s surprise announcement on Saturday, even lawmakers who support military action against Syria expressed doubt about the outcome of a Congressional vote. Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York, said on “Fox News Sunday” that the president’s hesitation represented a “clear failure of leadership.”

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, demanded even bolder military action against Syria than Mr. Obama is contemplating. Mr. McCain said he might oppose the use of force unless the president agreed to a wider military effort. But agreeing to that would almost certainly undermine support among many Democrats and some libertarians.

And even Mr. Obama’s call for a “narrow, limited action” has some liberal Democrats worried. Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, said he entered the debate “as a skeptic” and said he was not convinced that it was a good idea to launch missiles against the Syrian government.

“Will a U.S. attack make the situation better for the Syrian people or worse?” he asked on “Meet the Press.”

The outcome of that debate may help determine Mr. Obama’s foreign policy legacy, which now is partly in the hands of his adversaries in Congress. In a statement on Saturday, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, hinted at the political impact for the president if Congress refuses to give him the permission he wants.

“The president’s role as commander in chief,” Mr. McConnell said, “is always strengthened when he enjoys the expressed support of the Congress.”

*************

John Kerry Rips Fox News for Arguing Against Democracy in America

By: Jason Easley
Sep. 1st, 2013
PoliticusUSA

In response to Chris Wallace claiming that the people should have no voice in the Syria decision, Sec. of State John Kerry ripped Fox News for arguing against democracy in America.

Transcript via Fox News Sunday:

    WALLACE: They lose the possibility that they’re going to get killed in the meantime.

    Let me just, if I may, follow up. Ronald Reagan did not think he needed congressional approval to go after Gadhafi in Libya. Bill Clinton did not think he needed approval to go after Kosovo or to go after Al Qaeda. This president seems to think –

    KERRY: Actually –

    WALLACE: — he needs political cover.

    KERRY: Actually, Chris, at the very instant the planes were in the air on Kosovo, there was a vote in the House of Representatives, and the vote did not carry. So the truth is the president would have loved to have had the support from Congress. The fact is that our country is much stronger when we act together.

    I am amazed that you would argue against the Congress of the United States weighing in, when in fact, already Assad is on the defensive, he’s moving assets around, he’s hunkering down, he’s taking a response to the potential of a strike. And the fact is that this strike can have impact when it needs to, with the support of the Congress of the United States.

    Now, if the Assad regime — let me just finish. If the Assad regime were to be foolish enough to attack yet again and to do something in the meantime, of course the president of the United States knows he has the power to do this, and I assume the president would move very, very rapidly. But he feels we are stronger in getting the United States as a whole to gel around this policy, to understand it better, and to know what the strategy is, and why the United States needs to do this.

Kerry highlighted the box that President Obama has put his opposition into. Republicans and their media outlets are now forced to argue against representative democracy. The argument that Wallace was making was that the people should have no voice in the decision making process concerning military action. Chris Wallace’s basic argument was that Republicans can’t be trusted to do the right thing for the country, so it would be best if Obama did whatever he was going to do without their input.

Fox News is so desperate to oppose Obama that they are not only pushing propaganda from a dictator, but they are arguing that the United States should be more of a dictatorship. As Sec. of State Kerry’s comments revealed, there is no way that Republicans can argue against seeking congressional authorization without looking like they are attacking our system of government.

Some on the right are yearning for the “good old days” of the Bush years when the nation could count on the president to unilaterally invade nations based on manipulated intelligence and cooked up evidence. If anyone bothered to challenge that evidence, they got their CIA agent spouse outted.

Fox News desperately wants to go back to the good old days when the red, white, and blue was a whole lot less free, and it is killing them that Barack Obama is showing such great respect for the constitution.

*************

Fox News Uses Propaganda From The Syrian Government to Attack Obama

By: Jason Easley
Sep. 1st, 2013
PoliticusUSA

During an interview with Sec. of State John Kerry, Fox News Sunday’s, Chris Wallace used propaganda from the state run newspaper in Syria to attack President Obama.

WALLACE: You talk about this is going to make it worse for Assad. After the president announced his decision, officials in Damascus were saying that the president had flinched. Had made a joke of the American administration. A newspaper out in the streets of Damascus calls this, “the start of the historic American retreat.” Haven’t you handed Syria and Iran at least a temporary victory?

KERRY: I don’t believe so at all and that is in the hands of the Congress of the U.S. The president has made his decision. The president wants to stand up and make certain that we uphold the international norm. That we do not grant impunity to a ruthless dictator to gas his own people. Anybody who saw those images. Anybody who now focuses on the evidence that I just gave you about signatures of saran in the hair and blood samples of first responds. I mean first responders died. People who went to help the people who were hurt died in this case. This is a man who has committed a crime against humanity, and I can’t imagine the Congress of the United States will not recognize our interests with respect to Iran, Israel, Jordan, Turkey, our friends in the region, the Syrian people, the opposition. America’s credibility is on the line here. And I expect the Congress of the United States to do what is right, to stand up and be counted, and I think the Assad regime needs to recognize that they have refocused the energy of the American people on him, on his regime.

What Wallace left out of his question is the fact that the source of his quote was the Assad regime’s official state run newspaper. Fox News would rather side with a regime that is gassing its own people than agree with President Obama on anything. It is ironic, but not surprising in the least, that the Republican Party’s propaganda outlet would have no problem with passing off propaganda from a dictatorship as a source of journalistic credibility.

Fox News handles Republican propaganda every day. For them, propaganda is fact.

Can you imagine the Republican outrage if MSNBC would have tried to pass off propaganda from Saddam Hussein as the feelings of the people on the ground in Iraq? Republicans far and wide would have been screaming about how MSNBC was un-American and the pro-Saddam network. Yet, Fox News freely quotes propaganda from the Assad regime, and nobody says a peep.

There are lots of arguments that can be made for and against military action in Syria. The country will hopefully hear all of these all of these points over the next week and a half, but an American network using propaganda from a foreign dictator to attack the president is a borderline treasonous act.

As he gasses his own people, Assad now knows that he can count on Fox News to carry his message to the American people.

Fox News is so guided by partisan politics that they are siding with a dictator just so that they can oppose Obama.

***************

David Gregory Lets Rand Paul Pretend that War Has Been Officially Declared

By: Sarah Jones
Sep. 1st, 2013
PoliticusUSA

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) invented a “unilateral” Syrian War, telling David Gregory on Meet the Press, “No president should unilaterally go to war without congressional authority… But absolutely if congress votes this down, we should not be involved in the Syrian war.”

There is no Syrian war right now, and neither David Gregory nor Rand Paul seem to understand the War Powers Resolution.

DAVID GREGORY: (Sec Kerry) says for you and others not to authorize force is really hurtful to U.S. credibility.

RAND PAUL: Well, the one thing I would say that I’m proud of the president for his, that he’s coming to congress in a constitutional manner and asking for our authorization. That’s what he ran on. His policy was that no president should unilaterally go to war without congressional authority. And I’m proud that he’s sticking by it. But you ask john Kerry whether or not he’ll stick by the decision of congress, and I believe he waffled on that and wobbled and wasn’t exactly concrete that they would. But absolutely if congress votes this down, we should not be involved in the Syrian war. And I think it’s at least 50/50 whether the house will vote down involvement in the Syrian war.

David Gregory let that little one slid by — hey, what’s a Syrian War invention when they sold us weapons of mass destruction via the same little moves of the goal posts?

Paul ignored the War Powers Resolution and pretended that President Obama declared war on Syria. He did not, and yes, these little details matter. They matter a lot. The President proposed a short, limited engagement. The president does not need congressional approval for limited military interventions, but he chose to ask for it of his own volition.

The War Powers Resolution was a reaction to former Republican President Richard Nixon’s secret bombings on Cambodia. It has been interpreted by constitutional experts and previous presidents as giving the president broader authority to engage in limited military action overseas. However, it also limits executive power. Per the Act, the President has to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action and the President only gets 60 days of limited engagement before he or she must declare war and get authorization for the use of force.

See? Declaring war is not the same thing as limited military engagement — per the law. This is not a matter of opinion. Plenty of us disagree with this, but that doesn’t change the law.

We should definitely be debating whether or not this has been abused (it has, in my opinion), but that debate shouldn’t grant us the right to make up declarations of war where they do not exist, especially before engagement has even commenced.

It’s a shame that Rand Paul is such a tool full of misguided presidential ambition, because we can always use more voices against war. But those voices need to be tethered to reality in order to effect change. Paul doesn’t get to make up wars just to justify his position and David Gregory never should have let him get away with this rather glaring moving of the goal post.

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September 1, 2013

Drug Agents Use Vast Phone Trove, Eclipsing N.S.A.’s

By SCOTT SHANE and COLIN MOYNIHAN
NYT

For at least six years, law enforcement officials working on a counternarcotics program have had routine access, using subpoenas, to an enormous AT&T database that contains the records of decades of Americans’ phone calls — parallel to but covering a far longer time than the National Security Agency’s hotly disputed collection of phone call logs.

The Hemisphere Project, a partnership between federal and local drug officials and AT&T that has not previously been reported, involves an extremely close association between the government and the telecommunications giant.

The government pays AT&T to place its employees in drug-fighting units around the country. Those employees sit alongside Drug Enforcement Administration agents and local detectives and supply them with the phone data from as far back as 1987.

The project comes to light at a time of vigorous public debate over the proper limits on government surveillance and on the relationship between government agencies and communications companies. It offers the most significant look to date at the use of such large-scale data for law enforcement, rather than for national security.

The scale and longevity of the data storage appears to be unmatched by other government programs, including the N.S.A.’s gathering of phone call logs under the Patriot Act. The N.S.A. stores the data for nearly all calls in the United States, including phone numbers and time and duration of calls, for five years.

Hemisphere covers every call that passes through an AT&T switch — not just those made by AT&T customers — and includes calls dating back 26 years, according to Hemisphere training slides bearing the logo of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Some four billion call records are added to the database every day, the slides say; technical specialists say a single call may generate more than one record. Unlike the N.S.A. data, the Hemisphere data includes information on the locations of callers.

The slides were given to The New York Times by Drew Hendricks, a peace activist in Port Hadlock, Wash. He said he had received the PowerPoint presentation, which is unclassified but marked “Law enforcement sensitive,” in response to a series of public information requests to West Coast police agencies.

The program was started in 2007, according to the slides, and has been carried out in great secrecy.

“All requestors are instructed to never refer to Hemisphere in any official document,” one slide says. A search of the Nexis database found no reference to the program in news reports or Congressional hearings.

The Obama administration acknowledged the extraordinary scale of the Hemisphere database and the unusual embedding of AT&T employees in government drug units in three states.

But they said the project, which has proved especially useful in finding criminals who discard cellphones frequently to thwart government tracking, employed routine investigative procedures used in criminal cases for decades and posed no novel privacy issues.

Crucially, they said, the phone data is stored by AT&T, and not by the government as in the N.S.A. program. It is queried for phone numbers of interest mainly using what are called “administrative subpoenas,” those issued not by a grand jury or a judge but by a federal agency, in this case the D.E.A.

Brian Fallon, a Justice Department spokesman, said in a statement that “subpoenaing drug dealers’ phone records is a bread-and-butter tactic in the course of criminal investigations.”

Mr. Fallon said that “the records are maintained at all times by the phone company, not the government,” and that Hemisphere “simply streamlines the process of serving the subpoena to the phone company so law enforcement can quickly keep up with drug dealers when they switch phone numbers to try to avoid detection.”

He said that the program was paid for by the D.E.A. and the White House drug policy office but that the cost was not immediately available.

Officials said four AT&T employees are now working in what is called the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, which brings together D.E.A. and local investigators — two in the program’s Atlanta office and one each in Houston and Los Angeles.

Daniel C. Richman, a law professor at Columbia, said he sympathized with the government’s argument that it needs such voluminous data to catch criminals in the era of disposable cellphones.

“Is this a massive change in the way the government operates? No,” said Mr. Richman, who worked as a federal drug prosecutor in Manhattan in the early 1990s. “Actually you could say that it’s a desperate effort by the government to catch up.”

But Mr. Richman said the program at least touched on an unresolved Fourth Amendment question: whether mere government possession of huge amounts of private data, rather than its actual use, may trespass on the amendment’s requirement that searches be “reasonable.” Even though the data resides with AT&T, the deep interest and involvement of the government in its storage may raise constitutional issues, he said.

Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the 27-slide PowerPoint presentation, evidently updated this year to train AT&T employees for the program, “certainly raises profound privacy concerns.”

“I’d speculate that one reason for the secrecy of the program is that it would be very hard to justify it to the public or the courts,” he said.

Mr. Jaffer said that while the database remained in AT&T’s possession, “the integration of government agents into the process means there are serious Fourth Amendment concerns.”

Mr. Hendricks filed the public records requests while assisting other activists who have filed a federal lawsuit saying that a civilian intelligence analyst at an Army base near Tacoma infiltrated and spied on antiwar groups. (Federal officials confirmed that the slides are authentic.)

Mark A. Siegel, a spokesman for AT&T, declined to answer more than a dozen detailed questions, including ones about what percentage of phone calls made in the United States were covered by Hemisphere, the size of the Hemisphere database, whether the AT&T employees working on Hemisphere had security clearances and whether the company has conducted any legal review of the program

“While we cannot comment on any particular matter, we, like all other companies, must respond to valid subpoenas issued by law enforcement,” Mr. Siegel wrote in an e-mail.

Representatives from Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile all declined to comment on Sunday in response to questions about whether their companies were aware of Hemisphere or participated in that program or similar ones. A federal law enforcement official said that the Hemisphere Project was “singular” and that he knew of no comparable program involving other phone companies.

The PowerPoint slides outline several “success stories” highlighting the program’s achievements and showing that it is used in investigating a range of crimes, not just drug violations. The slides emphasize the program’s value in tracing suspects who use replacement phones, sometimes called “burner” phones, who switch phone numbers or who are otherwise difficult to locate or identify.

In March 2013, for instance, Hemisphere found the new phone number and location of a man who impersonated a general at a San Diego Navy base and then ran over a Navy intelligence agent. A month earlier the program helped catch a South Carolina woman who had made a series of bomb threats.

And in Seattle in 2011, the document says, Hemisphere tracked drug dealers who were rotating prepaid phones, leading to the seizure of 136 kilos of cocaine and $2.2 million.

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September 1, 2013

Arrests of 3 Mayors Reinforce Florida’s Notoriety as a Hothouse for Corruption

By NICK MADIGAN
NYT

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Even by Florida standards, the arrests of three suburban Miami mayors on corruption charges within a month were a source of dismay, if not exactly a surprise.

On Wednesday, Steven C. Bateman, 58, the mayor of Homestead, was arrested. He is accused of accepting under-the-table payments from a health care company that sought to build a clinic in town, the state attorney’s office for Miami-Dade County said. Mr. Bateman was turned in by City Council members and staff, said employees interviewed Friday at City Hall.

On Aug. 6, Manuel L. Maroño, 41, the mayor of Sweetwater and president of the Florida League of Cities, and Michael A. Pizzi, 51, the Miami Lakes mayor, were picked up along with two lobbyists. The United States attorney’s office has accused them of involvement in kickback and bribery schemes concerning federal grants.

Prosecutors said Mr. Maroño had received more than $40,000 in bribes and Mr. Pizzi $6,750. The defendants, who were targets of an F.B.I. sting operation, are charged with “conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right” and could face 20 years in prison if convicted.

Gov. Rick Scott suspended all three mayors while the criminal cases proceed.

“We bought the trifecta,” said Carla Miller, the ethics officer for Jacksonville and a former federal prosecutor. “It’s bad when three mayors get led out in handcuffs. What’s left of the public trust gets ground into little pieces.”

Not that such situations are unusual in Florida, which led the country in convictions of public officials — 781 — between 2000 and 2010, according to Department of Justice figures.

“Florida has become the corruption capital of America,” said Dan Krassner, the executive director of a watchdog group, Integrity Florida, citing statistics going back to 1976 and the “significant number of public officials arrested this year and last.”

Florida, and especially Miami and its environs, has long had a reputation as a place where the odd and the eccentric mix with the furtive and the felonious. Last century, organized crime figures from Chicago and New York set up lucrative gambling, extortion and loan-sharking endeavors in Miami Beach and elsewhere, and beginning in the 1980s, South Florida’s economy, culture and reputation were transformed by drug trafficking.

With so much money sloshing about, it was perhaps inevitable that a parade of officials would enrich themselves illicitly at the public trough.

One was Alex Daoud, who in 1985 became the mayor of Miami Beach and six years later was indicted on 41 counts of bribery. He served 18 months in prison, and has since written a memoir.

Last year in Miami Beach, City Manager Jorge Gonzalez, who was making $273,000 a year and had been mired in a web of investigations, was forced to step down after seven of his employees were arrested in a federal corruption investigation. His six-figure pension remained intact.

The arrests of the three Miami-Dade mayors followed news in July that the Securities and Exchange Commission had charged the City of Miami and one of its former budget directors with securities fraud, only a few years after the commission reprimanded the city for similar behavior. In May, a former mayor of Hialeah, Julio Robaina, and his wife, Raiza, were charged with failing to report income from high-interest loans totaling more than $1 million that they had made under an informal system involving friends and associates. The Robainas said they were innocent.

In 2011, in the largest municipal recall election in the country, the mayor of Miami-Dade County, Carlos Alvarez, was removed from office after he gave large pay raises to close aides and then pushed for a significant increase in property taxes.

This year, the State Legislature approved two ethics bills and six that focus on government transparency and accountability — the first time in 36 years that state lawmakers had passed ethics legislation. Mr. Krassner and others think legislators could do more. But many people seem resigned to the prevalence of officials who appear oblivious to ethical boundaries.

“They get drunk on power,” said Katy Sorenson, who served on the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners for 16 years and runs the Good Government Initiative at the University of Miami, which educates elected officials about ethics and related issues.

“There’s a certain psychology to some of the people who run for office here — they don’t think they’re going down the wrong track, but there’s a slippery slope,” she added. “There’s a lack of self-awareness, an immaturity, a brazenness, of feeling like a big shot. So when they’re arrested, they’re very surprised.”

The persistence of political malfeasance — often involving the stereotypical envelopes stuffed with cash, delivered with knowing nods — perplexes those for whom public service is a noble calling.

“Maybe it’s the heat,” said Ruth Campbell, 93, a former City Council member here and the curator of the Historic Homestead Town Hall Museum.

Mrs. Campbell, who has lived in town since 1942, was sadly aware of Florida’s reputation as a haven for corruption. “We like to be distinguished,” she said, “but not like that.”

Prosecutors said Mr. Bateman, among other things, had failed to disclose that the health care company, Community Health of South Florida Inc., secretly agreed to pay him $120,000 over a year to lobby on its behalf. By the time he was arrested, he had accepted $3,625, State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said.

After the mayor’s arrest, a City Council member, Judy Waldman, told reporters, “I have zero tolerance for people using their public office to make money.” Ms. Waldman, who referred to Mr. Bateman only as “that individual,” said his activities on behalf of Community Health Care of South Florida were “just the tip of the iceberg,” and encouraged prosecutors to dig deeper.

Mr. Bateman’s lawyer, Ben Kuehne, told The Associated Press that his client was “shocked” by his arrest and had “served the community for many years in an honest, dependable manner.”

At City Hall on Friday, in a frame that contained photos of city officials, Mr. Bateman’s likeness had been concealed behind a paper copy of the city’s crest. But a day earlier, a group of his supporters rallied a couple blocks away, and Mr. Bateman, out on bond, showed up, shook hands and vowed to fight the charges.

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Georgia insurance commissioner bragged publicly about sabotaging Obamacare

By David Ferguson
RawStory
Thursday, August 29, 2013 10:46 EDT

Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens (R) boasted to a crowd of Republicans that his office is creating bureaucratic hurdles to slow down and derail the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jay Bookman reported that earlier this month, Hudgens boasted to an audience of Republicans in Floyd County, “Let me tell you what we’re doing (about Obamacare). Everything in our power to be an obstructionist.”

Activist Bryan Long of the group Better Georgia told Raw Story, “I have nothing more to say than to point out Ralph’s own words, that he and the governor are obstructionists on Obamacare and that’s the role they’ve chosen. Hopefully people in Georgia will realize that this is one more way that our insurance commissioner and our governor are doing everything they can to obstruct the law and to keep health insurance from most Georgia residents.”

“It’s sad,” he said.

In Floyd County, a grinning Hudgens allowed the waves of applause and cries of “Amen!” to wash over him as he detailed one of the ways his office is sabotaging the plan to bring affordable health coverage to the 19.7 percent of people who are currently uninsured among Georgia’s population of 9.92 million. Georgia had the fifth highest percentage of uninsured citizens in the country as of 2012.

Hudgens’ plan targets the Affordable Care Act’s provision that calls for “navigators” to be hired by organizations to help people shop for policies on the open market. The government is offering training programs and grants to help create the positions.

“We have passed a law that says that a navigator, which is a position in that exchange, has to be licensed by our Department of Insurance,” Hudgens told the audience. “The ObamaCare law says that we cannot require them to be an insurance agent, so we said fine, we’ll just require them to be a licensed navigator. So we’re going to make up the test, and basically you take the insurance agent test, you erase the name, you write ‘navigator test’ on it.”

By imposing the extra requirements, Hudgens hopes to ensure that the Obamacare rollout in Georgia goes as poorly as possible, a move that could benefit the state Republican Party politically, but at the expense of Georgia’s poor and underserved. Additionally, the navigator positions Hudgens wants to make more difficult to acquire would create new jobs in a state with an 8.8 percent unemployment rate as of July 2013, which is more than a full point higher than the U.S. average.

The Journal-Constitution‘s Brookman wrote, “(Y)ou get the sense that the loathing of ObamaCare and the emotional unity and common purpose that loathing inspires within the GOP has become so important that ObamaCare itself is almost an afterthought.”
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Syria crisis: French intelligence dossier blames Assad for chemical attack

Document says information from 'France's own sources' shows Syrian regime forces carried out attack that killed hundreds

Kim Willsher in Paris
theguardian.com, Monday 2 September 2013 19.06 BST   

The French government has published an intelligence dossier that it says shows the forces of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, carried out a "massive and co-ordinated" chemical attack that is believed to have killed hundreds of people.

A nine-page document, published at around 7pm French time on Monday, stated the information had come from "France's own sources" and was based on a detailed technical analysis of evidence supplemented by "additional elements gathered in co-operation with our principal partners".

It was reportedly shown to French ministers and heads of parliamentary groups during an emergency meeting on Syria at the offices of the prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, at Matignon early on Monday evening.

The report and a video, drafted by French intelligence services, purports to show that forces loyal to Assad were responsible for the chemical attack that came from east and west Damascus and targeted rebel-held zones on 21 August, a source told Reuters.

On Monday, Ayrault summoned the defence and foreign affairs ministers, the heads of the Assemblée Nationale and the upper house, the Sénat, as well as the heads of various parliamentary groups and commissions, to present the "proof" before a parliamentary debate on Wednesday.

Before the meeting Ayrault had promised "total transparency" on the situation in Syria and evidence that the regime in Damascus had used chemical weapons, reportedly sarin, against its own people.

Ayrault was reported to have handed over "declassified" documents to those gathered that "clearly identify" that Assad's regime was responsible for the attack.

The Assad regime denies this. It blames rebel forces for using the chemical bombs.

The document states: "Syria has one of the most important operational stocks of chemical weapons as part of an old and diversified programme that has been the subject of surveillance by the French [intelligence] services, and those of our principle partners, for a long time. This programme is one of the primary threats in terms of the proliferation of arms of massive destruction …

"In its battles engaged against the opposition to the regime of President Assad, Damascus has already employed such arms, namely sarin, in limited attacks against its own population, particularly in April 2013.

"The analysis of information that we have today leads us to believe that on 21 August 2013 the Syrian regime launched an attack on certain areas of the Damascus suburbs held by opposition units, using a combination of conventional weapons and the massive use of chemical weapons."

The report details the Syrian chemical weapons programme, which it says began in the 1970s with the importing of chemical weapons. It states that Damascus has more than 1,000 tonnes of chemical agents making it "one of the most important operational stocks in the world". It describes Syria's chemical arsenal as "particularly massive and diverse", including Yperite, VX (one of the most toxic chemical agents known) and "several hundred tonnes of sarin".

"The sarin and the VX … are partly stocked in a binary form, that is to say kept in the form of two chemical products called precursors, that are mixed just before use. This technique and the associated procedures show a great knowledge of the technology of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime."

The report continues: "Damascus is capable of delivering its chemical weapons with a very large range of several thousand vectors." These, it says, include Scud C, Scud B, M500 missiles, bombs and artillery rockets with a range of up to 500km.

"Certain missiles can carry up to several hundred litres of toxic agent."

It adds that intelligence reports suggest the Syrians are looking at new ways of dispersing chemical weapons.

"Notably, since the beginning of the conflict, our intelligence confirms the regime's use of munitions carrying smaller amounts of chemical agents adapted for tactical use as they are more accurate and localised.

"We cannot rule out that these trials have also been conducted using other types of chemicals normally meant for civil use and employed at a lethal dose."

Under the heading: "The chain of command and the responsibilities", the report says the Syrian Centre for Scientific Research Study (CERS) is responsible for producing toxic agents for use in war, pinpointing "Branch 450" as being responsible for filling munitions with chemicals and also the security of sites where the chemical agents are stocked. This branch, it claims, is "composed only of Alawite military personnel … distinguished by a high level of loyalty to the regime".

"Bashar al-Assad and certain influential members of his clan are the only ones permitted to give the order for the use of chemical weapons. The order is then transmitted to those responsible at the competent branches of the CERS. At the same time, the army chiefs of staff receive the order and decide on targets, the weapons and the toxic agents to put in them," it states.

The French report claims the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons against areas held by opposition forces "with the aim of taking territory or causing terror" for several months.

"The competent French services have recuperated biomedical samples (blood, urine), environmental samples (earth) and materials (munitions) taken from victims or sites of attacks on Saraqeb, on 29 April 2013, and Jobar, in mid April 2013. The analysis carried out confirms the use of sarin."

The document's publication is aimed at swaying public opinion. While France, along with the United States, is pushing for military action against the Assad regime, a poll at the weekend showed that 64% of French people were opposed to a military intervention.

After the United Nations sent in an inspection team to verify the claims and counter-claims, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Nato secretary general, said he was personally convinced that Assad was responsible for the attacks.

The former French prime minister Alain Juppé told French journalists France could not act alone, but must act. He said: "To do nothing would be a dishonour for democracy. On the other side, to act is a very big risk given the international context."

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Hagel and Kerry to make case to Congress for attacking Syria: Failing to act ‘unravels the deterrent impact of the international norm against chemical weapons use’

Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, September 3, 2013 6:00 EDT

The US secretaries of state and defense go before a Senate panel seeking support to attack Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons, warning failure to do so might embolden Hezbollah and Iran.

In what will be one of the most high-profile political set pieces in Washington in weeks, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel will testify to the Senate Foreign Relations committee, on Tuesday.

America’s top military officer, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will also go before the panel.

Kerry will argue that failing to act in Syria “unravels the deterrent impact of the international norm against chemical weapons use,” a senior State Department official said on condition of anonymity.

Inaction also “endangers our friends and our partners along Syria’s borders… and risks emboldening Assad and his key allies – Hezbollah and Iran,” the official warned.

As the White House battles for congressional authorization to bomb Syria, two top Republicans warned Monday that a “no” vote after President Barack Obama had threatened action would be catastrophic.

Hawkish senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham emerged from an hour of talks with Obama suggesting that the White House could be mulling a wider military campaign in Syria than first thought, along with more robust support for the opposition.

Obama shocked Washington and the world on Saturday when he decided to seek support for military action in Syria from Congress, when it seemed US cruise missile strikes on President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and assets were imminent.

McCain and Graham appeared to offer qualified backing for Obama’s plans.

“A vote against that resolution by Congress I think would be catastrophic,” said McCain.

“It would undermine the credibility of the United States of America and the president of the United States. None of us want that.”

Graham warned of the wider consequences of a failure to back military action.

“I can’t sell another Iraq or Afghanistan, because I don’t want to,” Graham said.

“(What) I can sell … (is) that if we don’t get Syria right, Iran is surely going to take the signals that we don’t care about the nuclear program.”

The senators also hinted at the administration’s evolving strategy for Syria.

Obama has stressed that any US action, expected to include cruise missile attacks, would be “limited” and “narrow.”

But McCain said he had “been given some reason to believe that very serious strikes may take place as opposed to cosmetic (ones).”

“I don’t think it is an accident that the aircraft carrier is being moved over in the region,” he said.

ABC News reported Monday that the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier was moving westward toward the Red Sea, though had not yet received orders to support a strike on Syria.

Obama’s plan could be to degrade Assad’s capabilities and upgrade those of vetted opposition groups, McCain suggested.

Graham indicated that the administration, which resisted arming Syrian rebels for months, may be prepared to stiffen a nascent plan — announced after previous, small-scale chemical weapons attacks — to increase military aid to some rebel groups.

“There seems to be emerging from this administration a pretty solid plan to upgrade the opposition,” Graham said, saying regional players like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan should play a key role.

The White House declined to comment on the suggestions of a wider operation or increased aid to the rebels, but it also did not challenge them.

Though McCain and Graham’s comments would have pleased the White House, they have long supported military action against Syria so are an easier sell than many other Republicans.

The administration may have its work cut out for it in the Republican-run House of Representatives, which includes many conservatives who have blocked Obama’s agenda at home on issues like gun control and immigration reform and may relish the chance to embarrass him abroad.

Liberal House Democrats wary of another prolonged engagement in the Middle East are also a cause for White House concern.

With that in mind, top administration officials including Kerry and Hagel held an unclassified briefing for House Democrats on Monday, while most of official Washington was on hiatus for the Labor Day holiday.

A senior White House official said Kerry will also testify on Wednesday before the House Foreign Affairs committee. Classified briefings will meanwhile be offered to lawmakers throughout the week.

Kerry has also continued his flurry of phone calls to US allies in the region, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom he spoke on Sunday, the State Department said.

Obama has a limited window this week for personal politicking on Syria: he is due to leave town on Tuesday evening to visit Sweden and attend the G20 summit in Russia.

A senior White House official said the administration would deploy all of its resources on Capitol Hill and beyond to sway opinion on the Syria vote, and the president plans to meet with committee leaders and opposition heads from both the House and Senate before departing for Europe.

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John McCain: rejection of Syria strikes by Congress would be 'catastrophic'

Arizona senator and fellow Republican hawk Lindsey Graham meet president Barack Obama at the White House

Ed Pilkington in New York
theguardian.com, Monday 2 September 2013 21.36 BST   

John McCain, a leading hawk on the issue of American military intervention in Syria, has warned Congress that a "no-vote" next week against President Obama's plans for airstrikes would have "catastrophic" consequences that would weaken the US for years to come.

McCain delivered his comments at the front entrance of the White House, having just emerged from a meeting with Obama. Flanked by his fellow Republican senator and ally, Lindsey Graham, he said that if Congress withholds its authorisation of military action "the credibility of this country among friends and adversaries alike would be shredded, and the impact would last not only for this presidency but for future presidencies as well."

He added: "The consequences would be catastrophic".

McCain, a former Republican presidential candidate with an influential voice on US foreign affairs, is seen by the Obama administration as a potentially important intermediary in its intensive push to persuade Congress to swing behind the plan for airstrikes. But it is a sign of Obama's precarious position that even McCain remains uncommitted about his voting intentions next week.

Asked by a reporter whether he intended to use his influence to convince other senators to back military action, McCain replied: "I am already talking to a lot of my colleagues, but before I can persuade them I have to be persuaded. The president made sense in a lot of things he said, but we are a long way from a coherent strategy."

A direct question about whether McCain himself would vote in favour of the resolution authorising airstrikes, given his warnings about the catastrophic results of a "no-vote", produced a less than definitive answer. "A weak response [to Syria] would give us a similar dilemma as that would also be catastrophic," McCain said.

McCain has been calling for US military intervention to topple the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, non-stop since the Syrian civil war began, in March 2011. He has also been a persistent critic of Barack Obama's stance on the Syrian crisis, accusing the president, who defeated him in the 2008 presidential race, of dithering on the issue.

It is not yet known what Obama told the two senators in their White House meeting, but by McCain's own account of proceedings the president indicated that he was considering a stronger form of intervention in Syria than he has previously indicated. "We have been given some reason to believe that some very serious strikes may take place as opposed to cosmetic ones," the senator said.

McCain said a successful round of airstrikes could help to "upgrade" the Syrian rebel forces and "degrade" those of Assad. Any move to destroy Syria's Scud missiles would not only make the deployment of chemical weapons more difficult but also impede the delivery of conventional bombs, and thus give rebel groups a greater fighting chance.

The figure of John McCain standing on the driveway of the White House and offering less than full support to Obama just days away from crucial Congressional votes also underlines the double bind that the president is in. While Obama has been labouring to convince hawks like McCain and Graham that the planned airstrikes would be serious and robust, he is also struggling to convince (largely Democratic) members of Congress that military action in Syria would be limited and run no risk of miring the US in prolonged conflict.

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Syria crisis: Pig Putin under growing pressure

Russian president to be urged at G20 summit to come closer to accepting that Bashar al-Assad has to stand aside

Patrick Wintour and Kim Willsher in Paris
The Guardian, Tuesday 3 September 2013   

PIg Putin is to be confronted at the G20 summit of world leaders in St Petersburg this week with an array of western intelligence including damning new French evidence directly linking Syrian government forces with a massive and co-ordinated chemical attack on 21 August that led to hundreds of civilian deaths.

The Russian pig will also be urged to show a new diplomatic flexibility and come closer to accepting that the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad, has to stand aside.

A nine-page declassified French intelligence report was released on Monday which claimed to show Assad forces had launched an attack on Damascus suburbs held by opposition units using a combination of conventional weapons and "the massive use of chemical weapons".

The report follows similar documents from British and American intelligence.

The Nato secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen also insisted that "personally I am convinced, not only that a chemical attack has taken place … but I am also convinced that the Syrian regime is responsible."

The French intelligence includes satellite imagery showing the attacks coming from government-controlled areas to the east and west of Damascus and targeting rebel-held zones. The report said Assad's forces had since bombed the areas to wipe out evidence.

"Unlike previous attacks that used small amounts of chemicals and were aimed at terrorising people, this attack was tactical and aimed at regaining territory," the report said.

Nearly 47 amateur video clips reportedly filmed on the morning of the attack and showing the impact on civilians had been authenticated by French military doctors, according to the intelligence. French evidence gave details of other suspected chemical attacks, in the towns of Saraqib and Jobar in April, which now appeared to have killed about 280 people, the report said.

The fresh information will also help Barack Obama in his uphill efforts to persuade Congress next week to back a punitive military strike against Assad.

Assad, in an interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro, again denied the use of chemical weapons. "Whoever makes accusations must provide proof," he said. "We have challenged the US and France to put forward a single piece of proof. Mr Obama and Mr Hollande have been incapable of doing so. The Middle East is a powder-keg, and today the spark is getting closer."

The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, also rejected the western intelligence as absolutely unconvincing, saying that there was "nothing concrete, no geographical co-ordinates or details … and no proof the test was done by professionals".

He urged the west to lift the veil of secrecy over its allegations.

British sources said Putin, host of the G20, will face a concerted challenge at the summit on Thursday and Friday both to accept the intelligence, and propose a fresh diplomatic solution to the crisis by easing his support for the Assad regime.

Some senior Tories continued to put pressure on Downing Street to say it might be willing to hold a second Commons vote on whether Britain would in some circumstances participate in an attack on Syria in retaliation for the chemical attack.

Cameron unexpectedly lost the vote last week, but the former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell led calls for Britain to keep an open mind. "I believe taking legal and proportional action will be better than doing nothing – I think it will be more likely to bring this catastrophe to a close," he said.

"That's why I think it's very important in this rapidly moving situation that we don't rule anything out and it may be, for example, that after lengthy and careful consideration, Congress affirms its support for the President's plans and in the light of that our Parliament may well want to consider this matter further"

Advocates of a second vote were briefly given succour when the defence secretary, Philip Hammond, said there might be a second vote if there were a very significant change in circumstances.

But Labour sources poured cold water on a second vote, saying the government had ruled out military action. Apparently raising the bar on military action higher than last week, Labour sources said a second vote could only be countenanced if there was evidence that al-Qaida had got hold of significant stocks of chemical weapons, or there was a direct threat to national security.

The Labour motion last week was less specific about the trigger for action, and it was not clear if all shadow cabinet members were aware of this hardened stance.

Labour instead tried to refocus on diplomacy, with the shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, telling the Guardian: "An objective for the G20 summit in St Petersburg should be to establish a Syria contact group, like that which helped end the civil war in Lebanon. Unlike the Friends of Syria group, which was established as a forum for supporting the Syrian opposition, a Syria contact group could bring together those countries that are currently backing opposing sides in the Syrian conflict, of course including Russia, but also key sponsors within the region such as Iran and Saudi Arabia."

The contact group would work to bring the participants in the two-year civil war to talks in Geneva. Washington, with British backing, has opposed Iranian involvement in talks.

Writing in the Guardian, the senior Liberal Democrat peer Lady Williams has also called for Iran to be involved in the construction of a Syrian political settlement. She writes that the condemnation of the use of chemical weapons by the newly elected Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, "deserves a constructive response. It is time to end the isolation of Iran."

Plans to stage a second round of peace talks on Syria in Geneva have been stalled since March, partly over the US veto on Iranian attendance, and partly due to disputes in the Syrian rebel forces over the composition of its delegation, and the presence of forces loyal to Assad. Cameron will not have been emboldened by the publication of three separate polls on Monday showing strong opposition to British involvement in military action. A BBC/ICM poll found 71% supporting the Commons decision to stop British involvement in military action with 67% saying that "the special relationship is not relevant to the modern age".

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 SPIEGEL ONLINE
09/02/2013 03:34 PM

Military Intervention: Germany Caught in the Middle on Syria

By Ralf Neukirch

Wary of disappointing the Americans, but afraid of alienating German voters before the election, Berlin has been performing a careful balancing act on Syria. Their strategy: Delay an intervention and remain vague.

Part of the art of effective foreign policy is keeping all options open in difficult situations. Last week, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle discovered how quickly this can go wrong. The Foreign Ministry issued a statement in English to explain the German position on Syria to the world. If the allegations surrounding the Damascus regime's use of chemical weapons prove to be true, the statement read, "Germany will be among those calling for action to be taken."

This sounded clear, but that wasn't the intention. An hour later, the ministry issued a revised statement, citing a "translation error." Germany was no longer calling for action. The new statement announced, far less decisively, that Berlin would "consider that some consequence will have to be drawn."

Westerwelle's linguistic maneuvering is an expression of political circumstances. The poison gas attack in Syria could be very explosive for the German government in the midst of an election campaign. Three weeks before Germany's parliamentary election, Westerwelle and Chancellor Angela Merkel cannot openly support a quick American military strike against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. They are too concerned about its possible negative impact on the campaign.

On the other hand, even though the German government seriously questions the rationale for a military strike, Berlin cannot rebuff the Americans again, after Germany's abstention in the Libya conflict. This time, Washington spelled out ahead of time what the Americans expect from their allies. US National Security Advisor Susan Rice made it clear in several conversations with Merkel's foreign policy advisor, Christoph Heusgen, that although Washington doesn't expect military support from the Germans, it does want Berlin's political backing.

Merkel's Careful Delay

But how does one frame a position on a military strike in such a way that the Americans interpret it as support and voters as rejection? For Westerwelle and Merkel, the answer was to play for time and avoid clarity. The Germans first tried to delay a decision on military action. Merkel made an attempt to convince key allies to take the arduous route through the United Nations before deciding on a strike.

In a conversation last Wednesday, the German chancellor and British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed that London would take a draft resolution to the Security Council. But Cameron convinced Merkel that an interim report and not the final report by UN inspectors would be sufficient as the basis of the resolution.

The next day, Merkel implored US President Barack Obama to wait for the UN inspectors' report and a possible Security Council resolution. But Obama showed little inclination to comply with Merkel's request, arguing that Russian President Vladimir Putin had shown no goodwill to date and was unlikely to do so in the future.

Even though Merkel shared this assessment, she wanted the debate in the Security Council to counter the opposition's charge that not all political options had been exhausted. French President François Hollande, with whom Merkel spoke by phone on the same day, supported Berlin's position.

She also spoke with Putin over the phone this weekend, and, according to German government spokesperson Steffen Seibert, both agreed the conflict should be resolved politically. On Sunday night's pre-election TV debate, Merkel said that a reaction to Syria's chemical weapons attack should be channeled through the United Nations and that Germany would not participate in a military intervention.

Fear of Alienating the USA

For foreign policy reasons, Merkel cannot afford to openly criticize the Americans. Instead, she has to dispense her views on an American attack in such a way that they are seen as criticism in Germany and support in the United States. It's a method Merkel has, to a certain degree, perfected.

Westerwelle also faces a delicate situation. The foreign minister, who has advocated a culture of military restraint, enjoys little support within his ministry for a course that is critical towards the Americans. At a conference of German ambassadors last Monday, Westerwelle received thundering applause when he said that the United States remained Germany's most important strategic partner outside the European Union. "The ambassadors wanted to make it clear to him that he should act accordingly," says a participant.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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Defiant Assad challenges west over chemical weapons evidence

Bashar al-Assad warns military intervention in Syria could spark a 'regional war' and claims 'Middle East is a powder keg'

Kim Willsher in Paris
theguardian.com, Monday 2 September 2013 23.37 BST   

Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, has challenged the west to come up with "a single piece" of evidence that he has used chemical weapons.

He warned that any military intervention in Syria could spark a "regional war".

"The Middle East is a powder keg, and today the fuse is getting shorter," he said in an exclusive interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro.

As the French government published declassified documents purporting to show the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against its own people, the Syrian president vehemently denied the accusations.

"Whoever is doing the accusing must come up with proof. We have challenged the United States and France to provide a single piece of proof. Messrs Obama and Holland haven't been able to do so, even to their own people," Assad said.

He said there was no logic to claims his forces used lethal sarin nerve gas in an attack on the outskirts of Damascus on 21 August.

"Supposing our army wanted to use weapons of massive destruction; would it do so in a zone where it is located and where soldiers have been injured by these weapons, as the United Nations inspectors noted when they visited the hospital where they were being treated. Where is the logic?" Assad said.

Asked what would happen if outside forces carried out military strikes against his regime, Assad replied: "One must not speak only about the Syrian response, but rather what could happen after the first strike.

"Because nobody can know what will happen. Everyone will lose control of the situation when the powder keg explodes. Chaos and extremism will spread. The risk of a regional war exists."

Assad's interview came just two days before the French parliament is due to debate Syria and the possibility of military intervention against Damascus in response to the chemical weapons attack.

The Syrian president warned: "Whoever contributes to the reinforcing of terrorists, financially and militarily, is an enemy of the Syrian people. Whoever acts against the interests of Syria and its citizens is an enemy.

"The French people are not our enemy, but the politics of the (French) state is hostile to the Syrian people. As French state politics is hostile to the Syrian people, that state is an enemy.

"This hostility will end when the French state changes its policies. There will be repercussions, negative of course, for France's interests."

On Monday, the Assad regime asked the United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon to "shoulder his responsibilities for preventing any aggression on Syria". It also called on the UN security council to "maintain its role as a safety valve to prevent the absurd use of force out of the frame of international legitimacy," according to Syrian state media.

Syria has said it wants help achieving a "political solution" to the conflict, but Assad told Le Figaro it was too late to negotiate with the opposition forces ranged against him. "We are fighting terrorists ... they are not interested in reform or in politics," he said.

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« Reply #8480 on: Sep 03, 2013, 06:09 AM »


Libya at a crossroads as strikes threaten oil supplies

Production slumps as workers seize ports in protest at Tripoli's failure to revive moribund economy despite bumper oil revenues

Chris Stephen in Tripoli
theguardian.com, Tuesday 3 September 2013 10.53 BST

Libya is facing its most critical moment since the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi with armed groups blockading oil fields and terminals, choking output to a 10th of normal levels and threatening economic disaster.

With the government forced to import fuel to keep power stations running and queues growing at petrol stations, the prime minister, Ali Zaidan, has repeatedly threatened to send troops to retake striking ports.

But the leader of rebels blockading ports in Cyrenaica, home to the bulk of Libya's oil, said such a move would be tantamount to a "declaration of war".

Ibrahim Ali Jathran, commander of troops who have defected to seize the terminals, warned his soldiers would fight back. "We will resist," he said.

The blockade has spread to western Libya, with the Elephant field on the Algerian border at a standstill and rebel oil guards further north around Zintan cutting pipelines.

The government controls just two oil ports, with production at about 160,000 barrels a day. The National Oil Corporation admits even this is guesswork, because its measuring gauges are broken, forcing officials to rely on dead reckoning.

Jathran insisted the strike was in reaction to what he said was a seizure of power – and oil revenues – by the Muslim Brotherhood in Tripoli.

"The Brotherhood has hijacked the state and parliament. It has infiltrated the oil ministry witharmed groups," he said.

Government officials deny the claim, saying the strikers are trying to sell oil themselves and are holding the country to ransom.

BP declined to comment on the situation in Libya but industry experts with close links to the company said it was keeping a watchful eye on the situation.

"The fact is BP do not really need to do anything currently as they have no real investments or personnel in the country yet," said one source. "The first sign of concern will be if they postpone drilling offshore. BP have said very publicly they planned to drill next year but they are likely to just put plans back, not announce a pull-out, like Shell."

Zaidan last week made good his threat to "bomb by air or sea" any tanker trying to buy oil direct from the rebels. TV footage released by the navy showed the crew of a patrol boat firing automatic weapons close to an empty Liberian-registered tanker as it approached the eastern coast.

That footage has made shippers nervous, and international oil companies are considering scaling down operations, with all eyes on BP, the largest exploration company left in Libya after Shell left last year.

The British petrol giant re-entered Libya in 2007, after a deal cemented by Tony Blair and Gaddafi, but the Arab spring and subsequent violence meant it has continually postponed drilling. Now some wonder if it will quit the country again.

"The bellwether is BP," said John Hamilton of London oil analysts CBI. "In terms of companies thinking about the future, BP is the biggest. If they go, everyone else is going to say that's a big signal."

The striking oil workers span a disparate range of causes, from more pay and regional spending to autonomy for Cyrenaica. But the common thread is exasperation with the failure of successive governments to revive a moribund economy despite bumper oil revenues. The government is, meanwhile, struggling to assert its control across much of the country amid an upsurge of intra-militia violence and jihadist bombings in the east.

Added to that is nervousness about the government's decision to spend 900m dinars (£450m) on the Libya Shield, a militia force garrisoning Tripoli, with many Libyans saying the money should go to regular police and army units.

"We are currently witnessing the collapse of state in Libya, and the country is getting closer to local wars for oil revenues," said Swiss oil analysts Petromatrix.

The blockade comes a fortnight before London hosts the biggest Libyan investment conference held since the end of the 2011 Arab spring.


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« Reply #8481 on: Sep 03, 2013, 06:28 AM »


Romanians protest for second day against gold mine

Canadian firm's plan to mine for gold and silver would destroy four mountain tops and wipe out three villages, campaigners say

Reuters
theguardian.com, Tuesday 3 September 2013 10.39 BST      

Protesters gathered in Romania's capital Bucharest late on Monday for a second day of protests against the government's support for a plan to open Europe's biggest open-cast gold mine.

The more than 1,000 protesters were surrounded by riot police as they sat down on the street, tapping plastic bottles on the ground, chanting "United we will save Rosia Montana."

Canada's Gabriel Resources Ltd plans to mine 314 tonnes of gold and 1,500 tonnes of silver in the small Carpathian town of Rosia Montana through its local arm, Rosia Montana Gold Corporation, in which the Romanian state also holds a minority stake.

The planned gold quarries would use cyanide and would destroy four mountain tops and wipe out three villages. Campaign groups say it would destroy ancient Roman sites and could cause an environmental disaster.

Romanians protest against goldmine in Bucharest

Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7R34abV4nu4

Mine supporters say it could bring billions of euros in taxes and many jobs to an economically depressed region, but the project has been stuck for 14 years waiting for a key environmental permit.

The leftist government led by Victor Ponta approved a law last month speeding up the process, with a final vote expected in parliament in September.

On Sunday, protests were held at several cities across the country to oppose the gold mine project and a move to start shale gas exploration.
Rosia Montana gold mine map Map of Rosia Montana's 'golden quadrilateral'

Some protesters called for the resignation of President Traian Basescu and prime minister Ponta who said he had made a "brave and controversial decision" to approve the draft law and send it to parliament.


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« Reply #8482 on: Sep 03, 2013, 06:51 AM »


Russia and social enterprise – beyond oligarchy and philanthropy

Russia has the resources to make social enterprises work but only time will tell if the model will work

Daragh McDowell
Guardian Professional, Tuesday 3 September 2013 12.20 BST   

Any comparison of the development of social enterprises across different countries always runs into the same problem: what do social enterprise and entrepreneurship actually mean? For the post-industrial economies of Europe and North America, the social enterprise is essentially a hybrid, an attempt to harness the market's power for rewarding efficiency and discipline while using it to advance social goals rather than pure profits, whether through a "triple bottom line" or some other yardstick.

The UK and other EU states also emphasise collective ownership and distributed decision-making among key stakeholders, regardless of their financial stake in the enterprise. In the US, meanwhile, the emphasis is on the needs addressed by the activities of the enterprise, and the reinvestment of any profits, rather than ownership and decision-making.

So how well does the concept travel? Is a "true" social enterprise only possible after an economy has grown to the point where profitability no longer needs to the yardstick of business? Russia and the other former Soviet states are an interesting place to test this hypothesis. Social enterprises of a sort were incorporated into the centrally planned economy. Rapid industrialisation involved the creation of entire cities around huge industrial concerns, particularly in resource-rich but sparsely populated Siberia. These concerns were responsible for providing creches, medical care, housing and other social services for their workers through subsidiary organisations, later termed "social assets".

The collapse of communism created a generation of Russian entrepreneurs (or less kindly, oligarchs) who embraced capitalism with the fervour of the convert. The new philosophy was summed up in Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Leonid Nevzlin's 1992 tract, Chelovek's rublem (Man with a Rouble), which exalted the profit motive. Social assets were divested from state enterprises prior to privatisation, in theory to continue operation under the direction of and with funding from local government. A weak state, corruption and indifference meant the theory never became practice. A small group of men (and one or two women) became billionaires from sweetheart deals that allowed them to buy Russia's most valuable industrial assets for pennies on the dollar.

Pig Putin began his first presidency by curbing the power of the oligarchs and presenting them with a new social contract, which has often been summarised as "pay your taxes, stay out of politics and you can keep your assets". But in this case "taxes" not only meant revenues collected by the state, but revenues "freely" used by the oligarchs to pursue certain social goals – from buying up Russian objets d'art for return to the state, to sponsoring sporting and literary organisations, and even good old-fashioned charities (mainly for the veterans, orphans and pensioners who were hit hardest by the collapse of the Soviet welfare state.) The fact that this was all excellent PR for a class of people resented by most of their compatriots didn't hurt either.

Roman Abramovich famously poured more than a billion dollars into Chukotka, a province on the border with Alaska, when he was its governor from 2000-08. A distant, inhospitable but resource-rich land, Chukotkans were compensated handsomely for living there under Soviet power (as the US still compensates Alaskans). The sudden suspension of subsidies in the chaotic 1990s was so devastating that its native Inuit population largely reverted to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Abramovich's money was invaluable in revitalising Chukotka's schools, hospitals, local government and other "social assets".

But this is hardly what we think of as "social enterprise" – it looks more like a kind of feudalism, run on tithes and tributes and grudging sense of noblesse oblige. Most of the oligarchs have stuck to more traditional means of showing their charitable nature – Ukraine's Rinat Akhmetov funds a development focused thinktank, The Foundation for Effective Governance, and earlier this year banker Vladimir Potanin pledged half his fortune to charity as part of Bill Gates's Giving Pledge.

One of the few exceptions has been LUKOil president Vagit Alekperov and his Fond Nashe Budushee (Our Future Foundation.) The foundation provides interest-free loans and support to socially oriented enterprises across Russia. Since its foundation in 2007, OFF has distributed loans worth more than $6m, and there are signs that Alekperov sees this as more than just good publicity. OFF took part in the first Social Impact Investment Conference and has sought to build contacts with social enterprise leaders in the UK to make use of their experience. The chronic corruption in Russia's bureaucracy makes it difficult for ordinary citizens to found and operate ordinary profit driven enterprises.

This doesn't indicate that Russia isn't fertile ground for social enterprise or that won't be in future, but it does mean there is work to do. At the moment, there is no hope of forming or sustaining social enterprises without powerful patrons. But ordinary Russian people themselves maintain a strong sense of communal values and identity. The concept of the social enterprise probably has fewer barriers to acceptance among Russia's first truly post-Soviet generation than it did among their US peers, given how deeply the capitalism of Adam Smith (or Gordon Gekko) is ingrained in US culture.

So, is social entrepreneurship just for developed countries, a luxury that is available to societies only when the accumulation of wealth ceases to become an end in itself? A means to soothe the consciences of well-fed westerners? Or does it present a genuinely different, more just and socially focused model of economic development. Russia certainly has the resources, the human capital and cultural heritage to make social enterprise work. Whether or not it succeeds will go some way to answering these questions.

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September 2, 2013

Russia Issues Travel Warning to Its Citizens About United States and Extradition

By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
IHT

MOSCOW — Countries often issue travel advisories warning citizens of danger abroad: war, for instance, or a terrorist threat or an outbreak of disease. The Russian Foreign Ministry posted advice of a somewhat different nature on Monday, cautioning people wanted by the United States not to visit nations that have an extradition treaty with it.

“Warning for Russian citizens traveling internationally,” the Foreign Ministry bulletin said. “Recently, detentions of Russian citizens in various countries, at the request of American law enforcement, have become more frequent — with the goal of extradition and legal prosecution in the United States.”

Citing examples in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Lithuania and Spain, the Foreign Ministry said, “Experience shows that the judicial proceedings against those who were in fact kidnapped and taken to the U.S. are of a biased character, based on shaky evidence, and clearly tilted toward conviction.”

Extradition has frequently been a contentious issue between Russia and the United States, but the disagreements have been particularly sharp in recent months over the case of Edward J. Snowden, the former intelligence contractor who is wanted on criminal espionage charges but has been granted temporary asylum in Russia.

In response to the demands by the Obama administration for Mr. Snowden’s return, Russian officials have said the United States has routinely ignored extradition requests from Russia. Russia has also complained about the arrests of Russian citizens by the United States or by other countries at the Americans’ request.

In late July, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, criticized the arrest in the Dominican Republic of Aleksandr Panin, a Russian citizen wanted by the United States on charges related to cybercrimes.

Ms. Zakharova said Russia considered such arrests “a vicious trend, absolutely unacceptable and inadmissible.” She said the Russian government demanded that the United States request the arrest of Russian citizens directly from Moscow, under a 1999 treaty on assistance in criminal matters.

There is no formal extradition treaty between Russia and the United States. Russian officials cited the lack of such an agreement as a main reason they could not forcibly return Mr. Snowden from the transit zone of Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow, where he lived for more than a month until his temporary asylum request was approved.

Russia has often accused the United States of overstepping and potentially violating international law in its treatment of Russian citizens accused of crimes. It bridled over the handling of Viktor Bout, an international arms dealer who was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and was extradited to the United States, convicted in federal court and jailed in a federal prison.

The United States has said that Mr. Bout’s arrest and extradition by the Thai government were legal, and that other cases have also been handled in accordance with international law.

Besides the case of Mr. Panin, the Foreign Ministry’s travel advisory mentioned Maksim Chukharayev, who was arrested in Costa Rica in May in an investigation into a huge money-laundering operation, and Dmitry Ustinov, arrested in April in Lithuania and accused of smuggling American-made night-vision goggles to Russia for resale.

The Foreign Ministry said Russian citizens could not expect to be treated fairly in the American justice system. “Russian embassies and consulates general logically give consular and legal help to Russians in trouble,” the Foreign Ministry said.

“However,” it added, “one should not count on a successful outcome in such cases.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: September 2, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated the nation where Dmitry Ustinov was arrested. It was Lithuania, not Latvia.

*************

September 2, 2013

U.S.-Russian Ties Still Fall Short of ‘Reset’ Goal

By PETER BAKER
IHT

WASHINGTON — Just days before Pig Putin reassumed the presidency of Russia last year, President Obama dispatched his national security adviser to Moscow. Mr. Obama had made considerable progress with Dmitri A. Medvedev, the caretaker president, and wanted to preserve the momentum.

Any hopes of that, however, were quickly dashed when Pig Putin sat down with the visiting American adviser, Tom Donilon, at the lavish presidential residence outside Moscow. Rather than talk of cooperation, Pig Putin opened the meeting with a sharp challenge underscoring his deep suspicion of American ambitions:

“When,” he asked pointedly, “are you going to start bombing Syria?”

At the time, Mr. Obama had no plans for military involvement in the civil war raging in the heart of the Middle East, but Pig Putin did not believe that. In the Pig's view, the United States wanted only to meddle in places where it had no business, fomenting revolutions to install governments friendly to Washington.

The meeting 16 months ago set the stage for a tense new chapter in Russian-American relations, one that will play out publicly this week when Mr. Obama travels to St. Petersburg for a Group of 20 summit meeting hosted by Pig Putin. Although Mr. Obama had no intention of bombing Syria last year, on Saturday he said he now favored military action against Syrian forces, not to depose the government of Bashar al-Assad, a Russian ally, but in retaliation for gassing its own citizens — an assertion Pig Putin denounced as “utter nonsense” to justify American intervention.

While it was the Kremlin’s decision last month to shelter Edward J. Snowden, the National Security Agency leaker, that finally prompted Mr. Obama to call off a separate one-on-one meeting he had scheduled with Pig Putin while in Russia, the core of the schism is not so much that case as the radically different worldviews revealed by the Syria dispute. Where Mr. Obama feels compelled to take action to curb the use of unconventional weapons, Pig Putin sees American imperialism at work again.

The story of the administration’s “reset” policy toward Russia is a case study in how the heady idealism of Mr. Obama’s first term has given way to the disillusionment of his second. Critics say he was naïve to think he could really make common cause with Moscow. Aides say it was better to try than not, and it did yield tangible successes in arms control, trade and military cooperation before souring.

“There’s this cycle of initial enthusiasm and hope that gives way to reality,” said Robert M. Gates, Mr. Obama’s first defense secretary,

Mr. Obama expected more when he arrived in London in April 2009 for a Group of 20 meeting and his first encounter with Mr. Medvedev.

The two sat down and found they had much in common — both were new-generation leaders, trained in law, unburdened by the past, who saw themselves more as pragmatists than ideologues. And while it was clear Pig Putin, then serving as prime minister, was still the paramount figure, Mr. Obama resolved to build up Mr. Medvedev in hopes that he would eventually emerge as the real power.

The theory, advanced by aides like Mr. Donilon and Michael McFaul, then the president’s Russia adviser, was that after the rupture over Russia’s 2008 war with Georgia, there were opportunities for cooperation in areas of shared interest. That did not mean there would no longer be disagreements, but they would try to delink them so that the entire relationship did not suffer. “It was an opportunity to make things better,” said a senior official.

Not everyone was so optimistic. Hillary Rodham Clinton, then the secretary of state, supported the reset and even presented an ill-fated button to her Russian counterpart with the word “reset” mistranslated into Russian. But privately she had a more jaundiced view of Pig Putin. So did Mr. Gates, who recalled that he “thought it was worth a try” but was not sanguine about the prospect.

Determined to proceed nonetheless, Mr. Obama in London proposed that the two countries negotiate a new arms control treaty. By the time Mr. Obama arrived in Moscow in July, the two sides had managed to work out the framework for a treaty that would trim their nuclear arsenals to their lowest in decades.

They also signed an agreement allowing the United States to transport troops and arms bound for Afghanistan through Russian territory, part of what was called the Northern Distribution Network being expanded as an alternative to the unreliable supply route through increasingly volatile Pakistan. Mr. Gates said that for “an old cold warrior” like him, sending the American military through Russia was “never in my wildest imaginings.”

But the future was foreshadowed when Mr. Obama sat down for a separate meeting with Pig Putin. Over breakfast, an offhand comment by Mr. Obama about old tensions touched off a nearly hourlong harangue by Pig Putin outlining grievances with the United States. If Mr. Medvedev was a man he could do business with, Mr. Obama walked out worried that Pig Putin was not.

Taking advantage of his growing partnership with Mr. Medvedev, Mr. Obama persuaded the Russians to approve tough United Nations sanctions against Iran and the two sides renewed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement shelved during the war in Georgia. Eventually, Mr. Obama succeeded where his predecessors had failed in helping Russia join the World Trade Organization after nearly 20 years of talks.

The highest-profile victory was their treaty called New Start, paring the legal ceilings for deployed strategic warheads by a third and launchers by half. But it proved to be more of a slog than Mr. Obama and his team expected. “We thought Start was going to be easy, we really did,” said a former official. “And it turned out to be very, very hard.”

The high-water mark came in March 2011. When Mr. Obama decided to join an allied bombing campaign in Libya, his new friend Mr. Medvedev agreed not to block it at the United Nations Security Council — a move that infuriated PIg Putin, especially when what started as a humanitarian mission turned into regime change.

“The Russians felt they had been played for suckers on Libya,” Mr. Gates said. “They felt there had been a bait and switch. I said at the time we would pay hell ever getting them to cooperate in the future.”

The Return of the Pig.

On a Saturday morning that September, Mr. Obama got word from his staff: Mr. Medvedev was on his way out and Pig Putin would be returning to the presidency the next spring.

Some Obama aides hoped that Pig Putin’s formal resumption of power might not make a difference, since he presumably had still been calling the shots. But others disagreed. Mrs. Clinton, who had several rough meetings with Pig Putin and did not care for him, pushed for a hard-eyed assessment of what his return would mean. At least one memo circulated in the State Department predicted the rise of anti-American rhetoric and a far more nationalistic policy.

“We had gotten a lot of important things done, but from here on out, because we were dealing with a different state of mind in the Kremlin, a different set of assumptions, it was going to be more difficult,” recalled John R. Beyrle, who was ambassador to Moscow at the time.

By the time Mr. Donilon arrived in Moscow in May 2012, that had become apparent. Large street protests had unnerved Pig Putin, and he accused Mrs. Clinton of instigating them. White House officials had hoped the hostile talk was just for domestic campaign purposes, but even after the Pig formally won re-election he kept it up. When Mr. Obama sent Mr. McFaul, the architect of the reset, to replace Mr. Beyrle, the new ambassador was the subject of an unusual campaign of public harassment in Moscow.

The meeting with Mr. Donilon at Pig Putin’s dacha outside Moscow went on for three hours and covered a variety of topics like arms control, missile defense and Afghanistan. But the focus on Syria suggested how much Pig Putin resented the United States action in Libya and saw it as part of a continuum of illegitimate and even imperialistic American interventions from Kosovo under President Bill Clinton to Iraq under President George W. Bush. Mr. Obama, to his mind, turned out to be no different. “PIg Putin was very dug in on this idea that we will never have another Libya,” said an American official.

Pig Putin made clear that he did not especially like Mr. Assad, but he saw him as a bulwark against Islamic radicalism, much as he saw himself fighting jihadists in Chechnya and the North Caucasus. Mr. Donilon argued that was the reason for Russia to help ease Mr. Assad out and let a democratic government take his place because otherwise an extended civil war would open the door to the very radicalism Pig Putin feared.

Mr. Obama and Pig Putin ended up sitting down a month later in Los Cabos, Mexico, on the sidelines of another Group of 20 meeting. In classic alpha-male fashion, the Pig kept Mr. Obama waiting for more than 20 minutes, and the two picked up the Syria debate. Pig Putin asked why the United States was seeking to take out stable if autocratic leaders like Mr. Assad and why it was so intent on waging war in the Middle East.

Mr. Obama reminded him that he had opposed the war in Iraq and said they should negotiate a peaceful resolution in Syria to avoid a radical outcome. “Pig Putin didn’t buy it at all,” a senior administration official recalled. When the two leaders sat for the cameras, they were stiff and seemingly tense. While aides said the meeting was not as bad as the resulting picture seemed to imply, they acknowledged that the two men had talked past each other much of the time.

One More Try

While Mr. Obama returned home to focus on his re-election, Pig Putin used the time to crack down on dissent in Russia.

Protests were broken up, organizers were arrested, and a popular girl band was put on trial for an anti-Pig Putin song. New laws were passed targeting nongovernmental organizations, and the United States Agency for International Development was kicked out of the country. Congress responded with the Magnitsky Act, imposing new sanctions on human rights abusers in Russia. Pig Putin retaliated by banning American adoptions of Russian children.

After his re-election, Mr. Obama sat down with his advisers to discuss what to do about Russia. He decided to try to put forward a new set of proposals to get the relationship back on track, and again he sent Mr. Donilon to present them quietly to Pig Putin. “It was important to go there and say, ‘Let’s try to reset this again,’ “ said another senior administration official. “ ‘And here’s a path forward.’ ”

Mr. Donilon arrived in April with a package of ideas — another, deeper round of nuclear arms cuts, a data-sharing plan to reduce tension over American missile defense, and ways to expand trade and investment, all things Moscow had suggested in the past. As it happened, he arrived just days after the administration had released a list of Russian officials sanctioned under the Magnitsky Act.

Despite the awkward timing, the tension over Magnitsky barely came up at the meeting. Mr. Donilon gave Pig Putin a letter from Mr. Obama outlining areas for new agreement, and the Russian leader sat and read it aloud, marking up the document and commenting, “I agree with this” and “I don’t agree with that.”

But the reset of the reset didn’t work. When Mr. Obama and Pig Putin met again in June at a Group of 8 meeting in Northern Ireland, the White House hoped for an agreement to open negotiations for a new nuclear arms treaty. Pig Putin did not agree, nor did his government respond to most of the other suggestions. “We just thought” what the heck, said a former administration official. “Come on, these were your ideas.”

Even without an agreement, Mr. Obama proposed a one-on-one summit meeting in Moscow in advance of the St. Petersburg meeting. Pig Putin accepted. And Mr. Obama went ahead with a speech in Berlin publicly proposing mutual arms cuts with Russia — the kind of announcement not usually made without a prearranged understanding that the other side would be interested. It was a test, and again Moscow showed little interest.

The arrival of Mr. Snowden in Moscow, coming on top of anger over a new Russian law against pro-gay “propaganda,” was nothing more than a final death blow to the reset. Inside the administration, advisers squared off over whether to go ahead with the Moscow summit meeting.

Secretary of State John Kerry, who had been trying to arrange a Syria peace conference with the Russians, favored going, as did Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Susan E. Rice, who had just replaced Mr. Donilon as national security adviser, was more skeptical, wondering if it was worth the president’s time if nothing would be accomplished.

“You have a small clique of people who see themselves as realists and want to deal with Pig Putin,” said Anders Aslund, a Russia scholar at the Peterson Institute for International Economics who has ties with administration officials. “Then you have the vast majority lower down who think this is not acceptable.”

When Russia decided to give Mr. Snowden temporary asylum, the debate ended; the trip was off. According to administration research, no such Russian-American presidential summit meeting had been canceled since 1960. Mr. Obama said it was time “to take a pause” and described PIg Putin as a slouching “bored kid in the back of the classroom.”

Absent change, the reset has “run its course,” as Mr. Aslund put it. Republican critics like Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina call it a “failure” and a symbol of a bankrupt foreign policy. Obama advisers argue it worked in a way by restoring relations after the rift over the Georgia war. There are areas of cooperation even now. Moscow has not reneged on the New Start treaty or the Afghanistan supply route.

“The reset was a smart and pragmatic recognition that we were going to have important differences but also needed to work together where we could,” said James B. Steinberg, Mr. Obama’s former deputy secretary of state.

Mr. Gates said Mr. Obama’s effort was sincere and puts the blame squarely on Pg Putin. “He’s about lost power, lost empire, lost glory,” Mr. Gates said. “It will be very difficult to make headway as long as he’s there.”

But Obama aides say they oversold the reset, both to the public and maybe even to themselves; it was never meant to transform Russia into an American-style democracy or eliminate all areas of friction. “We probably overestimated the shared-interest angle,” said one official.

The goal now is to keep it from sliding much further. “I don’t think it’s going to get any better any time soon,” said a former administration official. “In fact, I think the potential for something worse is pretty high.”


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« Reply #8483 on: Sep 03, 2013, 06:54 AM »

Nazi massacre village Oradour-sur-Glane: where ghosts must live on

France fears for ruins of wartime atrocity – in which 642 died – that De Gaulle said should forever bear witness to brutality

Angelique Chrisafis in Oradour-sur-Glane
theguardian.com, Tuesday 3 September 2013 09.56 BST   

Robert Hébras stepped carefully through the crumbled ruins of the village where he once lived. "There's the school bell still hanging up there, reminding me how I was always late," said the 88-year-old former mechanic.

Almost 70 years after this idyllic rural village near Limoges burnt down, there are still traces of life. Not far from Hébras's old house, the carcass of the mayor's Peugeot 202 is still parked. "When I come here, I see faces, people, not ghosts," he said. But for the French state, this is Europe's most important ghost village and there are fears that its ghosts are under threat.

Oradour-sur-Glane is unique in Europe: a fully preserved, ruined village that was the site of the worst Nazi massacre of civilians carried out on French soil. Six hundred and 42 people, including 247 children, were shot or burnt alive on 10 June 1944 in an unexplained act of barbarity. Hébras, who hid under a pile of dead bodies, was one of only a handful of survivors. He lost his mother and two sisters in the carnage during which virtually all the villagers were killed, shot or burned alive.

Unlike other Nazi village massacre sites, such as Lidice in the Czech Republic, which were razed or rebuilt and marked by monuments or fields of roses, the charred remains of Oradour-sur-Glane, are the only ones to have been left untouched and still standing after Charles de Gaulle ordered they should forever bear witness. About 300,000 visitors and tourists come here each year, most walking through with horrified stares.

On Wednesday, the German president, Joachim Gauck, will arrive to survey the ruins accompanied by François Hollande in a historic first visit by a German leader. But behind the pomp there is a new battle for Oradour-sur-Glane: the race to ensure the ruins stay up. The village's burnt-out shell is slowly crumbling away, eroded by time and weather, panicking French officials committed to keeping the memory alive.

In his town hall office in the new village, built after the war and eerily close to the ruins, the mayor, Raymond Frugier, sat surrounded by pictures, etchings and plaques dedicated to the village's tragic past. "We're nearly 70 years on and it's as if the massacre happened yesterday. There's a sense that justice was never done and it is still an open wound," he said.

Frugier was four when his father spotted the Waffen SS column approaching and took the children to hide in the forest. "The problem is that time takes its toll," he said, explaining why he has publicly raised the alarm on the impact of the weather crumbling the walls of the ruins.

"There's a real need to keep these ruins standing for future generations. They haven't lost their authenticity. They still serve to show where certain criminal ideologies can lead, what humans can do to fellow humans," he warned.

Since Frugier raised the alarm and called for a state plan to shore up the ruins for the next 50 years, he has received scores of letters from the public offering cash. But the French state is in charge of paying for conservation of the ruins, which are classed as a historic monument and make up one of the most visited memorial centres in the country.

Each year, the government contributes about €150,000 (£127,000) to the conservation of the ruins. Ministers have promised not to abandon the village and to ensure it stays standing. A culture ministry report is to be published in the coming weeks setting out what needs to be done in the long term. As France prepares for the vast centenary commemorations next year of the first world war, remembrance tourism and war commemoration are at the forefront of culture planning.

In the village, the preservation of the ruins is seen as crucial if any light is ever to be shed on the massacre. It is not clear why the SS chose to butcher all civilians: the village was not a centre of Resistance fighters, nor was it a reprisal attack. "Many villagers had never seen a German before the massacre," one resident said.

Because of the fires, only a tiny fraction of the bodies were able to be identified. Charred dolls' prams were a reminder of the children killed. This year, a war crimes prosecutor in Dortmund reopened an investigation after information found in Stasi secret police files in former East Germany led to six possible soldier suspects, now in their 80s.

Claude Milord, the head of the association of families of the martyrs in the village, whose mother lost her 10-year-old sister when schoolchildren were rounded up to be killed, said it was important to keep the ruins standing to avoid any form of revisionism of the war crimes, or rewriting of history. "These ruins are unique and we have a duty of memory never to forget," he said. "For the families who lost generations of loved ones, it's like a sanctuary. It's all they've got."

As Hébras pointed out the barnyard where he fled the massacre after falling under a pile of dead and dying men, tourists gathered round him. "It's unthinkable," gasped a couple of pensioners from Tarn in south-west France.

"It's always difficult for me to come here," Hébras said. "I relive my village in my head, hear its old sounds, put faces to the ruins. But it's important to preserve these ruins and to keep telling the story so it can continue to be passed down when we're no longer here."


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« Reply #8484 on: Sep 03, 2013, 07:01 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
09/02/2013 03:35 PM

Nazi Murder Trial: Former SS Officer Faces Charges in Germany

By Jörg Diehl

Former Waffen SS officer Siert B. faces trial in Germany on Monday for the fatal shooting of a Dutch resistance fighter in 1944. A witness said that the 92-year-old Dutch-born German "spread fear and terror."

Siert B. was a fanatic, one of the deluded. Raised in a family of Dutch fascists, he voluntarily enlisted for the Waffen SS at the age of 20 in 1941. After serving on the Eastern Front, the SS sergeant was redeployed as a border guard between Groningen and Delfzijl.

There, on the German-Dutch border, B. "spread fear and terror," recalled witness Max van Diedenhoven. The resistance fighter described B. as an unscrupulous perpetrator of violence, saying he "came down hard on anyone he could get his hands on." Now, at the age of 92, Siert B. must stand trial.

For some time now B. has lived an inconspicuous life, manufacturing rustic fences in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The state prosecutor's office of Dortmund has charged the retiree with murder. On Sept. 21, 1944, B. allegedly shot Dutch resistance fighter Aldert Klaas Dijkema.

'Unsuspecting and Defenceless'

A commander of the border police serving under Siert B. arrested Dijkema at his parents' farm. According to the prosecution, B. and his supervising officer, August N., transported the apprehended resistance fighter by car to the grounds of an abandoned factory. There, Dijkema was forced out of the vehicle. "Go take a piss," the Nazi henchmen told him, according to the prosecution, before shooting the prisoner from behind. Two shots in the head ended his life. The attack couldn't have been anticipated, said chief prosecutor Andreas Brendel: "Dijkema was unsuspecting and defenceless."

One thing that could prove problematic in the course of the proceedings is the fact that the sequence of events relies solely on the testimony of August N. in a previous trial. N. is now deceased -- and the question of who actually pulled the trigger remains unanswered. So it may be difficult to prove that the crime was committed jointly. The prosecutors have not been able to track down any surviving eyewitnesses. For the most part, the trial will consist of reading files and questioning former officials who at some point interviewed witnesses of the crime.

Siert B's defence attorney Klaus-Peter Kniffka says that his client will remain silent at the trial, which began on Monday. In a recent television interview, B. acknowledged at least having been at the scene of the crime along with August N. and Dijkema. But he told reporters that it was August N., not he, who actually pulled the trigger.

Sentenced to Death

A Dutch special tribunal already sentenced Siert B. to death in April of 1949 for the execution. The sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. But B. never ended up serving his punishment, because the German government refused to extradite him, referring to a decree made by Adolf Hitler on May 25, 1943, extending German citizenship to foreigners serving in the Waffen SS and the Wehrmacht.

The provision had a devastating effect after the war, because it legally prohibited the extradition of suspected war criminals. It was not until February 1980 that B. was arrested in Germany for complicity in the murder of two Jewish brothers and sentenced to seven years in prison.

But the courts did not go after Siert B. for the shooting of Dijkema. The appeal board held that the killing lacked the feature of malice and was thus not a murder, so its prosecution was time-barred. Otherwise, went the logic, anyone who killed someone while serving under the Nazi regime could be brought up on charges.

This legal opinion set the precedent in Germany for decades -- until it was broken by the trial of former SS officer Heinrich Boere, who began a life sentence in December 2012 for murdering three Dutch civilians during World War II. The regional court in Aachen ruled for the first time in Germany that arbitrary executions in reprisal for attacks on Germans could be considered murder.

The sister of Aldert Klaas Dijkema, herself now 97 years old, will serve as co-plaintiff in the trial at the Hagen district court. "For her, it is not about revenge," says her lawyer, Detlef Hartmann, "but rather about determining his guilt." But because Siert B. has been deemed fit to stand trial only under certain restrictions, the court will be in session for only three hours per day. The proceedings over a killing that took place nearly 70 years ago is expected to last into the fall.

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Nazi war crimes investigation in Germany to examine 30 former Auschwitz personnel

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, September 3, 2013 8:42 EDT

The German office investigating Nazi war crimes said Tuesday it would send files on 30 former Auschwitz death camp personnel to state prosecutors with a recommendation to pursue charges.

Chief investigator Kurt Schrimm told reporters that the suspects were former Auschwitz guards now aged up to 97 and would face possible charges of accessory to murder.

“The cases will be handed over to the respective public prosecutor’s offices,” Schrimm said.

Schrimm’s Central Office for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes in the southwestern city of Ludwigsburg has carried out more than 7,000 probes but has no powers to charge suspects itself.

Instead it sends case files to regional prosecutors who then decide whether to pursue probes against suspects, who must also be judged fit to stand trial by the courts.

The investigative office, set up in 1958, said it had initially identified 49 former guards at the camp in what was Nazi-occupied Poland who were still alive but nine had since died.

Thirty live in Germany and will now be subject to criminal investigation.

Another seven live abroad and the investigation against them in Ludwigsburg is still ongoing.

Two people could not be found, the office said, and one had already been under investigation in the southern city of Stuttgart.

More than 6,000 SS personnel served at Auschwitz, where about 1.1 million Jews, Roma and Sinti and members of other persecuted groups died in gas chambers or of forced labour, sickness and starvation.

For more than 60 years German courts only prosecuted Nazi war criminals if evidence showed they had personally committed atrocities, but since a 2011 landmark case all former camp guards can be tried.

In that year a Munich court sentenced John Demjanjuk to five years in prison for complicity in the extermination of more than 28,000 Jews at the Sobibor camp, where he had served as a guard.

The announcement from Ludwigsburg came a day after the start of a trial in Germany of a 92-year-old former SS officer for the murder of a Dutch resistance fighter nearly 70 years ago.

As the proceedings opened in the western town of Hagen, Dutch-born Siert Bruins, who is a German national, was deemed fit enough for the trial to sit for up to three hours a day.

He faces a life sentence if found guilty.

Since the Nuremberg Trials in 1945-1946, around 106,000 German or foreign-born Nazi soldiers have been accused of war crimes.

About 13,000 have been found guilty and around half sentenced, according to the Ludwigsburg office.

« Last Edit: Sep 03, 2013, 07:06 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #8485 on: Sep 03, 2013, 07:14 AM »

September 2, 2013

Conjuring the Ghosts of Iraq’s Brutal Past

By TIM ARANGO
IHT

BAGHDAD — These days in Iraq, state-supported reminders of the horrors of Saddam Hussein’s rule are always close at hand.

One of Iraqi state television’s biggest recent hits was a dramatic series about the Baath Party’s crimes under Mr. Hussein. In the office of the human rights minister, glass-enclosed cases display soiled clothing recovered from mass graves. Soon, the government plans to open a museum that will memorialize victims of the former regime and chronicle past abuses.

It might all seem to be an admirable attempt to help Iraqis come to grips with their country’s painful past of sectarian violence — if so many similar, horrific actions weren’t taking place across the country this year, human rights advocates say.

As security has deteriorated, Iraqis say it has become clearer with each bombing attack, each spasm of vigilante violence, that Iraq’s American-trained security forces have been ineffective and, worse, a growing source of abuses themselves. And the hope for stability under Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who has vowed to be a leader for all Iraqis, is giving way to fears that his government is mimicking many of the repressive tactics that his Shiite constituency suffered under the past Sunni minority regime.

As Sunni jihadist groups have staged ever more deadly bombings this year, Mr. Maliki’s forces have responded with their harshest security crackdowns yet — including, rights advocates say, indiscriminate roundups of Sunnis, the use of torture to extract confessions, the tainted use of secret informant testimony to secure convictions and frequent demands for bribes from the families of detainees.

A powerful notion of revenge, a subtext to much of the current turmoil across the Middle East, underlies the increasingly systemic violence in Iraq. Sunni bombings bring Shiite crackdowns as payback, driving more Sunnis toward extremism. Each fuels the other, again and again.

Citizens, frustrated by the inability of their security forces to keep them safe, are beginning to take matters into their own hands, suggesting a new element of instability in the country. As Baghdad suffered through another day of bombings last week, an angry mob in a Shiite neighborhood attacked a man its members suspected of placing a car bomb. They beat and stabbed him to death and then strung his body from a pole and set it on fire. A cellphone video that emerged online showed security forces looking on, doing nothing to intervene.

Further, as more Iraqis, Sunni and Shiite, answer the call to join opposing sides in Syria’s civil war next door, back home it has become easier to think that sectarian loyalty might even trump national boundaries. The violence seems closer than ever, many Iraqis say, as the notion of a unified society drifts away.

Through it all, the government has increasingly engaged in the creative application of history, analysts say.

Earlier this year, after a bloody crackdown on a Sunni protest camp in northern Iraq left dozens dead and set off pitched battles between government security forces and Sunni militias, state television aired documentaries about Baath Party crimes, prompting critics to accuse the government of merely trying to divert attention from its own heavy-handed tactics.

Hamid Fhadil, a political science professor at Baghdad University, said the government’s constant references to the horrors of living under Mr. Hussein’s regime were part of a public relations strategy to mask Mr. Maliki’s failures to provide basic services like electricity and security.

“The government tries to show that the other option to his democratic government will be the return of the Baathists and the torturing of civilians,” Mr. Fhadil said.

Yet Human Rights Watch and other organizations, including the State Department, have consistently documented torture and human rights abuses on the current Iraqi government’s watch.

And the language that many Sunnis use to describe the recent security operations is similar to that of the government as it showcases the actions of the former government. For example, Walid Mohammadi, a Sunni lawmaker, described the government’s actions as perpetuating “sectarianism” and “barbarism.”

The Institute for the Study of War, in a recent research note, wrote that “the Iraqi Sunni community has been further antagonized by the indiscriminate arrests of Sunni males.”

“Despite this campaign,” the note said, “Al Qaeda in Iraq has continued to demonstrate its ability to operate and carry out attacks in Baghdad and surrounding provinces.”

Recently, the International Crisis Group warned of a “revived sectarian civil war” and said a strategy of “tougher security measures has every chance of worsening the situation.”

That possibility resonates in expressions of outrage by prominent Sunnis. Osama al-Nujaifi, the Parliament speaker, who is a Sunni, recently released a statement decrying the wave of government crackdowns, calling them “provocative actions carried out on a daily basis against the population of those areas.”

Mr. Nujaifi added, “The implementation of the law should never be at the expense of the lives of Iraqis, or their dignity or property.”

Mr. Maliki has claimed the mantle of a fighter against terrorism, doing what he must. In a recent speech, he vowed, “We will not go easy in facing the terrorists.”

He said the government had recently arrested 800 people, and “killed tens of others in clashes with the security forces, who also destroyed the infrastructure that they use in manufacturing the tools of killing and bombing, and they seized large numbers of sophisticated weapons and explosive devices.”

By now, many Sunnis say, they have become accustomed to feeling like second-class citizens, much as Shiites felt under the past regime.

“I’m not surprised by what’s happening,” said Hakem al-Adhami, who is 54 and unemployed, and who lives in Adhamiya, a Sunni enclave in Baghdad. “They are seizing the Sunnis and increasing their political enemies.”

He said the government pressured Sunnis to provide intelligence on terrorist activity. “And then there are explosions, and then the Sunnis are accused of being terrorists, and they start arresting them,” he said.

The explosions, though, have grown deadlier and more frequent, despite the harsher security measures. Fewer Iraqis, even Shiites, express any confidence in the security forces’ ability to keep them safe.

Under siege, Mr. Maliki is reaching out for reinforcements. And in doing so, he is drawing quite directly from a page in the demonized old regime’s playbook.

A call went out recently in the local news media urging former special forces officers and their trainers, at the rank of major and below, to answer the need of their country and visit a Ministry of Defense Web site to reapply for service.

Those special forces were among Mr. Hussein’s most feared, and were responsible for the worst crimes against Iraq’s Shiites.

Duraid Adnan and Yasir Ghazi contributed reporting.


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« Reply #8486 on: Sep 03, 2013, 07:16 AM »

September 2, 2013

Rupee Continues Decline on New Evidence of Weakness in Indian Economy

By KEITH BRADSHER
IHT

MUMBAI — The Indian rupee began slipping lower in currency markets again on Monday and Tuesday after a two-day respite, as further signs emerged of broad troubles in the Indian economy.

An HSBC survey of purchasing managers at manufacturers across India, released on Monday, showed them to be their gloomiest since March 2009, at the bottom of the global economic downturn. Businesses across the country are bracing for a sharp increase in the regulated price of diesel fuel, as the rupee’s steep drop in August has driven up the Indian cost of crude oil, priced in dollars and almost entirely imported.

The rupee was down another 0.5 percent against the dollar on Monday and a further 0.6 percent in early trading on Tuesday, to 66.43 rupees to the dollar, bringing its decline since early May to a little more than 20 percent.

Currency traders said that they perceived hints of modest intervention to cushion the decline by the Reserve Bank of India, the country’s central bank, which acts through state-controlled commercial banks when it does intervene so as to camouflage its activity.

The Mumbai stock market showed signs of recovery on Monday, with the benchmark Sensex index rallying 1.43 percent by late afternoon.

Exporters would be expected to benefit from a cheaper rupee. But poor roads, restrictive labor laws and heavy regulation have left India with a manufacturing sector that, although stronger than a decade ago, still struggles to compete with China and other East Asian economies. Indian companies rely heavily on imports for materials and equipment that they cannot buy within India, and the costs of those imports are surging as the rupee falls, limiting gains in Indian competitiveness.

At Challenge Overseas, a manufacturer of trousers on the northern outskirts of Mumbai that exports mainly to the Middle East, the floor and corners of the factory were piled high over the weekend with rolls of gray and black fabric, six feet long and a foot in diameter. But all of the fabric had been imported from China.

“Our owner goes to China every three months,” said Javeri Savia, the general manager of production. “The newer textures and weaves all come from China.”

Like many Indian factories, Challenge also lacks economies of scale. It has just 60 workers to cut, sew and iron its trousers, which sell at wholesale for about 1,000 rupees, or $15, apiece. Similar factories in China often employ several thousand workers. “When you compare with China and all of them, we are peanuts,” Mr. Savia said.

The rupee traded from 52 to 55 to the dollar until early May, when it began a gradual slide that the Indian government tried to arrest through market intervention and other measures, including raising the tax on gold imports.

The rupee continued drifting down through the summer, then began falling faster in mid-August when senior government officials made it clear in speeches that they were reluctant to resort to more drastic measures to arrest the rupee’s decline, like sharp increases in interest rates or an imposition of stringent controls on moving large sums of money in and out of the country.

The rupee briefly fell last Wednesday to almost 69 to the dollar, prompting the Reserve Bank of India to supply dollars from its reserves through a local bank to the country’s state-controlled oil refiners and distributors. That industry tends to be India’s biggest buyer of dollars so as to pay for crude oil imports. The rupee slowly crawled back above 66 to the dollar on Thursday and Friday before drifting down a little on Monday.

Paritosh Mathur, the head of fixed-income and currency trading in India for Deutsche Bank, said that volatility in the rupee’s value appeared to be diminishing. He said he saw little chance that the rupee would return to its levels of last spring in the next two or three months, but also little chance that it would test the lows of last Wednesday.

The HSBC index of purchasing managers’ sentiment fell to 48.5 in August, from 50.1 in July. A figure below 50 indicates a contraction in activity. Overall new orders and new export orders declined. Purchasing managers also indicated that they were buying less material for future production and were keeping smaller inventories of finished goods on hand, apparently in anticipation of weak sales.

Leif Eskesen, HSBC’s chief economist for India and Southeast Asia, cut his forecast for Indian economic output to 4 percent for the Indian fiscal year through the end of next March, from a previous forecast of 5.5 percent. He also cut his forecast for the following fiscal year to 5.5 percent, from 6.6 percent.

“The recovery is likely to prove protracted as confidence will only return reluctantly, and the structural reforms will only pass through to growth very slowly,” he said in a research report.

Julian D’Souza, the South Asia director in the Mumbai office of the Conference Board, a group based in New York that issues leading economic indicators, said many manufacturing industries were hobbled by high transport and electricity costs. But auto parts factories tend to have modern equipment and good locations close to ports.

“That’s one area where India can start exporting,” he said.

American and European auto parts makers are already facing heavy competition from China, however, so further exports from India might fan trade tensions.

Neha Thirani Bagri contributed reporting.

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Raipur's whiplash backlash: potholes named after ministers in Indian state

People in one of the country's poorest regions are trying to shame their officials into tackling the crumbling infrastructure

Jason Burke in Delhi
theguardian.com, Monday 2 September 2013 14.24 BST

The potholes in Raipur, a city of a million people in the centre of India, are so big they now have names: angry locals are conducting ceremonies to name individual holes after prominent officials, to draw attention to the poor condition of the roads.

Hindu priests in the capital of poverty-stricken, lawless Chhattisgarh state have so far performed rituals naming three of the biggest holes after the chief minister of the state as well as the ministers for housing and public works, according to the Times of India.

Even in India's wealthier states, corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency mean roads are often left unrepaired. The situation is particularly bad after the monsoon rains. This year's monsoon, now in its last days, has been particularly long and heavy. This is good for farmers, but bad for road users.

Satyawan Gupta, a businessman in Raipur, said his 20-mile commute to his factory was torture.

"During the monsoons, it is impossible to gauge how deep a pothole is as the roads are under deep water," he said. "It is so dangerous at times. If there is one place that deserves to be named after our politicians, it is the potholes of Raipur." Gupta said he had sustained neck injuries after bouncing across cratered road surfaces.

Such protests are increasingly common. Dissatisfaction with the Indian state's ability to deliver basic services is widespread. Growing urban centres lack proper sanitation and transport systems as well as schools, clinics and police stations. One recent survey said the country's cities needed around $1trillion (£640bn) worth of investment.

Opposition candidates are hoping to exploit disappointment with the ruling coalition government, which is led by the Congress party and has been in power since 2004, at a general election next spring.

The death of a woman last month in Kolkata when she was thrown from a rickshaw and a lorry hit her was blamed on a poor road surface. India has the highest ratio of road casualties to vehicles in the world.

In Mumbai, India's chaotic and crowded commercial capital, potholes cause vast tailbacks. Municipal authorities spend millions each year but a lack of engineers trained to international standards means problems continue.

Manoj Singh Thakur, superintendent engineer at Raipur municipal corporation, told the Guardian that the giant potholes could be fixed only in late October, as coal tar plants shut down during the monsoon.

"We will see what we can do to temporarily fill up the potholes," Thakur said. "In the meantime, fresh layers of coal tar can only be poured after September mid, and not before that."

**************

Why Goa is looking to go upmarket – and banish Brits and backpackers

As visitor numbers dip, the Indian state wants to rid itself of budget tourists – but its rubbish mountains and beach gangs are putting off the rich

Gethin Chamberlain   
The Observer, Saturday 31 August 2013 13.11 BST   
     


The sun is setting over the sea at Vagator beach and the smell of marijuana drifts from a grubby bar a little way up the road, where the flotsam and jetsam of Goa are gathering for their evening descent into oblivion. A retired western couple pick their way between the cows and the rubbish, pausing to glare grumpily at the young Indian tourists who swoop around them on hired mopeds, whooping and passing bottles of beer.

Goa is India's good-time state, the hedonistic hippy haven whose promises of sun, sand, cheap beer and drugs transformed it into a magnet for backpackers and budget tourists looking for an alternative to the Spanish costas. With the collapse of the Indian rupee this year, it has never been more affordable. But the love affair is waning. Years of mismanagement and decline have prompted many British tourists to go elsewhere.

Good riddance, says Goa. It doesn't want them any more. Nor does it want anyone else on who's on a tight budget, including Indian tourists. Tired of being India's answer to Blackpool, it wants to go upmarket.

"The image of Goa is being destroyed," says John Lobo, who speaks for owners of the state's popular beach shacks. "What Goa should try to do is stop cheap Indian tourists as well as cheap foreign tourists. I would say the middle-income plus the rich tourists should be welcome. There are a lot of European tourists who come here who hardly spend any money."

Now, with the season about to get under way, the talk is of a cleanup and a new direction. Drinking hours have been slashed, dance bars banned, raves raided, drinking on the beach forbidden. The ministry of tourism has allocated £7.5m for tourism projects, including a golf course, helicopter tours and a cruise ship terminal. There is talk of oceanariums and theme parks.

It may be too late. International tourist arrivals are down 23% since 2010. Visa fees have soared this year from £32 to £82, plus a processing fee of £10.20, and even with the collapse of the rupee, tourists are eyeing other Asian beach destinations such as Thailand and Vietnam.

Figures released by the tourist ministry last week show the state falling behind many of India's less well-known destinations. Tourism grew by only 0.08% in the past five years. Even Bihar, the country's poorest state, recorded a more impressive rise last year. The number of British tourists has fallen from 154,122 in 2010 to 119,891 last year.

Goa's critics say it has only itself to blame for its predicament and that it has a mountain to climb if it is to attract well-heeled visitors. They argue that successive governments have failed to look after an industry that is now the state's biggest earner. The result is that rubbish is mounting up – huge drifts of it lie at the roadsides – because there is nowhere to dispose of it. The beaches are filthy, strewn with broken glass and soaked in oil discharged by tankers off the coast.

The state is in the grip of drug and property mafias, and low alcohol prices have drawn in large gangs of men who drink heavily and whose presence makes it feel less safe for local women and female tourists. The Foreign Office travel advisory notice to Britons thinking of visiting Goa warns: "Throughout Goa there have been reports of drinks being spiked and travellers, including British nationals, subsequently being robbed, sexually assaulted or dying. In 2012, 29 British nationals died in Goa. Some of these deaths were attributed to drug/alcohol abuse. There has been a series of high-profile incidents in Goa of alleged rape against foreign nationals, including Britons. Avoid beaches after dark. There is a risk of being attacked by packs of stray dogs, robbed or sexually assaulted."

There is little confidence in the justice system. Five-and-a-half years after the death of British teenager Scarlett Keeling on Anjuna beach, the stop-start trial of two men in connection with her death drags on with no sign of a conclusion.

John McGinley, a retired Scot living in an apartment complex in the beach town of Calangute, says tourists feel helpless. "Corruption within the police and their failure to record crimes makes getting justice for foreigners virtually impossible," he says, "because the police quite simply refuse to record crime involving foreigners."

Some of the problems reported in the local papers verge on the bizarre: eunuchs harassing tourists and demanding money on the beaches, and police cutting up sunbeds with chainsaws to clear space on the sand. Many British tourists who normally return year after year have had enough.

One former bar owner, now back in Britain, says his customers were tired of being taken for granted. "We found most Goans only want Brits for their money," he says. "We couldn't stand it any longer: people urinating in the streets, constant spitting, and rubbish dumped everywhere. There are lots of our customers who feel the same way and are not going back."

Good riddance, says Lobo, general secretary of the Shack Owners' Welfare Society. Goa needs a better class of tourist, he says, not Indian men who start fights and chase women because they cannot hold their drink, and not parsimonious foreign pensioners. He smiles wryly as he describes two of his typical customers: "A retired British couple come in every day. The man nurses a single beer, the woman buys nothing, because on the way to the beach they stop off to buy a bottle of water and some pastries from a local shop. When she thinks nobody is looking she stuffs her head into her bag and eats it, then closes her bag."

Others buy one cup of tea, then ask for a separate cup of hot water and share the tea bag between them. "There are a lot of pensioners coming here," he says. "They cannot afford to live back home, but they are telling me: 'We are retired. We spend the heating allowance that the government gives us – that money is enough for us to buy our accommodation. The pension money is more than enough for us to live.'

"It is not that we don't welcome them, but you can't expect everything to be perfect if you don't contribute anything to the running of the state."

Even so, the state authorities now accept that change must come. "After drugs and prostitution, garbage has proved to be the third-biggest hurdle that is keeping away high-spending tourists from Goa," the state's chief minister, Manohar Parrikar, said in a recent speech.

Parrikar, who previously pledged to rid Goa of garbage within three months of his election last year, now promises that three rubbish treatment plants will open within a year. But most of the projects exist only on paper. A long-delayed airport terminal, finally due to open this month, will do so without a mains sewage connection.

There are plans to position hundreds of armed guards on beaches to improve security, but when a police superintendent launched a series of drug raids on rave parties, he found himself chastised by a government minister and transferred to traffic duties.

Actions are harder than words, says Lobo: "There is a lot of nexus between the politicians and the police and the antisocial activities that are going on. If this nexus between the police and politicians stops, things can change for Goa. India is known all over the world as a corrupt country. This corruption cannot be weeded out in a short time."

The slump in the value of the rupee means more Indians will be taking their hoidays at home this year. That could be a shot in the arm for Goa. But Francisco de Braganca, president of the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa, says what it really needs is more tourists who can afford to stay in the state's few five-star hotels.

"We need to make Goa a peaceful destination, not an overcrowded destination where the high spending tourist does not wish to be," he says. "Hedonism is not something I would like Goa to be associated with. If that is the view a tourist is holding, I think we are better off without such tourists."

• The photo caption on this story was amended on 31 August 2013


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« Reply #8487 on: Sep 03, 2013, 07:25 AM »

September 2, 2013

Hit-and-Run Case Seen as Reflection of Inequality in Thailand

By THOMAS FULLER
IHT

BANGKOK — The Bangkok policeman was fatally struck by a gray Ferrari, his body dragged down a darkened Bangkok street. In contrast to his sudden and brutal death 12 months ago, the Thai judicial process that has followed has been slow and labored.

After repeated postponements, Thai prosecutors said Monday that the man who has admitted to the hit and run, Vorayuth Yoovidhya, the grandson of the inventor of the Red Bull energy drink and the heir to one of Thailand’s greatest fortunes, failed to show up at an indictment hearing.

Prosecutors said they had dropped charges of speeding against him because the one-year statute of limitations runs out on Tuesday.

Mr. Vorayuth still faces two other charges, and prosecutors said they would issue a warrant for his arrest. But in a case that has been described as a test of whether the rich and influential in Thailand enjoy more leniency than others, critics say the system is so far coming up short.

Monday was the sixth time that Mr. Vorayuth failed to answer summonses at prosecutors’ offices.

Mr. Vorayuth’s lawyer, Thanit Buakaew, told reporters on Monday that his client could not appear at the office that day because he was in Singapore on a business trip and was sick with the flu.

“Due to Mr. Vorayuth’s sudden illness, he will not be able to travel back from Singapore to report to the prosecutor today,” Mr. Thanit said outside the office.

His client “has not set” a return date to Thailand and has “no intention to escape,” Mr. Thanit said.

Ruecha Krairiksh, the prosecutor handling the case, said Monday that officials had tried repeatedly to reach Mr. Vorayuth and his lawyer, but that “no one answered the phone at the home number.”

“We don’t have an accused here,” Mr. Ruecha said, “so we are not able to indict him.”

If he returns to Thailand, Mr. Vorayuth, who is in his late 20s, faces the more serious charges of causing death through reckless driving and failing to stop and assist the victim.

Mr. Vorayuth left the scene after hitting the police officer, Wichean Glanprasert, so investigating officers followed traces of leaking engine fluids to the family’s luxury compound in Bangkok, where they discovered the damaged Ferrari.

But instead of arresting Mr. Vorayuth, police officers from a station near the family’s compound arrested the family’s driver.

Bangkok’s police commissioner, Comronwit Toopgrajank, said that was an attempt at a cover-up. He took charge of the investigation and reprimanded a police officer he said had tried to force the driver to take the blame.

Mr. Vorayuth was taken into police custody and admitted that he had hit the police officer with his Ferrari. But he said the officer, who was riding a motorcycle, had swerved in front of him. He was released on bail of about $15,600.

The family paid the police officer’s family nearly $100,000 in compensation.

When he took over the case, Commissioner Comronwit said he would quit if justice was not served. “The truth will prevail in this case,” he told reporters. “I can guarantee it.”

Pornanand Glanprasert, the older brother of the dead policeman, said in an interview on Monday that he was not so sure.

“If you are common people like us, I think the case is already finished,” Mr. Pornanand said.

Mr. Vorayuth, he said, “is powerful, has many connections and a lot of money.”

“He is going to try very hard not to be charged — or at the very least to get a suspended sentence or no punishment at all,” he said.

Poypiti Amatatham contributed reporting.


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« Reply #8488 on: Sep 03, 2013, 07:26 AM »


Australia ready for gay marriage, says Kevin Rudd

Prime minister, a practising Christian, hits back at religious right by saying Bible preaches universal love among all people

Lenore Taylor in Canberra
theguardian.com, Tuesday 3 September 2013 08.02 BST   

The Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd, has launched an impassioned defence of same-sex marriage just days before the general election, telling a current affairs programme that his position is compatible with his Christian faith and the New Testament's message of universal love.

Challenged by a pastor on a Q&A programme on Monday night as to why as a Christian he did not follow the teaching of the Bible, that marriage was between a man and a woman, Rudd replied: "If I was going to have that view, the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition because St Paul said in the New Testament 'slaves be obedient to your masters', and therefore we should all have fought for the confederacy in the US civil war."

He added: "I mean, for goodness sake, the human condition and social conditions change. What is the central principle of the New Testament? It is one of universal love, loving your fellow man," Rudd said, during a passionate performance in which he insisted he was still not contemplating losing Saturday's election, despite Labor's declining standing in the opinion polls.

The opposition leader, Tony Abbot, has taken a firm stance against same-sex marriage, which he appeared recently to dismiss as "the fashion of the moment".

Rudd changed his position before returning to the Labor leadership this year, publishing an essay to explain his views. He has promised to resubmit legislation legalising same-sex marriage within 100 days, if Labor is re-elected.

"I do not believe people choose their sexuality; they are gay if they are born gay," Rudd said during Monday night's programme on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

"It is how people are built, and therefore the idea that this is somehow an abnormal condition is wrong … If you accept it is natural and normal to be gay, then it follows from that … people should not be denied the opportunity for legal recognition ... of their relationship."


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« Reply #8489 on: Sep 03, 2013, 07:28 AM »


Mexican president defends shakeup in first state-of-the-nation speech

Enrique Peña Nieto insists 'great transformation of Mexico has started' despite protests over education and energy policy
   
Jo Tuckman in Mexico City
theguardian.com, Monday 2 September 2013 19.52 BST   

President Enrique Pena Nieto gives his first state-of-the-nation speech in Mexico City
Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto gives his first state-of-the-nation address at the presidential residence, Los Pinos in Mexico City. Photograph: Dario Lopez-Mills/AP

The Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto, used his first state-of-the-nation address to defend and promote his government's shakeup of the economy and public sector, which has already triggered demonstrations paralysing the capital, Mexico City, accompanied by outbreaks of violence.

"We knew beforehand that it would be complex and that there would be inertia and resistance," Peña Nieto said during his speech on Monday, exactly nine months into his administration. "The great transformation of Mexico is possible, and it has started."

The president put particular emphasis on his education plans, twice celebrating Sunday night's approval by the lower house of congress of a law tying teachers' jobs to evaluation of their performance.

Opposition to the bill, which now goes to the senate, has been at the centre of two weeks of protests by teachers from some of Mexico's poorest states who are camping out in the city's main Zocalo plaza. They claim the changes unfairly blame them for the substandard quality of state schools and contain a hidden privatisation agenda.

As well as causing traffic chaos on multiple occasions, the teachers' protests have included blocking access to the international airport for nine hours, and occasional clashes with police. Violence during marches at the weekend was primarily attributed to groups of anarchists that tagged along.

Teachers' leaders reacted to the passage of the law by announcing a "teachers' insurrection" beginning with the promise of massive protests on Wednesday.

Tension over education policy feeds into deep suspicion of other parts of the new government's shakeup plans, particularly a proposal to open Mexico's state-owned energy section to more participation by the private sector that strikes at the heart of nationalist sentiment. Thousands marched against that proposal on Saturday, with a more ambitious demonstration planned for this weekend.

As well as promoting his agenda as the road to showing the world that "this is the year that Mexico dared to take off," Peña Nieto used his speech to claim major advances towards pacification of the drug wars still raging around Mexico.

The president boasted of a 13.7% reduction in homicides since he took office, achieved through improved co-ordination within the different branches of law enforcement, and issued a warning to self-defence groups springing up in some beleaguered states that vigilante justice would not be tolerated.


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