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« Reply #9300 on: Oct 13, 2013, 07:20 AM »

The Christian Science Monitor

Franco-fascism on the march in Spain: Is the government doing enough?

Critics say Spain's fascist threat comes not from small groups like those set to march in Barcelona Saturday, but from the radical fringe that is part of Spain's governing Popular Party.

By Andrés Cala, Correspondent / October 11, 2013 at 9:17 am EDT

Extreme, neo-fascist groups in Spain are preparing for a show of force during this weekend’s nationalist holiday, and Spanish authorities are keeping a close eye on the situation.

But experts worry that the real fascist concern in Spain is not from small extremist groups, but rather from growing public displays of fascist sympathies by a small part of the conservative government's constituency – and even among elected officials.

“Spain has not been ‘de-Francoized,’ as Germany has been de-Hitlerized,” explains Félix Ortega, a sociology professor and expert in public opinion in the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. “There are still Franco symbols even in my university!”

An alliance of radical right groups – including violent neo-Nazi ones – have mobilized to travel from around the country to Barcelona to protest Catalonian nationalism on the October 12 "Día de la Hispanidad," or "Hispanic Day," holiday. Authorities said Thursday they plan to prevent violent groups from entering Catalonia.

The holiday march is held annually, and is normally small and peaceful. But the nationalist undertones of Hispanic Day – which originally commemorated Christopher Columbus’s discovery of the American continent until was renamed in 1958 by the fascist regime of General Francisco Franco – make it a flashpoint.

Five groups – including violent neo-Nazi cells and a political party that the Supreme Court is considering banning – in July formed a common platform called "Spain on the March." Its leaders have warned they will resort to violent acts if required to preserve Spain’s territorial unity, which they feel threatened especially by regional independence aspirations.

National and regional officials and security services have since increased security ahead of Saturday's march. Barcelona authorities this week denied access to part of the route the marchers had requested in order to reduce the risk of violence and clashes with pro-independence marches.

And in Catalonia’s parliament on Friday, the chamber passed a motion to characterize fascism, Franco, and Nazis as ideologies “inciting violence and hate” – which would have given authorities more power to prosecute them. Although members of the Popular Party, which governs Spain but is a minority in the Catalonian parliament, walked out on the motion, it ultimately passed with the support of other parties.

The weekend march is not an isolated incident. As Catalonian plans to hold a referendum on independence move forward, the extreme right has re-energized, even if it remains small compared to the resurgent movements in Greece, France, and elsewhere.

Last month, a dozen radicals forced their way into a library where Catalonians were commemorating their own national day, injuring several people and tearing down Catalonian symbols. Police arrested them in the aftermath.
The real concern

Police estimate there are about 10,000 members involved in violent extreme right groups. They lost political representation in parliament in 1982, seven years after Franco died. But they didn’t disappear. They melded into the now governing PP.

The concern is not so much over the very small group of violent groups, which authorities constantly monitor. These are mostly contained, experts agree. The real problem is in from those within the government's ruling party that sympathize ideologically – even if they condemn the use of violence.

“I’m more concerned about complacency and permissive attitudes in the PP than I am about these reactionary  groups,” Dr. Ortega says. “The PP has many faces. Is it an extreme right party? No. But the extreme right is part of the PP. And they now they have to tender complex electoral messages to different constituencies, including the extreme right.”

Catalonian secessionist plans have united the traditionally fragmented nationalist forces and radical fascist groups. And the extreme right is part of the constituency of the conservative PP, with some experts estimating as much as 10 percent of the party sympathizes with radical ideology, although it’s impossible to contrast.

The political heirs of Franco merged with the PP, which is ideologically a center-right party. And amid the eurocrisis, they could gain more political clout that could be significantly more dangerous than the violent groups, experts warn.

The government has been criticized by the opposition, regional governments, and human rights groups for condoning fascist public support among its own followers – which even if small in number, were unheard of until recently – even if violent groups are suppressed.

Such criticism arose again on Thursday, when PP legislators voted down a motion like that in the Catalonian parliament to criminalize public support for fascism, Franco, and the Nazis. The PP said the move was unnecessary, because such a ban is already implicit in the law.

“They publicly condemn it, but they clearly tolerate it,” Ortega says.
Franco nostalgia

The crisis has brought an unprecedented public display of Franco nostalgia, with some public officials and members of the PP openly making the Nazi salute, displaying the former regime’s flag and other memorabilia, and posting pro-Franco messages on social media sites.

Municipal, regional, and even country legislators have reminisced about Franco’s era, mostly subtly, though some have openly said those killed by Franco’s forces deserved it.

On Thursday, the PP mayor of a Madrid suburb tweeted that he would send some "skinheads" to target the Socialist Party as part of a broader public debate. He later said he was just joking.

The mayor of a small town in Galicia showcased the picture of the dictator in his office and played the fascist anthem – that is, until a small bomb partially damaged the municipal building early Monday. Although no one has claimed responsibility, anarchist groups are suspected.

And earlier this month, a small town governed by the PP near Madrid allowed a fascist group to put up a stand in a public school exhibiting Franco-era and Nazi memorabilia. Officials later apologized and said that they weren’t aware of the stand.

The government and the PP leadership so far have limited their reaction to condemning violence and pro-fascist displays within its ranks. No officials have been reprimanded. “The problems are not majors or councilmen. It’s that high-ranking legislators and ministers condone this,” says Ortega.

Additionally, the PP is trying to revise history to paint a rosy picture of the Franco dictatorship, while blaming the deposed and democratically elected left-wing government for the brutal Spanish Civil War that ended in 1938.

The PP-controlled parliament last month voted down proposals from opposition parties that would have penalized pro-Franco propaganda and banned pro-Franco political parties.

“It’s true that this is not Greece or France, where the extreme right has become a political power,” Ortega says. “But you never know, especially if it seems that the PP tolerates it.”

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« Reply #9301 on: Oct 13, 2013, 07:22 AM »

October 12, 2013

Talks Clear Path for U.S.-Afghan Deal on Troops


KABUL, Afghanistan — After more than a week of hard-line posturing by Afghan and American officials, Secretary of State John Kerry and President Hamid Karzai defied expectations and agreed on key elements of a deal that, if completed, would keep American troops in Afghanistan beyond next year.

Making the announcement on Saturday evening after nearly 24 hours of talks and meetings, Mr. Kerry and Mr. Karzai said one major issue remained: legal jurisdiction, or immunity from prosecution under Afghan law, for American troops who remain in Afghanistan after 2014.

Immunity is a deal-breaking issue for the United States. The Iraqi government’s refusal to grant the same immunity was what forced American troops to withdraw from Iraq two years ago. Mr. Karzai suggested on Saturday that he, too, was uncomfortable with it, saying he and Mr. Kerry “don’t have a single view of judicial immunity for foreign forces.”

The matter, though, was ultimately beyond the authority of the government to decide, he said, and instead must be decided by “the Afghan people.” By that, he meant a loya jirga — a traditional gathering of elders and other powerful people — that the Afghan government is organizing in the coming weeks to approve the entire deal, known as a bilateral security agreement. It would then go before Parliament, Mr. Karzai said.

Those steps are not insignificant, and American officials carefully avoided saying they had secured a deal.

Rather, Mr. Kerry said at the joint news conference that it was now a matter of letting the Afghan political process play out.

“We have high confidence that the people of Afghanistan will see the benefits of this agreement,” Mr. Kerry said. “But we need to say that if the issue of jurisdiction cannot be resolved, then, unfortunately, there cannot be a bilateral security agreement.”

Mr. Karzai also gave some American officials another reason for pause. He said that he had not yet examined “several small issues” in the security agreement, and that in the coming days he would “look at its small issues and technical points, too, which I did not look at.”

As one American official put it, “If he wakes up feeling differently, we’re going to have a big problem.”

But the sense among Afghan and American officials was that the views of the loya jirga would reflect whatever Mr. Karzai wanted, and that he would not go to the trouble of organizing it only to see the pact with the United States rejected. The potential problem might be if Mr. Karzai, fearful that his legacy could come to be seen as having sold out the Afghan people, had second thoughts on the deal and ended up trying to make changes the United States would not accept.

Saturday’s marathon negotiating session in Kabul, which began around midmorning and continued until well after dark, was a dramatic turn in talks that only a day earlier had been deadlocked.

Officials on both sides had been saying they feared an agreement would not be reached, and the Americans would be forced to take what has become known as the “zero option” — a complete American withdrawal when the NATO combat mission here concluded at the end of 2014.

A complete American withdrawal could prove disastrous for Afghanistan, forcing European powers to pull out, as well, and leading to a steep drop in the billions of dollars in annual aid, which pays roughly 80 percent of Afghanistan’s bills and props up its biggest businesses.

Afghan forces are also not yet ready to face the Taliban entirely on their own. Most of the post-2014 force, as envisioned by American commanders, would be charged with training the Afghans; a smaller element would be made up of Special Operations forces focused on killing or capturing Al Qaeda’s operatives.

When Mr. Kerry arrived in Kabul late Friday on a previously unannounced visit aimed at breaking the impasse, Western diplomats here put his odds of reaching a deal at 50-50, at best.

Their skepticism was not without reason. The Obama administration had set an Oct. 31 deadline for wrapping up the talks, which had been going on for nearly a year, and officials had begun threatening to start moving toward a complete withdrawal.

The administration had also decided just over a week ago not to send Mr. Kerry to Kabul, believing his chances of success were slim.

But Mr. Kerry spoke to Mr. Karzai on Oct. 5, Afghan and American officials said, and at the end of the call he believed that he could revive the talks by coming to Kabul.

By Saturday night, roughly nine hours after Mr. Kerry was supposed to have departed Kabul, senior Afghan and American officials were crediting him with turning the situation around. Many said Mr. Kerry’s relatively warm relationship with Mr. Karzai, a rarity for any American official these days, had made the difference.

Mr. Karzai had been skeptical of American statements that the best offer the United States could make was on the table, according to a senior Afghan official. But Mr. Kerry’s assurances that it truly was, and some apparent compromising on both sides, helped break the deadlock.

Neither Mr. Kerry nor Mr. Karzai provided details of what exactly had been agreed to, and it was not clear how they had forged a compromise on an Afghan demand that the United States guarantee Afghanistan’s security as it would if the country were a NATO ally. That could compel the United States to send troops on raids into Pakistan, an ally of Washington and a nuclear-armed power.

Afghan officials had said that demand was crucial to the country’s sovereignty and must be met. The Obama administration had said it would not consider making any such guarantee.

On the other main sticking point, the outlines of a compromise seemed clearer. Mr. Karzai had refused to allow American forces to hunt for operatives of Al Qaeda here on their own. Instead, he wanted any intelligence gathered by the United States handed over to Afghan forces, who could then conduct the raids.

On Saturday, Mr. Karzai said he had been assured that American forces would not conduct any unilateral operations in Afghanistan after next year, leaving open the possibility that raids against Al Qaeda would be conducted jointly with Afghan forces.

The issue of immunity, however, was one that the White House thought had been resolved, so it was surprising to find it resurrected. Mr. Kerry stressed that what the United States sought was the same arrangement it had with every country in the world where its troops are stationed, including Japan and Germany.

There would be no immunity for American soldiers who committed crimes, he said, and they would face justice in the United States.

Despite the warm words that Mr. Kerry and Mr. Karzai had for each other, and for each other’s countries, on Saturday, it was clear that many points of contention still existed in the relationship.

The most immediate one was the recent seizure by American forces of a senior Pakistani Taliban leader, Latif Mehsud, who is believed to be in American custody at Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul.

Afghan officials said Mr. Mehsud was effectively a double agent for the Afghan intelligence services, feeding them information on insurgent activities. They said American forces had seized Mr. Mehsud at gunpoint from a convoy of Afghan intelligence agents who were taking him to meetings in Kabul.

Mr. Karzai said on Saturday that the seizure of Mr. Mehsud was a clear violation of Afghanistan’s sovereignty, and that the deal he and Mr. Kerry had made would, ideally, prevent such episodes.

American officials have said Mr. Mehsud was handed over at their request, and Mr. Kerry on Saturday called him a “dangerous terrorist” who had been involved in plots to attack the United States.


Kabul nights: burgers and karaoke on menu for Afghanistan's young spenders

After a decade of western presence and cash in the Afghan capital, an evening scene is emerging for the burgeoning middle class

Sabra Ayres in Kabul, Friday 11 October 2013 16.00 BST   

On a weekend evening in Kabul's well-to-do Wazir Akbar Khan district, groups of twentysomethings from the country's growing middle class queue out of the door of Cherry Berry, a self-service frozen yoghurt bar.

Young men dressed in shalwar kameez crowd around tables in the brightly coloured upstairs dining area, which is open until 1am. They sit for hours, chatting and checking their Facebook accounts on their smartphones and tablets. More men – some with spiked, gelled haircuts, jeans and T-shirts emblazoned with western logos – join them after loading up their frozen yoghurt cups from the toppings bar.

Downstairs, groups of young women and families gather in the family area, (mixed company of unrelated males and females is still generally frowned upon).

Opened in June, Cherry Berry is one of a growing number of hot spots for the young and up-and-coming in the Afghan capital. Where before Kabul after dusk was a city of darkened streets and barred windows, now a handful of eateries and cafes attract a class of Afghans that has benefited from an economy propped up for more than a decade by the presence of hundreds of thousands of westerners.

As a result, something unprecedented is happening in the capital: the emergence of a nocturnal scene for young Afghans with disposable incomes. From karaoke cafes to a bowling alley, the variety of hangouts in Kabul has grown in the past two years, creating places to meet up and socialise, a new trend in this ultra-conservative society.

"We're really hungry for places to go and for things to do here," said Edris Lutfi, 22, a university student studying business administration. At the Cafe Che, Lutfi met up with classmates male and female for dinner and to share a hookah pipe. On Thursdays the cafe offers live music, mostly covers of Afghan pop songs and Bollywood hits.

The trend looks well placed to grow in Kabul, where incomes are higher than in the rest of the country and exposure to western ideas and styles is greater. Poverty is widespread in Afghanistan, particularly outside the capital, and the average yearly income is just $570 (£354), according to the World Bank. Accurate figures are hard to find, but an abundance of international donor-funded development projects paying relatively well has employed thousands of Afghans over 12 years.

The average single serving at Cherry Berry is about $4.80, "which is expensive if you are a cleaner or a small shopkeeper", said Shekib Rasheedi, one of four owners, all of whom are under 30. "But most of our customers are making something like $500 or more a month, and they are willing to pay for consistent quality and good customer service."

The yoghurt bar serves 600 customers on an average Thursday, the start of the Afghan weekend, Rasheedi said.

Several blocks away from Cherry Berry is Strikers bowling alley, where families and friends pay $30 to split a lane for an hour, and waiters serve pizza and burgers. The Blue Flame restaurant across town is popular with students and couples because of its outdoor dining and fresh, high-quality hookahs.

The latest talk of the town is Kabul Karaoke, a buffet-style restaurant with a backroom where customers can belt out Afghan, western or Arabic hits on the neon-lit stage. A bartender stands ready to serve fresh juices or energy drinks, which are popular in this Muslim country, where alcohol is illegal.

In this male-dominated society, it is still largely young men who go to restaurants or hang out in groups in the evenings in congested areas of Kabul such as Shahr Naw. But young women are increasingly going out to cafes or to walk around the city's shopping malls.

"There has been some progress in where we can go, of course," said Soraya, 20, a student, who preferred not to use her last name. "But we still need more places, especially a cinema and a swimming pool for women."

While no one could compare Kabul's nightspots to the bars or clubs of London or New York, Kabul's nightlife is considered by many here to be a sign of change in the urban centres of the country as an emerging middle class begins to make its mark.

"It's worth noting that during the day we see a lot of couples coming in here," Rasheedi said. "They feel safe here, and they can easily come in, order something for less than 500 Afghani [about $9.50] and spend an hour together."

Dating is a growing trend in Kabul, although couples generally do so at great risk of reprisal from their families. Arranged marriages are still the norm.

Two years ago, a young couple in the western city of Herat were violently attacked by a mob after they were seen in public together. Both were arrested. A year before that, a couple who had eloped were stoned to death in the northern province of Kunduz by a crowd that included family members.

Still, some say there are warning signs that the country's economy will take a sharp turn south as Nato troops withdraw next year and the country elects a new president. International assistance is declining, and there are fears that negotiations with the Taliban will usher in more conservative values and erode the progress that has been made in women's rights.

"Despite the whole '2014 fears' thing, things are going to improve here," Lutfi said. "It's just unrealistic to think that Kabul will go back to when people went to sleep at eight at night because there was no electricity."

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« Last Edit: Oct 13, 2013, 07:54 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #9302 on: Oct 13, 2013, 07:25 AM »

India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
October 11, 2013, 10:11 am

Small Businesses in Mumbai Bear Brunt of High Inflation


MUMBAI— Nayan Lapsia spent much of a humid Wednesday afternoon looking despairingly at the idle cash register at his store in Crawford Market, a colonial-era open-air market in the heart of Mumbai, India’s financial capital. Though customers have stopped by fleetingly to glance at goods, things were unusually quiet at his shop, Shah Bhavanji Kunvarji & Company, which is stacked with all manner of spices and dry fruit.

In Crawford Market, a bustling labyrinth of narrow lanes lined with small stores selling a wide range of groceries, a sense of despair hangs in the air these days. Shopkeepers complain of declining sales coupled with the rising cost of living. Mr. Lapsia said the prices of his goods, many of which are imported, have risen nearly 40 percent over the past three months, hurting sales, which have fallen about 30 percent.

With general elections looming on the horizon, Crawford Market retailers are increasingly frustrated with the government, which is seen as corrupt and inept. “If the government doesn’t change its policy toward business, all the small store owners will be ruined,” Mr. Lapsia said, shaking his head.

As India battles with slowing growth, rising inflation and a weakened rupee, small businesses across the country are among the worst affected.

“The problems faced by all of corporate India get magnified for small traders and retailers,” said Saugata Bhattacharya, chief economist at Axis Bank. “When growth slows and prices are soaring, the discretionary income that people have to spend on consumer goods and services comes down drastically and people cut back on purchases.”

He added that a weaker rupee, which makes imports more expensive, hits small retailers especially hard because they do not have sufficient bargaining power to negotiate better prices from their overseas suppliers and cannot pass on all of the extra cost to their price-sensitive customers.

The Indian rupee has stabilized since hitting a record low of 68.85 against the American dollar, but the currency’s fall has led to higher import prices for beans, edible oil, fertilizer and crude oil in rupee terms. These higher costs contributed to wholesale and consumer inflation rates that hit an annual 6.1 percent and 9.5 percent, respectively, in August. Mr. Bhattacharya of Axis Bank said he expected inflation rates for September, scheduled to be released by the government on Monday, to remain close to August levels.

“Inflation is likely to persist in the next few months, as even with the rupee stabilizing, it is at a much higher level compared to what it was in April this year,” said Ashish Parthasarthy, head of treasury at HDFC Bank.

Najmuddin Fakhruddin Masalawala, owner at Hakimi Stores, which has been at Crawford Market for 35 years, said he has had to raise prices for his lentils, rice and other groceries sharply over the last two months, but sales are down 20 percent. He said lentils, which previously sold for about 70 rupees per kilogram (2.2 pounds), are now 90 rupees per kilogram.

“When a working class person comes to the store, they ask why the prices have gone up so much that their bill that used to be 800 is now coming to 1,200,” he said. “What can we say to them? We are helpless. We have to raise our prices to survive.”

Even for those merchants whose goods are sourced locally, the rising cost of transportation from imported fuel is cutting into profit margins.

“Transport prices have increased by about 20 percent over the last three months,” said Harish Sethia, the owner at Jeet Traders, a wholesale merchant for grains, spices and dry fruit in Bhat Bazaar, a Mumbai neighborhood known for its wholesale grain stores. He added that his sales were down about 25 percent and that business has been sluggish for most merchants in Bhat Bazaar.

In Lohar Chawl, which is packed with home electronics and appliance retailers, stores were unusually empty on a weekday. At the Central Electric & Radio Company, which has been selling light fixtures for 56 years, a sign announcing a clearance sale failed to attract customers.

Three salesmen passed the time over cups of tea. One of them, Surendra Kumar, said sales were down almost 50 percent over the last two months despite the store’s steep price cuts.

Next door, in a one-room office located in a dilapidated building, Sanjay Shah, partner at Siddhi Home Appliances, wrung his hands in worry. “Business is down, very down,” said Mr. Shah, a distributor for Prestige home appliances across over 40 stores in Mumbai. “People have lost their purchasing capacity. People do not have money for food and clothing, appliances are the last necessity.”

Over the last quarter Mr. Shah has seen about a 40 percent drop in sales, compared to the same time last year.

“As a businessman, I only ask that the government make policies that allow the country to run smoothly,” said Mr. Shah. “But this government is not able to do even that. Something has to change.”

India’s new central bank governor, Raghuram Rajan, has taken steps to roll back measures that were imposed when the rupee was in a free fall over the summer. On Monday, the Reserve Bank of India cut a short-term lending rate for banks borrowing from the central bank, easing a cash crunch in the weeks before the Diwali holiday season.

But compounding India’s economic woes, industrial production slowed to a mere 0.6 percent in August as compared to a year earlier, dampened by poor investment and consumer demand, India’s statistics ministry said Friday. The industrial production rate was an annual 2.75 percent in July.

Capital goods production, a measure of investment, contracted 2 percent in August from a year earlier, while consumer goods contracted 0.8 percent.

“There is no easy fix to India’s woes in a growth environment where India’s potential output has also fallen,” said Mr. Bhattacharya. “You cannot boost consumption through stimulus measures because that will stoke inflation. The growth story in India has to be investment led.”

India’s growth rate is expected to drop from the 9.3 percent expansion recorded in 2011 to 5.3 percent in the current fiscal year through March 2014, according to a forecast released by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Economic Advisory Council on Sept. 13.

That estimate is only slightly higher than the 5 percent growth seen in the last fiscal year, the slowest in a decade. However, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said the economy should pick up more speed in the second half of this year.

“We have taken numerous reform measures over the past one year,” said Mr. Chidambaram said at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Thursday in Washington. “We expect these measures to show their impact from the second half of the current fiscal and believe that the Indian economy will grow at over 5 percent and perhaps closer to 5.5 percent in 2013-14.”

As the country approaches general elections, scheduled for next year, analysts worry that the government will abstain from making any politically unpopular decisions to fix the country’s finances, whose problems include a large current account deficit.

“Against the backdrop of upcoming elections, we see government austerity and financial prudence taking a backseat to populist policies, potentially heightening market volatility,” said Jitendra Sriram, head of research for India, and Herald van der Linde, head of equity strategy for Asia Pacific, in a HSBC Global Research report released Wednesday. “Election-driven policies, such as slower fuel price calibration with international parity and higher minimum support prices for crops, could weaken the fiscal repair program or stall the reserve bank’s efforts to tame inflation.”

Among the disgruntled traders and shopkeepers of Crawford Market, few believe that the government’s election-season gestures of generosity will amount to real change. “There is anger against the government, but in India people don’t really care about politics; they just want to fill their stomachs and live their lives,” said Mr. Lapsia. “The government has no reason to improve things.”

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« Reply #9303 on: Oct 13, 2013, 07:27 AM »

Commonwealth summit mired in row over Briton shot in Sri Lanka

Prince Charles offers his help as allegations against political fixer and calls for boycott cast shadow over heads of government meeting

Peter Beaumont   
The Observer, Sunday 13 October 2013   

Prince Charles offered to help in the effort to win justice for a British man who was murdered in Sri Lanka – allegedly by a close political ally of the country's prime minister.

The high-profile case of Khuram Shaikh, a 32-year-old Red Cross worker from Rochdale who was killed in 2011, has cast a shadow over the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Colombo next month, which is due to be chaired by Prince Charles and attended by David Cameron.

Shaikh, whose girlfriend was the victim of a serious assault in the same attack, was allegedly killed by a figure who is a close friend of the Sri Lankan prime minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and a key political fixer for his Sri Lanka Freedom party in the country's south.

Despite forensic evidence linking Rajapaksa's ally to the crime, no charges have been brought, and this has prompted allegations of a coverup.

The disclosure that Prince Charles has taken a private interest in the case comes the week after Cameron was put under pressure over the case at prime minister's questions by Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk. That led the prime minister to promise that he would personally raise concerns with Rajapaksa.

Now the Observer understands that Prince Charles has discussed the case, though when contacted about the Prince's intervention, Clarence House insisted that it had had no contact with the Sri Lankan government.

The discreet intervention comes as Danczuk is repeating his request that Cameron boycott the meeting unless there is clear progress in the stalled murder investigation.

The decision to hold the heads of government meeting in Colombo has been dogged by controversy from the start. Canada has said it will boycott the summit because of its concerns about the host country's human rights record and continuing extrajudicial killings, while Cameron has also faced calls to boycott the meeting.

Critics say the lack of justice for Shaikh is emblematic of the widespread impunity enjoyed by those accused of human rights abuses in the country. Shaikh was stabbed in the throat and shot dead after he complained about a group of men sexually harassing his Russian girlfriend as they enjoyed a drink at a small hotel in Tangalle in the south of Sri Lanka in the early hours of Christmas Day 2011.

The subsequent beating into unconsciousness and gang-rape of Shaikh's girlfriend is recorded in the Sri Lankan police file on the case, despite recent attempts by the Sri Lankan government's chief whip, Dinesh Gunawardena, to deny that the rape took place. Eight people, including the politician, were arrested and bailed last year.

Although Sri Lankan police completed their investigation months ago, including the examination of DNA evidence said to link the accused to the crime, no charges have been laid.

According to Sri Lankan media, officers from the country's CID presented the DNA evidence last month at the magistrates' court in Tangalle, where the murder took place, stating that it linked the accused politician and two others to the crime.

Speaking to the Observer on Friday, Shaikh's bother, Nasir, described the continuing anguish that has been suffered by his family as the case has dragged on inconclusively.

"My father still visits the grave every day. It has been so hard for the family. But this isn't going to go away.

"When we visited Sri Lanka we were told that what was holding up the case was the collection of the final witness statements and the DNA evidence, which was described as the last piece of the jigsaw. But they have had that material for months and still there have not been charges."

Nasir Shaikh is in two minds about whether Cameron should join the Canadians in boycotting the summit. "It is a difficult question," he said.

However, Danczuk said he was "not sure that Cameron should go and that a British prime minister should shake hands" with his Sri Lankan counterpart until the issue was resolved. "He should not go unless we have seen charges by the time of the summit."

The Sri Lankan government has tried to deflect criticism over the slow progress of the investigation but, despite promises on numerous occasions that the case was about to come to a head, nothing has happened.

In December last year Neville de Silva, Sri Lanka's acting high commissioner to the UK, in an interview with the Guardian, dismissed suggestions of government interference or deliberate delay, adding that he had been told by the attorney general's department that "non-summary inquiries" were due to begin shortly.

The Shaikh affair has fed into a wider pattern of concern over human rights in Sri Lanka, given new focus by the decision by Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper, to boycott the summit. Harper announced that he would not be attending during a visit to Bali earlier this month, and said the absence of accountability for serious violations of human rights, both during and after the country's civil war, was unacceptable.

"It is clear that the Sri Lankan government has failed to uphold the Commonwealth's core values, which are cherished by Canadians," he said.

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« Reply #9304 on: Oct 13, 2013, 07:29 AM »

Azerbaijan demonstrators beaten and detained after election protest

About 4,000 protest against disputed results of presidential election that gave Ilham Aliyev third consecutive term

Reuters in Baku, Saturday 12 October 2013 18.23 BST   

Police beat and detained demonstrators in the capital of Azerbaijan on Saturday after a protest against a disputed presidential vote that gave President Ilham Aliyev a third consecutive term in the oil-producing former Soviet republic.

Witnesses saw police kick and thump protesters as scuffles broke out following the rally, which drew thousands in protest at the election dismissed by international monitors and government critics as unfair.

News agency Interfax-Azerbaijan reported that about 10 people were arrested.

Billions of dollars in oil revenues have flowed into the strategically located South Caucasus country, boosting living standards and its international clout, since Aliyev succeeded his father a decade ago. Official results show Aliyev won with 85% of the vote.

But a gaping divide between rich and poor, and allegations that the authorities carried out a pre-election crackdown on dissent that doubled the country's number of political prisoners, have attracted criticism at home and abroad.

About 4,000 people gathered at the sanctioned protest, accusing the government of vote fraud and demanding a new poll.

"Aliyev and his New Azerbaijan party will answer for their actions and for trampling on the rights of the Azeri people," defeated opposition candidate Jamil Hasanly told the crowd.

"[They] are responsible for the condition that Azerbaijan's people are in," said the 61-year-old former parliamentarian, who managed to unite a fractured opposition for the first time in a presidential poll, scoring 5% of the vote.

Hasanly has promised to challenge the results in court.

Protesters alleged dozens of cases of ballot stuffing, multiple voting and police interference.

Natavan Salimzade, a college teacher, said she was instructed to vote for Aliyev or lose her job and that she was to take a picture of her marked ballot to prove that she had followed instructions.

She said she disobeyed and voted for Hasanly.

"Of course I'll get fired now, somehow, one way or another. I'll be implicated in some scandal," she said at the protest in a football stadium far from the designer boutiques and five-star hotels that have come to symbolise the influx of oil revenues enjoyed by the country's elite.

"But I'm not afraid for myself anymore. I'm only worried about my children," she said.

International monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the vote was marred by a "restrictive media environment" and allegations of intimidation of candidates and voters.

The OSCE monitors said they reported clear indications of ballot-stuffing at 37 polling stations, and said the counting was assessed negatively at an unprecedented 58% of stations observed.

The election commission said no electoral violations were reported. The presidential office said the poll was open and transparent and called the OSCE statement prejudiced, politicised and of "the theatre of the absurd".

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« Reply #9305 on: Oct 13, 2013, 07:33 AM »

October 12, 2013

As China Vows Austerity, Giant Brass Fish Devours $11 Million


HONG KONG — Chinese Communist Party leaders’ vows of a new era of humble austerity in government may have met their most exotic adversary yet: an $11 million, 2,300-ton, 295-foot-long puffer fish.

The brass-clad statue, which shimmers golden in the sunlight and switches into a garish light show at night, was built by the city of Yangzhong, in Jiangsu Province in eastern China, to lure visitors to a monthlong gardening expo that opened in September. The “puffer fish tower” has an elevator to take visitors up the equivalent of 15 stories into the sculpture’s belly to view the lush scenery near the Yangtze River.

But news reports and pictures online of the creature, floating on scaffolding with its mouth agape and eyes glowing green, have prompted many Chinese citizens to wonder: Why devote 70 million renminbi, about $11.4 million, of government money for a giant metal fish, especially when the party leader, Xi Jinping, has demanded an end to frivolous spending on officials’ vanity projects?

“Just how much of the 70 million went into officials’ pockets?” said one of the many mordantly outraged comments on Sina Weibo, a popular Chinese microblog service that is similar to Twitter. “The sculpture is so that we’ll have something to pay our respects to after the puffer fish becomes extinct,” said another.

The sculpture garnered nationwide attention last month, after a Jiangsu newspaper, Modern Express, described its costs and size, citing Yangzhong government officials. The project is flamboyant, even by the bigger-is-better expectations of Chinese state-sponsored art. It uses 8,920 brass plates for the fish scales and is covered in lights that can pulsate in changing colors at night, the newspaper reported.

“A miracle of the architectural world,” the Yangzhong government Web site exclaimed. “This is also an extreme rarity in the whole world.”

That may well be true, but not everyone sees it as a virtue. Chinese news outlets said the brass and steel for the fish cost about $1.7 million, raising questions about where the rest of the money went. Construction of the fish tower began on a previously isolated and undeveloped river island in March, four months after Mr. Xi was appointed party leader.

“There will have to be more openness about whether there was any overstatement in the puffer fish tower project,” the report in Modern Express said. Other Chinese media comments were less restrained.

“Yangzhong in Jiangsu is known as the Little Venice of the Yangtze River,” said a commentary on the Web site of Yangtze News, a newspaper published in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. “How could its image be a bloated puffer fish? For a vanity project that might apply for a place in the Guinness World Records, 70 million was thrown in without so much as a blink of the eye.”

But China is speckled with outlandish works of official art that vie with even a giant, glow-in-the-dark puffer fish for attention and outrage.

Critics berated a county in Guizhou Province for building “the world’s biggest teapot,” a 243-foot-high teapot-shaped tower, complete with spout, that was part of a $13 million project.

In Henan Province, in central China, a government-backed charity has been accused of corruption in spending about $19.6 million on a vast, unsightly sculpture of Song Qingling, the widow of Sun Yat-sen, a revered founder of modern China. Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province, is also home to a sculpture of two pigs in a frolicking embrace. From certain angles, the pigs might appear to be mating.

The river puffer fish is an expensive delicacy in parts of Jiangsu Province, and Yangzhong officials have promoted the pleasures of eating it, despite the risks of poisoning if it is not properly prepared.

“Enjoy the rich puffer fish culture of Yangzhong, savor the delicious fare of the puffer fish,” a city official said at a news conference in December, according to the city’s Web site.

Officials who answered calls to the Yangzhong city propaganda office claimed ignorance about the sculpture or suggested calling other offices, which gave similar responses.

But after the uproar, the Yangzhong government offered a new explanation for the monument. A city official denied that money had been misspent, and said the puffer fish tower was built as a plea to save the environment, said the state-run China News Service. The official told the news service that the metal fish is “a call to protect the ecological resources of the Yangtze River.”


Like some fox hair with that? China digests latest food scandals

Stomach-churning cases range from ring selling cooking oil made from discarded animal parts to gang selling meat products from animal waste

Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing, Friday 11 October 2013 18.51 BST      

It's a gourmet recipe for an indictment: take chicken anus, duck feathers and fox hair. Process it into counterfeit cooking oil. Distribute widely.

Even in China, a country frequently racked by food safety scandals, this has been a bad week. On Wednesday, a court in eastern China's Jiangsu province sentenced 16 men to prison for processing and selling 5,000 tons of recycled cooking oil made from a melange of discarded animal parts.

But the stomach-churning case was far from unique: that same day, 43 defendants were convicted in three other food safety cases in the province, most for selling meat products made from animal waste. Three days prior, more than 30 passengers on an Air China jet ran for the toilets after eating expired beef pastries. And on Friday, an inquiry found that almost all of the beef jerky in south-eastern Fujian province is actually chemically-treated pork.

Chinese consumers have grown used to reports of fake eggs, poisonous baby milk, exploding watermelons and glow-in-the-dark pork, a result of rampant profit-seeking and lax regulatory oversight in the country's food industry. In May, a gang in Zhejiang province was prosecuted for passing off rat, mink and fox meat as mutton; that same month, authorities caught a company in Hunan province making counterfeit jellyfish slices out of calcium chloride and sodium benzoate.

On Wednesday, the Lianyungang intermediate people's court in Jiangsu province convicted 16 men from a local food company, Kangrun, of illegally processing and selling "poisonous, harmful" cooking oil to 117 businesses in 2011-12, netting 600m yuan (£6.1m) in revenue. Wang Chengkui, the firm's legal representative, was jailed for life; his co-defendants face up to 15 years in prison.

"The Kangrun company can make 'edible oil' out of chicken feather oil, duck feather oil, pig hair oil, even fox hair oil," reported Xinhua, China's official newswire. The company also used "discarded inedible materials such as skins and buttocks of chickens and ducks as well as pig offal," the newswire's English edition added.

Three days before that verdict was announced, more than 30 passengers on an Air China flight from the north-western region Xinjiang to Beijing fell ill after eating an in-flight meal of expired beef-filled snacks. According to state media, a woman called Zhang discovered two dates printed on her meal's wrapper, the most recent of which was four days in the past.

Although Zhang alerted flight staff, they refused to make an announcement, as the other passengers were already eating. Half an hour later, passengers began queuing at the toilets. Most were queasy; many had diarrhoea; some vomited. China Air refused to acknowledge the issue until passenger accounts went viral online, then attributed the incident to a packaging mix-up.

On Friday, a reporter in south-east China's Fujian province revealed that most of the province's beef jerky is made from pork, processed into a beef-like substance using beef extract and illegal chemicals.

"Right now, almost all of the beef jerky on the market in Fujian is fake," Yao Yuancheng, general manager of local Longhai Yuancheng Food Company, told the reporter, whose findings were reprinted by Xinhua. Pork-based beef jerky costs £4.80 a kilo to produce, he said; real jerky costs three times as much.

It takes a grand irony to get Chinese web-users riled but they were treated to an easy target last weekend, when China's president, Xi Jinping, confronted New Zealand prime minister, John Key, about his country's food safety record.

The catalyst was Fonterra, a New Zealand firm that supplies 90% of China's milk-powder imports, recalling its products last month after a botulism scare. "Xi stressed that food safety concerns people's health and urged New Zealand to take tough measures to ensure food quality," Xinhua reported.

Before long, hundreds of users on Sina Weibo, the country's top microblog, had posted Xi's comment aside emoticons of laughing smiley faces and downward-pointing thumbs. "If Xi is demanding that New Zealand pay attention to its food safety, is there anything that [the government] won't say or do?" wrote one. Others were more forthright. "First, take care of our own food safety problems," wrote user Yi Muyi. "Then talk."

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« Reply #9306 on: Oct 13, 2013, 07:37 AM »

October 12, 2013

Family Man One Day, Rebel Fighter the Next


RAMTHA, Jordan — The Syrian rebel leader was sitting comfortably on a cushion at his home here recently, his wife and children filling the rooms with conversation and laughter. Then one day he shaved off his beard and slipped back into Syria, where he leads a rebel brigade.

“I cried,” said his mother-in-law, Wesal al-Aweer. “I pleaded with him not to leave.”

“We were used to having him around the house,” said his wife, Montaha Zoubi, 34, “so now we feel there is an emptiness in the house.”

A hardware store owner in Syria before the civil war, Hussein Zoubi, 40, took up arms against the government almost two years ago. Since then, like thousands of Syrian men in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, he has been leading the life of a commuter rebel, a fighter inside Syria and a family man across the border.

Men have long gone to war after packing off their families to safer places. But the war’s proximity here along the Syrian-Jordanian border has collapsed the distances. The vast majority of the refugees are women and children, who have sought safety here, while the men slip in and out of Syria.

Unlike the battle-hardened Islamist combatants who have made rapid gains inside Syria in recent months, these are ordinary men — small-business owners, plumbers, carpenters — caught up in the war. They fight for weeks at a time and keep in constant touch electronically, but then return to see their families, nurse wounds and take care of businesses that may have suffered in their absence.

Ramtha is the twin city to Dara’a, the birthplace of the Syrian uprising just across the border from here. Errant mortar shells from Dara’a fall with regularity inside Ramtha, and the intensity of fighting over there can sometimes be gauged by just lowering the television volume here. Just as significant, Dara’a’s ability to tap Jordan’s mobile phone network allows the divided families to engage in a nearly constant stream of text and instant messages, not to mention calls.

Like Mr. Zoubi, these part-time fighters, part-time refugees, belong to groups linked to the Free Syrian Army, the association supported by the United States and Jordan.

“It was very hard in the beginning,” Mr. Zoubi said of the formation of his brigade, Liwa Fajr al-Islam, in a rural area north of Dara’a. “We had to sleep and make plans under the olive trees in a village.”

“No tables,” he added with a twinkle in his eyes. “No cappuccino.”

The war has quieted Ramtha’s traditional business as a major entry port of Syrian goods into Jordan. But out of public view, in small storefront offices and nondescript, barely furnished rented houses throughout the city, fighters and members of the opposition carry out the business of war — meeting, plotting, gathering supplies, taking care of their wounded — while returning at night to their wives and children.

Mohammed Askar, also of Liwa Fajr al-Islam, recently returned to Ramtha after two months and 20 days in Syria. He slipped back into paternal mode, playing with his six children and taking the oldest to school.

“Then when I went to pick up my girls on the fourth day, I heard a couple of Jordanian girls yell, ‘Syrian beggars, Syrian gypsies,’ ” Mr. Askar said. “So I pulled them out of school.”

Before the war, Mr. Askar was a part-owner of a tomato paste factory with 30 employees in Tafas, north of Dara’a. Everything changed after antigovernment graffiti scribbled by adolescents in March 2011 led to a crackdown by government forces in Dara’a, including, he said, the deaths of two people in Tafas. Like many men from Dara’a, Mr. Askar said, he joined the fight against the government out of a need to defend his community and to right an affront.

“Before the revolution, I felt I’d reached the top,” he said. “I worked the hours I wanted, it was great. Then my factory was destroyed, and I found myself back to zero.”

In Syria, Mr. Askar found himself participating in firefights and using his seniority, at age 36, to try to unify the troops.

“To be honest, I spend most of my time settling differences inside the brigade,” he said, adding that he was able to do this from here, over Skype, because of the fast shared mobile network.

For his wife, Madjoleen, 29, strong connections were a godsend. “I know he’s O.K. because he calls every few hours when he’s away in Syria,” she said.

Inside another house, the wives of two brothers fighting in a brigade called Al Mansour were living together with their parents-in-law. Easa al-Masalmeh, 26, a plumber, went back to Syria in late August, a day before his brother, Qassem, a 33-year-old broker who helped Syrian businesses clear their goods through customs, was killed there.

In a room where she was observing the Muslim mourning period, Qassem’s widow, Fatima, 28, remembered how they had met as teenagers and how one day, dressed in jeans and a white shirt, he had visited her parents to explain his intentions. When he was fighting in Syria, the couple exchanged constant messages on social media applications like Viber and WhatsApp.

Two days before he was killed, he sent her a portentous video message on WhatsApp. He assured her, “with all my love and respect and nostalgia,” that the road ahead for her was “spread with flowers.” The video went on, “In your absence my sky is not blessed with rain.”

Later, Fatima received a cellphone photograph of her husband’s grave in a rebel cemetery in Dara’a.

Easa’s wife, Anwar, said she was struggling to raise her two young children by herself.

“The girl wants her father and my son says he wants to join the army and go back to Syria,” she said.

In the house of Mr. Zoubi, the hardware store owner, his family was adjusting to his abrupt departure. His eldest son, Naji, 10, now answered the door and greeted guests. Flipping through the slide show on his cellphone, Naji singled out his favorite photo of his father — in full camouflage, holding a Kalashnikov in his right hand and making a V-sign with his left — and a video clip that showed his father leading a group of men flogging a government informant.

In a show of moral support for Mr. Zoubi’s wife, several relatives were visiting.

“A house without a man is worth nothing,” said Ms. Aweer, his mother-in-law, unable to contain her distress.

“But he told me that he couldn’t go on living just inside the house,” his wife said.

Darkness filled the room. In another across the hall, a relative who had just lost her second son on the other side of the border sat silently in a corner with her face fixed in grief. Her uncontrollable sobbing soon began.

A couple of weeks later, Mr. Zoubi returned to Ramtha. His arm was hurting, he said by phone. He wanted to be on the battlefield. He was not happy being back. But, he added, his wife and children were.

Rana F. Sweis contributed reporting.

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« Reply #9307 on: Oct 13, 2013, 07:39 AM »

Anna Friel joins campaign against oil exploration in Democratic Republic of the Congo

Actress spearheads WWF bid to stop development of area around Lake Victoria   

Tracy McVeigh   
The Observer, Sunday 13 October 2013      

Anna Friel is to help publicise a newly invigorated campaign against plans to explore for oil in one of the world's most important regions for wildlife.

British-based oil and gas company Soco began aerial surveys of the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo this month, despite pleas from environmental campaigners and the British government.

Friel flew to neighbouring Uganda earlier this year to make a documentary about the plight of the remaining 700 mountain gorillas in the region. The short film, Virunga, made to support the WWF's Draw the Line campaign, will be shown in Odeon cinemas throughout October.

The actress travelled with her eight-year-old daughter, Grace, to witness the wildlife around Lake Victoria and Lake Edward, where some of the proposed oil exploration would take place. This corner of Uganda and the DRC contains some of the richest wildlife on Earth, while also supporting a population afflicted by war and poverty. The balance is a tenuous one.

More than 30,000 fishermen rely on Lake Edward in Virunga for their livelihoods and there are fears that any contamination of the lake, a vital source of water and protein as well as one of the sources of the Nile, could have a huge impact.

"My experience of Africa before this journey with WWF was so different to anything I could have imagined this place to be," Friel told the Observer. "The landscape was the most breathtaking I have ever experienced and the wildlife – gorillas, hippos, elephants, birds – seemed more beautiful than any creatures I had seen before, perhaps because there was such a vulnerability with all the threats facing them."

She said she was deeply affected by meeting local people. "One of the most moving experiences of my time in Uganda was visiting a fishing village within Queen Elizabeth national park and therefore benefits from the tourist trade. The fishermen didn't know anything about oil exploration and the devastating effect it could have on the lake that provides their family's livelihood. It is the people as well as the wildlife who rely on Lake Edward and its surrounding areas, and this could be so easily taken from them."

You can join the campaign at

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« Reply #9308 on: Oct 13, 2013, 07:42 AM »

Libya's prime minister has failed, says Muslim Brotherhood leader

Mohammed Sawan says parliament is searching for an alternative to PM Ali Zidan who was kidnapped by militia

Agencies, Saturday 12 October 2013 16.12 BST

The leader of Libya's Muslim Brotherhood has said the prime minister, who was briefly abducted by militia members this week, has failed and needs to be replaced.

Mohammed Sawan said on Saturday the Libyan parliament is "seriously searching for an alternative" to Ali Zidan, who was seized from his hotel room on Thursday.

Zidan has described the kidnapping as an attempted coup and warned that some of Libya's many armed militias want to turn the country into "another Afghanistan or Somalia".

"One hundred vehicles came with heavy and medium weapons," he said in a speech. "This is a coup against legitimacy."

Sawan said in reference to the kidnapping that mismanagement by Zidan's government might have led to "irresponsible actions" by individuals.

The abduction ended when local militias stormed the Tripoli police station where the prime minister was being held on Thursday afternoon.

Zidan has been facing mounting pressure from parliament for months, first by Islamist blocs including the Muslim Brotherhood and another group of ultra-conservative Salafis. Independents later joined the criticism of Zidan over allegations of corruption and wasting public funds, as well as the country's deteriorating security.

He has not named those who were behind his kidnapping, only referring to the Libyan Revolutionaries Operation Room, a militia umbrella group.

As well as abducting Zidan, militias have besieged key ministries in the capital, Tripoli, and stormed ministers' offices this summer to force the parliament to pass a divisive law aimed at purging officials who served under Muammar Gaddafi from the new government. The parliament passed the law virtually at gunpoint, highlighting the challenges facing Libya as it tries to transition to democracy.

Last year the Muslim Brotherhood came second in the country's first parliamentary elections, which were won by a non-Islamist bloc led by the wartime prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril. It has five ministers in Zidan's government.

A day before Zidan's abduction, parliament agreed to form a committee to either discuss an alternative to Zeidan or summon him for questioning.

"The government represented by the prime minister has had no success," Sawan said.

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« Reply #9309 on: Oct 13, 2013, 07:45 AM »

October 12, 2013

African Union Urges International Court to Delay Kenyan President’s Trial


NAIROBI, Kenya — The members of the African Union said Saturday that no sitting head of state should be prosecuted by an international tribunal and that the trial of Kenya’s president at the International Criminal Court should be postponed, according to the group’s chairman, who spoke after the closed-door session.

Though the African Union has no official standing to effect change at the court, the African countries’ stance could complicate the tribunal’s work by providing backing for heads of state who refuse to cooperate. Most immediately, the request to postpone the trial of President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya could provide him with additional political cover should he choose to skip his court date.

Still, despite African countries’ longstanding unhappiness with the court over what is seen as unfair treatment, there was no resolution demanding an exodus from the tribunal.

Pressure had been building for African countries to withdraw from the international court en masse. But two of the continent’s leading elder statesmen, Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, spoke out strongly in favor of the court last week. So did many civil-society groups.

The combination added to reservations among African countries and whittled away at support for such a strong move.

Relations between the court and African leaders have deteriorated as the court has indicted only African suspects more than a decade into its existence. The issue has come to a head as Mr. Kenyatta is scheduled to stand trial at The Hague next month — even as his country struggles to deal with the aftermath of the siege of the Westgate mall, which killed more than 60 men, women and children.

With Mr. Kenyatta’s future in question, the African Union organized the meeting at its headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Friday and Saturday to debate his case and the future of relations between its members and the court.

“We have agreed that no charges shall be commenced or continued before any international court or tribunal against any serving heads of state or government,” said Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia, the chairman of the African Union. President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, who was indicted in 2009, has refused to cooperate with the court.

Earlier, the African Union chairman criticized the court for continuing “to operate in complete disregard of the concerns” of African governments. African nations had joined the court, he said, “convinced that the organization would promote the cause of justice with a sense of impartiality and fairness.” But he added that “the practice so far, however, leaves so much to be desired.”

Mr. Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, have both been charged with crimes against humanity, accused of being involved in the violence that followed the disputed presidential election in 2007, which killed more than 1,100 people and displaced more than 600,000. They deny the accusations, and before the attack, both said that they would work with the court.

Mr. Ruto’s trial began last month, and he has been traveling between Kenya and The Hague. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Ethiopian foreign minister, told reporters at the end of the summit meeting that if the request for a deferral of Mr. Kenyatta’s case was not answered, the Kenyan leader should not appear before the court.

The attack on Westgate has earned him more support abroad, both in sympathy over the attack and in the way it highlighted the practical need for heads of state to be at home to govern their countries.

“The elected leadership of Kenya must be allowed to serve their term as mandated by the people of the country,” said Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a top African Union official, in her opening remarks on Saturday. “They must be allowed to lead the country in the consolidation of peace, reconciliation, reconstruction, democracy and development as per the will of the Kenyan people, expressed in elections in March this year.”

According to a copy of Mr. Kenyatta’s speech released Saturday night, the court “has been reduced into a painfully farcical pantomime, a travesty that adds insult to the injury of victims,” he told the closed session.

“It stopped being the home of justice the day it became the toy of declining imperial powers,” he said.

The statement by the African Union chairman on Saturday appears to cover Mr. Ruto as well, since he acts as head of state when Mr. Kenyatta is out of the country.

Mr. Kenyatta, who was indicted before his election, is the second sitting head of state in Africa wanted by the court, after Mr. Bashir. The court has also opened cases in Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and Uganda, all of them at the request of those countries. The I.C.C. does have investigations under way outside Africa, including in Afghanistan and Colombia, but they are preliminary.

“The landscape on which this court works is a very uneven one,” said Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch’s international justice program in New York. “The leaders of the most powerful countries and those governments the most powerful countries protect don’t find themselves facing arrest warrants from the I.C.C. That’s an ugly reality, but it’s not the fault of the court.”

But he called that track record “no excuse to deny justice to victims where it’s possible.”

The 1998 Treaty of Rome created the I.C.C., and its jurisdiction went into effect in 2002; 122 countries, including Kenya, have ratified the treaty. Of the African Union’s 54 members, 34 are parties to the I.C.C.

The United States never ratified the treaty. Some have called for Americans to be prosecuted over the Iraq invasion, but because the United States is not a party to the court and holds a veto in the Security Council — which can refer cases to the I.C.C. — any action against Americans has been effectively prevented. Russia and China also hold veto power and are not part of the court.

“African states were encouraged by an international institution that wasn’t held hostage by the most powerful states and the Security Council in particular,” said Mark Kersten, a researcher at the London School of Economics and author of the blog Justice in Conflict. “Over the last few years, the I.C.C. has built a much closer relationship with the Security Council. That has instigated a lot of uncertainty.”

Nicholas Kulish reported from Nairobi, and Benno Muchler from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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« Reply #9310 on: Oct 13, 2013, 07:49 AM »

Letters detail punitive tactics used on Guantánamo hunger strikers

Newly declassified papers say hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay was 'broken' by a deliberate campaign to crush detainees' spirits

Mark Townsend, home affairs editor
The Observer, Saturday 12 October 2013 13.21 BST    

Link to video: Guantánamo Bay: The Hunger Strikes

The US military secretly used a variety of tactics to break the resolve of the Guantánamo Bay hunger strikers, including placing them in solitary confinement if they continued to refuse food, newly declassified interviews with detainees reveal.

One prisoner also said that the last British resident held inside the camp, Shaker Aamer, had been targeted and humiliated by the authorities to the point where it became impossible for the 44-year-old to continue his protest.

The US military recently announced the end of the six-month mass hunger strike among detainees at Guantánamo Bay. But human rights groups argue that such proclamations are disingenuous as at least 16 inmates are still force-fed daily, and two are in hospital.

One detainee, 42-year-old Syrian national Abu Wa'el Dhiab, reported that the Extreme Reaction Force team, the camp's military riot squad, would "storm" Aamer's cell five times a day in an attempt to crush his resolve during the strike.

In letters recounting Aamer's treatment, which have only just been declassified, Wa'el said: "They have deprived him of food, water and medicine. Then the riot squad uses the excuse of giving him water and food and medicine to storm his cell again."

Wa'el, who like Aamer has spent 11 years inside the camp, added: "They took him to the clinic, tore his clothes off and left him with only his underwear for long hours, taunting him."

Another inmate, Samir Mukbel, from Yemen, who has also been cleared for release, alleged that throwing the prisoners into isolation helped break the protest, which lasted more than 200 days and drew such international attention that President Barack Obama reiterated his intention to close the camp.

Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian detainee who has been cleared for release, corroborated the claim that solitary confinement was used as a punishment for prisoners making political statements. Belbacha, 43, described how the authorities were punishing hunger strikers by confiscating their belongings. "My glasses, legal papers, toothbrush, toothpaste and all my other necessities have been taken."

Testimonies of Belbacha, Mukbel and Aamer are among those featured in an animation narrated by actors David Morrissey and Peter Capaldi depicting life inside Guantánamo Bay. The film also uses testimony from the recently released Nabil Hadjarab, provided by their lawyers at legal charity Reprieve.

Mukbel, 35, added that other tactics were utilised to whittle down the size of the hunger strike. He said the temperature was deliberately manipulated to make conditions inside the camp even more uncomfortable and that during the hunger strike searches of cells were timed to disrupt detainees' sleep.

Cori Crider, a lawyer at Reprieve, said: "The US authorities have, with some glee, announced the hunger strike to be over. What they fail to tell you is the horrific things they did to crush the hunger strikers' spirits, as my clients have described. And yet still there are at least 16 men striking and being brutally force-fed twice a day."

Aamer's lawyers, meanwhile, are concerned over his health. Aamer has refused one visit and three phone calls since August, with his south-London-based family fearful that his treatment has dangerously weakened his health. Meanwhile, it has emerged that prime minister David Cameron has recently written to President Barack Obama in another direct attempt aimed at "securing Aamer's release and return to the UK."

Elsewhere, momentum to secure the release of the 164 detainees appears to be growing with news last week that the Pentagon has appointed a new envoy for the controversial task of finally closing Guantánamo Bay. Officials from several government agencies are expected to re-evaluate previous determinations that some of the men held on the US base in Cuba are too dangerous to release.

The US has not yet said how many of the 164 prisoners now at Guantánamo will be reviewed. More than 80 have already been cleared for release or transfer but are still held either because of restrictions on releases imposed by Congress or because they are from Yemen, which is considered too unstable to take former prisoners.

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In the USA...United Surveillance America

World prepares for U.S. debt default

By Phillip Inman, The Guardian
Saturday, October 12, 2013 22:40 EDT

Without a budget in place, the US government has run out of the cash needed to pay thousands of government workers in Washington and keep national parks open. But this week an even more critical issue comes to the fore. On Thursday, the country will be forced to default on its $16.8 trillion in borrowings if it does not secure a rise in the debt ceiling.

Republican leaders, aware that their intransigence over the budget has hit the party’s popularity, last week proposed a six-week postponement of the deadline. John Boehner, leader of the Republicans in the House of Representatives, has dropped a previous demand that talks could only take place following a Democrat concession to review President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act – or “Obamacare” – although a format for discussions has yet to be agreed.

How did we get here?

The road towards a default that would risk plunging the world economy into recession began last year in the wake of Obama’s return to the White House. The radical Tea Party wing of the Republicans decided that the only way to block Obamacare, which for them exemplifies hated “big government”, was to hold up the president’s entire budget plan.

Why has Washington suffered a shutdown?

A six-month fight over the budget between the two houses of government – the Republican lower house and the Democrat-controlled Senate – has meant no formal funding has been agreed and left government departments struggling to pay their bills. For the first time in 17 years, parts of government spending have been shut down. Some 800,000 government workers were initially sent home – equivalent to the combined workforces of Exxon Mobil, General Motors, Google and giant US retailer Target.

Even the Pentagon sent home 350,000 staff in that initial wave, though it later called them back when funds were made available. National parks remain closed and applications for most permits and licences are being badly delayed. Schools are open and hospitals are unaffected, though health research has been disrupted.

What is the debt ceiling?

This is the government borrowing limit set by Congress. The government actually bumped up against the $16.7 trillion limit five months ago as the budget dispute got under way. Ever since, the treasury department has taken a series of “extraordinary measures” to raise an extra $303 billion. But that money will not last much longer.

Why is October 17 significant?

US treasury secretary Jack Lew has warned that this is when the treasury will exhaust those extraordinary measures. Without the means to pay both multibillion-dollar interest payments and social security bills, it will default.

What are the implications?

Nobody knows what a default would mean in practice. Investors around the world have lent the US money by buying its treasury bonds. In theory, a failure to pay a single interest payment on a tranche of debt will trigger a demand from all bondholders for their money back. In practice this is unlikely.

What will happen to the US economy?

American businesses with public-sector contracts will suffer a delay in payments and could go bust – unemployment has already risen as a result of the shutdown. More broadly, the US economy has been the main driver of global growth. Should the government be forced to default, it could trigger an estimated 4.5% fall in GDP and the rest of the world would fall back into recession.

The extent of nerves in the markets was shown when the news of a possible six-week extension of the borrowing limit sent the Dow Jones index of leading shares soaring by more than 300 points.

What about the UK?

Britain would be hit hard by a US recession. Many of our exports go to America, especially manufactured goods. Without growth in the US, the UK could see its still-fragile recovery snuffed out. Already, BAE Systems, Britain’s biggest manufacturing employer, is warning of problems ahead should the two-week-old shutdown become a crisis. BAE has half its business in the US and has already frozen the wages of 1,200 staff in Washington. Fellow arms firm Chemring saw its shares plummet on Friday after it warned the shutdown would affect its profits. Meanwhile, outsourcing firms G4S and Serco have US staff unable to work.

And the rest of the world?

The Chinese are panicked. China’s Xinhua news agency labelled US domestic politicians “dangerously irresponsible” for wrangling over debt. In an editorial, the state-run media organisation said the rest of the world had been “kidnapped” by American politics, which was involved in “a game of chicken”. The Germans are also anxious. Anton Böner, president of the Federal Association for German Wholesalers and Foreign Trade, warned: “If the Americans shoot themselves in the foot right now, it is highly dangerous for the entire global economy, and of course for the German export economy.”

Why are the Republicans proposing a six-week delay to the debt ceiling?

An opinion poll by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal last week gave the Republican party the lowest standing in the history of the poll. It showed that more than twice as many Americans had a negative view of it than a positive one. While 31% held Obama responsible for the shutdown, 53% blamed Republicans. Boehner said he wanted six weeks to debate all aspects of the budget, but White House sources said they were convinced his aim was still to scupper Obamacare. © Guardian News and Media 2013


October 13, 2013

Senate Leaders Seek an End to Debt Crisis


WASHINGTON — Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell say they will continue negotiating on Sunday for a way to reopen the government, lift the debt ceiling — the deadline is on Thursday — and find a way out of a crisis that could have perilous implications for the nation’s economy.

On Capitol Hill, only the Senate is scheduled to be in session, although any solution will require action by both chambers of Congress.

Hope emerged on Saturday as Mr. Reid, the majority leader, and Mr. McConnell, the leader of the Senate Republicans, sat down for the first time since July to begin last-ditch negotiations. Talks between House Republicans and the White House have collapsed, leaving Republicans on Capitol Hill with no easy options.

“I hope that our talking is some solace to the American people and the world,” Mr. Reid said on Saturday. (Not far away, officials meeting in Washington at the annual sessions of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank publicly expressed alarm that the United States might provoke a global debt crisis by Congress’s inaction.)

Mr. Reid was careful not to sound too hopeful. “Senator McConnell and I have been in this body a long time. We’ve done things for a long time together,” he said. “We don’t agree on everything, and that’s, as you know, an understatement.”

The relationship between the two men has been so chilly that it took two other senators, Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, and Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, to arrange the Saturday meeting.

For Speaker John A. Boehner and House Republicans, the options were much grimmer. If Mr. Boehner compromises, he risks angering the conservatives who dominate his conference. For its part, the White House is sticking with its stance that it will not negotiate until the government is reopened and the debt ceiling is raised.

The White House has no public events planned, although aides did not rule out that President Obama might confer with some lawmakers — as he did with Senate Democrats on Saturday afternoon. Mr. Schumer, who was at that meeting, said: “There’s a will among all three parties — the president, Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans. Now we’ll see if there’s a way.”

Earlier in the day, conservatives left their meeting at the Capitol in a sour mood, with many saying they were outraged that Mr. Obama had refused to meet them halfway.

Representative John Carter of Texas described Mr. Obama as “acting like a royal president.”

“He’s still ‘my way or the highway,’ ” Mr. Carter said.

With concerns growing that global financial markets could be thrown into turmoil if Congress does not agree to raise the debt ceiling, Republicans said they did not know whether Mr. Boehner would have enough support from the most conservative members in his conference to put a Senate plan up for a vote — if the leaders reach a deal.

“The question is: What will Senate Republicans do, what will Senate Democrats do?” said Representative Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois.

Many Republicans said that however frustrated they were that the White House would not negotiate with them, they were just as dismayed with House colleagues who would not back down from their demands that any deal include provisions to chip away at the health care law.

“The problem here is that we don’t have a functioning majority,” said Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California. “After three weeks of this, they’re still not figuring it out. I don’t know what it takes.”

The proposal House Republicans presented to the White House late last week called for increasing the Treasury Department’s authority to borrow money through Nov. 22, but only if Mr. Obama agreed to more expansive talks about overhauling the budget.

The failure of talks with the White House further strained the relationship between House Republicans and the president. It was the House Republicans’ refusal to approve a spending bill until less it stripped financing from the health care law that shut down the government. And now Republicans in both the Senate and the House are looking for a way out of the crisis.

With the latest developments, Representative Aaron Schock, Republican of Illinois, said there had been “a total breakdown in trust” between House Republicans and the administration.

“You don’t tell the speaker, the majority leader, the majority whip, ‘We’re going to negotiate.’ Then they come and tell our entire conference, ‘We’re going to negotiate,’ ” he said. “And then 24 hours later, you recant.”

Feelings ran so high on the House floor on Saturday morning that there was a brief altercation between Representative Joseph Crowley, a Democrat from New York City, and Chris Vieson, the floor director for Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the majority leader. There were conflicting reports about whether the conflict became physical or was confined to words, but both sides said they had apologized.

If Republicans needed any reminder about how outraged their most conservative supporters would be if they committed to a compromise that did not include provisions to weaken the health care law, they needed look no further than out the window. Glenn Beck, the fiery radio personality, was leading a group of Tea Party activists on the National Mall.

There was skepticism that any Senate compromise could pass muster in the Republican-controlled House. Representative Thomas Massie, Republican of Kentucky, said simply: “Senate Republicans don’t run the Senate. So we’re not taking our lead from them.”

And despite encouraging signs from Mr. McConnell and Mr. Reid, senators from both parties said they did not have unrealistic expectations of any quick solution. “Let’s be honest where we are,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat.


Connecting the Dots

The Radicalization of the GOP is the Most Important Political Story Today

October 10, 2013
By Joshua Holland, Moyers & Company

In this July 10, 2013 file photo, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., emerges from a closed-door meeting with House Republicans to work on an approach to immigration reform at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) once claimed that “80 to 85 percent of mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists” and called those who worship in them “an enemy living amongst us.” He held McCarthyesque hearings into the supposed “radicalization of American Muslims,” parading a line of prominent bigots through the House Homeland Security Committee.

He’s an outspoken advocate of the war on terror – The New York Times called him “the Patriot Act’s most fervent supporter” – and has been a leading figure politicizing the attacks on our consular office and CIA station in Benghazi. King was a fierce opponent of George W. Bush’s efforts to reform the immigration system. He railed against the Occupy movement, and opposed both the 2009 stimulus package and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. He called for the prosecution of journalist Glenn Greenwald for reporting Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks. He has a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee and a zero percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America. The Drum Major Institute gave him a seven percent rating for his votes on issues of importance to the middle class last year.

In the past few weeks, dozens of political journalists have dubbed him a moderate. In fact, he’s been anointed a leader among the Republican moderates. He earned that label because, like other New York pols, he doesn’t blindly support the National Rifle Association, and because he opposes shutting down the government and threatening to unleash a potential economic catastrophe in a hopeless quest to defund Obamacare. That’s it. That’s how low the bar of moderation in the Republican Party now falls.

Arguably, the most important political story of our time – one necessary to understanding the last five years of so-called “gridlock” in Washington, DC – is one that journalists wedded to the idea that ‘both sides do it’ are uncomfortable reporting: the wildly asymmetric polarization of our two major political parties as Democrats inched to the left and Republicans lurched to the right.

This week, Dan Balz, senior correspondent for The Washington Post, took a deep dive into the roots of the latest crisis. He attributes it to “a deepening red-blue divide in America [that] has made this era of politics the most polarized in more than a century.”

    The bonds that once helped produce political consensus have gradually eroded, replaced by competing camps that live in parallel universes, have sharply divergent worldviews and express more distrust of opponents than they did decades ago. Many activists describe the stakes in apocalyptic terms.

Balz covers a lot of ground, noting that red districts have become redder and blue districts bluer. He points out that there are fewer districts in which one party won the congressional vote while the other party got more votes in the last presidential election and notes that conservative Democrats or liberal Republicans no longer exist in Congress. He talks about the role gerrymandering has playedin this and the even greater impact of natural migration patterns that concentrated Democrats into tightly packed urban districts while Republicans got the advantage in suburban and rural areas.

But, he didn’t discuss the most important political trend of our time. Only toward the end of the piece, on the fifth and final page, did he offer a throwaway observation that, “Republicans have shifted more to the right than Democrats have shifted to the left,” before adding, “but on both sides passions are stronger than they were two decades ago.”

This anodyne statement glosses over the radicalization of the Republican Party since the 1980s. That shift isn’t merely a matter of opinion. Political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal developed a statistical measure of lawmakers’ voting records that allows scholars to study the dynamics in Congress empirically. The system, known as DW-NOMINATE, ranks legislators according to how far they veer from the midline of congressional votes.

Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker used this data for his 2006 book, Off Center, in which he noted that since 1975, Senate Republicans have moved twice as far to the right as their Democratic counterparts have moved to the left. Of course, this shutdown is being driven by the Republican-controlled House, and in the lower chamber Hacker found that Republicans had shifted six times further to the right than their Democratic counterparts went to the left.

On the DW-Nominate scale, -1.000 represents the position of the most liberal vote, while +1.000 is that of the most conservative. The bigger a lawmaker’s number, the further his or her record is from Congress’s center. In the 100th Congress (1987-1989), only around four percent of Republicans had a score over 0.600, but by the last Congress almost a quarter of the Republican caucus fell into that group. The same dynamic wasn’t apparent on the Democratic side of the aisle: The share of Democrats who scored between -0.600 and -1.000 rose from slightly less than six percent of the caucus in 1989 to just over nine percent in the last Congress.

But that’s not the whole story. DW-Nominate scores don’t measure lawmakers’ liberalism or conservatism. They measure how far their votes are from other votes in the same Congress. As such, it doesn’t factor in shifts in the ideological center itself. That center has shifted dramatically to the right over the last 30 years.

In a 2012 article for The New Yorker, Ryan Lizza quoted Thomas Mann, of the Brookings Institution, and Norman Ornstein, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, from their book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks:

    One of our two major parties, the Republicans, has become an insurgent outlier—ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime, scornful of compromise, unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science, and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

There is no doubt that at the root of this crisis is a deeply polarized public. But, the key aspect of this story is that the Republican Party veered toward the extreme of its ideological orientation just as the country was becoming more diverse and tolerant – and as the most progressive generation in 70 years was coming of age – and that dissonance has driven them to cast off the legislative norms that have traditionally made our divided government work.


House Democrats Pull an End Around To Try To Overthrow Boehner and Reopen Government

By: Sarah Jones
Saturday, October 12th, 2013, 3:03 pm

Remember when I wrote that Democrats were planning to use Republican’s own bill against them in order to fund the government? They signed the petition today. Democrats are trying to bypass Speaker Boehner in order to allow a quick vote on a bill to reopen the government.

So far, 186 Democrats have signed a petition to demand a vote as soon as October 14th to reopen government. This discharge petition only needs a majority of House members; it doesn’t rely upon Republican leadership.

Take a look at Democrats lining up to sign the petition:

The method of using discharge petitions to bring legislation for consideration is not unprecedented.

According to a Congressional Research Service study cited by Democrats, “seven discharge petitions have received 218 signatures over the last 30 years. And in all seven cases, the majority party agreed to bring the measure to the House floor.”
But then, they weren’t dealing with these Republicans.

“The only thing standing between this Congress and an open government is Speaker Boehner’s refusal to allow a vote on a clean continuing resolution,” said Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). “This measure can remove the Speaker’s undemocratic roadblock and finally allow a clean vote in the House of Representatives to open the government.”

What Democrats are trying to do here is reestablish the rule of the majority, thereby bypassing the Tea Party strangle hold on GOP leadership. This CR would fund the government at levels set by the Senate if a majority of House Members sign onto a discharge petition. Click here to read what Democrats filed on the 4th to allow the signing of the petition today.

If Democrats can get to 218, the remaining two steps would be 1) Discharge the resolution from the Rules Committee for immediate House consideration. 2) Then debate a CR with the House and Senate agreed spending levels. This would be a substitute to H.R. 1164 – a Republican bill introduced more than 30 days ago. Then, they’d take an up or down vote.

The bill would then need to be passed by the much saner Senate.

“There is a growing number of Republicans who want the opportunity to work with us to end this crisis. We have seen it in press reports. And I have heard it in my own private conversations with my Republican colleagues,” said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.). “Today, we are offering my Republican friends, and the American people, a way forward.”

We’ll see if any of the House Republicans who have indicated that they want to end this shutdown have the courage to sign the petition.

If they don’t, this is a perfect example of why we can’t trust even moderate Republican lawmakers in the current GOP. If Republicans try to shut down this attempt at democracy, the people must demand a vote.


The Koch Brothers Seditious Shutdown Conspiracy Should Get Them 20 Years in Prison

By: Rmuse
Saturday, October 12th, 2013, 4:37 pm

There is a saying in the entertainment industry that any publicity is good publicity, and although it is primarily true for entertainers, it is not the case for politicians. For the dark money and puppeteers behind conservative politicians, anonymity is the preferred state and any publicity is inherently bad regardless if they fund extremist politicians or schemes to shut down the government. After news broke that the billionaire oil magnates the Koch brothers funded the culprits behind the still-ongoing government shut down, they finally spoke out in a letter to Senators claiming their innocence and denying they had any part in teabagger and Republican machinations to hold the government hostage in exchange for killing the Affordable Care Act.

The Koch brothers’ letter claimed they had no part or took no position “on the legislative tactic of tying the continuing resolution to defunding ObamaCare nor have we lobbied on legislative provisions defunding ObamaCare,” but like their Republican lackeys; they are filthy liars. The Koch-funded FreedomWorks issued a letter in February that said, “Conservatives should not approve a CR unless it defunds Obamacare.  This includes Obamacare’s unworkable exchanges, unsustainable Medicaid expansion, and attack on life and religious liberty.” If paying a surrogate to demand Republicans and teabaggers tie defunding the Affordable Care Act to keeping the government operating is not taking a position on the government shutdown and the continuing resolution, then the Sun rises in the West and the Earth orbits the moon.

Obviously the bad publicity frightens the Koch brothers and doubtless they are legitimately concerned they will lose influence with their right wing conservative base who are taking a beating in the public sphere for their fervent support of the government shutdown. Likely, the Koch’s are not happy their reputation could be further sullied for backing the extremist wing of the Republican Party led by Michele Bachmann, Ted Cruz, and Steve King who championed the government shutdown strategy to eliminate the health law. It is also likely they did not miss Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s accusations they were behind the shutdown, or the articles, petitions and calls for the Justice Department to investigate them for sedition that never had a snowball’s chance in Hell of touching the Kochs.

However, there is a statute in the U.S. Code that does apply to the Koch brothers and every other conservative that spent the past three years attempting to prohibit implementation of the Affordable Care Act and it is a legitimate and actionable offense the DOJ can prosecute with extreme prejudice. In 18 USC § 2384 – Seditious conspiracy, it plainly says; “If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspires to oppose by force the authority of, or prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.” For the Americans affected by the government shut down, and those who live in Republican states that rejected free Medicaid expansion written in the Affordable Care Act, it is highly likely they would support fining and imprisoning the Koch brothers for twenty years.

The U.S. Code says “if two or more persons” are involved in a conspiracy to oppose the authority of, prevent, hinder, or delay any law they shall be punished and that means that every single Republican, teabagger, conservative media, and libertarian belief tank is in line to be prosecuted for seditious conspiracy by the Department of Justice. Every Republican in the House that voted to tie defunding the Affordable Care Act is part of the conspiracy, and that also applies to Republicans who voted in lockstep to prevent the law’s implementation by tying defunding the law to passing a continuing resolution to open the government.

Republicans in leadership positions in the House and Senate are particularly culpable for preventing the law’s enactment and not because they wasted taxpayer time and money voting over forty times to repeal the law, but because their propaganda, lies, and misinformation incited hostility in the states to oppose the authority of the law. In states such as Arizona, Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas, Wyoming, and Missouri Republicans refused to enforce the law, and after the general election at least three Republican states voted to arrest any federal official who tried to implement the law making them part of the seditious conspiracy as much as the Koch brothers who paid hundreds-of-millions to hinder the law’s implementation. One former Republican, Joe Walsh (R-IL) actually went so far as to provoke his supporters to “defy and or break the law” if faced with what he called “restrictions” in the federal health law. Three GOP-controlled states openly voted to “nullify” the law in typical Confederate fashion.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was signed into law on March 23, 2010 and yet Republicans have never admitted it is the law of the land. It is true that after the 2012 general election Speaker of the House John Boehner had a moment of clarity and said “Obamacare is the law of the land,” but he, and his fellow conservatives treat the law as if it is a piece of legislation still up for debate and negotiation. Since the law is over three-and-a-half years old, every Republican, teabagger, conservative think tank, and even conservative media is guilty of conspiring to oppose the authority of, or prevent, hinder, or delay the ACA and it is incumbent on the Department of Justice to charge every last one of them with seditious conspiracy under U.S. Code 18 USC § 2384, but especially Charles and David Koch.

The DOJ will have an easy time prosecuting and convicting the Kochs and their conspirators because there are money trails leading directly to PACs whose primary purpose was inciting opposition to the established law. There are also videos, angry screeds, and floor speeches from Republicans in the House and Senate demanding the ACA be defunded and delayed that would give any prosecutor an easy task of proving seditious conspiracy.

Americans have put up with criminal sedition from the Kochs and Republicans for too long and they cannot be held to a different standard or above the law because they are rich and powerful. In fact, their violation of the U.S. Code may well be the easiest, and only, means of stopping their continued assault on America’s representative democracy. Obviously the Koch brothers were rattled by charges they were behind the government shutdown through their funding efforts to hold the government hostage in exchange for eliminating the ACA or they would not have written a letter lying about their involvement. But they, their think tanks, PACs, and cohort in Congress and the states cannot deny they are guilty of seditious conspiracy to “oppose the authority of, or prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States” and no American should be satisfied until they are fined or imprisoned for twenty years. If there is any justice left in this corrupt nation, they will get both.

Author note:

The fact that states voted to arrest federal officials attempting to enforce the health law, coupled with the growing threats of armed violence against the government due to the health law’s enactment meets the definition of “by force” originally omitted in the U.S. Code’s description. By definition, a conspiracy means the planners, inciters, and funders are guilty the same as Osama bin Laden was guilty for recruiting, planning, and funding al Qaeda terrorists who flew commercial airliners into American buildings.


October 12, 2013

From the Start, Signs of Trouble at Health Portal


WASHINGTON — In March, Henry Chao, the chief digital architect for the Obama administration’s new online insurance marketplace, told industry executives that he was deeply worried about the Web site’s debut. “Let’s just make sure it’s not a third-world experience,” he told them.

Two weeks after the rollout, few would say his hopes were realized.

For the past 12 days, a system costing more than $400 million and billed as a one-stop click-and-go hub for citizens seeking health insurance has thwarted the efforts of millions to simply log in. The growing national outcry has deeply embarrassed the White House, which has refused to say how many people have enrolled through the federal exchange.

Even some supporters of the Affordable Care Act worry that the flaws in the system, if not quickly fixed, could threaten the fiscal health of the insurance initiative, which depends on throngs of customers to spread the risk and keep prices low.

“These are not glitches,” said an insurance executive who has participated in many conference calls on the federal exchange. Like many people interviewed for this article, the executive spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying he did not wish to alienate the federal officials with whom he works. “The extent of the problems is pretty enormous. At the end of our calls, people say, ‘It’s awful, just awful.’ ”

Interviews with two dozen contractors, current and former government officials, insurance executives and consumer advocates, as well as an examination of confidential administration documents, point to a series of missteps — financial, technical and managerial — that led to the troubles.

Politics made things worse. To avoid giving ammunition to Republicans opposed to the project, the administration put off issuing several major rules until after last November’s elections. The Republican-controlled House blocked funds. More than 30 states refused to set up their own exchanges, requiring the federal government to vastly expand its project in unexpected ways.

The stakes rose even higher when Congressional opponents forced a government shutdown in the latest fight over the health care law, which will require most Americans to have health insurance. Administration officials dug in their heels, repeatedly insisting that the project was on track despite evidence to the contrary.

Dr. Donald M. Berwick, the administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in 2010 and 2011, said the time and budgetary pressures were a constant worry. “The staff was heroic and dedicated, but we did not have enough money, and we all knew that,” he said in an interview on Friday.

Administration officials have said there is plenty of time to resolve the problems before the mid-December deadline to sign up for coverage that begins Jan. 1 and the March 31 deadline for coverage that starts later. A round-the-clock effort is under way, with the government leaning more heavily on the major contractors, including the United States subsidiary of the Montreal-based CGI Group and Booz Allen Hamilton.

One person familiar with the system’s development said that the project was now roughly 70 percent of the way toward operating properly, but that predictions varied on when the remaining 30 percent would be done. “I’ve heard as little as two weeks or as much as a couple of months,” that person said. Others warned that the fixes themselves were creating new problems, and said that the full extent of the problems might not be known because so many consumers had been stymied at the first step in the application process.

Confidential progress reports from the Health and Human Services Department show that senior officials repeatedly expressed doubts that the computer systems for the federal exchange would be ready on time, blaming delayed regulations, a lack of resources and other factors.

Deadline after deadline was missed. The biggest contractor, CGI Federal, was awarded its $94 million contract in December 2011. But the government was so slow in issuing specifications that the firm did not start writing software code until this spring, according to people familiar with the process. As late as the last week of September, officials were still changing features of the Web site,, and debating whether consumers should be required to register and create password-protected accounts before they could shop for health plans.

One highly unusual decision, reached early in the project, proved critical: the Medicare and Medicaid agency assumed the role of project quarterback, responsible for making sure each separately designed database and piece of software worked with the others, instead of assigning that task to a lead contractor.

Some people intimately involved in the project seriously doubted that the agency had the in-house capability to handle such a mammoth technical task of software engineering while simultaneously supervising 55 contractors. An internal government progress report in September 2011 identified a lack of employees “to manage the multiple activities and contractors happening concurrently” as a “major risk” to the whole project.

While some branches of the military have large software engineering departments capable of acting as the so-called system integrator, often on medium-size weapons projects, the rest of the federal government typically does not, said Stan Soloway, the president and chief executive of the Professional Services Council, which represents 350 government contractors. CGI officials have publicly said that while their company created the system’s overall software framework, the Medicare and Medicaid agency was responsible for integrating and testing all the combined components.

By early this year, people inside and outside the federal bureaucracy were raising red flags. “We foresee a train wreck,” an insurance executive working on information technology said in a February interview. “We don’t have the I.T. specifications. The level of angst in health plans is growing by leaps and bounds. The political people in the administration do not understand how far behind they are.”

The Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, warned in June that many challenges had to be overcome before the Oct. 1 rollout.

“So much testing of the new system was so far behind schedule, I was not confident it would work well,” Richard S. Foster, who retired in January as chief actuary of the Medicare program, said in an interview last week.

But Mr. Chao’s superiors at the Department of Health and Human Services told him, in effect, that failure was not an option, according to people who have spoken with him. Nor was rolling out the system in stages or on a smaller scale, as companies like Google typically do so that problems can more easily and quietly be fixed. Former government officials say the White House, which was calling the shots, feared that any backtracking would further embolden Republican critics who were trying to repeal the health care law.

Marilyn B. Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, both insisted in July that the project was not in trouble. Last month, Gary M. Cohen, the federal official in charge of health insurance exchanges, promised federal legislators that on Oct. 1, “consumers will be able to go online, they’ll be able to get a determination of what tax subsidies they are eligible for, they’ll be able to see the premium net of subsidy,” and they will be able to sign up.

But just a trickle of the 14.6 million people who have visited the federal exchange so far have managed to enroll in insurance plans, according to executives of major insurance companies who receive enrollment files from the government. And some of those enrollments are marred by mistakes. Insurance executives said the government had sent some enrollment files to the wrong insurer, confusing companies that have similar names but are in different states. Other files were unusable because crucial information was missing, they said.

Many users of the federal exchange were stuck at square one. A New York Times researcher, for instance, managed to register at 6 a.m. on Oct. 1. But despite more than 40 attempts over the next 11 days, she was never able to log in. Her last attempts led her to a blank screen.

Neither Ms. Tavenner nor other agency officials would answer questions about the exchange or its performance last week.

Worried about their reputations, contractors are now publicly distancing themselves from the troubled parts of the federally run project. Eric Gundersen, the president of Development Seed, emphasized that his company had built the home page of but had nothing to do with what happened after a user hit the “Apply Now” button.

Senior executives at Oracle, a subcontractor based in California that provided identity management software used in the registration process that has frustrated so many users, defended the company’s work. “Our software is running properly,” said Deborah Hellinger, Oracle’s vice president for corporate communications. The identical software has been widely used in complex systems, she said.

The serious technical problems threaten to obscure what some see as a nationwide demonstration of a desire for more affordable health insurance. The government has been heavily promoting the site as the best source of information on health insurance. An August government e-mail said: “35 days to open enrollment.” A September e-mail followed: “5 days to open enrollment. Don’t wait another minute.”

The response was huge. Insurance companies report much higher traffic on their Web sites and many more callers to their phone lines than predicted.

That made the flawed opening all the more disappointing to supporters of the health plan, including Timothy S. Jost, a law professor and a consumer representative to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

“Even if a fix happens quickly, I remain very disappointed that the Department of Health and Human Services was not better prepared for the rollout,” he said.

Robert Pear reported from Washington, Sharon LaFraniere from New York and Ian Austen from Ottawa. Quentin Hardy contributed reporting from San Francisco, and Kitty Bennett contributed research.


October 12, 2013

The Soaring Cost of a Simple Breath


OAKLAND, Calif. — The kitchen counter in the home of the Hayes family is scattered with the inhalers, sprays and bottles of pills that have allowed Hannah, 13, and her sister, Abby, 10, to excel at dance and gymnastics despite a horrific pollen season that has set off asthma attacks, leaving the girls struggling to breathe.

Asthma — the most common chronic disease that affects Americans of all ages, about 40 million people — can usually be well controlled with drugs. But being able to afford prescription medications in the United States often requires top-notch insurance or plenty of disposable income, and time to hunt for deals and bargains.

The arsenal of medicines in the Hayeses’ kitchen helps explain why. Pulmicort, a steroid inhaler, generally retails for over $175 in the United States, while pharmacists in Britain buy the identical product for about $20 and dispense it free of charge to asthma patients. Albuterol, one of the oldest asthma medicines, typically costs $50 to $100 per inhaler in the United States, but it was less than $15 a decade ago, before it was repatented.

“The one that really blew my mind was the nasal spray,” said Robin Levi, Hannah and Abby’s mother, referring to her $80 co-payment for Rhinocort Aqua, a prescription drug that was selling for more than $250 a month in Oakland pharmacies last year but costs under $7 in Europe, where it is available over the counter.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts the annual cost of asthma in the United States at more than $56 billion, including millions of potentially avoidable hospital visits and more than 3,300 deaths, many involving patients who skimped on medicines or did without.

“The thing is that asthma is so fixable,” said Dr. Elaine Davenport, who works in Oakland’s Breathmobile, a mobile asthma clinic whose patients often cannot afford high prescription costs. “All people need is medicine and education.”

With its high prescription prices, the United States spends far more per capita on medicines than other developed countries. Drugs account for 10 percent of the country’s $2.7 trillion annual health bill, even though the average American takes fewer prescription medicines than people in France or Canada, said Gerard Anderson, who studies medical pricing at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University.

Americans also use more generic medications than patients in any other developed country. The growth of generics has led to cheap pharmacy specials — under $7 a month — for some treatments for high cholesterol and high blood pressure, as well as the popular sleeping pill Ambien.

But many generics are still expensive, even if insurers are paying the bulk of the bill. Generic Augmentin, one of the most common antibiotics, retails for $80 to $120 for a 10-day prescription ($400 for the brand-name version). Generic Concerta, a mainstay of treating attention deficit disorder, retails for $75 to $150 per month, even with pharmacy discount coupons. For some conditions, including asthma, there are few generics available.

While the United States is famous for break-the-bank cancer drugs, the high price of many commonly used medications contributes heavily to health care costs and certainly causes more widespread anguish, since many insurance policies offer only partial coverage for medicines.

In 2012, generics increased in price an average of 5.3 percent, and brand-name medicines by more than 25 percent, according to a recent study by the Health Care Cost Institute, reflecting the sky-high prices of some newer drugs for cancer and immune diseases.

While prescription drug spending fell slightly last year, in part because of the recession, it is expected to rise sharply as the economy recovers and as millions of Americans become insured under the Affordable Care Act, said Murray Aitken, the executive director of IMS Health, a leading tracker of pharmaceutical trends.

Unlike other countries, where the government directly or indirectly sets an allowed national wholesale price for each drug, the United States leaves prices to market competition among pharmaceutical companies, including generic drug makers. But competition is often a mirage in today’s health care arena — a surprising number of lifesaving drugs are made by only one manufacturer — and businesses often successfully blunt market forces.

Asthma inhalers, for example, are protected by strings of patents — for pumps, delivery systems and production processes — that are hard to skirt to make generic alternatives, even when the medicines they contain are old, as they almost all are.

The repatenting of older drugs like some birth control pills, insulin and colchicine, the primary treatment for gout, has rendered medicines that once cost pennies many times more expensive.

“The increases are stunning, and it’s very injurious to patients,” said Dr. Robert Morrow, a family practitioner in the Bronx. “Colchicine is a drug you could find in Egyptian mummies.”

Pharmaceutical companies also buttress high prices by choosing to sell a medicine by prescription, rather than over the counter, so that insurers cover a price tag that would be unacceptable to consumers paying full freight. They even pay generic drug makers not to produce cut-rate competitors in a controversial scheme called pay for delay.

Thanks in part to the $250 million last year spent on lobbying for pharmaceutical and health products — more than even the defense industry — the government allows such practices. Lawmakers in Washington have forbidden Medicare, the largest government purchaser of health care, to negotiate drug prices. Unlike its counterparts in other countries, the United States Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, which evaluates treatments for coverage by federal programs, is not allowed to consider cost comparisons or cost-effectiveness in its recommendations. And importation of prescription medicines from abroad is illegal, even personal purchases from mail-order pharmacies.

“Our regulatory and approval system seems constructed to achieve high-priced outcomes,” said Dr. Peter Bach, the director of the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. “We don’t give any reason for drug makers to charge less.”

And taxpayers and patients bear the consequences.

California’s Medicaid program spent $61 million on asthma medicines last year, paying more than $200 — not far from full retail price — for many inhalers. At the Breathmobile clinic in Oakland, the parents of Bella Buyanurt, 7, fretted about how they would buy her medications since the family lost Medicaid coverage. Barbara Wolf, 73, a retired Oakland school administrator covered by Medicare, said she used her inhaler sparingly, adding, “I minimize puffs to minimize cost.”

‘A Frustrating Saga’

Hannah and Abby Hayes were admitted to the hospital on separate occasions in 2005 with severe shortness of breath. Oakland, a city subject to pollution from its freeways and a busy seaport, has four times the hospital admission rate for asthma as elsewhere in California.

The asthma rate nationwide among African-Americans and people of mixed racial backgrounds is about 20 percent higher than the average.

Robin Levi, a Stanford-trained lawyer who works for Students Rising Above, a group that helps low-income students attend college, is black. Her husband, John Hayes, an economist, is white. Their daughters have allergic asthma that is set off by animals, grass and weeds, but they also get wheezy when they have a cold.

“That first year, I had to take a lot of time from my job to deal with the asthma drugs, the prices, arguing with insurers — it was a frustrating saga,” Ms. Levi said.

For decades, the backbone of treatment for asthma has centered on inhaled medicines. The first step is a bronchodilator, which relaxes the muscles surrounding small airways to open them. For people who use this type of rescue inhaler frequently, doctors add an inhaled steroid as a maintenance drug to prevent inflammation and ward off attacks. The two medicines are often mixed in a single combination inhaler for adults, and these products are especially pricey. In addition, many patients, particularly children, take pills as well as nasal sprays that calm allergies that set off the condition.

While on medication, neither Hayes girl has been in the hospital since her initial diagnosis. Their mother tweaks dosing, adding extra medicine if they have a cold or plan to ride horses.

For most patients, asthma medicines are life-changing. In economic terms, that means demand for the medicines is inelastic. Unlike a treatment for acne that a patient might drop if the price became too high, asthma patients will go to great lengths to obtain their drugs.

For pharmaceutical companies, that has made these respiratory medicines blockbusters: the two best-selling combination inhalers, Advair and Symbicort, had global sales of $8 billion and $3 billion last year. Each inhaler, typically lasting a month, retails for $250 to $350 in the United States.

Asked to explain the high price of inhalers, the two major manufacturers say the calculus is complicated.

“Our pricing is competitive with other asthma treatments currently on the market,” Michele Meixell, the United States spokeswoman for AstraZeneca, which makes Symbicort and other asthma drugs, said in an e-mail. She added that low-income patients without insurance could apply for free drugs from the company.

Juan Carlos Molina, the director of external communication for GlaxoSmithKline, which makes Advair, said in an e-mail that the price of medicines was “closely linked to this country’s model for delivery of care,” which assumes that health insurance will pick up a significant part of the cost. An average co-payment for Advair for commercially insured patients is $30 to $45 a month, he added.

Even with good insurance, the Hayeses expect to spend nearly $1,000 this year on their daughters’ asthma medicines; their insurer spent much more than that. The total would have been more than $4,000 if the insurer had paid retail prices in Oakland, but the final tally is not clear because the insurer contracts with Medco, a prescription benefits company that negotiates with drug makers for undisclosed discounts.

Patent Plays

Dr. Dana Goldman, the director of the Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics at the University of Southern California, said: “Producing these drugs is cheap. And yet we are paying very high prices.” He added that because inhalers were so effective at keeping patients out of hospitals, most national health systems made sure they were free or inexpensive.

But in the United States, even people with insurance coverage struggle. Lisa Solod, 57, a freelance writer in Georgia, uses her inhaler once a day, instead of twice, as usually prescribed, since her insurance does not cover her asthma medicines. John Aravosis, 49, a political blogger in Washington, buys a few Advair inhalers at $45 each during vacations in Paris, since his insurance caps prescription coverage at $1,500 per year. Sharon Bondroff, 68, an antiques dealer in Maine on Medicare, scrounges samples of Advair from local doctors. Ms. Bondroff remembers a time, not so long ago, when inhalers “were really cheap.” The sticker shock for asthma patients began several years back when the federal government announced that it would require manufacturers of spray products to remove chlorofluorocarbon propellants because they harmed the environment. That meant new inhaler designs. And new patents. And skyrocketing prices.

“That decision bumped out the generics,” said Dr. Peter Norman, a pharmaceutical consultant based in Britain who specializes in respiratory drugs. “Suddenly sales of the branded products went right back up, and since then it has not been a very competitive market.”

The chlorofluorocarbon ban even eliminated Primatene Mist inhalers, a cheap over-the-counter spray of epinephrine that had many unpleasant side effects but was at least an effective remedy for those who could not afford prescription treatments.

As drugs age and lose patent protection, the costs of treatment can fall significantly because of generic competition — particularly if a pill has only one active ingredient and is simple to replicate. When Singulair, a pill the Hayes girls take daily to block allergic reactions in the lungs, lost its patent protection last year, generics rapidly entered the market. The price of the drug has already dropped from $180 per month to as low as $15 to $20 with pharmacy coupons.

But sprays, creams, patches, gels and combination medicines are more difficult to copy exactly to make a generic that meets Food and Drug Administration standards. Each time a molecule is put in a new inhaler or combined with another medicine, the amount delivered into the lungs or through the skin may change, even though that often has an imperceptible effect on patients.

“Drug companies can switch devices and use different combinations, and it becomes quite difficult to demonstrate equivalence,” Dr. Norman said, adding that inhaler makers have exploited such barriers to increase sales of medicines long after the scientific novelty has passed.

Obstacles for Generics

A result is that there are no generic asthma inhalers available in the United States. But they are available in Europe, where health regulators have been more flexible about mixing drugs and devices and where courts have been quicker to overturn drug patent protection.

“The high prices in the U.S. are because the F.D.A. has set the bar so high that there is no clear pathway for generics,” said Lisa Urquhart of EvaluatePharma, a consulting firm based in London that provides drug and biotech analysis. “I’m sure the brands are thrilled.”

The F.D.A. acknowledges that the lack of inhaled generic medicines, as well as topical creams, has been costly for patients, but it attributes that to “difficult, longstanding scientific challenges,” since measuring drug activity deep into the lung is complicated, said Sandy Walsh, a spokeswoman for the agency. Dr. Robert Lionberger, the agency’s acting deputy director in the office of generic drugs, said that research into the development of generic inhaled medicines was the agency’s highest priority but that the effort had been stalled because of budget cuts imposed by Congress.

Even so, experts say, a significant problem is that none of the agencies that determine whether medicines come to market in the United States are required to consider patient access, affordability or need.

The Food and Drug Administration has handed out patents to reward drug makers for conducting formal safety and efficacy studies on old drugs that had not been so scrutinized. That transformed cheap mainstays of treatment like colchicine for gout and intravenous hydroxyprogesterone for preterm labor into high-priced branded products, costing $5 a pill and $1,500 per dose.

For its part, the United States patent office grants new protections for tweaks to drugs without weighing the financial impact on patients.

For example, with the patent for the older oral contraceptive Loestrin 24Fe about to expire, the company Warner Chilcott stopped making the pill this year and introduced a chewable version — with a new patent and an expensive promotional campaign urging patients and doctors to switch. While many insurance plans covered the popular older drug with little or no co-payment, they often exclude the new pills, leaving patients covering the full monthly cost of about $100. Patients complained that the new pills tasted awful and were confused about whether they could just be swallowed.

“Drug patents are easy to get, and the patent office is deluged,” said Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, a pharmaceutical policy expert at Harvard Medical School. “The F.D.A. approves based on safety and efficacy. It doesn’t see its role as policing this process.”

For asthma patients in the United States, the best the market has yielded are a few faux generics that are often only marginally cheaper than the brand-name versions. AstraZeneca, for example, has an agreement with Teva Pharmaceuticals, a generic manufacturer, to make an approved generic version of its Pulmicort Respules, an asthma medicine for home inhalation treatments. Teva paid AstraZeneca more than $250 million last year in royalties to make a generic, which sells for about $200 for a typical monthly dose, compared with close to $300 for the branded product.

Research vs. Marketing

There are good reasons drug companies are feeling threatened. In the last several years, some best-selling medicines, like Lipitor for high cholesterol and Plavix for blood thinning, have been largely replaced by cheap generics in a very competitive market. In 2012, that led to $29 billion in savings for patients, said Mr. Aitken of IMS, or $29 billion in lost revenues for drug makers. Eighty-four percent of prescriptions dispensed last year were for generic medications.

While drug companies generally remain highly profitable, recent trends have meant tough times for some companies, including Merck, whose profits crashed 50 percent this year primarily because the patent expired on its best-selling asthma pill, Singulair.

So AstraZeneca has recently spent millions of dollars in court pursuing several small drug companies for patent infringement after they announced a plan to make a true cheap generic version of Pulmicort Respules. Though a New Jersey judge sided with the generic manufacturers this spring, legal appeals by AstraZeneca will keep the generics off the market for the near future.

As insurance policies require patients to contribute more out of pocket for medicines, public pressure to curb prices has grown. This year, more than 100 top cancer specialists protested the rising prices of cancer treatments.

Drug companies have long argued that pharmaceutical pricing reflects the cost of developing and testing innovative new drugs, many of which do not pan out or make it to market.

“When there’s a really innovative product, you might be able to justify the price,” Dr. Kesselheim said. “But this is not generally the case.”

Critics counter that drug companies spend far more on marketing and sales than the 15 percent and 20 percent of their revenues that they devote to research and development.

In the United States, one of the few Western countries that allows advertising of prescription drugs to consumers, GlaxoSmithKline spent $99 million in advertising for Advair in 2012. Despite its financial woes, Merck spent $46.3 million to advertise its steroid spray, Nasonex, according to, a Web site that tracks the industry’s advertising.

Also, the focus of much pharmaceutical research in recent years has shifted from simple drugs for common diseases that would have widespread use to complicated molecules that would most likely benefit fewer patients but carry far higher price tags, in the realm of tens of thousands of dollars.

The newest offering for asthma is Novartis’s Xolair, which is given by injection in a doctor’s office every two weeks at a cost of up to $1,500, depending on the dose. Because the drug is so expensive and was deemed to have little or no benefit over inhalers for a vast majority of patients, the British government last year announced that it would not make it available through the National Health Service. It relented this year, agreeing to stock it for limited use, after the manufacturer offered a confidential discount.

In all other developed countries, governments similarly use a variety of tools to make sure that drug manufacturers sell their products at affordable prices. In Germany, regulators set drug wholesale and retail prices. Across Europe, national health authorities refuse to pay more than their neighbors for any drug. In Japan, the price of a drug must go down every two years.

Drug prices in the United States are instead set in hundreds of negotiations by hospitals, insurers and pharmacies with drug manufacturers, with deals often brokered by powerful middlemen called group purchasing organizations and pharmacy benefit managers, who leverage their huge size to demand discounts. The process can get nasty; if mediators offer too little for a given product, manufacturers may decide not to produce it or permanently drop out of the market, reducing competition.

With such jockeying determining supply, products can simply disappear and prices for vital medicines can fluctuate far more than they do for a carton of milk. After the price of Abby Hayes’s Rhinocort Aqua nasal spray rose abruptly, it was unavailable for many months. That sent her family scrambling to find other prescription sprays, each with a price tag over $150.

This year the price of Advair dropped 10 percent in France, but in pharmacies in the Bronx, it has doubled in the last two years.

In Georgia, Ms. Solod, the freelance writer, found the same thing. “Every time I get Advair, the price is different,” she said. “And the price always goes up. It never comes down.”

Twenty years ago, drugs that could safely be sold directly to patients typically moved off the prescription model as their patent life ended. That brought valuable medicines like nondrowsy antihistamines and acid reducers to drugstore shelves. But with profitable prescription products now selling for $100 per tiny bottle, there is little incentive to make the switch, since over-the-counter drugs rarely succeed if they cost more than $20.

As a result, a number of products that are sold directly to patients in other countries remain available only by prescription in the United States. That includes a version of the popular but expensive steroid nasal spray used by Abby Hayes, which is available over the counter in London for under $15 at the Boots pharmacy chain.

“Not only is the cost cheaper, but it doesn’t require a doctor’s visit to get it,” said Dr. Jan Lotvall, a professor of allergy and immunology at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, where steroid nasal sprays are also available over the counter.
« Last Edit: Oct 13, 2013, 08:39 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #9312 on: Oct 13, 2013, 08:38 AM »


 During this high pollen season, Abby had to cut short a gymnastics practice, and her sister, Hannah, missed one day of school because of breathing problems, the first time in many years. But with parents who can afford to get the medicine they require, both are now doing fine.

That is not true of two other sisters from Oakland whom their mother mentors. With treatment hard to access and drug prices high, Kemonni and Donzahnya Pitre, 19 and 17, simply suffer and struggle to breathe.

As Donzahnya, a high school senior, looked through the Fiske Guide to Colleges at the Hayeses’ kitchen table one day, she had an unusual selection criterion: “I worry about going to a college that’s surrounded by a lot of grass.”


Castro Wannabe Ted Cruz Wins Valueless Voters Straw Poll

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Sunday, October 13th, 2013, 7:39 am

Senator-ted-cruz-values-voter-2013I presented a recap of the 2013 Valueless Voters Summit yesterday, in which a bunch of tea party religious fanatics get together each year to demonstrate that they have no values that have an even passing resemblance to the values embodied by the United States Constitution. Basically, it has been a “theocracy now” event for eight years running.

At the height of the crowd’s rapture – we might want to call it a “theogasm” – they hold a straw poll to say which fanatic they think is best equipped to destroy America’s experiment in democracy. No surprise, this year they selected Ted Cruz.

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council (FRC) said, “I just spoke with Senator Cruz and he wanted me to convey to you his deep appreciation for your enthusiastic and … that he was very grateful to know that there are Americans across the country who are standing with him as he stands for your values here in Washington, D.C.”

The Christian Post seems to think this represents a win for “religious liberty.” Given what we know of their definition of religious liberty – they have it and we don’t – all you can say is that you have to love it when the crowd gets it right.

Fox News says, calling Cruz “one of the Republican Party and conservative movement’s most dynamic leaders,” says the straw poll results solidify his status among religious conservatives. It certainly solidified his status as a Cuban Castro wannabe whack-job who hates America.

Castro – er, I mean Cruz – got 42 percent of the vote. Where did Rick Santorum come in? At 13 percent. Fox News’ Ben Carson also got 13 percent of the vote. But bad as Santorum no doubt feels, some of the other tea party movers and shakers did even worse: Rand Paul got just 6 percent of the vote and Marco Rubio a measly 5 percent.

Paul Ryan didn’t even do that well.

CNN pointed out that Cruz’s “first-place finish captured the highest percentage of votes since the straw poll began in 2007.”

S.E. Cupp, co-host of Crossfire, can sing Paul Ryan’s praises, but religious fanatics love them some Cruz (keep in mind the deluded Cupp thinks a liberal media is attacking Christianity, so take anything she says with a grain of salt).

Carson did come in first in the vice presidential straw poll, getting 21 percent. Cruz came in second with 17 percent and future-convict Michele Bachmann got 9 percent.

In case you’re wondering what this means to the theocracy now gang, Tony Perkins, himself planning a run for Congress in Louisiana in 2014, said in a statement,

    The Values Voter straw poll reveals what conservative, Republican-leaning voters are looking for in a potential candidate. Values voters are looking for those who will refuse to be bound by the ‘can’t mentality’ of the establishment and will challenge the status quo.

    In short, values voters, many of whom did not fully engage in the last election, are looking for a leader that will inspire them by challenging President Obama and speak clearly and directly to the challenges facing America.

Of course, by definition, conservatives can’t challenge the status quo, since conservatism is predicated on defense and maintenance of the status quo. Conservatives love to present themselves as rebels and revolutionaries, but what they are is counter-revolutionaries, aiming to nip the revolution in the bud, or even two-plus centuries after the fact.

Later is better than never.

Look out Constitution.

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« Reply #9313 on: Oct 14, 2013, 05:35 AM »


Moscow police arrest 1,200 migrants after riots

'Pre-emptive raid' after ultranationalists trash vegetable warehouse in unrest sparked by murder of ethnic Russian

Tom Balmforth in Moscow, Monday 14 October 2013 12.23 BST

Moscow police rounded up and arrested more than a thousand migrant workers at a vegetable warehouse on Monday morning, hours after hundreds of ultranationalists clashed with riot police. The rioters had overturned cars and raided a shopping centre used by migrants after the murder of an ethnic Russian was blamed on a man from the Caucasus.

Police arrested more than 1,200 people in what was called a "pre-emptive raid" on the warehouse where the rioters believed the killer worked, Russian news agencies reported.

Sunday's rioting in the southern Biryulyovo district of Moscow, which escalated after hundreds gathered where Egor Shcherbakov, 25, was murdered last week, marked the capital's worst nationalist unrest in three years.

Nationalist mobs chanted "Russia for Russians"and images from the scene show a car flipped on to its roof scattered in watermelons.

Around 380 of the ultranationalists were arrested on Sunday night, although most were released. Seventy face administrative proceedings, while two likely face criminal charges. The police have opened a criminal investigation into "hooliganism".

Nationalists in masks hurled bottles at police in helmets and urban camouflage who fought back with batons. Six riot police officers were wounded, two of them hospitalised.

The violence prompted the interior ministry on Sunday to activate Vulkan-5, an emergency security regime that deploys the entire Moscow police force and that was last activated after the Moscow metro bombings three years ago killed 40.

Late on Sunday night the police had the situation under control, although migrant communities remain tense. The head of the Federation of Migrants on Sunday warned migrants to remain at home for fear of random attacks across the city.

Police have said Shcherbakov was stabbed in front of his girlfriend on 10 October. The following day, a photograph of alleged suspect who appeared to be from the Caucasus region, was circulating on nationalist websites.

In December 2010, violence erupted in the capital when thousands of ultranationalists amassed outside the walls of the Kremlin after an ethnic Russian football fan was killed by a man from the North Caucasus.

Animosity towards immigration has grown rapidly in the last ten years as the inflow of migrants from central Asia and Russia's north Caucasus region has boomed. Officially Russia has a migrant labour population of a couple of 1 million, although the real figure is thought to be upward of 12 million.


Moscow anti-migrant protesters storm warehouse and clash with police

Demonstrators chanting racist slogans march after killing of Russian man is blamed on immigrant from the Caucasus

Reuters, Sunday 13 October 2013 23.39 BST   

Rioters smashed shop windows, stormed a warehouse and clashed with police in a Moscow neighbourhood on Sunday night in the biggest outbreak of anti-migrant unrest in the Russian capital in three years.

Demonstrators, some chanting racist slogans, vandalised shops and other sites known for employing migrant workers in the southern Biryulyovo area after the killing of a young ethnic Russian widely blamed on a man from the Caucasus.

Several hundred residents had protested peacefully, demanding justice over the killing, until a group of young men began smashing windows in a shopping centre and briefly set it on fire.

A video posted on YouTube showed them chanting "White Power!" as they forced their way in.

When police in riot gear tried to make arrests, protesters threw bottles at them and the police fought back with batons. Video footage from the scene showed overturned cars and smashed fruit stalls.

Some in the crowd, which grew to several thousand, set off from the shopping centre and stormed into a vegetable warehouse employing migrants from the Caucasus and central Asia.

Moscow police said several officers were wounded in the riots and about 380 people detained.

Extra police were sent in but sporadic clashes and arrests continued into the night.

Many Muscovites have been angered by an influx of migrant labourers to the capital over the past decade.

The Kremlin has watched with alarm at frequent outbreaks of violence in Russian cities between members of the Slavic majority and people with roots in the mostly Muslim North Caucasus, ex-Soviet South Caucasus states and Central Asia.

Some Biryulyovo residents criticised the police for the latest arrests, drawing a contrast with what they said was too much leniency in the treatment of migrants engaged in illegal activity.

"It's simply impossible to live here. There are fights all the time. The people working in this warehouse are no good – I'm sure there are criminals hiding among them," said local resident Alexander, 23.

The head of Pig Putin's human rights council criticised law enforcement bodies for not doing enough to prevent the attacks on businesses employing migrants.

"On the one hand, I completely understand resentment among Muscovites who see people getting killed on our streets and law enforcement officials doing nothing," Mikhail Fedotov told the broadcaster Dozhd. "But that in no way justifies … this pogrom."

The latest protest in Biryulyovo began with demands for more police action over the killing of Yegor Shcherbakov, 25, who authorities said was fatally stabbed while walking home with his girlfriend on Thursday night.

Russia's top investigative agency said it was looking into the killing. Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, a close Putin ally, called for a thorough investigation and said those behind the riots must also be held responsible for their actions.

The rioting in Biryulyovo was the worst outbreak of unrest over a racially charged incident in Moscow since December 2010, when several thousand youths rioted just outside the Kremlin.

The youths clashed with police and attacked passersby who they took for non-Russians after the killing of an ethnic Russian football fan was blamed on a man from the North Caucasus.

Pig Putin has frequently warned of the dangers of ethnic and religious violence in the diverse nation.

This month he said Russia needed migrant labourers in industries such as construction.


Russia’s LGBT community wants athletes in ‘rainbow shirts’ instead of boycott

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, October 13, 2013 12:51 EDT

While Western gay activists call for an outright boycott of the Winter Olympics in Sochi over a homophobic new law, the Russian city’s discreet gay community wants athletes to compete — and wear rainbow shirts.

In New York gay and lesbian activists have poured Russian vodka down the drain and urged nations to boycott the 2014 Winter Games after President Vladimir Putin in June signed a law banning the dissemination of “propaganda” on homosexuality to minors.

But gays living in Sochi who agreed to talk to AFP said that a peaceful show of support at the Games would do more to help the gay rights cause.

Andrei Tanichev, the owner of a gay club, said his regular customers were “categorically against a boycott”.

He called for athletes to express their support for gay rights in ways that Russian state television will be unable to ignore, like wearing rainbow outfits on the track.

“Russia can’t do anything about athletes who are planning to wear rainbow T-shirts, and that’s one of the reasons we don?t think a boycott is needed,” Tanichev said.

Vladislav Slavsky, a secondary school pupil in his late teens who has organised a gay rights protest in Sochi, said he also opposed an outright boycott of the Olympics.

He thinks the International Olympic Committee (IOC) should have instead demanded that Russia cancel its controversial law on homosexuality and threaten to move the event unless Moscow complies.

But IOC Coordination Commission chairman, Jean-Claude Killy, last month said the organisation had no business weighing in on laws in host countries as long as the Olympic Charter is respected.

Putin in August also signed a vaguely-worded decree banning any protests in Sochi during the Olympics unless they were related to the Games.

Asked by AFP last month if Russia would allow a gay rights rally, the Sochi Organising Committee head Dmitry Chernyshenko said that gay rallies could theoretically be judged as “related” to the Games, but would still require the city’s permission.

“If the city authorities find it possible, then (activists) won’t have any problems,” he said.

He also promised that organisers would respect all visitors and not “interfere in their private lives.”

‘What is there to be joyful about?’

Yet it remains uncertain if Sochi, one of European Russia’s southernmost cities and close to the traditionally conservative societies of the Caucasus mountains, is ready for gay pride events.

“Sochi is more homophobic than Moscow,” said Slavsky.

“My understanding is that a parade is joyful,” he said. “What is there to be joyful about? Homophobia, murders and suicides?”

In June Slavsky plucked up the courage to hold a small gay rights picket in Sochi with a handful of friends. The police did not interfere — but only because they did not understand the slogans on placards written in English, he said.

He said he had also tried to establish a gay rights organisation, but gave up after meeting no support from the gay community.

While Tanichev said he hopes foreign athletes will speak up for gay rights during the Olympics, he said he would not participate in any gay rights rallies or parades himself.

“Nobody will go to gay pride parades, and nobody needs these parades today,” Tanichev said.

He added that his club polled guests and found that 99 percent said they opposed such events as “provocative”.

An established businessman, Tanichev said his club had never been trashed by ultra-conservatives or harassed by police, despite hosting nightly drag queen shows.

Nevertheless the door of the Lighthouse club is always kept locked, and under a strict door policy, first-time visitors are turned away unless they are accompanied by someone known to the doorman.

‘I will move away’

For Slavsky being gay in Sochi is a constant and sometimes dangerous struggle.

He told of a harrowing campaign of verbal and physical attacks that had forced him to delete his social networking page, change his mobile number and even move apartment.

?I am in school and it is hell. Every day I go there as if I’m heading into battle,? he said.

Recently a teacher advised him to set up a new page online, saying he is not gay. “Like coming out in reverse,” he added bitterly.

Kids pelt him with bread in the school cafeteria and ambush him with rocks behind the bushes near his house, he said.

?It?s simply because I exist.?

Regardless of the Olympic Games, Slavsky plans to leave the city next spring after finishing school and go to live somewhere he can find like-minded people.

“I decided for myself that I will move away,” he said.

“If I had the confidence that I could work here to fight homophobia with a group of supporters, that all of this would end, I would stay. But I just don?t have that confidence now.?


Russian LGBT film festival wins appeal against 'foreign agent' ruling

Side by Side festival based in St Petersburg had been hit with large fine over alleged overseas funding links

• Russian LGBT film festival targeted under 'foreign agent' laws

Andrew Pulver, Monday 14 October 2013 10.53 BST     

Gay rights activist Kirill Kalugin poses for press during a one-man protest in St. Petersburg
Russian gay rights victory... film festival has verdict reversed. Photograph: Alexander Demianchuk/REUTERS

Campaigners against Russia's increasingly severe crackdown on gay rights will be cheering a small victory, after a court in St Petersburg overturned a verdict on appeal which had condemned a longstanding LGBT film festival as a "foreign agent".

Earlier this year the Side by Side (Bok o Bok) festival, which has been operating since 2007, had been fined 400,000 rubles (almost £8,000) and named as a "foreign agent" by authorities, due to suspicions it received funding from overseas (denied by the festival).

Now, however, St Petersburg's city court has cancelled the fine as well as the conviction, in a ruling that cannot be overturned itself.

The festival's organisers said in a statement: "We are pleased with the decision and finally justice has been done!" Referring to the fact that a string of organisations have been targeted for alleged overseas financing, they added: "We hope that other NGOs also being prosecuted under this ["foreign agent'] law will also win, restoring justice to the court system in Russia."

But in a nod to anti-migrant sentiment, he suggested their numbers could be restricted in some other sectors.

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« Last Edit: Oct 14, 2013, 05:45 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #9314 on: Oct 14, 2013, 05:50 AM »

EU urged to tackle boat people crisis in Mediterranean

Italy and Malta demand aid to avert more deaths as figures show acceleration in those risking all in death-trap vessels from Libya

Ian Traynor in Brussels, Lizzy Davies in Rome and Chris Stephen in Tripoli, Sunday 13 October 2013 19.54 BST   

The EU came under mounting pressure at the weekend to relieve a worsening refugee emergency in the Mediterranean, as leaders of southern member states called for urgent action to prevent the sea becoming a "tomb" for thousands fleeing north from Libya to Malta or Italy.

With dozens more dying in the waters separating the two continents at the weekend, and latest UN figures showing an acceleration in the numbers risking all in death-trap vessels leaving the Libyan coast, the Italian and Maltese prime ministers insisted that the EU tackle the boat people issue at its summit next week.

The Italian prime minister, Enrico Letta, said Italy could not even wait that long, and would from Monday start the process of tripling its naval and air presence in the Strait of Sicily, the stretch of water in which at least 390 people have died in the last 10 days.

"We will spend a lot of money," Letta said of Italy's planned "military-humanitarian mission". "We will work so that Europe tackles it but on the other hand we will immediately do our bit," he said.

Malta's prime minister, Joseph Muscat, said the EU had to act or it would face the same macabre spectacle on its southern rim again and again. "If nothing changes we will be reporting more deaths next year and there will be consternation for a couple of days, a couple of headlines, but then we will return to life as usual," he said.

Muscat said southern states need more help from across the EU in patrolling the Mediterranean.

"We're not really what you might call a military superpower. But we find ourselves patrolling the European frontiers. We want to give a more humane dimension to all this, but we need resources. It's not an issue of throwing money at the problem. It's an issue of having a more European approach.

"I would like to hope that these tragedies that took place over the past week or so have opened up new avenues of political will."

According to UNHCR figures, 2013 represents one of the largest movements of migrants across the Mediterranean, with the numbers accelerating fast. More than 4,600 left Libya in September, compared to 755 in the same month last year. Of the 32,000 who have landed in Italy this year so far, 7,500 are Syrian and a further 7,500 Eritrean.

"The numbers are unprecedented," said Emmanuel Gignac, chief of the UNHCR mission in Libya. "Why it is happening is a good question. Lack of border controls, lack of capacity, and war."

As the numbers rise, so the body count has risen too: 34 bodies retrieved from the latest stricken vessel that sank south of Sicily on Friday; 12 dead in a shipwreck off the Egyptian coast; and a further 19 bodies found in a boat that sank just off Lampedusa 10 days ago, bring the toll from that particular disaster to 358.

Italian naval spokesman, Commander Marco Maccaroni, said his units also rescued 180 people from other boats at the weekend in a further indication of the relentless numbers of migrants braving the Mediterranean. "The flows have never stopped, especially over the summer months," Maccaroni said. "The two accidents in such a short period have raised the attention of the public but the tensions have been going on all summer."

EU leaders will confront the issue at the summit on 24 October. French president François Hollande has insisted that the issue be given top priority on the basis of "prevention, protection and solidarity".

But a draft of the concluding statement from the summit, obtained by the Guardian, makes no mention of the crisis. There is little appetite among Europe's national governments for any surrender to Brussels of authority over immigration policies. With far-right anti-immigration parties on the rise across large parts of Europe, governments are also little inclined to shift to more open or generous policies.

Northern EU countries are reluctant to commit much more resources, noting that their refugee burden is much higher than Italy's, despite the tragedies occurring with increasing frequency in the Mediterranean. The number of asylum-seekers reaching Germany last year was more than four times the figure for Italy. Four northern EU states, including Britain, received more asylum-seekers than Italy last year.

Rome, arguing that this is a European and not an Italian problem, is clamouring for help. The Letta government conferred posthumous Italian citizenship on the drowned off Lampedusa. But the survivors of the tragedy are held in an island containment centre and face prosecution, meaning possible fines or deportation, for illegal entry. The German government maintains that the bulk of the boat people are "economic migrants" seeking to benefit from more generous European welfare and social security payments.


Maltese PM seeks joint European action over African migrants

Joseph Muscat said he hoped the two disasters in the Strait of Sicily this month would open up 'new avenues of political will'

Lizzy Davies in Rome, Sunday 13 October 2013 20.47 BST   

Malta's prime minister has called on his fellow European leaders to pull together and prove they are committed to ending migrant boat tragedies in the Mediterranean, warning that "we will be reporting more deaths next year" unless concrete action is taken soon.

Ahead of an EU summit later this month, Joseph Muscat said he hoped the two disasters in the Strait of Sicily this month would open up "new avenues of political will" previously absent from European debate.

Almost 400 people are confirmed to have died in the two incidents, which occurred when overcrowded boats carrying people from conflict-ridden countries in Africa and the Middle East capsized near the Italian island of Lampedusa.

"If nothing changes, we will be reporting more deaths next year and there will be consternation for a couple of days, a couple of headlines, but then we will return to life as usual," Muscat told the Guardian.

"When there was a financial crisis, rightly so, all Europe pulled together and we all forked out our share to make sure that other countries didn't go down," he added. "Right now, we have a humanitarian crisis and I hope that, for Europe, money is not worth more than people's lives."

Last week, when visiting Lampedusa in the aftermath of the 3 October disaster in which more than 350 people died, the president of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso pledged €30m (£25m) of EU funds to help the problem.

But Muscat, a former MEP, said that "throwing money" at the complex issue was not enough. "This will not be solved by just apportioning some other millions to a programme. There needs to be political will," he said.

Malta and Italy intend to push for concrete steps to be taken to help ease the crisis at the EU summit on 24-25 October.

Among the proposals likely to be made are changes to EU asylum law and collaboration with Libya, from whose coast the majority of boats set sail for the two European countries.

Rome and Valletta are also keen to see greater EU involvement in the patrolling Mediterranean waters which is deemed vital if boats in trouble are to be spotted in time for lives to be saved.

Muscat said: "We're not really what you might call a military superpower. But we find ourselves patrolling the European frontiers. We want to give a more humane dimension to all this, but we need resources … It's an issue of having a more European approach."

Earlier on Sunday, Muscat visited Libya to meet with prime minister Ali Zeidan, who, said he would call for an inquiry into claims by survivors that the boat that capsized on Friday night had been shot at while leaving the Libyan coast.

Although nearer to Lampedusa than Malta, the boat ran into trouble in international waters where the smaller EU nation has search and rescue responsibilities. A joint Maltese and Italian operation managed to save more than 200 people.

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