German election: Angela Merkel secures historic third win
German chancellor on course to overtake Margaret Thatcher as longest-serving female leader after historic victory
Kate Connolly and Philip Oltermann in Berlin
The Guardian, Monday 23 September 2013
Angela Merkel was basking in a historic third-term election victory in Germany on Sunday night, having led her conservatives to their best result in more than 20 years.
Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and its sister party won 41.5% of the vote, with analysts calling the win a personal victory for the 59-year-old, who is now on track to overtake Margaret Thatcher as Europe's longest-serving female leader.
Merkel's performance was compared to that of conservative chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who was the last chancellor to secure a Bundestag majority without need of a coalition partner since 1957. After a campaign that concentrated almost solely on Merkel's personality and solid leadership in times of economic turmoil but was thin on detailed policy, she came within a whisker of obtaining an absolute majority, falling just five seats short.
Final results gave the CDU/CSU 311 seats, the Social Democrats 192, the Left party 64 and the Greens 63.
The historical dimensions of the election were clear, with Merkel set to become just the third postwar chancellor to secure three election wins, after Adenauer and Helmut Kohl, who brought her into the party as an inexperienced and gauche 35-year-old.
She has also bucked the European trend by becoming the only leader in the eurozone, whether from left or right, to be re-elected since the snowballing of the euro crisis in 2010. Out of 17 countries in the eurozone, 12 governments have fallen, indicating how protected under Merkel's leadership Germans feel from the crisis.
In a result that was closely watched across Europe, Merkel crushed her opponents – and, indeed, some of her allies.
Her coalition partner, the FDP, fell out of parliament for the first time since it was formed after the second world war, securing just 4.8% of the vote. All other parties – with the notable exception of the eurosceptic Alternative für Deutschland – lost ground.
The French president, François Hollande, was the first world leader to offer his congratulations, but the wider implications for Europe, austerity, the euro crisis and David Cameron's hopes of repatriating powers from Brussels were less clear.
Merkel will still have to rely on a coalition partner for a secure governing majority. Without her former liberal allies, she might now have to turn to the SPD, which is firmly opposed to Cameron's ideas of wresting powers back from the European Union.
The scientist and pastor's daughter who grew up in communist East Germany appeared to her party faithful in Berlin just 45 minutes after the first exit polls were released, a clear indication of the confidence there was in the win.
"We can surely celebrate this evening," she said, beaming at the largely young crowds who chanted "Angie, Angie". "This is a super result," she told the party faithful.
After thanking her campaign team in a rare emotional moment, she then turned to her husband, the chemistry professor Joachim Sauer, who was standing among the crowd, and said: "And of course my husband, standing on the sidelines, who has had to put up with quite a lot." Sauer smiled shyly back at her.
Merkel's official biographer, Stefan Kornelius, told the Guardian: "This usually distant and unemotional women is grinning and cheering all evening. Finally she gets the reward she was denied for two consecutive elections. But she knows the traps. Certainly her party is that close to an overall majority – the first time since Adenauer in 1957.
"But waking up tomorrow morning with all votes counted she might need to find a coalition partner anyway."
While Merkel's CDU celebrated its historic victory, the centre-right Free Democrats were contemplating the worst result in their 75-year history after failing to reach the 5% threshold necessary to enter parliament. The radical Left party (8.6%) was celebrating what appeared to be its new position as the third biggest force in the Bundestag. The other remarkable breakthrough of the evening was the sudden emergence of the eurosceptic AfD as a force to be reckoned with.
The party was just 0.3% short of the necessary threshold to secure Bundestag representation for the first time since its formation. It had promised that if it did so, it would change the terms of the euro crisis debate in which Germany has repeatedly sanctioned bailouts for countries in fiscal difficulties.
"We have to rethink the euro crisis," said Frauke Petry, an AfD leader. "We have to allow weaker countries like Greece and Spain and Portugal to leave the euro and rebuild their economies and then maybe return. We don't think we should pay for debts that have been accumulated by these countries. We think we will be able to push CDU and SPD towards new positions. Many members of the CDU quite agree with us but haven't said so in public."
Despite the record victory, Merkel might struggle in her third term. She could yet be forced into a coalition, most likely with the Social Democrats (SPD), who, with 25.7%, secured the second worst result in their history, or even the Green party (8.4%), with whom the CDU has entered government on a state level.
Otherwise she could find herself struggling to push legislation through both chambers of parliament, with the upper house dominated by left-leaning parties.
While the issue of the euro crisis played a minimal role in the election campaign, it is likely to take on more of a prominent role now that Merkel, praised and criticised in equal measure for her handling of the crisis, has been endorsed for a third four-year term. Wolfgang Schäuble, the finance minister and close Merkel ally, told German television in an interview that the conservatives' win should reassure Europeans. "Europe doesn't need to worry about the German elections," he said.
"We will remain reliable in the role of stability anchor and the growth motor of Europe … Germany continues to have an important leadership responsibility".
09/23/2013 11:27 AM
World From Berlin: Triumph Confirms 'Era of Merkelism'
Angela Merkel is at the zenith of her power. Her historic election win on Sunday reflects how deeply Germans appreciate her no-nonsense, frugal Hausfrau style of governing, say editorials. But she now needs to address domestic reforms to secure her legacy.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel won a stunning victory in Sunday's election, leading her conservatives to their best result in two decades following a campaign that focused almost entirely on her rather than on policies.
The election result, which puts her on a similar footing with Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party heavyweights like Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl, but she won't have much time to savor it. She faces difficult coalition talks with the opposition Social Democrats and possibly with the Greens.
Many German media commentators from the right and left expressed admiration for the unassuming leader who has evidently won the hearts of a majority of Germans with her cool handling of the euro debt crisis.
To secure her legacy in what could well be her final term, she will need to address domestic economic reforms that she has neglected -- and she will need to start grooming a successor.
Tabloid Bild, Germany's best-selling daily, writes:
"It's a phenomenal victory for the woman whom the majority of Germans trust -- and only that seems to have counted at the ballot box. Taxes, justice and the euro weren't the decisive factors. This question was: Who do people trust to rule calmly, sensibly and with strong nerves?"
"Nevertheless, this election day will continue to reverberate for a long time, and Merkel will feel it. Her coalition partner the Free Democrats lost two-thirds of their voters and has disappeared from parliament. That's a historic blow -- and massively weakens Germany's right-of-center ground. In addition, the anti-euro party Alternative for Germany has established itself and will change the political landscape. Euro bailouts à la Merkel will become more difficult."
Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"It's her triumph rather than a triumph of the conservatives. She as a person, she as chancellor achieved it, with popularity ratings that are unprecedented in the history of postwar Germany. With this election she almost stands alongside Konrad Adenauer, who in 1957 won an absolute majority for the first and so far only time in the history of the republic. It was the zenith of Adenauer's power; 2013 is the zenith of Merkel's power. With this election, Merkel's time in office has become an era, regardless of what happens now -- the era of Merkelism, of a power-oriented policy devoid of the visible trappings of power."
"People say she has banished conservatism from the conservatives and has made the party's positions nebulous. But to her many voters, Merkel doesn't lack conviction. They see Merkel as the representative of an elightened liberal conservatism that doesn't shy away from recognizing same-sex marriage. Merkel has mastered many roles. In the euro crisis -- and this was her biggest role so far -- she gave a masterful performance of the thrifty Swabian housewife who keeps the money together. Many Germans like that. And she has turned the exercise of power into an unspectacular affair. That, too, appeals to many Germans. In that way, she has ensured that the modest achievements of her governing coalitions didn't damage her popularity."
Conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"The result is confirmation of her policies as well as of her political style. The conservatives can choose whether to govern in a coalition with the weakened Greens or the SPD. Despite an increase in votes, (SPD chancellor candidate Peer) Steinbrück, provided he keeps his oath not to join forces with the Left Party, can at best lead his party back into the purgatory (in the form of another grand coalition government with the SPD as the junior partner to the conservatives as Germany had from 2005-2009) that he himself doesn't want to suffer again."
Conservative Die Welt writes:
"Angela Merkel won without her party. The Germans like her so much because she's so unassuming, and apparently devoid of narcissism in the way she goes about her work, she doesn't annoy her people or lecture them. 'She'll get the job done,' people think. But will that be enough? Her victory was a victory without clarity or direction -- it was a victory of being as she is. Now Angela Merkel has nothing to lose. She could come out of her shell. She could use what's likely to be her last term to push through reforms not just in Europe but at home. She won't be able to spend another four years feeding off the legacy of (former SPD Chancellor) Gerhard Schröder."
Left-wing Berliner Zeitung writes:
"Whatever alliance Angela Merkel will end up leading, whether it's with the SPD or the Greens, her policies will have to change radically from those of the last four years. The German chancellor has focused on foreign policy since the start of the international financial crisis and the euro crisis. She has been the leading voice in Europe and played a not insignificant role in questions of global finance. But not much happened on the domestic policy front, because nothing goes without her. Important tasks need to be addressed: reform of old-age nursing insurance, the pension system, education. Things can't stay as they are for another four years. The next government will be judged on whether it manages to find a balance between domestic and international policy. That will be measured in terms of the chancellor's involvement in these issues.
"There's another thing Angela Merkel should be worried about. The conservative success was her success alone, not the party's. She has become irreplaceable for the party. The conservative party is Merkel and Merkel is the conservative party. But as even she isn't immortal, she's going to have to make herself replaceable. Only when she has managed to put her legacy in order will she be a great politician."
Germany's left-wing Die Tageszeitung writes:
"And so, the worst chancellor in the country's postwar history is set to stay in office. Though her conservatives will be forced to enter into a new coalition government -- probably with the Social Democrats -- not much is likely to change as a result. The key questions of our time have been left undiscussed. The fact that Merkel's euro-zone policies benefit only the banks and investors in rich member states, and the fact that people in the troubled economies and taxpayers in the relatively stable economies are the ones to foot the bill were barely touched upon by the Social Democrats and the Greens during this campaign."
"The fact that Merkel is set to stay in office is bad news for Europe. The possibility that she might govern alongside the Social Democrats in a grand coalition hardly softens the blow. The SPD does have remnants of a Keynesian approach -- they know that debts cannot be reduced through austerity. They are familiar with simple mathematics -- they understand that without a debt haircut, Greece will never get back on its feet. So there is a possibility the SPD will push through the occasional amendment to Merkel's euro-zone policies. But a fundamentally different political approach -- a totally new direction -- is not to be expected."
David Crossland and Friederike Heine
09/22/2013 11:57 PM
Germans Want a 'Mutti': The Secret of Merkel's Success
By Charles Hawley
When she took over the Christian Democrats 13 years ago, few thought Angela Merkel would last long. But after her resounding victory on Sunday, it is now clear that she has become so much more than just Germany's political leader.
If there were any doubts remaining, they were rapidly swept away on Sunday evening. Germany belongs to Chancellor Angela Merkel in a way it hasn't belonged to any other leader since the days of reunification-era Helmut Kohl. Her election victory in Sunday's general election was, in an age of myriad smaller parties, nothing short of a landslide.
Projections show that Merkel's conservatives ended up with upwards of 42 percent, their best performance in a federal election since Kohl's 43.8 percent showing in 1990, just months after East and West Germany rejoined. While she did not get her professed wish to continue governing with the pro-business Free Democrats, who failed to achieve the 5 percent necessary for parliamentary representation, she looks to have come within a whisker of something even rarer: an absolute majority.
"Yes, dear friends, as the cheering shows, we can all rejoice today," Merkel told her jubilant supporters in Berlin on Sunday night. "This is a super result."
If anything, the statement was modest. The election confirms that Merkel's nickname, "Mutti" -- or "mommy" -- is anything but sardonic. More than any other political leader in this general election, Merkel understands her country's yearning for a steady hand in a period of economic uncertainty in Europe and instability in the Middle East. And Sunday's result was a resounding expression of their gratitude.
"Her success clearly stems from European and international policy," Heinrich Oberreuter, a political scientist at the University of Passau in the state of Bavaria, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "Merkel has represented Germany at a difficult time and on all the red carpets and in her entire demeanor, she has given Germans the feeling that she's stood up for their interests."
Reaping the Reward
Merkel's primary opponent, center-left Social Democrat Peer Steinbrück, had tried to attack the chancellor during the campaign for what he said was her attempt to "lull the country to sleep." Yet from the perspective of German voters, she was really keeping the demons of the euro crisis at bay. And she reaped the reward at the ballot box.
Her victory goes far beyond the borders of Germany. Already, Merkel was the strongest figure on the European political stage. With French President François Hollande struggling to gain traction in Paris and Britain having no interest in the common currency, the chancellor's voice in Berlin carried immense weight. Now, it will carry even more.
That, of course, is not a prospect that many in the euro zone find particularly appealing, especially those in struggling member states in the south. Indeed, most had been hoping at the very least that Merkel would be forced to enter into a coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD), believing that she would then have to loosen the austerity thumb screws. And she will likely still have to. Early evening forecasts that she might have won an absolute majority began looking premature. Left without a potential coalition partner on the center right, the SPD would seem to be the only one available.
Still, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble went out of his way on Sunday night to reassure Europeans. "We will continue to reliably play our role as an anchor of stability, as an engine of growth and, beyond that, we will continue to hold Europe together."
Exactly what Merkel's government will look like won't take shape for a few more days. But it hardly matters when it comes to the position in which she finds herself: Germany's most-loved chancellor in decades and a leader in whom the country has vast amounts of faith.
It marks the high point of her 13 years at the helm of the Christian Democrats. When she took over the party on April 10, 2000, few thought that she would last long. The only reason she managed to leap-frog Kohl and the powerful state politicians that surrounded him was because of her courageous break from the long-time chancellor. With Kohl embroiled in a campaign finance scandal in 1999, Merkel criticized her political mentor in a piece for the center-right daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, saying he had damaged the party. She was the first senior party member to suggest that it was time for the Kohl era, which had lasted 16 years, to end.
In 2005, the year that she became chancellor, her party's result -- at 35.2 percent -- was far below what polls had predicted prior to the vote. What followed was a grand coalition with the SPD and mumblings of discontent from intra-party rivals. Again, Merkel looked vulnerable.
But instead of wilting, Merkel was able to solidify her power. On the one hand, she proved unexpectedly adept at defanging several senior Christian Democrats who had been up-and-comers under Kohl and saw Merkel, who grew up in East Germany, as an interloper. Indeed, whereas the German press had initially handled her with skepticism, her unabashed consolidation of power in the country's male-dominated political scene won her respect.
On the other hand, though, Merkel perfected a political style that has become her trademark. In the 2005 campaign, she campaigned on the need for difficult reforms and even promised a 2 percent raise in the country's sales tax. Her party's surprisingly low result that year led her to reconsider her approach. Since then she has sought to deliver exactly what voters want -- and let others take the lead should painful decisions become necessary.
In recent years, she has moved her party sharply to the left. She abandoned nuclear power, ended universal conscription, vastly increased social benefits for families, took a (short-lived) lead on efforts to counter global warming, promised to address rapidly rising rents in major German cities and taken steps, though limited, toward improving gender equality. In short, she has made progress in several areas that had been core issues for opposing parties and earned a broader following as a result.
A Victory for Mutti
Mostly, though, she has kept the ravages of the euro crisis at bay and kept the German economy humming along right through the worst of it. Unemployment has plunged, exports have remained strong and the country's outlook in 2014 is bright, even as several other euro-zone member states continue to struggle.
There is, of course, plenty to criticize. She has been blasted, by Steinbrück among many, many others, of not being honest about what the euro crisis might ultimately cost German voters. She has also shied away from making the far-reaching reforms to the common currency architecture that many believe is necessary. The ranks of Germany's working poor are growing.
But with Germans largely satisfied with the direction in which their country is headed, Merkel's popularity ratings were sky-high entering this election year and they have hardly budged since. And Merkel, of course, was clever enough to recognize the signs. Instead of running the kind of issues based campaign that fits best with Germany's parliamentary democracy, she took a chapter out of US politics. She ran on her personality. Her posters were light on message and heavy on empty slogans such as "Merkel: A Chancellor for Germany" or "Successful Together."
The bet, as Sunday night showed, was wildly successful. Germans don't want change. They want Merkel. And they want what Merkel has become: Mutti.
With reporting by David Crossland
09/22/2013 11:05 PM
Merkel Country: Trouble Ahead for Triumphant Queen Angela
A Commentary by Roland Nelles
It hardly gets any more exciting, more enthralling or more spectacular. This 2013 German election represents a watershed. The chancellor has triumphed, and her coalition partners the pro-business Free Democrats are shattered. Germany is well and truly Angela Merkel country.
The speculation over the German election's potential outcomes went on for so long. And then this happened: Merkel is the overwhelming winner. Even for her, that's probably a little strange.
Her center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) are back where they were in Konrad Adenauer's time -- the state party that decides everything in the federal government and occupies virtually all of the most important positions. The remaining parties can only look on. Maybe the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) can still play a part. It's down to the politics of Angela Merkel's grace.
The party owes it to a chancellor who, with her presidential style of government, has appealed to broad sections of the German population. No one can say precisely what she stands for, but many people obviously feel they're in good hands with her as leader. It shows once again that if the political questions are complicated, trust is an important currency in politics.
The SPD, meanwhile, failed to gain support. Its candidate for chancellor, Peer Steinbrück, made a valiant effort, but in the end the task overwhelmed him. He didn't win over hearts and minds. A right-leaning candidate and a left-leaning set of policies just don't fit together, and the voters noticed that. The SPD has hard times ahead of it -- even if it now enters into a grand coalition with the conservatives, it would be merely as an appendage of the chancellor.
Merkel's junior coalition partners, the pro-business Free Democratic Party FDP, meanwhile, have been shattered, collapsing into their own hubris and discarded from parliament, humiliated. The party has only itself to blame. In the election four years ago, the FDP promised tax cuts which it failed to deliver, and it has done practically nothing for four years that voters remember positively. It is only a shadow of the once-proud liberal party of Hans-Dietrich Genscher. One could say that it got exactly what it deserved.
In its place is the new anti-euro Alternative for Germany (AfD), a new citizens' protest movement that has come out of nowhere. It is strange, unpredictable and difficult to grasp. The real revolution is that this is the first time there has been a strong party to the right of the CDU and its sister party in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union (CSU). The AfD will make life difficult for Angela Merkel if it survives the next few months.
Merkel is at the peak of her power; she alone secured the conservative victory with her soaring popularity in the polls. That will further consolidate her power in the party, and potential successors such as Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen will have to wait. But that also means that when Angela Merkel does go, the party will face difficult times.
But there are also concerns waiting for Merkel. In the Bundesrat, Germany's upper legislative chamber, she is faced by a phalanx of hostile red-green states -- i.e. those controlled by the SPD and the environmentalist Greens. And in a possible grand coalition, she would have to govern with a humiliated SPD, which probably wouldn't be made any easier by its volatile leader Sigmar Gabriel.
In any grand coalition, the SPD would want to do pretty much everything differently than last time around. Then, the SPD did the work and Merkel took the credit. This time, Gabriel and his colleagues would be opposition in government from the start. This alliance would be shaky from day one.
So while Merkel can enjoy this triumph, problems are already waiting for her. The euro crisis will come back to the fore. She can count on help from Horst Seehofer, the leader of the CSU, but he will demand a high price for any concession. The vice-chancellor is now a Bavarian.
Roland Nelles is SPIEGEL ONLINE's Berlin bureau chief.
PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIA..
Pussy Riot member starts hunger strike over prison conditions
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova says she is made to work up to 17 hours a day and has had death threats from prison deputy
Shaun Walker in Moscow
theguardian.com, Monday 23 September 2013 12.24 BST
One of the jailed members of the punk band Pussy Riot has launched a hunger strike in protest at slave-like living conditions and alleged death threats from the deputy head of the prison in which she is serving her two-year sentence.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova has written a lengthy letter detailing life inside prison colony No 14 in the Russian region of Mordovia, revealing appalling conditions that are reminiscent of the Soviet Gulag system. As part of her punishment she has to sew police uniforms and she writes in her statement that all the prisoners in her sewing division are expected to work 16 or 17 hours a day, starting at 7.30am and not finishing until after midnight.
"In the best case scenario we get four hours of sleep per night," writes Tolokonnikova. "We get a day off once every six weeks. Almost all Sundays are work days. Prisoners are forced to write requests to work on weekends saying it is their own voluntary decision."
Tolokonnikova was convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for her part in an impromptu Pussy Riot performance in Moscow's largest cathedral in February 2012. The group, wearing balaclavas, mimed a song calling on the Virgin Mary to "kick out Putin", and three of them were arrested and later convicted.
The Pussy Riot member claims that three weeks ago, she complained to the deputy head of the prison about the conditions and he informed her that her team would work only eight-hour days from now on. However, he explained that they would still have to meet their required output targets, which is physically impossible in just eight hours, and if they did not, they would all be punished.
"And if they find out that it all happened because of you, then you definitely won't feel bad any more," Tolokonnikova claims he told her. "Because in the afterlife you don't feel bad."
Tolokonnikova says she will refuse food until her concerns have been addressed. "As of Monday 23 September I announce that I am on hunger strike," she writes. "This is an extreme method, but I am absolutely certain that it is the only way out of this situation for me. The prison colony's administration refuses to listen to me."
Tolokonnikova portrays a grim life for the prisoners where, in a practice surviving from the Gulag system, the authorities delegate certain prisoners to do their dirty work for them and keep the other inmates terrorised. She writes that she has not so far been subjected to physical violence, possibly because the prison authorities are scared of doing so given her international fame, but that other women are regularly beaten on the face or kidneys. The beatings are carried out by other inmates, but "never happen without the knowledge and sanction of the prison authorities".
She also writes of a system of informal punishments, such as forcing inmates to spend time outdoors during the harsh winters, or banning women from going to the toilet all day.
Tolokonnikova writes that Mordovia, which recently became the official home of the French actor turned Russian citizen Gerard Depardieu, has the hardest and most terrifying network of prisons, and that all prisoners are scared of being sent there.
A representative of the Mordovia prison system denied all of Tolokonnikova's allegations later on Monday, calling her claims of death threats "absurd" and stating that working days never last longer than eight hours.
"The working day in prison colony No 14 is eight hours, as set out in the labour code," said Gennady Morozov. "The women work until 4.30pm. That is how it always was and there have never been any changes to that."
In May, the other jailed member of Pussy Riot, Maria Alyokhina, went on hunger strike for 11 days against conditions in the prison where she is serving her sentence, in the Perm region. The prison authorities met many of her demands. Both she and Tolokonnikova are due for release in March next year.
Pussy Riot's Nadezhda Tolokonnikova: Why I have gone on hunger strike
In an open letter, the imprisoned Pussy Riot member explains why the brutal conditions at Penal Colony No 14 have led her to undertake a hunger strike in protest
Read all our Pussy Riot coverage here
theguardian.com, Monday 23 September 2013 12.05 BST
Beginning Monday, 23 September, I am going on hunger strike. This is an extreme method, but I am convinced that it is my only way out of my current situation.
The penal colony administration refuses to hear me. But I, in turn, refuse to back down from my demands. I will not remain silent, resigned to watch as my fellow prisoners collapse under the strain of slavery-like conditions. I demand that the colony administration respect human rights; I demand that the Mordovia camp function in accordance with the law. I demand that we be treated like human beings, not slaves.
It has been a year since I arrived at Penal Colony No 14 in the Mordovian village of Parts. As the prisoner saying goes: "Those who never did time in Mordovia never did time at all." I started hearing about Mordovian prison colonies while I was still being held at Pre-Trial Detention Centre No 6 in Moscow. They have the highest levels of security, the longest workdays, and the most flagrant rights violation. When they send you off to Mordovia, it is as though you're headed to the scaffold. Until the very last moment, they keep hoping: "Perhaps they won't send you to Mordovia after all? Maybe it will blow over?" Nothing blew over, and in the autumn of 2012, I arrived at the camp on the banks of the Partsa River.
Mordovia greeted me with the words of the deputy chief of the penal colony, Lieutenant Colonel Kupriyanov, who is the de facto head administrator of our colony. "You should know that when it comes to politics, I am a Stalinist." Colonel Kulagin, the other head administrator — the colony is run in tandem — called me in for a conversation on my first day here with the objective to force me to confess my guilt. "A misfortune has befallen you. Isn't that so? You've been sentenced to two years in the colony. People usually change their minds when bad things happen to them. If you want to be paroled as soon as possible, you have to confess your guilt. If you don't, you won't get parole." I told him right away that I would only work the 8 hours a day required by the labour code. "The code is one thing — what really matters is fulfilling your quota. If you don't, you work overtime. You should know that we have broken stronger wills than yours!" was Kulagin's response.
My brigade in the sewing shop works 16 to 17 hours a day. From 7.30am to 12.30am. At best, we get four hours of sleep a night. We have a day off once every month and a half. We work almost every Sunday. Prisoners submit petitions to work on weekends "out of [their] own desire". In actuality, there is, of course, no desire to speak of. These petitions are written on the orders of the administration and under pressure from the prisoners that help enforce it.
No one dares to disobey these orders and not submit such petitions regarding entering the work zone on Sunday, which means working until 1 am. Once, a 50-year-old woman asked to go back to the residential zone at 8pm instead of 12.30am so she could go to bed at 10 pm and get eight hours of sleep just once a week. She was feeling ill; she had high blood pressure. In response, they held a unit meeting in order to take the woman down, insult and humiliate her, branding her a parasite. "What, do you think you're the only one who wants more sleep? You need to work harder, you cow!" When someone from the brigade doesn't come to work on doctor's orders, they're bullied as well. "I worked when I had a fever of 40C and it was fine. What are you thinking —w ho is going to pick up the slack for you?"
My residential unit in the camp greeted me with the words of a fellow prisoner finishing off her nine-year term. "The pigs are scared to touch you themselves. They want to do it with the hands of the inmates." In the colony, the inmates in charge of the brigades as well as their senior members are the ones tasked with depriving fellow inmates' rights, terrorising them, and turning them into speechless slaves — all on the orders of the administration.
For the maintenance of discipline and obedience, there is a widely implemented system of unofficial punishments. Prisoners are forced to "stay in the lokalka [a fenced-off passageway between two areas in the camp] until lights out" (the prisoner is forbidden to go into the barracks — whether it be autumnl or winter. In the second brigade, consisting of the disabled and elderly, there was a woman who ended up getting such bad frostbite after a day in the lokalka they had to amputate her fingers and one of her feet); "lose hygiene privileges" (the prisoner is forbidden to wash themselves or use the bathroom); "lose commissary and tea-room privileges" (the prisoner is forbidden to eat their own food, or drink beverages). It's both funny and frightening when a 40-year-old woman tells you: "Looks like we're being punished today! I wonder whether we're going to be punished tomorrow, too." She can't leave the sewing workshop to pee or get a piece of candy from her purse. It's forbidden.
Thinking only of sleep and a sip of tea, the harassed and dirty prisoner becomes obedient putty in the hands of the administration, which sees us solely as free slave labor. Thus, in June 2013, my salary was 29 (29!) rubles [57p] for the month. Our brigade sews 150 police uniforms per day. Where does the money they get for them go?
The camp has been allocated funding to buy completely new equipment a number of times. However, the administration has limited itself to repainting the sewing machines with the hands of its labourers. We sew using physically and morally exhausted machinery. According to the labour code, when equipment does not correspond with current industry standards, quotas must be lowered in relation to typical trade conventions. But the quotas only rise, and suddenly and miraculously at that. "If you let them see that you can deliver 100 uniforms, they'll raise the minimum to 120!" say veteran machine-runners. And you can't fail to deliver, either, or else your whole unit will be punished, the entire brigade. The punishment will be, for instance, that all of you will be forced to stand in the quad for hours. Without permission to use the bathroom. Without permission to take a sip of water.
Two weeks ago, the production quotas for all colony brigades was arbitrarily increased by 50 units. If previously the minimum had been 100 uniforms per day, now it is 150. According to the labour code, workers must be notified of a change in the production quota no less than two months before it is enforced. At PC-14, we just woke up one day to find we had a new quota because the idea happened to have popped into the heads of the administrators of our "sweatshop" (that's what the prisoners call the colony). The number of people in the brigade decreases (they are released or transferred), but the quota grows. As a result, those left behind have to work harder and harder. The mechanics say that they don't have the parts necessary to repair the machinery and that they will not be getting them. "There are no parts! When will they come? Are you kidding? This is Russia. Why even ask that question?" During my first few months in the work zone, I practically became a mechanic. I taught myself out of necessity. I threw myself at my machine, screwdriver in hand, desperate to fix it. Your hands are pierced with needle-marks and covered in scratches, your blood is all over the work table, but still, you keep sewing. You are a part of the assembly line, and you have to complete your task as well as the experienced sewers. Meanwhile, the damn machine keeps breaking down. Because you're new and there's a deficit, you end up with the worst equipment — the weakest motor on the line. And now it's broken down again, and once again, you run to find the mechanic, who is impossible to find. They yell at you, they berate you for slowing down production. There are no sewing classes at the colony, either. Newbies are unceremoniously sat down in front of their machines and given their assignments.
"If you weren't Tolokonnikova, you would have had the shit kicked out of you a long time ago," say fellow prisoners with close ties to the administration. It's true: others are beaten up. For not being able to keep up. They hit them in the kidneys, in the face. Prisoners themselves deliver these beatings and not a single one of them is done without the approval and full knowledge of the administration. A year ago, before I came here, a gypsy woman in the third unit was beaten to death (the third is the pressure unit where they put prisoners that need to undergo daily beatings). She died in the medical unit of PC-14. The administration was able to cover it up: the official cause of death was a stroke. In another unit, new seamstresses who couldn't keep up were undressed and forced to sew naked. No one dares complain to the administration because all they will do is smile and send the prisoner back into the unit, where the "snitch" will be beaten on the orders of that same administration. For the colony administration, controlled hazing is a convenient method for forcing prisoners into total submission to their systemic abuse of human rights.
A threatening, anxious atmosphere pervades the work zone. Eternally sleep-deprived, overwhelmed by the endless race to fulfill inhumanly large quotas, prisoners are always on the verge of breaking down, screaming at each other, fighting over the smallest things. Just recently, a young woman got stabbed in the head with a pair of scissors because she didn't turn in a pair of pants on time. Another tried to cut her own stomach open with a hacksaw. They stopped her.
Those who found themselves in PC-14 in 2010, the year of smoke and fire, said that while the wildfires were approaching the colony walls, prisoners continued to go to the work zone and fulfill their quotas. Due to the smoke, you couldn't see two metres in front of you, but, covering their faces in wet handkerchiefs, they all went to work nonetheless. Because of the emergency conditions, prisoners weren't taken to the cafeteria for meals. Several women told me that they were so horribly hungry they started writing diaries in order to document the horror of what was happening to them. When the fires were finally put out, camp security thoroughly rooted these diaries out so that none of them would make it to the outside.
The hygienic and residential conditions of the camp are calculated to make the prisoner feel like a filthy animal without any rights. Although there are "hygiene rooms" in the dormitories, there is also "general hygiene room" with a corrective and punitive purpose. This room has a capacity of five; however, all 800 colony prisoners are sent there to wash themselves. We do not have to wash ourselves in the hygiene rooms in our barracks — that would be too easy. In the "general hygiene room", in the eternal press, women with little tubs attempt to wash their "nursemaids" (as they call them in Mordovia) as fast as they can, heaped onto one another. We are allowed to wash our hair once a week. However, even this bathing day gets cancelled. A pump will break or the plumbing will be stopped up. At times, my unit was unable to bathe for two to three weeks.
When the plumbing breaks down, urine splashes and clumps of faeces fly out of the hygiene rooms. We've learned to unclog the pipes ourselves, but our successes are short-lived — they soon get stopped up again. The colony does not have a snake for cleaning out the pipes. We get to do laundry once a week. The laundry is a small room with three faucets pouring weak streams of cold water.
It must also be a corrective measure to only give prisoners stale bread, heavily watered-down milk, exclusively rusted millet and rotten potatoes. This summer, they brought in sacks of slimy, black potatoes in bulk. Then they fed them to us.
The living and working-condition violations at PC-14 are endless. However, my main and most important grievance is bigger than any one of these. It is that the colony administration prevents any complaints or claims regarding conditions at PC-14 from leaving colony walls by the harshest means available. The administration forces people to remain silent. It does not scorn stooping to the very lowest and cruelest means to this end. All of the other problems come from this one — the increased quotas, the 16-hour work day, and so on. The administration feels untouchable; it heedlessly oppresses prisoners with growing severity. I couldn't understand why everyone kept silent until I found myself faced with the avalanche of obstacles that falls on the prisoner who decides to speak out. Complaints simply do not leave the prison. The only chance is to complain through a lawyer or relatives. The administration, petty and vengeful, will meanwhile use all of its mechanisms for putting pressure on the prisoner so she will see that her complaints will not help anyone, but only make thing worse. They use collective punishment: you complain there's no hot water, and they turn it off entirely.
In May 2013, my lawyer Dmitry Dinze filed a complaint about the conditions at PC-14 with the prosecutor's office. The deputy head of the colony, Lieutenant Colonel Kupriyanov, instantly made conditions at the camp unbearable. There was search after search, a flood of reports on all of my acquaintances, the seizure of warm clothes, and threats of seizure of warm footwear. At work, they get revenge with complicated sewing assignments, increased quotas, and fabricated malfunctions. The leaders of the unit next to mine, Lieutenant Colonel Kupriyanov's right hands, openly requested that prisoners interfere with my work output so that I could be sent to the punishment cell for "damaging government property." They also ordered prisoners to provoke a fight with me.
It is possible to tolerate anything as long as it only affects you. But the method of collective punishment is bigger than that. It means that your unit, or even the entire colony, is required to endure your punishment along with you. This includes, worst of all, people you've come to care about. One of my friends was denied parole, for which she had been awaiting seven years, working hard to exceed her work quotas. She was reprimanded for drinking tea with me. That day, Lieutenant Colonel Kupriyanov transferred her to another unit. Another close acquaintance of mine, a very well-educated woman, was thrown into the "stress unit" for daily beatings because she was reading and discussing a Justice Department document with me, entitled: "Regulations for the code of conduct at correctional facilities." They filed reports on everyone who talked to me. It hurt me that people I cared about were forced to suffer. Grinning, Lieutenant Colonel Kupriyanov told me then, "You probably don't have any friends left!" He explained that everything was happening because of Dinze's complaint.
Now I see that I should have gone on hunger strike in May when I was first found myself in this situation. However, the tremendous pressure that the administration had put on my fellow prisoners due to my actions led me to stop the process of filing complaints about the conditions in the colony.
Three weeks ago, on 30 August, I asked Lieutenant Colonel Kupriyanov to grant the prisoners in my work brigade eight hours of sleep. We were discussing decreasing the workday from 16 to 12 hours. "Fine, starting Monday, the brigade will only work for eight hours at a time," he replied. I knew this was another trap because it is physically impossible to fulfill the increased quota in 8 hours. Thus, the brigade will not have time and subsequently face punishment. "If anyone finds out that you're the one behind this, you'll never complain again," the Lieutenant Colonel continued. "After all, there's nothing to complain about in the afterlife." Kupriyanov paused. "And finally, never request things for other people. Only ask for things for yourself. I've been working in the camps for many years, and those who come to me asking for things for other people go directly from my office to the punishment cell. You're the first person this won't happen to."
Over the course of the following weeks, life in my unit and work brigade became impossible. Prisoners with close ties to the administration began egging on the others to get revenge. "You're forbidden to have tea and food, from taking bathroom breaks, and smoking for a week. Now you're always going to be punished unless you start behaving differently with the newbies and especially with Tolokonnikova. Treat them like the old-timers used to treat you. Were you beaten? Of course you were. Did they rip your mouths? They did. Fuck them up. You won't get punished."
Over and over, they attempt to get me to fight one of them, but what's the point of fighting with people who aren't in charge of themselves, who are only acting on the orders of the administration?
Mordovian prisoners are afraid of their own shadows. They are completely terrified. If only yesterday they were well-disposed toward you and begging, "Do something about the 16 hour work day!" after the administration started going after me, they're afraid to even speak to me.
I turned to the administration with a proposal for dealing with the conflict. I asked that they release me from the pressure manufactured by them and enacted by the prisoners they control; that they abolish slave labour at the colony by cutting the length of the workday and decreasing the quotas so that they correspond with the law. The pressure has only increased. Therefore, beginning 23 September, I am going on hunger strike and refusing to participate in colony slave labor. I will do this until the administration starts obeying the law and stops treating incarcerated women like cattle ejected from the realm of justice for the purpose of stoking the production of the sewing industry; until they start treating us like humans.
Translation: Bela Shayevich of n+1 magazine, which has covered the Pussy Riot case extensively
Snowden ‘wears disguise, in danger’ his lawyer claims
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, September 23, 2013 7:16 EDT
US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden is living under guard at a secret address in Russia and sometimes emerges in disguise, although he remains in such danger that even a family visit could endanger his security, his lawyer said Monday.
Snowden has avoided all contact with media since arriving in Russia on a flight from Hong Kong in June and his lawyer Anatoly Kucherena has become his unofficial spokesman.
“I am his only link with the outside world at the moment. Even his contacts with his parents are carried out through me,” Kucherena said in an interview published in Itogi weekly magazine.
Kucherena gave few details of how Snowden occupies his time, but said he is able to go out in disguise.
“He would walk past you and you wouldn’t recognise him,” he told Itogi.
“It’s a question of clothes and small alternations to his appearance. So I’m not deceiving anyone: he really does walk freely around on the streets.”
Snowden has also made quick progress in learning Russian, his lawyer said.
“He is an extremely fast learner as far as the Russian language is concerned,” Kucherena said in another interview that will air Monday on Kremlin-funded RT television.
“He only needs a few hours or days to learn the ropes and start speaking,” the lawyer said in comments dubbed into English.
Snowden spent more than a month in transit in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport before slipping out and has not made any public appearance.
The 30-year-old former CIA security analyst is wanted by the United States after revealing details of massive surveillance by the National Security Agency to the media.
While describing an isolated existence, Kucherena said Snowden did not regret his decision to give up his life in the United States.
“He’s not disappointed. He believes he did everything right,” he told RT.
Kucherena, a high-profile lawyer who is an advisor to President Vladimir Putin, said he is working for free, as Snowden’s personal money is running low.
Snowden’s father is expected to come, at which stage “the question of his future activities will be discussed at a family council,” Kucherena told RT.
“I can’t give you certain dates but soon he will come to Russia and meet with his son. There will be him and his mother and probably one of his grandparents.”
He warned however that a family visit could threaten Snowden’s safety, since US intelligence could use it to find his hideout.
“Snowden’s former colleagues could try to use the arrival of the parents to track down his location. I have definite information, which I can’t reveal now, which suggests the danger level is very high,” he told Itogi.
Ukraine's EU trade deal will be catastrophic, says Russia
Kremlin claims neighbouring state faces financial ruin and possible collapse if integration agreement goes ahead
Shaun Walker in Yalta
theguardian.com, Sunday 22 September 2013 14.23 BST
The Kremlin has warned Ukraine that if the country goes ahead with a planned agreement on free trade with the EU, it faces inevitable financial catastrophe and possibly the collapse of the state.
Russia is making a last-minute push to derail the integration agreement, which is due to be signed in late November. Instead, Moscow wants to lure its neighbour into its own alliance, a customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan that critics have referred to as a reincarnation of the Soviet Union. Russia has made it clear that Ukraine has to choose between the two options and cannot sign both agreements.
At a discussion forum in the Black Sea resort of Yalta over the weekend, European politicians gathered to pepper Ukraine's president and political elite with encouragement to cement the country's turn away from Moscow and towards Brussels. At the same palace where in 1945 Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt met and carved up Europe, there were angry exchanges between western politicians and the Kremlin's point man on Ukraine.
Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine's trade minister, gave Sergei Glazyev, adviser to President Vladimir Putin, a public dressing down in a discussion session during which the Kremlin man was faced with jeering and catcalls for demanding that Ukraine abandon the EU pact and turn to Russia. The minister said that it was the Kremlin's heavy-handed tactics and threats of a trade war that had made European integration inevitable.
"For the first time in our history more than 50% of people support European integration, and less than 30% of the people support closer ties with Russia," said Poroshenko. "Thank you very much for that Mr Glazyev."
Radek Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister, accused Russia of a "19th-century mode of operating towards neighbours", and said that it was only when Ukraine was properly allied with Europe that Russia would begin to respect the country. "Poland's relations with Russia are better now that we are a member of the EU and Nato," said Sikorski. "When the question is open people feel entitled to exert pressure; when the question is closed they have to live with a sovereign country."
Glazyev, speaking on the sidelines of the discussion, said the exact opposite was true: "Ukrainian authorities make a huge mistake if they think that the Russian reaction will become neutral in a few years from now. This will not happen."
Instead, he said, signing the agreement would make the default of Ukraine inevitable and Moscow would not offer any helping hand. "Russia is the main creditor of Ukraine. Only with customs union with Russia can Ukraine balance its trade," he said. Russia has already slapped import restrictions on certain Ukrainian products and Glazyev did not rule out further sanctions if the agreement was signed.
The Kremlin aide added that the political and social cost of EU integration could also be high, and allowed for the possibility of separatist movements springing up in the Russian-speaking east and south of Ukraine. He suggested that if Ukraine signed the agreement, Russia would consider the bilateral treaty that delineates the countries' borders to be void.
"We don't want to use any kind of blackmail. This is a question for the Ukrainian people," said Glazyev. "But legally, signing this agreement about association with EU, the Ukrainian government violates the treaty on strategic partnership and friendship with Russia." When this happened, he said, Russia could no longer guarantee Ukraine's status as a state and could possibly intervene if pro-Russian regions of the country appealed directly to Moscow.
"Signing this treaty will lead to political and social unrest," said the Kremlin aide. "The living standard will decline dramatically … there will be chaos."
Ukraine's cabinet of ministers signed the agreement last week, and the choice for European integration is about the only thing that all major Ukrainian politicians agree on. However, European leaders have frequently said in the past that they will only sign if President Viktor Yanukovych orders the release of Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister jailed for seven years in 2011 on charges of abuse of office, which most observers believe to be politically motivated. She is currently under armed guard in a hospital, being treated for back problems.
Assorted European leaders again told Yanukovych over the weekend that he must free Tymoshenko. There are also concerns in Brussels about human rights, rule of law and corruption among the political elite in Ukraine. Ironically, however, the Russian pressure has led many Europeans to put their quibbles on the backburner.
"Russia's threats has made both Ukraine and Europe more serious about integration," said Oleksiy Haran, a Ukrainian political analyst. "It's now a matter of principle."
India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
September 23, 2013, 7:24 am
Human Trafficking Continues to Ravage Jharkhand
By RAKSHA KUMAR
BHOOT, Jharkhand— Suman Tutti, 11, a frail, shy girl from Bhoot village, around 35 kilometers, or 21 miles from Ranchi, the capital of the eastern state of Jharkhand, is one of the 100,000 girls who are trafficked from the state every year, according to the state government statistics.
On a punishingly hot June afternoon, as Ms. Tutti was returning from her school, a middle-aged woman approached her. The woman asked Ms. Tutti if she wanted to go out of Jharkhand to work. She also offered the chance to study along with work.
Ms. Tutti, who lived in stark poverty with her parents and seven siblings in a mud house, found the proposal alluring. She followed the stranger.
Her parents searched for her wherever they could. “We looked for her everywhere,” said Savitri Tutti, her mother, “but we couldn’t find Suman.”
Bhoot is a village in Khunti district of Jharkhand, which has been caught in the conflict between Maoist insurgents and Indian security forces. Ms. Tutti’s parents assumed that their daughter had been taken away by the police or the insurgents. “After 15 days of not seeing her, we assumed she was dead,” recalled Mrs. Tutti.
A UN report in July declared Jharkhand as the worst victim of human trafficking. The woman who had offered Ms. Tutti a job and an education worked for a human trafficking ring. She sold the 11-year-old girl to a middleman for Rs. 1500, or $24. The middleman took her on a train to Delhi. Ms. Tutti was made to sleep on the floor of the train for the two nights of the journey and was denied food.
“The problem with trafficking is that there can be no preventive action by the police,” explained Sampath Meena, the inspector general of police for organized crime in Ranchi. The police, Mr. Meena said, struggled with differentiating between people migrating for employment and those who were being trafficked.
Naman Tapno, an activist with Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, a non-profit organization that works with the victims of human trafficking, argued that the police can identify the middlemen and intensify policing in the rural areas of Jharkhand.
The Tuttis live in a sparsely populated area, whose luxurious greens and lazily grazing cattle create the illusion of a pastoral idyll. But the presence of a paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force camp, two kilometers or a little more than a mile from their house, is a reminder of the lethal insurgency and counter-insurgency in the region.
Ms. Tutti partly took up a stranger’s offer of work in a distant city because of the violence engulfing her home. “We were always told to be home before dark, the Naxals [Maoist insurgents] wanted my friend to join their cause, while another friend of mine was threatened by the police,” she said.
On her arrival in New Delhi, Ms. Tutti was kept in a house near the New Delhi Railway Station for two days. Then she was taken to a house, where she worked as a domestic help. She cleaned the house, cooked, washed utensils. “I had no energy to study after that,” she recalled. “They didn’t send me to school or help me with studies.”
“The main problem is that 67 percent of young girls that are trafficked are tricked into it by someone they know,” said Sanjay Mishra, the coordinator of Jharkhand’s State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (SCPRC).
Jharkhand is home to a significant population of India’s indigenous tribal communities, who are among the most disenfranchised citizens of the country. According to official statistics, around nine million out of 32 million people in Jharkhand are from tribal communities. Mr. Mishra claimed that more than 80 percent of the girls, who are trafficked belong to the tribal communities.
Jharkhand’s tribes have a tradition known as “mehmaani” where parents send children to live with their uncles for a few months to foster better familial ties. “Many families sent their children for “mehmaani” and didn’t expect them for several months,” said Mr. Mishra. “After a substantial amount of time, they realized that their children had been trafficked.”
Some of the girls who get trafficked to India’s big cities find their way back home but many families refuse to accept them into the fold. Neela, a girl from a Jharkhand village, who goes by only one name, worked as a domestic help at the residence of a top government official in New Delhi. She was often beaten up and kept locked in the house for several months. Himendra Narayan, a former journalist, who is now based in Ranchi, found out about her from his own domestic help. Mr. Narayan confronted the bureaucrat, who reluctantly admitted to having abused Neela, and allowed Mr. Narayan to take her back to Ranchi.
A week after her arrival in Ranchi, Neela disappeared. Mr. Narayan found that she had run away after being taunted by her family. They had considered her “impure” as she had returned from a big city.
Ms. Tutti is one of the few fortunate girls who returned home and were accepted by her family. After a month of working at her employer’s house in New Delhi, Ms. Tutti got to know another girl from Jharkhand. On a July morning, when their employers sent them to buy vegetables, the girls escaped. They boarded a train to Ranchi.
The police in Ranchi sent the girls to a shelter for the destitute. A week later, with help from non-profits, the girls returned to their homes. The Tuttis were overjoyed to see their daughter again. “I just didn’t want anything more,” said Mrs. Tutti.
The real challenge begins after the girls reach their homes. “They need psychological help and counseling as 72 percent of the girls who are trafficked are sexually exploited,” said Mr. Mishra.
After several weeks of conversations, Ms. Tutti told the volunteers from the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights that she had been sexually assaulted, although not raped, by her employers. “What could I do? I couldn’t run away,” said Ms. Tutti, as her eyes brimmed with tears. “I was kept locked in a room, in the basement.”
The social and economic indicators of Jharkhand are amongst the worst in the country. Even though the state is rich in minerals, the inequitable distribution of wealth and the lack of political will plague the state. “If there were livelihood opportunities provided in this state, why would people go outside in search of jobs?” asked Mr. Meena. “We have set up anti-trafficking cells in 20 districts of the state, but they do not have the required resources or man power,” he added.
On their annual visits home, the girls of Jharkhand, who get decent jobs in Delhi and Mumbai, describe the big cities as promised lands, where people have uninterrupted electricity, running water, and sufficient food to eat. “Those stories entice many young girls to leave,” said Mr. Tapno.
Ms. Tutti has returned to a school near her village. Her teachers have been kind and encourage her to work harder on her favorite subject, Hindi. Yet she measures the terrible scars of her experience against the weight of poverty and lack of opportunity. “I will not leave home again,” she said. “But if there is no way to earn money in the village, I wonder what we will do.”
Raksha Kumar is a freelance journalist based in Bangalore.
September 22, 2013
Tamils Dominate Vote in Sri Lanka Province
By GARDINER HARRIS
JAFFNA, Sri Lanka — Despite an apparent campaign of dirty tricks by its opponents and reported efforts at intimidation, the Tamil National Alliance won a sweeping victory on Sunday in the first provincial elections in 25 years in Sri Lanka’s war-torn north.
The Tamil alliance won 76 percent of the vote in the Northern Province and 30 of the 38 seats on the provincial council. The governing coalition won 18 percent of the vote and seven of the seats, with a Muslim party winning the final seat.
“These results show that we want political rights and not just peanuts from the government,” said E. Saravanapavan, a member of Parliament representing the Tamil National Alliance. “We are equal citizens and want political power to run the place.”
Four years after the bloody end of the Tamil insurgency, Tamils in the north yearn for a reduction in the still vast military presence. The army continues to occupy thousands of homes and administer its own farms, factories and resorts on appropriated land for which the government has paid little or no compensation.
Analysts say it will be increasingly important for President Mahinda Rajapaksa to follow through on more of his promised reconciliation efforts to avoid frustration among the Tamils. Since he has concentrated much of the government’s power in his and his family’s hands, the provincial councils have little power.
“The Tamils will go through the motions to try to use the council system, but they will be frustrated because the system doesn’t work,” said Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives in Colombo. “So the Tamils will ask for reforms, and the government will be very stupid if they frustrate them.”
The elections were hard-fought, and a variety of apparent dirty tactics were used to try to defeat the Tamil alliance. Campaign posters appeared for Tamil candidates that gave incorrect selection numbers; voters here choose candidates by numbers and not names, so the posters seemed intended to fool voters into selecting the wrong one.
A fake version of a respected newspaper in Jaffna, Uthayan, was also distributed. It stated that Ananthi Sasitharan, a popular Tamil candidate, had left the Tamil National Alliance and joined a party associated with the governing coalition. The story claimed that as a result, the Tamil alliance was boycotting the election.
“We got hundreds of calls asking us if the story was true,” said S. Anuraj, an editor of the actual Uthayan newspaper. “People said the papers were being handed out by military men dressed in civilian clothing.”
Since Uthayan costs 20 rupees instead of being free, Mr. Anuraj said, many people were suspicious. “They should have sold it,” he said with a laugh. “We don’t know who printed it, but we soon will.”
The fake newspaper may explain why turnout in the first hours of the election was relatively light in Jaffna, with many polling places reporting only a trickle of voters. But by midday, turnout had become decidedly heavier after a concerted effort by Tamil alliance officials to assure people that the story was false. By the time polls closed, officials estimated that 60 percent of those eligible had voted in Jaffna.
Turnout in other Tamil-dominated districts was even higher, soaring to 71 percent in the onetime insurgent stronghold of Mullaitivu.
More than 100 men, many of them wearing military uniforms, appeared at Ms. Sasitharan’s house on Thursday night to try to get her to drop out of the race, several witnesses said. Ms. Sasitharan had already left the house with her three daughters to seek safety; the men used clubs to beat people remaining there.
International human rights groups have accused the Sri Lankan government of killing some 40,000 people, many of them civilians, in the war’s final weeks.
The end of the insurgency has provided a boon for Sri Lanka. The economy has recovered. Roads have been rebuilt, tourists have returned, and the pervading sense of unease that gripped the country for decades has largely evaporated.
But prominent opposition politicians fear those gains will evaporate without some efforts at political reconciliation with the Tamil population.
“Had we used the opportunity that came with the end of the war to reach out, one could argue the deaths were not in vain,” said Mangala Samaraweera, a member of Parliament representing the United National Party, an opposition party unaffiliated with the Tamil alliance. “But we’re back to the same old vicious circle. Are we going to kill 20,000 to 30,000 people every 25 years for the Sri Lankan state to survive? That’s what you have to ask.”
One voter, Jeyabanumathy Thanaseelan, said her hopes for this weekend’s elections were simple: she wants to go home from the refugee camp where she lives with what is left of her family. Like other Tamils interviewed, she refused to say how she had voted.
Ms. Thanaseelan is one of thousands here whose homes and lands were confiscated in 1990 during the height of the insurgency. The country’s army needed bases, and Ms. Thanaseelan’s land happened to be in Kankeskanthurai, which is considered the most beautiful and fertile region in the otherwise somewhat arid north. The army confiscated more than 6,000 acres.
Now that the war is over, however, the government has decided to develop that land rather than return it to its owners. A port and an airport have been built, along with a luxury resort, rice paddies and other agricultural endeavors all operated by the army.
More than 3,000 people have filed claims against the government over the land seizures, but the Supreme Court — now entirely under the control of President Rajapaksa — has delayed the cases for years.
Meanwhile, two of Ms. Thanaseelan’s four children have died of diseases that she believes resulted from the fetid conditions in her refugee camp, Kannaki. She lives in a hut made of bamboo, wood and corrugated metal that was filled with flies in the stifling heat on Saturday.
“My daughter died during last year’s monsoon, when water with garbage in it poured into our house,” she said. “All these houses flood when it rains.”
September 22, 2013
Humble Chinese Village Basks in Legacy of Three Kingdoms Era
By EDWARD WONG
LONGMEN, China — In the shadow of a lush mountain and near a slow-moving river in southeast China sits this village, whose name means Dragon Gate.
There are narrow alleys and whitewashed homes and the flesh of sliced bamboo drying on the ground. Its humble appearance, though, belies the fact that it played a role in the famous Three Kingdoms era, when kings leading rival states fought in the third century over the right to succeed the Han empire. The blood-drenched stories were immortalized in a 14th-century classic by Luo Guanzhong, “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” which in turn has spawned countless films, television shows and other adaptations.
“This village is so important because the people are descended from Sun Quan,” said one resident, Sun Yaxiao, 25, as she walked with visitors one afternoon through the alleys. Sun Quan was one of the three major kings in the early period of the Three Kingdoms, a figure known to most Chinese.
“People named Sun are rare; there just aren’t that many,” she said. “There aren’t as many as those named Huang, for example.”
The village has managed to capitalize on its association with Sun Quan, even though the king never actually lived here. It was his grandfather Sun Zhong, a melon farmer, who was said to be a resident, even though that is debated among scholars. Longmen charges a $13 entrance fee to outsiders, who usually make the 30-mile drive from the provincial capital of Hangzhou.
There are countless hamlets, towns and cities across China that boast of links to the four or five towering classics of Chinese literature and the historical events on which those works are based. Virtually all Chinese learn these tales, which mix history and myth, and so residents of otherwise obscure locales leap at the chance to latch on to the legends, sometimes for profit.
In the western region of Xinjiang, for instance, the desert town of Turpan has become a big tourist draw because of its proximity to the Flaming Mountains, the site of a well-known episode in “Journey to the West,” a 16th-century novel about the Monkey King’s pilgrimage to India that, like “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” is also based on history.
“The Three Kingdoms” is to China what “The Iliad” is to the West. Its tales of battlefield heroics and betrayal, palace intrigue and passions, stir the imagination here. It also resonates with the Chinese because its sweeping narrative encapsulates a historical rhythm that they see as an immutable fact, one expressed in the opening lines: “The empire, long divided, must unite; long united, must divide. Thus it has ever been.”
But unlike “The Iliad,” “The Three Kingdoms” has wide appeal in modern times. Mao Zedong supposedly studied it for strategy lessons. John Woo, the Hong Kong filmmaker, recently directed an epic, “Red Cliff,” based on a famous battle from the novel. The film was the top earner at the Chinese box office in 2008.
Places associated with heroes and villains from “The Three Kingdoms” — Liu Bei, Zhuge Liang, Guan Yu, Cao Cao and, of course, Sun Quan — are scattered across China.
“In China, there are simply too many places that have become famous because of the Three Kingdoms,” said Fang Beichen, a scholar of the Three Kingdoms at Sichuan University who has visited Longmen. “The number is over a hundred. It’s a very common phenomenon in China.”
Mr. Fang said Longmen’s ties to the Three Kingdoms were “at best mediocre.” South of the Yangtze River, where Sun Quan’s Kingdom of Wu once existed, there are places with more famous links to the ancient king. The area around Nanjing, where the kingdom’s capital once stood, has a mausoleum reputed to contain Mr. Sun’s remains and a stone citadel that Mr. Sun ordered built, Mr. Fang said.
That has not stopped residents of Longmen from claiming not just ties to the Three Kingdoms but to other famous figures — Sun Yat-sen, the 20th-century revolutionary intellectual from Guangdong Province, and Sun Tzu, the author of “The Art of War.”
Ordinary residents take obvious pride in the village’s ancient roots. Sun Yaxiao, the young woman showing visitors around, boasted that the village had 80 homes dating to the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and 40 to the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). She said villagers began preserving the homes in 2002, when they realized there was tourism potential. About 10 of the 120 or so buildings are open to the public. Directors of a half-dozen minor films have shot scenes in the village.
There is an ancestral hall with dark wooden pillars, red lanterns and a cobblestone courtyard. On one wall is a drawing of a complicated family tree showing the dozens of generations of Suns.
“In all of China, this is the place with the most people named Sun,” said Ms. Sun, with perhaps a bit of exaggeration. “The Sun people have gone everywhere — Korea, Singapore and so on.”
Outside the hall, another villager, Sun Ruqi, 16, stood by a street stand selling stinky tofu and liquor made from fermented sorghum, two somewhat dubious local specialties. Badminton rackets are another local specialty — a factory in a nearby village makes them. She was among the Suns who might leave the village a few years from now. “Many young people go out to find work,” she said. “This is a small place.”
But Longmen plays a big role in local Three Kingdoms lore, according to one resident, Sun Wenxi, who wrote a book on Longmen folk tales. One legend, he wrote, says that Sun Quan attained his monarchical status because of the generosity of his grandfather, the melon farmer. When the grandfather came across three elders passed out in a field one day, he shared half a melon with them. They turned out to be immortals who promised Mr. Sun that within four generations, a king would arise within his family.
Sun Quan’s legacy is a mixed one, though, and his story in “The Three Kingdoms” is one of shifting loyalties. He met an ignominious end. Yet he remains “a very special figure” in Chinese history, Mr. Fang said.
“In the first half of his life, Sun Quan was modest and enterprising, readily following good advice,” he said. “But in the second half of his life, he became corrupt and depraved, purged loyal and faithful officials and became a loser in the competition for power. The Wu Kingdom’s prosperity came to an abrupt end. Decline and chaos followed. It’s very important to learn from his lesson, for an individual, a family and the state.”
Patrick Zuo contributed research from Beijing.
Kenya mall siege: 'final assault' begins
Witnesses in Nairobi report huge blast as security forces enter shopping centre where armed militants are holding 30 hostages
Guy Alexander in Nairobi
The Guardian, Monday 23 September 2013
Kenyan security forces, including commando teams and military helicopters, launched a "final assault" on the luxury shopping mall in Nairobi where a group of armed militants were holding around 30 hostages.
As night fell in the Kenyan capital a huge blast reverberated around the Westgate mall, where the attackers – thought to be members of the Somali jihadist group al-Shabaab – had been holed up since shooting their way into the shopping centre on Saturday afternoon.
Two hours later the Kenyan defence forces tweeted that they had rescued most of the hostages and secured most of the mall. Four soldiers were reported to have been injured during the operation and taken to hospital.
Heavy and sustained gunfire was heard from the mall for about five minutes early on Monday morning, a Reuters witness reported. The blast of gunfire was followed by a lull, and then a series of small, sporadic explosions.
Kenya's military had earlier said on its Twitter feed it was making every effort to bring the siege "to a speedy conclusion".
The carnage in and around the four-storey building, where heavily armed fighters opened fire on weekend shoppers on Saturday, claimed at least 68 lives with 175 people injured. That toll, which rose steadily throughout Sunday, was expected to climb higher.
Kenya's president, Uhuru Kenyatta, who lost a nephew in the attack, promised to punish those behind it "swiftly and painfully", and said Kenya "would not relent on the war on terror".
Barack Obama called Kenyatta to offer condolences and US support in bringing the perpetrators to justice .
The attackers had refused any attempts at negotiation, but an al-Shabaab spokesman demanded that Kenya withdraw its troops from Somalia, where they have been fighting Islamist militants since 2011. "If Uhuru wants peace from us, he should withdraw his troops from Somalia," Abu Musab told Reuters.
The likely reason the attackers chose Westgate became apparent as one embassy after another said some of its citizens had been murdered in the assault.
David Cameron confirmed that three Britons had died, and said: "We should prepare ourselves for further bad news." France said two of its citizens had died, both women.
Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper, said that two Canadians had died, one of them a diplomat named as Annemarie Desloges, who served in Canada's high commission to Kenya.
The US government said the wife of one of its citizens working for the US Agency for International Development had been killed, while four Americans were injured.
Security sources said there were at least 10 attackers, including one woman, but there could have been as many as 15. One eyewitness, a 16-year-old Kenyan girl who escaped on Saturday, said the female militant might have been "mzungu", the Swahili for white person.
The possibility of a white attacker has fuelled speculation that a British terror suspect, Samantha Lewthwaite, nicknamed the "White Widow", could be involved in the plot. She was married to 7 July bomber Jermaine Lindsay, and was last year named on a Kenyan police wanted list over alleged links to a suspected terrorist cell.
Sunday began with a barrage of gunfire at 7am local time as Kenyan soldiers attempted to storm their way into the ground floor entrance to the mall's largest shop, the Nakumatt supermarket.
One of the soldiers who took part in the attack, speaking on condition of anonymity, said two Kenyan troops had been killed as they came under sustained heavy fire, including what appeared to be rocket propelled grenades. "They were very intelligent and they are well-armed," he told the Guardian. He said that the frequent exchanges of fire between security services and the attackers had been designed to drain their ammunition supplies.
A number of eyewitnesses inside the security cordon in the Westlands neighbourhood of Nairobi said Kenyan special forces, who had been assembling outside during the day, appeared to be assisted by foreign military advisers. Kenyan police, working with officers from the British high commission, succeeded overnight on Saturday in erecting a security cordon around the busy commercial district but fascinated crowds gathered on a hillside overlooking the mall and crowded access roads on all sides.
Kenyan state house spokesman Manoah Esipisu confirmed his government had received offers of help in the anti-terror operation from many nations including the UK and Israel, one of whose citizens was reported to own Westgate.
"We welcome all offers of help but this is a Kenyan operation," he said.
The attack, the worst Kenya has witnessed since the 1998 embassy bombings, may strengthen calls from the Kenyan government to abandon the trials of Kenyatta and deputy president William Ruto, due to start at the international criminal court at The Hague in November
**************Nairobi siege: some hid, others played dead as gunmen stalked the mall
Relatives tell of frantic search for the missing, while survivors voice their anger over handling of crisis
Guy Alexander in Nairobi
The Guardian, Sunday 22 September 2013 20.16 BST
Link to video: Westgate shopping mall terrorists begin gun attackhttp://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/sep/23/westgate-mall-terrorists-gun-attack-video
Peter Churchman waited for his wife as long as he could. Carrying his young niece in his arms, he wandered from one security official to another outside the Westgate mall in the first hours after the attack in Nairobi. Against a soundtrack of gunfire from the nearby building he begged for help or information. The Briton had been separated from his wife, Eva, inside, after the shopping centre came under attack from a group of suspected Islamist gunmen sending weekend shoppers fleeing.
After three hours of hiding under tables and cradling his niece against grenade blasts and automatic weapons fire, he had escaped and was frantically searching for her. Had anyone seen a Filipino woman, he asked, as each survivor trickled from the four-storey building.
He was forced from the scene when British officers from the Metropolitan police anti-terror unit arrived to assist Kenyan authorities and pushed for a secure cordon around the mall. "My niece and I were basically frogmarched up the road," he said. A good samaritan driving past recognised the bald Londoner from the crowds of survivors earlier in the day and offered him a lift to the house of a colleague from the Nairobi branch of the multinational bank where he has worked for the last two years. Like so many rescued, his phone had run out of power, cutting him off from any information about his missing wife. He asked for a lift home to collect a phone charger and his car so he could return and scour the crowds for Eva.
Arriving home, he found his wife waiting in the drive. She had been rescued by Kenyan police hours after he had escaped but had been unable to reach him as she could not recall his number.
Exiting from the far side of Westgate and separated by an exposed car park in easy line of fire of the attackers inside, she had been unable to look for her husband or niece on the other side. Instead she went to a nearby Kenyan-Indian community centre where she was treated for shock before a volunteer offered to drive her home. "It was an extraordinary reunion," said Churchman. "A huge relief."
As the death toll climbed on Sunday morning it became apparent that not every story from the Westgate mall would reach such a happy conclusion.
After the initial assault and the shootings that wounded nearly 200 people, dozens of survivors were scattered across the floors of the city's premier shopping centre. Some hid in shops, others played dead in the main concourse. Many had fled into the Nakumatt supermarket which sprawls over three storeys of Westgate. It was here that one of the main firefights between Kenyan security services and the attackers, thought to number between a dozen and 15 and believed to be members of the Somali Islamist militia al-Shabaab, took place at sunset on Saturday.
Trying to storm their way into the supermarket whose aisles are stacked with everything from food to plasma televisions, office furniture and motorcycles, the Kenyan force came under heavy fire. A Kenyan soldier described how a young Somali-looking man had attempted to surrender: "He came forward and handed us his gun. But then one of the others, even his own people, shot him."
As the scale of the tragedy became apparent, many in this often divided city of more than 4 million people took it on themselves to get involved. As well as the volunteers who flooded the makeshift victims' centre and the good samaritans who offered lifts to survivors, thousands turned out to give blood. By mid-morning on Sunday queues stretched around city blocks in central Nairobi – recalling the election earlier in the year.
Janet Mbugua waited hours for her turn. "This is one of the most horrible days in Kenya's history," said the television journalist who works with a local station. Sitting down and waiting for the needle she continued: "When you give blood you can make a difference. This can really save people's lives, it's a tangible way of support."
The bursts of automatic gunfire and explosions that continued sporadically until late on Sunday were agonising for those with friends and relatives inside.
Among them was Johnson Mungai a 23-year-old Kenyan whose weekend get-together with his family went horribly wrong. He had begun the day in high spirits going to collect his older sister, Mercy, who lives and works between Scotland and East Africa and was flying in that morning. The newly qualified cargo pilot drove his 24-year-old sister straight to Westgate where their grandfather was waiting with Mungai's other two sisters, Irene, 18, and Monica, 16.
He dropped Mercy off at the gates to the mall, and went to run an errand. In less than an hour he was back at the scene coming to terms with the news that they had been caught up in the siege. In the hours that followed he kept in touch with his grandfather by text message as he hid in a shop. Only his youngest sister, Monica, had escaped. She had gone to the bathroom and coming out to rejoin her relatives had been swept up with some terrified women who tried to run for one of the exits. She told her brother how, while she was running, the woman next to her was cut down in a hail of bullets mid-stride. "She told me that she never wants to go back in there again."
Slumped on the floor at the reception centre about 200 metres from Westgate, where many families have been keeping vigil, he was becoming increasingly angry with his government's handling of the crisis.
The police had taken Mungai's phone from him to contact his grandfather but had run down the battery and were not immediately able to help him recharge it. "The police have made things worse, they didn't seem to have any real plan."
Along with other distraught relatives, he complained that the only help had come from individuals rather than the state. No tents or emergency shelter had been provided and there was no answer on the four phone lines set up for concerned relatives looking for information.
As it got dark and the helicopters droned overhead in the direction of Westgate he added: "It's evening and what will happen tonight? We'll have to sleep out here with nothing. The terrorists who planned this must be very happy knowing they've been able to stop the government of a country for more than 24 hours."
*************Kenya attack is product of brutal power struggle within al-Shabaab
Westgate mall atrocity looks like statement of intent by hardliner Ahmed Abdi Godane after consolidating power over group
The Guardian, Sunday 22 September 2013 16.45 BST
The attack on the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi by Islamist militants from the Somali-based al-Shabaab terrorist group is a direct product of the long-running failure of western powers and African Union countries to end more than 20 years of anarchy in the "failed state" of Somalia. But it also reflects the outcome of a brutal power struggle within al-Shabaab that has brought the group's hardline global jihadist wing to the fore.
At first glance the Westgate atrocity simply looks like a vicious reprisal for successful military operations undertaken in southern Somalia by the 4,000 Kenyan troops attached to Amisom, the 18,000-strong African-Union-led, UN-backed peacemaking mission. A statement by al-Shabaab said as much, and threatened more of the same until the "Kenyan invaders" withdrew.
But Westgate also looks like a chilling statement of intent by Ahmed Abdi Godane, the al-Shabaab leader, who consolidated his power in June in an internal coup. Among four top commanders who were executed by Godane were two of the group's co-founders, known as al-Afghani and Burhan. Al-Shabaab's spiritual leader, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, fled for his life, and was subsequently detained by Somali government forces.
The infighting continues. Earlier this month, the Alabama-born al-Shabaab commander Omar Hammami, known as Abu Mansoor al-Amriki or "the American", and a British national known as Usama al-Britani, were shot dead in a dawn raid on their hideout by Godane's allies. Hammami, who was on Washington's most wanted list, had previously accused Godane of behaving like a dictator.
Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubayr, was behind al-Shabaab's decision in 2011 to affiliate to al-Qaida and adopt its global jihadist outlook. It is Godane who is said to have ordered the 2010 bombings in Kampala that killed 74 people – in protest at Uganda's participation in Amisom. In 2011 he published a jihadist video entitled "At your service, Osama". In it he vowed that "the wars will not end until sharia [law] is implemented in all continents in the world". Even before Westgate, he was one of the world's most wanted terrorists, with a $7m bounty on his head.
Sheikh Aweys, in contrast, is seen as a Somali Islamist nationalist opposed to foreign intervention of any kind, be it jihadist, western or African, a position he elaborated in a rare interview with the Guardian in 2008. His vanquishing was a victory for the hardliners, who are now in the ascendant. "[They] will want to show that it [al-Shabaab] remains a cohesive force, and my fear is that there will be an escalation of conflict, with more bombings," the Kenya-based Somali analyst Rashid Abdi presciently told the BBC after the June coup.
Al-Shabaab is under pressure on a number of other fronts. Having been ejected from the capital Mogadishu two years ago, it is facing a renewed campaign to retake key towns in central Somalia. Last week the central town of Mahadeey was overrun by Somali troops backed by Amisom. Although it still controls much of the south, loss of territory means loss of revenue and influence for the group. Meanwhile, 150 leading clerics have signed a government-supported fatwa asserting that al-Shabaab under Godane has strayed from the true path of Islam.
The apparent decision by Godane and fellow hardliners to again take the fight beyond Somalia's borders looks like a bid to regain the initiative in the face of these setbacks and disagreements. In addition, the group's occasional bomb attacks in Mogadishu keep the government on the back foot. The recent decision by the charity Médecins Sans Frontières to pull out of Somalia, due to worsening security, is a perverse vindication of such tactics. And Godane doubtless welcomes the negative impact of Barclays Bank's decision to close accounts used to send remittances to Somalia.
The latest moves by the EU, with David Cameron's government playing a leading role, to prioritise and assist a settlement are a welcome effort to reverse years of failure by the international community, dating back to 1991. A conference in Brussels last week saw $2.4bn (£1.5bn) pledged over three years. Britain separately announced a new £50m aid package. All this helps, as long as it translates into action. But as the Westgate atrocity suggests, the radicalisation of al-Shabaab under its new hardline leadership may make the final push towards normalisation in Somalia the toughest challenge of all.
The terrorists are divided and losing ground. But they seem determined to go down fighting.
Assad says Syrian rebels may block access to chemical weapons sites
Syrian president says regime will comply with international agreement but that 'local security situation' may hamper experts
Associated Press in Damascus
theguardian.com, Monday 23 September 2013 12.44 BST
The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, says his government will allow international experts access to its chemical weapons sites but that rebels might block them from reaching some of the locations.
In an interview with Chinese state TV, Assad said Damascus was dedicated to implementing the Russia-US agreement to surrender its chemical weapons to international control.
Assad also said the Syrian government had already handed over a list of chemical weapons to an international agency policing chemical weapons.
He said his government would not have "any problem" taking experts to sites where the weapons are kept but some places might be difficult to reach because of ongoing fighting or the "local security situation".
"I'm referring to places where militants exist," Assad said. "Those militants might want to stop the experts' arrival."
Israel sceptical about easing of pressure on Iran to halt nuclear programme
Jerusalem says Hassan Rouhani's conciliatory remarks are not enough: Iran must remove all enriched uranium from the country
Joel Greenberg in Jerusalem
theguardian.com, Monday 23 September 2013 09.36 BST
Faced with a stream of conciliatory rhetoric from Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, and a diplomatic overture to Tehran by Washington, Israeli officials are voicing scepticism and concern about a possible easing of western pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear programme.
The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, says he will make Iran the focus of a meeting next week with the US president, Barack Obama, and a speech the next day at the UN general assembly, where he drew a red line on a cartoon bomb last year.
A statement from Netanyahu's office described the newly elected president's remarks about the peaceful aims of Iran's nuclear programme and his readiness to pursue diplomacy as an exercise in media spin. "The true test is not Rouhani's words, but rather the deeds of the Iranian regime, which continues to aggressively advance its nuclear programme while Rouhani is giving interviews," said the response, issued on Thursday after an interview the Iranian president granted to the American network NBC.
The statement raised the prospect of a reheating of old disagreements with the Obama administration over the handling of Iran, fuelled by an exchange of letters between Obama and Rouhani and talk in Washington of negotiations that could remove sanctions. Reflecting the Israeli government's concern that the US and Europe may be wavering, Netanyahu told a meeting of his cabinet last week that "the pressure on Iran must be increased and not relaxed, and certainly not eased".
Netanyahu asserted that Iran must halt all uranium enrichment, remove enriched uranium from the country, dismantle the Fordo nuclear plant and stop "the plutonium track" to a nuclear weapon.
Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a former adviser to Netanyahu, said: "Right now Rouhani is in the midst of a charm offensive, and there are officials all across the west who feel compelled to respond with hopeful signals about Iranian intentions.
"Israel is obviously focused on what actions Iran has taken. The real question is what tangible change you see in Iranian behaviour. We're not talking about mood music."
Other analysts were similarly sceptical. Rouhani "is really focused on the economic hardship in Iran as a result of sanctions, and that's why he wants to talk to the US and the international community," said Emily Landau, director of the arms control programme at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. "He wants to get the sanctions off his back. He has given absolutely no indication that Iran is willing to reverse course on the nuclear issue."
Israeli officials are concerned that in return for an easing of sanctions, Iran could give up part of its nuclear programme while maintaining components that will enable it to move quickly towards building a bomb when it sees fit. Pointing to the recent confrontation with Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons, the officials argue that a credible military threat has to be maintained to press Iran to change course.
Even as he pursues diplomacy with Iran, Obama has said the military option remains on the table.
But Yuval Steinitz, Israel's minister for strategic affairs, asserted in an interview published on Friday that such a promise was not enough. Claiming that Iran was six months away from developing a bomb, Steinitz told the right-leaning newspaper Yisrael Hayom that time had run out for negotiations.
Zalman Shoval, a former ambassador to the US and a special envoy for Netanyahu, said that while "officially there's no space between us and the Americans, we're more cautious, or perhaps more suspicious".
He added: "With the economic situation in Iran approaching bankruptcy in many respects, if the pressure is working it shouldn't let up at this crucial point."
Israeli soldiers' deaths spark protests
Israeli-Palestinian tensions resurface as Binyamin Netanyahu allows Jewish settlers to enter disputed house in Hebron
Joel Greenberg in Jerusalem
theguardian.com, Monday 23 September 2013 10.27 BST
The killing of two Israeli soldiers in the West Bank last weekend has prompted an angry backlash in Israel and led the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to announce he will allow Jewish settlers to enter a disputed house in the tinderbox Palestinian city of Hebron.
The latest violence, which follows the killing of four Palestinians in recent weeks during Israeli raids, further raised Israeli-Palestinian tensions at a time when the two sides are in the early stages of recently resumed peace negotiations.
On Saturday, the body of an Israeli soldier who had been lured to the West Bank by a Palestinian was found in a well after he had been reported missing by his family. An army statement said that the soldier, Sergeant Tomer Hazan, had worked with the Palestinian in a restaurant in the coastal city of Bat Yam, and had travelled with him by taxi to an Israeli town near the Palestinian's home village.
The Palestinian, identified as Nidal Amar, then persuaded Hazan to accompany him to his village, Beit Amin, and later killed him with the aim of exchanging his body for the release of Amar's brother, jailed since 2003 for carrying out attacks on Israelis, the army said. Arrested at his home, Amar led investigators to Hazan's body, concealed in a well north of the village of Siniria.
Israeli soldiers are regularly warned to be on alert for possible abduction attempts, which Palestinian militants have warned they could carry out to secure the release of prisoners held in Israeli jails. Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier seized and held for five years by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, was released two years ago for more than 1,000 prisoners.
Amar was married to an Israeli Arab who lives in the town of Jaljulya, near the border with the West Bank. She told Israel's Channel Two broadcaster that she hoped he would "get what he deserves" and that she was ashamed of his act. Amar's father also denounced the killing.
In Bat Yam, a Tel Aviv suburb, angry protesters demonstrated outside the restaurant where the killer and his victim worked, lighting memorial candles and holding up a sign saying: "Bibi is good for terrorists," referring to Netanyahu by his nickname. The owner of the restaurant was criticised for employing Amar, who the authorities said had worked in Israel without a permit.
On Sunday, another Israeli soldier was killed in Hebron when shots were fired at troops securing the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a hotly contested shrine where both Jews and Muslims pray in strict separation. The shooting followed unrest throughout the city, where there is an increased presence of soldiers and Israeli visitors over the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.
In response to the shooting, Netanyahu approved the entry of settlers to a house they claimed they had bought near the Tomb of the Patriarchs. The settlers were evicted from the site last year after the legality of the purchase was called into question, and the case is under review.
The economics minister, Naftali Bennet, leader of the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, urged Netanyahu to respond to the soldier's killing by allowing the settlers back into the house. On Monday, Netanyahu's office said in a statement that he had ordered "immediate action" to return the settlers to the premises.
"Those who try to uproot us from the City of the Patriarchs will achieve the opposite," Netanyahu was quoted as saying. "We will continue to fight terrorism and strike at terrorists on the one hand and strengthen settlement with the other."
September 21, 2013
For Migrants, New Land of Opportunity Is Mexico
By DAMIEN CAVE
MEXICO CITY — Mexico, whose economic woes have pushed millions of people north, is increasingly becoming an immigrant destination. The country’s documented foreign-born population nearly doubled between 2000 and 2010, and officials now say the pace is accelerating as broad changes in the global economy create new dynamics of migration.
Rising wages in China and higher transportation costs have made Mexican manufacturing highly competitive again, with some projections suggesting it is already cheaper than China for many industries serving the American market. Europe is sputtering, pushing workers away. And while Mexico’s economy is far from trouble free, its growth easily outpaced the giants of the hemisphere — the United States, Canada and Brazil — in 2011 and 2012, according to International Monetary Fund data, making the country more attractive to fortune seekers worldwide.
The new arrivals range in class from executives to laborers; Mexican officials said Friday that residency requests had grown by 10 percent since November, when a new law meant to streamline the process took effect. And they are coming from nearly everywhere.
Guillaume Pace saw his native France wilting economically, so with his new degree in finance, he moved to Mexico City.
Lee Hwan-hee made the same move from South Korea for an internship, while Spanish filmmakers, Japanese automotive executives and entrepreneurs from the United States and Latin America arrive practically daily — pursuing dreams, living well and frequently succeeding.
“There is this energy here, this feeling that anything can happen,” said Lesley Téllez, a Californian whose three-year-old business running culinary tours served hundreds of clients here last year. “It’s hard to find that in the U.S.”
The shift with Mexico’s northern neighbor is especially stark. Americans now make up more than three-quarters of Mexico’s roughly one million documented foreigners, up from around two-thirds in 2000, leading to a historic milestone: more Americans have been added to the population of Mexico over the past few years than Mexicans have been added to the population of the United States, according to government data in both nations.
Mexican migration to the United States has reached an equilibrium, with about as many Mexicans moving north from 2005 to 2010 as those returning south. The number of Americans legally living and working in Mexico grew to more than 70,000 in 2012 from 60,000 in 2009, a number that does not include many students and retirees, those on tourist visas or the roughly 350,000 American children who have arrived since 2005 with their Mexican parents.
“Mexico is changing; all the numbers point in that direction,” said Ernesto Rodríguez Chávez, the former director of migration policy at Mexico’s Interior Ministry. He added: “There’s been an opening to the world in every way — culturally, socially and economically.”
But the effect of that opening varies widely. Many economists, demographers and Mexican officials see the growing foreign presence as an indicator that global trends have been breaking Mexico’s way — or as President Enrique Peña Nieto often puts it, “the stars are aligning” — but there are plenty of obstacles threatening to scuttle Mexico’s moment.
Inequality remains a huge problem, and in many Mexican states education is still a mess and criminals rule. Many local companies that could be benefiting from Mexico’s rise also remain isolated from the export economy and its benefits, with credit hard to come by and little confidence that the country’s window of opportunity will stay open for long. Indeed, over the past year, as projections for growth have been trimmed by Mexico’s central bank, it has become increasingly clear to officials and experts that the country cannot expect its new competitiveness to single-handedly move it forward.
“The fact that there is a Mexican moment does not mean by itself it’s going to change our future,” said Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal, Mexico’s economy minister. “We have to take advantage of the Mexican moment to do what is required of us.” The challenge, he said, is making sure that the growing interest in his country benefits all Mexicans, not just newcomers, investors and a privileged few.
Mexico has failed to live up to its economic potential before. “They really blew a moment in 1994 when their currency was at rock bottom and they’d just signed Nafta,” said Kevin P. Gallagher, a professor of international relations at Boston University, adding that those conditions created a big opportunity for Mexican exports.
But now, he and others contend, Mexico has another shot. If the country of 112 million people can harness the energy of foreigners and newly educated Mexicans, become partners with the slew of American firms seeking alternatives to China, and get them to do more than just hire cheap labor, economists and officials say Mexico could finally become a more equal partner for the United States and the first-world country its presidents have promised for decades.
“This is their second chance,” Professor Gallagher said. “And this time, they really have to capitalize on it.”
Protection to Openness
For most the 20th century, Mexico kept the world at arm’s length. The 1917 Constitution guaranteed Mexicans would be given priority over foreigners for various jobs, and until the 1980s the country favored policies that protected domestic industry from imports.
Mexico was never totally closed — midcentury wars in Europe and the Middle East sent ripples of immigrants to Mexico, while Americans and Central Americans have always maintained a presence. But it was not a country that welcomed outsiders; the Constitution even prohibited non-Mexicans from directly owning land within 31 miles of the coast and 62 miles of the nation’s borders.
Attitudes began to soften, however, as Mexico’s relationship with the United States began to change. Many economists and social scientists say that closer ties with Mexico’s beloved and hated neighbor to the north, through immigration and trade, have made many Mexicans feel less insular. Millions of emigrants send money earned abroad to relatives in Mexico, who then rush out to Costco for more affordable food and electronics. Even the national soccer team, after decades of resistance, now includes two Argentine-born midfielders.
“It’s a new era in terms of our perspective,” said Francisco Alba Hernández, a scholar at the Colegio de México’s Center for the Study of Urban and Environmental Demographics. “We are now more certain about the value of sharing certain things.”
Like immigrants the world over, many of Mexico’s newcomers are landing where earlier arrivals can be found. Some of the growth is appearing in border towns where foreign companies and binational families are common. American retirees are showing up in new developments from San Miguel de Allende to other sunny spots around Cancún and Puerto Vallarta. Government figures show that more Canadians are also joining their ranks.
But the most significant changes can be found in central Mexico. More and more American consultants helping businesses move production from China are crisscrossing the region from San Luis Potosí to Guadalajara, where Silicon Valley veterans like Andy Kieffer, the founder of Agave Lab, are developing smartphone applications and financing new start-ups. In Guanajuato, Germans are moving in and car-pooling with Mexicans heading to a new Volkswagen factory that opened a year ago, and sushi can now be found at hotel breakfasts because of all the Japanese executives preparing for a new Honda plant opening nearby.
Here in the capital, too, immigrants are becoming a larger proportion of the population and a growing part of the economy and culture, opening new restaurants, designing new buildings, financing new cultural offerings and filling a number of schools with their children. Economics has been the primary motivator for members of all classes: laborers from Central America; middle-class migrants like Manuel Sánchez, who moved here from Venezuela two years ago and found a job selling hair products within 15 days of his arrival; and the global crème de la crème in finance and technology, like Mr. Pace, 26, whose first job in Mexico was with a major French bank just after graduating from the University of Reims.
Mr. Pace, bearded and as slim as a Gauloises, said he moved to Mexico in 2011 because college graduates in France were struggling to find work. He has stayed here, he said, because the affordable quality of life beats living in Europe — and because Mexico offers more opportunity for entrepreneurship.
Sitting at a Belgian cafe with a laptop this spring, speaking Spanish with a lilt, he said he recently opened a communications business that was off to a blazing start. One of his partners was French, the other Mexican, and in their first few months of operation, they got more than 30 clients, including VivaAerobus, a discount airline aimed at Mexico’s emerging middle class.
More recently, as Mexico’s economy has slowed, Mr. Pace said a few clients had canceled planned promotions, but over all his business has grown this year to include work for international brands like Doritos and the beer Dos Equis.
“We’re not going back to France,” Mr. Pace said. “The business is doing well and we’re very happy in Mexico.”
Some Mexicans and foreigners say Europeans are given special treatment because they are perceived to be of a higher class, a legacy of colonialism when lighter skin led to greater privileges. But like many other entrepreneurs from foreign lands, Mr. Pace and his partners are both benefiting from and helping to shape how Mexico works. Mr. Rodríguez, the former Interior Ministry official, Cuban by birth, said that foreigners had helped make Mexico City more socially liberal.
And with so many Mexicans working in the informal economy, foreigners have little trouble starting new ventures. Many immigrants say Mexico is attractive because it feels disorderly, like a work in progress, with the blueprints of success, hierarchy and legality still being drawn. “Not everyone follows the rules here, so if you really want to make something happen you can make it happen,” said Ms. Téllez, 34, whose food business served more than 500 visitors last year. “No one is going to fault you for not following all the rules.”
Mr. Lee said that compared with South Korea, where career options were limited by test scores and universities attended, Mexico allowed for more rapid advancement. As an intern at the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency here, he said he learned up close how Samsung and other Korean exporters worked. “Here,” he said, “the doors are more open for all Koreans.” He added that among his friends back home, learning Spanish was now second only to learning English.
The results of that interest are becoming increasingly clear. There were 10 times as many Koreans living in Mexico in 2010 as in 2000. Officials at a newly opened Korean cultural center here say at least 12,000 Koreans now call Mexico home, and young Mexicans in particular are welcoming them with open arms: there are now 70 fan clubs for Korean pop music in Mexico, with at least 60,000 members.
A Creative Magnet
Europe, dying; Mexico, coming to life. The United States, closed and materialistic; Mexico, open and creative. Perceptions are what drive migration worldwide, and in interviews with dozens of new arrivals to Mexico City — including architects, artists and entrepreneurs — it became clear that the country’s attractiveness extended beyond economics.
Artists like Marc Vigil, a well-known Spanish television director who moved to Mexico City in October, said that compared with Spain, Mexico was teeming with life and an eagerness to experiment. Like India in relation to England, Mexico has an audience that is larger and younger than the population of its former colonial overlord. Mr. Vigil said that allowed for clever programming, adding that he already had several projects in the final stages of negotiation.
“In Spain, everything is a problem,” he said. “Here in Mexico, everything is possible. There is more work and in the attitude here, there is more of a spirit of struggle and creativity.”
Diego Quemada-Díez, another Spanish director who said he was the first person in his family to leave Spain since at least the 1400s, moved to Mexico in 2008 after working as a camera operator in Hollywood. He went to film school at the American Film Institute and completed a short film that won several awards, but he said he moved to Mexico because the United States had become creatively restrictive. He wanted to make a film without famous actors, about Central American immigrants. In Los Angeles, no producers would bite. Here, the government provided more than $1 million in financing. The film, La Jaula de Oro, had its premiere at Cannes this year, with its young actors winning an award.
“Europe feels spiritually dead and so does the United States,” Mr. Quemada-Díez said. “You end up wanting something else.”
He struggled to make sense of Mexico at first. Many foreigners do, complaining that the country is still a place of paradox, delays and promises never fulfilled for reasons never explained — a cultural clash that affects business of all kinds. “In California, there was one layer of subtext,” Mr. Quemada-Díez said. “Here there are 40 layers.”
Mexico’s immigrant population is still relatively small. Some officials estimate that four million foreigners have lived in Mexico over the past few years, but the 2010 census counted about one million, making around 1 percent of the country foreign-born compared with 13 percent in the United States. Many Mexicans, especially among the poor, see foreigners as novel and unfamiliar invaders.
Race, ethnicity and nationality matter. Most of the immigrants who have the resources or corporate sponsorship to gain legal residency here come from the United States and Europe. The thousands of Central American immigrants coming to Mexico without visas — to work on farms or in cities, or to get to the United States — are often greeted with beatings by the Mexican police or intense pressure to work for drug cartels. Koreans also say they often hear the xenophobic refrain, “Go back to your own country.”
Mr. Sánchez, the hair products salesman from Venezuela, said Mexicans who had not been able to rise above their economic class mostly seemed to resent the mobility of immigrants. In a country still scarred by the Spanish conquistadors, he said many of his Mexican neighbors responded with shock when they discovered that his younger sister was studying medicine at Mexico’s national university. Not that the quiet scorn is enough to deter him. “I earn more here in a year than I would in 10 years in my own country,” he said. “Mexicans don’t realize how great their country is.”
Many do, of course, especially those with experience elsewhere. Mexico has allowed dual nationality for more than a decade, and among the growing group of foreigners moving here are also young men and women born in Mexico to foreign parents, or who grew up abroad as the children of Mexicans. A globalized generation, they could live just about anywhere, but they are increasingly choosing Mexico.
Some are passionate idealists, like Luna Mancini, 27, a human rights lawyer working for the Supreme Court who was born in Mexico to Italian parents. After growing up in Barcelona, Spain, she returned to Mexico in 2009 because she felt that more could be done in Latin America, with law and with new tools of communication — digital video, social media — that encouraged grass-roots dialogue. Some, especially Mexican-Americans working in Mexico City’s hip culinary scene, have come here to reconnect with their roots. Others simply see Mexico as their best option, as an incubator for personal, professional and artistic growth.
Domingo Delaroiere, an architect whose father is French and mother is Mexican, said Mexico’s appeal — especially in the capital — was becoming harder to miss. When he came back here last year for a visit, after two and a half years in Paris, he said he was surprised. “Art, culture, fashion, architecture, design — the city was filling up with new spaces, things that are interesting, daring,” he said.
He soon decided it was time to move. Compared with Mexico, he said, “Nothing is happening in Paris.”
Venezuela receives $5 billion credit line from China
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, September 22, 2013 9:11 EDT
Visiting Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Sunday, and said Beijing has granted his country a $5 billion credit line.
Maduro, vowing to strengthen the partnership established by his late predecessor Hugo Chavez, used his Twitter account to announce what he called “excellent news” for his country.
“We reached an agreement (with the state-owned China Development Bank) on a $5 billion line of credit for development,” he wrote.
“With this line of credit we will pay for homes, and invest in agriculture, transportation, industry, roads, electricity, mining, health, science and technology.”
Cooperation between the two countries has blossomed in recent years following the signing of several multi-billion-dollar agreements on investments in oil, energy, construction and high-tech industries.
China has provided more than $36 billion in loans to Venezuela, the world’s largest holder of oil reserves, which it repays largely with crude.
“The main goal of this trip is to further consolidate and expand the strategic partnership between Venezuela and China that President Chavez began with Chinese leaders,” Maduro said at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People after a welcoming ceremony.
Maduro told Xi that China’s economic rise has been beneficial to his own country’s development.
Xi said: “President Maduro, you are China’s good friend. This visit to China will certainly further promote China-Venezuela relations to new heights.”
China currently receives 640,000 barrels of oil a day and access to Venezuela’s vast natural resources.
Maduro arrived in China on Saturday after accusing the United States of refusing his plane access to its airspace for the journey — charges that Washington denied.
The visit comes amid high tensions between Caracas and Washington, with US officials saying Saturday that they had not denied visas for the Venezuela delegation to this year’s UN General Assembly, another issue of contention.
The staunchly anti-US Chavez died of cancer in March and was succeeded as president by Maduro in an election in April.
In the USA...United Surveillance AmericaJonathan Alter Corrects Media's Constant Harping on ACA Polls
By Nicole Belle
Lovely to see the MSNBC news department circle their wagons around Chuck Todd. Not sure I'd do it, given that the CREDO petition based on my Open Letter is now hovering around 75,000 signatures, but maybe that's why I don't have a weekend show on MSNBC.
Nevertheless, Alex Witt repeated Chuck Todd's meme that the reason that Obamacare is polling so poorly is that President Obama is "not selling" it.
Now there's a lot of reasons why that is disingenuous crap, but lets give a big round of applause to Jonathan Alter who pushed back against this MSNBC meme with some actual context.
That poll that you showed with 52% opposing Obamacare, 13% actually don’t think it’s liberal enough. So a total of 57 or in some polls 59% of Americans either support Obamacare, or if they oppose it, oppose it because it’s not liberal enough. So those people who are trying to thwart it are in a distinct minority. But it is being portrayed in the press as if they’re in the majority right now. We need to stop doing that at MSNBC and across the media because it suggests that the country opposes insuring the uninsured and that’s simply not true.
Are you watching, Chuck Todd? That's journalism.
Try it sometime.
**********Osama Bin Boehner and the Republican Party Are The Real Terror Threat To America
Sep. 21st, 2013
After the terror attacks on 9/11, Osama bin Laden remarked his long term plan was drawing America into a long drawn out war that would wreak havoc on the American economy, and George W. Bush’s administration kindly obliged him. An act of terrorism to destroy a nation’s economic security is no less despicable than a suicide bomber destroying a nation’s sense of physical security, and it is likely a prudent government would take whatever steps necessary to thwart an act of terror they knew was underway. After weeks of warnings and blatant threats from a powerful terror group, America is in the midst of a terror attack, but there is little the government can do to thwart the terrorists because they are firmly entrenched in the government.
Terrorists instill fear to extract concessions from their target, and Republicans are using fear of a government shutdown and economic devastation to force President Obama and Democrats to meet their demand to eliminate the Affordable Care Act and enact steep cuts to Social Security and Medicare. If any American thinks Islamic terror groups such as al Qaeda or the Taliban are any less dangerous or despicable for killing innocent civilians to extract demands than Republicans, they are deluded. Unfortunately for Americans, Republican terrorists will inflict damage on millions of Americans’ lives whether their demands are met or not, and it informs that compared to the GOP, al Qaeda and the Taliban are reasonably kind-hearted humanitarians. For the American people, the simple truth they must come to terms with is that regardless if Republicans shut down the government, crash the economy, or succeed in eliminating the Affordable Care Act, millions of American lives will be devastated.
On Friday, Americans witnessed the beginning of the operational phase of a terrorist act in progress as Republicans in the House passed a budget with a provision to wipeout the provisions of the ACA. To make matters worse, Speaker of the House John Boehner had the temerity to announce the terror attack was a victory for the American people, and doubtless there are terrorist sympathizers in the population who celebrated an act of terror to deprive 30-million Americans of healthcare. It is noteworthy that the act of terror is also an act of insolence in attempting to eliminate a law passed by both houses of Congress, signed by the President, and ruled constitutional by the conservative Supreme Court. House Republicans are now daring Senate Democrats to foil their terror plot to eliminate the ACA, and if they do, the terrorists will shut down the U.S. Government. If anyone thinks the Republicans are not the American version of al Qaeda, they will be convinced when the next phase of the terror attack gets under way when the full faith and credit of the United States is the price for rejecting Republicans’ attempt to deny tens-of-millions of Americans healthcare.
Shutting down the government is a very serious threat and one many Republicans are advocating without remorse, but the real danger lies in the GOP’s threat to cause an economic catastrophe if they cannot keep millions of Americans sick and dying. There is little argument from economic experts and Republican leaders alike that a credit default will create a world encompassing economic and financial crisis to rival the Great Depression, but with support from 66% of Republican voters, the GOP figures economic ruin is a small price to pay to prevent Americans from gaining access to healthcare. Regardless if President Obama breaks precedent and negotiates with Republican terrorists or not, millions of American lives will be adversely impacted either by losing access to healthcare or suffering through a 21st century Great Depression.
It is safe to say most Americans expect Islamic extremists affiliated with al Qaeda to launch terror attacks against innocent American citizens, but it is likely few expect a devastating attack from members of Congress. The Republican al Qaeda is worse than Osama bin Laden’s organization because at least the Islamic terrorists gave America a demand that, although unacceptable, would stop further damage to innocent victims; Republicans intend to harm Americans whether their demands are met or not, and it puts them in a special category of evil even the worst radical Islamic terrorist cannot fathom. It is true al Qaeda or the Taliban have little compunction harming their own people, but they always give them a way out that doesn’t incur more damage; Republicans revel in inflicting damage on Americans.
It is not often that intelligence agencies are able to identify and track a terror group’s activities from the planning stages through to the actual attack, but the entire nation has witnessed Republicans broadcast their intent, launch the first stage of the attack, and ready the next phase that will be more devastating and affect much more than just the American people and the economy. To be fair to the terrorists, they did warn the nation two years ago they would hold the debt ceiling hostage under threat of inflicting major damage to the economy like they did in 2011, but the threat of a government shutdown and defaulting on the nation’s debt in exchange for keeping millions of Americans sick and dying, or their Social Security and Medicare intact, exceeds the damage even the most evil al Qaeda terror cell could dream up to harm the most American lives.
The President announced not long ago that it was time to shift the focus of the war on terror, but it is likely he did not imagine it is time to focus on the true terror threat to America, its economy, and people; the Republican Party. For the American people, they are witness to a crime of terrorism in progress, and although the majority of Americans shudder at the damage Republicans intend to inflict on the nation and its people, the unfortunate truth is that many of them are on the sidelines cheering that the terrorists succeed.
*************Cruz announces plan B for defunding Obamacare: ‘Shut down the military’
By David Edwards
Sunday, September 22, 2013 10:30 EDT
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Sunday warned Senate Republicans that refusing to filibuster a bill that defunds President Barack Obama’s health care reform law “is a vote for Obamacare,” and he also advised House Republicans to “shut down the military” if they had to.
After a summer of insisting that Republicans should pass a budget that would defund Obamacare or shut down the government if the president refused to sign it, Cruz got exactly what he wanted last week. House Republicans rallied behind a continuing resolution that stripped funding from the Affordable Care Act, but Senate Democrats were expected to add funding back or refuse to pass the measure.
In a Sunday interview, Cruz told Fox News host Chris Wallace that Senate Republicans should stand together and refuse to vote for cloture by filibustering if Democrats added Obamacare funding to the bill.
“Any vote for cloture, any vote to allow Harry Reid to add funding to Obamacare with just a 51-vote threshold, a vote for cloture is a vote for Obamacare,” Cruz insisted. “And I think Senate Republicans are going to stand side-by-side with Speaker [John] Boehner and House Republicans, listening to the people and stopping this train wreck that is Obamacare.”
Wallace pressed Cruz on his “end game” if Senate Democrats did pass a budget with funding for the health care law and sent it back to the House.
“Because the government is going to shut down a week from Monday,” the Fox News host pointed out.
“If Harry Reid kills the bill in the Senate, the House should hold its ground, and should begin passing smaller continuing resolutions, one department at a time,” Cruz explained. “It should start with a continuing resolution focused on the military.”
“Send it over, see if Harry Reid is willing to shut down the military,” he quipped.
************Ted Cruz and Jim DeMint Privately Admit That Republicans Won’t Defund Obamacare
By: Jason Easley
Sep. 21st, 2013
Wall Street Journal Editor Paul Gigot blew the lid off the Republicans’ Obamacare bluff by saying on Fox News that even Ted Cruz and Jim DeMint are privately admitting that Republicans can’t defund the ACA.
Video via Media Matters: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3fUNyjuOtGE
While discussing what the Republicans are hoping to accomplish by tying Obamacare to funding the government, Gigot said, “I’ve talked to these people privately. They don’t think going to. Even Ted Cruz and Jim Demint and these guys, they say well, we’re not going to be able to defund Obamacare.” Daniel Henninger of the WSJ added that Cruz’s goal was to launch a grassroots uprising against Obamacare, just like what happened with the threat of military strikes in Syria.
Cruz and Rand Paul tried to stage a big tea party rally in DC to defund Obamacare,10efund-obamacare-rally-attracts-dozens-medicare-elderly-people.html”> but their event drew hundreds, not the thousands that they expected. It had become apparent that Cruz’s efforts have been a total failure, and that is why he is trying so hard to cut and run from his own campaign to defund Obamacare.
Once again, the Republican base has been scammed by their own elected officials. Republicans know that they can’t defund Obamacare. This is all a scheme to raise money, and get Republican voters fired up for the 2014 election. Cruz was also hoping to become the leader of a popular rebellion that would carry him to the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Expect lots of tough talk about defunding Obamacare from Ted Cruz, but it’s all bulls**t, and he knows it.
The country is facing the prospect of a potential government shutdown, because Republicans want to fire up their base, and/or run for president in 2016. Gigot’s comments are more evidence that Republicans know that they are going to ultimately lose any fight over defunding Obamacare and shutting down the government.
Americans should be outraged by this pointless circus, and should give House Republicans a one way ticket to the unemployment line on Election Day 2014.
*********Sarah Palin Self Destructs and Calls Fox News Gutless
By: Jason Easley
Sep. 22nd, 2013
Sarah Palin has once again put her foot in her mouth. While defending Ted Cruz’s efforts to defund Obamacare, Palin called Republicans that are opposing Cruz gutless. This includes her own employer, Fox News.
On Breitbart, Palin wrote, “Those of us who hang in there supporting a major political party with our energy, time, and contributions would like to believe that that party would praise principled conservatives like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee for following through on campaign promises. We’d like to believe that the GOP establishment would applaud the way these bold leaders have rallied the grassroots to their cause. But, no, such praise would require a commensurate level of guts and leadership, and the permanent political class in D.C. is nothing if not gutless and rudderless.”
The problem is that among the “gutless” is the television network that employs Palin. Fox News Sunday spent the majority of their program today discrediting Ted Cruz. The take down job included Chris Wallace grilling Cruz by using the Senate rules to explain to him why his plan will fail, getting to admit that he has lacks the Republican votes in the Senate for his plan, and forcing Cruz to dance around the question of how he plans to win this fight. Fox News followed the on air massacre of Cruz with a panel discussion that featured a Karl Rove among others attacking and discrediting Cruz’s plan.
The piece written for Breitbart is so intellectually lacking that it is almost possible to believe that Palin really wrote it. For instance, Palin claims that the only thing that happened during the Gingrich government shutdown of the 1990s was that Bill hooked up with Monica. When the government shutdown for three weeks in 1995, the US economy lost a full point off of its GDP. The idea that government shutdowns are harmless is a bit or revisionist history that is often pushed by the conflict seeking right. Their tall tale about shutdowns being harmless defies common sense. If a government shutdown is harmless, why are both parties so terrified of them?
Sarah Palin has formed an axis of stupid with Ted Cruz and Jim DeMint, and they have now placed themselves squarely in the cross hairs of the Fox News propaganda machine. If Palin really believed in standing up to the Republican establishment, the first thing that she should do is what she does best, quit another job.
If she keeps doing what she is doing, Palin won’t have to quit on Fox News. She will almost certainly be fired (again).
************Fox News Admits That Republicans Sent Them Opposition Research To Use Against Ted Cruz
By: Jason Easley
Sep. 22nd, 2013
It is getting ugly in Republican Land. Today, Fox News disclosed that top Republican officials sent them opposition research to be used against Ted Cruz during his Fox News Sunday interview.
Wallace said, “This has been one of the strangest weeks I’ve ever had in Washington. And I sat that, because as soon as we listed Ted Cruz as our featured guest this week, I got unsolicited research and questions, not from Democrats, but from top Republicans who — to hammer Cruz. Why are Republicans so angry at Ted Cruz?”
Can you imagine the shock on Chris Wallace’s face when he got his usual weekly talking points, and they targeted a Republican instead of a Democrat? That is an earth shaking event at Fox News. It should be noted that Wallace did exactly what the Republican establishment wanted during his interview with Cruz. He went out of his way to prove that the Texas senator’s plan was destined to fail. Chris Wallace may or may not have used the opposition research that he was provided, but he definitely did everything he could to kill support for the Cruz/DeMint defund Obamacare movement.
It is easy to understand why Republicans are so angry at Ted Cruz. Sen. Cruz spent the summer aligned with Jim DeMint and his former PAC Senate Conservatives Fund. The Senate Conservatives Fund has been running ads targeting Republican senators in their home states with the demand that they support shutting down the government unless Obamacare is defunded. The fact that Cruz could cost some of her fellow Republicans their seats is probably why they are so angry with him.
Wallace’s bemused revelation demonstrates that right wing media has a greater influence over the Republican Party than the leftward media has on the Democrats.
Fox News is not a news organization. They are an active participant in Republican Party politics. Fox News is working hard to discredit Cruz and prevent a government shutdown because they are a part of the Republican Party. Fox News isn’t covering the news. They are helping to make it.
The hit on Ted Cruz was ordered from the top of the Republican Party, and Fox News was a very willing hit man. The truth about Fox News is that they will always and forever be about protecting the Republican Party, not practicing journalism.
Greece launches inquiry into claims Golden Dawn trained by armed forces
Defence minister orders investigation into rightwing extremists as President Papoulias warns that 'a storm is approaching'
Helena Smith in Athens
The Guardian, Tuesday 24 September 2013
The Greek authorities have launched an inquiry into allegations that members of the country's armed forces have helped to train hit squads formed by the far-right Golden Dawn party.
The defence minister, Dimitris Avramopoulos, ordered the investigation as Greece's governing coalition exhibited new resolve to clamp down on the "criminal organisation" after a Greek musician was stabbed to death by one of the group's supporters.
Highlighting the menace rightwing extremism now poses in a nation hobbled by economic collapse and political division, the country's president Karolos Papoulias said that his top priority was to protect Greeks from neo-fascism. "From the time I was a young man I fought fascism and Nazism," he told reporters as he went into talks with the leftwing main opposition leader Alexis Tsipras. "It is my supreme duty as president of the republic to defend democracy and the Greek people from the storm that is approaching."
The inquiry came amid revelations that Golden Dawn, which has seen its popularity soar on the back of debt-stricken Greece's worst crisis in modern times, has not only set up a military wing but is actively training its members in the art of combat.
"In Golden Dawn we have an entire military structure with at least 3,000 people ready for everything," one member was quoted as saying by the Sunday Vima newspaper. Pictures of recruits in camouflage and balaclavas conducting night exercises in clandestine camps were published in another leading daily on Monday. The paper, Ethnos, claimed the men, some of who were armed with knives and wooden clubs, were being trained by members of Greece's elite special forces who sympathise with the ultra-nationalist party.
The extremists' meteoric rise has worried Europe, with officials expressing disquiet over an organisation believed to be behind hundreds of attacks on immigrants, and more recently gay people, over the past three years. There have been many accusations that the police and judiciary are colluding with the extremists.
But the murder last week of Pavlos Fyssas, a leftwing hip-hop artist, appears to have galvanised authorities into finally taking action. On Monday two high-ranking police officers were forced to resign after it emerged they had failed to issue orders for the arrest of Golden Dawn members involved in attacks.
The public order ministry said five senior police officers – the heads of the special forces, internal security, organised crime, firearms and explosives, and a rapid-response motorcycle division – had been moved to other posts pending investigations, Associated Press reported. The regional police commanders of southern and central Greece resigned, citing personal reasons.
The resignations followed a series of raids on the party's offices after the public order minister, Nikos Dendias, put the country's anti-terrorism unit in charge of the investigation into the killing.
By Monday night at least 10 Golden Dawn members had been arrested in connection with the murder. A 45-year-old man belonging to the group has already confessed to the killing, according to police. The suspect, who reportedly worked in the cafe of the party's local branch in Keratsini – the working class district in Athens where the murder took place – was charged with the killing on Saturday.
As prime minister Antonis Samaras's government proposed that state funding for the far right group also be cut off if investigators found organisational links to the stabbing, Golden Dawn stepped up denials that it had any connection to the death. Its leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, insisted that the alleged killer was not a member of the party and had a tentative relationship with one of its 70 branches. "He was only passing through. I cannot control what everyone does," Michaloliakos told Kontra television in a rare interview.
Golden Dawn's spokesman, Ilias Kasidiaris, went further, accusing political parties, the government and the media of waging a dirty war against the organisation because of its growing appeal – despite one poll showing its support had dropped 2.5 points following the stabbing.
"Golden Dawn has been radically strengthened, it has passed 20% [in the polls] and in a few months it will lay claim to the biggest municipalities in the land. We will not stop. We have justice on our side and more than a million Greeks," Kasidiaris said.
Although surveys have shown the vast majority of Greeks expressing outrage at Golden Dawn's tactics in the wake of the killing, polls have also revealed the party maintaining steady ground in the areas most affected by the economic crisis. One survey released on Monday showed the group sweeping Athens in municipal elections next year – prompting speculation that the government's crackdown on the group could backfire. Especially hard-hit Greeks have lapped up the party's outreach programme that has included providing support for elderly Greeks in crime-ridden areas and "Greeks only" food handouts.
"For the first time they are being given a huge amount of exposure and air time," said Alexis Mantheakis, a political analyst who said there was a possibility of the party being in government in the future. "Before there was a media blackout and they rarely appeared on television. Instead of being deflated, all this coverage is boosting their image and boosting their support. The situation in Greece is much more serious than it seems."
Golden Dawn's rise signals breakdown of the Greek state's authority
The far-right party's emergence – supported by far too many in positions of power – has created a toxic situation
theguardian.com, Tuesday 24 September 2013 11.38 BST
Today, it is reported that elements in the Greek armed forces have been training Golden Dawn hit squads. There are allegations that there is a secret, 3,000-strong paramilitary structure within Golden Dawn that is being combat-trained by sympathisers in the military. It is appalling how credible this report is.
There was much idle chatter about a possible coup d'etat when prime minister George Papandreou was promising Greek voters a referendum on his austerity package. There was, allegedly, a state of alert order being circulated within the military, about the possible need to intervene in the case of social disorder. The fact that the defence minister felt the need to sack a lot of top army officers also fuelled the speculation.
A year after this, though, the centre-left newspaper To Vima was still writing about a "coup d'etat that didn't happen", alleging that the defence minister's actions stymied a coup – even though it seems the sackings were prompted by the army officers taking direct action against pension cuts.
So far, so much speculation. But the presence of a large and growing neo-Nazi organisation such as the Golden Dawn, which gained just under 7% of votes in the 2012 elections, could be a real challenge to parliamentary democracy. In those same elections, half the police force are said to have voted for the Golden Dawn. Sections of the Greek state have always been attracted to this far-right organisation. And I stress: sections of the Greek state. Subsequent revelations suggest that there was a close relationship between Golden Dawn and Greek police, while antifascists have been subject to torture in police hands. There has also been a general state tolerance for Golden Dawn's violent and racist public behaviour – the big surprise in May was that the Athens mayor finally decided that his police, rather than colluding with Golden Dawn, had to shut down one of their Greek-only food handouts.
Last week's murder of the leftist rapper Pavlos Fyssas has galvanised a furious response by the Greek left. Activists point to CCTV footage that indicates police were present and did nothing to try to stop the murder. Remarkably, a large number of chiefs of police and special forces were removed from their posts yesterday. The strong public reaction has coincided with a threat by the government to ban Golden Dawn .
Golden Dawn has appeared in some polls as the third party in Greece, although its stable base of support appears to still be in the single figures – and has fallen since the murder of Fyssas. Nonetheless, the resilience of the party's vote, despite its previous violent provocations, and its sustained links with sections of the state, suggest that, even were it to be banned, it would still exist in some form and be a threat.
Golden Dawn's classic, 1920s-style fascist paramilitarism is no surprise. The question is this: why do those elements of the state most involved with repression have such an affinity with Golden Dawn?
In the context of Greece's so-called sovereign debt crisis, the vicious austerity package imposed upon it by EU leaders and its own ruling class and the ensuing social breakdown have caused a crisis. The dominant parties' relationship to their political base – the traditional mode of legitimacy of the state – has been disintegrating. Ministries have repeatedly been in deadlock. Implementing austerity keeps prising open new antagonisms within the governing elite, as evidenced in attempts by the prime minister, Antonis Samaras, to shut down the state broadcaster, ERT. Cuts have sapped state capacity.
For a period, Greece's experience of general strikes, occupations and social movement protests came close to insurrection. This is as near to what Gramsci called a crisis of authority as one can get. The political control of the state has been breaking down. It is this breakdown of authority – which reactionaries blame on immigration, foreign control and communist agitation – that fuels Golden Dawn's support.
The situation is toxic. Austerity has not run its course, any more than the recession, or the social misery engendered by it. The only recourse of the left is to render Golden Dawn useless by incapacitating it, obstructing its activities and shutting it down as an effective street-fighting fascist organisation.
September 23, 2013
After Rewarding Merkel, Germans Seek Focus at Home
By ALISON SMALE
BERLIN — If the German election campaign came across as staid — and it would be hard to argue it was anything but— Sunday’s vote showed that above all, the country appreciates the stable, safe course that Chancellor Angela Merkel charted during her first two terms, so much so that they awarded her a third.
Ms. Merkel, who is known for her colorful jackets, seemed to say as much on Monday, repeating at least three times that Germany needed stable government as she began the hard task of forming a new governing coalition.
Asked whether her dark turquoise jacket signaled a possible bond with the Green Party, she said, “I stood in front of my closet today and thought: ‘Can’t do red, bright green won’t work,’ ” naming the colors associated with two competing parties. Instead, she said, she chose “something neutral.”
Realistically, though, her only political choice is a “grand coalition” with the opposition left-leaning Social Democrats, who will doubtless drive a hard bargain over economic and social justice issues, like a minimum wage, help for the unemployed, gay marriage or child and health care before agreeing to any new pact.
The Social Democrats’ demands will make more claims on government funds, which at the state and local level are scarce, despite Ms. Merkel’s campaign boasts of record tax revenues.
All that is likely to reinforce suspicions at home about the wisdom of sending money abroad to bail out Germany’s neighbors, and complaints abroad that Germany under Ms. Merkel has not shown the forceful leadership needed by the European Union to lance its years of recession.
Ms. Merkel defended Sunday’s vote as confirming the view of Europe that she outlined at every campaign stop. “On all the squares, I talked about how important Europe is,” she noted on Monday, “not just economically, but as a community of shared values,” of freedom. She recalled that, 10 years or so ago, Germany was “the sick man of Europe,” but that it acted to heal itself and is now successful. “What we have done, everyone else can do,” she said, striking the very tone Southern Europe has come to dread.
Yet if the complaint in Europe is that Ms. Merkel has not been engaged — or understanding — enough about the problems of others, many Germans see it differently. If anything, the campaign showed that they want more of Ms. Merkel’s attention focused at home.
“The German chancellor has focused on foreign policy since the start of the international financial crisis and the euro crisis,” the leftist Berliner Zeitung wrote. “She has been the leading voice in Europe and played a not insignificant role in questions of global finance. But not much happened on the domestic policy front, because nothing goes without her. Important tasks need to be addressed: reform of old-age nursing insurance, the pension system, education. Things can’t stay as they are for another four years.”
By common agreement, Germany’s infrastructure — physical and technological — need renewing.
Ms. Merkel may hope that the crisis in Europe stays calm enough for her to tackle other pressing issues at home — among them demographic decline, the failure to integrate immigrants and the widespread calls for education reform, from kindergarten through universities.
Europe is “in the middle of an adjustment decade” that has affected many countries, Jörg Asmussen, senior board member of the European Central Bank, said in an interview before the election.
When talk turned on Monday to firming a coalition government, Ms. Merkel refused to discuss what Germans should expect. She said that she had called the chairman of the Social Democratic Party, Sigmar Gabriel, who told her he is holding a party meeting on Friday.
“The Social Democratic Party is not lining up or courting,” Mr. Gabriel said in an interview, mindful of how the party’s vote slumped to 23 percent of the total in 2009, from 34 percent in 2005.
Ms. Merkel’s allies, the Free Democrats, also slumped in voter favor and did not make it into Parliament. The extreme left Left Party refused to abandon stances against NATO and military engagement abroad and did not climb out of single digits, leading the Social Democrats to say they cannot be included in government.
The Greens suffered such a loss that their entire national leadership resigned Monday, as did the leader of the Free Democrats. The threat posed by the anti-euro protest party, Alternative for Germany, evaporated when it, too, just missed the 5 percent hurdle to win seats in Parliament.
In contrast to all that reordering, Ms. Merkel “exudes stability — indomitable stability,” said Constanze Stelzenmüller of the German Marshall Fund in Berlin. “Merkel’s immense strength is that she has, I think, no narcissism, and no neediness. She is not dependent on politics to give her life meaning, and that I think is a source of immense strength.”
09/23/2013 06:58 PM
Coalition Stalemate: SPD and Greens Balk Over Merkel Alliance
By Roland Nelles
Angela Merkel can now start looking for a coalition partner, but it will not be simple. The SPD and the Greens are both skittish about an alliance with her CDU -- and have good reason to be. Difficult negotiations lie ahead.
Germans tend to prefer consensus to political dispute. In this they may lack ambition, but it has paid off in the past. The German voting system, federalism, employee participation in workplace management: Almost all sectors of society in Germany are geared towards consensus -- and it mostly functions well.
Other countries, such as France, look on with a mixture of skepticism and admiration at the Germans' round-table culture. While the French have suffered in the euro crisis because their political battle lines are so clearly defined -- making reforms practically impossible -- a grand coalition of Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) would be typically German -- boring, but solid. No wonder that the majority of Germans have said they want such an alliance before almost every election, for many years.
Of course, even in Germany, the grand coalition should remain the exception rather than the rule. Democracy thrives on disputes and clear alternatives, and the Bundestag, the country's parliament, needs a strong opposition to keep the government in check. None of that would be the case in a grand coalition, which would likely paralyze debate and largely prevent the opposition from even expressing its point of view.
But from the chancellor's perspective, it has its advantages. Further difficult decisions will need to be taken in the euro crisis, which could come back with a vengeance in the coming year. And with that in mind, a broad alliance with the Social Democrats would bring added stability for all of Europe. Since the preservation of Europe is the most important project for any future government, it is also the most important argument in favor of a grand coalition.
No One Wants to Govern with Merkel
But there is no fast track to forming such a government. The seemingly paradoxical truth is that at the moment, no one wants to govern with Merkel -- neither the SPD nor the Green Party. Merkel now has a reputation as a coalition-partner killer. Everyone is afraid of her -- no one wants to end up like the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP), the junior partner in the previous coalition. The FDP had formed the government with the CDU and its sister party in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and then collapsed on Sunday with its worst-ever showing, missing the 5 percent threshold for getting into parliament. The rule is clear: Whoever co-rules, loses out.
The Greens know this: A CDU-Green coalition would have its certain appeal, albeit with a completely uncertain outcome. The CDU/CSU and the Greens would be a difficult fit. As the just-finished election campaign showed, the rifts between the two camps are too deep.
Green parliamentary group co-chair Jürgen Trittin's tax increase program is as unattractive to the CDU as CSU leader Horst Seehofer's proposals for a childcare subsidy are to the Greens. In the wrangling over an agreement with Merkel, the Greens would have to completely rip up their core policies, and would afterwards probably see their support drop to even less than the unspectacular 8 percent they managed on Sunday.
The Greens will therefore have to dig their heels in and hope the SPD does them a favor by entering into a grand coalition soon. Then they avoid being in the position of having to choose.
The SPD, meanwhile, has at least as little enthusiasm for an alliance with the CDU as the Greens, making it likely that they will play hard to get. It may sound absurd, but the Social Democrats in turn hope the Greens are daring enough to join up with Merkel. This would allow the SPD to get out of a sticky situation and, as the lively opposition, happily hoover up scared-off Green voters.
Lengthy Negotiations Ahead
This means Germany faces excruciatingly long coalition negotiations. The CDU/CSU will inevitably ratchet up the pressure on the SPD soon. Merkel will remind the Social Democrats of their political responsibility to the state. In addition to Europe, there are important issues that could finally be tackled by a grand coalition: the energy transition away from nuclear power, for example, or the minimum wage. A grand coalition could also make some headway on financial market regulation. In the four years of the CDU/CSU-FDP coalition, movement in many of these areas has been little to non-existent.
Of course, the SPD is also balking at the idea of a grand coalition because of the bitter memories from the last such alliance from 2005 and 2009, when they came across as Merkel's faithful workers. That work that brought them nothing even as it helped bring about the chancellor's 2009 success at the polls. History will not be repeating itself in that sense. In any new grand coalition, the SPD would play a different role than last time around, and be fractious and argumentative. It would be arduous for Angela Merkel to govern with this SPD.
Is there a way to resolve this stalemate? Not really. One party or the other will have to take the plunge. Of course, the SPD and the Greens could both remain stubborn, but then they will both lose.
A minority government in Germany is not conceivable, not durable, not in the midst of the euro crisis. It would mean new elections, sooner or later. And then the consensus-loving German electorate would lose patience. The SPD and the Greens would be punished by voters and only one person would win: Angela Merkel. Though, in that scenario, perhaps even the FDP would make a comeback.
09/23/2013 05:00 PM
Coalition Wrangling: SPD Plays Coy as Merkel Puts Out Feelers
Angela Merkel, in a hurry to find a coalition after Sunday's election, contacted the center-left Social Democrats on Monday to set up talks. But the SPD stalled her and made clear she will have to make policy concessions if she wants them on board.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel reached out to the rival center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) on Monday in a first attempt to organize coalition talks following Sunday's election, which delivered the best result for her party in two decades but left it in need of a new partner.
But the SPD, for now, is playing hard to get. SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel told reporters that Merkel had tried to reach him at 9 a.m. on Monday and that they had a brief conversation two hours later, at 11 a.m. He declined to explain the two-hour delay, but it fuelled the impression that Germany is about to witness some serious political poker-playing in the coming weeks.
"I had a first contact with the SPD chairman who understandably said the SPD first wants to hold its party conference on Friday," Merkel told a news conference after a meeting of her party's leadership on Monday. "It's self-evident that the party's internal bodies must first take precedence."
A so-called grand coalition of the two main parties, the conservatives and the SPD, is regarded as the most likely outcome of inter-party talks in coming weeks, although a conservative alliance with the Greens is also possible.
The SPD governed together with the conservatives in Merkel's first term from 2005 until 2009 and is reluctant to repeat the alliance because it fared badly in the 2009 election.
SPD leaders feel that they did a lot of good work in that government, which got Germany through the financial crisis, and that Merkel took most of the credit in the 2009 election when the SPD slumped to its worst ever federal election result of 23 percent.
"We conservatives have a clear mandate to form a government and Germany needs a stable government, so we will carry out this mandate," said Merkel. She did not rule out talks with other parties but said that she had not contacted the Greens on Monday.
Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), were still glowing on Monday after their resounding victory. They increased their share of the vote by 7.7 points to 41.5 percent, putting Merkel on track for a third term.
But the conservatives fell just short of an absolute majority and need a new coalition partner after the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) crashed out of parliament, slumping almost 10 points to 4.8 percent, below the 5 percent level needed for parliamentary representation.
Grand Coalition Not 'Automatic'
The SPD reached 25.7 percent, a 2.7 point improvement on 2009 but still a disappointing result. SPD leader Gabriel, tight-lipped and grumpy, told reporters not to expect that inter-party talks would automatically lead to a grand coalition.
"Frau Merkel must make clear whom she wants to talk to and what she wants to negotiate about," Gabriel told a news conference after a meeting of the SPD leadership.
"There's no automatic process leading towards a grand coalition, no one should think that," said Gabriel, flanked by Peer Steinbrück, the party's chancellor candidate. "It's not up to us to produce a majority. Frau Merkel scored an unprecedented result but hasn't got a governing majority, so she must now say what she wants and how she wants to make policies in Germany."
Both Gabriel and Steinbrück refused repeatedly to discuss what the SPD's red lines might be on European and domestic policy in coalition talks. They also declined to comment on their own political futures.
Steinbrück vowed during the election campaign that he would not serve in a grand coalition, but it appears that he may end up playing a role in coalition talks. The 66-year-old politician was finance minister under Merkel in her first term.
Even though the conservatives have widened their lead over the SPD and will have 311 seats against the SPD's 192 in the 630-seat assembly, Merkel may have to pay a high price in cabinet posts and policies to win the SPD's support.
The SPD wants a national minimum wage and higher taxes on the wealthy -- both opposed by Merkel. The Social Democrats may also demand the finance ministry. That would mean evicting Wolfgang Schäuble, a respected conservative who has played a major role in managing the euro crisis.
If talks with the SPD fail, Merkel could still turn to the Greens, but there are major policy differences here too. If all else fails, there may have to be a new election. But that wouldn't be in the SPD's interest -- it could produce an even bigger Merkel majority or bring the FDP back into parliament.
Despite Merkel's historic win, Germany faces weeks of political uncertainty.
09/23/2013 06:42 PM
The Europe Question: Will Coalition Mean End of Austerity Angie?
By Charles Hawley and Daryl Lindsey
Angela Merkel clearly won Sunday's German election, but she will need a coalition partner. Many in Europe are hoping an alliance with the center-left Social Democrats would mean a change in the chancellor's harsh austerity policies. Those hopes may be dashed.
French President François Hollande didn't exactly sound euphoric as he delivered his statement on Sunday evening on Chancellor Angela Merkel's resounding victory in the German general election. He said tepidly that he hoped for a continuation of "our close cooperation in the challenge of constructing Europe." He then invited Merkel to visit Paris once she completes the process of assembling a coalition government.
He likely wasn't the only one in the euro zone who was looking to Berlin with some trepidation on Sunday night as the results came rolling in. Many in Southern European countries had been hoping that the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) would somehow manage to unseat the chancellor. Now that she has been re-elected, there is fear that she will continue to push the kinds of harsh austerity programs that have created so much misery in euro-zone countries that have been hit hardest by the crisis.
But will she? Merkel may have guided her conservatives to their strongest result since 1990, but she also lost her coalition partner, the Free Democrats, who failed to achieve the 5 percent threshold necessary for representation in parliament. In all likelihood, it is the SPD who will replace them -- exactly the party upon which many struggling European countries had been pinning their hopes.
For now, the SPD is playing hard to get. Several leading Social Democrats on Monday have indicated that the desire to join Merkel as her junior coalition partner -- in a constellation known as a "grand coalition" -- is limited at best.
"I am strictly against a grand coalition," Axel Schäfer, European policy spokesman for the SPD in parliament, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "There is a fundamental difference between Frau Merkel and us." He noted that whereas the Social Democrats prefer boosting the powers of European Parliament, Merkel is more interested in ensuring that power remains with the individual member states. Schäfer said his party would not allow "summit negotiations behind closed doors to replace parliamentary democracy."
Impossible to Predict
Merkel too has not begun to strike conciliatory notes. At a Monday press conference, she said "the process of reforms isn't just a process of austerity, but of competitiveness, solid budgets, it's about the confidence of investors in our countries. I think we have achieved a lot on this path, but we're not finished yet, and that's why this election allows me to continue my European policy to this end."
Of course, it is impossible to predict how willing to compromise Merkel or her potential coalition partners will be on the issues. Merkel's power at the moment is difficult to overestimate and her conservatives beat the SPD by almost 16 percentage points. But she still needs to assemble a parliamentary majority and will have to make concessions to do so.
Still, foreign policy observers are skeptical that Germany will recalibrate its approach to the euro crisis. "I always thought that the expectation that we would have a complete change in policy if there were an SPD-Green Party coalition was totally overrated," Daniela Schwarzer, head of the EU integration division at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "Even if the SPD had become the biggest party in a coalition, it would still face many of the constraints facing Merkel."
The list Schwarzer points to is long. Most challenging, however, is that Merkel has had to balance her government's support for emergency rescue measures with a significant level of skepticism in Germany regarding the use of taxpayer money to bail out profligate Southern European countries.
If anything, Schwarzer believes that, with the rise of the euroskeptic party Alternative for Germany (AfD), that balancing act will become more difficult, even if the AfD didn't manage to win seats in parliament. The next government, she says, "will have to be careful. We have the elections for the European Parliament coming up" in 2014.
Turning Up the Criticism
In the past, the CDU and SPD have voted together to approve bailouts to euro-zone countries, but when it comes to policies, there are fundamental philosophical differences that could serve as significant barriers for any grand coalition. For example, the conservatives have called for a "stability union" within the euro zone -- one that would be neither a debt union nor a transfer union.
But the SPD wants a common "economic government" that would bring together fiscal and economic policies and would include close coordination but also joint liability for programs like a debt repayment fund that would involve shared EU lending as a way of reducing national debts and interest rates. Another platform in the SPD party program calls for the "impetus" for sustainable growth in the EU through a program that would oblige countries to maintain solid finances, but would also be complemented by stimulus that would come from an asset tax the party is proposing. All this would be flanked by a "social union" guaranteeing further social and labor rights across the EU.
The SPD turned up its criticism of Merkel's euro-zone policies during the campaign. And they added a new one: SPD chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück never tired of blasting Merkel for what he has said is a lack of forthrightness regarding the true costs to Germany of saving the euro.
Schäfer echoed that criticism on Monday. Referring to his party's proposal of a debt repayment fund to help euro-zone member states ease their burden, he said: "The CDU has made certain terms taboo because they don't want to tell voters the truth about the steps needed to overcome the crisis. They rule things out because they don't want to create the impression they will cost anything. But everything in life costs something."
Translating to the Issues
That, in fact, might be the central lesson that the German election and the upcoming coalition negotiations will teach us. Parties that have formed coalitions with Merkel in the past have not tended to fare well. Following four years in an alliance with Merkel, the SPD in 2009 lost 11.2 percentage points compared to its previous vote. The same fate befell the FDP on Sunday.
"Merkel will have to pay a much higher price because no one is willing to get destroyed by her," Olaf Böhnke, head of the Berlin office for the European Council on Foreign Relations, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "This could be translated over to issues."
In other words, SPD participation in Merkel's government could very mean the conservatives will have to shift slightly on some of the issues. "I think that what you are most likely going to see is that the SPD will push on some of the issues, but that there will be quite a bit of push back from the conservatives in the CDU and from the CSU," the Bavarian sister party to the CDU, said Fabian Zuleeg of the Brussels-based European Policy Center. "Essentially, that puts Merkel in a position she is comfortable with: in the middle. But she will have to move a little."
But will she move enough? All has been quiet on the euro-crisis front for several months now. Much of that has to do with European Central Bank pledges to do whatever it takes to calm the markets and keep the common currency intact. In addition, though, Germany's election campaign put a temporary stop to several ongoing debates about Europe's future.
No matter what her governing coalition ultimately looks like, Merkel's leadership position in both Germany and Europe has been solidified. And that, says Schwarzer from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, brings a certain degree of responsibility along with it.
"We must be more up front about the situation," she says. "There is a calm in the market right now" thanks to the ECB. "But banking union isn't complete. Political union isn't complete. We don't have fully functioning control mechanisms. There has been no agreement on a euro-area budget and there is the whole problem of democratic legitimacy. There is a huge task here."
"If the German government wants to tidy up the situation," she adds, "this means you really have to lead on the subject." With the SPD at her side, Merkel may be able to do just that.
On Europe, Angela Merkel's election win may save Britain from itself
The German chancellor's hat-trick puts her at the helm in Europe – and that's good news for David Cameron
The Guardian, Monday 23 September 2013 18.26 BST
Across Europe, political leaders watch Angela Merkel with awe and envy. And rightly so. The German chancellor didn't just get re-elected on Sunday, a difficult enough task for leaders in post-crash Europe. Merkel won her hat-trick of victories in the most serene electoral performance of her career, pushing her centre-right CDU party's vote up by nearly eight points, and coming within a whisker of winning Germany's first overall majority since the days of Konrad Adenauer, more than half a century ago.
The only cloud in Merkel's sky was the historic collapse of her junior coalition partners, the liberal FDP, who failed to win any seats in the Bundestag for the first time in 60 years. That leaves Merkel with the problem of trying to persuade either the Social Democrats, or conceivably the Greens, to come into a coalition which they may see as a fatal embrace. The nations of the eurozone's southern periphery will be hoping that some such deal is struck, as we all should, since a coalition with either of them holds out the hope of a relaxation of Merkel's strict pre-election budgetary orthodoxy.
The Guardian dubbed Merkel the Special One yesterday. And as an election winner that's exactly what she is. Consider these freshly minted popularity ratings. In Britain, David Cameron has a favourable/unfavourable rating of 40%/52% – giving him net unpopularity of minus 12. In France, François Hollande's record low rating is 23%/76% – net unpopularity of minus 53. In Germany, by contrast, 70% think Merkel is doing a good job, against 30% who think she is doing a bad one – a net popularity of plus 40.
What is Merkel's secret? The start of the answer is obviously that she is the leader of Europe's richest and most dynamic economy. Germany's economy is growing again, unemployment is low, the budget is in balance, interest rates are on the floor. Times are pretty good, and getting better for many Germans. Compared with the economic carnage elsewhere in the eurozone, – unemployment rates of 28% in Greece and 26% in Spain, mounting deficits and increased borrowing in France and Britain – Germany remains an oasis of relative calm and prosperity. Crisis, what crisis?
But Merkel's success cannot simply be explained by her good fortune in being the leader of Germany. Even when faced with large German bailouts of the eurozone and by sluggish growth, the centre-left failed to make its case, just as the centre-right triumphed. The centre-left SPD remains stuck in its now much diminished core constituency – echoes of Labour here in Britain. So do the Greens and the Left party, both of whom slipped back.
Yet Merkel has also won because of her own deft skills. Her republican centrism means that voters from other parties like her – one in six SPD voters preferred her as chancellor. Her willingness to adapt to circumstances, most notably in her U-turn over nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster, is the antithesis of conviction politics. Add to this her inclusive image and her attractively unpretentious style, and you have a winning combination for difficult times. Merkel's success in appealing across Germany's fragmenting party divides is a lesson from which traditional tribal politicians in Britain could learn too.
What will it mean for Europe? Merkel sometimes gives the impression that she takes each decision as it comes. But Berlin knows that the eurozone and the EU need serious attention before Germany's next election in 2017. So this victory gives her an immense opportunity to write the script for Europe's future.
In an era of weak governments and unpopular leaders in Europe, she is uniquely positioned now to shape the next decade and more. In that context, the performance by the eurosceptic Alternative für Deutschland, who finished just short of the 5% Bundestag threshold, was another perfect result for Merkel. She does not have to take account of them in order to govern, but she knows they are out there, and will be wary. It would be in character for her to temper her European strategy accordingly.
From Britain's point of view, her re-election could be fascinatingly significant. With Merkel at the helm in Europe, moderate Tory eurosceptics like David Cameron have someone with whom they can deal and who also carries real authority here. For Cameron, an EU deal with Merkel would make an EU referendum victory, assuming he wants it, far more likely. If Merkel wants to – and if she means it when she says she wants the UK to remain in the EU she should want to – she is now in a position to influence the British debate on Europe in a more positive way than any continental European since Jacques Delors. On the great issue of Europe, the re-elected and strengthened Merkel may even help save the British from themselves. Let's hope she does.