September 12, 2013
Mexico: State Legislator Hacked to Death During an Interview
Armed men in a Mexican state struggling to contain gang violence hacked to death a member of the state legislature with a machete while he was being interviewed by a journalist, the authorities said Thursday. Prosecutors in the western state of Michoacán said the politician, Osbaldo Esquivel Lucatero, was being interviewed in his car on Wednesday afternoon when a group of men forced him and the journalist, Pablo Madriz, out and attacked them. The reporter survived. The attack occurred near Apatzingán, a city that has become notorious as a hotbed of drug-gang activity.
September 12, 2013
Honduras Grants Land to Indigenous Group, in Bid to Help It Protect Forests
By ELISABETH MALKIN
MEXICO CITY — The Honduran government has granted more than 7 percent of its territory to the indigenous Miskito communities who live on the land, an initiative intended to help them protect their forests.
The title agreement, which gives the Miskito people ownership of almost one million hectares (about 3,860 square miles) of their traditional land, represents an acknowledgment of the rights of the most neglected citizens in one of the hemisphere’s poorest countries.
“The title is just the first step,” said David Kaimowitz, the director of natural resources at the Ford Foundation, who has been working with the Miskito communities. “The title won’t guarantee that drug traffickers and oil palm growers won’t move in, but it gives them a handle to resist these incursions.”
It is also an action that Mr. Kaimowitz and other experts say will help preserve the region’s dense pine forests and tropical rain forests. Conservation groups maintain that indigenous people have been the best stewards of their own forests. Honduras is following Nicaragua, Belize and Panama, which have all handed over title to forestland to indigenous communities.
“That is our tradition; our duty is to protect the forest,” Norvin Goff Salinas, the president of a coalition of Miskito groups, said in a telephone interview.
In addition to the 970,000 hectares (about 3,750 square miles) turned over to Miskito groups, the government has promised an additional 800,000 hectares (about 3,090 square miles) in the Río Plátano biosphere reserve, part of the most important area of tropical rain forest in Central America.
The Miskito people base their claim to the land on their continuous occupation of the region and the stilted language of a Victorian-era treaty.
They are the inhabitants of the Mosquito Coast of legend, covering the Caribbean coasts of Honduras and Nicaragua, which was a British protectorate beginning in the 17th century.
In the 1850s, the British government signed treaties to hand the land over to the unstable countries emerging from the Spanish Empire. The Wyke-Cruz treaty of 1859 offered a ringing defense of the rights of the Miskito of Honduras, declaring that they “shall not be disturbed in the possession of any lands or other property which they may hold or occupy.”
For more than 100 years, though, it was their isolation, not the law, that protected them.
Over the past 40 years, the Miskito have organized to press for recognition of those long-forgotten rights. Their claims became increasingly urgent as large ranchers moved into their territory, clearing forests for pasture land.
“There wasn’t any legal support to complain to the government,” Mr. Goff said. “Now with the backing of titles, we can stop this agenda.”
To the northwest, powerful corporations owned by Honduran oligarchs have planted vast plantations of oil palm trees, prompting violent land battles.
The Miskito protested to press their claims, putting pressure on the government of President Porfirio Lobo, who struggled to assert legitimacy after he was elected following a 2009 coup.
NASA’s Voyager 1 becomes first spacecraft to leave our solar system
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, September 12, 2013 14:29 EDT
Never before has a human-built spacecraft traveled so far. NASA’s Voyager 1 probe has now left the solar system and is wandering the galaxy, US scientists said Thursday.
The spacecraft was launched in 1977 on a mission to explore the outer planets of our solar system and to possibly journey into the unknown depths of outer space.
“This is the first time that humanity has been able to step outside of the cradle of the solar system to explore the larger galaxy,” Marc Swisdak, an astrophysicist at the University of Maryland, told AFP.
The precise position of Voyager has been fiercely debated in the past year, because scientists have not known exactly what it would look like when the spacecraft crossed the boundary of the solar system — and the tool on board that was meant to detect the change broke long ago.
However, US space agency scientists now agree that Voyager is officially outside the protective bubble known as the heliosphere that extends at least eight billion miles (13 billion kilometers) beyond all the planets in our solar system, and has entered a cold, dark region known as interstellar space.
Their findings — which describe the conditions that show Voyager actually left the solar system in August 2012 — are published in the US journal Science.
“Voyager has boldly gone where no probe has gone before marking one of the most significant technological achievements in the annals of the history of science,” said a statement by John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate.
The twin spacecraft, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, were launched in 1977 on a primary mission to explore Jupiter and Saturn.
They discovered new details about the nature of Saturn’s rings and found volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io.
Voyager 2 traveled on to Uranus and Neptune, before the duo’s mission was extended to explore the outer limits of the Sun’s influence.
Voyager 1 — with Voyager 2 a few years behind in its travels to the edge of the solar system — sent back data to scientists on Earth on August 25 last year, showing an abrupt drop in energetic charged particles, or cosmic rays, that are produced inside the heliosphere.
Scientists expected that the direction of the magnetic field in space would reverse at the barrier known as the heliopause.
The Voyager 1 magnetometer did not show this change, leading scientists to be extra cautious about declaring whether or not the spacecraft had left the solar system.
However, an analysis of data from Voyager’s plasma wave science instrument between April 9 and May 22 this year showed the spacecraft was in a region with an electron density of about 0.08 per cubic centimeter.
Astrophysicists have projected that the density of electrons in interstellar space would be between 0.05 and 0.22 per cubic centimeter, placing Voyager squarely in that range.
“Now that we have new, key data, we believe this is humankind’s historic leap into interstellar space,” said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.
“The Voyager team needed time to analyze those observations and make sense of them. But we can now answer the question we’ve all been asking: ‘Are we there yet?’ Yes, we are.”
While the Voyager team has reached a consensus, not all are convinced.
“I don’t think it’s a certainty Voyager is outside now,” space physicist David McComas of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas told Science magazine.
“It may well have crossed,” he said. “But without a magnetic field direction change, I don’t know what to make of it.”
The spacecraft is expected to keep cruising for now, though the radioisotope thermo-electric generators that power it are beginning to run down.
Voyager’s instruments will have to shut down permanently in 2025, Science reported. NASA spends $5 million per year to operate the twin spacecraft.
“Even though it took 36 years, it’s just an amazing thing to me,” said co-author Bill Kurth, of the University of Iowa.
“I think the Voyager mission is a much grander voyage of humankind than anyone had dreamed.”
Astronauts ‘flew blind’ from International Space Station as sensors failed
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, September 13, 2013 7:33 EDT
The three crew of the International Space Station (ISS) who returned to Earth this week endured a hair-raising descent after their height sensors failed, a Russian cosmonaut revealed on Friday.
Pavel Vinogradov said that he and the two other crew of the Soyuz capsule which touched down in Kazakhstan Wednesday had groped their way through the landing after they lost all data about their height from the ground.
“There were problems. For some reason after the undocking all our parameters disappeared. Essentially, after the undocking, we flew blind,” he said at the Star City cosmonaut training centre outside Moscow, quoted by Russian news agencies.
He said that the only data the crew could receive about their approach to the earth — crucial for knowing when to fire the engines to soften the landing — came from the salvage team on the ground.
He said the rescue teams were able to radio to the crew that they were 300 metres (1,000 feet) and then 100 metres (330 feet) from the ground in the Soyuz capsule, which lands vertically with the help of a parachute after reentering the atmosphere.
“I managed to count eight seconds and we touched down very softly,” he said, adding that aside from the usual G-forces and jolting “everyone felt normal”.
Vinogradov, fellow Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy touched down on the Kazakh steppe on Wednesday morning, in a landing that at the time seemed hitch-free.
Russia is currently the only nation capable of transporting humans to the ISS in its Soyuz rocket and capsule system after the withdrawal of the US shuttle.
In the USA...United Surveillance America
NSA chief Clapper praises Snowden: Data spying debate ‘probably needed to happen’
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, September 12, 2013 17:18 EDT
Leaks from former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden have generated a much needed debate about surveillance even though his disclosures have jeopardized national security, America’s spy chief said Thursday.
“As loathe as I am to give any credit for what’s happened here, which is egregious…” said National Intelligence Director James Clapper, “I think it’s clear that some of the conversations that this has generated, some of the debate… actually probably needed to happen.”
Clapper, speaking at a conference in Washington, said the public discussion examining the balance between spying powers and privacy rights “perhaps” should have taken place earlier.
“So if there’s a good side to this, maybe that’s it,” he said of the Snowden media leaks.
His comments were the first time a senior US intelligence figure had portrayed the leaks as sparking a useful debate, as officials previously have labeled Snowden a traitor who endangered America’s interests and spies in the field.
He predicted there would be more revelations coming from Snowden, and said he was worried about the effect of the leaks.
Clapper, who oversees all 16 US intelligence agencies, said he was concerned about “the impact, frankly, on our national security and the damage caused by these continuous stream of revelations.”
But he said the intelligence community had to be more transparent and more open, even if that meant taking more risks, to ensure that Americans and their representatives in Congress had trust in the spy services.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Dark Money: Bombshell Report Exposes the Koch Brothers’ “Secret Bank”
September 12, 2013
by BillMoyers.com Staff
Americans for Prosperity Foundation Chairman David Koch addresses attendees of the Defending the American Dream Summit in Orlando, Fla., Friday, Aug. 30, 2013.(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Thought you knew all about the many tentacles the Koch brothers’ have around American politics? Politico’s Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen have the story of a heretofore unknown pot of cash that they and other deep-pocketed donors spread around in 2012…
An Arlington, Va.-based conservative group, whose existence until now was unknown to almost everyone in politics, raised and spent $250 million in 2012 to shape political and policy debate nationwide.
The group, Freedom Partners, and its president, Marc Short, serve as an outlet for the ideas and funds of the mysterious Koch brothers, cutting checks as large as $63 million to groups promoting conservative causes, according to an IRS document to be filed shortly.
The 38-page IRS filing amounts to the Rosetta Stone of the vast web of conservative groups — some prominent, some obscure — that spend time, money and resources to influence public debate, especially over Obamacare.
The group has about 200 donors, each paying at least $100,000 in annual dues. It raised $256 million in the year after its creation in November 2011, the document shows. And it made grants of $236 million — meaning a totally unknown group was the largest sugar daddy for conservative groups in the last election, second in total spending only to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, which together spent about $300 million.
ALEC and the Koch Brothers Show How Far They Are Willing to Go to Subvert Democracy
Sep. 12th, 2013
It is a travesty that most Americans are unaware of the despicable machinations Republicans resort to in their drive to advance their special interests’ agendas in the states, and their ignorance and lack of interest is playing a major role in democracy’s demise. The GOP are giving the nation an indication of how far they will go to subvert democracy to protect the real powers behind the conservative movement; the National Rifle Association, the Koch brothers, and the American Legislative Exchange Council. On Tuesday two democratic state legislators in Colorado were recalled in a confluence of lies, voter suppression, and fear-mongering because they supported background checks for gun purchases and renewable energy standards the NRA, Koch brothers, and ALEC would not let go unpunished.
The two Democrats, State Senate President John Morse and state Senator Angela Giron were recalled after voting for Colorado’s new gun law that imposed universal background checks on gun purchases and limited magazines to 15 rounds. They also voted for renewable energy measures that contributed to the effort to unseat them and elicited an influx of money from the Kochs and their Super PAC Americans for Prosperity. Although the lion’s share of publicity for the recall surrounded background checks, an underlying source of discontent was the Koch brothers’ opposition to Colorado’s stronger renewable energy standards. It is noteworthy that in northern Colorado Republicans are working toward seceding to form their own state, and one of the effort’s main proponents, a recipient of Koch donations, said “the whole purpose of doing this is to preserve and protect the energy sector that we feel is very much under assault.”
However, the face of the recall was NRA-supported opposition to background checks that incited them to spend heavily in the recalls they won, and evidenced by their quickly released statement celebrating its victory. The NRA statement read, “A historic grassroots effort by voters in Colorado’s has resulted in the recall of Colorado Senate President John Morse. The people of Colorado Springs sent a clear message to the Senate leader that his primary job was to defend their rights and freedoms and that he is ultimately accountable his constituents, and not to the dollars or social engineering agendas of anti-gun activists.” It is typical rhetoric from the NRA that conflates background checks for gun purchases with “social engineering,” and that voting for them robbed Coloradans’ rights and freedoms.
The president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Dan Gross, said the recall effort in Colorado was an anomaly, but that the real NRA goal was making gun safety activists nationwide aware of the risk they take in supporting commonsense laws such as background checks for gun purchases. Another political consultant supporting gun safety measures said “The unfortunate reality of the Colorado experience is that the NRA bullying tactics can still work,” and that “gun-control proponents should be sensitive to the power of the NRA and its ability to target districts.” After two of the nation’s worst mass shootings, there is evidence there was deep public support for background checks, but according to DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz; voter’s voices were not heard and she strongly asserted that voter suppression tactics contributed heavily to the low voter turnout.
Wasserman-Schultz said that “The recall elections in Colorado were defined by the vast array of obstacles that special interests threw in the way of voters for the purpose of reversing the will of the legislature and the people. This was voter suppression, pure and simple. Colorado voters are used to casting their ballots by mail, but because of lawsuits filed by opponents of common sense gun reform, voters were not mailed their ballots in this election. Tuesday’s low turnout was a result of efforts by the NRA, the Koch brothers and other right wing groups who know that when more people vote, Democrats win.” Although, as potential Republican gubernatorial candidate and former Rep. Tom Tancredo said, the recall effort was really “a shot across the bow” to warn other legislators that opposing the NRA and Koch brothers has consequences that should alert Democrats their primary goal should be registering voters and engaging in aggressive information campaigns. Even though the NRA and Koch brothers won the recall effort, Democrats still control the Colorado legislature and Governor’s office, and the gun safety and renewable energy measures that passed by popular vote remain intact; at least until the 2014 midterm elections.
Regardless the Colorado recall effort did not tilt the balance of power to Republicans or repeal gun safety or renewable energy measures, it is a warning to Democrats that the NRA, Koch brothers, and ALEC still wield inordinate power over the electoral process in the states; even a Democratic-controlled state like Colorado. ALEC has been a fierce advocate for voter suppression tactics, and restricting mail-in votes is an important aspect of keeping voter turnout low. The Pueblo County Clerk and Recorder Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz said typically about 90% of votes are cast by mail, but NRA, Koch brothers, and other right wing groups’ lawsuits prevented voters from sending in their ballots.
The real danger to America’s democracy is that now that the NRA, Koch brothers, and ALEC have a recipe for success, they are certain to repeat them in next year’s midterm elections. Whether it is fear-mongering by the NRA that Democrats are coming for Americans’ guns, or the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity PAC disseminating lies and misinformation about the dangers of renewable energy, with ALEC voter suppression laws in place in Republican states the time for voter registration drives and aggressive information campaigns is now; not a month before the 2014 elections.
ALEC has been busy passing voter suppression laws in Republican-controlled states and the NRA has an active fear-mongering crusade in place since the Newtown school massacre, and with unlimited and hidden campaign cash in hand the Koch brothers will spare no expense to repeat the events in Colorado in every congressional district in America. Unfortunately, with over a year to achieve their goal and Democrats snake bit about challenging the NRA, without a herculean effort to get out the vote, it will be more than just two state Democrats who will be recalled and defeated in 2014.
Corruption Watch: Here Comes Citizens United 2.0
September 11, 2013
by Joshua Holland
This artist rendering shows the Supreme Court Justices. (AP Photo/Dana Verkouteren)
This artist rendering shows the Supreme Court Justices. (AP Photo/Dana Verkouteren)
Mark October 8 on your calendar – that’s when the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that’s being called Citizens United 2.0.
The case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, will test the constitutionality of limits on individual donations to candidates, parties and PACs. Under current law, a person can give up to $46,200 for federal candidates and $70,800 for parties and independent committees during a two-year election cycle.
With the support of the Republican National Committee, Shaun McCutcheon, a wealthy conservative donor from Alabama, is challenging the limits, arguing that they’re “unsupported by any cognizable government interest.”
A lower court disagreed, ruling that “the government may justify aggregate contribution limits as a means of preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption.” Similar arguments were made when Citizens United was litigated, and the Supreme Court’s conservative majority wasn’t swayed.
Speaking about the impact of Citizens United at a 2010 conference, Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Florida, put the issue in stark terms. “We’re now in a situation,” he told the crowd, “where a lobbyist can walk into my office…and say, ‘I’ve got five million dollars to spend, and I can spend it for you or against you. Which do you prefer?’” If the court agrees with Shaun McCutcheon, wealthy individuals would hold the same power.
For more information, or to support a petition opposing the further evisceration of our campaign finance laws, see this post at Demos.
Reid rips tea party on the Senate floor: ‘Anarchists have taken over’ Congress
By David Edwards
Thursday, September 12, 2013 15:25 EDT
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on Thursday said that efforts by tea party-backed Republicans in the Senate to use an energy efficiency bill to defund Obamacare was evidence that “anarchist have taken over” Congress.
In a speech on the Senate floor, Reid said that some senators had attempted to derail the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act with unrelated amendments.
“The anarchist have taken have taken over,” the Nevada Democrat observed, throwing up his hands. “They’ve taken over the House, now they’re here in the Senate.”
“We’re in a position here where people who don’t believe in government — and that’s what the tea party is all about — are winning, and that’s a shame.”
Reid pointed out that Republicans had not allowed a single amendment to be offered that had anything to do with energy. In fact, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) had vowed to block every amendment until his measure to exempt lawmakers from the health care reform law came up for a vote.
“As the fiscal year comes to an end, I guess that’s what it’s all about,” Reid noted. “You do what we want, get rid of Obamacare or we’re not going to fund the government.”
“Where are we? Where we have been this whole year. And what have we accomplished? Not much.”
September 12, 2013
Boehner Seeking Democrats’ Help on Fiscal Talks
By JONATHAN WEISMAN
WASHINGTON — With Congress momentarily freed from the Syrian crisis, lawmakers plunged back into their bitter fiscal standoff on Thursday as Speaker John A. Boehner appealed to the Obama administration and Democratic leaders to help him resolve divisions in the Republican ranks that could lead to a government shutdown by month’s end.
In meetings with Democratic and Republican Congressional leaders on Thursday after a session with Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew on Wednesday, Mr. Boehner sought a resumption of negotiations that could keep the government running and yield a deficit-reduction deal that would persuade recalcitrant conservatives to raise the government’s borrowing limit.
Much of the federal government will shut down as of Oct. 1 unless Congress approves new spending bills to replace expiring ones, and by mid-October, the Treasury Department will lose the borrowing authority to finance the government and pay its debts.
“It’s time for the president’s party to show the courage to work with us to solve this problem,” said Mr. Boehner, who argued that budget deals have been part of past agreements to raise the debt limit
But a bloc of 43 House Republicans undercut the speaker’s deficit-reduction focus, introducing yearlong funding legislation that would increase Pentagon and veterans spending and delay President Obama’s health care law for a year — most likely adding to the budget deficit. That bloc is large enough to thwart any compromise that does not attract Democratic support.
“Obamacare is the most dangerous piece of legislation ever passed in Congress,” said Representative John Fleming, Republican of Louisiana. “It is the most existential threat to our economy” that the country has seen “since the Great Depression, so I think a little bit of additional deficit is nothing,” he added.
Just five scheduled legislative days stand between the House and a government shutdown that has loomed for months. As of now, Republican leaders appear to have no idea how to stop it. House members are preparing for the worst. Representative Scott Rigell, Republican of Virginia, began circulating a 14-page fact sheet on the impact of a government shutdown.
Mr. Lew and Congressional Democrats held firm that they would no longer negotiate on raising the debt ceiling, which they see as the duty of the party in power in the House. And they made it clear to the speaker that they would never accept Republican demands to repeal, defund or delay Mr. Obama’s signature health care law. White House officials dismissed it as “a nonstarter.”
“I had to be very candid with him and I told him directly, all these things they’re doing on Obamacare are just a waste of their time,” said Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada and the Senate majority leader. “Their direction is the direction toward shutting down the government.”
“I like John Boehner,” Mr. Reid added. “I do feel sorry for him.”
Earlier this week, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the No. 2 House Republican, proposed a two-step resolution to the fiscal impasse that was temporarily pushed into the background by Mr. Obama’s request for approval to initiate a military strike on Syria, since delayed.
Under Mr. Cantor’s plan, the House would have voted this week on a stopgap spending bill to keep the government operating through mid-December at the current level, which reflects the sharp across-the-board cuts known as sequestration. That bill would have a companion resolution to withhold all money for the health care law, but the Senate could simply ignore that resolution and approve the short-term spending bill.
Then the House would vote to raise the debt ceiling enough for a year of borrowing, but demand a year’s delay in carrying out the health care law.
Within 24 hours, the House’s most ardent conservatives revolted, declaring the defunding resolution a gimmick that fell well short of their drive to undo the health care law. House Democrats said they would oppose not only stripping the health care law of money but also a spending level that maintains sequestration.
“The continued operation of the sequester is inimical to the interest of the United States, to the government, to the people and to international security,” said Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the Democratic whip, who promised to hold his members against the Cantor plan.
It was delayed indefinitely as House Republicans resumed their search for a measure that could unite them. One group of conservatives on Thursday pressed what they called a compromise: a one-year stopgap spending bill that would raise the debt ceiling for a year, delay all aspects of the health care law for a year, and give back some of the Pentagon cuts as a sweetener.
Backers insisted on Thursday that it was a package Mr. Obama should be able to accept. Representative Phil Gingrey, Republican of Georgia, said seven Democratic senators facing re-election fights next year in Republican-leaning states would provide a beachhead of Democratic support, and noted the president had already agreed to some delays for his health law.
Democrats scoffed at the Republican plans, and even some Republican leadership aides questioned how any could get to the president’s desk. Mr. Reid called the succession of proposals “juvenile political games” and suggested that many Republicans had lost touch with reality.
Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the second ranking Democrat, said, “Sometimes I sympathize with Speaker Boehner, but the fact of the matter is, if he wants to lead for the good of the nation, he has to step beyond the Tea Party faction of his caucus.”
Republican divisions were manifest not only in the tactics they have proposed but also in the strategic aims of those tactics. Mr. Boehner continued to emphasize taming the budget deficit as the price for a debt-ceiling increase.
But the urgency of that mission was undercut by government financing figures released Thursday by the Treasury, which showed the smallest annual shortfall since 2008. In the first 11 months of the current fiscal year, the deficit reached $755.8 billion, with tax revenues rising and spending falling. The deficit in fiscal 2012 was $1.1 trillion.
With no resolution in sight, Republican leaders said decisions would have to be made next week on a way forward — with Democratic votes, or Republican unity. But Mr. Boehner gave no indication he knew which way to turn.
“There are a million options that are being discussed by a lot of people,” he said. “When we have something to report, we’ll let you know.”
John Boehner is Under Federal Investigation for Campaign Finance Violations
By: Jason Easley
Sep. 12th, 2013
The FEC has announced that they are investigating Speaker of the House John Boehner for accepting dozens of illegal donations from the coal, energy, and gambling industries.
According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
The Federal Election Commission is examining whether dozens of political action committees and individuals contributed more than the legally allowed amount to House Speaker John Boehner during last year’s election cycle.
Letters the Federal Election Committee sent Monday to Friends of John Boehner indicated that donors including coal, energy, and gambling interests, exceeded contribution limits to Boehner’s committee by more than $150,000.
Among the groups that were allegedly overgenerous to Boehner were Coalpac and Minepac, which represent the mining industry, as well as political committees representing the Exelon, Constellation and Luminant power companies, and the Ceasars and Penn National gambling enterprises.
“Although the commission may take further legal action concerning the acceptance of excessive contributions, your prompt action to refund the excessive amount will be taken into consideration,” the letters say.
Boehner’s ties with special interest groups, and his eagerness to brazenly take their money is well known, but the Speaker may have pushed things way too far in 2012. Speaker Boehner seems to have dodged an SEC investigation into his financial involvement with the companies that would benefit from the Keystone XL pipeline, but it appears that lure of Citizens United fueled conservative cash was too much for the Speaker to resist last year.
Rep. Boehner was the House’s top fundraiser last year. This was a matter of political survival. The unpopular within his own party speaker raised more than $22 million, which he used to solidify his position by buying loyalty through donations to House Republican reelection campaigns.
Similar allegations against Boehner surfaced in June, when an FEC complaint was filed against him for accepting $2.5 million in illegal donations from the Venezuelan government run Chevron. It turns out that Boehner’s illegal activities go way beyond Keystone XL and Chevron.
Speaker Boehner’s has been getting away with these kinds of illegal activities for decades, but the walls may finally be closing in on one of the worst Speakers in American political history.
Walmart victorious as D.C. mayor vetoes living wage bill
By Dan Roberts, The Guardian
Thursday, September 12, 2013 12:55 EDT
The mayor of Washington DC has bowed to pressure from Walmart and vetoed minimum-wage legislation that would have hampered the supermarket giant’s push into urban America.
Vincent Gray said the legislation, which would have forced large retailers to pay staff at least $12.50 an hour, would drive away employers and threaten 4,000 jobs in the city.
His intervention angered campaigners who had hoped that a Large Retailer Accountability Act passed by DC’s city council would protect unionised shop-workers and act as a bulwark against the spread of low-cost retailers into US inner cities.
Walmart, which has largely saturated suburban and rural markets in the US, had threatened to scrap three planned stores in poorer areas of DC and threatened three other sites already under construction if the legislation was enacted. The highly-targeted law required all companies with more than $1bn in global sales and operating in spaces larger than 75,000 square feet to pay at least $12.50, rather than the standard minimum wage of $8.25, unless they had collective bargaining agreements.
But Gray, who has been a vocal supporter of Walmart’s plans for six new megastores, said the bill was a “job killer” that would also drive away companies such as Target, Home Depot, Wegmans, Lowe’s, Walgreens, Harris Teeter, AutoZone and Macy’s.
“I am vetoing this legislation precisely because I believe in providing a living wage to as many District residents as possible – and this bill is not a true living-wage measure,” said Gray. ”While the intentions of its supporters were good, this bill is simply a woefully inadequate and flawed vehicle for achieving the goal we all share.”
His intervention echoes a similar fight in Chicago seven years ago, when a mininum wage bill passed by the city council was vetoed by the mayor, Richard Daley. It could also pave the way for Walmart to expand into other eastern cities, such as New York and Boston, where it has faced fierce resistance. Last year, Walmart battled its way into downtown Los Angeles; it is not yet established in central San Francisco or Seattle.
Gray’s decision was widely expected, but it prompted an angry response from union-led campaigners.
Reverend Graylan Hagler, of Plymouth United Congregational Church of Christ and Faith Strategies: said: “Unfortunately, the Mayor’s decision is hardly surprising because this is exactly what Walmart’s lobbyists said would happen. The Mayor’s office and Walmart have been working together to defeat this bill from the start.
“If we cannot demand higher wages and good jobs from the nation’s and world’s largest corporations, DC will not be able to remain a diverse and vibrant city. We strongly urge the city council to override this misguided veto.”
In a company statement a Walmart spokesman, Steven Restivo, praised Gray for choosing “jobs, economic development and common sense over special interests”.
“Now that this discriminatory legislation is behind us, we will move forward on our first stores in our nation’s capital,” Restivo says. “We look forward to finishing the work we started in the city almost three years ago: a plan to bring more jobs, shopping options and fresh food choices to Washington DC residents.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
Republicans Unite Behind Pig Putin the Dictator In Order to Diss Obama
By: Sarah Jones
Sep. 12th, 2013
With Republicans falling over themselves to hug Pig Putin while aiding Assad in his messaging, and Putin following Republicans lead to take digs at “American exceptionalism” when Obama says it, it’s hard to know who the “bad guys” are these days.
So we get this from the New York Times: “Obama: Weak or the anti-Bush?”
Republicans et al are elevating Pig Putin in order to tend their bitter Obama wounds; thus, because Pig Putin had an op-ed on the NYT in which he swaggered a lot (remarkably like another “dictator”, Bush — an accusation made by constitutional lawyers), Obama is “weak”. This is the conclusion of his usual detractors, and since many Republicans are saying it, it’s also become the takeaway and the trickle down beltway auto-looping narrative of the day.
It’s as if there is no more time. It’s all done now. The weapons are turned over and Putin delivered on his promise and we have proof that even though Obama was talking to him, this was really all Pig Putin’s idea (even though Pig Putin hasn’t exactly proven to be such a long term thinker).
Or, reality: This is the BEGINNING of very tense negotiations that may or may not even work, and Putin did what he had to do because it turns out that President Obama is not someone to cross when it really matters. See, Obama is not the fantasy liberal pacifist the right thinks he is, nor is he the war-monger the far left thinks he is. People can’t see that Obama’s opponents are often very loud, but rarely victorious. This is not a “weak” person. That is one of the more ignorant arguments I’ve ever heard lobbed at Obama.
And of course, presidents, no matter how well intentioned, can’t control events. They can only control their reaction to events.
So Obama said Syria’s use of chemical weapons merited a military strike and he pushed for it. He also delayed the push by “bringing it to Congress” when he didn’t have to, making it clear that he was serious about the military strikes and wanted everyone to start discussing it. Eventually we got around to the atrocities – the very reason for his proposal – and that led to condemning them once they were backed up with evidence. This put more pressure on Pig Putin and Assad both.
In the meantime, Obama has been talking to Putin for the last year and specifically at the G20 about this issue.
Suddenly Pig Putin is on board, and Putin credits himself as do the Republicans. The media isn’t far behind. All hail the mighty Pig Putin, President of Democracy! Oh, wait. The Navalny verdict. Oh well, this is the kind of guy Republicans, the media and even the far left can get behind. He’s a decider! He saved us all. He’s the good guy, not our own President.
Pssst: If you are so invested in hating Obama that you can’t bring yourself to even question your growing allegiance to a known dictator, you are probably not thinking very clearly.
In Republican world, unless you kick the other person in the shin out of the blue, you’re weak. Republicans go for the most obvious and least effective (foreign policy wise) display of power – the bully, the cowboy, the gun, the smirk, the Mission Accomplished banner.
So it’s not their fault that Republicans don’t recognize real power, especially when it’s used against them. It’s just a shame that our media doesn’t bother to see the big picture and can’t keep up with this President. Then again, who would want a president so average that the media left him or her in the dark.
We had a president who played for the media really well, but he was exceptionally bad at his real job. Maybe this is just like real life – the people who are always marketing themselves are often not the best at what they are marketing. And maybe the smarter leader doesn’t take a victory lap before anything has been accomplished. And maybe smarter people don’t get behind the preening id in the room, the “decider”, just because it’s comforting to pretend that things are that simple.
I’m not going to pretend Obama isn’t smarter than most people just so I can appear to be “fair”. He is, and it should be acknowledged; it doesn’t mean he’s infallible. A person of reason factors this into analysis of Obama’s decision making skills. Especially since Obama has proven in the past that he had a reason and a plan, and indeed, in his own autobiography admitted that he has a (sometimes rather cruel) penchant for being able to set others up from behind the scenes.
And now we have a dictator who was refusing to come to the U.N. table suddenly publicly pushing for Assad to turn over the chemical weapons, to much applause from the Republicans, who also can’t stop parroting Assad’s propaganda due to their Obama Opposition Disorder.
Thus, we are presented with a doofus decider preening for public acclaim and in the background, a President who just silently got what he wanted. Who’s the smarter person?
Sorry, Obama isn’t going to play Kim Kardashian for the media and make splashy “news” for them with Mission Accomplished banners. This leaves them chasing after showboater Pig Putin for the hits, which conveniently aligns them with the GOP once again and allows them to pretend that they are brave truth tellers who stand up to presidential power, when they aren’t selling you WMD for a decider.
Syria crisis: US and Russia agree chemical weapons deal
Inspectors to be given 'immediate unfettered access' with a 'comprehensive list' of weapons from Damascus within a week, says Kerry
theguardian.com, Saturday 14 September 2013 11.32 BST
The United States and Russia have agreed that Syrian chemical weapons will be placed under international control and destroyed in a process that will begin with a week.
International inspectors from the Organisation of the Prevention of Chemical weapons must be given "immediate and unfettered" access to Syrian chemical weapons, said the US secretary of state, John Kerry, while Syria must give a "comprehensive list" of its chemical weapons within one week.
Speaking at a press conference in Geneva on Saturday after three days of talks, Kerry outlined the details of the deal as Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov looked on.
The deal "would allow us to expedite the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons" which would protect the Syrian people, Syria's neighbours and the world.
Kerry said the removal of chemical weapons would be "credible and verifiable" if fully implemented. "The world will now wait for the Assad regime to honour its commitments," said Kerry. "There is no room for anything other than full compliance."
Kerry said Russia and the US had agreed on the amount and type of Syria's chemical weapon arsenal and committed to assuming control of it and eliminating it in the "soonest and safest" way.
The agreement seems to remove the prospect of any strike against Syria following the chemical attacks in Damascus on 21 August which killed up to 1,300 people.
Kerry said any violations will result in "measures" from the UN security council, while Lavrov said the violations must be sent to the security council from the board of the chemical weapons convention before sanctions short of the use of force would be considered.
Kerry said the inspectors must be on the ground by November and destruction or removal of the chemical weapons must be completed by mid-2014.
Lavrov called the agreements a "decision based on consensus and compromise and professionalism."
"Any violations of procedures ... would be looked at by the security council and if they are approved, the security council would take the required measures, concrete measures," Lavrov said.
"Nothing is said about the use of force or about any automatic sanctions. All violations should be approved by the security council."
However, Kerry said that the president of the US as the commander in chief retains the right to defend the US and its interests regardless of what happens in Congress.
He said that "depending on what Assad does" the threat of force remains open either to the security council or to the US and like-minded allies. Assad's willingness to comply with the agreement will be "quickly put to the test", he added.
Kerry is expected to travel to Israel to brief the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, on Sunday before travelling to Paris to brief William Hague, the British foreign secretary, and Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister.
UN chief: ‘Overwhelming’ evidence of Syrian chemical weapon attack
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, September 13, 2013 14:22 EDT
UN experts will give “overwhelming” confirmation that chemical weapons were used in Syria, UN leader Ban Ki-moon predicted Friday, as he blasted President Bashar al-Assad as a war criminal.
Ban did not say that Assad’s forces carried out a suspected chemical arms attack near Damascus investigated by UN experts. But he said the Syrian leader has “committed many crimes against humanity.”
A UN team is expected to send its report on the August 21 attack to Ban on Monday. The UN leader stressed that he still does not have the report.
But he predicted: “I believe the report will be an overwhelming report that the chemical weapons were used.”
Ban also gave a UN estimate that 1,400 people were killed in the August 21 attack at Ghouta, east of Damascus, which led to western threats of a military strike on Assad’s forces.
UN inspectors were in Syria to investigate the general use of chemical weapons in the country’s 30-month-old conflict when the suspected sarin gas attack took place.
The United States, Britain and France blame Assad for the attack. The Syrian government, backed by Russia, say opposition rebels used the banned gas.
UN investigation leader Ake Sellstrom is expected to send his report to Ban on Monday. Sellstrom is not allowed to say in the report who carried out the attack.
Diplomats say however that details, such as the type of chemical and missile involved, could indicate who carried out the attack.
If the report is delivered Monday, Ban is expected to brief the UN Security Council within hours on its findings.
While US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are discussing a plan to put Syria’s chemical arms under international control, the Security Council’s permanent members are discussing a possible resolution on the crisis.
Ban has stepped up criticism of the Security Council for its failure to act over Syria. But he has never hidden his disdain for the tactics used by the Syrian leader in a civil war in which well over 100,000 people have died.
In his new outspoken attack, Ban said that Assad must face “accountability” as part of any political solution to end the conflict.
“What happened is that he has committed many crimes against humanity. Therefore, I’m sure that there will be surely the process of accountability when everything is over,” he said.
Ban said last year that Assad had “lost all humanity”.
His latest comments came after a UN inquiry said Wednesday that government forces had committed “widespread” killings and torture of civilians.
But Ban stressed that the top priority must be “to help the fighting stop and dialogue, talking begin.”
In parallel to Ban’s comments, the UN humanitarian chief raised concerns about access to areas around Damascus where hundreds of thousands of people are trapped by the fighting.
“People are unable to leave sealed-off government or opposition-held areas, sometimes for months on end, and have run short of water, food, power and medicines,” said Valerie Amos.
“I am extremely worried by reports that more than 500,000 people remain trapped in rural Damascus.”
Amos said there were “very disturbing reports” about Moadamiyet al-Sham, near Damascus.
“It is reported that the town has been besieged for the last 10 months, suffering daily shelling and armed clashes between government and opposition groups,” the head of the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
Amos said UN agencies have been unable to get supplies into the town for nearly a year. Most of the 70,000 people in the area have fled, but some 12,000 people remain trapped and there are cases of severe malnutrition among children, the UN said.
Amos said the UN has taken $50 million from its emergency finances to bolster the depleted fund to get supplies to people inside Syria and help the more than two million people who have fled to neighboring countries.
U.N. asks for more help for millions still starving in Yemen
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, September 12, 2013 19:50 EDT
The United Nations on Thursday urged the international community, especially Gulf states, to increase aid to impoverished Yemen, saying that more than 10 million people in the country go hungry.
A Sanaa news conference by UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos and World Food Programme executive director Ertharin Cousin heard that “the humanitarian situation in Yemen remains critical,” despite “positive” political developments.
“People need food, water, education and healthcare. But they also want to know that there is investment to secure their future. We urgently need more funding to help those in need,” Amos said.
The UN estimates that more than 10 million people — nearly half of the population — goes hungry or are short of food “with very high rates of food insecurity.”
According to the UN, child malnutrition rates are among the highest in the world with close to half of Yemen’s children under five years – around two million children – stunted.
Ertharin said the “WFP is providing life-saving food assistance to almost five million Yemenis to break the intergenerational cycle of hunger.”
“We count on the support of our donors,” she added.
During a four-day visit, Ertharin and Amos also met President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi and other officials including donor representatives to discuss the challenges faced by the Arabian Peninsula nation.
They also visited a camp for the displaced and a centre where stranded migrants from the Horn of Africa receive International Organisation for Migration assistance.
In January, UN agencies estimated that Yemen, one of the Arab world’s poorest countries, needed humanitarian aid worth $716 million this year, a 22-percent rise on 2012.
Last year $329 million was made available of an estimated amount needed of $585 million.
A “Friends of Yemen” meeting is scheduled to take place in New York on September 25.
Yemen is the only Arab Spring nation in which a popular movement of dissent led to a negotiated settlement for regime change, with Hadi being elected president in February 2012 for an interim two-year period.
A national dialogue, part of a Gulf- and UN-brokered power transfer deal, is currently under way aimed at drafting a new constitution and preparing for February 2014 elections.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
The Christian Science Monitor - CSMonitor.com
Africa's baby-boom: Population to double by mid-century
By Mike Pflanz, Correspondent / September 12, 2013 at 11:54 am EDT
Africa’s population is predicted to more than double to 2.4 billion people by 2050 according to a new study that also raises questions about whether efforts to lift the continent out of poverty may be in vain.
The 10 countries with the world’s highest fertility rates are all in sub-Saharan Africa, where mothers have an average of 5.2 children, according to a report released Thursday from the Washington DC-based Population Reference Bureau.
In Niger, which has the world's fastest population growth rate, women give birth to an average of 7.6 children, four times the US figure of 1.9.
“Rapid population growth makes it difficult for economies to create enough jobs to lift large numbers of people out of poverty,” said Wendy Baldwin, the organization's president.
Seven of the 10 countries with the highest fertility rates also appear among the bottom 10 on the United Nations’ Human Development Index.
But Africa is also home to seven of the world’s fastest growing economies, points out Julia Schünemann, director of the Africa Futures Project at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa.
“Rapid population growth is clearly going to increase pressure on Africa’s governments to deliver education, health care, security and, most importantly jobs,” she says.
“But it should be seen as an opportunity, too," Ms. Schünemann adds. "African countries also have the world’s fastest economic growth rates. The question is, can those economies grow quickly enough to offset the demands of population growth. In general, I don’t think we should be too pessimistic.”
International aid agencies are increasingly focusing efforts in Africa on family planning by advising governments how to increase access to contraceptives and helping women choose when to have children.
But this is unpopular in some countries, especially where religious doctrines that frown on contraception hold sway with government leaders.
Projections in the Population Reference Bureau study assume that “family planning will become widespread” in Africa, says Carl Haub, co-author of the report.
“If not, Africa’s population will grow more rapidly, further constraining efforts to address poverty, create jobs, and protect the environment,” he says.
By 2050, many African states will likely more than double in population. Kenya will rise from 44 million to 97 million people, and Nigeria from 174 million to 440 million.
Some nations will nearly triple their growth, the reports finds. Somalia will have 27 million people in 2050, up from an estimated 10 million today; the Democratic Republic of Congo’s 71 million population is predicted to rise to 182 million.
The total number of people on the continent is predicted to rise from 1.1 billion to 2.4 billion.
The report gave 20 different indicators for more than 200 countries. It found that US mothers give birth to an average of 1.9 children. Bosnia-Herzegovina has the world’s lowest birth rate of 1.2 children.
The world’s population is forecast to increase from roughly 7.1 billion today to more than 9.7 billion in 2050, the report calculated.
India, currently the second most populous country in the world, will overtake China to become the most populous by 2030, it was estimated. By 2050, India’s population will be 1.6 billion and China’s 1.3 billion.
The US population was estimated to rise from 316 million to 400 million over the same period.
September 13, 2013
40 Years After War, Israel Weighs Remaining Risks
By ISABEL KERSHNER
JERUSALEM — It was 1 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 6, 1973, the day of Yom Kippur, the holiest in the Jewish calendar, and Israel’s military intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Eli Zeira, had called in the country’s top military journalists for an urgent briefing.
“He told us that war would break out at sundown, about 6 p.m.,” said Nachman Shai, who was then the military affairs correspondent for Israel’s public television channel and is now a Labor member of Parliament. “Forty minutes later he was handed a note and said, ‘Gentlemen, the war broke out,’ and he left the room.”
Moments before that note arrived, according to someone else who was at that meeting, General Zeira had been carefully peeling almonds in a bowl of ice water.
The coordinated attack by Egypt and Syria, which were bent on regaining strategic territories and pride lost to Israel in the 1967 war, surprised and traumatized Israel. For months, its leaders misread the signals and wrongly assumed that Israel’s enemies were not ready to attack.
Even in those final hours, when the signs were unmistakable that a conflict was imminent, Israel was misled by false intelligence about when it would start. As the country’s military hurriedly called up its reserves and struggled for days to contain, then repel, the joint assault, a sense of doom spread through the country. Many feared a catastrophe.
Forty years later, Israel is again marking Yom Kippur, which falls on Saturday, the anniversary of the 1973 war according to the Hebrew calendar. This year the holy day comes in the shadow of new regional tensions and a decision by the United States to opt, at least for now, for a diplomatic agreement rather than a military strike against Syria in response to a deadly chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs on Aug. 21.
Israeli newspapers and television and radio programs have been filled with recollections of the 1973 war, even as the country’s leaders have insisted that the probability of any new Israeli entanglement remains low and that the population should carry on as normal. For some people here, though, the echoes of the past have stirred latent questions about the reliability of intelligence assessments and the risks of another surprise attack.
“Any Israeli with a 40-year perspective will have doubts,” said Mr. Shai, who was the military’s chief spokesman during the Persian Gulf War of 1991, when Israelis huddled in sealed rooms and donned gas masks, shocked once again as Iraqi Scud missiles slammed into the heart of Tel Aviv.
Coming after the euphoria of Israel’s victory in the 1967 war, when six days of fighting against the Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian Armies left Israel in control of the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, the conflicts of 1973, 1991 and later years have scarred the national psyche.
But several former security officials and analysts said that while the risks now may be similar to those of past years in some respects, there are also major differences.
In 1991, for example, the United States responded to the Iraqi attack by hastily redeploying some Patriot antimissile batteries to Israel from Europe, but the batteries failed to intercept a single Iraqi Scud, tracking them instead — and following them to the ground with a thud.
Since then, Israel and the United States have invested billions of dollars in Israel’s air defenses, with the Arrow, Patriot and Iron Dome systems now honed to intercept short-, medium- and longer-range rockets and missiles.
Israelis, conditioned by subsequent conflicts with Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza and by numerous domestic drills, have become accustomed to the wail of sirens and the idea of rocket attacks.
But the country is less prepared for a major chemical attack, even though chemical weapons were used across its northern frontier, in Syria, less than a month ago, which led to a run on gas masks at distribution centers here. In what some people see as a new sign of government complacency at best and downright failure at worst, officials say there are enough protective kits for only 60 percent of the population, and supplies are dwindling fast.
Israeli security assessments rate the probability of any attack on Israel as low, and the chances of a chemical attack as next to zero.
In 1973, the failure of intelligence assessments about Egypt and Syria was twofold. They misjudged the countries’ intentions and miscalculated their military capabilities.
“Our coverage — human intelligence, signals intelligence and other sorts — was second to none,” said Efraim Halevy, a former chief of Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency. “We thought we could initially contain any attack or repulse it within a couple of days. We wrongly assessed the capabilities of the Egyptians and the Syrians. In my opinion, that was the crucial failure.”
Israel is in a different situation today, Mr. Halevy said.
The Syrian armed forces are depleted and focused on fighting their domestic battles, he said. The Egyptian Army is busy dealing with its internal turmoil, including a campaign against Islamic militants in Sinai. Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, is heavily involved in aiding President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, while the Iranians, Mr. Halevy said, are not likely to want to give Israel a reason to strike them, “not as the aggressor but as a victim of an Iranian attack.”
Israel is also much less likely to suffer such a colossal failure in assessment, Mr. Halevy said. “We have plurality in the intelligence community, and people have learned to speak up,” he said. “The danger of a mistaken concept is still there, because we are human. But it is much more remote than before.”
Many analysts have attributed the failure of 1973 to arrogance.
“There was a disregarding of intelligence,” said Shlomo Avineri, a political scientist at Hebrew University and a director general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the mid-1970s.
“War is a maximization of uncertainties,” he said, adding that things never happen the same way twice, and that wars never end the way they are expected to.
Like most countries, Israel has been surprised by many events in recent years. The two Palestinian uprisings broke out unexpectedly, as did the Arab Spring and the two revolutions in Egypt.
“In 1973, logic said that Egypt and Syria would not attack, and for good reasons,” said Ephraim Kam, a strategic intelligence expert at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University who served for more than 20 years in military intelligence. “But there are always things we do not know.”
Intelligence is always partial, Mr. Kam said, its gaps filled by logic and assessment. The problem, he said, is that “you cannot guarantee that the logic will fit with reality.”
In his recently published diaries from 1973, Uzi Eilam, a retired general, recalled the sounding of sirens at 2 p.m. on Yom Kippur and his rushing to the war headquarters. “Eli Zeira passed me, pale-faced,” he wrote, referring to the military intelligence chief, “and he said: ‘So it is starting after all. They are putting up planes.’ A fleeting glance told me that this was no longer the Eli Zeira who was so self-assured.”
September 13, 2013
Central African Republic: Leader Turns Against Rebels Who Put Him in Power
The rebel group that swept to power in March was dissolved Friday by a decree issued by the very president it had installed, according to state radio. ”The Seleka coalition,” said the statement broadcast Friday afternoon, ”is dissolved over the length and breadth of the Central African Republic’s territory. Only the Central African security force is in charge of protecting our territorial integrity.” The Seleka coalition invaded the capital on March 23, ousting President François Bozizé and installing Michel Djotodia as the country’s new leader. Since then, the rebels have turned into a band of marauding thugs, looting businesses and killing civilians, according to reports by human rights groups and aid organizations. International charities say they have been forced to put Seleka rebels on their payroll as guards. As evidence mounted of abuse by the rebels, Mr. Djotodia tried to distance himself from them. It remains unclear if he can dissolve the group that brought him to power without repercussions.
Hosni Mubarak's trial resumes in Egypt
Ex-president back in court on charges related to the killings of 900 protesters during 2011 uprising
Associated Press in Cairo
theguardian.com, Saturday 14 September 2013 12.08 BST
Egypt's ousted long-time autocrat returns to court as his trial resumes on charges related to the killings of around 900 protesters during the 2011 uprising that led to his removal.
The 85-year-old Mubarak was wheeled into the defendants' cage in a heavily fortified courtroom in Cairo on Saturday, sitting upright, confident and waving to supporters.
It is Mubarak's second court appearance since he was released from prison in August and transferred to a military hospital where he is being detained pending trial on separate corruption cases.
Mubarak was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for failing to stop the 2011 killings, but his sentence was overturned on appeal earlier this year and a retrial was ordered.
Mubarak's two sons and a former security chief were also in court with him.
Danish chef pours donated cash into rebuild of Somali's bombed cafe
Copenhagen cook René Redzepi raises appeal funds for Ahmed Jama, owner of Mogadishu Village eatery blasted by Islamists
David Smith, Africa correspondent
theguardian.com, Thursday 12 September 2013 20.51 BST
Two more different restaurants are hard to imagine. Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark, is an oak-floored oasis of calm and elegance that has thrice been ranked the world's best. The Village in war-torn Mogadishu, Somalia, is a humbler affair and has just been attacked by Islamist militants, with a suicide attacker and car bomb killing at least 18 people.
Yet the community of chefs is strong. René Redzepi, the celebrated founder of Noma, was so shocked at the latest outrage that he launched a fundraising drive to help Somali Ahmed Jama rebuild his establishment. In just four days it has raised €12,000 (£10,090), with donations coming from around the world.
"He's a cook who has a bigger mission than any of us," Redzepi said. "We all cook for ourselves but he has a bigger agenda. We're from Scandinavia where our struggles are not worth mentioning compared to the things he has to deal with."
Jama, who studied catering in Solihull, West Midlands, also owns a Somali restaurant called the Village in Hammersmith, west London. He returned to Mogadishu to demonstrate the country could change for the better and opened the Village in 2008. More recently, he opened a $100-a-night beachside hotel.
Redzepi first read about Jama in the Guardian last year and invited him to speak at Noma's recent Mad Symposium food festival where his talk was called War zone cuisine: bringing back peace and life to Mogadishu.
Via a Somali interpreter, Jama told the gathering of chefs, cooks and farmers: "In 2008 I decided to open a restaurant in Mogadishu and my fellow Somalis in London thought I was crazy: 'how could I open a restaurant in a dangerous area like Mogadishu?' But when I opened the restaurant I made an opportunity for employing many young people and they were very happy, and have attracted many people to come and eat at my restaurant."
Jama won over his audience. Redzepi said: "He talked about his decision to leave the safety net of Europe and address the negative perceptions of Somalia. It was a really touching, inspiring story and he did it in a way that wasn't trying to get sympathy. That's why it was so crazy to read the headline about a guy we'd just spent four days with."
Two weeks after the symposium, the Village was attacked for the third time in its history by al-Shabaab, a group linked to al-Qaida. Jama survived, having stepped outside five minutes before the bombings, and vowed to rebuild once again.
Redzepi expressed admiration for the Somalian's resolve. "It's close to my heart. I totally get him and his dedication to the table. What he fights for is not Michelin stars or being on some list, but a totally different level of dedication.
"It's mind boggling that he hasn't quit after being bombed so many times. Most people in that situation would have."
He set up an appeal fund, tweeting on Monday: "Guys, lets help out chef Ahmed in Somalia rebuild." It attracted donations from nearly a hundred people from countries including the US, Australia, Britain, Denmark and Lebanon, ranging from €10 to €1,000. "We all said we want to help people. That genuine compassion is what makes the world tick."
Since al-Shabaab was driven out two years ago there has been some progress in Mogadishu. A president and parliament have been elected, foreign embassies including the British have reopened and events such as TEDxMogadishu have been staged. But in June the rebel group attacked the main UN compound, killing at least 22, and recently Médecins Sans Frontières announced it was pulling out of Somalia after 22 years.
On Wednesday, more than 160 Muslim scholars issued a fatwa against al-Shabaab and called on the government to defend its citizens. The scholars said "it was forbidden that anyone join al-Shabaab" as its extreme interpretation of Islam was damaging to the reputation of Muslims.
Greeks protest against Golden Dawn attack on Communists
Thousands demonstrate in Athens after supporters of neo-Nazi party leave nine seriously injured amid fears of civil war
Helena Smith in Athens
theguardian.com, Friday 13 September 2013 19.37 BST
Thousands of Greeks took to the streets of Athens on Friday to protest against a violent attack on Communist party members by black-shirted supporters of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party which left nine people in hospital with serious injuries.
In what was described as a murderous attack – and the most serious violence since the extremist group was elected to the country's parliament last year – about 50 men wielding crowbars and bats set upon leftists as they distributed posters in a working-class district of the capital late on Thursday.
In a statement KKE, the Communist party of Greece, said: "The way in which they acted and the weapons employed … are evidence of the murderous nature of the attack. Among the Golden Dawners, some of whom had covered their faces or wore helmets or [party] shirts, were their leaders, well-known fascists and thugs."
With the Communist party preparing to stage a youth festival in the coming days, Thursday's midnight assault comes amid mounting fears that the far right is trying to cultivate an atmosphere of civil war in Greece. Prominent members of the virulently anti-immigrant Golden Dawn have openly predicted that the debt-stricken country is heading towards civil war.
Dimitris Psarras, a writer who has chronicled Golden Dawn's rise over almost four decades since the collapse of military rule, said: "Their agenda, clearly, is to create a climate of civil war, a divide where people have to choose between leftists and rightists."
Psarras argues the attack in the dock-side district of Perama – a Communist stronghold where Golden Dawn has made considerable inroads in recent years on the back of anger over austerity measures – was indicative of that strategy.
"It was very well organised and the most serious incident yet," he told the Guardian. "They are no longer only targeting immigrants in the middle of the night. They are deliberately increasing tensions, expanding their agenda of hate, by going for leftists."
Earlier this year, the Muslim Association of Greece received a letter bearing the insignia of the group and an implicit threat that its members would be "slaughtered like chickens" unless they left the country. Marking the anniversary of the September 11 attacks this week, the party posted a vehemently antisemitic diatribe on its website denouncing "world Zionism [as] the architect of global terrorism".
Greece, whose political faultlines were entrenched by a bloody civil war in the wake of brutal Nazi occupation, is mired in a sixth year of recession that has seen poverty and unemployment soar as it navigates its worst crisis in modern times.
Recent opinion polls have shown that no other party has managed to capitalise on the growing levels of desperation and despair as effectively as Golden Dawn.
Surveys released by the pollsters Public Issue and Pulse in recent days confirmed that the extremists – who recently blasted people attending a "Greeks only" food handout with the official anthem of Nazi Germany – were the nation's fastest growing group and, at 13% and 15% respectively, its third biggest political force.
The main opposition party, the radical left Syriza, topped the ratings with 29% of support, marginally ahead of prime minister Antonis Samaras's centre-right New Democracy party. Many worry that Golden Dawn, which won 18 seats with almost 7% of the vote last June, will further boost its share of votes when local elections are held next year.
According to analysts, Thursday's attack demonstrates Golden Dawn's growing self-confidence and ability to spread its appeal. They point to the inroads the party is making into middle-class neighbourhoods of Athens.
With prominent clerics also voicing support for the group, commentators have begun to ask whether the ruling conservatives should join forces with Golden Dawn, whose views on issues of public order are strikingly similar.
"It is a particularly worrying turn of events that we should now have a debate suggesting that Golden Dawn be brought in from the cold," Psarras said. "Talk that it should end its isolation and link up with New Democracy is dangerous at a time when Greece is going from bad to worse."
Mainstream political parties – like foreign embassies – currently have no official contacts with Golden Dawn.
Leftists rallying near the spot where the attack took place called on authorities on Friday to "finally take action" and "erase" the fascist group.
New mayor of Russia's fourth-largest city says he is not Pig Putin's 'opposition'
Yevgeny Roizman's win hailed as opposition's biggest electoral victory against Pig Putin, but he's 'ready to work with any regime'
theguardian.com, Friday 13 September 2013 16.33 BST
When anti-drugs activist Yevgeny Roizman won the mayoral race in Russia's fourth-largest city of Yekaterinburg on Sunday, it was hailed as the opposition's biggest electoral victory against Pig Putin and the ruling United Russia party.
Roizman is many things: off-road racing champion, published poet, icon collector, jewellery maker, community leader and former state Duma deputy. But "opposition" is one thing he's not, he has repeatedly said in interviews.
Opposition is "those who strive for power, those who want to overthrow the regime. I just want to live in a normal country," Roizman told the Guardian. "If there is some sort of regime, let others participate in it. I'm ready to work with any regime as long as those in power aren't cannibals.
"I'm just a different person ... I have [my] own opinion and know how to express it, I know how to stick to it," he added. "Namely for this reason I never joined United Russia."
Yet in many ways, Roizman is still an opposition figure and a political maverick, however reluctant. Without the access to state television enjoyed by his main opponent, he overcame a smear campaign to defeat the candidate from United Russia, which despite its plummeting approval ratings dominated most of the mayoral, gubernatorial and regional legislative elections held last weekend. He conducted a campaign based largely on rhetoric against the Kremlin-appointed regional governor and his team of "newcomers".
Roizman's victory seemed to confirm the existence of a new Kremlin policy allowing opposition candidates to run in local and regional races. Many of Sunday's elections were more competitive and lacked the large-scale ballot-stuffing of previous elections, but they were not entirely fair, since United Russia candidates including Roizman's opponent, vice-governor Yakov Silin, continued to abuse public resources in their campaigns.
In his first remarks after the vote, Roizman questioned Yekaterinburg's bid to host the 2020 World Expo and the four World Cup matches planned there in 2018, both of which are high-profile projects backed by the Kremlin.
Although Roizman was a state Duma deputy from 2003 to 2007, he has remained independent of the regime's power vertical, according to analyst Alexander Ivakhnik of the Centre of Political Technologies.
"He engaged with the authorities not as someone subordinate to them, but as an equal, a partner," Ivakhnik said.
Many have compared Roizman to Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption campaigner and street protest leader who was allowed to run for mayor of Moscow and stunned everyone by earning 27% of the vote on Sunday. Both men started their political careers as grassroots activists − Navalny against corruption and Roizman against drugs − and both have undeniable charisma and a straight-talking, folksy charm.
But whereas Navalny has for years fought against the regime, famously dubbing Pig Putin a "toad on an oil pipe," Roizman hasn't spoken out against the Pig, confining his criticism mostly to regional issues. Most of his conflicts have been highly personal: during a radio debate while running for the regional Duma in 2006, he got into a fistfight with his opponent, while his conflict with United Russia governor Kuivashev came after Roizman's girlfriend and campaign manager, Aksana Panova, spurned the governor's advances, she told the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
Panova is on trial for blackmail, and Roizman has been under investigation for alleged mafia ties and theft of religious icons in what many regard as political pressure on them.
Roizman left home at 14 and served prison time in his early 20s for theft, fraud and arms possession, although his sentence was later overturned. He worked assembling heavy machinery at the local Uralmash plant and then went into business, starting a successful jewellery company. He has since been able to indulge his many interests, including "trophy ride" off-road racing and collecting Old Believer icons (he owns a museum and restoration school).
In 1999, he co-founded the City Without Drugs foundation to combat Yekaterinburg's rising heroin use. The foundation's strict treatment methods have provoked controversy, and the director of one of its centres is on trial for holding patients by force after one drug addict died there.
Nonetheless, Yekaterinburg residents often come to his office seeking help with their problems. Television host and opposition activist Ksenia Sobchak compared him to Batman for his reputation of fighting evildoers and called him a "strong Russian guy" in reference to his brawny physique and homespun charm.
As mayor his main responsibility is to preside over the city Duma, where United Russia has a majority, while the city manager handles the budget and many administrative tasks (Roizman was put forward by Civic Platform, a celebrity-filled party run by billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov that is not part of the system of Kremlin loyalist parties). But Roizman's black-and-white worldview, his aversion to party politics and his lack of a concrete political platform will make it difficult for him to assemble a team and achieve reforms, said Yevgeny Artyukh, a regional legislator from the Pensioners' Party who knows Roizman from when they were both members of A Just Russia.
Poland must rediscover the true meaning of solidarity
Poland's rulers like to invoke 1980s Solidarity once a year, yet treat protesting workers as the enemy of the state
theguardian.com, Friday 13 September 2013 15.13 BST
On 11 September an "autumn of discontent" started in Poland. The three union federations – Solidarność (Solidarity), the post-communist All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (OPZZ) and the Trade Unions Forum (FZZ) – together organised four days of action against the recent austerity measures of the Civic Platform government (the party's majority now teetering on the brink as a result of the defection of a third MP in as many weeks).
The government has abolished the eight-hour working day, lowered the minimum wage, raised the retirement age, and, as Solidarity leader Piotr Duda puts it, "neglected society". The protest is peaceful, yet the PM Donald Tusk has described it as "an attempt at overthrowing the government".
The recent political reforms and anti-union hostility in Poland are typical of what is happening in most of post-communist Europe. But in Poland it comes with a uniquely bitter aftertaste, as here much of the ruling class used to be one way or another involved in the erstwhile Solidarity union in the 70s and 80s, which in its today's form has no real power. At its height, the famous union from the Gdańsk shipyards counted 10 million members.
In heyday, Solidarity changed the course of modern Poland. Its 1980 strike, and its defiance in the face of martial law being imposed in 1981, eventually lead to the corrosion of an already crumbling state. Yet, despite the union's fight, workers rights in the free Poland that ensued became a liability on the road to capitalism. There's now only one kind of Solidarity those in power consider legitimate – the anti-communist movement from 30 years ago. An active, modern Solidarity union, with members fighting for workers' rights, is considered merely a usurper's class of union, with unionists considered to be protesting merely to "gain profits for themselves", as an editorial at Gazeta Wyborcza put it.
The only owners of the Solidarity narrative are the ruling class and it is they who decide if you can participate in it: just once a year, during the anniversaries of the August 1980 agreements. The rest of the time they complain about "scroungers" and support the employers' associations. In the modern Poland, those who profit from old Solidarity myth defend the rights of entrepreneurs, not the workers, to, as we're constantly told, fight the crisis and support national production. In this way the invocation of Solidarity in the 80s is used to deny the modern Solidarity any support.
Why? Because for our rulers, workers have replaced communists as the enemy of the state: these workers demand social rights and a welfare state, which are, in modern Poland, interpreted as a burden on our economy, associated with the communist regime. But there are other beneficiaries of this myth. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the Law and Justice party (PiS) and the former prime minister, who channelled the most rightwing currents present within Solidarity – Catholicism and conservatism – initially supported the strike, but then cynically withdrew from it.
Yet PiS is the party that is currently deriving the greatest benefit from the strikes. As parliamentary elections loom ever closer, PiS are declaring social policies which are in direct opposition to those of the government. During a recent economic forum in Krynica, Kaczynski declared that a future PiS government would prioritise the raising of taxes on employers and would raise the minimum wage.
All of the liberal press in Poland, from Wyborcza to the English-language Warsaw Voice, reacted critically to this, as if it were a subversive coup. "Kaczynski offends businessmen" was the headline of one of the articles, complaining that he behaved like a guest at a party criticising the culinary tastes of the hosts. It seems that what Poland's elite fears most about the comeback of PiS is its relatively social democratic economic approach – not the bigotry for which its government was notorious when in power 2005-2007.
Tellingly, Kaczynski's current political idol is the hard-right Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán. Their shared economic programme is reminscent of Marshal Pilsudski's interwar Poland: it promises economic protectionism, social cohesion and a strong state. But they are close to more far-right groups, like the National Rebirth of Poland, who are anti-capitalist, but only as far as foreign capital is concerned (national capitalism is OK). Therefore, their counter-narrative to neoliberalism takes a mythical trip back to the pre-war era. Still, this is the only anti-austerity programme proposed with much conviction in the Polish mainstream.
According to the Fakty news programme, the protests are supported by 59% of Poles, which proves the unpopularity of the current government. Unless Poland rediscovers what the word "solidarity" actually means, the threat of Kaczinsky's Law and Justice gang making a comeback won't go away.
September 13, 2013
Coalition Governing Could Be Britain’s New Normal Despite Liberal Democrats’ Troubles
By STEPHEN CASTLE
LONDON — Their poll ratings are terrible and their leader is widely mocked, but the Liberal Democrats, the traditional minnows of British politics, have chalked up one striking success: they have stayed part of a durable coalition government.
Before 2010, when an inconclusive election prompted an unlikely alliance between the centrist Liberal Democrats and the dominant Conservatives, Britons associated coalition governments with the unstable, revolving-door politics sometimes seen in Continental Europe.
Yet Britain’s first formal coalition since World War II has functioned surprisingly well, navigating policy differences, putting in place austerity measures and now presiding over modest economic growth.
“All the dire warnings given before the general election, particularly by the Conservatives and by the press, about a coalition being chaotic and messy and making Britain ungovernable do not seem to have come true,” said Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London.
But that has not benefited Nick Clegg, the telegenic and multilingual leader of the Liberal Democrats, who has been a solid and reliable partner to the Conservative prime minister, David Cameron, and who has been pilloried as a result.
As the Liberal Democrats prepared to meet on Saturday in Glasgow, Scotland, for their annual conference, The Sun newspaper depicted Mr. Clegg as a poodle, after commissioning an opinion poll that asked voters which animal he most resembled.
His party’s status as Britain’s third political force is threatened by the populist, right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party, and Mr. Clegg is probably safe in his job only because of the lack of credible rivals.
But despite the reverses, the Liberal Democrats may still be the midwife to a huge change in British politics.
With rigid party allegiances breaking down, voters seem relaxed about the idea of a coalition, even if they tell pollsters they do not much like the current one. “Most people appear to accept that it could become the new normal,” said Professor Bale, adding that both the Conservatives, also known as the Tories, and the Labour Party, in the opposition, might struggle to win a clear majority in elections due in 2015.
Inside the coalition, relations are civilized, more so than during the previous, one-party Labour government, when officials were prone to feuding.
A former Liberal Democrat leader, Paddy Ashdown, said cultural differences had been overcome.
“I think the Tories have come to accept that we are not all yogurt-eating, sandal-wearing weirdos, and we have come to accept that not all Tories eat babies for breakfast,” said Mr. Ashdown, now a member of the House of Lords.
Some right-wing Tories remain unreconciled to collaboration, but Kenneth Clarke, a centrist Conservative cabinet minister who warned against a coalition before the last election, said his views had been “transformed.”
“I thought a hung Parliament would be a catastrophe,” he said, because at the time, he believed that Britain’s politicians lacked the flexibility to compromise. “My reflection after three and a half years is that we have delivered more than we probably could have delivered as a single party in government.”
Making it work has been hard on the smaller party. Mr. Clegg, who is deputy prime minister, endorsed a tough Conservative austerity package and — disastrously for his own standing — abandoned a pre-election promise to scrap university fees. Instead, he agreed to triple them.
Then the Conservatives successfully campaigned against Mr. Clegg’s flagship plan to change Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system, whereby lawmakers need only gain more votes than any rival in an election district to be elected. Later they blocked another Liberal Democrat policy: an overhaul of the second parliamentary chamber, the unelected House of Lords.
Mr. Clegg went “from feted to fetid,” as one ally put it, and his party was rocked by several scandals, including one that led to a minister’s being jailed.
The Liberal Democrats say they have moderated Conservative policies on welfare, raised the basic income tax threshold and directed more money to the most disadvantaged schoolchildren. Still, many Liberal Democrats instinctively lean more to the center left, and the party conference will probably be an occasion to agonize over economic policy, tax rates for top earners and student tuition.
With another election looming, the Liberal Democrats want to differentiate themselves from the Conservatives. Their message is that they have the economic competence that Labour lacked and a commitment to fairness that the Conservatives do not share.
Now that the economy is recovering, they hope that voters will reward them. But Professor Bale is skeptical. “Small parties that joined unpopular governments tend to get their butts kicked at the next election,” he said.
But even if they lose some of their 57 parliamentary seats, the Liberal Democrats could still emerge as kingmakers in 2015. Mr. Ashdown, who spent decades fighting unsuccessfully for a proportional voting system, now thinks that his party will have a different but important legacy.
“If this coalition has worked — and I think the British people think that it has — I think it will make other coalitions more likely,” Mr. Ashdown said. “I can think of no greater constitutional change than to move Britain permanently away from single-party electoral dictatorship in government.”