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« Reply #9075 on: Oct 02, 2013, 05:16 AM »

France pressured to remember WW1 soldiers executed for 'cowardice'

Next year's first world war centenary, to be launched by François Hollande, may include a memorial for the 600-650 young men shot by firing squad

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris, Tuesday 1 October 2013 16.54 BST   

They were mostly young, rank-and-file soldiers, exhausted and shell-shocked after months of what was considered the world's must brutal war. One day they simply refused to take part in another raid that involved running out over the top of their trench, ignored orders or refused to get in line for inspection.

Shot by firing squad, often as an example in front of their fellow soldiers, these disgraced, so-called cowards – convicted by military tribunals of crimes such as desertion, disobedience or "abandoning their post in the presence of the enemy" – are now largely seen as traumatised victims of the horror of war. But they are not counted in the first world war memorials dotting France, nor are they considered to have died for their country.

The Socialist president François Hollande, who has promised that next year's first world war centenary commemorations will be one of the "great events" of his leadership, is under increasing pressure to restore the good name of hundreds of French soldiers executed by their own army during the war. But the rehabilitation of soldiers shot by firing squad remains one of the most sensitive and controversial memorial issues surrounding the 1914 Great War in France. A report handed to the ministry of veterans' affairs on Tuesday presents a number of options to Hollande, warning of the difficulty of either doing nothing or issuing a blanket pardon to everyone who was shot.

The report, by the historian Antoine Prost, part of a scientific team preparing the French centenary, said that about 600-650 men were shot in France for issues relating to military disobedience, with about 100 more shot for spying or crimes such as murder. Most of the "disobedient" soldiers shot "to set an example" were executed in the early period of the war between 1914 and 1915. The report said many weren't "cowards", but just "cracked" from one day to the next.

About 40 soldiers shot by firing squad had already been pardoned after the war. Those cases often seemed absurd, including one soldier shot for disobedience in 1915 after asking for a pair of trousers to replace his tattered rags in the cold of the trenches and refusing to put on the blood-soaked, torn uniform of a dead-soldier which was offered to him.

The report warned that a blanket pardon of every single person shot and recognition that they had all "died for France" would be problematic because some were convicted for crimes such as murder or rape. Others were shot for espionage, which was just as tricky. The report warned that re-considering each case individually would be difficult 100 years later as 20% of the dossiers had been lost.

Perhaps the option most likely to be taken up by François Hollande is the suggestion of a historic speech in which he could rehabilitate the dead by stressing that "most – but not all – were shot in conditions that were often hurried and arbitrary". The report said this would need to be accompanied by the construction of a memorial at which to remember them and an education drive.

In 2006, Britain amended the armed forces bill to allow for the forgiveness of offences such as cowardice and desertion during the war. About 300 British and Commonwealth soldiers were shot on the orders of the British army during the first world war.

Hollande will launch France's vast first world war centenary commemorations programme at the Elysée next month.

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« Reply #9076 on: Oct 02, 2013, 05:20 AM »

10/01/2013 04:41 PM

Controversial Move: German Ministry Ponders Honoring Soviet Spy

By Klaus Wiegrefe

The German Foreign Ministry is considering placing a former employee, Ilse Stöbe, on an honorary list of staff who resisted Hitler. It would be a controversial move because she was a Soviet agent at a time when Stalin and Hitler were allies.

When US Secretary of State John Kerry, British Foreign Secretary William Hague or the top diplomats of other nations visit their German counterpart in Berlin, they have to take an elevator to the first floor. As they get out, if they look to the left, they will see a white wall on which 12 names are listed: German Foreign Ministry staff murdered by the Nazis and honored as "active resistance fighters." Soon a thirteenth name may be added to that list: Ilse Stöbe.

She is probably the most controversial of the German opponents to Hitler's regime. But the Munich Institute for Contemporary History (IFZ) has submitted a report to outgoing Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle urging the ministry to honor Stöbe. For more than half a century, opinions on her have been divided.

Stöbe worked in the ministry's information department for several months in 1940. In 1942, she was beheaded in Berlin's notorious Plötzensee jail. The educated, attractive and courageous journalist was one of the most important German spies working for Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. She repeatedly warned Stalin's military intelligence service, the MRU, about the looming German assault on the Soviet Union. So the core of her resistance activities consisted of the betrayal of secrets. Should the German government honor such a person?

Germany political parties have been debating the issue in recent years. The opposition Left Party in particular has been calling for Stöbe's inclusion and now has the IFZ institute's assessment to back its argument. IFZ historian Elke Scherstjanoi wrote that the "conditions for a public honoring of Ilse Stöbe in Germany are given." She goes as far as to place the agent alongside the siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl, students who were executed in 1943 for distributing flyers against the war and Hitler.

The shortcoming of the the IFZ report is that Scherstjanoi didn't have access to the archive of the Russian Defense Ministry where important GRU documents are stored.

That means central questions remain unanswered. For example, how should one judge the fact that Stöbe had already been recruited for the GRU by her friend, the journalist and communist Rudolf Herrnstadt, in 1931, when Germany was still a democratic republic that Hitler's Nazis and German communists steered by Moscow were keen to undermine.

Recruited at 19

Stöbe, 19 at the time, worked as a secretary for the Jewish author and journalist Theodor Wolff, then the editor of the liberal, democratic Berliner Tageblatt newspaper. She passed on inside information, mainly newsroom gossip, to a GRU agent she met on a weekly basis. There's nothing honorable about that. When Wolff fled after Hitler came to power in 1933, Stöbe quit the newspaper and traveled around Europe, presumably as a courier for the GRU, and wrote articles published in Switzerland's Neue Zürcher Zeitung and other newspapers.

Then she moved to Warsaw where her friend, Herrnstadt, was busy obtaining information from the German diplomat Rudolf von Scheliha, who mistakenly thought Herrnstadt was spying for the British. After Germany's invasion of Poland in 1939, Scheliha returned to Berlin. This was the high point of Stöbe's espionage activities. She followed Scheliha back to Berlin and, assuming the cover name "Alta," took over the running of the diplomat. Moscow would ask detailed questions, for example on Germany's policy towards Italy and on troop concentration areas. Scheliha's information was so valuable that the Berlin GRU resident said Stöbe was "utterly indispensable."

But can this espionage be rated as resistance? After all, Hitler and Stalin were allies between 1939 and 1941 when they carved up Eastern Europe among each other. Should a Polish foreign minister visiting Berlin be confronted with a memorial plaque citing Stöbe's name even though she formally worked for Hitler, and de facto for Stalin, during Poland's darkest hour?

Posthumous Order of the Red Banner

On the other hand, you don't find many squeaky-clean democrats among Germany's resistance fighters. Many of the celebrated plotters behind the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944 had previously been glowing fans of Hitler -- even Claus Schenck Graf von Stauffenberg, an officer at the center of the plot, had admired him. And the Foreign Ministry has honored other spies such as Fritz Kolbe, who worked for the Americans. Former Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer of the Greens even named a room after him. Cooperating with Hitler's enemies was one of the ways to topple the dictator.

The problem in Stöbe's case is that Stalin only became an enemy of Hitler after the German assault on the Soviet Union in June 1941 -- and according to the IFZ report, Stöbe's intelligence activities then ceased. The closure of the Soviet Embassy in Berlin in the wake of the assault meant that agent "Alta" could no longer contact her handlers. When the GRU tried to get in touch with Stöbe, it did so in such an amateurish way that Stöbe was discovered and arrested.

The Soviet Union posthumously awarded its agent the "Order of the Red Banner" in 1969. The German Foreign Ministry must now decide whether it too will honor her. It would be easier if the ministry had access to documents showing all the information the spy passed on to the GRU.

Some historians in the Foreign Ministry have suggested that the text of the memorial wall should be amended. "We should commemorate all staff of the Foreign Ministry who fell victim to the Nazis, not just the supposed or actual resistance members," said Martin Kröger, Nazi history expert in the ministry's political archive.

In that case, Ilse Stöbe's name would have to be included.

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« Reply #9077 on: Oct 02, 2013, 05:22 AM »

10/01/2013 06:06 PM

Coalition Talks: Merkel to Meet Greens Next Week

Chancellor Merkel, who is trying to form a government after falling just five seats short of a majority in the Sept. 22 election, will hold preliminary talks with the opposition Greens next week. A coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) looks far more likely though.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to hold preliminary talks to sound out possible common ground with both the center-left Social Democrats and the Greens in an attempt to form a government following the Sept. 22 election.

She will meet the SPD on Friday of this week and the Greens next week, probably on Thursday.

Her conservatives would prefer to form a grand coalition with the SPD because they are closer on key policies, would have a larger majority and, crucially, would also have a combined majority in the Bundesrat upper house, making it easier to pass legislation.

But the SPD is already signalling that it will extract a high price for an alliance with Merkel in terms of policies and cabinet posts. Talks are also likely to be complicated by the SPD's pledge to ballot its 470,000 members on any coalition agreement.

So it makes sense for Merkel to schedule exploratory talks with the environmentalist Greens as well, even though the party is in turmoil and seeking a new direction following its poor showing in the election.

Significantly, the Greens delegation in next week's talks will include Winfried Kretschmann, the governor of the rich state of Baden-Württemberg, a prominent member of the right wing of the party who has said the Greens should open themselves to alliances with the conservatives.

Kretschmann's standing in the Greens has increased following the resignation of the party's leadership last week. But even Kretschmann doesn't see much scope for a coalition with Merkel.

Reporting by Florian Gathmann

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« Reply #9078 on: Oct 02, 2013, 05:37 AM »

Israel ready to tackle nuclear Iran ‘alone’

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, October 1, 2013 15:12 EDT

Israel is ready to act “alone” to stop Iran making a nuclear bomb, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday in a hardline warning against rushing into deals with the new leadership in Tehran.

“Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons. If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone,” Netanyahu told a UN summit in a fierce attack on overtures made by Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani.

Netanyahu linked Rouhani, who held a landmark conversation with US President Barack Obama while in New York last week, to past militant attacks blamed on Iran.

“He fooled the world once. Now he thinks he can fool it again. You see, Rouhani thinks he can have his yellow cake and eat it too,” Netanyahu said in a speech in which he demanded that sanctions be maintained.

Last year Netanyahu used a cartoon drawing of a bomb to illustrate his warning at the UN that Iran was close to the nuclear bomb threshold.

There was no repeat this time, but Iran immediately condemned Netanyahu’s comments as “saber-rattling” and renewed its denial of Western accusations that it seeks a nuclear bomb.

“I wish I could believe Rouhani. But I don’t,” Netanyahu said.

“Iran wants to be in a position to rush forward to build nuclear bombs before the international community can detect it and much less prevent it,” he alleged.

A nuclear-armed Iran would be a bigger threat than North Korea, Netanyahu added.

“As dangerous as a nuclear-armed North Korea is, it pales in comparison to the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran,” he said.

“A nuclear-armed Iran in the Middle East wouldn’t be another North Korea — it would be another 50 North Koreas.”

North Korea, which like Iran faces wide-ranging UN sanctions over its nuclear program, is believed to have several nuclear bombs and to have shared technology with Iran.

Netanyahu gave a stark challenge to the international powers who have broadly welcomed the apparent change announced by Rouhani, while warning that they are also looking for concrete signs of cooperation from Tehran.

Obama told Netanyahu at a White House meeting on Monday that the Western powers had to “test” diplomacy with Rouhani.

“But we enter into these negotiations very clear-eyed. They will not be easy, and anything that we do will require the highest standards of verification in order for us to provide the sort of sanctions relief that I think they are looking for,” Obama added.

International sanctions have badly hit Iran’s economy and its leaders have made it clear they are looking for relief.

Netanyahu however sought to undermine Rouhani’s credibility, highlighting how the president was head of Iran’s national security council from 1989 until 2003 when several militant attacks were blamed on the Islamic state.

Iran’s “henchmen” killed Iranian opposition leaders in a Berlin restaurant in 1992, 85 people at a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994 and 19 US soldiers at Dhahran in Saudi Arabia in 1996, Netanyahu alleged.

“Are we to believe that the national security advisor of Iran at the time knew nothing about these attacks? Of course, he did,” the prime minister declared.

He said there was an “extraordinary contradiction” between Rouhani’s comments and Iran’s actions.

Netanyahu’s speech adds to the complications for Rouhani, who said last week that he wanted a deal within months to end international doubts about Iran’s nuclear intentions.

The West and Israel accuse Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, a claim Tehran rejects.

Rouhani’s telephone talks with Obama last week marked the first conversation between US and Iranian leaders since the 1979 Iranian revolution.

Western negotiators are to hold new talks with Iranian representatives in Geneva this month in a first test of the overtures.

But Rouhani also faces opposition at home. A group of young Islamists gathered at Tehran airport to protest when Rouhani returned on Sunday. One hurled a shoe at him.

An Iranian diplomat quickly criticized Netanyahu’s comments at the UN assembly in a statement that appeared well-prepared.

“We just heard an inflammatory statement,” said Khodadad Seifi, a deputy ambassador at the Iranian UN mission. “Like last year, he continued saber-rattling toward Iran by abusing this august assembly.”


Israel hits back over threat of Iran-US rapprochement

Binyamin Netanyahu tells UN Hassan Rouhani is a wolf in sheep's clothing in blistering attack on Tehran

Simon Tisdall, Tuesday 1 October 2013 18.33 BST   

Barack Obama and Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, were at pains to demonstrate common ground on dealing with Iran's nuclear programme. But their White House meeting on Monday night failed to assuage or disguise deep Israeli unease about the ramifications of a possible rapprochement between Washington and Tehran, and the overall direction of Obama's Middle East policy. In short, Israel is being squeezed in a tightening strategic vice, and its pain was evident in a blistering attack on Iran by Netanyahu at the UN general assembly on Tuesday.

Netanyahu had mostly kept quiet before the White House summit about last week's highly successful charm offensive by Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, and his subsequent game-changing telephone conversation with Obama. But the Israeli leader let rip all his fears and frustration in his UN speech, calling Rouhani a "wolf in sheep's clothing" who wanted to pull the wool over the eyes of the international community.

Iran remained bent on the destruction of Israel and had continued its "vast and feverish" pursuit of nuclear weapons since Rouhani's election, Netanyahu said. Rouhani's conciliatory words were a "ruse" to obtain the easing of sanctions. Indeed, he said, it was Rouhani who had masterminded Tehran's nuclear arms programme. And it was Iran that continued to prop up the Assad regime in Syria which had used chemical weapons to kill its own people.

Netanyahu's tirade was preceded by equally sharp words from Iran. The foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said bluntly that the Israeli leader was a liar. "This is his nature, to lie … Over the past 22 years, the regime, Israel, has been saying Iran will have nuclear arms in six months … The continuation of this game, in fact, is based on lying, deception, incitement and harassment." Netanyahu, he said, was the "most isolated individual" at the UN.

Netanyahu stuck to much the same script earlier at the White House. "Iran's conciliatory words have to be matched by real actions – transparent, verifiable, meaningful actions. Iran is committed to Israel's destruction," he said. And he reiterated his previous demands: "Iran must fully dismantle its military nuclear programme. If Iran continues to advance its military programme during negotiations, the sanctions should be strengthened."

But the Israeli prime minister appeared to realise that Obama's revived emphasis on diplomatic solutions both in Iran and in Palestine – framed within Iran's apparently more moderate posture – had left him with little alternative, for now at least, but to go along with the US administration and to wait, perhaps, for the inevitable collapse that sooner or later usually attends such well-intentioned initiatives.

While it was an achievement of sorts that a repeat of their 2011 Oval Office row, and any hint of open disagreement, were avoided, it was not a good day for Netanyahu. While reassuring his visitor that he would insist on substantive concessions before relaxing the pressure on Tehran, Obama avoided any mention of a timetable or "red lines", or of any specific steps that Iran must take.

Like its European allies, the US does not believe that a complete dismantling of Iran's nuclear programme is a realistic objective. Their emphasis instead is on curbing uranium enrichment and on expanded verification and inspection measures.

Netanyahu's energetic attempts over the past three years to convince the great powers that Iran is the world's number one security threat, akin to but more dangerous than North Korea, thus seems to have run into the sand. Nor do previous veiled threats of Israeli military action against Iran's nuclear sites now appear to have any substance, as US opposition to any such action has stiffened with Obama's re-election and the technical and practical difficulties for Israel of mounting unilateral strikes have become clearer.

Most Israelis – 78%, according to a recent poll – appear to share their prime minister's scepticism about Iran's change of heart, as do numerous American and Israeli commentators. Yet, ironically, the hawkish Netanyahu, a favourite target for American and European liberals, now finds himself under attack from Israel's political right for allegedly failing to stand up to Obama.

Current and former members from far right and nationalist side of the Knesset have been voluble in their concern about Netanyahu's handling of both the Iranian and Palestinian issues. As the Jerusalem Post reported: "Likud MK [member of parliament] Moshe Feiglin said Netanyahu's conception that the world will take action to prevent a nuclear Iran has collapsed. He said it was now clear to all that Iran will proceed toward a military nuclear capability and the US will not take action to stop it … What Netanyahu needs to ask himself is not what Obama will do, but whether under his own watch, an extremist Muslim country that wants to destroy Israel like Iran will join the nuclear club … That's what history will judge him on. It is wrong to shift our security to the US. It shows we haven't learned anything."

The former Knesset member Aryeh Eldad said Netanyahu and Obama were both "good actors" but the reality facing Israel was starkly clear. "Bibi [Netanyahu] gave up the Israel option for military action on Iran, and he is now relying on the US, which says we need to give up on the Palestinian issue in return," Eldad said. "He understands the fight is lost. He sacrificed the land of Israel."

The deputy defence minister Danny Danon said Netanyahu was under an obligation to try to help Obama make the diplomatic route succeed. But he warned that the Israeli right had been surprised by the 1993 Oslo peace agreement and the 2005 Gaza withdrawal and did not want another surprise.

Its nuclear ambitions apart, Israel has a long list of grievances against Iran, starting with former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's repeated assertion that the state itself is illegitimate. Rouhani distanced himself from such talk but has said little to suggest an end to Iran's support for militant groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, its backing for Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria, its development of long-range missiles, its alleged complicity in terrorist attacks against Israeli targets, its cold war with the Sunni monarchies of the Gulf, its machinations inside Iraq or its evident aspirations to regional superpower status.

On the American side of the ledger, Israel has cause to worry that Obama's U-turn on military action in Syria means his threat of strikes on Iran, should diplomacy fail, is equally empty; that before leaving office he may try to force Netanyahu into the historic compromise on Palestine that he has hitherto successfully resisted; and that the White House is insufficiently appreciative of how deeply threatening is the current turmoil in Egypt and other Arab spring states to Israel's security.

Netanyahu received a bruising reminder this week that between Iran and the US is Israel's hard place.


Iran dismisses Israeli 'sabre-rattling'

• Iran accuses Netanyahu of 'inflammatory' attack on Rouhani
• Rouhani's diplomatic approach backed by hardline parliament

Matthew Weaver and Guardian readers, Wednesday 2 October 2013 08.56 BST   

The blog is now primarily a forum for readers to share links and offer commentary on developments in the Middle East and North Africa. Please post your comments below.

Here's a roundup of the latest developments and analysis:

• Iran has accused Israel's prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu of “saber-rattling” after he claimed Iran's president Hassan Rouhani was a "wolf in sheep's clothing". Iran's deputy ambassador to the UN, Khodadad Seifi, condemned the remarks as “inflammatory”, Iran's Press TV reports. Meanwhile, Iran's conservative-dominated parliament has endorsed Rouhani's diplomatic overtures to the west.

• Netanyahu, launched a sustained attack on Rouhani, deriding his recent charm offensive with western leaders as a "ruse and a ploy" that was designed to fool the international community into dropping its guard against Iran's development of nuclear weapons. Netanyahu sounded a starkly conflicting note from the hope expressed at this year's general assembly about Iran's willingness to negotiate over its nuclear programme. He said Rouhani "thinks he can have his yellow cake and eat it too."

Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the Palestine centre in Washington, used a Wordle version of Netanyahu's speech to highlight's Israel's priorities.

    Netanyahu speech word cloud shows word usage. Iran occupies his mind while he occupies & barely mentions Palestinians
    — Yousef Munayyer (@YousefMunayyer) October 1, 2013

• Netanyahu's warnings are likely to be ignored even by Israel's biggest ally as Washington pursues the diplomatic approach, writes Simon Tisdall.

    Netanyahu's energetic attempts over the past three years to convince the great powers that Iran is the world's number one security threat, akin to but more dangerous than North Korea, thus seems to have run into the sand. Nor do previous veiled threats of Israeli military action against Iran's nuclear sites now appear to have any substance, as US opposition to any such action has stiffened with Obama's re-election and the technical and practical difficulties for Israel of mounting unilateral strikes have become clearer.

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« Reply #9079 on: Oct 02, 2013, 05:41 AM »

October 2, 2013

Myanmar Muslims Hide Amid Deadly Sectarian Clashes


THANDWE, Myanmar — Terrified Muslim families hid in forests in western Myanmar on Wednesday, one day after fleeing a new round of deadly sectarian violence that erupted even as the president toured the divided region. The discovery of four bodies brought the death toll from the latest clashes up to at least five.

Tuesday's unrest near the coastal town of Thandwe, which saw Buddhist mobs kill a 94-year-old woman and four other Muslims and burn dozens of homes, underscored the government's persistent failure to stop the sectarian violence from spreading.

Rights groups say President Thein Sein, visiting the region for the first time since clashes flared there last year, has done little to crack down on religious intolerance and failed to bridge a divide that has left hundreds of thousands of Muslims marginalized and segregated, many of them confined by security forces in inadequately equipped camps for those who fled their homes.

Thein Sein arrived in Thandwe on Wednesday, the second day of his visit to Rakhine state, and was to meet religious leaders from both communities.

While Thein Sein has condemned the violence in Rakhine state before, critics say his security forces have not done enough to contain it. They also say his government has failed to crack down on radical monks who have instilled hatred and fear of the nation's Muslim minority, arguing they pose a threat to Buddhist culture and traditions.

In a message to religious leaders that ran in Myanmar's state-run newspapers Wednesday, Thein Sein said the sectarian unrest threatens the government's reform process "and tarnishes the national image internationally."

"The constitution of Myanmar fully guarantees freedom of religion as the fundamental right of citizens," Thein Sein said. "We all should never misuse this noble idea of freedom of religion, or use it as a springboard for any kind of extremism or for fueling hatred."

Thein Sein has been widely praised for overseeing an unprecedented political opening in the Southeast Asian nation since the army ceded power two years ago to a nominally civilian government led by retired military officers.

Even with a boosted security presence, unrest engulfed several villages in the Thandwe area a day before the president's arrival. Witnesses said soldiers and police made no efforts to step in to try to stop Tuesday's violence.

In Thabyuchaing, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Thandwe, more than 700 rioters, some swinging swords, took to the streets, police officer Kyaw Naing said. A 94-year-old Muslim woman died from stab wounds in the clashes that followed, the officer said, adding that between 70 and 80 houses were set on fire. Another officer, however, said only 19 homes were burned.

Thandwe township police confirmed Wednesday that the bodies of four Muslim men were in the village.

A Muslim resident of Thandwe, Myo Min, said a small mosque in Kyikanyet, about 43 kilometers (27 miles) from Thandwe, was burned by attackers Tuesday night. Police said they were trying to confirm that report.

Myo Min said he was concerned about the safety of families who fled Tuesday's violence. Many families in Thabyuchaing, he said, fled into forests when their village was attacked.

"Many of them, including women and children, are still hiding, and they are cornered and unable to come out," Myo Min said. "They need food and water, and Muslim elders are discussing with authorities to evacuate them or send food."

Smoldering buildings — and three injured Buddhist Rakhines — were also seen by The Associated Press in the nearby village of Shwe Hlay. A police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he did not have authority to talk to the media, said the village of Linthi also was hit by rioters. Both villages are about 32 kilometers (20 miles) outside of Thandwe.

Sectarian clashes that began in Rakhine in June 2012 have since morphed into an anti-Muslim campaign that has spread to towns and villages nationwide. So far, hundreds of people have been killed and more than 140,000 have fled their homes, the vast majority of them Muslims.

Most of those targeted in Rakhine state have been ethnic Rohingya Muslims, considered by many in the country to be illegal migrants from Bangladesh, though many of their families arrived generations ago. But in the latest flare-up this week, the victims were Kamans, another Muslim minority group, whose citizenship is recognized.

Muslims, who account for about 4 percent of Myanmar's roughly 60 million people, have been the main victims of the violence, but they have been prosecuted for crimes related to the clashes far more often than members of the Buddhist majority.

A statement issued Wednesday by the U.S. Embassy in Myanmar expressed deep concern about the reports of violence, and urged the authorities "to respond quickly and decisively to the violence to help protect all the region's residents and their property" and bring to justice those responsible for the attacks.

"Most importantly, we call on religious and civil society leaders, and all citizens throughout the country, to stand against continued violence targeting Muslim communities, and to promote understanding, mutual respect and peaceful co-existence among all people in this diverse country," the statement said.


Associated Press writer Aye Aye Win contributed to this report from Yangon, Myanmar.
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« Reply #9080 on: Oct 02, 2013, 05:43 AM »

Vietnam dissident Le Quoc Quan jailed for tax evasion

US trained lawyer Le Quoc Quan denounces 30-month sentence saying he is the 'victim of political acts'

Hanoi, AP, Wednesday 2 October 2013 10.45 BST   

A Vietnamese court sentenced a US-trained lawyer and well known dissident to 30 months in jail on Wednesday after finding him guilty on tax evasion – charges widely considered to be politically motivated.

The case against Le Quoc Quan had been followed closely by the US government, which is pressing Vietnam's communist leaders to loosen their restrictions on those advocating democracy and human rights.

Quan maintained his innocence during the one-day trial in the capital of Hanoi.

"I have long been denouncing and fighting against corruption, bureaucracy and the stagnation that is doing harm to this country … I'm the victim of political acts," Quan said after the sentence was handed down.

Quan carried on speaking, but the audio feed into a side-room where a small number of reporters and diplomats were allowed to listen to proceedings was then cut off.

Presiding Judge Le Thi Hop said Quan was found guilty of evading corporate income tax of $30,000 (£18,000) in relation to a consultancy he had headed. Quan was arrested last December in Hanoi.

Trials in Vietnam do not meet international standards for fairness, according to human rights groups.

Many hundreds of police and other security officers were stationed in the streets around the court preventing people from getting close. Around 100 of Quan's supporters rallied at a church and in streets elsewhere in the city, shouting: "Justice for innocent people."

Quan was detained in 2007 for three months on his return from a US government-funded fellowship in Washington. He is one of Vietnam's better-known dissidents and maintained a popular blog that highlighted human rights abuses and other issues off-limits to the state media.

Vietnam converted to a market economy in the late 1980s and wants to integrate with the world, but maintains strict controls on freedom of speech and political expression. Bloggers, activists and others are routinely arrested and imprisoned. Foreign media representatives are allowed to live in Vietnam but are subject to restrictions on where they can travel and what they can report.

The internet has emerged as a vital organising tool for dissidents in recent years, and there has been a surge of blogs and Facebook pages highlighting criticism of the government. The rise of the internet, combined with an economic slowdown, has left the ruling elite feeling vulnerable.

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« Reply #9081 on: Oct 02, 2013, 05:48 AM »

Syria: massacre reports emerge from Assad's Alawite heartland

Villagers from president's Shia sect are fleeing their homes, recounting gruesome tales of executions and other atrocities

Jonathan Steele in Latakia, Wednesday 2 October 2013 07.41 BST   

For more than two years, as fighting has escalated throughout Syria, a group of villages peopled by government supporters in the mountains above this coastal city has been spared any attacks.

In spite of their proximity to the Turkish border, across which rebel fighters are armed and financed, farmers continued their lives as normal, even though as Alawites who come from the Shia sect to which President Bashar al-Assad belongs they could have been obvious targets.

At dawn on 4 August their peace was shattered. Armed rebels, led by local jihadis as well as members of Jabhat al-Nusra and the al-Qaida linked group, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, left their headquarters in the largely Sunni town of Salma. They sneaked into the al-Akrad mountains, taking control of five Alawite villages. The rebels called it Operation Liberation of the Coast and the aim was to send the government a message that even the Alawite heartland was no longer safe.

Rumours of massacres spread as some 25,000 Alawite villagers fled to Latakia. The next day the rebels captured more Alawite villages and reached Aramo, about 12 miles north of Qardaha, the Assads' home town where Hafez al-Assad, the former president, is buried in a mausoleum. Over the next few days government forces regrouped and gradually recovered the lost ground with help from air strikes as well as local paramilitaries.

On 19 August Syrian state TV reported that all the Alawite villages had been freed. But they did not highlight any massacres and refrained from showing graphic images of mutilation.

"For the first time the government acted discreetly because they feared a sectarian war could break out all along the coast. At the beginning they even denied massacres took place", Rajaa Nasser, an opposition politician in Damascus told the Guardian. He speculated that the attacks on the Alawites could have been revenge for the slaughter of Sunnis in Banias and Baida in May, two places about 30 miles south of the city of Latakia. Human Rights Watch said 248 Sunni civilians were executed there.

The Syrian army has not allowed foreign reporters into the Alawite villages to check the massacre reports, but in Latakia city the Guardian spoke to three officers who took part in recapturing the villages. Each was interviewed in separate locations. Two were relaxing off-duty in beach-front hotels and villas. They spoke of executions and other atrocities.

"The attacks started with treachery," said Hassan, an officer in Syria's special forces. "There was a unit of 40 troops. A Sunni defected from it and took 30 other Sunnis with him. A few days later they were part of the attack that started with the village of Hambushiya. The 10 Alawite troops left behind in the area were killed." Hassan said he could listen to the rebel's radio communications. "I heard a rebel telling another rebel: 'Kill this one, but not that one' . One rebel asked: 'What do I do about the girls?' The answer came: 'I'm sending a truck to pick them up'. Several were taken and raped, and have not been seen again," he said.

"They kidnapped Sheikh Badr Ghazal and stripped girls and the sheikh to humiliate him. The sheikh was then killed. Rebels videoed the events and we found the pictures on the mobiles of dead rebels when we retook the villages. They have not been shown on Syrian TV or media because they are too distressing."

Shadi, a 32-year-old officer in a local defence unit that is separate from the Syrian army, was lightly wounded during the government's counter-attack. "When we got into the village of Balouta I saw a baby's head hanging from a tree. There was a woman's body which had been sliced in half from head to toe and each half was hanging from separate apple trees. It made me feel I wanted to do something wild," he recalled.

Ali, a member of the regular army, said he also saw the baby's head. "We found two mass graves with 140 bodies. They were not shot. They had their throats slit. About 105 people of different ages were kidnapped," he said. "It's really scary what happened. Nobody has gone home to the villages because so much has been destroyed and many houses have been burnt. The whole area is unusable. Salafists from abroad were behind the attack."

The officers' accounts cannot be independently verified but the Guardian has obtained lists, compiled by local activists, with the names of victims from Hambushiya, Balouta, and five other villages. They include 62 people listed as killed, 60 kidnapped and 139 people who are missing. The dead range in age from a toddler of two to a man of 90. The vast majority are women, children and the elderly since most men in the villages were away on duty as part of the volunteer defence forces elsewhere in the region. They did not expect their own villages to come under attack.


Syria's chemical weapons: inspectors arrive to begin dismantling

• Dutch experts have nine months to complete UN-endorsed mission
• Phase one to destroy regime's manufacturing ability by 1 November

Associated Press, Tuesday 1 October 2013 18.23 BST   

International inspectors have arrived in Syria to begin overseeing the destruction of President Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons program, kicking off a mission that must navigate the country's bloody civil war as well as the international spotlight.

Twenty inspectors from a Netherlands-based chemical weapons watchdog crossed into Syria from neighbouring Lebanon on their way to Damascus to begin their complex mission of finding, dismantling and ultimately destroying an estimated 1,000-ton chemical arsenal.

The experts have about nine months to complete the task, which has been endorsed by a UN security council resolution that calls for Syria's chemical stockpile to be eliminated by mid-2014. It is the shortest deadline that experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have ever faced in any nation, and their first mission in a country at war.

The team arrived in Damascus late on Tuesday afternoon in a 19-vehicle convoy that was escorted from the border by two representatives from Syria's foreign ministry. The inspectors were expected to meet officials from the ministry later in the day.

Experts at The Hague, where the OPCW is based, said at the weekend that the inspectors' priority was to achieve the first milestone of helping Syria scrap its ability to manufacture chemical weapons by 1 November, using any means. That may include smashing mixing equipment with sledgehammers, blowing up delivery missiles, driving tanks over empty shells or filling them with concrete, and running machines without lubricant so they seize up and become inoperable.

Some of the inspectors will verify Syria's initial disclosure of what weapons and chemical precursors it has and where they are located. Others will begin planning the logistics for visits to every location where chemicals or weapons are stored.

Within a week, a second group of inspectors is scheduled to arrive – fewer than 100 combined – and form teams that will fan out to individual sites. Their routes are secret – both for their safety and because Syria has the right not to reveal its military secrets, including base locations.

The inspectors' mission was born out of a deadly chemical attack on opposition-held suburbs of Damascus on 21 August. The US and its allies accuse the Syrian regime of being responsible, while Damascus blames the rebels.

The chemical attack prompted the Obama administration to threaten punitive missile strikes against the Assad regime, beginning weeks of frantic diplomacy that ended with Friday's UN resolution to purge Syria of its chemical weapons program.


October 1, 2013

Qaeda Branch in Syria Pursues Its Own Agenda


BEIRUT, Lebanon — Fighters from the fastest-growing Qaeda franchise in Syria have repeatedly clashed with other rebel brigades, seizing towns, replacing crosses on churches with black flags and holding classes to teach Syrian children about the importance of battling “infidels,” meaning anyone who is not a Sunni Muslim.

Since the group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, announced its presence in Syria this year, it has emerged as the leading force for the foreign fighters streaming into the country, exploiting the chaos of the civil war as it tries to lay the groundwork for an Islamic state.

“They want to carve out a jihadi state or a jihadi territory and obviously anything above that is gravy, like overthrowing the Assad regime,” said Bruce Hoffman, director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University. “I don’t think they have ambitions of taking over the entire country, although they’d be happy to.”

While the Syrian rebels initially welcomed the group as a powerful ally in the civil war against President Bashar al-Assad, many now resent it for putting its international jihadi agenda ahead of the fight to topple the government. Antigovernment activists say they detest the group’s brutality and imposition of strict social codes, and even other Islamist rebels say the struggle’s focus should remain on leadership change.

The tensions have set off frequent fighting between rebel groups that has undermined the effort to combat the government and could complicate efforts to dispose of Syria’s chemical weapons. An advance team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons arrived in Damascus on Tuesday to discuss with Syrian officials the logistics of destroying the country’s chemical arsenal. Officials from the group said keeping its personnel safe during a raging civil war would be extremely difficult.

The rise of extremist groups has exacerbated Syria’s instability. ISIS has attacked rebel bases to capture supplies, and routed rebel groups last month to seize control of Azaz, a strategic city near the Turkish border, leading to a tense cease-fire. Last week, Qaeda fighters tried to storm a village in Idlib Province to kidnap some rebels, leaving 20 dead from both sides, including the jihadis’ Libyan commander.

“We want to keep Syria together as a country of freedom and equality,” a leader in an Islamist rebel group opposed to ISIS, called Suqour al-Sham, who gave his name as Abu Bashir, said via Skype. “They want to form an Islamic state that comes together with Iraq.”

In an audio statement released online late Monday, a Qaeda spokesman defended the group, saying its contributions to the anti-Assad fight had been underappreciated and denying that it had started fights with rebel groups.

“Those who aspire to sideline the state are many because of incorrect beliefs and doctrines,” said the spokesman, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani al-Shami. “They are greedy for power and for the worthless things of this world.”

Analysts say the group is a revival and extension of Al Qaeda in Iraq, whose sectarian-fueled insurgency pushed that country to the brink of civil war in 2006 and 2007, before the group suffered major defeats at the hands of tribal fighters and American troops.

In Syria, however, the group has found the vast territories that have fallen into rebel hands near Syria’s northern and eastern borders as an ideal environment to regroup and advance its agenda.

The area is stateless, covered by a weak patchwork of local councils and rebel groups struggling to administer their towns and often competing with one another for resources. This gives the group a wide area to work in with no immediate enemies. The porousness of the Iraqi and Turkish borders also makes it easy for the group to bring in supplies and fighters.

Brian Fishman, a former director of research at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point and now a fellow at the New America Foundation, said those factors gave Al Qaeda a more favorable environment in Syria than it ever had in Iraq.

“The conditions in Syria will be ripe for ISIS for quite some time,” he said.

The group is headed by an Iraqi named Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Its fighters hail from across the Arab world, Chechnya and other parts of Europe and are commanded by local emirs to whom they pledge obedience, according to rebels in contact with the group.

While ISIS fighters have lined up alongside rebels against the government, rebels said the group appears to focus on areas already wrested from Mr. Assad, even if that means displacing rebels.

“The idea is that they are trying to control the areas that are already liberated,” said Thaer Shaib, a rebel fighter from Idlib Province. “We go to the front, we liberate areas and leave a few fighters behind in order to advance, and then they come and hit us in the back.”

Throughout the scattered areas the foreign jihadis control along Syria’s northern border, they have banned smoking in public and attacked Kurdish villages, some of which had truces with the rebels.

In Raqqa, the only regional capital to fall under full rebel control, ISIS has set up bases in government buildings, publicly executed members of the minority Alawite sect, to which Mr. Assad belongs, and detained activists who have protested against it.

“They control through fear, by holding public executions, walking around in masks, showing their weapons, and killing and kidnapping anyone who stands against them or their acts,” said an activist in Raqqa who declined to give his name for fear that extremists would hunt him down.

Although the group sometimes cooperates in battle, ISIS is separate from the first Qaeda group to emerge in Syria, the Nusra Front, whose leader rejected a proposed merger this year.

Since then, foreign fighters have flocked to ISIS, while the Nusra Front has been more clearly accepted by mainline rebels for keeping its focus on the fight against Mr. Assad.

An American official said that ISIS was smaller than Nusra and a “tiny” part of the armed opposition, but that the group appears to be growing by attracting some of the most extreme foreign fighters.

The official also said that the group’s fights with other rebel brigades could harm it if the clashes lead to a popular reaction against it.

Last week, 10 Islamist brigades signed a statement with the Nusra Front calling for an Islamic state and rejecting the exile opposition, the Syrian National Coalition. Members of the groups that signed said the statement was also intended to project unity among Islamic rebel brigades that do not share ISIS’s agenda.

ISIS makes its vision for Syria clear in videos it releases on militant Web sites, showing its fighters seeking to help the poor, spread their strict interpretation of Islam and kill those they consider infidels.

One video about a recent ISIS offensive in the central province of Hama showed a commander laying out battle plans to a group of fighters with images from Google Earth projected on a wall.

“We have to give them a lesson that their plans will fail,” said the unidentified commander said, who had a long beard and shoulder-length hair. “Syria will be nothing but an Islamic caliphate, God willing.”

Later footage showed scores of well-armed fighters, some speaking broken Arabic, riding off to battle and singing, “For slaughter we came for you, O Alawites,” a reference to Mr. Assad’s sect.

The group does not hide its cross-border operations or its brutality toward those it deems enemies. In another video, a group of fighters stops three truck drivers on a highway believed to be across the Iraqi border and asks them how many times they bow during dawn prayer, an easy question for a pious Muslim.

The men, who are Alawites, guess incorrectly. The fighters pronounce them infidels, make them kneel by the side of the road and gun them down. Then one fighter throws a Molotov cocktail into one of the trucks, setting it on fire.

Karam Shoumali contributed reporting from Istanbul, Eric Schmitt from Washington, and an employee of The New York Times from Beirut.

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« Reply #9082 on: Oct 02, 2013, 05:51 AM »

Somali Islamists vow to step up terror attacks on Kenya

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 2, 2013 6:57 EDT

Somalia’s Shebab Islamists threatened Wednesday to step up militant attacks against Kenya, after Nairobi refused to pull its troops out of Somalia.

The Al-Qaeda linked Shebab claimed responsibility for last week’s attack on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall, in which at least 67 people died, with 39 more listed as missing by the Red Cross.

“We will strike Kenyans where it hurts the most, turn their cities into graveyards and rivers of blood will flow in Nairobi,” the Shebab said in a statement.

“The Kenyan government’s decision to keep its invading force in Somalia is an indication that they haven’t yet learnt any valuable lessons from the Westgate attacks,” the extremists added, warning that Kenya was “inviting unprecedented levels of insecurity, bloodshed and destruction.”

Kenya invaded southern Somalia to attack Shebab bases two years ago, and later joined the 17,700-strong African Union force deployed in the country.

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta on Tuesday said troops had been sent to Somalia to restore order to their anarchic neighbour, and they would not leave until the job was done.

“We will not be intimated, we will not be cowed,” Kenyatta said. “We will stay there until they bring order to their nation.”

In turn, the Shebab said it was “fully determined to intensify attacks inside Kenya until the last KDF (Kenya Defence Force) boots exit Somali soil”, saying it had the “right to defend our land and our people from enemy aggression.”

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« Reply #9083 on: Oct 02, 2013, 05:53 AM »

October 1, 2013

To Venezuelans, Heir of Chávez Is a Poor Copy


CARACAS, Venezuela — The start of the season for two premier teams in this baseball-loving nation was thrown into doubt after thieves stripped vast amounts of copper wire from the lights in this city’s main stadium. Basic items are often so hard to find that when a truck driver slumped dead at the wheel after a highway accident last week, motorcycle-riding looters swarmed in to grab the cargo: tons of red meat.

Prices are soaring, the country is plagued by electrical blackouts, some neighborhoods go days without water, and protests tangle the already stifling traffic. To top it all off, the cheap beer that helps people let off steam at many a weekend party has suddenly become scarce, too.

Nearly seven months after the death of Hugo Chávez, the country’s longtime leftist president and father figure, there is a growing sense that things are falling apart.

The new president, Nicolás Maduro, has revived a longtime scapegoat for the country’s woes, accusing Washington of conspiring with other enemies of the government in waging an “economic war” that has subjected the populace to blackouts, chronic shortages and other ills. Borrowing from Mr. Chávez’s script, Mr. Maduro on Monday expelled the top American diplomat here and two other embassy officials, contending that they were plotting to destabilize the country.

But while Mr. Chávez skillfully portrayed the United States as an imperialist bully and cast himself in the role of underdog hero, many Chávez supporters are finding Mr. Maduro’s attempts to imitate his mentor unconvincing.

“This is the biggest mistake Chávez ever made,” said Axel Ortiz, 20, a student, referring to Mr. Chávez’s choice of Mr. Maduro as his successor. Mr. Ortiz still defines himself as a Chavista — a loyal Chávez supporter — but he questioned Mr. Maduro’s ability to solve the nation’s problems. “Chávez was the only one who was qualified, the only one who could keep things here under control.”

The country’s economic problems have become acute. Inflation in the first eight months of this year was more than triple the rate in the same period last year. When measured over the 12 months that ended in August, it exceeded 45 percent. A government indicator that measures the scarcity of basic goods is close to its highest level in more than five years.

Many stores allow customers to buy only a limited number of scarce items like corn flour and cooking oil. People complain of having to stand in line for hours, often in vain, and many are losing patience with the government’s explanation that unsavory conspirators are to blame for the nation’s problems.

“The government is resorting to more and more outrageous and extravagant actions and statements to control the agenda,” said Andrés Cañizalez, a communications professor at Andrés Bello Catholic University.

All of this would be a lot to handle for any neophyte president, but the gaffe-prone Mr. Maduro has come under withering criticism for regularly tripping over his words, eliciting cringes from supporters and jeers from opponents. When he fell off his bicycle on live television recently, the event threatened to become a metaphor for a struggling presidency.

“People laugh at him,” said María López, 32, a mother of two on a recent morning in the Terrazas del Alba slum in the center of Caracas. She voted for Mr. Maduro, and said she still supported him. But she fought back a smirk when asked about Mr. Maduro’s bicycle accident, which occurred during a ride to promote his party’s youth movement. “We don’t want a president who’s a joke,” she said.

The blunders have piled up, much like the entourage of politicians and bodyguards who screeched to a halt in a tangle behind the president’s fallen bicycle.

In one of his most infamous verbal flubs, in August, Mr. Maduro sought to make a reference to the biblical story of Jesus’ multiplying the loaves and fishes — only to have it come out of his mouth as “the multiplication of the penises.” Mr. Maduro apparently conflated “peces” (fish) and “panes” (loaves) to produce “penes” (penises). He quickly apologized and corrected himself, but the damage was done.

“A person who doesn’t know how to speak will never know how to run a country,” said Jorge Flores, 30, a messenger at a government-run hospital, who voted for Mr. Maduro but now bitterly regrets doing so.

“This is the worst government I’ve ever seen,” Mr. Flores said. “The best government we’ve ever had here was with Chávez.”

Mr. Maduro calls his critics elitists and once said he had misspoken on purpose to bait his detractors.

Mr. Chávez, a fiery socialist, had a connection with ordinary Venezuelans that was so strong they often refused to blame him for many of the same problems that continue to bedevil the country. Mr. Maduro does not have the same charisma, and at least some of Mr. Chávez’s followers seem to be tuning him out.

“The government does these things to distract us from our real problems,” said Cristian Nivela, 24, a Chávez loyalist who voted for Mr. Maduro, referring to the expulsion of the American diplomats.

On Tuesday, Mr. Maduro used a special national television broadcast to present what he said was evidence that the diplomats had been conspiring with the extreme right in Venezuela to destabilize the country.

He showed a video, accompanied by ominous music, contending that the top diplomat at the United States Embassy, Kelly Keiderling, and the other two expelled diplomats had met in recent weeks with elected officials — including a state governor and a mayor — who belong to the Venezuelan opposition. The video also showed them leaving a meeting at the office of a pro-democracy group.

“These officials are meeting, well, in a shameless manner, and talking about strikes, sabotage, talking about the internal affairs of Venezuela, offering money,” Mr. Maduro said.

Such accusations resonate here because of the United States’ history of intervention in Latin America, including its tacit support of a 2002 coup that briefly ousted Mr. Chávez.

But a State Department official called the accusations absurd.

“Our diplomats were doing what they do all over the world,” said the official, Roberta S. Jacobson, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. “They were visiting parts of the country and talking to all kinds of different people. They were doing nothing covert or out of the ordinary for diplomats.”

She said that in response, the United States was expelling the top Venezuelan diplomat in Washington and two other Venezuelan Embassy officials. The United States and Venezuela do not maintain an ambassador in each other’s capital.

On Tuesday night the State Department identified the Venenezuelan diplomats, who were given 48 hours to leave the country, as the charge d'affaires, Calixto Ortega Rios, and Second Secretary Monica Alejandra Sanchez Morales, both of whom are assigned to the country's embassy in Washington, and Marisol Gutierrez de Almeida, the consul in Houston,

“It is regrettable that the Venezuelan government has again decided to expel U.S. diplomatic officials based on groundless allegations, which require reciprocal action. the State Department said in a statement. “It is counterproductive to the interests of both our countries.”

With the diplomatic tussle in the background, officials said the burglarized stadium — home to the Caracas Lions and the La Guaira Sharks, roughly equivalent to the Yankees and Mets in Venezuelan baseball — would be ready for the start of the season on Oct. 10.

They said workers had finally finished repairs to the lighting system after thieves stripped out much of the wiring, in a very public example of the crime, corruption and disarray in this country.

But the looting of the meat truck on Friday was shocking even to many who have become inured to the high levels of violence here. The truck became stuck under a barrier meant to block oversize vehicles. Part of the cargo crushed the top of the cab.

Denny Medina, 44, the owner of a fleet of trucks, said that he had tried to rescue the driver, but that he could not open the door. Instead of helping, he said, looters clambered over the vehicle.

“What made me feel powerless was to see the people carrying off the boxes of meat, and no one was showing any concern for the driver right below them,” Mr. Medina said. “It was terrible. I hope that we don’t get used to this.”

Reporting was contributed by María Eugenia Díaz, Paula Ramón and Catalina Lobo-Guerrero from Caracas, Venezeula, and Michael R. Gordon from Washington.

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« Reply #9084 on: Oct 02, 2013, 05:59 AM »

U.S. official: Deal to simplify global trade ‘clearly doable’

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, October 1, 2013 18:30 EDT

Countries have a real chance of clinching a deal to ease global trade at a Bali summit in December, ending years of deadlocked negotiations, the top US trade official said Tuesday.

“A strong, binding trade facilitation agreement clearly is doable,” US Trade Representative Michael Froman told delegates at the World Trade Organization in Geneva.

It has been estimated that such a deal, which would include a simplification of customs procedures, could reduce the costs of trading by 10 percent for developed countries and around 14 percent for developing countries, Froman noted.

It might just represent “the most significant development deliverable in the history of the WTO,” the official added.

The Bali summit is seen as perhaps the last chance to revive the so-called “Doha Round” of talks, launched in 2001 to craft a global accord on opening markets and removing trade barriers, in order to harness international commerce to develop poorer economies.

Differences over the give and take needed have fuelled clashes notably between China, the European Union, India and the United States, and left the talks stalled for years, leading many countries to shift their focus to bilateral and regional deals.

Froman on Tuesday insisted success in Bali was possible, hailing Roberto Azevedo for “injecting new life and energy” into the discussions since he took the reins of the WTO a month ago.

But reaching agreement will by no means be easy, he acknowledged, pointing out that the WTO had failed to produce a single truly global trade deal since it was created in 1995.

Trade facilitation is the biggest issue to be hammered out in Bali, but a number of other issues will also be on the table, including food security and agriculture subsidies.

The most deadlocked portions of the Doha agenda have however been put aside as countries try to focus on the areas where agreement is possible, and Froman said Washington was “not happy” that issues like industrial tariffs and new market access for agriculture had been temporarily set aside.

“But this is no time to focus on what we can’t do. We should focus instead on what we can do,” he said, insisting “a concrete result at Bali is still possible. And that means it’s time to work.”

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #9085 on: Oct 02, 2013, 06:02 AM »

Glenn Greenwald and Janine Gibson: 10 highlights from their Reddit AMA

Guardian US columnist Glenn Greenwald and editor-in-chief Janine Gibson spoke to Redditors about the NSA files, Edward Snowden, and the surveillance state. The full transcript is here

Katie Rogers and Reddit readers, Tuesday 1 October 2013 22.54 BST   

Guardian US editor-in-chief Janine Gibson and columnist Glenn Greenwald went on Reddit on Tuesday to discuss the NSA files in the site's Ask Me Anything section – although, technically, it was an 'Ask Us Anything'. It drew over 500 questions during the 90-minute chat.

    Starting the Reddit AMA now, with me & @JanineGibson
    — Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) October 1, 2013

    OK, POTUS is speaking, but we are here. #proof
    — Janine Gibson (@janinegibson) October 1, 2013

Here are highlights from the discussion – the full transcript is here:
idvckalt: Glenn, what would you say is the single most shocking revelation that Snowden has leaked. Why?


    The general revelation that the objective of the NSA is literally the elimination of global privacy: ensuring that every form of human electronic communication - not just those of The Terrorists™ - is collected, stored, analyzed and monitored.

    The NSA has so radically misled everyone for so long about its true purpose that revealing its actual institutional function was shocking to many, many people, and is the key context for understanding these other specific revelations.

The_eye_in_the_sky: I have to ask why the leaks are piece-fed to the public? Why can't it be one big release? Thanks in advance.


    Many reasons:

    1) It's irresponsible to dump documents without first understanding them and the consequences of publication.

    2) It's 100% contrary to the agreement we made with our source when he came to us and talked about how he wanted us to report on them (if he wanted them all dumped, he wouldn't have needed us: he could have done it himself).

    3) It would be impossible for the public to process a huge, indiscriminate dump, and media outlets would not care enough to read through them and report them because they'd have no vested interest in doing so (that's what WikiLeaks learned long ago, which is why they began partnering with media outlets on an exclusive basis for its releases).

    4) The debate that we should be having would get overwhelmed by accusations that we were being irresponsible and helping the Terrorists; in other words, it would be strategically dumb to do.

    5) There are already lots of risks for people reporting on these documents; there would be seriously heightened risks for anyone involved if they were just indiscriminately dumped.

tatertits7: Is it too late to roll back the surveillance state?


    I think this is the question we've all been asking. It's at the heart of this story. And we fundamentally think it's a debate best had in the open. It's going to come down to what citizens, users and voters think about how much they're prepared to give up in order to feel secure. It's not an easy question.

    We had an event recently in NYC and the former general counsel for the NSA said this is a debate that has to be had once a generation – that each generation needs to feel it has given consent. I think that's an interesting point. It certainly feels like there are a couple of generations who have been taken aback by the sheer size and scale of surveillance.

JimmyOConnell replies:

    Unfortunately, I suspect that like a lot of things, money is at the root of this question. The NSA's ecosystem is so gigantic that it has created its own little economy, into which the government has poured hundreds of billions. For example, what hope can there be of shutting down the Utah Data Center when it cost something in the region of $60bn to create?

    One only has to look at the police opposing the recent decision to relax some drug laws, not on any moral grounds but because so many of heir jobs depend on the war on drugs. I'm not saying it's impossible, but I can genuinely see economic arguments trumping moral ones – "We can't defund the NSA, the unemployment crisis is bad enough as it is" or "So you're going to spend billions building a data center and then not use it?"

    Very disheartening to think about, but soldier on we must and hope for the best.

grayghosted: Do you see the Democratic party as hopelessly corrupt in terms of orchestrating progressive change? If so, what can we to do roll back abuses of surveillance state and take back system from the rich?


    I never see any political questions as hopeless or unchangeable, but consider this:

    When I first began writing in 2005, I was focused primarily on the Bush NSA program, and I was able to build a large readership quickly because so many Democrats, progressives, liberal bloggers, etc, were so supportive of the work I was doing. That continued to be true through 2008.

    Now, a mere four later, Democrats have become the most vehement defenders of the NSA and the most vicious attackers of my work on the NSA – often, some of the very same people cheering so loudly in 2006 and 2007 are the ones protesting most loudly and viciously now.

    Gee, I wonder what changed? In the answer lies all you need to know about the Democratic party.

HoustonEuler: If Snowden is an American whistleblower, shouldn't you only release documents that serve the interest of the American public?

For example, it very well might be in the American interest to spy on the Brazilian government, and that's well within NSA's legal mandate. How do you justify releasing those documents?



    Snowden answered this in the online interview with him. He doesn't believe that the only privacy rights that matter are those of Americans. He's an American, but not a jingoist, and he's also other things besides an "American", including a human being. That privacy is being destroyed globally matters, both to him and journalistically.

    Moreover, even if you do jingoistically care only about Americans: the internet is a global means of communication. There is no viable way to segregate the communications of Americans from foreigners. If you allow the NSA to run rampant over the internet and turn it into a means of control, monitoring and oppression, it will affect everyone.

Vervex: Do you feel that the protections that journalists count on are disappearing? Is journalism as a whole in danger? Can we in the US trust our major publications for the true story or is there to much manipulation? Is Rupert Murdoch the antichrist?


    This is a critical time for journalistic freedom, and there are two major shifts which are threatening important work. One is the attempt to categorise "who is a journalist", which we are in danger, as an industry, of enabling. I feel profoundly uncomfortable about any line drawn around pay, employer, hours or volume of work that will define a "real" journalist. And then only the "real" journalists will be protected.

    I don't think that's how the world works any more, so that's problematic.

    The second is the attempt to define journalism as outside the national interest, and the Guardian has felt the impact of that in the UK, when the government demanded we destroy some of the material we were working on. That's much less problematic here in the US where we enjoy the protection of the first amendment. Let's hope we can all continue to use that protection to do good reporting.

    Is Rupert Murdoch the antichrist? Is there only one?

TrundleGrundleTroll replies:

    Well played.

CunthSlayer: Recently, the "NSA sharing raw intelligence about US Citizens to Israel" leak pointed out that not only does the NSA have programs that collect data on elected officials and supreme court justices, but they also hand that data (along with other data on US citizens) over to Israel in trust that they will dispose of it. The NSA likely has files on every person in the position of power to stop their surveillance/economic espionage operation. Do you agree with this statement, and if that is the case how do you think America can take steps towards limiting the power and abuses of the NSA? Thank you … for everything.


    That document did not state definitively that the NSA provided the communications of members of Congress and judges to Israel, though it did reference such communication. Other reports, as we indicated (including from the New York Times in 2009), have previously reported on efforts to wiretap even members of Congress.

    A major reason why those in power always try to use surveillance is because surveillance = power. The more you know about someone, the more you can control and manipulate them in all sorts of ways. That is one reason a surveillance state is so menacing to basic political liberties.

    But there are all sorts of examples, including from recent history, demonstrating that even the most seemingly insurmountable institutions can be weakened or uprooted when they become abusive enough. The tide is clearly turning against the US national security state in general and the NSA in particular in terms of their ability to dictate terms and control the debate, and they know it.

    What will ultimately determine the outcome here is how much pressure citizens continue to apply in defense of their privacy rights and against massive, ubiquitous, secret spying systems aimed at them.

dschuma: Often times, it seems like stories in the Guardian are shadow-boxing with the Obama administration. They say X, you respond with Y, that shows where X is an untruth. They respond with Z, and on it goes. Do you have that feeling as well? To what extent does the timing of when you plan on running a story affected by the news cycle? Do you still give the administration an opportunity to comment on stories before they are published – and have you withheld details to protect operational security at their request?


    Interesting that it seems like that to you. It can feel a lot like that. We have a process that we run with every story where we approach the administration, tell them what we're doing and identify any documents that we might quote from or publish. We invite them to share any specific national security concerns that would result from those disclosures.

    What happens next varies. Sometimes they respond with redaction requests (and sometimes we agree and sometimes not). Sometimes just a statement. Sometimes we ask questions. Sometimes they answer. Much of the time, we've already made some decisions ourselves on redactions of obviously sensitive operational detail or people's names etc.

    As we've gone on, working this story has become closer to journalistic standard practice (or at least, how we practice it).

    In terms of the news cycle – obviously we try and make sure each story has as much impact as possible, but we tend to publish when we've found a story, worked it up to our satisfaction, determined that it's in the public interest and it's ready. I've read some spectacular theories about how we're deciding to publish and when. They're all bollocks.

courage_my_friends: What is your response to those who look at these revelations and say, "So what? I follow the law. Why should I be afraid?"


    It's a perfectly reasonable point of view. As journalists, we're OK with providing you with enough information that you can make an informed decision.

    What I do find baffling is the "so what, we knew this already" response. It's inexplicable, given the number of administration voices all welcoming the debate and acknowledging it would not have happened without Edward Snowden. Have the debate.

Jamess24dean: Hello Janine, Could you share with us any moment where you were scared or apprehensive about the administration's response? Thanks for all the hard work the team is doing. James


    Thanks for kind words. In fact, thanks to everyone who's taken the time to say thanks. We do really appreciate it.

    There was a quite frankly terrifying conversation on our first story. My deputy, Stuart Millar – who has line edited every single story – and I were sitting in a tiny office on a phone that didn't even have a proper speaker, talking to a vast array of administration officials, none of whom were particularly happy about our proposed story. I don't remember being scared but it was definitely a robust conversation.

    For us, there were really only two questions: is the story right, and is it in the public interest? For a lot of news organisations I think those aren't the questions, and this was one of those moments when you do really appreciate the Guardian, our trust ownership and our editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger, who you know will back you.

    But all of these stories deserve a bit of respect. We should feel apprehensive about all of them. You need to put a lot of thought and effort in to publishing this kind of material.

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« Reply #9086 on: Oct 02, 2013, 06:31 AM »

In the USA....United Surveillance America

October 1, 2013

Google Accused of Wiretapping in Gmail Scans


SAN FRANCISCO — Wiretapping is typically the stuff of spy dramas and shady criminal escapades. But now, one of the world’s biggest Web companies, Google, must defend itself against accusations that it is illegally wiretapping in the course of its everyday business — gathering data about Internet users and showing them related ads.

The accusations, made over several years in various lawsuits that have been merged into two separate cases, ask whether Google went too far in collecting user data in Gmail and Street View, its mapping project. Two federal judges have ruled, over Google’s protests, that both cases can move forward.

The wiretapping rulings are the latest example of judges and regulators prodding Google over privacy violations. The company is on the defensive, struggling to persuade overseers and its users that it protects consumer data, while arguing that the law is stuck in the past and has failed to keep up with new technologies.

“It’s been a bad month for Google,” said Alan Butler, a lawyer at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “What’s at stake is a core digital privacy issue for consumers right now, which is the extent to which their digital communications are protected from use by third parties.” For the most part, Google has managed to avoid major privacy penalties. The Gmail case could have broad effects, though, because nearly half a billion people worldwide use the service, and because if it is, as expected, certified as a class action, the fines could be enormous. At the same time, the case could have long-term consequences for all e-mail services — including those from Yahoo and Microsoft — and for the issue of how confidential is online data.

“This ruling has the potential to really reshape the entire e-mail industry,” said Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University School of Law.

The Gmail case involves Google’s practice of automatically scanning e-mail messages and showing ads based on the contents of the e-mails. The plaintiffs include voluntary Gmail users, people who have to use Gmail as part of an educational institution and non-Gmail users whose messages were received by a Gmail user. They say the scanning of the messages violates state and federal antiwiretapping laws.

The case revives a short-lived uproar over Gmail ads when Google introduced them in 2004. Microsoft has recently tried to call attention to the practice as part of its Scroogled campaign, including a video that shows a so-called Gmail man reading people’s e-mail. Google has continued to show new types of ads in Gmail, including ads that look like e-mails.

“Google uses Gmail as its own secret data-mining machine, which intercepts, warehouses, and uses, without consent, the private thoughts and ideas of millions of unsuspecting Americans who transmit e-mail messages through Gmail,” lawyers for the plaintiffs argued on July 11, opposing Google’s motion to dismiss the case. On Thursday, Judge Lucy H. Koh of Federal District Court denied Google’s motion in a 43-page order that fought the company at almost every turn.

Judge Koh is highly respected in Silicon Valley, with a reputation for being fearless. During the Apple-Samsung patent trial, she made headlines for asking an Apple lawyer if he was “smoking crack.”

In this case, she came down hard on Google.

In the June 13 motion to dismiss the suit, Google said the plaintiffs were trying to “criminalize ordinary business practices.” It argued that the scanning of Gmail messages was automated, with no human review, and was no different from the processes it uses to detect spam or viruses, offer in-box searching or filter messages into folders. It said users had consented to it by agreeing to Google’s terms of service and privacy policy.

In a section of the motion that was widely noted, Google also argued that non-Gmail users had no expectation of privacy when corresponding with Gmail users.

“Just as a sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the recipient’s assistant opens the letter, people who use Web-based e-mail today cannot be surprised if their communications are processed by the recipient’s” e-mail provider, the lawyers wrote.

Federal wiretap law exempts interception of communication if it is necessary in a service provider’s “ordinary course of business,” which Google said included scanning e-mail. That argument did not fly with Judge Koh.

“In fact, Google’s alleged interception of e-mail content is primarily used to create user profiles and to provide targeted advertising — neither of which is related to the transmission of e-mails,” she wrote in last week’s ruling.

Judge Koh also dismissed Google’s argument that Gmail users consented to the interception and that non-Gmail users who communicated with Gmail users also knew that their messages could be read.

“Accepting Google’s theory of implied consent — that by merely sending e-mails to or receiving e-mails from a Gmail user, a non-Gmail user has consented to Google’s interception of such e-mails for any purposes — would eviscerate the rule against interception,” she wrote. A Google spokeswoman, Leslie Miller, and a lawyer for the company, Michael G. Rhodes of the law firm Cooley, declined to comment on the case beyond a company statement. “We’re disappointed in this decision and are considering our options,” it said. “Automated scanning lets us provide Gmail users with security and spam protection, as well as great features like Priority Inbox.”

Lawyers for the plaintiffs, Sean F. Rommel of Wyly Rommel and F. Jerome Tapley of Cory Watson, did not respond to requests for comment.

Also last week, Google asked the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to reconsider a Sept. 10 ruling that a separate wiretapping lawsuit could proceed. That one involves Google Street View vehicles that secretly collected personal information from unencrypted home computer networks.

The federal antiwiretapping law at the heart of both cases is part of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a 1986 law that has been under fire for years for not taking into account modern-day technology like e-mail.

“It’s not surprising we’re seeing courts struggle with applying the E.C.P.A.,” Mr. Goldman of Santa Clara said. “It’s a poorly drafted statute that has aged very poorly.”


Obama urges Republicans to back down with shutdown set to enter second day

President says House Republicans 'holding the entire economy hostage' after a day that saw thousands of workers sent home

Paul Lewis and Dan Roberts in Washington, Tuesday 1 October 2013 23.47 BST   

Link to video: Obama chastises Republicans over government shutdown

The political deadlock that forced the closure of large portions of the US government on Tuesday, bringing financial uncertainty to hundreds of thousands of federal workers, appeared likely to enter a second day without a resolution.

As national landmarks were barricaded, museums closed, and an estimated 800,000 federal employees were placed on indefinite leave, Barack Obama called on Republicans to back down over their opposition to his healthcare reforms rather than "hold the entire economy hostage".

Striking a defiant tone in the Rose Garden of the White House – one of the many government offices operating on a slimmed-down staff – Obama declared that the Affordable Care Act was "here to stay". Flanked by citizens who will benefit from the reforms, whose central provisions came into force on Tuesday, Obama said: "They've shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health insurance to millions of Americans."

The Republican leader of the House, John Boehner, focused on the refusal by Obama and senior Democrats to negotiate.

"The president isn't telling the whole story when it comes to the government shutdown. The fact is that Washington Democrats have slammed the door on reopening the government by refusing to engage in bipartisan talks," he said.

Federal agencies affected by the shutdown began the process of closing their doors on Tuesday, hours after Congress failed to pass a budget resolution that would have ensured their continued funding.

Hardline Republicans in the House of Representatives repeatedly refused to back down from their insistence that a deal over the federal budget should be linked to various measures that would unpick the Affordable Care Act, a law that has passed both houses of Congress, survived a presidential election and that has been upheld as constitutional by a conservative supreme court.

Outside the halls of power, the impact of the shutdown was visible across Washington. Shortly after 11am, thousands of federal employees poured out of government buildings after working the maximum-permitted four hours. Many had spent the morning turning on out-of-office alerts on their emails and closing down their offices.

Meanwhile, bemused-looking tourists were unable to access any of Washington's major museum and turned back from the monuments that stretch across the National Mall, large parts of which were barricaded. The lights were off at the Lincoln memorial, where the huge edifice of the beloved 16th president sat in the shadows.

It was a similar story around the US: in New York, the Statue of Liberty was closed to visitors, as were the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks. Campers and hikers were given two days to pack up and leave.

The tax-collection agency, the Internal Revenue Service, suspended audits. Most of the staff at Nasa were furloughed, save for essential staff at Mission Control in Houston. The National Institutes of Health said that it would have to turn down an estimated 200 patients a week, 30 of them children, who applied to enrol in its clinical trials.

The most politically embarrassing moment for Congress came when a group of veterans in effect forced their way into a Washington war memorial closed by the shutdown.

But on Capitol Hill, there were few signs of a resolution, with the Republican-dominated House insisting on using the budget to impede the healthcare law, and Democrats in the Senate refusing to be strong-armed into negotiations.

Both sides blamed each other for the shutdown, although some fissures were appearing on the Republican side, particularly in the Senate. Polls suggested that the public held Republicans most responsible for a shutdown that could drag on for days or weeks.

Ominously, one senior House Republican hinted at a battle that could last weeks and incorporate a looming crisis over the debt ceiling, which could trigger a US default if it is not raised with congressional approval before 17 October.

"We think the debt limit is the forcing mechanism," Paul Ryan told reporters. "That's what we think will bring the two parties together."

In the latest salvo, House Republicans proposed measures that would involve piecemeal funding bills designed to mitigate a few of the more high-profile aspects of the shutdown that are proving most damaging in terms of public relations.

The bills, which would release national parks and veterans services from the shutdown, and could help fund basic services Washington, DC, was scheduled for a vote on Wednesday night. Serving military personnel have already been exempted from the shutdown after a rare agreement between the House and Senate over the weekend.

The White House press secretary Jay Carney dismissed a piecemeal approach on government funding as "not serious." He said: "If we want to open the government, they should open the government."

However, even if the House and Senate agree to find short-term solutions to diminish the more prominent impacts of the shutdown, the consequences for the vast apparatus of the federal government would remain.

Although it had been brewing for some weeks, the first US government shutdown since 1996 appeared to take many in Washington by surprise, with several furloughed federal workers saying they never thought Republicans would actually see through their threat.

The impact of the shutdown on Tuesday were as varied as they were surreal. Children's playgrounds around Capitol Hill were closed, restaurants that serve government workers shuttered, and some government websites and Twitter feeds suddenly became inactive. There were crowds of furloughed federal workers outside nearly every government building; some emerged clutching pot plants, unaware how long they would be locked out.

The scene that unfolded outside the Department of Labor headquarters was repeated across the city, in which the government is by far the largest employer. Inside, two Labor Department chiefs – David Michaels, an assistant secretary, and his deputy, Jordan Barab – had just finished visiting every single office to speak personally with staff. Barab did so despite being on crutches.

"There was no sense when we might come back," said Lisa Long, 45, a safety engineer. "People were demoralised and maybe even a little shocked that it was actually happening."

Employees in the Labor building include some well-paid senior officials, but others on annual salaries as low as $25,000. "These people need paychecks, they gotta eat," said Monique Tribbett, a 45-year-old IT contractor.

"I'm trying to get people to protest. Not just people in the department but, you know, all these other people who are affected. If we all went, right now, to the steps of the Capitol Building and protested, then they might start listening to us. But people don't wanna stand together. I feel like I'm on my own."


October 2, 2013

House G.O.P. Pushes Piecemeal Approach as Democrats Stand Firm


WASHINGTON — House Republicans are likely to try again on Wednesday to pass three piecemeal spending bills that would reopen parts of the government, as both parties try to force the other to crack under mounting public pressure to end the two-day-old shutdown.

The Republicans suffered embarrassing losses on Tuesday night when the three bills — to finance veterans’ programs, national parks and museums, and federally financed services in Washington — failed to get the two-thirds majorities required to pass under fast-track procedures.

Aides to the Republican leadership said the bills would be introduced on Wednesday under ordinary rules that require only simple majorities, and they should easily pass. But Democrats are likely to be granted procedural votes of their own, which would be an opportunity to test how many Republicans would defy their leadership and vote to reopen the entire government without crippling President Obama’s health care law — the standoff that shut down the government at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday.

As public anger grows, more Republicans are coming forward to call for such a rebellion.

“The frustration and anger over Obamacare is being interpreted to be an all-or-nothing calculation,” said Representative Patrick Meehan, Republican of Pennsylvania, who now favors a simple stopgap spending measure to reopen the government. “People are very worried about Obamacare. Some of its pieces are problematic.

“But they want us to come here and work on problems across America, and we can’t get to doing that if both sides are dug in,” he said.

Democrats face pressure of their own to drop their stance of approving a spending bill only if it is free of policy prescriptions. Senate Democratic leaders say they plan to immediately kill all three of the piecemeal House bills, arguing that they will not be forced to choose between financing veterans’ programs or cancer research at the National Institutes of Health

Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, said Speaker John A. Boehner should “stop the games, think about the people he is hurting, and let the House pass the Senate’s bill to reopen the government with Republican and Democratic votes.”

Republicans said they planned to make Democrats pay a political price for voting against the bill financing veterans’ programs.

“In what can only be described as a disgraceful partisan maneuver, just after most of them voted for a government shutdown, House Democrats have now chosen to turn their backs on America’s veterans,” Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana said after 164 Democrats voted against the veterans bill, just enough to keep it from passing.

All three measures won significant support but still failed because of the two-thirds rule. The veterans bill, which would finance veterans’ disability payments, education benefits, job training and home loans, failed 264-183.

Another bill to reopen national parks, the Smithsonian and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, and the United States Holocaust Museum, failed 252-176. And a bill to help the District of Columbia provide services fell 265-163.

Democrats say they will not negotiate any changes to the health care law, nor will they reopen the government piece by piece. To do so, they said, would only encourage Republican brinkmanship.

While some Republicans are ready to cave in, the House’s most ardent conservatives said they could win the battle for public opinion and, eventually, the war over the health care law, whose insurance exchanges opened for enrollment on Tuesday.

“I’m optimistic. At the end of the day, the American people usually get their way,” said Representative Tim Huelskamp, Republican of Kansas.

To many Senate Republicans, the House conservatives’ position has become mystifying. In a meeting of Senate Republicans, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee rose to ask how the party would respond if it controlled the White House and the Senate and a Democratic House insisted it would not finance the government unless Washington rolled back laws hampering unions.

Added Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina: “All the cards are held on one side of this.”


October 1, 2013

Staunch Group of Republicans Outflanks House Leaders


WASHINGTON — They have had their fleeting moments on cable television. Their closed-door run-ins with Speaker John A. Boehner spill occasionally into the pages of Capitol Hill newspapers. But outside their districts, and sometimes even within them, few have heard of the conservative cadre of House Republicans who have led the charge to shut down the government.

In contrast to 1995, when Speaker Newt Gingrich led his band of “revolutionary” Republicans into the last battle that shuttered the federal government, this time a small but powerful group of outspoken conservative hard-liners is leading its leaders — and increasingly angering a widening group of fellow Republicans.

“We’ve passed the witching hour of midnight, and the sky didn’t fall, nothing caved in,” said Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, who still believes Republicans can achieve “the end of Obamacare.” “Now the pressure will build on both sides, and the American people will weigh in.”

Mr. King is part of a hard-core group of about two dozen or so of the most conservative House members who stand in the way of a middle path for Mr. Boehner that could keep most of his party unified while pressuring the Senate to compromise. Their numbers may be small, but they are large enough to threaten the speaker’s job if he were to turn to Democrats to pass a spending bill that reopened the government without walloping the health law. Their strategy is to yield no ground until they are able to pass legislation reining in the health care law; if the federal government stays closed, so be it.

And they believe they are winning.

“It’s getting better for us,” said Representative Raúl R. Labrador, Republican of Idaho. “The moment where Republicans are least popular is right when the government shuts down. But when the president continues to say he’s unwilling to negotiate with the American people, when Harry Reid says he won’t even take things to conference, I don’t think the American people are going to take that too kindly.”

Representative Jeff Duncan, Republican of South Carolina, also did not flinch.

“We feel strongly enough” to hold the line, he said. “I was elected in 2010. I feel Obamacare is shutting down America.”

For nearly three years, Mr. Boehner has been vexed by an ungovernable conservative group made of up ideologically committed conservatives from safe House seats. The group has defied his leadership, rallied others to its cause and worn its gadfly status proudly. Earlier this year, the speaker disregarded them and passed three major bills that attracted only a minority of his party. Instead, he relied on Democratic votes to pass a budget plan that allowed taxes to rise on the rich, relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy and an expansion of the Violence Against Women Act.

That nucleus of that group has stuck in the leadership’s craw for some time. Representative Justin Amash, Republican of Michigan, has voted against Republican positions 136 times in his short stretch in Congress. Representative Paul Broun, Republican of Georgia, has voted no on Republican motions 84 times. Representative Thomas Massie, a freshman from Kentucky, is rising in the pesky ranks with 91 no votes in nine months.

In March, Representatives Matt Salmon and David Schweikert, both Arizona Republicans, responded with a threat to bring down any bill that did not have overwhelming Republican support through procedural maneuvers. The speaker has refrained ever since.

But the influence of the group is sparking an internal backlash, as a growing band of moderate and institutional Republicans are demanding that Mr. Boehner stand up to the conservatives — to reopen the government and reach bipartisan accommodations in the future.

“You have somewhere between 180 and 200 Republican governance votes in the House, and going forward on this issue and many other issues, we’re going to have to find a coalition of Democrats to work with,” said Representative Charlie Dent, Republican of Pennsylvania, “and recognize there is going to be a few dozen people on the Republican side who just aren’t going to be there on a lot of these major governance matters.”

With much of the government shut down, patience is wearing thin among some Republicans who see the maneuvering of the coalition of conservatives as counterproductive. In 2011, the hard-liners insisted on including a constitutional amendment to balance the budget in a House spending-cut bill, splitting the Republicans in a way that many believe led to fewer cuts in the final Budget Control Act than they would have had otherwise. In December, when they brought down the speaker’s proposal to let taxes rise on incomes over $1 million, Mr. Boehner was left with two choices: let the Bush-era tax cuts expire for everyone, or accept a bipartisan Senate plan that raised taxed on households earning over $400,000. He chose the latter.

“I’m not suggesting their motives are not legitimately felt, but you get to a point where we can accomplish something here, but we’re watching the speaker constrained on what he can deliver, a practical promise from a united House,” said Representative Patrick Meehan, Republican of Pennsylvania. “We retreat from a position of strength and accept something that’s worse.”

Now, many Republicans believe conservative demands to inflict real damage to the health care law is letting slip away the chance to make more realistic changes to the law, like a repeal of its tax on medical devices.

“They have never followed any leadership plan, and now all of a sudden the leadership has adopted their plans and we’re fully implementing their strategy and plan, which is I think is actually a lack of a strategy,” said Devin Nunes, Republican of California.

House Republicans were seething Tuesday after two of the most ardent conservatives, Representatives Broun and Phil Gingrey of Georgia, voted against a House Republican bill that linked further government funding to a measure to deny federal subsidies to members of Congress and their staff, who must buy their health insurance on the health law’s new insurance exchanges. The proposal is unpopular with staff members who would have to cover the full costs of their insurance, unlike most public and private sector jobs where employers pick up part of the premiums.

They said the vote was unexpected because two weeks ago Mr. Gingrey stood at a closed-door party meeting and said members concerned about hurting their staff were misguided, since they would just go to lobbying firms “downtown” and make a half-million dollars a year.

“The congressman made a pledge that he would not vote for a continuing resolution that funded Obamacare. That was the compelling factor in his vote last night,” said a Gingrey spokeswoman, Jen Talaber.

The conservatives remain resolute against compromises, even some embraced by Republican leaders. Representative John Fleming, Republican of Louisiana, said he could not accept a repeal of the health law’s tax on medical devices as a concession to reopen the government.

“That could be bad because it could improve a bad bill,” he said. “And while it’s a terrible tax, removing a tax to make what is really an atrocious bill to the economy slightly better, I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

To many Senate Republicans, the House’s position has now become mystifying.

“I can’t blame them for anything other than being sold a line that wouldn’t work, seeing the outside support and saying ‘maybe, maybe, maybe,’ ” Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina, said of House conservatives. “Well, you know that train only in a children’s story actually gets to the top of the hill.”


Bleeding Money: The GOP Shutdown Will Cost Between $40-$80 Million a Day

By: Sarah Jones
Oct. 1st, 2013

MSN Money reported that the 1995-96 shutdown cost an estimated $74 million a day, “The OMB estimated that the 27-day 1995-96 shutdown cost a total of $1.4 billion, or about $2 billion in today’s dollars. Some of the lost revenue in fees and fines would eventually be recouped, according to MSNBC. Divide $2 billion by 27 and you get about $74 million a day.”

Estimates for the current shutdown vary from $40 to $80 million a day, but according to MSN Money, “share one similar prognostication: a government shutdown is bad for the economy.”

It gets worse. Annie Lowrey, an economic policy reporter for the New York Times, tweeted a staggering estimate of the damage the shutdown is doing to GDP, “David Stockton, formerly of the Fed, estimates a shutdown costs 0.15 percent of GDP growth a week.”

    David Stockton, formerly of the Fed, estimates a shutdown costs 0.15 percent of GDP growth a week.

    — Annie Lowrey (@AnnieLowrey) October 1, 2013

Stockton came to the same number as Morgan Stanley’s Vincent Reinhart and Ellen Zentner, who estimated the shutdown would have a direct impact on gross domestic product growth, reducing GDP growth by .15% per week. Fiscal conservatives you say? Not so much.

So, we pay when Republicans pretend to repeal ObamaCare (clearly a fail), we’d pay a lot more if they actually defunded it as it would increase the deficit, we are still paying for their 2011 debt ceiling debacle, and now we are paying for their latest temper tantrum – the GOP shutdown.

Not to get all Republican, but I’m thinking Democrats might take this opportunity to reject a short term CR at current levels. Real budget or bust.

I don’t say that to be punitive or because I’m taking this lightly. Unlike Sarah Palin, I don’t consider the functions of the government to be a big joke. Rather, the opposite.

Sometimes you have to dish out some tough love, and that time is far past. If the suicide caucus of Republicans don’t have to pay for their behavior, they’re going to keep acting like willful, petulant children. These people are not the Republicans of old. They can’t be trusted to get it. They are anarchists, sent to D.C. to serve corporations and some of them don’t even know that. These are not bright minds, capable of change and growth on their own. The only way they’re going to grow up is to be forced to face the consequences of their behavior.

The facts are you don’t always get what you want, and sometimes when you overplay your cards, you end up paying big time. I’d be very tempted to reject any short term “fixes” via a CR that will only leave the Democrats open to more hostage taking weeks down the road.

What if Republicans had to come to the table to frigging do their job for real.

What if they had to sit down for budget reconciliation and they were not allowed to use the debt ceiling or the economy as hostages. They will, if there’s even a glimmer of reality among the Tea newbies, eventually be more prone to negotiate with the shutdown hanging around their 2014 necks.

It’s time for Democrats to dish out some tough love to the hate crack addicted tea, because Speaker John Boehner obviously can’t do it and someone has to be the grown up. Boehner won’t even put a CR up for a vote that is set at Republicans’ budget levels. How’s that for stomping on your own ideas?


John Boehner Warns Republicans Government Shutdown Could Cost Them The House in 2014

By: Jason Easley
Oct. 1st, 2013

John Boehner is privately warning House Republicans that the government shutdown could cost them control of the House in 2014.

According to Politico, Speaker Boehner is warning House Republicans that the government shutdown could cost them control of the House next year, “The majority of polls show Republicans will bear the blame for this shutdown. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has privately warned House Republicans that they could lose their majority in 2014 as a result of shutting down the government.”

Now we understand why Boehner looked like a man who was digging his own grave, when he addressed the media shortly after the shutdown began.

Democrats have been enraged by the shutdown itself, but also see that Republican stupidity has opened the door for them to take back control of the House next year. Boehner is correct. The “Suicide Caucus” has driven House Republicans to the brink of losing their majority. The bad news for Speaker Boehner is that Democrats are not going to budge an inch on the ACA. House Republicans are going to get absolutely nothing on Obamacare.

House Democratic Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) made that clear late last night when she was asked by a reporter if Democrats could accept any small narrow change to Obamacare to get out of a shutdown. Her one word answer said it all, “No.”

Speaker Boehner knows that House Republicans are digging their own graves. Boehner has been saving the party from itself since he became Speaker, but this time, he is standing aside and letting them self destruct. House Republican leadership knows exactly what the outcome will be if this shutdown lasts for more than a couple of days. They know that their strategy of taking a hostage instead of doing the budget through regular order is backfiring. They know what they have to do, but so far they are refusing to do it.

President Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi are breaking the backs of the anti-government tea party forces. Their constant talk of a faction within the Republican Party being responsible for the shutdown is laying the groundwork for 2014. The House Republicans who have shutdown the government will be the top targets of Democrats next year.

Every minute that goes by with the government still shutdown is another step towards handing Democrats control of the House in 2014. John Boehner knows this, and for reasons only known to him, is refusing to stop it.


Shutdown Backfires: New Poll Shows Democrats Opening Big Midterm Lead 43-34

By: Sarah Jones
Oct. 1st, 2013

Shutdown polling has grim news for Republicans. 72% oppose GOP shutdown strategy to block ObamaCare, including 44% of Republicans. Three-in-four independents (74%-19%) object.

But even worse, conventional wisdom that Republicans’ shutdown could not harm them in the midterms because only older white people vote in midterms, especially in the midterm of a president’s second term, is not as sure of a bet as the beltway has assured the GOP.

A new Quinnipiac poll shows voters picking a generic Democrat over a generic Republican 43% to 34%, which they point out is the widest Democratic margin measured so far.

Asked “If the election for the U.S. House of Representatives were being held today, would you vote for the Republican candidate, or for the Democratic candidate in your district?”

The last time Republicans were almost this low was in April, but they managed to damage the Democratic brand with the summer of fake scandals.

Speaker John Boehner tried to warn House Republicans to no avail, and he continues to try to impose reality upon the newbie Tea nihilists today, warning them that they could lose their majority in 2014 as a result of shutting down the government.

The same clueless Republicans driving the stupid in D.C. feel very assured right now that this shutdown won’t hurt them. They don’t seem to appreciate history (Newt Gingrich shutdown Clinton), polls, or reality. Nothing breaks through the cloud of narcissist tea hubris, crippled as it is by its ignorance and inexperience, and further broken by Republicans’ collective refusal to “believe” in facts. These folks live in the epistemic bubble of their highly cultivated and well funded corporate cult.

Quinnipiac cautioned that we are far out from the midterms, but that the GOP brand is taking a beating, “In general, the Republican brand is down as evidenced by the Democrats’ unusually large lead in the so called generic ballot. But we have 13 months before an election can translate this public opinion edge into electoral gains and in politics that amount of time is forever.”

Caveat: The beltway also bought into the Republican narrative of who was going to turn out to vote in 2012, and that is why no one objected to the obviously skewed polls. The conventional wisdom was that Obama voters had soured on him and wouldn’t turn out. But of course, the real “Obama voters” turned out in droves, and even stood in line for hours and faced numerous obstacles in order to cast their ballots.

“On almost all questions, voters see President Obama as more reasonable, and better able to handle the issues,” Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, explained. “But it is not because the president is beloved. He remains under water in job approval and is tied with Congressional Republicans on who best handles the budget deficit. Voters are angry at almost everyone in Washington over their inability to keep the trains running, but they are madder at the Republicans than the Democrats.”

In the end, when Republicans refuse to govern, their actions bring everyone’s approval ratings down. They count on this consistent result of dysfunction. However, in this shutdown, Republicans are too clearly leading the suicide bus over the cliff and they’re doing it over an issue that baffles most Americans. Even if people disagree with ObamaCare, they don’t want Republicans to shut the government down over it.

If you’re wondering where Paul Ryan is hiding for the days leading up to the shutdown, rumor has it that he’s busy drafting Republican demands over the debt ceiling. I kid you not. He built this shutdown with his sequester love and his budget that even Republicans couldn’t make work.


October 01, 2013 05:00 PM

GOP Congress Members Threw Staffers Under The Bus Last Night

By Susie Madrak

Trying to come to an agreement with Republicans is like trying to play football against another team that uses guns and acid. They'll even throw their own people under the bus, like they did with last night's vote on the Vitter amendment -- or, as Republicans call it without a trace of conscious irony, the James Madison Congressional Accountability Act:

    There's a new front in the battle over Obamacare: Republican congressional staffers are angry at their bosses for trying to deprive them of affordable insurance.

    Like many Americans, most Congressional staffers receive health insurance through their employer, the federal government. And like most employers, the government covers a big portion of the cost: 75 percent. The Affordable Care Act changed this, requiring members of Congress and their staff to obtain coverage via the the health insurance exchanges created by the law. But the language in the law was unclear as to whether lawmakers and their aides would be able to keep using government money to purchase heath insurance. To clear this up, the Obama administration issued a proposed rule in August stating that the government would continue to cover 75 percent of congressional health benefits. The GOP latched onto this new regulation as an "outrageous exemption for Congress" and a "big fat taxpayer funded subsidy." Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), introduced bills that would strip out those employer contributions.

    Yanking taxpayer subsidies for lawmakers makes sense politically for GOPers; it would be dangerous for Democratic lawmakers to reject a spending bill that slashes their benefits. But the proposed move has Congressional staffers—including Republicans—indignant.

    "I understand it politically, and as a talking point," one rank-and-file Republican staffer says of the Vitter and McCaul measures. "But Congress literally threw staff under the bus on this… You're hurting staff assistants who are sorting your mail."

    Staffers don't make as much money as you may think, he adds. "When I started on the Hill answering phone calls, I'd hear people saying, 'You're a rich congressional staffer,' and I'm like, 'you must be out of your mind.'" Some low-level congressional employees make as little as about $28,000 a year; House staff salaries are the lowest they've been since 2007. "We have folks in our office who don't make a lot of money," the GOP aide says, "and losing an employer contribution will make it hard on them."

    Some Republican lawmakers agree: Rep. Peter King (R-NY), said Monday that junior staff members were being "sacrificed" for a political game. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told ABC that bumping up health care costs for staffers was "probably not a good idea," adding that low-paid staffers will "suffer."

    Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, thinks the GOP has picked a losing strategy. "You never want your staffers unhappy," he says.

    Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Florida), is of the same mind: "If you're going to stick pins in a voodoo doll, the doll shouldn't be people who work for you."


Alan Grayson: Republicans are rejecting Obamacare out of drunken anger

By Arturo Garcia
Tuesday, October 1, 2013 17:23 EDT

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) did not discount what he called “public reports” that Republican lawmakers were drinking on the job, telling Salon that it was affecting their job performance.

“It’s a fact we all have to live with,” Grayson said in an interview published on Tuesday. “It’s making them violent and abusive towards America.”

Grayson did not identify any Congress members by name, but told Salon that “you can smell alcohol on their breath as they’re voting gleefully to shut down the government and create chaos.”

Huffington Post correspondent Jennifer Bendery wrote on Twitter on Monday night that, “About every other House lawmaker I just talked to smelled like booze. It’s only 9pm.” Bendery’s account corroborates a Post report from Saturday that other media members witnessed or smelled unidentified lawmakers drinking in the midst of negotiations over shuttering government offices.

Grayson also accused House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) of stymieing a vote on a “clean” continuing resolution — one providing funding for the government that also includes the Affordable Care Act — out of self-preservation.

“He enjoys his golf games with the president, and he doesn’t want to lose that perk, and so he’s desperate to maintain his relevance, and that means maintaining his position at all costs,” Grayson told Salon. “Even the kind of costs we’re seeing now for the country.”

While Republican opposition has hinged on the new healthcare law, Grayson also accused Republicans of wanting to roll back other public health programs, such as the mandate requring emergency rooms to provide health care for patients unable to pay for their services.

“When you talk to them privately, what you find is that if they could repeal Medicare they would,” Grayson argued to Salon. “If they could repeal Medicaid they would. They are literally offended by the idea that people would get the care they need to stay healthy or alive even though they can’t afford it. They regard it as some kind of crime against nature.


Rafael, the Wacko Birds and Their Celebrated Shutdown

By: Adalia Woodbury
Oct. 1st, 2013

Only Rafael Cruz and his flock of wacko birds consider an epic fail a win.  Rafael and the wacko birds celebrated the government shutdown as if they actually accomplished something.  True, they got the government shutdown, which will hurt babies and their mothers who relied on the supplemental nourishment program.  True, children will be hurt because the Head Start schools they go to are shut down.  While the troops will be paid, 800,000 civilian government employees face furloughs for an undetermined period.  Over 3 million Veterans will not get benefits. The safety of your food will be compromised because food inspectors will scale back their work. Small business growth will slow down.  Disability benefits will be interrupted. Rafael and the wacko birds compromised national security and put our diplomats at risk.  It means the center for disease control will shut down, as will the Statue of Liberty.  Contrary to wacko bird rhetoric, shutting down the government is an expensive proposition with human and financial costs.    Yeehah!  So much to celebrate!

Rafael and the wacko birds don’t care that 72% of Americans oppose the shutdown because that would entail thinking about someone other than themselves.  Besides, the wacko birds dumped John Boehner and appointed Rafael as the real leader of their band.  They also revealed the so-called Republican moderates as wimps unable to stand up to Rafael and the wacko birds.  However, Rafael and the wacko birds can claim a secondary achievement. Republican moderates are starting to find their spines.  One should note that, in this case, moderate is a relative term.  We’re still taking about people who think that healthcare insurance should cease to be accessible the moment someone actually needs to use it.  They just don’t equate the healthcare law with Nazism, slavery and communism.

For all the suffering and the political consequences that come with a shutdown, it remains an epic fail because Rafael and the wacko birds didn’t achieve the one thing they wanted more than they wanted anything else.  The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare remains law.  People visited the site to learn  more about the exchanges that will give them access to the healthcare system that Rafael and the wacko birds enjoy on the taxpayers’ dime.  They could sign up, be it under the original named law or the same law under a revised name  within their state.

Obamacare didn’t come tumbling down.  Moreover, Rafael Cruz knew it during his audition for Teabilly Presidential candidate in 2016.  In reality, that audition was the only “principle” that Rafael stood for.

Affordable Care Act is the law of the land.  On the first day of October, Americans who the previous system denied access to “the best healthcare system in the world” gained  access and with options beyond scamcare policies and the emergency room.  Insurers won’t be able to cap life-sustaining services and impose gender-based penalties.  The days in which illness meant bankruptcy are over.

Americans rejected Rafael’s dire warning that gaining access to healthcare is Nazism.  They ignored Michele Bachmann’s equally absurd claims that somehow getting healthcare is akin to a cocaine addiction, or others who compared having access to a doctor with slavery and freedom from bankruptcy in the event of a medical crisis with communism.  They just laughed at Sarah Palin’s desperate attempt to become significant by jumping on the Rafael Teawagon.

The lies will continue, because that’s what the wacko birds do.  People who have the ability to think for themselves can see firsthand that if you have a pre-existing condition.  you can have insurance. Your pre-existing condition will be treated immediately.  Even if you have a grandfathered policy that doesn’t treat pre-existing conditions, you can still get coverage on the exchange.  They’ll see every Whacko bird talking point about the ACA is a lie, including the claim that somehow a government shutdown would mean a shutdown of access to healthcare.  Who knows maybe a few wacko birds will find out that the all the things they love  in the Affordable Care Act but hate about Obamacare,  are in Obamacare because they are the same thing.

The only thing that may shock them more is the realization that Ted Cruz and Rafael Cruz are the same person who is a dual citizen of Canada and the United States and who likes to wear ostrich skin boots.


Almost 3m Americans visit online healthcare exchanges amid glitches

Level of traffic to new exchange sites described as 'historic' as president says new healthcare law is here to stay

Karen McVeigh in New York
The Guardian, Tuesday 1 October 2013 23.16 BST   

Up to 2.8 million Americans visited the new online healthcare exchanges that form the backbone of Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, but many were met by technical glitches that prevented or delayed their enrolment.

A further 81,000 called the telephone hotline when the exchanges opened on Tuesday, just as the federal government ground to a halt amid congressional stalemate over the same legislation.

A spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services described the level of traffic to the website as "historic".

In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday afternoon, Marilyn Tavenner, the CMS administrator, said that officials had added capacity, improved the system and were hoping to speed up access of the federally-run site, which acts as a portal for 36 states.

The CMS reported that the system was now "ready" and that people have been able to complete the application process and shop for plans.

However, despite repeated requests, Tavenner refused to provide the number of people who had successfully signed up for the exchanges, or the reason for not doing so. She stressed that it was "day one" in a six-month period of enrolment.

Speaking from the White House on Tuesday, President Obama said his new healthcare law is "here to stay" and highlighted the "irony" which meant that, because of its funding sources, the healthcare law would not be affected by the government shutdown.

Obama said his administration would fix technical problems amid "this demand that exceeds anything that we had expected."

In New York state, two million people visited the site within two hours of its opening. The "overwhelming interest in the NY state of health" resulted in login issues, a message on the site said on Tuesday. It urged users unable to log in to return to the site "later, when these issues will be resolved."

A state-run exchange in Maryland also posted a message saying it was "experiencing connectivity issues" and asking visitors to try again later. There were also problems reported with security questions on the federal site.

Although no figures were available for the federal site, some states reported numbers of those who created accounts. Richard Sorian, spokesman for the DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority, told the Washington Post that 1,500 residents created accounts in the first 90 minutes in Washington.

Organisers stressed that Tuesday represented just the beginning of a six-month enrolment period. A huge public information campaign is under way to inform Americans of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act. For the first time, people will not be denied healthcare or charged more because they suffer from a pre-existing condition.

The White House has named 900 different groups, from the American Nurses Association to local pharmacies and advocacy groups, that are helping people get through the sign-up process. Enrolment events have been planned at public libraries, churches, festivals, sports events, and community meetings.

Coverage begins as early as January 1 2014 for people enrolling by December 15 2013. The healthcare exchanges include a range of options for patients to compare plans and find out if they are eligible for subsidies.

"We want consumers to know that they can find and compare options, check if they qualify for lower costs, and get covered," said Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

On Monday, Kathleen Sebelius, the health and human services secretary, admitted there would probably be issues with the websites, and asked for patience. She likened the inevitable fixes to software updates on Apple products such as the iPhone or iPad.

"No one is calling on Apple to not sell devices for a year or to get out of the business because the whole thing is a failure," she said, according to the Washington Post. "Everyone just assumes that there's a problem, they'll fix it, let's move on … Hopefully, they'll give us the same slack as they give Apple."

Sebelius said she expected "90%" of those looking to get insurance on the health exchanges would qualify for financial help.

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Posts: 28644

« Reply #9087 on: Oct 03, 2013, 05:47 AM »

Golden Dawn leader jailed ahead of Greek criminal trial

Nikos Michaloliakos is first elected political head to be held since end of military rule, on charges of using party to run crime gang

Helena Smith in Athens, Thursday 3 October 2013 08.17 BST   

In a move not seen since the collapse of military rule, the leader of Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party has been jailed pending trial on charges that he used the organisation to operate a criminal gang that sowed terror on the streets of the country.

Emerging from Athens' court complex at 4.30am on Thursday to cries of "be strong chief", Nikos Michaloliakos was led away in handcuffs under armed guard to a Jeep that took him to the city's police headquarters. From there he will be transferred to prison, the first elected political head to be incarcerated in almost 40 years.

The politician, who denies the allegations, testified before an investigating magistrate for more than six hours. His wife, who is expected to replace him as head of the party, and his daughter, a senior Golden Dawn cadre, shouted words of encouragement as he was brought out ashen-faced.

In a statement released soon after, the neo-fascist party denounced the crackdown on the movement, which has seen its most prominent MPs rounded up and arrested.

"The most wretched plot in modern Greek history is currently under way against Golden Dawn," it said. "The detention of our general secretary is totally unjust, unconstitutional and has been dictated by foreign centres of power."

Michaloliakos was brought to Athens' court complex on Wednesday evening as followers cheered on the man accused of being the pre-eminent face of neo-nazism in Europe. "Blood, honour, Chrysi Avgi [Golden Dawn]," they screamed as the squat, grey-haired politician was led under armed guard into the building.

Michaloliakos had been expected to adopt the same stance as five other Golden Dawn MPs arrested on Saturday, arguing that he was the victim of political persecution. The 56-year-old mathematician is believed to have combed through a 4,000-page dossier drawn up by a supreme court prosecutor outlining Golden Dawn's alleged crimes over 20 years.

Charges include founding a political force that subscribes to the principles of Nazi ideology and actively indulges in widespread violence, targeting immigrants, minorities and political opponents.

Three of the four MPs arrested with Michaloliakos were released on Wednesday, pending trial. A fourth deputy, Yannis Lagos, was ordered to be kept in detention following charges that, like Michaloliakos, he was directly connected to the death of the Greek hip-hop star Pavlos Fyssas on 17 September in a working-class suburb of Athens.

The court also ordered Giorgos Patelis, the head of Golden Dawn's local office in the area west of Athens where Fyssas was stabbed, to be remanded in custody.

A sixth MP, Christos Pappas, who the prosecution has described as Michaloliakos's second in command, was to appear in court for his preliminary hearing later on Thursday morning.

Ilias Kasidiaris, the party's press officer, was freed on condition that he posted €50,000 (£42,000) in bail. All of the men were told they could not leave Greece.

Opposition politicians and lawyers voiced fears that, while executed with good intent, the charge sheet had been put together too quickly.

"This development shows that at least in the eyes of the court authorities the case was not substantiated enough," said Harris Ikonomopoulos, a prominent lawyer and publisher of the left-leaning daily Eleftherotypia. "It creates the perception that Greece is becoming a failed state where none of its institutions or the rule of law work."

Freed from custody, the Golden Dawn politicians showed their contempt for the media, shoving, kicking and spitting at photographers outside court. "Now you will see, you disgusting people," one deputy, Ilias Panagiotaros, said. "You will only stop us with bullets."

The extremists have been held responsible for hundreds of assaults in the 16 months since their 18 MPs were elected with 7% of the vote to the Athens parliament in June last year.

As the alleged mastermind of a criminal gang, Michaloliakos has also been linked to the murder of Fyssas, who rapped about the rise of racism in Greece.

The stabbing by a self-proclaimed member of Golden Dawn spurred Antonis Samaras's coalition government to take what officials are describing as the huge risk of launching the crackdown last weekend. From the US, where he is on an official trip, Samaras vowed to eradicate the evil of neo-Nazism, saying there was no place for it in any state.


Followers cheer as head of Golden Dawn appears in court

Far-right leader Nikos Michaloliakos charged with operating a criminal organisation that targets immigrants and opponents

Helena Smith in Athens
The Guardian, Thursday 3 October 2013   

The head of Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party appeared in court on Wednesday in a highly anticipated defence of charges that he used the group to operate a criminal organisation that sowed terror on the streets of the country.

His hands cuffed, Nikos Mihaloliakos was brought to Athens' court complex as followers cheered on the man accused of being the pre-eminent face of neo-nazism in Europe. "Blood, honour, Chrysi Avgi [Golden Dawn]," they screamed as the squat, grey-haired politician was led under armed guard into the building.

The first elected party chief to be arrested in Greece since the fall of military rule almost 40 years ago, Michaloliakos had been expected to adopt the same stance as five other Golden Dawn MPs arrested on Saturday, arguing he is the victim of political persecution. The 56-year-old mathematician is believed to have combed through a 4,000-page dossier drawn up by a supreme court prosecutor outlining Golden Dawn's alleged crimes over 20 years.

The charges include founding a political force that subscribes to the principles of Nazi ideology and actively indulges in widespread violence, targeting immigrants, minorities and political opponents.

Three of the four MPs arrested with Michaloliakos were released on Wednesday pending trial. A fourth deputy, Yannis Lagos, was ordered to be kept in detention following charges that, like Michaloliakos, he was directly connected to the death of Greek hip-hop star Pavlos Fyssas on September 17 in a working class suburb of Athens.

The court also ordered Giorgos Patelis, the head of Golden Dawn's local office in the area west of Athens where Fyssas was stabbed, to be remanded in custody.

A sixth party MP, Christos Pappas, who the prosecution has described as Michaloliakos' second in command, was to appear in court for his preliminary hearing later on Thursday morning.
Link to video: Golden Dawn party infiltrates Greece's police, claims senior officer

Ilias Kasidiaris, the party's press officer, was freed on condition that he posted €50,000 (£42,000) in bail. All of the men were told they could not leave Greece.

Opposition politicians and lawyers voiced fears that while executed with good intent, the charge sheet had been put together too quickly.

"This development shows that at least in the eyes of the court authorities the case was not substantiated enough," said Harris Ikonomopoulos, publisher of the left-leaning daily Eleftherotypia and a prominent lawyer. "It creates the perception that Greece is becoming a failed state where none of its institutions or the rule of law work."

Freed from custody, the Golden Dawn politicians showed their contempt for the media, shoving, kicking and spitting at photographers outside the Athens court. "Now you will see you disgusting people," one deputy, Ilias Panagiotaros, said. "You will only stop us with bullets."

The extremists have been held responsible for hundreds of assaults in the 16 months since their 18 MPs were elected with 7% of the vote to the Athens parliament in June last year.

As the alleged mastermind of a criminal gang, Michaloliakos has also been linked to the murder of Fyssas, who rapped about the rise of racism in Greece.

The stabbing by a self-proclaimed member of Golden Dawn spurred Antonis Samaras's coalition government to take what officials are describing as the huge risk of launching the crackdown last weekend.

From the US, where he is on an official trip, Samaras vowed to eradicate the evil of neo-Nazism, saying there was no place for it in any state.


Greek neo-Nazi lawmakers face criminal charges for belonging to Golden Dawn

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 2, 2013 10:09 EDT

Four lawmakers from Greece’s Golden Dawn neo-Nazi party were charged Wednesday with belonging to a criminal organisation as the authorities move to dismantle the group after the murder of an anti-fascist musician.

The indictments — the first ever against neo-Nazi MPs in Greece — were unveiled as Golden Dawn’s leader was due to appear in court later Wednesday facing the same charge.

Three of those indicted Wednesday were released, a move seen as surprising given the gravity of the charges, but government officials stressed the political importance of the judicial action against them.

“Criminal charges have been filed… this is just the first phase,” Interior Minister Yiannis Michelakis told Skai TV.

“What is politically important is that Golden Dawn is characterised as a criminal organisation,” the ruling party’s parliament spokesman Makis Voridis told the station.

Golden Dawn was the country’s third most popular party until the murder of anti-fascist hip-hop musician Pavlos Fyssas on September 18 sparked nationwide protests and a government crackdown on the group long accused of attacking immigrants, charges that it denies.

The four lawmakers — Ilias Kasidiaris, Yiannis Lagos, Nikos Michos and Ilias Panagiotaros — were all indicted by magistrates on a charge of belonging to a criminal organisation.

Lagos was placed in pre-trial detention, but the remaining three were conditionally released, a judicial source said.

Kassidiaris was ordered to pay 50,000 euros ($68,000) in bail, and all three freed lawmakers were banned from leaving the country, the source said.

“Enjoy your democracy,” the lawmakers told reporters as they walked out of the court complex.

“You can eat false witnesses for breakfast,” Panagiotaros fumed at reporters, calling them “losers” and “little slaves”.

Kasidiaris punched a camera on his way out.

Party leader and lawmaker Nikos Michaloliakos, a 56-year-old mathematician and former disciple of Greek dictator George Papadopoulos, is scheduled to appear in court from around 1300 GMT.

If convicted, the lawmakers face sentences of at least 10 years in prison.

Overall some two dozen people including six Golden Dawn’s lawmakers, lower-ranking party members and three police officers, face charges ranging from attempted and murder to illegal arms possession and belonging to a criminal organisation.

Golden Dawn denies all the accusations and says it is the victim of political persecution designed to stem its rise ahead of local elections next year.

Once a fringe party, Golden Dawn rode a wave of public discontent during last year’s elections over unchecked immigration and austerity policies in the recession-hit country to enter parliament for the first time.

Magistrates have compiled a large dossier on the group, whose leading cadres the conservative-led government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras wants to put behind bars.

“We are now crushing (Golden Dawn) in a way fully within our constitutional framework and the rule of law,” Samaras said Tuesday on a visit to the United States.

An investigation has revealed a series of “criminal acts” by the group, culminating in the killing of Fyssas allegedly by a self-confessed neo-Nazi, according to a government report.

Greece’s intelligence service EYP in 2012 compiled a dossier on Lagos with alleged activities including extortion and the trafficking of women for prostitution, Ta Nea daily reported Tuesday.

The investigation launched after Fyssas’s murder uncovered close ties between Golden Dawn and Greek police, something rights and migrant groups had warned about for years.

On Wednesday, police arrested a former police station chief in an Athens immigrant district where Golden Dawn began systematic attacks on migrants some four years ago.

Emergency legislation has been submitted to parliament to stop the institutional flow of state funds to the party that has 18 deputies in the 300-member chamber.

Another three officers have been arrested for alleged ties to the organisation.

Greece’s main opposition party Syriza has accused Samaras of dragging his feet in prosecuting Golden Dawn in order to avoid alienating right-wing hardliners within his own conservative party.

Samaras’s New Democracy on Tuesday kicked out one of its members, lawyer Pavlos Sarakis, after he agreed to defend Golden Dawn’s Kasidiaris.

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« Reply #9088 on: Oct 03, 2013, 05:57 AM »

Silvio Berlusconi makes humiliating climbdown in Italian parliament

Prime minister Enrico Letta wins confidence vote after retreat by Il Cavaliere in face of MPs' rebellion

Lizzy Davies in Rome
The Guardian, Wednesday 2 October 2013 20.16 BST    

Even before he'd started to speak, the signs were of a performance that lacked his usual panache. To begin with, the microphone that Silvio Berlusconi picked up to address the senate didn't work properly. Once it did, his speech was uncharacteristically flat. There were no histrionics or garrulous jokes – just a final sentence which, in a few rather sheepish words, spoke volumes.

The man who had dominated Italian politics for two decades had been forced into a humiliating climbdown by a rebel faction of his own MPs. Outfoxed, out of luck and abandoned as never before, he looked tired and downcast. But he brought a smile and incredulous chuckle to the face of Enrico Letta, the prime minister.

"Italy needs a government that can carry out structural and institutional reforms which the country needs to modernise," said Berlusconi, his hands clasped in front of him, an Italian flag pin on his lapel. "We have decided, not without internal strife, to vote in confidence."

There was a burst of applause. But Il Cavaliere, as the Italian media like to call the billionaire former prime minister and convicted tax fraudster, had nothing to cheer about.

In a fittingly dramatic denouement to a political saga that a former minister likened to a tragicomedy and an MP said was more like a farce, Italy's government crisis – a week of mounting dread and trembling markets that had risked scuppering the grand coalition and plunging the eurozone heavyweight into turmoil – was over, just like that.

Letta, the centre-left leader of a government which since its inception has been plagued with tensions and ideological splits, went on to win the senate confidence vote with a sweeping majority. Only 70 of 305 MPs voted against; 235 MPs voted for. Berlusconi – the man who triggered the crisis and spent days clamouring for the government's downfall – was one of them.

Later, in the lower house of parliament, a vindicated Letta said it was time to call a halt to the threats and ultimatums which had dominated the coalition since Berlusconi's first definitive criminal conviction on 1 August.

"Italy needs there to be no more blackmail of the 'do this or the government falls' sort," he said. "Italy doesn't need any old government, but a government at the height of its abilities with a clear majority supporting it."

The prospect of more stability was music to the markets' ears. The FTSE MIB was the best-performing stock market index in Europe, up 0.7%, while Italian debt strengthened in value, pushing down borrowing costs and sending the yield on Italy's 10-year bonds to 4.37% from as high as 4.74% on Monday morning. They were not the only ones to be relieved. Ever since ominous drumbeats started sounding last week, concern had grown not only among Berlusconi's opponents but large parts of Italian society about what lengths he was prepared to go to in order to – in Letta's words – "protect his personal interests".

Facing imminent expulsion from the senate and the enforcement of his commuted one-year sentence, the recently convicted People of Freedom (PdL) party chief had insisted that his motive for suddenly withdrawing his ministers from the government was a sales tax hike imposed by the coalition that he had vehemently opposed.

Even by Berlusconi's standards, however, this was hard for Italians to swallow – even, it transpired, for most of the very ministers he had ordered to resign. One by one, four of them lined up to voice their misgivings. Their exact status was unclear; La Repubblica, translating the uncertainty into punctuation, referred to one of them as an "ex(?) minister". By Tuesday night, however, in the latest step in an increasingly bizarre political dance, Letta made an announcement to the effect that the five could resign all they liked; he was not accepting their resignations.

In the senate on Wednesday, the stage was set not only for a showdown between Berlusconi and - as Il Sole 24 Ore wrote – "the whole world – Europe, the United States, the markets, the [semi-official Vatican newspaper] Osservatore Romano". It would also be a vital test of whether the leader of what has always been a personal party built around Berlusconi the man - his success, his power and his bravado - still called the shots.

As it turned out, he did not – not, at least, in the way he once would have done. With his family newspaper condemning the flabbergasting "patricide" of Angelino Alfano, the PdL secretary widely seen as Berlusconi's heir who emerged as leader of the rebels, the 77-year-old arrived at the senate around 25 minutes into Letta's make-or-break speech

"Italy is running a risk that is potentially fatal, without remedy," the prime minister told MPs, warning them of the damage to the country's economy and image that a government collapse and eventual fresh elections would inflict. "Thwarting this risk, to seize or not seize the moment, depends on the choices we will make in this chamber. It depends on a 'yes' or 'no'."As he sat in Palazzo Madama, his expression grim, Berlusconi, the longest-ruling prime minister Italy has known since the second world war, was greeted by a succession of supporters, many of them among the so-called PdL "hawks". One of them, a former MP named Daniela Santanchè, a loyalist so fierce she is known as "the pythoness", was reported to have offered on Sunday to give Alfano her "head on a platter" if it helped her boss.

But as the day wore on it became clear that a significant portion of Berlusconi's party was going to defy his wishes and vote for the government to continue. Arithmetic on a scribbled piece of paper that Alfano displayed had 32 senators voting with their leader, 24 absenting themselves, and 25 against him. With such numbers, Letta was home and dry. And Berlusconi, not long after the party line was voted and confirmed to be for the "sfudicia", then got up in parliament and performed a screeching U-turn.

The prime minister, perhaps, could be forgiven a small smile. Later, the editor of La Stampa, tweeted him reminding him that, on Sunday, Letta had likened Italian politics to Groundhog Day, the film in which every day turns out the same. After all that, Mario Calabresi seemed to suggest, Italy had ended up with exactly the same government, with the same problems, as before.

But, said Vincenzo Scarpetta, an analyst at Open Europe, it would be a mistake to think that Wednesday's vote changed nothing. On the one hand, the set-up that Letta has been left with is still far from ideal and "there are still doubts about this government's ability to push forward with painful, unpopular measures," he said. Many suggested Letta would have preferred to have kept Berlusconi out of the majority altogether, thus giving himself a more unified government.

On the other, Scarpetta said, Berlusconi's ability to pull strings and dictate events had definitely been compromised. "He clearly comes out weaker from this. The initial situation when they formed the government was that he would be able to pull the plug on it whenever he wanted, because the government depended on his support. But now, that's exactly what he tried to do … and it didn't work," he said. Analysts said that what happens to the centre-right now will be key in determining whether this is the beginning of the end for Berlusconi, or just a major setback. On Wednesday night, in the lower house, a group of 26 PdL deputies had reportedly signed up to a new centre-right group led by Alfano. Berlusconi loyalists were expected to stay with him under the relaunched Forza Italia party name. "Of course, he remains the leader of the party," said Scarpetta. "We will just have to see what happens to the party."

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« Reply #9089 on: Oct 03, 2013, 06:02 AM »

Romanians are proud of their honesty – don't let the crime hysteria fool you

The media obsession with the criminal behaviour of a very few obscures the fact that nearly all Romanian migrants are law-abiding

Alexandra Jones, Thursday 3 October 2013 12.44 BST   
I'm 13 years old, visiting my grandparents, and we're all sitting down to lunch. Today, we're having stew. My uncles are here, my parents, one of my cousins. It is familial bonding at its best: over food. My plate gets passed up the table to my grandmother, who takes it, looks at me, then turns around and fills it with something from behind her. As she passes it back to me she says: "I'm giving you salad because you're getting too fat." My whole family snort into their stew, giggling, bar my mum who pats my arm reassuringly and makes defensive noises.

It's a bit mean, I suppose. But she did have a point, I was getting fat and my grandmother is honest to a fault. Like most Romanians.

I'm Romanian, you see. Born there but raised in England since I was five; both my parents are Romanian, though when my mum married my English stepfather I took his name. So now I'm a Jones with a muddled English accent – a bit northern to the southerners a bit southern to the northerners. I say "like" too often and have seen every episode of Friends a bajillion times.

Until a few years ago I was a relative oddity. There just weren't that many Romanians around. I grew up fielding questions like "is Romania in Africa?" or "don't Romanians live in caravans?" (No, and you're thinking of Romany.) I suppose I liked it, being different. I liked that I could speak another language and had an exotic story to tell. Of course I was teased, but then aren't all kids for one reason or another? And if I ever encountered a "go back to your own country", I'd write the person off as a bigot or a simpleton.

Oh how times have changed. In the past year a new story has surfaced nearly every day about gangs of Romanian grannies squatting in public squares, stealing or begging or causing a nuisance. This week the Times ran a piece about a tsunami of criminals rinsing clean the jacket pockets of western Europe then hopping on the next Wizz Air flight back to the homeland to spend the spoils on Samsung tablets. It's as if petty crime didn't exist before six months ago. An insidious sort of hysteria has taken hold and it is open season on Romanians. So I find myself in a strange position because I don't like these criminals, and I think that they deserve to be punished; and yet when I say that, people assume that I'm sanctioning the rubbishing of Romanians. I'm not.

It goes back to my grandmother banging that salad down in front of me. She was honest, despite the fact that it might have hurt my feelings – as with most Romanians honesty is a big deal to her. She is also hard-working, thrifty, funny and an excellent cook. She is, again, exactly like most Romanians in her abhorrence of crime and her anger at the minority who are ruining Romania's reputation. In the great Venn diagram of the world there is one circle for Romanians and there is another for criminals. Both circles are vastly bigger than the area they create when they overlap, but it seems like only that relatively small area is of any interest to the media. And so most of the time, I'm just a tiny voice bleating saccharine sentiments about family and honesty and noble immigrants in a shitstorm of press, all determined to tell one story and tar the whole circle with one brush.

My grandmother's advice? "Don't bother; no one wants to go to Britain anyway."

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