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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1015288 times)
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« Reply #9345 on: Oct 15, 2013, 06:59 AM »

Attacks on journalists on the rise in Brazil

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, October 14, 2013 20:24 EDT

Anti-press violence rose nearly threefold in Brazil in 2013 as reporters covered massive street protests over substandard public services and endemic corruption, a broadcast media report said Monday.

“This is one of the most violent years for the press in this country,” Daniel Slaviero, president of the Brazilian Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters (ABERT), said as he unveiled a report on the assaults against journalists.

So far this year, five reporters have been killed in the country, compared with six in 2012, according to ABERT.

And 136 cases of anti-press violence were recorded, compared with 51 for the whole of 2012, it added.

Most of the assaults occurred during the mass demonstrations that brought more than one million angry Brazilians onto the streets in June.

Slaviero blamed the increased violence on a minority of press opponents and on police who not cracked down on demonstrators but also targeted reporters covering the protests.

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« Reply #9346 on: Oct 15, 2013, 07:03 AM »

Taiwan vows to develop first vaccine against fatal H7N9 avian flu

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, October 14, 2013 19:25 EDT

Taiwan is scheduled to roll out its first vaccine against the H7N9 strain of avian flu in late 2014, after the island confirmed the first outbreak of the deadly virus earlier this year, researchers said Monday.

Health authorities in Taiwan confirmed in April that a 53-year-old Taiwanese man, who had been working in the eastern Chinese city of Suzhou, showed symptoms three days after returning home via Shanghai.

The man, who was infected in China, was in serious but stable condition when he was hospitalised.

Although the patient was eventually discharged, the outbreak prompted Taiwanese authorities to gear up research on a vaccine against the strain of avian influenza, given the ever closer exchanges across the Taiwan Strait.

“We plan to start Phase II clinical trial in March,” which will contain 300 clinical cases, Su Ih-jen, director of the National Institute of Diseases and Vaccinology at the National Health Research Institutes (NHRI), told AFP.

After that, the project is scheduled to move into Phase III clinical trial in June, with 1,000 people being tested, he said.

The NHRI is able to produce 200,000 doses of the cell-based vaccine once the project clears the Phase III trial stage, he said.

Su termed as “one of the most deadly diseases” threatening human beings.

“As of now H7N9 is the virus most likely to cause comprehensive transmission throughout the world as studies show that it can be spread through upper respiratory tract,” Su said.

He was comparing it to the H5N1 strain of avian flu, which affects airways and lungs, or the lower respiratory tract.

Since 2003, the H5N1 strain has killed more than 250 people in a dozen countries, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

As of August, WHO has been informed of a total of 135 laboratory-confirmed human cases with avian influenza A(H7N9) virus, including 44 deaths. Most of the cases were recorded in China.

Following its first outbreak, Taiwan had brought forward plans to ban the killing of live poultry in traditional markets by a month, to May 17.

Under the ban, market vendors will not be allowed to sell birds they have killed themselves, only poultry supplied from Taiwan’s 79 approved slaughterhouses.

There are about 870,000 Taiwanese people living in China. Trade and cross-strait travel have soared in recent years, after decades of tension since the two sides split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #9347 on: Oct 15, 2013, 07:05 AM »

Rare mosquito fossil shows female’s blood-filled belly

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, October 14, 2013 17:25 EDT

A unique 46-million-year-old mosquito fossil with a belly full of dried blood has been found in a Montana riverbed, US researchers said Monday.

“It is an extremely rare fossil, the only one of its kind in the world,” said Dale Greenwalt, lead author of the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Cutting-edge instruments detected the unmistakable traces of iron in her engorged abdomen, but just what creature that blood came from is a mystery since DNA cannot be extracted from a fossil that old.

Greenwalt said it might have been blood from a bird, since the ancient mosquito resembles a modern one from the genus Culicidae, which likes to feed on our feathered friends.

“But that would be pure speculation,” said Greenwalt, a retired biochemist who volunteers at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington.

While far from the oldest known mosquito fossil — that honor goes to a 95-million-year-old mosquito in amber in Myanmar — entomologist Lynn Kimsey of the University of California said it was “a very exciting find.”

“Having an actual blood-engorged female mosquito associated with males in the same fossil formation is hugely unlikely,” said Kimsey, who was not involved in the research.

“Here, the authors have been able to use mass spectrometry to elucidate the abdominal contents and thus blood-feeding in a fossil some 40 million years old,” she added, describing the research as “impressive.”

Greenwalt said he became fascinated with fossilized insects several years ago.

He learned about Master’s student Kurt Constenius, who described his discoveries of fossilized insects along a remote Montana riverbed in an obscure geological journal more than two decades ago.

Greenwalt and Constenius discussed the fossil grounds, which lie near the Flathead River along the western boundary of Glacier National Park.

In recent years, Greenwalt has gone there every summer to collect pieces of shale from an area that is slowly eroding, exposing the sediments of an old lake.

“The rock is in very thin layers, a millimeter or two” (.04 or .08 inches), explained Greenwalt.

“With a razor blade, I can split that rock even further and expose these virgin surfaces and that is where I find the fossils.”

The fossil described in PNAS came not from Greenwalt’s outings, but from a collection of fossilized insects languishing in Constenius’s basement since the 1980s, and which he and his family had donated to the Smithsonian museum.

“As soon as I saw it, I knew it was different,” Greenwalt told AFP.

The mosquito itself is only about 0.2 inches in size. Somehow, the fragile creature ate its last meal, filling its abdomen until it was nearly ready to burst like a balloon.

Then, perhaps as the mosquito was flying over an algae-coated lake, it became caught in that mucus, enveloped in microbes that protected it from degrading, and eventually sank deep into the sediment of the lake.

Three dozen mosquito fossils have been collected from the fossil area in northwestern Montana, but no others have shown signs of blood engorgement.

Experts used a technique called non-destructive mass spectrometry to identify the source of the iron in her abdomen as heme, the molecular entity that allows hemoglobin to transport oxygen.

The method can only be used on flat surfaces, however, and would not be useful for analyzing mosquitoes preserved in amber, Greenwalt said.

The 1993 movie “Jurassic Park” showed scientists extracting dinosaur DNA from the abdomen of a mosquito trapped in amber.

Not only was the scene fictional — no one has ever been able to extract DNA from a fossil so old — Greenwalt said the mosquito pictured was a male, and male mosquitoes do not feast on blood.

“Like a lot of science fiction, it kind of predicted what we might be looking at in the future,” he said.

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« Reply #9348 on: Oct 15, 2013, 07:32 AM »

In the USA..United Surveillance America

Revealed: NSA ‘gathering millions of email address books’

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, October 15, 2013 2:16 EDT

The National Security Agency is gathering email and instant messenger contact lists from hundreds of millions of ordinary citizens worldwide, many of them Americans, The Washington Post reported late Monday.

The US agency’s data collection program harvests the data from address books and “buddy lists”, the newspaper said, citing senior intelligence officials and top secret documents provided by the fugitive NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

During a single day last year, the NSA’s Special Source Operations branch collected 444,743 e-mail address books from Yahoo, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from Gmail and 22,881 from unspecified other providers, the Post said, according to an internal NSA PowerPoint presentation.

The figures, described as a typical daily intake in the document, correspond to a rate of more than 250 million a year, according to the report, which was published on the newspaper’s website.

The NSA declined to confirm the specific allegations in the Post report but defended its surveillance activities as legal and respectful of privacy rights.

The agency has come under fire following revelations about vast efforts to collect data on Americans, but it has mostly acknowledged the accuracy of leaks from Snowden while seeking to play down their significance.

The Snowden affair has not only complicated diplomacy but embarrassed the Internet and telecom sector, with some companies accused of betraying their customers by cooperating with government spying.

Russia has granted Edward Snowden one year’s asylum but the United States wants him to be extradited to face espionage charges over his leaking of sensational details of US surveillance programmes at home and abroad.


October 14, 2013

Senators Near Fiscal Deal, but the House Is Uncertain


WASHINGTON — Senate leaders neared the completion Monday night of a bipartisan deal to raise the debt ceiling and end the government shutdown while the rest of the world braced for the possibility of an American default that could set off a global financial disaster.

Negotiators talked into the evening as senators from both parties coalesced around a plan that would lift the debt limit through Feb. 7, pass a resolution to finance the government through Jan. 15 and conclude formal discussions on a long-term tax and spending plan no later than Dec. 13, according to one Senate aide briefed on the plan.

But while both Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, and Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, praised the progress that was made in the Senate, it was already clear that the most conservative members of the House were not going to go along quietly with a plan that does not accomplish their goal from the outset of this two-week-old crisis: dismantling the president’s health care law.

“We’ve got a name for it in the House: it’s called the Senate surrender caucus,” said Representative Tim Huelskamp, Republican of Kansas. “Anybody who would vote for that in the House as Republican would virtually guarantee a primary challenger.”

There have been other showdowns between Republican lawmakers and President Obama that went to the last minute; in 2011, lawmakers reached a deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling two days before officials said a default was possible, resulting in a stock market plunge and the downgrading of the nation’s credit rating. But the real possibility that as of Thursday the government would not be able to meet its obligations prompted grim warnings of an economic catastrophe that could ripple through stock markets, foreign capitals, corporate boardrooms, state budget offices and the bank accounts of everyday investors.

“If Republicans aren’t willing to set aside their partisan concerns in order to do what’s right for the country, we stand a good chance of defaulting, and defaulting could have a potentially devastating effect on the economy,” Mr. Obama told reporters at Martha’s Table, a Washington-area food bank.

Officials in several states said a default would mean unprecedented but unknown consequences to federal programs that are administered by the states, like Medicaid and food stamps. They also said that a market collapse could undermine state pension plans. And higher interest rates from a default on federal bonds could make short-term borrowing more difficult and costly for states.

“This has us pretty nervous; it’s just a mess,” said John E. Nixon, the budget director for the State of Michigan. “We are taking it very seriously, and we have our agencies preparing contingency plans. But obviously nobody really knows how it’s going to unfold, so you can only plan so much.”

Scott D. Pattison, the executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers, spent Monday morning fielding calls from anxious members across the country.

“A lot of these folks are looking into ‘What kinds of options do we have if there is a cash crunch?’ ” Mr. Pattison said. “They are very, very nervous. It’s uncharted territory.”

Investors on Monday reacted in tandem with the real-time reports of halting progress, with stocks falling in the morning before drifting into positive territory by the end of the day in response to reports of a possible deal in the Senate. At the same time, asset managers and banks began taking steps to be ready if the Treasury Department is unable to pay back its short-term debt on time. And world leaders expressed concern about the impact on their countries.

In Britain, Jon Cunliffe, who will become deputy governor of the Bank of England next month, told members of Parliament that banks should be developing contingency plans to deal with an American default if one happens.

And Chinese leaders called on a “befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanized world.” In a commentary on Sunday, the state-run Chinese news agency Xinhua blamed “cyclical stagnation in Washington” for leaving the dollar-based assets of many nations in jeopardy. It said the “international community is highly agonized.”

The Senate could vote on an agreement as soon as Wednesday if Mr. Reid and Mr. McConnell discuss the deal with their members on Tuesday. That would leave little time for the House to debate and vote on what will be a contentious measure.

If a deal is not completed by the end of Thursday, Treasury officials have said, the United States government will have exhausted “extraordinary measures” for managing its debt, meaning that its ability to pay its bills will be limited to the uneven flow of cash that comes into the Treasury on a daily basis. On some days, officials warned, the amount coming in will be less than the amount that is supposed to go out.

But even that deadline provides no real sense of clarity. It remains unknown how long the federal government could operate beyond that day, what programs it might choose to suspend, or how quickly the global financial markets would pronounce judgment.

Wall Street sentiment may be in evidence even before a vote, when the Treasury Department sells new 13- and 26-week bonds. If investors are hesitant to buy them, it could set a negative tone for the day, as was the case after an auction last Tuesday. George Goncalves, a Treasury strategist at Nomura Securities, said investors might not immediately panic if all signs were pointing toward a positive vote.

“If it’s clear it’s going to happen by midnight, people will give them the benefit of the doubt because everyone knows it’s not a hard deadline,” Mr. Goncalves said.

Staff members at the Treasury, Federal Reserve and Federal Reserve Bank of New York are working together behind the scenes to prepare, officials said. Because of the government shutdown, now two weeks old, about four in five staff members are furloughed at the Treasury Department, including officials from the Office of Fiscal Projections, which is critical in determining the balances in the government’s accounts. But a Treasury official said that a team of core staff members was closely monitoring the department’s debt management and fiscal projections.

Officials at the White House and the Treasury have said that contingency plans are in place, though they have repeatedly declined to provide details about which obligations would be met and which would be abandoned. Market participants said such plans would most likely include a plan to shore up short-term funding markets that rely on government debt.

As they drafted their deal, Senate negotiators in both parties were hoping that House Republican leaders would have no choice but to let a bipartisan agreement come to a vote, even if it could pass only with votes from Democrats and a minority of the Republican majority. But John A. Boehner, the House speaker, provided no assurances on Monday that an arrangement hammered out by his Senate colleagues could pass muster among his conservatives.

Senate Republicans had pushed for an agreement that included a provision to delay or repeal a tax on medical devices, but that became a sticking point in the negotiations and will almost certainly be excluded from the final deal, Senate aides said. But the deal is likely to include a one-year delay of another tax associated with the Affordable Care Act known as the reinsurance tax, which employers pay.

Another Republican-backed measure likely to be in the deal would require tighter income verification standards for people who receive subsidies under the new health care law. Under the new guidelines, the Health and Human Services secretary would have to certify that the department can verify income eligibility. The two provisions are the only mentions of the health care law whose defunding has been at the core of Republican demands over the past two weeks.

Many Republicans have argued that if the Senate proposal passes with the solid backing of Republican members — a possibility that seemed probable given Mr. McConnell’s support — it would be an easier sell in the House. But with the country just hours from what could be a crippling default, many Republicans believe that Mr. Boehner will have no choice but to ignore his most vocal members and put whatever passes the Senate up for a vote.

“We’re now backed into a corner,” said Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York. “We have to do this by Thursday. We have to make it work, but it’s not going to be perfect.”

Reporting was contributed by Ashley Parker and Jonathan Weisman from Washington, Annie Lowrey from Boston and Nathaniel Popper from New York.


Proposed Senate Debt Ceiling Deal Is a Complete Crushing of the Republican Party

By: Jason Easley
Monday, October 14th, 2013, 3:24 pm

Do you want to know what Republicans get out of the proposed Senate debt ceiling deal? Nothing, but a crushing surrender.

Republicans will get no changes to Obamacare. They will get no further spending cuts. The government will be funded until mid-late December, and here’s the kicker according to Greg Sargent, “According to the Democratic aide, Dems are likely to demand a debt limit extension into early summer — nine months, rather than six – with the idea being that the closer to the 2014 elections we get, the harder it will be for Republicans to stage another debt ceiling hostage crisis. Democrats don’t want such a crisis. They would prefer that Republicans simply agree to extend the debt limit cleanly. But by pushing this so deep into the 2014 election season, they are giving themselves a kind of insurance policy that guarantees that if Republicans do stage another debt limit crisis, Republicans will pay a serious political price for it.”

If Republicans want the medical device tax repealed Democrats are going to demand that tax loopholes be closed for the wealthy and corporations, and Senate Democrats are even going to finally get the budget conference that they have asked the House Republicans for 18 times.

What do Republicans get out of this? Nothing, but record low poll numbers.

This deal, if it survives the House, would be a major victory for Democrats. It meets every single one of President Obama’s criteria. Obamacare (the ACA) is not changed. No budget negotiations occur before the government is reopened and the debt ceiling is raised, and there will be no short term threat of default by House Republicans on the debt ceiling.

Whether or not this deal, if this does end up being the deal, can pass the House is a whole different story. Boehner and the House Republicans are still harboring delusion that they will be passing a short term six week deal.

The reason why House Republicans want a short term deal is two fold. They view the CR and the debt ceiling as their last chance to kill the ACA before it is implemented fully on January 1, 2014. Secondly, vulnerable House Republicans want to avoid another crisis during the 2014 election.

By placing the expiration of the debt ceiling extension right in the middle of the 2014 election, Democrats are setting up a lose/lose scenario for House Republicans. Boehner and company will have to fight among themselves as the election campaign is going on. Another debt ceiling fiasco could tear open all of the party wounds, or Republicans could to again threaten default and lose the House.

A group of House Republicans and their Senate leader Ted Cruz thought they could ransom their way into killing the ACA. Instead, the Republicans are being offered a series of crushing terms of surrender that will be impossible for conservative activists and the tea party House GOPers to swallow.

It’s clear that by cutting this deal with Majority Leader Reid, Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans are washing their hands of the Cruz/Boehner folly. If the country defaults, it will be because John Boehner refused to stand up to his own House Republicans and do what is right.

Democrats and Senate Republicans are sending the signal that if the country defaults, the blame should go on Boehner and his tea crazed House Republicans. Harry Reid is laying out the terms of surrender. It’s unclear whether House Republicans realize that they’ve lost the war.


Rally Demonstrates That Republicans Have Given Up Trying To Make Lies Convincing

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, October 14, 2013 9:30 EDT

Right up there with bad faith arguments and deflection, right wingers tend to engage in projection as a favorite form of rhetoric. They take everything bad about themselves and claim their enemies do it, and of course, take everything good about their liberal enemies and claim to embody it. It’s everywhere, from characterizing affirmative action as “real” racism—or, lately, a lot of them have decided the word “racist” means “pointing out racial discrimination” instead of engaging in it—to claiming that they’re trying to end safe abortion for “women’s health” (implying that pro-choicers are opposed to women’s health, instead of the defenders of it). And now, of course, this idiotic rally in an attempt to claim that President Obama is responsible for the shutdown that Republicans have been planning for years now.

By the way, isn’t it unnerving that Ted Cruz looks like he’s whining in every picture? Does he just do it so much that his face is permanently stuck that way?

Feigning outrage over the shutdown and pretending like you believe Obama is behind it is such a transparent ruse that even the wingnuts who know they have to do it are failing pretty badly at it. It’s not just because conservatives in the media spend much more time defending the shutdown than posing over how it’s Obama’s fault. It’s not just that they’ve been openly agitating for years for a shutdown as a demonstration that they own the government no matter who is legally in charge. It’s not just that House Republicans changed congressional rules to keep the shutdown going. It’s just that after decades of Republicans posturing about how they’d rather not have a federal government (rarely stated but understood subtext: if they have to share it with You People) at all, no one is buying the crocodile tears shed during protests and the display of “the vets”, as if that made any sense. All it did was give most people looking at the pictures a queasy feeling, watching the handful of conspiracy theory-addled ravers have their lack of intellectual gifts exploited by Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin and company.

I mean, look at these idiots:

That’s one of the rally speakers, Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch, saying, “I call upon all of you to wage a second American nonviolent revolution, to use civil disobedience, and to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up.” The good news is that no matter how many fantasies that aging white conservatives may have of conducting a coup where democratically elected leaders are ousted and dictators who are of the “correct” race and political ideology are installed, you really need to have the young people on your side for that sort of thing. It’s really hard to put together an insurgent army without the young. Klayman and his fellows may hope that gathering some vets on camera could create the illusion of an impending military coup, but the fact that they’re almost all over 50 kind of makes that a hard sell.

My personal theory is that conservatives stopped bothering to care if people believe their lies years ago. They know they’re lying. We know they’re lying. It stopped mattering some time ago. Right now lying is really less about hoodwinking people and more about making a lot of noise and trying to discourage people from even trying to figure out what the fuck is going on. The folks at Twitchy are emblematic of this new strategy: The site sends hundreds of wingnuts to scream their lies at the liberal hate object of the day on Twitter, and the point is not to persuade the hate object, the larger audience, or anyone. It’s to drown out reason and truth with noise and throw up so many obstacles that reasonable people are discouraged from doing something offensive to right wingers, like making intelligent observations in public that might actually be persuasive.

So that sucks, but it’s also a reason for hope. After all, noise can be filtered out pretty easily! It’s much more troubling when substantial numbers of people are suckered into believing their lies. While everyone likes to gawk at the nutters screaming about Qurans and conspiracy theories, they aren’t taken seriously. Since those nutters own the Republican party now, it has forsaken any right to be taken as a party advancing reasonable arguments that should be considered carefully. So there’s that.


Panic In the GOP: Disapproval of the Republican Party Hits A New Record High of 74%

By: Jason Easley
Monday, October 14th, 2013, 4:14 pm

A new ABC News/Washington Post is putting more pressure on Republicans to surrender. The poll found that disapproval of the Republican handing of the crisis has reached a record high of 74%.

If last week’s finding that a record 70% of Americans disapproved of the Republican Party’s handing of the government shutdown/debt ceiling scared Republicans, this week’s numbers explain why Mitch McConnell is running to Harry Reid to make a deal. In two weeks, disapproval of the Republican handling of the situation has gone from 60%-74%. A whopping 54% strongly disapprove of the way Republicans are handling the government shutdown and the debt ceiling. Congressional Democrats have a 61% disapproval rating on the handling of the shutdown and debt ceiling, but they are in a much better position than the Republican colleagues.

The Republican Party’s plan to blame all of this on President Obama has failed miserably. It doesn’t matter how many times Republicans refer to “Obama’s shutdown.” The president’s polling remains virtually unchanged. Fifty percent disapproved of the president’s handling of the crisis last week. This week that number has risen three points to 53%. The American people are blaming all of Washington, but they are blaming Obama a whole lot less.

What these numbers confirm is that last week’s bad polling for the GOP wasn’t a fluke. Ted Cruz is wrong. The polls aren’t skewed. Republicans are taking an absolute drubbing over the government shutdown. If the country defaults, the Republican Party could find itself with an approval rating in the single digits. Forty five percent of Republicans disapprove of the way that their own party is handling this, but that is nothing compared to the 71% of Independents who also disapprove.

The terms of surrender that Harry Reid is offering Mitch McConnell reflect the current political landscape. These poll numbers illustrate the fact that the tea party’s shutdown the government to defund the ACA gambit has been a complete disaster. Democrats are offering Republicans nothing, but a chance to make the bleeding stop, because that is exactly what they deserve.

The Republican Party is burning, and they have Ted Cruz and the tea party to thank for their demise


House Republicans Want To Use Default As a Reason to Impeach President Obama

By: Jason Easley
Monday, October 14th, 2013, 11:56 am

With their backs against the wall, House Republicans are threatening to impeach President Obama if the nation falls victim to the default that they caused.

Here is Rep. Louie Gohmert saying that default is an impeachable offense:

The problem is who Gohmert wants to impeach for this.

Lauren Windsor, a reporter for The Young Turks asked Rep. Gohmert if he would support any deal to raise the debt ceiling. He answered, “It just depends on what it is,” he replied. “The word ‘deal’ concerns me… if it’s good for America.” She followed up by asking, “Would you allow us to default on our debt?” Gohmert replied, “No, that would be an impeachable offense by the president.”

Republicans failed to win the presidency in 2012. All of their legislative efforts to repeal the ACA have failed. The Supreme Court upheld the ACA as constitutional. Their attempts to destroy the healthcare reform law through a government shutdown and threats of default have crashed and burned, so some House Republicans have moved towards the pushing the big red button of impeachment.

Republicans have wanted to impeach this president since the moment that he took office. They have claimed that everything that this president has done is an impeachable offense, but even the most basic understanding of the constitutional separation of powers makes it clear that President Obama can’t be impeached for default. Article I Sec.8 of the Constitution gives the power of the purse to Congress. This means if Congress does not pay our bills, that will be violating the Constitution.

If President Obama tried to raise taxes or borrow money on his own to pay our debts, he would be violating the Constitution. Congress has to pay the bills. What Rep. Gohmert is suggesting is that President Obama should be impeached because House Republicans have violated the Constitution.

As Lloyd Carter wrote, House Republicans are trying to pull a backdoor impeachment, “The dance over the debt ceiling and the fight over the government shutdown are nothing less than impeachment on the cheap: a chance to negate the will of the majority by ostensibly placating the letter of the law. Unable to win the last two presidential elections or to persuade a Supreme Court majority that the Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional, House Republicans have arrived at a point where default and closure are the next best things. This combustible brew of race, class, and economic anxieties bubbles all too closely to the surface.”

House Republicans are repeating all of their mistakes of the 1990s. They have already shutdown the government, and now they are threatening to impeach the president. Let’s call any effort to impeach this president over a default what it really would be. A Republican impeachment attempt would be the ultimate publicity move in order to try to blame President Obama for their own crimes.

The only thing left that could make this situation politically worse for Republicans is if they tried to impeach Obama. The current version of the Republican Party appears to be in its death throes, and it’s fitting that their last act may be to illogical attempt to impeach President Barack Obama.


During the Obama Presidency Republicans Have Not Made a Single Concession to Help People

By: Rmuse
Monday, October 14th, 2013, 10:57 am

The inordinate desire to possess goods, or objects of abstract value with the intention to keep it all for one’s self beyond the dictates of basic comfort is greed, and it also applies to the desire for, and a pursuit of, wealth and power. Republicans exhibit inordinate greed for power over the government, and it explains their four-and-a-half year drive to take everything they can get their greedy hands on from the American people to give to their wealthy corporate and millionaire supporters.

It can hardly be disputed that throughout Barack Obama’s tenure as President, Republicans have not made one concession or presented one piece of legislation to benefit the people, and they have blocked every single attempt by the President and Democrats to help Americans with jobs and sustaining social programs. Despite that Democrats have not asked for, or won, any concessions from the GOP to help the people, a Republican Senator accused Democrats of being greedy for not paying a ransom for Republicans to do the jobs they were sent to Washington to do; fund the government and pay the nation’s debts.

Yesterday, Kentucky Senator and teabag hero Rand Paul accused President Obama and Senate Democrats of not negotiating to open the government or raise the debt limit because they were “getting greedy about this whole thing.” Paul was referring to Democratic demands that Republicans pass a clean continuing resolution to open the government and raise the debt limit unconditionally. It was a typical conservative ploy to project on Democrats and the President what Republicans are doing in holding the government and borrowing limit hostage in their war to control the government.

The truth is that Senate Democrats already conceded to Republican demands and gave them their austerity budget for fiscal 2014, including keeping sequestration level spending cuts in place for the sole purpose of keeping the government open. It was insufficient for greedy Republicans who demand that Democrats concede more and they are keeping the government shuttered and threatening a credit default unless the President gives them more power over government and wealth from the American people. At issue for Republicans accusing Democrats of being greedy is Paul Ryan’s demand that Democrats “compromise” and cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid in exchange for Republicans raising the debt limit, but not funding the government. Ryan is also demanding that the President give Republicans the right to allow Christian employers to withhold contraception from their employees because greed for power is part and parcel of the Republican mindset.

According to the Washington Post, in a private meeting with House Republicans Ryan was livid and railed against a Republican Senate proposal to fund the government through March at sequester levels and raise the debt ceiling through January. Ryan said the “House could not accept either a debt-limit bill or a government-funding measure that would delay the next fight until the new year” because Republicans are desperate to beat the January 1st deadline to stop the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. Republicans at the meeting said Ryan needed leverage to delay the ACA, add a “conscience clause” to stop contraception coverage, extract entitlement cuts, and tax cuts for the rich in exchange for opening the government and raising the debt limit before the first of the year. All Democrats have asked for is that House Republicans do their job and fund the government with the Senate’s austerity budget and raise the debt limit to pay for their two wars, tax cuts for the rich, and subsidies for the oil, religious, and agricultural industries.

One wonders where Rand Paul finds greed in Democratic demands that Republicans do their jobs, when Republicans will crash the economy and keep the government closed unless their greed for power is satisfied by enacting the Romney-Ryan platform that cost them the 2012 general election. If one takes stock of the Republican demands since the start of the 113th Congress, and particularly over the past three weeks, they would understand the depth and true meaning of abject greed inherent in an assault to strip everything the people’s tax dollars pay for. Just the Republican demands to do their Constitutional duty and pay the bills they incurred is stunning in its blatant robbery of the American people.

The Republicans first offer to raise the debt limit included eliminating Planned Parenthood funding, privatizing Medicare,  defunding the Affordable Care Act, eliminating insurance coverage for birth control, slash food stamps, eliminating  EPA authority,  eliminate social service block grants, means-testing Social Security, restricting the child tax credit for families, and trillions of dollars in other budget cuts affecting all Americans. It does not take a quantum physicist to figure out that every Republican demand is predicated on taking as much as possible from the American people and it is the definition of sheer greed for power and wealth to give the rich tax cuts according to the Ryan budget. Add to those demands the House Republican votes to eliminate overtime pay, healthcare for poor women and children, food stamps, and now a concerted effort to slash Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid under the guise of deficit reduction. As an aside, Americans are still waiting for one Democrat, any Democrat including President Obama, to tell the American people that under no circumstance does Social Security take or add one penny to the nation’s deficit, but there is the very real possibility that Democrats will give away elderly Americans’ retirement to the greedy Republicans to prevent a credit default.

Rand Paul was absolutely correct that there is rampant greed in Congress, but it is all on the Republican side because Democrats, up to now, have been terrified to tell greedy Republicans they have taken enough from the American people in their inordinate desire for wealth and power to rule America. To be fair to the beleaguered Republicans, their greed is not solely for the desire for and pursuit of wealth to keep for themselves, but for the ruling power to take everything from the American people. Since they won control of the House in 2010, Republicans have attempted to rob the people of social programs, education, women’s reproductive rights, food and healthcare, housing assistance for the poor, unemployment benefits, sick leave, overtime pay, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and jobs with their manufactured debt ceiling crisis in 2011 and the resulting sequestration cuts they are desperate to keep in place for nine more years.

What is telling about Republicans is that despite their pathetic disapproval numbers from Americans sick-to-death of being economically raped and deprived of programs paid for with their tax dollars, the GOP is clamoring for more and they are willing to keep the government shut down and cause a credit default to extract more from the people. It is long-past time for Democrats to be greedy to preserve what little wealth the American people have left and save America’s vanishing representative democracy because in their inordinate desire for power, greedy Republicans will take that from Americans; if it even still exists.


October 14, 2013

An American Shutdown Reaches the Earth’s End


Joseph Levy was preparing for a season of scientific research in Antarctica last week when he got the call: Stand down.

Dr. Levy, a research associate at the University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Geophysics, is studying the climate history of the dry valleys of Antarctica by analyzing buried ice sheets that have been frozen since the last ice age and are beginning to thaw.

The research season in Antarctica typically starts around now, when things warm up enough to be merely frigid and scientists from around the world flock far south to conduct studies that affect our understanding of climate change, volcanoes, the family life of Weddell seals and much more. But with the United States government partly shut down, federally financed research has come to a halt for Dr. Levy and hundreds of other Americans. Even if a budget deal is struck, these scientists will have less time on the ice, and some will lose a full year’s worth of work as the narrow window of productive time closes.

“It’s like a biography of the earth with a couple of pages in the middle torn out,” Dr. Levy said. “Nature will have taken its course, and we will have not been there to see it.”

The shutdown in Washington is being felt acutely at the ends of the earth. Some 3,000 Americans work through the Antarctic summer, including scientists and support staff from the private sector and from federal agencies like the Defense and Energy Departments, NASA and the United States Geological Survey. Amid the battle over the country’s spending and debt limit, the National Science Foundation, which coordinates the Antarctic program, has ordered it into “caretaker status,” which means skeleton staffing. “All field and research activities not essential to human safety and preservation of property will be suspended,” the agency said in a statement last week.

While the agency said it would do what it could to restore the program “once an appropriation materializes,” it noted coolly that “some activities cannot be restarted once seasonally dependent windows for research and operations have passed, the seasonal work force is released, science activities are curtailed and operations are reduced.”

That troubles Dr. Levy and many other scientists deeply. Dr. Levy’s instruments have to be in place and taking their ice measurements before the permafrost begins its seasonal thaw in mid-November. This is the third year of the project, he said, and it is “sort of a crescendo year,” in which past measurements of the ice under the McMurdo Dry Valleys could be pulled together to make some predictions. “We know where it’s going; we want to know how long it’s going to be around, and we can’t make that measurement,” he said. “This year we were going to put all the pieces together.” Now, he is hoping that a resolution of the budget fight might allow him to salvage half of the year’s planned research.

While the shutdown directly affects only American researchers, scientists from other nations have come to depend on the robust transportation and logistics system developed by the United States, said Alexander Kumar, a British scientist. What is more, he noted, the effects will be felt beyond the inconvenience of a single summer. “A lot of the science depends on year-after-year collection,” Dr. Kumar said, so gaps in the record may damage data sets built on decades of work. “It’s tragic.”

Robin Elizabeth Bell, a scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said it was impossible to gauge what would be lost because of the shutdown. Though scientists build in time for delays caused by weather and equipment trouble, she said, “field programs in a challenging place like Antarctica do not have the luxury of building in contingencies for closed governments.”

Samantha Hansen, an assistant professor of geological sciences at the University of Alabama, was set to leave for Antarctica on Nov. 4. The government agencies she would normally turn to for information are shut down, and she has graduate students whose theses depend on what emerges from the dirt and snow of Antarctica.

“We’re kind of in a holding pattern,” Dr. Hansen said. Equipment that she put in place on previous trips needs to be serviced and repaired this year, and the stored data retrieved; by next year, the sensors could be so deeply covered in snow that the data, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment, would be lost forever. “From a financial standpoint, it’s a big loss; from a scientific standpoint, it’s a big loss,” she said. “Frankly, the timing could not have been worse.”

Still, some scientists remain hopeful that something can be salvaged. Anne E. Todgham, an assistant professor of biology at San Francisco State University, traveled 30 hours to Christchurch, New Zealand, with two graduate students and two postdoctoral scientists, and then waited through three days of weather delays to get to McMurdo Station. They finally arrived last Wednesday, eager to get out on the sea ice and begin their research on how some of the results of climate change, like ocean acidification, are affecting young fish.

Five days later, however, they were back in Christchurch, waiting for word that politics in Washington had thawed. If McMurdo reopens for business, Dr. Todgham said via Skype, “We’re hoping that we’ll be some of the first boots on the ground.”

In the meantime, she is staying positive: “I patted the ice when I left last night and said, ‘We’ll be back. Wait for us.’ ”

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« Reply #9349 on: Oct 16, 2013, 06:29 AM »

US government shutdown: Congress in disarray as deal collapses

John Boehner abandons House vote on temporary extension of debt ceiling as clock ticks down to 17 October deadline

Paul Lewis and Dan Roberts in Washington, and Dominic Rushe in New York, Wednesday 16 October 2013 03.15 BST   

Pizza being taken to John Boehner's office as the House speaker held talks with Republicans after the collapse of a deal to raise the government debt ceiling temporarily. Pizza being taken to John Boehner's office as the House speaker held talks with Republicans after the collapse of a deal to raise the government debt ceiling temporarily. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

Republicans in the House of Representatives pushed the US economy to the brink on Tuesday night when they turned against a proposal by their party leadership that would have reopened the government and lifted the debt ceiling, just over 24 hours before the country’s borrowing limit expires.

The failure by John Boehner, the House speaker, to persuade elements within his own Republican caucus to back a bill designed to placate conservatives underscored the severity of the political crisis facing Washington.

Boehner’s bill, which was drafted after Tea Party-backed members of the House voiced their opposition to a deal forged between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, had been expected to be put to a vote on Tuesday night. But it was pulled at the last minute after the House GOP leadership realised that the bill, opposed by Democrats, did not even have the support of sufficient Republicans to pass.

The news capped a day of confusion and setbacks on Capitol Hill that left Congress back where it had started. The ratings agency Fitch put the US on notice of a downgrade in its triple-A status, warning that the turmoil in Washington "risks undermining confidence in the role of the US dollar as the pre-eminent global reserve currency”.

The White House seized on that announcement, saying it demonstrated the urgency of reaching a deal. But momentum had all but evaporated on Tuesday night when Republican leaders, realising that support for their proposed legislation had collapsed, gathered in Boehner’s office for crisis talks over pizza.

Congressman Pete Sessions, who chairs the rules committee, emerged briefly to tell reporters that the leadership’s bill had stalled. “There will be no action tonight, no votes,” he said. “What we’re going to do is allow us to take the night and make sure all our members know what is going on.” He was unable to elaborate on what was, in his words, “going on”.

Late on Tuesday night focus returned to the Senate, where Harry Reid, the Democrats’ majority leader, revived talks with his Republican counterpart, Mitch McConnell.

The day had begun with a hope that these negotiations could provide the basis of a breakthrough. Their deal was a stopgap measure that would have extended the debt limit until early February and authorised government spending until mid-January, with one token concession over the Affordable Care Act, the healthcare reforms passed by both houses of Congress in 2010 that hardline Republicans are now attempting to unpick.

But in the face of trenchant opposition from Tea Party Republicans, voiced at a meeting of the House caucus in the morning, Boehner floated an alternative proposal that would have, in addition, delayed a new tax on medical devices designed to help pay for the Affordable Care Act and deprive lawmakers and their staff of personal health insurance subsidies.

That succeeded only in inflaming conservatives who regarded the House and Senate compromises as surrender – and Democrats, who accused Boehner of scuppering progress by inserting new "ransom demands".

The Republican leadership came up with various versions of the legislation through the day as they tried to settle on a formula that would satisfy conservatives. Boehner acceded to rightwing demands to drop the medical device tax provision, which was seen as benefiting only health equipment manufacturers, and retained the proposal to cut healthcare subsidies from congressional and White House staff, which amounted to an $18,000-a-year pay cut for most employees. The resolution got as far as being published on the House rules committee website.

But the plan collapsed in the face of sustained conservative opposition. Heritage Action, a conservative group that holds Republican candidates accountable to Tea Party-backed causes, announced that it would mark down Republicans who voted in favour of the resolution. Support from House Republicans melted away and Boehner postponed the vote.

By then, senior Democrats had lined up to condemn the Republicans in the House for blocking what appeared to be route forward. “The president has said repeatedly that members of Congress don't get to demand ransom for fulfilling their basic responsibilities to pass a budget and pay the nation's bills,” said White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage.

"Democrats and Republicans in the Senate have been working in a bipartisan, good-faith effort to end the manufactured crises that have already harmed American families and business owners."

Chuck Schumer, the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate, looked angry after he emerged from a Senate meeting to discover that the bipartisan deal, which he had helped forge, had been put on ice while Boehner sought an alternative solution among Republicans in the House. "We're at the 11th hour,” he said. "The train to avoid default was smoothly heading down the tracks and picking up speed, and at the last minute speaker Boehner decides to throw a log on those tracks."

In the end Congress finished the day where it began. Hopes were again invested in the ability of Reid and McConnell, two experienced negotiators, to find a resolution. Aides for both the Senate leaders indicated they were working into the night to forge a deal capable of garnering agreement that might just get the necessary support ahead of Thursday.

The significance of Thursday's deadline has been somewhat misunderstood; the precise implications of failing to raise the borrowing limit before then are unknown. The treasury secretary Jack Lew has said the country’s ability to borrow will be exhausted “no later” than 17 October, which in practice means it will have to rely upon its cash reserves, and incoming revenues, from 5pm on Thursday onwards.

That will not necessarily mean an immediate default; instead there would be uncertainty, growing by the hour, over the Treasury’s ability to pay creditors. Technically, if no deal was reached, US would be susceptible to a default from 18 October onwards.

Shai Akabas, a senior policy analyst who has analysed the possible ramifications for the Bipartisan Policy Center, said there was no clarity on what would happen next – although he estimated that the Treasury may start failing to pay bills from 22 October.

But Thursday could still be the crucial moment determining the response of markets, which until now have tolerated the chaos in Washington on the assumption it would be resolved in time.

With the US 16 days into a government shutdown, and just 24 hours away from the point at which the Treasury no longer has authority to borrow, there were signs economists were running out of faith.

Fitch said it had reached its conclusion because of the increased possibility that the US would not reach a deal on its debt ceiling before Thursday. "Although Fitch continues to believe that the debt ceiling will be raised soon, the political brinkmanship and reduced financing flexibility could increase the risk of a US default," the agency said.

The Dow fell 133.25 points or 0.87% to end the day down after a brief rally when it appeared a breakthrough had been made.

In 2011 Standard & Poor's downgraded US debt as Democrats and Republicans argued once more about the debt ceiling. The move came amid sharp selloffs on stock markets around the world. "The repeated brinkmanship over raising the debt ceiling also dents confidence in the effectiveness of the US government and political institutions, and in the coherence and credibility of economic policy. It will also have some detrimental effect on the US economy," said Fitch.


Boehner aborts attempt to bring House bill on debt ceiling to a vote – live

• Conservative faction in revolt
• Procedural hurdles threaten timely Senate action
• Fitch put US credit rating under review
• Read the latest blog summary

Tom McCarthyin New York, Tuesday 15 October 2013 23.11 BST           

6.04pm ET

We're going to wrap up our live blog coverage for the day. Here's a summary of where things stand:

• House speaker John Boehner has postponed an attempt to bring a bill to the House floor that would have reopened government and raised the debt ceiling. Tea Party Republicans declined to support the legislation.

    Confirmed: tonight's vote is dead
    — Robert Costa (@robertcostaNRO) October 15, 2013

• The legislative path to averting default grew narrower. If the House legislation fails conclusively, the Senate may resume bipartisan negotiations on a deal. However one senator alone could stall the action for days. And there's no guarantee the House would take up any Senate bill.

• Even if the Senate passes bipartisan legislation, it would be up to Boehner to bring it to the House floor. To do so would likely endanger his speakership.

• Ratings agency Fitch put US debt under review for downgrading. For now the United States remains AAA. But the ratings agency said "the political brinkmanship and reduced financing flexibility could increase the risk of a U.S. default."

Updated at 6.11pm ET

5.54pm ET

It looks as if the House vote suddenly is off. Boehner did not find the support he needed. In his own party.

    Staffer who's familiar w/ internal GOP whip count: "They know that it is f*****d."
    — Robert Costa (@robertcostaNRO) October 15, 2013

    Heritage Action wins again! RT @Bencjacobs: Rules Committee hearing now being postponed indefinitely
    — daveweigel (@daveweigel) October 15, 2013

5.39pm ET

Rep. Kevin McCarthy is whipping hard, but informally – they don't want anyone to feel pinned down to "no."

    just obtained HOUSE repub whip notice telling staff to have their boss call leadership immediately if they plan to vote NO on cr/debt plan
    — Dana Bash (@DanaBashCNN) October 15, 2013

5.25pm ET

What if Boehner can't corral the Tea Party and fails to muster even a party line vote?

The National Review's Robert Costa says it looks good:

    Leadership sources: no snags right now on informal whip count, legislation continues to move twd floor, vote coming later
    — Robert Costa (@robertcostaNRO) October 15, 2013


    Pressure mounts on conservatives to vote nay RT @Heritage_Action Key Vote: “NO” on House Spending and Debt Deal
    — Robert Costa (@robertcostaNRO) October 15, 2013

The failure of the latest Boehner initiative could make a strong argument for the terminal paralysis of the House and the return of the legislative initiative to the Senate. Boehner would still have to bring any Senate legislation to the floor for it to become law.

Then he'd be in for it. He may already be in for it.

Updated at 5.29pm ET

5.18pm ET

Not bad for government work.

    I hope he's not keeping it in a bank. RT @AaronBlakeWP @HotlineJosh Ted Cruz raised nearly $800,000 in third quarter
    — Matt Stoller (@matthewstoller) October 15, 2013

5.10pm ET

As many will remember, S&P's downgraded US debt from AAA to AA+ the last time the country flirted with default, in August 2011.

The two other main credit agencies, Fitch and Moody's, however, kept the United States in the Triple-A bin.

Fitch has just announced it is reconsidering:

    NEW YORK (AP) — Fitch puts United States 'AAA' credit rating under review for a downgrade
    — Josh Lederman (@joshledermanAP) October 15, 2013

The US Treasury responded promptly to the announcement:

    "The announcement reflects the urgency with which Congress should act to remove the threat of default hanging over the economy," a Treasury spokesperson said.

The ratings agencies can be a criminally fairly sanguine bunch, stamping their approval on stacks of highly leveraged housing debt, for example. But this time they smell a rat:

    Things have gotten so bad for the US government that even the ratings agencies have noticed that there's a problem.
    — Binyamin Appelbaum (@BCAppelbaum) October 15, 2013

(#ff @JohnJHarwood)

Updated at 5.26pm ET

5.05pm ET

Here it is, a draft of the continuing resolution the House plans to vote on. Dave Weigel flags an important bit:

    Near the end, the House CR includes that language blocking Treasury from "extraordinary measures."
    — daveweigel (@daveweigel) October 15, 2013

See section 145, page 21.

4.57pm ET

What have Republicans been fighting for? Apart from the straightforward fund-and-raise provisions, the emerging House GOP legislation appears to contain the Vitter amendment and – according to House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer – a provision to strip the Treasury of its ability to deploy emergency measures to avoid default.

There may be more or less in the House bill. We won't know until we see it (update: we have it; see next post). For the moment the battle cry appears to be:

    “What do we want?” “An arbitrary across-the-board pay cut for congressional staff!” “When do we want it?” “Now!”
    — Matt Yglesias (@mattyglesias) October 15, 2013

Updated at 5.02pm ET

4.48pm ET

In her remarks outside the White House, we should note, Pelosi said she was still "optimistic" that a default can be averted. Reuters reports:

    She called a vote on the House plan "a vote to default" when the United States hits its borrowing limit on Thursday.

    Pelosi said the House Republican plan may be Boehner's attempt to give conservative Tea Party members "one last chance to resist," and that she believed House Republicans will end up averting a debt default but that they must go through various contortions ahead of time.

    "We're still optimistic that there is a path to lift the debt ceiling in time," she told reporters.

Updated at 5.00pm ET

4.41pm ET

Boehner affirms that vote tonight is on track to happen.

    BREAKING: Boehner spokesman: House to vote Tuesday night to reopen government and avoid default.
    — The Associated Press (@AP) October 15, 2013

4.33pm ET
Hoyer: emerging House bill 'very damaging'

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and other House Democratic leaders are speaking at the White House after a meeting with President Obama.

Pelosi signals that Democrats in the House don't expect to support the legislation Republicans in the House are currently crafting. She said Democrats would like to see the House pass a "clean" resolution to fund government and raise the debt ceiling.

"We stand ready to supply the votes, but if they go on the path they're on, they'll be 100% Republican votes," Pelosi said.

Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking Democrat in the House, said the meeting with the president was productive, but he said the nascent House bill contains unacceptable provisions:

    One of which we think is very, very damaging to the USA and that is taking away from the president and the secretary of the Treasury the ability to manage the payment of our debts.

He's referring to the "emergency measures" the Treasury has used to keep government solvent since it blasted through the debt ceiling in May.

"We now have 48 hours to make sure our country remains solvent," Hoyer said.

Updated at 4.38pm ET

4.17pm ET

Why fund the government through only 15 December, as the House bill reportedly would do, instead of 15 January, as the Senate deal reportedly would have done?

Republicans like the base spending levels in the current funding bill – sequester funding – and would seem to want to lock in those levels for longer, not shorter. Plus a fight in the middle of December would muck up the holidays.

NBC News notes that a December fight would be another chance for Republicans to take a whack at the Obamacare individual mandate, which requires people to hold health insurance or face a fine.

    Change in CR date (from Jan 15 to Dec 15) gives GOP another chance to fight indiv. mandate b4 it goes into effect on Jan 1
    — Frank Thorp V (@frankthorpNBC) October 15, 2013

Does anyone apart from Tea Party strategists believe the president would give up Obamacare over a shutdown the public blames Republicans for?

Updated at 4.25pm ET

4.07pm ET

"It’s not quite a roller coaster ride on the US stock markets but it’s heading that way," writes Guardian business correspondent Dominic Rushe (@dominicru):

    The US markets have been reacting to every bit of news out of Washington. They rose yesterday when it looked like a deal was in the offing and have now closed down after dipping in and out of positive territory for much of the day.

    All the major US markets ended down. The Dow fell 133 points (.88%), the S&P ended down over 12 points (0.71%) and the Nasdaq was down over 21 points (0.56%)

Dominic spoke with Jack Ablin, chief investment officer of BMO Private Bank, who said the swings were “tame” compared to the last time Washington took the debt ceiling fight to the limit in 2011.

    “Back then we were seeing 400-500 point swings,” he said. He said Obama would probably like to see more volatility in order to underline how dangerous the situation is but “there is a belief that neither side wants to run the risk of a default. The closer we come to the deadline, the more that belief is going to get tested.”

Updated at 4.18pm ET

4.00pm ET

Details of the legislation taking shape in the House are coming out, via Rep. Nunes (see UPDATE at bottom):

Significantly, the bill would fund the government for only two months, until 15 December, Reuters quotes Nunes as saying. An earlier deal under discussion in the Senate would have funded the government until 15 January, which is just before a second, deeper round of budget cuts related to the sequester kick in. A 15 December shutdown deadline would also set up a budget fight in the middle of the holiday season, when retail spending and the economic confidence that drives it is crucial.

The House bill reportedly uses the same date for the new debt ceiling, 7 February. But the bill makes the date a "hard cut-off," apparently meaning the bill eliminates those "emergency measures" the Treasury uses to avoid default (read more here).

Finally, the House bill reportedly would give us the Full Vitter, and go the extra step of requiring the president and top administration officials to obtain health insurance through the Obamacare exchanges by evicting them from their current insurance programs.

As for the delay or deletion of the tax on medical devices that partially funds Obamacare: that's not in the bill, reportedly, for now.

    Vitter amend is supposed to fix a non-problem that Rs themselves created. Don't believe me? Read the National Review:
    — Suzy Khimm (@SuzyKhimm) October 15, 2013

UPDATE: the House legislation also would not set up a budget supercommittee, as the prospective Senate agreement would have, according to Nunes via Reuters. In the House plan there may simply not be enough time for such a committee to conduct its work before the next shutdown deadline. The prospective Senate plan had the special budget committee reporting by mid-December.

Updated at 4.21pm ET

3.43pm ET

Here's a summary of where things stand:

• The House appeared to be moving to pass a government funding bill on yet another party-line vote. Rep. Devin Nunes said the bill would receive bipartisan support in the Senate. The contents of the developing legislation were unclear. (see update)

• A once-emergent Senate deal to avert default and end the shutdown was "up in the air," as Senate leaders decided to wait to see if the House can originate the legislation. Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell had worked for days to craft a deal.

• Democratic senators were angry at what they saw as a House attempt to "torpedo" – Harry Reid's word – what they saw as a perfectly viable, bipartisan Senate agreement. The Senate Democratic luncheon Tuesday was reportedly the scene of great agitation.

• The Dow Jones stock index neared the close down about 100 points or .65%. Kind of queasy, not a huge selloff.

Updated at 4.03pm ET

3.33pm ET

House Republicans could pass legislation tonight that could find bipartisan support in the Senate, according to Rep. Devin Nunes, Republican of California, a confidante of speaker John Boehner.

In an interview with CNN's Dana Bash, Nunes expressed exasperation with the House' hard-right faction, saying it was "lunacy" to shut down the government in an effort to stop Obamacare. Boehner had no choice but to give in to the demands of his caucus to try it, however, Nunes asserts.

"This vote tonight is something that has support," Nunes said. "We need 218 votes to pass, because the Democrats" aren't going to vote for the bill.

In a play to win Tea Party support for the bill, Nunes said, the leadership was including the "Full Vitter." The Vitter amendment would strip congressional members and staff who lost health coverage through Obamacare of money for replacement coverage.

The Vitter amendment is popular with the Tea Party, which takes it to be an accountability measure.

Nunes pretty much conceded to Bash that the amendment was needlessly harmful to staff members who need health care. "The problem is, we're at the 11th hour, this is what it takes to get the votes" so we're going with it, Nunes said.

Nunes said if the House Republicans unilaterally pass a new bill, "Harry Reid is going to have a tough decision to make. Because it will then be Harry Reid's default."

That argument sounds familiar somehow.

2.56pm ET

With Reid and McConnell agreeing – for now – to wait for the House to act, the Senate's work of the last three days is, as a GOP aide put it, "up in the air."

    It's unclear what a bipartisan Senate plan would look like if it were resurrected. Depends if anything actually passes the House.
    — Suzy Khimm (@SuzyKhimm) October 15, 2013

2.48pm ET

Democratic Senators emerged from what some said was one of the most frustrated luncheon meetings they'd ever witnessed, Guardian Washington correspondent Paul Lewis (@PaulLewis) reports:

    A visibly angry Chuck Schumer, the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate, summarized the mood when he said John Boehner had killed the momentum that had gathered behind their bipartisan deal.

    "We're at the 11th hour. The train to avoid default was smoothly heading down the tracks and picking up speed, and at the last minute, speaker Boehner decides to throw a log on those tracks. Enough already."

    "I am so disappointed. I am not disappointed in my Senate Republican colleagues. I think many of them understand the danger and want to help."

2.43pm ET

The Senate has decided to wait on the House before announcing a deal or details of a prospective deal, Guardian Washington bureau chief Dan Roberts (@RobertsDan) reports:

    Reid and McConnell just met and agreed to wait on House before saying any more. 'All up the air,' says GOP aide.

Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times tweets that "Republican senators say they want to help the House get their own plan to reopen the government, but the House is stuck."

    Lindsey Graham on Boehner. “I was involved with taking one speaker down. I’d like to be involved with keeping this one.”
    — daveweigel (@daveweigel) October 15, 2013

The Senate Democratic leader, meanwhile, has said the House bill under construction "won't pass the Senate." There's an advantage from the Democratic perspective to waiting for the House, however: doing so could eliminate some of the procedural roadblocks that extremist members might otherwise erect, reports Sahil Kapur Talking Points Memo:

    Senate Ds are hoping House passes *something* on DL so they can use it as a vehicle to bypass stalling by Cruz et al.
    — Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) October 15, 2013

Updated at 2.58pm ET

2.32pm ET

Little market tremors.

    And the market is falling. RT @themoneygame: Gold is taking off
    — Joseph Weisenthal (@TheStalwart) October 15, 2013

2.15pm ET

Despise politicians? This observation by Guardian Washington correspondent Paul Lewis won't change your mind:

    Can tell politicians in shutdown/debt limit crisis secretly relish the attention. Their eyes sparkle at the sight of huge reporting scrums.
    — Paul Lewis (@PaulLewis) October 15, 2013

2.03pm ET

What now?

    There are an awful lot of reporters in Congress hallways right now waiting to ask SO WHAT HAPPENS NOW?!
    — Dan Roberts (@RobertsDan) October 15, 2013

1.43pm ET

Would a delay or deletion of the tax on medical devices that partially funds Obamacare be agreed to by the president? The House is reportedly considering such a delay or deletion. (see UPDATE below)

Jonathan Chait, who's often right, says it could be a sticking point with the White House:

    @morningmoneyben No, Obama doesn't favor that. So it's not negotiated unless House, Senate, POTUS agree.
    — Jonathan Chait (@jonathanchait) October 15, 2013

UPDATE: There are reports that the delay in the tax on medical devices has disappeared from the House bill. So for now the above it moot.

Updated at 3.06pm ET

1.37pm ET

A reporter says he had a heart attack a year ago and he didn't have health insurance. Question: "Would Republicans delay Obamacare for a year if Republicans agree to delay heart attacks for a year?"

Carney says "we need to continue to focus on those folks" without access to insurance.

The reporter says that he was "able to enroll in the [Obamacare] exchange about a week-and-a-half ago."

    who is this guy asking questions at the WH briefing?
    — Tim Murphy (@timothypmurphy) October 15, 2013

    Who the hell is that reporter?
    — David Freddoso (@freddoso) October 15, 2013


    @TeeMcSee @nycsouthpaw @freddoso it was Tommy Christopher of Mediaite
    — Jennifer Epstein (@jeneps) October 15, 2013

Updated at 1.45pm ET

1.26pm ET

Run away? That's the new House Republican plan? Run away?

    "there’s discussion of voting on their bill and, if it passes, leaving town- a bid to try to force the Senate’s hand"
    — KateNocera (@KateNocera) October 15, 2013

The Politico story is co-bylined Jake Sherman, Burgess Everett and John Bresnahan. Here's the pertinent bit:

    Drastic tactics are being considered in House Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy’s world: there’s discussion of voting on their bill and, if it passes, leaving town — a bid to try to force the Senate’s hand.

Read the full piece here.

UPDATE: Politico chief economics correspondent Ben White (@morningmoneyben) reports that House Republicans deny the "Run away!" plan. But the paragraph describing it is still in the Politico story.

    House GOP leadership seems unaware of any "plan" to leave town. Not sure where that's coming from.
    — Ben White (@morningmoneyben) October 15, 2013

Updated at 1.57pm ET

1.22pm ET

Q for Carney: Is the president negotiating? I though the president said he would never negotiate over the debt ceiling or the shutdown. It seems like he's negotiating, no?

And Carney gets a bit into a Clinton-style semantic shell game here. "It depends on what you mean by negotiating," Carney says:

    He's been having conversations with lawmakers. What he will not do... is give the Tea Party its ideological agenda, wish list, in exchange for Congress reopening the government.

1.19pm ET

Carney is asked whether the president bears some blame for the current impasse?:


    There is no question... that there are no winners in a situation like this... Any politician who plays this as a political game, looking to win, is making a mistake.

    The president's position has been crystal-clear. Don't shut the government down. Once they shut down the government: reopen the government...

    There's been only one party in this process to say... we would flirt with default if we don't get what we want.

1.16pm ET

Carney is asked: you made such a big deal about how bad the sequester would be and look, that happened and we're all still alive. Have you been crying wolf? Is your authority here undermined?


    There is nobody in this field, who understands how financial markets work... who accepts the absurd position taken by the debt limit or default deniers. This is a serious matter.

    What's a risk is even flirting with the idea that we should try to wait till the very last moment that a bill comes due that we can't pay. This is the United States of America. [...]

    Already once you get to that deadline, you've entered territory that we've never entered before. And that sends a signal I think globally... and that is why, I think, this line has never been crossed.

1.13pm ET

Carney: "We're encouraged by the progress that we've seen in the Senate, but we're far from a deal at this point."

1.08pm ET

President Obama will be personally involved in the congressional negotiations, Carney says.

    I have no doubt that the president will be in contact with congressional leaders of both parties as this process continues.

Carney says the White House is holding out hope for a Senate deal:

    We continue to hope that that will bear fruit... and in the end lead to a resolution that reopens government and provides the authority to the Treasury to pay its bills.

    McCain says he still thinks a lot of Senate Republicans will vote for emerging deal, no need to wait for the House.
    — Sabrina Siddiqui (@SabrinaSiddiqui) October 15, 2013

1.03pm ET

White House spokesman Jay Carney is holding the daily briefing. He is asked what the final-final deadline is to avoid default. Carney deflects the question. "For details about how that process works, I refer you to the Treasury department."

Carney says a deadline was unacceptably passed when the government shut down. He say the deadline for creating inexcusable uncertainty has already passed.

Updated at 1.06pm ET

12.59pm ET

It's unclear whether the legislative basis for this joke exists (depending on what the House is thinking), and it'll take a bit of explaining, but we're confident it's worthwhile.

The original Vitter amendment, named for Louisiana Senator David Vitter, would have eliminated a special block of money for members of Congress and staff that was meant to recoup the people in question the costs of buying their insurance on Obamacare-created health exchanges, which a wrong-headed Republican amendment to the Affordable Care Act would have required them to do, eliminating their government insurance. Vitter said his amendment eliminated a "subsidy" for the hard-working folks on Capitol Hill. In fact, as Matthew Yglesias has explained in a Slate post entitled "The Vitter Amendment is Total BS," there was no subsidy – just an attempt to recoup what had been stripped away.

The House deal announced this morning would have required the president and his top officials to partake in the Obamacare exchanges as well. This version of the Vitter, however, applied only to "political entities," not staffers.

Now the House is considering reinstating the FULL Vitter, the National Review reports. Which brings us to the work of the inimitable @darth:

    I can't unsee this. RT @darth: *poster* RT @dcbigjohn: THE FULL VITTER
    — Sabrina Siddiqui (@SabrinaSiddiqui) October 15, 2013

Updated at 1.01pm ET

12.37pm ET

Here's a summary of where things stand:

• Senate majority leader Harry Reid spiked a sudden effort by House Republicans Tuesday morning to get back in the dealmaking game with a new legislative pitch. "They're attempting to torpedo us," Reid said.

• Speaker John Boehner said the details of the new House initiative were not settled yet but that it would ensure "fairness to the American people under Obamacare." There were significant overlaps between the House proposal, as reported, and the evolving Senate deal, as reported.

• The Senate has been working for days on a bipartisan deal to end the shutdown and avert default. Reid saw the Republican-driven effort in the House as a threat that could chase Senate Republicans away from a deal. Reid took to the Senate floor to angrily condemn the House plan.

• House Republicans were last heard from on Saturday, when talks between the leadership and President Obama fell apart.

• The Senate is still apparently on course to come up with a bipartisan deal. Earlier on Tuesday Reid said he was "confident" a deal would be reached. There was talk of a vote happening Wednesday.

• President Obama was to host House Democratic leaders at the White House Tuesday afternoon.

• Markets reacted lackadaisically but there were some warnings in the financial world that this could be bad.

    Wondering if Boehner may have complicated Reid-McConnell more than I expected. Otherwise why would Reid be on floor complaining so much?
    — John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) October 15, 2013

Updated at 12.45pm ET

12.12pm ET

The markets have been skipping along, but not everyone seems to be so sanguine about the US's avoiding default, Guardian business correspondent Dominic Rushe (@dominicru) says. He passes along a letter Jonathan Lewis sent to clients. Lewis is investment officer at Manhattan-based Samson Capital Advisors, which manages $7Bn according to its site.

Unthinkable events can and do happen, Lewis writes:

    Central bankers around the world are making hasty preparations to shore up the global financial system just in case the US defaults on its debt. Many have said this is just a precaution; the default is an unthinkable event that will not happen.

    It's worth taking a quick review of recent unthinkable events in US history:

    1. 9/11
    2. No weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
    3. The collapse of the housing market (property values go up forever).
    4. The collapse of Lehman Brothers and near collapse of the financial system.
    5. The collapse of the stock market (stocks go up forever).
    6. The loss of America's AAA rating.

    There are more, but the short list makes the point. Lately, we have experienced too many unthinkable events. Sadly, just because we refuse to think of them, does not mean they will not happen. This feels like Katrina, a lot of complacency, and the evacuations are beginning too late. Hopefully, all will end well. And, let’s hope global financial leaders learn to prepare better for the next storm. Even if the debt ceiling is raised, it will likely be temporary, and the clouds will gather again.

    Having spent two hours talking to House Republicans, my expert investment advice is: Short everything
    — daveweigel (@daveweigel) October 15, 2013

N.B.: There's no sound investment strategy in the case of an unprecedented catastrophic market event such as a default, and that includes "short everything".

12.04pm ET

Senator John McCain of Arizona has been hard on fellow Republicans during the shutdown, not taking much care to hide the fact that he thinks it's their fault.

But now McCain thinks the Democrats are being unreasonable, for not accepting what he believes was a good-faith House effort to deal:

    no middle ground left right now. an angry senator McCain urges Democrats to "reconsider their categoric rejection of good faith House offer"
    — Dan Roberts (@RobertsDan) October 15, 2013

11.47am ET

"Speaker Boehner decides to light a match and throw it on the gasoline that already is all over the place," Sen. Chuck Schumer says. "I hope he will desist... Let him desist."

11.45am ET

Senate leader Harry Reid is on the floor of the Senate.

"This [House] bill is doomed to failure, and it's so awful, awful, awful for our country," he says.

11.42am ET

More from Reid, via Dan:

    "I am very disappointed with John Boehner, who is trying to preserve his role at the expense of the country," adds Reid.

    On Senate floor now, @SenatorReid says he feels blindsided by House GOP "attempting to torpedo us" with bill that can't/won't pass Senate.
    — Mark Knoller (@markknoller) October 15, 2013

Updated at 12.02pm ET

11.41am ET
Reid: 'House bill won't pass Senate'

The Guardian's Dan Roberts:

    Harry Reid pops up on Senate floor to say "House bill can't pass the Senate and won't pass the Senate".

    Hold onto your hats....

11.40am ET

It appears the Senate deal is still evolving, now under the invisible influence of the House legislation, which itself is in flux, Boehner just was at pains to emphasize.

The Senate deal as it stood Monday night had two Obamacare-related provisions. The first was seen as a Republican ask: before disbursing health care subsidies to low-income individuals, the government would be required to confirm financial need. The second provision was a sop to unions, and as such was seen as a Democratic ask: a tax on group health care plans – which would fund a reinsurance program to protect against early strain on the system from potentially lots of sick people and no healthy people signing up – was to be delayed. Unions have big group health plans and opposed the tax.

The reinsurance tax is now out of the Senate deal, the National Review reports. From one perspective that could bring the potential Senate legislation closer to the potential House legislation. From a different angle it looks like a potential bargaining chip is gone too early.

11.29am ET

US markets are reacting well to Boehner's speech, Guardian business correspondent Dominic Rushe (@Dominicru) notes. The Dow has erased much of this morning's losses and the S&P 500 is now in positive territory.

11.28am ET

More White House reaction to the new legislative initiative in the House of Representatives, which the president calls "appeasement." Guardian Washington bureau chief Dan Roberts (@RobertsDan) has the statement from spokeswoman Amy Brundage:

    “The president has said repeatedly that members of Congress don’t get to demand ransom for fulfilling their basic responsibilities to pass a budget and pay the nation’s bills. Unfortunately, the latest proposal from House Republicans does just that in a partisan attempt to appease a small group of Tea Party Republicans who forced the government shutdown in the first place," Brundage said.

    "Democrats and Republicans in the Senate have been working in a bipartisan, good-faith effort to end the manufactured crises that have already harmed American families and business owners," she continued. "With only a couple days remaining until the United States exhausts its borrowing authority, it’s time for the House to do the same.”

Updated at 11.31am ET

11.25am ET

President Obama will meet with House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and other House Democratic leaders at the White House at 3.15pm ET, according to a White House statement.

Updated at 11.26am ET

11.23am ET

First question for Boehner: the House bill as described by sources this morning really doesn't do all that much to hurt Obamacare. Was the shutdown worth it... for this? A delay or repeal on one tax that will probably be replace by other revenue anyway?

"We're working with our members on a way forward and to provide fairness to the American people," Boehner answered.

11.22am ET

House Republican leaders held a press conference led by speaker John Boehner in which he gave no details of any emerging deal but said Republicans were on the verge of delivering on their promise of "fairness to the American people under Obamacare."

"There have been no decisions about what exactly we will do," Boehner said.

He said that for "months and months" he had made it clear that default "is wrong and we shouldn't go anywhere close to it."

House members appearing after Boehner repeated the word of the day, "fairness," and did their best to make the shutdown feel worth it. Minority leader Eric Cantor declared victory in bringing Democrats to the negotiating table:

"We've been trying to get Democrats to sit down and talk to us.... I'm glad to see that Harry Reid and the Senate finally has been sitting down and talk with the REpublican leader there," Cantor said.

"Whatever proposal we move forward will reflect our emphasis on fairness," he said.

The it was whip Kevin McCarthy's turn: 'We belive people should be treated fairly."

11.13am ET

Breaking from the AP. Is this a negotiating stance from the White House or a hard rejection?

    BREAKING: White House: Latest House GOP proposal "a partisan attempt to appease" tea party.
    — The Associated Press (@AP) October 15, 2013

10.55am ET

Can the two houses come together?

It's possible that the nascent House bill that emerged this morning and the maturing Senate deal have already been coordinated on some level. House speaker John Boehner met with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell in McConnell's office Monday afternoon.

    From Boehner and Cantor World, you'll hear a msg today they're not rejecting emerging Sen deal, just "modifying"
    — Robert Costa (@robertcostaNRO) October 15, 2013

Updated at 11.06am ET

10.41am ET

Guardian Washington correspondent Paul Lewis grimaces at a off-key moment at the start of today's meeting of House Republicans:

    Republicans in the House began their meeting today by singing the Christian hymn Amazing Grace - don't the lyrics talk of redemption?!
    — Paul Lewis (@PaulLewis) October 15, 2013

Updated at 10.45am ET

10.39am ET

A bipartisan agreement in the Senate today does not mean the Senate would pass legislation today. Senator Mark Pryor, Democrat of Arkansas, told CNN this morning that it could be Wednesday before the bill is approved by vote (if it is approved). Reuters quotes Pryor:

    I think we'll get an agreement today in the Senate. I'm not saying we can pass it today because there's logistics about drafting and getting it to the floor and the procedural things we'll have to do ... but my guess is we'll pass something in the Senate tomorrow.

10.31am ET

There are significant overlaps between the proposed House and Senate deals that may allow for a unified deal to emerge.

The basic calendar is the same. Both deals would fund government through 15 January and extend the debt limit though 7 February. That arrangement of dates means any government shutdown in January – on the off chance that for example the House GOP puts up another fight – would have a few weeks to play out before the default deadline in February.

The spending levels at which government would be kept open for the next three months appear to be the same in both houses' bills.

The differences include the medical tax repeal; the elimination of the Treasury's extraordinary measures for avoiding default; and the inclusion in the House of a modified version of the so-called Vitter amendment, which sets rules for the health coverage of members of Congress.

The new House version dictates health coverage only for "political entities," the Guardian's Paul Lewis reports – meaning congressional staffers are unaffected. But the House bill would require the president and top Obama administration cabinet officials to obtain health coverage under Obamacare, which is a new provision.

Updated at 10.48am ET

10.20am ET

Senate majority leader Harry Reid, for his part, remains "confident" that the Senate will get a deal done this week, Reuters reports.

The Senate being one-half of Congress.

10.15am ET

"The confidence of US investors is wobbling this morning," Guardian business correspondent Dominic Rushe (@dominicru) reports:

    Before the markets opened it looked like yesterday’s small gains in the major US stock markets would continue into Tuesday as Dow futures, an indication of market trends, rose ahead of the opening bell. Now most of the major US markets are down, marginally. The Dow is down over 43 points (0.28%) and the S&P 500 has fallen 4 points (0.24%).

    Any real moves are likely to come after more concrete news from Washington. Part of the reason that stock markets are behaving so sanguinely may be that investors don’t actually believe that October 17 is really the day that the US runs out of money.

    Capital Economics published this note this morning: “Despite the more promising tone of the recent discussions on Capitol Hill, there remains a risk that the debt ceiling will not be raised before Thursday. But a detailed look at the Treasury’s spending schedule shows that it should be able to meet all its obligations for another two weeks, not least because it still has $36bn of cash in reserve. Under those circumstances, it would not be a disaster if a deal isn’t agreed to raise the debt ceiling until a few days after Thursday 17th October.”

That last bit of analysis may be key. Some in the market believe the Treasury "should be able to meet all its obligations for another two weeks." The Treasury secretary and others have warned that they really don't know exactly when they'll run out of money. It depends on the willingness of investors to continue to hold T-bills, the orderly collection of revenue without big surprises and the orderly coming-due of bills without big surprises.

10.10am ET

The meeting of Senate Republicans scheduled for 11am has been canceled, Roll Call reports:

    The scheduled 11 a.m. Senate GOP meeting has been scratched. Senators will receive an update at the weekly lunch.
    — Niels Lesniewski (@nielslesniewski) October 15, 2013

Things are moving now. The leadership was expected to use the meeting to explain the deal crafted by majority leader Harry Reid and minority leader Mitch McConnell to the caucus.

10.00am ET

Guardian Washington correspondent Paul Lewis (@PaulLewis) reports from outside the House Republican meeting. "A breaking development outside the House Republican meeting," he writes:

    Congressman Darrel Issa emerged to tell reporters the members were preparing their own legislation that he said would be "similar to the Senate compromise" but more acceptable to the GOP.

    He said that it would also include a delay to the medical devices tax - which Senate Democrats were seeking to keep put of any deal. Another senior House Republican said that delay would last two years.

    It would also include a largely symbolic - but nonetheless controversial - component taken from the so-called Vitter Amendment, proposed a few weeks ago by senator David Vitter, denying members of Congress, the President and his cabinet access to employer healthcare insurance subsidies.

    As part of deal, House Republicans demanding that Barack Obama and his cabinet are barred from benefiting from their own healthcare reforms.
    — Paul Lewis (@PaulLewis) October 15, 2013

9.58am ET

Reuters is filling in details of the emergent House Republican proposal, sourced to Rep Darrell Issa of California, the head of the oversight committee.

Issa says the Republican bill will include a two-year delay of the tax on medical devices that partially funds Obamacare. That provision had been in the mix in early versions of the Senate deal but it was rejected.

Issa also reports the House GOP bill would include a provision that prevents the Treasury from taking extraordinary measures to stay ahead of default after government hits the debt ceiling, which in this case technically happened in May. Treasury secretary Jack Lew has been holding it together with duct tape ever since. He has warned that the extraordinary measures will run out on 17 October, at which point the Treasury will be running on $30bn in reserve cash, which with big interest and entitlements payouts on the near horizon is close to zilch.

The GOP would portray stopping the Treasury from using extraordinary measures as a way of ensuring budget discipline. Of course if there's no discipline on the spending side, no rule governing debt servicing can enforce it. The only thing such a rule can do is change the dates and dynamics of potential default.

9.44am ET
House to challenge Senate deal

National Review correspondent Robert Costa, whose close contacts in the House Republican caucus have provided him with reliable information on the GOP line, reports that the House is revolting against the Senate plan.

House leaders have decided to send the Senate legislation instead of waiting for the Senate deal to come in the other direction, Costa reports.

That would seem to set up a clash in which the two houses of Congress may not be able to agree on one piece of legislation – meaning they may not make a deal.

By Costa's description, the new House offer is a lot like the Senate offer except that includes the repeal of a tax on medical devices that did not make the Senate deal, and it also includes the so-called Vitter amendment, which would eliminate Obamacare subsidies for members of Congress and their staffs.

Any bill that comes out of the House may have to run on mostly Republican votes, depending on its content.* The Senate deal is a bipartisan effort, and as such would have more momentum.

    Msg from leadership, per sources in room: Sen deal isn't done, we're not going to sit back, we're moving out plan today
    — Robert Costa (@robertcostaNRO) October 15, 2013

    Member txts from rm: "john doing what he can. this is his only play right now. could never move on sen deal w.o. being finshd."
    — Robert Costa (@robertcostaNRO) October 15, 2013

John, of course, is John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House, who is trying to head off a revolt by his caucus. Read more here about the decision Boehner faces.

* This line has been modified to allow more for the possibility of a House bill attracting Democratic support.

Updated at 11.03am ET

9.35am ET

The House Republican caucus is meeting this morning to discuss how to handle the emerging deal in the Senate. Guardian Washington correspondent Paul Lewis is outside the meeting room.

Members of the House hard-right already have signaled their intentions of opposing the prospective deal. The question is whether the relatively moderate Republicans in the House will join their objection.

Paul catches Paul Ryan, the Republican leader on budget issues and a crucial party to any deal, as he enters the caucus meeting:

    Entering crunch meeting of House Republicans, Paul Ryan, former Vice Presidential candidate, says "It is a fluid situation". Just a little.
    — Paul Lewis (@PaulLewis) October 15, 2013

    Republican Paul Ryan, a key figure, adds that budget committee proposal in the Senate deal is "not enough" - that doesn't bode well.
    — Paul Lewis (@PaulLewis) October 15, 2013

9.26am ET

Welcome to our live blog coverage of congressional efforts to avoid default on the national debt. Legislators are struggling simultaneously to find a way to reopen the government.

Senators appear to be close to a deal. Republican leaders in the Senate are meeting with their caucus at 11am, apparently to sell them on an agreement with Democrats that was pieced together over the weekend and on Monday. However that agreement was still on the workbench Monday evening and may yet fall apart.

The House is a big question mark. Speaker John Boehner has as yet given no public indication of whether – and how soon – he would bring legislation passed by the Senate up for a vote. He could face a backlash from the hard-right faction if he does so. That would not necessarily stop the legislation from passing but it could endanger his speakership. He goes into a meeting with his caucus at 9am.

What could stop the legislation from passing in time to avert default is a filibuster or series of procedural objections in the Senate by one or two unruly members. On Monday evening, Texas senator Ted Cruz, known for pointless soliloquies on the Senate floor, declined repeatedly to comment on how he planned to handle the current prospective deal, saying he'd wait to see the specifics.

Washington is abuzz this morning with news of a meeting last night between Cruz and members of the House kamikaze caucus in the basement of the Washington eatery Tortilla Coast. Roll Call reported on the scene:

    Sen Ted Cruz met with roughly 15 to 20 House Republicans for around two hours late Monday night at the Capitol Hill watering hole Tortilla Coast.

    The group appeared to be talking strategy about how they should respond to a tentative Senate deal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling without addressing Obamacare in a substantive way, according to sources who witnessed the gathering.

At the end of their meal the group stiffed the waitress, flushed the check and ran away yelling something about Obamacare.

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US warned of credit downgrade as Republicans inch closer to the brink

House Republican leadership forced to abandon vote on debt ceiling bill as ratings agency Fitch says deadlock 'casts doubt on faith and credit of US'

Dan Roberts and Paul Lewis in Washington and Dominic Rushe in New York, Tuesday 15 October 2013 23.42 BST   

A leading ratings agency put the US on notice of a downgrade on Tuesday amid political turmoil in Washington over how to resolve the budget crisis less than a day before the country's borrowing requirement expires.

Fitch warned that the political battle "risks undermining confidence in the role of the US dollar as the pre-eminent global reserve currency, by casting doubt over the full faith and credit of the US."

The White House seized on the announcement, saying that it demonstrated the urgency of reaching a deal.

But senior Republicans in the House of Representatives inched further to the brink on Tuesday night when they abandoned a planned vote on a so-called continuing resolution, which would have extended the debt ceiling and reopened the federal government, when it became clear the they could not muster enough votes.

A day that ended in turmoil began with recriminations when the House initially rejected a fragile bipartisan deal that emerged from the Senate on Monday night. That deal would have extended the debt limit and authorised government spending with only one token concession over healthcare.

The House speaker, John Boehner, then floated an alternative compromise that would have, in addition, delayed a new tax on medical devices designed to help pay for the Affordable Care Act and deprive lawmakers of any personal health insurance subsidies. That succeeded only in inflaming conservatives in his own party, who regarded the House and Senate compromises as surrender, and Democrats who accused Boehner of introducing unacceptable new "ransom demands".

Boehner acceded to rightwing demands to drop the medical device tax provision, which was seen as benefiting only health equipment manufacturers, and retained the proposal to cut healthcare from congressional and White House staff, which amounted to an $18,000-a-year pay cut for most employees. The resolution got as far as being published on the House rules committee website.

But the plan collapsed in the face of sustained conservative opposition. Heritage Action, a conservative group that holds Republican candidates accountable to Tea Party-backed causes, announced that it would mark down Republicans who voted in favour of the resolution. Support from House Republicans melted away and Boehner postponed the vote.

Shortly before 6:30pm, with House Republicans in disarray, a succession of senior party figures arrived for crisis talks in Boehner's office. It looked set to be a long meeting; congressional staffers were spotted delivering boxes of pizza.

Harry Reid, the Democrat majority leader in the House, earlier held the speaker personally to blame for bowing to pressure from his conservative wing. "I am very disappointed with John Boehner, who is trying to preserve his role at the expense of the country," he said.

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said the Republican plan "sabotages a good-faith, bipartisan effort by the Senate and is a luxury our country cannot afford". Her chief whip Steny Hoyer claimed Republicans wanted to "snatch confrontation from the jaws of reasonable agreement".

The White House also emphatically rejected the new Republican approach.

"The president has said repeatedly that members of Congress don't get to demand ransom for fulfilling their basic responsibilities to pass a budget and pay the nation's bills. Unfortunately, the latest proposal from House Republicans does just that, in a partisan attempt to appease a small group of Tea Party Republicans who forced the government shutdown in the first place," spokeswoman Amy Brundage said in a statement.

"Democrats and Republicans in the Senate have been working in a bipartisan, good-faith effort to end the manufactured crises that have already harmed American families and business owners," she continued. "With only a couple days remaining until the United States exhausts its borrowing authority, it's time for the House to do the same."

As the wrangling continued in Washington, Fitch said it had reached its conclusion because of the increased possibility that the US will not reach a deal on its debt ceiling before 17 October, when Treasury secretary Jack Lew has said the US will run out of cash. "Although Fitch continues to believe that the debt ceiling will be raised soon, the political brinkmanship and reduced financing flexibility could increase the risk of a US default," said Fitch.

The agency's move came as US investors appear to be increasingly nervous that the impasse in Washington could lead the US to default on its obligations for the first time in history. The Dow fell 133.25 points or 0.87% to end the day down after a brief rally when it appeared a breakthrough had been made.

In 2011, Standard & Poor's downgraded US debt as Democrats and Republicans argued once more about the debt ceiling. The move came amid sharp selloffs on stock markets around the world.

"The repeated brinkmanship over raising the debt ceiling also dents confidence in the effectiveness of the US government and political institutions, and in the coherence and credibility of economic policy. It will also have some detrimental effect on the US economy," said Fitch.


Republicans are delusional about US spending and deficits

The story of out-of-control debts and deficits is just plain wrong. US deficits have fallen in the past four years

Dean Baker, Monday 14 October 2013 13.30 BST   

It is understandable that the public is disgusted with Washington; they have every right to be. At a time when the country continues to suffer from the worst patch of unemployment since the Great Depression, the government is shut down over concerns about the budget deficit.

There is no doubt that the Republicans deserve the blame for the shutdown and the risk of debt default. They decided that it was worth shutting down the government and risking default in order stop Obamacare. That is what they said as loudly and as clearly as possible in the days and weeks leading up to the shutdown. In fact, this is what Senator Ted Cruz said for 21 straight hours on the floor of the US Senate.

Going to the wall for something that is incredibly important is a reasonable tactic. However, the public apparently did not agree with the Republicans. Polls show that they overwhelmingly oppose their tactic of shutting down the government and risking default over Obamacare. As a result, the Republicans are now claiming that the dispute is actually over spending.

Anywhere outside of Washington DC and totalitarian states, you don't get to rewrite history. However, given the national media's concept of impartiality, they now feel an obligation to accept that the Republicans' claim that this is a dispute over spending levels.

But that is only the beginning of the reason that people should detest budget reporters. The more important reason is that they have spread incredible nonsense about the deficit and spending problems facing the country, causing most of the public to be completely confused on these issues. If budget reporters were held to the same standards as school teachers, with the expectation that they would be able to convey information, they would all be fired in a minute.

Contrary to the widely repeated stories of out-of-control deficits and spending, deficits have plunged in the last four years falling from 10.1% of GDP in 2009 to just 4% of GDP in 2013. The Congressional Budget Office projects the deficit to be just 3.4% of GDP in 2014. The latest projections show the debt-to-GDP ratio falling for the rest of the decade.

In other words, the story of out-of-control debts and deficits is just plain wrong. Less polite people would call it a lie, but it stands at the center of the public debate because the media consider it rude to point out a truth that would embarrass so many important politicians. The idea that we face a longer term deficit problem of enormous proportions has little better grounding in reality. First, it is worth noting that we have not had a constant upward path of spending as is widely asserted in Washington, and widely believed around the country, due to the incompetence of budget reporters.

During the Reagan presidency spending averaged more than 22% of GDP, peaking at 23.5% in 1985. This year it is projected to be 21.6% of GDP. The latest CBO projections show spending rising back to Reagan era levels towards the end of the 10-year budget window.

Over a longer term, spending is projected to rise further due to projections of rising health care costs and a growing interest burden, which is the result of a growing debt. The deficit fear mongers like to hype these projections of large deficits decades in the future to advance their agenda of cutting Social Security and Medicare.

The reality is that the story of exploding interest burdens is utter nonsense since there is zero precedent for the country ever allowing the debt to expand in this way. This makes as much sense as arguing that someone driving west in New Jersey risks falling into the Pacific Ocean. People driving west in New Jersey invariably turn or park their cars before ending up in the Pacific Ocean and the United States has always taken measures to reduce deficits long before they posed a fundamental threat to the economy.

The real question is why the primary (ie non-interest) deficit rises and this is the story of the broken US healthcare system. We pay twice as much per person for our health care as the average for other rich countries, with nothing to show for this money in terms of outcomes. We pay 2.5 times as much as the UK. If our costs were at all in line with those in other wealthy countries, we would be looking at explosive budget surpluses running into the trillions of dollars annually.

This fact raises the obvious question, why are projections of deficits based on unaffordable healthcare costs always treated in the media as a basis for cutting benefits to seniors rather than a reason for cutting payments to providers like doctors, drug companies, and medical device companies?

There is no explanation except the bias of the media. Obviously they identify much more with rich doctors and the people who profit from the bloated prices charged in the United States by drug companies and medical equipment providers than with the seniors who are dependent on Social Security and Medicare.

Yes, the public has every right to be disgusted.


October 15, 2013

Viewing U.S. in Fear and Dismay


MEXICO CITY — The word many Mexicans now use to describe Washington reflects a familiar mix of outrage and exasperation: berrinche. Technically defined as a tantrum, berrinches are also spoiled little rich kids, blind to their privilege and the effects of their misbehavior.

“It’s a display of American arrogance,” said Raúl Silva, 40, an entrepreneur grabbing coffee at an upscale cafe here. “It’s a problem, and it’s going to affect us.”

Faced with Washington’s march toward a default, the world has reacted mostly with disbelief that the reigning superpower could fall into such dysfunction, worry over global suffering to come and frustration that American lawmakers could let the problem reach this point.

A common question crossing continents remains quite simple: The Americans aren’t really that unreasonable and self-destructive, are they?

“It just goes to show that it’s not only Greece that has irresponsible and shortsighted politicians,” said Ioanna Kalavryti, 34, a teacher in Athens. “We’ve been held hostage by our reckless politicians, and the interests they serve, for more than three years now. I guess our American friends are getting a taste of the same medicine.”

For countries that have had their own experiences with financial crises — often followed by American dictates about the need to be more responsible — the brinkmanship in the United States has produced an especially caustic mix of bewilderment, offense and more than a little eagerness to scold.

Many people in countries like Greece, Argentina, Mexico and Russia still have searing memories of defaults and their lasting effects, including lost power. Especially galling for those who endured crises of their own is the fact that the United States remains sheltered: a default could well hurt weaker countries more than the United States, which has the advantage of the dollar’s being used as a global currency.

Indeed, the unequal distribution of power and wealth — part of the exceptionalism that American politicians loudly defend — has become a focal point for many foreign economists and officials. If any other nation had gotten this close to failing to pay its debts, they say, its economy would have already collapsed as investors fled, creating the need for a bailout not unlike what occurred here in Mexico in 1994.

“The U.S.’s exorbitant privilege” — of issuing the world’s most widely accepted currency — “allows it not to have a budget, to bump against debt limit with scant market reaction,” said Luis de la Calle, a Mexican economist.

If Mexico and many other countries shut down their governments, stopped paying salaries and threatened to default, he added, the titans of global finance, as they have in the past, would make sure the consequences were swift and severe. “We have little choice but to be responsible,” Mr. de la Calle said.

Especially in places accustomed to American lectures on good governance, finger-wagging has been easy to find. In Egypt, where the military-backed government has been criticized by the Obama administration for its heavy-handed crackdown on opponents, the American woes were splashed across the front page of the flagship state newspaper this week with alarm and a hint of satisfaction.

In Argentina, which defaulted on around $100 billion in debt in 2001, then the biggest default in history, the newspaper La Nación pointed out in an article how the United States “is supposedly an international leader and one that speaks every day of setting an example.”

But in many countries, a wide range of people, from executives to shoe shiners, simply seemed surprised and annoyed, with some saying they hoped that Washington’s dangerous game of chicken would draw to an end without global repercussions.

“They’re putting at risk thousands of jobs here in Mexico,” said Ahmad Fayad, 31, an administrative assistant leaving a bank in Mexico City. “Many companies here depend on the American economy’s health. And if everything continues to be so uncertain, they’ll start laying people off.”

Already, many argue, the standoff in Washington has deepened the sense of America’s decline. On the streets of many countries, conversations about the United States now regularly include expressions of shock and dismay. One businessman in Mexico said that following the fracas was like watching a famous couple’s marriage collapse in public, with shoving, shouting and ugly insults.

How, many ask, did the United States become more like the rest of the world, and less of an obvious leader? “I think the U.S. is losing its place,” said Osama Shawki, a shopkeeper in Cairo.

Others agreed. “It’s strange that such a thing has happened there,” said Irina Popova, 40, a homemaker in Russia, which suffered a financial collapse and default in 1998. “I always dreamed of going to America. It can happen to any country. It was us before, now it’s them.”

On the streets of Greece, people seemed to be shaking their heads, stunned at what they saw as American political weakness corroding a country of obvious strength.

“I never thought a global superpower like the U.S. could ever be in a comparable position to Greece,” said Theodore Couloumbis, emeritus professor of international relations at the University of Athens. “Both countries are paying dearly for rising political tensions. But in America’s case, there is the potential for serious global repercussions, too.”

For some, that shared risk led to empathy. “I have lots of friends in America,” said Zhanna Lanskaya, 36, a school director in Moscow. “I worry what effect it will have on ordinary people.”

For others, though, there was only disappointment — and some sanctimony. Many said that the United States needed to accept that the current crisis was the product of the same absolutist tendencies that had aggravated foreigners for centuries.

“America has fallen into a trap of its own making,” said Artur Khanukaev, 26, a ballistics engineer in Moscow. Even if the United States never slips into default, he said, the fear of collapse “will be a very good lesson.”

In some countries, pundits have singled out President Obama, questioning his leadership. But generally opinion pages have been focused on explaining the Tea Party and condemning it for the political paralysis. Columnists in Argentina have written that the Tea Party is blackmailing the United States and, in turn, the world.

Here in Mexico, José Luis Valdés Ugalde, a political science professor at the national university, recently compared Tea Party lawmakers to “reckless scoundrels who can sink the local and, in passing, also the global economy in the name of a reaction, rather than rational action.”

For Mexico, the risks of an American default are enormous. The government shutdown has already doubled wait times at some border crossings, slowing commerce with the United States, Mexico’s largest trading partner. The Mexican peso has fallen to a two-month low, and many business owners are anxious about what will come next.

Many here and elsewhere say that they expect the United States to avoid default. But others say that “tantrums” have come to define Washington, and that a reprieve will probably be short lived.

“They are supposed to be an example of consensus and democracy for the rest of the world,” said Salomón Cavane, 33, the owner of a men’s clothing business. “The fact they can’t come to an agreement because of their pride and their need to show who has the power — it is just ridiculous. I find it quite irresponsible as well.”

Reporting was contributed by Paulina Villegas from Mexico City, Andrew Roth and Patrick Reevell from Moscow, Niki Kitsantonis from Athens, Jonathan Gilbert from Buenos Aires, and Kareem Fahim from Cairo.


October 15, 2013

Seeing Its Own Money at Risk, China Rails at U.S.


WASHINGTON — China has become shrill in its criticism of the fiscal train wreck in the United States, arguing that the answer to a potential government default is to begin creating a “de-Americanized world.” Beijing’s alarm is understandable, given that it is the world’s largest investor in American public debt, with at least $1.3 trillion in holdings.

But China does not have many options beyond wringing its hands. Despite its efforts to steer its economy away from exports and toward domestic demand, China generates billions of dollars of excess cash that it needs to park somewhere. And for all the chaos in Washington, Treasury bonds remain a safer investment than most of the alternatives.

That dependence may help explain the stridency of a recent commentary published by the official Xinhua news agency. It called for the replacement of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency “so that the international community could permanently stay away from the spillover of the intensifying domestic political turmoil in the United States.”

“As U.S. politicians of both political parties are still shuffling back and forth between the White House and the Capitol Hill without striking a viable deal to bring normality to the body politic they brag about,” the news agency said, “it is perhaps a good time for the befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanized world.”

Chinese officials made similar noises five years ago, when the United States was being buffeted by a banking crisis. In March 2008, the leader of China’s central bank, Zhou Xiaochuan, proposed creating a new “supersovereign currency” that would diminish the importance of any individual national currency, not least the dollar.

But economists who follow China’s monetary policy say that while Beijing has somewhat diversified its foreign exchange reserves, it continues to rely heavily on Treasury bills and other American government-backed debt.

Part of the problem is the lack of easy alternatives: euro-denominated debt has been hurt by the European Union’s crisis, except in Germany. Analysts estimate that 60 percent of China’s $3.66 trillion in reserves are still in dollar-denominated debt, though the precise numbers are a secret.

In its commentary, Xinhua embellished its call for a new reserve currency with a scathing indictment of the United States’ broader role in the world, saying that the Obama administration claimed “the moral high ground” while covertly “torturing prisoners of war, slaying civilians in drone attacks and spying on world leaders.”

Edwin M. Truman, an economist and former Treasury Department official, said: “This is political blather. It is a politically defensive response to the choices China has made.”

That does not mean a brush with default will not have long-term damaging consequences for the United States. Even if China continues to buy Treasury bonds, economists said, it may opt for those with shorter maturities, which would drive up long-term interest rates in the United States, hurting home buyers and owners of small businesses.

The sour taste from the budget impasse will also motivate the Chinese to intensify their efforts to deepen their own debt markets. Already, China has negotiated swaps for its currency, the renminbi, with the European Central Bank and other institutions, a step toward making the currency convertible and, someday, a rival to the dollar and euro.

“This gives them a kick in the pants to do it,” said Kenneth S. Rogoff, professor of public policy and economics at Harvard and a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund.

Any decline in the status of the dollar will be gradual, said Mr. Rogoff, who pointed to the erosion of the British pound sterling over several decades as a precedent. But, he said, “Memories are long: you do this once, you do this twice, and people start to think.”

President Obama appeared to have those long-term effects in mind when he was asked last week what message he had for big bondholders like the Chinese and Japanese. After saying that he had assured world leaders that the United States would continue to pay its bills, he noted that the specter of default, and the fact that the United States had flirted with it once before, could sow lasting doubts overseas.

“We saw what happened in 2011,” Mr. Obama said. “I think the assumption was that the Americans must have learned their lesson, that there would be budget conflicts, but nobody again would threaten the possibility that we would default. And when they hear members of the Senate and members of Congress saying maybe default wouldn’t be that bad, I’ll bet that makes them nervous. It makes me nervous.”

For all the anxiety, though, the prevailing belief overseas is that the United States will avert a default. At last weekend’s meetings of the World Bank and I.M.F. in Washington, Mr. Rogoff said, none of the visiting finance ministers expressed genuine fear that Congress and the White House would not find a way out.

The fiscal deadlock, he said, cast such a long shadow over the gathering that the ministers did not have to dwell on the financial and structural problems in their own economies.

China is a case in point. While the Chinese government has taken steps to shift its economy from a dependence on exports toward one fueled by domestic demand, the progress has been fitful. At the behest of its exporters, it continues to artificially depress its exchange rate, which it does by using its export earnings to buy dollars and other foreign currencies.

In the first quarter of this year, economists say, the Chinese government added more to its foreign exchange reserves than in all of 2012.

On one level, China’s $3.66 trillion hoard is a symbol of its financial might. But on another, it has tied Beijing’s hands. China’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China, cannot dump its Treasury bonds without driving down their value and incurring a painful loss on paper.

“This is certainly a wake-up call for them that holding U.S. government securities is not risk-free,” said Nicholas R. Lardy, an expert on the Chinese economy at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “What they should be doing is quit adding to their foreign reserves.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 15, 2013

An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of the president of China’s central bank.  He is Zhou Xiaochuan, not Zhao.


Now is the time to lance the boil of Republican extremism once and for all

By Robert Reich, The Observer
Tuesday, October 15, 2013 1:22 EDT

Republican Bullies Demand MoreNow is the time to lance the boil of Republican extremism once and for all.

Since Barack Obama became president, the extremists who have taken over the Republican Party have escalated their demands every time he’s caved, using the entire government of the United States as their bargaining chit.

In 2010 he agreed to extend all of the Bush tax cuts through the end of 2012. Were they satisfied? Of course not.

In the summer of 2011, goaded by an influx of Tea Partiers, they demanded huge spending cuts in return for raising the debt ceiling. In response, the President offered an overly-generous $4 trillion “Grand Bargain,” including cuts in Social Security and Medicare and whopping cuts in domestic spending (bringing it to its lowest level as a share of gross domestic product in over half a century).

Were Republicans content? No. When they demanded more, Obama agreed to a Super Committee to find bigger cuts, and if the Super Committee failed, a “sequester” that would automatically and indiscriminately slice everything in the federal budget except Social Security and Medicare.

Not even Obama’s re-election put a damper on their increasing demands. By the end of 2012, they insisted that the Bush tax cuts be permanently extended or the nation would go over the “fiscal cliff.” Once again, Obama caved, agreeing to permanently extend the Bush tax cuts for incomes up to $400,000.

Early this year, after the sequester went into effect, Republicans demanded even bigger spending cuts. Obama offered more cuts in Medicare and a “chained CPI” to reduce Social Security payments, in exchange for Republican concessions on taxes.

Refusing the offer, and seemingly delirious with their power to hold the nation hostage, they demanded that the Affordable Care Act be repealed as a condition for funding the government and again raising the debt ceiling.

This time, though, Obama didn’t cave — at least, not yet.

The government is shuttered and the nation is on the verge of defaulting on its debts. But public opinion has turned sharply against the Republican Party. And the GOP’s corporate and Wall Street backers are threatening to de-fund it.

Suddenly the Republicans are acting like the school-yard bully who terrorized the playground but finally got punched in the face. They’re in shock. They’re humiliated. They’re trying to come up with ways of saving face.

With bloodied nose, House Republicans are running home. They’ve abruptly turned negotiations over to their Senate colleagues.

And just as suddenly, their demand to repeal or delay the Affordable Care Act has vanished. (An email from the group Tea Party Express says: “Are you like us wondering where the fight against Obamacare went?”) At a lunch meeting in the Capitol, Senator John McCain asked a roomful of Republican senators if they still believed it was possible to reverse parts of the program. According to someone briefed on the meeting, no one raised a hand — not even Ted Cruz.

It appears that negotiations over the federal budget deficit are about to begin once again, and presumably Senate Republicans will insist that Obama and the Democrats give way on taxes and spending in exchange for reopening the government and raising the debt ceiling for at least another year.

Robert ReichBut keeping the government running and paying the nation’s bills should never have been bargaining chits in the first place, and the President and Democrats shouldn’t begin to negotiate over future budgets until they’re taken off the table.

The question is how thoroughly President Obama has learned that extortionist demands escalate if you give in to them.


Peter King tells Anderson Cooper: ‘It was madness to follow Ted Cruz’

By Arturo Garcia
Wednesday, October 16, 2013 0:31 EDT

A somewhat flustered-looking Rep. Peter King (R-NY) decried his party’s decision to trust Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in an interview with CNN host Anderson Cooper on Tuesday, reiterating his belief that backing Cruz’s play to attempt to defund the Affordable Care Act was a mistake that the Senate will apparently have to repair.

“The game is over,” King told Cooper. “We have to get this done. [House Speaker] John Boehner’s (R-OH) tried everything he can, but there’s some people in our party, no matter what he tries to do, they won’t go along.”

After Boehner’s failed attempt on Tuesday to put a bill forward ending both the government shutdown and avoiding the imminent deadline on raising the U.S. debt ceiling, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are reportedly ready to bring their own agreement, a development King said he would support.

“I’ve said all along, this is madness — it was madness to follow Ted Cruz,” King said to Cooper. “It was absolute madness to say we want to shut down the government, to defund Obamacare. It never made sense and now all we’re down to, apparently, is trying to pass a [continued resolution] to take away healthcare from congressional employees. That’s what we shut down the government for. It makes no sense.”

Cooper then pointed out that King has made multiple statements to that effect, before asking him if he felt that a Senate bill including funding for the new law could pass the House now.

“As certain as I can be of anything, I’m certain of that,” King answered. “If it comes to a vote on the House floor, we’ll probably get all the Democrats and certainly enough Republicans to get it through.”

“And you’re confident Speaker Boehner would allow it to come to the House,” Cooper pressed.

“I don’t know what John would do,” King conceded. “But I would think, though, if he’s gonna be involved in expediting the process at all, he probably then would allow it to come to a vote in the House floor. It’s getting too close to the wire.

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« Reply #9351 on: Oct 16, 2013, 06:42 AM »

Ireland announces more budget cuts despite recovery

Pensioners and young unemployed asked to shoulder burden of yet another austerity budget, with cuts totalling €2.5bn

Henry McDonald in Dublin
The Guardian, Tuesday 15 October 2013 19.42 BST   

Ireland's recovery is well under way, according to the country's finance minister, but its government asked pensioners and the young unemployed on Tuesday to shoulder the burden of yet another austerity budget.

Michael Noonan announced cuts totalling €2.5bn (£2.1bn) even though growth is projected to rise to 2.7% in 2014.

For the first time in years Irish pensioners will feel some pain in the budget. One in 10 of the over-70s will lose their full medical card entitling them to free healthcare. A subsidy of €114 per year to pay pensioners' telephone bills will be scrapped and an €850 death grant to pay for funerals will be abolished. The move on pensioners could be a major political gamble given that they are one sector of the population guaranteed to get out and vote in elections.

Noonan risked further alienating pensioners, who make up a large proportion of savers, over his decision to increase tax on interest from savings – the so called DIRT tax rate – which is to be raised to 41%.

The young unemployed will also bear the brunt of cuts, with jobseeker's allowance being slashed from the current €144 per week to €100 for under-25s. The age of eligibility for the full social payment of €188 (still one of the most generous in the whole of the EU) will be raised to 26.

Noonan imposed ten cents extra on the price of a packet of cigarettes and the same figure of excise duty on pints of beer and cider. He added 50 cents on a bottle of wine.

In defiance of criticism from the German SPD, Noonan told the Dail there would be no change in Ireland's relatively low corporation tax rate.

"The tax rate is settled policy. We are 100% committed to the 12.5% corporation tax rate. This will not change," he said.

The SPD in coalition talks with Angela Merkel has demanded the next German government led by her must ask the EU to review the Republic's corporation tax rate. The Social Democrats have argued that the low rate puts Ireland at an advantage over other EU states in terms of attracting foreign direct investment.

Finishing on an upbeat note Noonan said:"The recovery is underway but there are still risks. We are well along the recovery path."

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« Reply #9352 on: Oct 16, 2013, 06:48 AM »


Alexei Navalny freed by Russian court but conviction for theft is upheld

Court suspends opposition leader's five-year jail sentence but upholds conviction that prevents him from seeking elected office

Reuters in Kirov, Wednesday 16 October 2013 11.07 BST   

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny's conviction for theft has been upheld by an appeals court but his five-year jail sentence was suspended, allowing the prominent critic of Pig Putin to walk free.

However, the conviction will prevent Navalny, who emerged from a wave of street protests as the most prominent opposition leader, from seeking elected office for years. He has said he will appeal against the decision.

"It's clear for me that the authorities are trying by all means to hound me out of politics, coming up with some restrictions and fabricated cases," he said after embracing his wife following the ruling in the provincial city of Kirov.

"One thing is for sure, they will not succeed in pushing me and my allies out of political life," said Navalny, who posted a strong second-place showing against a Pig Putin ally in a Moscow mayoral election last month.

Navalny was convicted in July of organising the theft of 16m roubles (£310,000) from a timber firm in 2009. He had appealed against the verdict and sentence, contending the case against him was fabricated and politically motivated.

But he was unexpectedly freed from custody the following day after thousands protested in central Moscow, allowing him to continue his mayoral campaign.

Jailing Navalny would have increased the risk of a new wave of opposition protests against Pig Putin and done further damage to his image in the west as Russia prepares to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in February.

But Navalny and others suggested that Wednesday's ruling was carefully tailored by the Kremlin to avoid making him into what political analyst Liliya Shevtsova called "a Russian Mandela" while sidelining him from electoral politics.

"The court decision means political isolation," prominent opposition activist Ilya Yashin, said on Twitter.

Navalny argued during the hearing that the case against him was fabricated and politically motivated, and afterward suggested that the ruling was the result of careful calculations in the Kremlin.

"It's clear that the decision on suspending the sentence was taken not here but in Moscow," he said.

The Pig denies exerting influence over the courts. His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the president had nothing to do with the ruling. Yet many Russians suspect that decisions in high-profile cases are dictated by the Kremlin.

It was not immediately clear how long Navalny will be barred from elections.

The Constitutional Court ruled last week that lifetime bans for convicts are unconsitutional, but the law has not been amended and previously convicts had been prohibited from seeking elected office for at least the length of their sentences.

In addition to the suspended sentence, the judge said Navalny was sentenced to five years probation. His lawyer Olga Mikhailova said the terms would be served consecutively, indicating Navalny could be barred from elections for 10 years.

Even a five-year ban would keep Navalny, who has aired presidential ambitions, out of the presidential vote scheduled for 2018. Pig Putin, who has been in power as president or prime minister since 2000, has not ruled out running in that election.


Russian police arrest Azeri man over murder that sparked rioting

Orkhan Zeinalov, 30, is held in Kolomna outside Moscow days after nationalist violence in capital

Tom Balmforth in Moscow, Tuesday 15 October 2013 15.48 BST

Russian special police forces have arrested a 30-year-old Azeri man identified as the suspect in the murder of an ethnic Russian that ignited the capital's worst nationalist rioting in three years.

Orkhan Zeinalov was apprehended in Kolomna, about 60 miles (100km) from the spot in southern Moscow where he is alleged to have fatally stabbed Egor Shcherbakov, 25, on Thursday. The murder was blamed on a migrant from the Caucasus region thought to be working in a local vegetable warehouse which was ransacked amid nationalist rioting over the weekend.

The details of Zeinalov's arrest are still unclear and he is being flown back to Moscow on a helicopter. He was identified on Tuesday as a migrant worker from Azerbaijan who had lived in Russia for more than 10 years.

In an interview with the LifeNews news portal, Zeinalov's landlord, Alexei Pronkin, said he had last seen the suspect on Monday night when he left the apartment soon after they had joked together that he had a resemblance to the murder suspect.

Three of Sunday's rioters will face criminal proceedings out of the 380 who were arrested amid nationalist unrest. The following day police rounded up more than a thousand migrant workers at the warehouse. Police are searching the premises for the murder weapon.

The unrest and police reaction has sent a chill through communities of migrants, many of whom, as Muslims, took part in Tuesday's Eid al-Adha holiday, known as Kurban Bayram in the former Soviet Union. Russian authorities beefed up security at the mosques.

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« Reply #9353 on: Oct 16, 2013, 06:50 AM »

Poland's citizens need to know the impact of Prism on their lives

Poland's totalitarian history means its people accept surveillance – and dismiss Edward Snowden's disclosures – more than they should

Adam Bodnar and Katarzyna Szymielewicz, Wednesday 16 October 2013 10.27 BST   

Today a coalition of three Polish NGOs are submitting 100 detailed questions to the Polish authorities relating to the Prism affair. We are asking about the reaction of Polish diplomats to various disclosures made by Edward Snowden, measures taken to protect civil rights and the confidentiality of governmental communication, secret agreements between security agencies and the documentation of Snowden's asylum proceedings. Up to now, the authorities have avoided any serious discussion of the issue, in contrast to their German counterparts. We hope to change this.

Surveillance remains a major human rights concern, no matter how developed the democracy concerned. However, those countries that carry totalitarian baggage, such as Poland, find an open public debate on this issue particularly challenging. Urgent problems such as an ineffective judiciary, overcrowded prisons and the discrimination of marginalised minorities make privacy concerns not less relevant but certainly more abstract. Polish citizens will not take to the streets to protest against abuses by the secret services, mass surveillance or the proliferation of CCTV. Even those who remember what it meant to live under total surveillance are now ready to accept the argument that national security has to prevail over individual freedoms. Poor education, low social capital and a popular belief that politics no longer matters pave the way for a new surveillance society.

This is probably why the disclosures made by Snowden have not led to a significant public outcry in this country. Government, opposition leaders, parliamentary commissions – nobody posed serious questions regarding the impact of Prism on Polish citizens. Four months of media reporting revealing the scale of secret surveillance proved insufficient to trigger strong political reaction. Snowden's request for asylum in Poland was officially treated like a joke: the minister of foreign affairs, Radosław Sikorski, became notorious for his public comment that Poland gave the whistleblower a taste of "Slavic resistance". Regardless of the public criticism that followed, Sikorski's performance spoke for our country's otherwise silent political leaders: we do not really care about creeping mass surveillance; US-Polish friendship has to be preserved.

Four months after Snowden made his first disclosures, the Polish people still don't know whether or how Prism and other secret programs affected their lives. It is not only about our online communication being secure. We have to ask the question whether the legal safeguards that we have on paper are still binding online. And we expect the Polish government to answer. We cannot accept political silence when fundamental rights are at stake: not only the civic rights of European or Polish citizens, but the human rights of everyone who communicates via the internet. Shortsighted policy choices, such as trade negotiations with the US, simply cannot be more important.

Asking for information, verifying it and disclosing it to the general public is just one way of breaking the silence – one that can be used by independent, non-government organisations. It is the reason NGOs use their constitutional right to ask detailed questions. But we are not naive. We are aware that most of these questions will be left unanswered due to national security concerns. But even that matters: knowing what is secret makes it possible to challenge the secrecy before the courts. Every piece of information widens the narrow slot through which we can look inside the mechanism of power. Just by connecting different dots and identifying missing bits we make the authorities more accountable.

As citizens of a post-communist country we regard it as our duty to stand up against indiscriminate, pre-emptive surveillance. Lessons from the 20th century should not be forgotten now, when new technologies enable far more powerful control over our lives than what some experienced in the era that gave rise to Solidarity. Yet this battle is not just about technology and the security of online communication. The Prism affair questions the very essence of the contract between societies and their governments: accountability. This is what has to be fixed if we want to move forward. One way to start is by asking serious questions

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« Reply #9354 on: Oct 16, 2013, 06:53 AM »

10/16/2013 01:24 PM

Rest in Ignominy: Clashes Disrupt Funeral for Nazi War Criminal

Violent clashes erupted on Tuesday between anti-Fascist protesters and neo-Nazis outside Rome when a small ultra-conservative Catholic sect tried to hold a funeral for recently deceased Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke. Italian officials say they may send the body to Germany.

The Society of St. Pius, an ultra-conservative Catholic splinter group, yesterday agreed to hold a funeral service for Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke at a church in the small town of Albano Laziale in the province of Rome. As Priebke's casket was brought into the church, violent clashes erupted outside between hundreds of anti-Priebke demonstrators and a small group of right-wing extremists, ultimately causing officials to break up the service, Italian daily La Repubblica reported.

"We had to suspend the funeral because there was a risk of it turning into a gathering place for neo-Nazis," said Giuseppe Pecoraro, the prefect of Rome.

Italian authorities last night moved Priebke's body to the Pratica di Mare air force base south of Rome, but it is as of yet unclear whether the remains will be cremated at the base or sent abroad, according to Italian news agency ANSA.

Rome's mayor, Ignazio Marino, indicated that Italian officials were in contact with the German embassy in Rome over possibly transferring Priebke's corpse to Germany. However, the embassy has maintained it is the responsibility of Priebke's family, not the German government, to determine how Priebke will be buried, Italian daily Corriere Della Sera reported.

Priebke's hometown of Henningsdorf, northwest of Berlin, has already refused to bury the former SS captain, suggesting the body would likely still be cremated if returned to Germany.

A Life Without Repentance

Until his death last Friday, Priebke was living under house arrest in Rome since his extradition from Argentina in 1995. In 1998, Italian authorities convicted Priebke -- a lifelong Holocaust denier -- for the 1944 murder of 335 Italian civilians, including 75 Jews, at Rome's Ardeatine Caves.

Due to his heinous crimes and unrepentant attitude, the Catholic Church refused to provide Priebke with a church funeral mass in Rome, instead offering the option of a private prayer service at his home.

However, the Society of St. Pius -- a breakaway order founded in 1970 by French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre that is opposed to the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council -- showed no reservations in facilitating a service for Priebke, a practicing Catholic. The group, which has been opposed to the Vatican's outreach to the Jewish community over the past decades, released a statement yesterday: "We hereby reiterate our rejection of all forms of anti-Semitism and racial hatred but also of hatred in all its forms."

The ranks of the far-right brotherhood, also known as the Lefebvrian Order, have been filled with a number of notable Holocaust deniers, including Bishop Richard Nelson Williamson and Father Florian Abrahamowicz -- though both priests have been expelled from the group in recent years. Abrahamowicz, an Austrian-born Italian, yesterday called Priebke a friend and offered to celebrate a memorial mass for him this coming weekend. "I absolve sinners and I don't consider what he did a sin," he told Sky Italy.

caa -- with wires


10/15/2013 03:27 PM

Not in My Backyard: Cities Reject Burial for Nazi War Criminal

Ever since convicted Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke died last week, everyone from the Roman government to the Catholic Church have been washing their hands of him. Officials in his German hometown fear a burial site there could become a pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis.

It has been four days since Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke died at the age of 100 in Rome, but it is still unclear where his remains will be laid to rest. Italy, Argentina, and Germany have all expressed strong opposition to burying the vocally unrepentant former SS captain, who had been living under house arrest in Rome since his extradition from Argentina in 1995.

Priebke's birthplace -- the town of Henningsdorf, northwest of Berlin -- became the latest locale to reject Priebke's body, the German daily Bild reported Monday. "We would refuse a burial for Priebke," a spokesperson for Henningsdorf said, citing local laws that stipulate that only residents and those that die in the city may be buried there. "Separately, we have no interest in burying a war criminal here," added the spokesperson, according to the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper.

Moreover, if Priebke is buried in Henningsdorf, it could transform the town into a pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis, warned a commentary in the German daily Tagesspiegel. Last year, a member of the far-right National Democratic Party posted a birthday announcement for Priebke in a local Henningsdorf newspaper, prompting 30 to 50 masked neo-Nazis dressed in black to hold a march through town the following day.

For its part, the German government said it had not received an official request from Italy to have Priebke buried in Germany. "It is also not for the German government to decide where and what kind of burial Priebke will have," foreign ministry spokesman Martin Schäfer told the Berliner Morgenpost. "It is fundamentally a decision for the immediate family."

The decision by Henningsdorf comes a day after the leader of Rome's Jewish community insisted that burial in Priebke's birthplace was the most viable option. "There is only one solution -- logic demands that he return to the country where he was born, that he return to Germany and be buried in the town where he was born," Riccardo Pacifici told German news agency DPA.

No Church Funeral

However Pacifici suggested an alternative, if burial in Henningsdorf proved impossible. "Perhaps we should do what the Americans do with some characters -- cremate them and disperse their ashes at sea," he said. Efraim Zuroff, the head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a US-based Jewish human rights organization, made a similar recommendation. "The best thing would be to send the body back to Germany for it to be incinerated. That would be the most efficient way to leave no trace of a Nazi criminal like Priebke," Zuroff told the Italian daily La Stampa.

The mayor of Rome confirmed yesterday that he would not permit Priebke to be buried in the Italian capital, while the Roman Catholic Church said it would not permit a church funeral for the Nazi, a practicing Catholic. The city of Pomezia also ruled out a burial for Priebke at a German military cemetery located there.

In 1998, Italian authorities convicted Priebke for his role in the 1944 murder of 335 Italian civilians, including 75 Jews, in Rome's Ardeatine caves. The massacre was apparently ordered by Hitler in response to a partisan bomb attack that killed 33 SS police officers in Rome. Priebke never apologized for his role in the massacre and denied the full extent of the Holocaust.

On Monday Priebke's son, Jorge, expressed anger at the widespread opposition to burying his father. "Where should my father be buried? For me, even Israel would be good," he told the Italian news agency ANSA.

Meanwhile, the vicar of Rome confirmed that the Church would be willing to offer a small prayer service for Priebke in his home in Rome either Wednesday or Thursday of this week, the Italian daily La Republicca reported. The Church's offer, which does not directly address the issue of disposing with Priebke's body, was rejected by Priebke's lawyer as "viltà del clero," or "clerical cowardice."

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10/15/2013 01:14 PM

Hard Bargaining: German Coalition Talks Yield No Progress

Coalition talks between Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and the center-left Social Democrats got bogged down Monday night after an eight-hour meeting failed to produce results. Merkel meets the Greens for talks on Tuesday.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) failed to make progress in preliminary coalition talks that lasted late into Monday night, dampening tentative hopes in recent days that the formation of a new government may be easier than expected following the Sept. 22 election.

Politicians from both sides had been sounding positive before the second round of exploratory talks, which ended at midnight.

"We're more clear about where we stand," SPD General Secretary Andrea Nahles told reporters, referring to differences on issues such as tax policy and the introduction of a minimum wage.

She added that as things stood, the SPD's leadership would not be able to recommend the start of formal coalition negotiations with Merkel's CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU).

"That wasn't what we'd expected," said one SPD official, who blamed the conservatives for refusing to make compromises.

Differences Include Tax Policy, Minimum Wage

The 21 negotiators from both parties discussed issues ranging from European policy to how to deal with asylum seekers.

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and other conservative politicians rejected SPD plans for tax hikes to boost investment in education and infrastructure. The SPD, on the other hand, refused to budge on its demand for a nationwide minimum wage of €8.50 ($11.53) per hour.

The conservatives will hold a second round of preliminary talks with the Green Party, which won the fewest number of seats in parliament, later on Tuesday. However a grand coalition between the conservatives and the SPD remains Merkel's preferred option because it would give her comfortable majorities in both houses of parliament.

A third round of talks between the conservatives and SPD could take place on Thursday -- the party leaders have kept their diaries free for that day.

Grand Coalition Not Off the Cards

The lack of progress on Monday night doesn't mean a grand coalition still can't be achieved. The SPD needs to talk tough to persuade its members that it is doing its utmost to get the maximum concessions out of the talks.

An SPD party congress scheduled for next Sunday will decide whether the party should launch formal talks to form a government with Merkel, so the party leadership needs to present some successes. Any coalition agreement, once it has been finalized, will be put to a full membership ballot by the SPD. Schäuble said on Saturday that a government could be formed by mid-November. Following Monday's difficult negotiations, that was sounding a little too optimistic.

Merkel said last week she wants to know which party she will be entering formal coalition talks with by Oct. 22,when the newly elected Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, assembles for its first session.

Merkel led her conservatives to their best general election result since reunification in 1990 and is just five seats short of an absolute majority.

Meanwhile a survey commissioned by the mass-circulation Bild newspaper found Tuesday that nearly two-thirds of voters (62 percent) expected a grand coalition of the CDU and SPD to emerge from the talks. However only a third of the respondents (32 percent) said they actually wanted such a government.

Reporting by Veit Medick and Philipp Wittrock


10/16/2013 01:43 PM

Coalition Talks: Greens Reject Alliance with Conservatives

After a long night of talks on Tuesday night, Germany's Greens have ruled out forming a governing coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives. Now her only option is to allign herself with the center-left Social Democrats.

Exploratory talks between German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and the environmentalist Greens broke down late on Tuesday night, with the Greens ruling out the possibility of forming a governing coalition together.

It was the two parties' second attempt to find common ground, but differences in several areas proved too great to overcome, party leaders said after seven hours of discussions in Berlin.

A number of topics were discussed "intensively," said Hermann Gröhe, general secretary for the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), adding that his party had not seen any "insurmountable obstacles," but had acknowledged the Greens' refusal to enter official coalition talks.

Green Party co-chair Claudia Roth said she and her colleagues had concluded "that we cannot recommend to our party conference that we take up government coalition talks," adding that they did not feel there was a "credible foundation" for governing the country for the next four years.

Nevertheless, both parties said their second round of negotiations marked a positive development in relations between the CDU and Greens. "The door is open, and as things currently stand, it won't be closing," said Greens co-chair Cem Özdemir.

Differences on Social and Labor Issues

The announcement came after the Greens had repeatedly made it clear that there had been little progress in compromising on important issues, particularly labor and social issues. The Greens had hoped to persuade the CDU to raise taxes, aim for establishing a minimum wage and increase state benefits for the long-term unemployed. There were also reportedly major differences on transportation and agriculture.

Now Merkel's only option is forming a so-called grand coalition with the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), which is closer to the CDU than the Greens in terms of policy. Their next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, but the two parties made little progress in their last round of talks, dampening tentative hopes that the formation of a new government may be easier than expected following the Sept. 22 election.

Merkel said last week she wants to know by Oct. 22 which party she will be entering formal coalition talks with -- that's when the newly elected Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, assembles for its first session. She led her conservatives to their best general election result since reunification in 1990, coming in just five seats short of an absolute majority.

The Greens, meanwhile, have embarked on a strategic rethink after they scored just 8.4 percent in the election, a disappointing result that triggered resignations.


10/15/2013 05:46 PM

Merkel's Patrons: Donation from BMW Owners Raises Eyebrows

Just weeks after the German election, Angela Merkel's conservatives received donations totalling 690,000 euros from the family that owns almost half of BMW. The payment coincides with Berlin's forceful intervention to halt tough new CO2 curbs for carmakers in the EU.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) received a hefty donation from major shareholders of BMW last week. That in itself isn't unusual. The Quandt/Klatten family, which owns 46.7 percent of the Munich-based premium automaker, has traditionally been among the party's most faithful donors. On Oct. 9, the family transferred a total of €690,000 ($935,000) to the CDU, according to the parliament's administrative body which published the payment on its website. But this time, the cash injection coincided with a government decision that helps automakers like BMW.

On Monday, European Union environment ministers gave in to German demands to scrap an agreement to cap EU car emissions. Berlin had argued the limits would cost jobs and hurt Germany's car industry.

After months of forceful lobbying from Germany, the ministers from the 28 EU member states agreed to reopen a deal sealed in June. German carmakers Daimler and BMW produce heavier vehicles that consume more fuel than vehicles made by firms such as Italy's Fiat. That means they would find it harder to meet a proposed EU cap on carbon emissions of 95 grams per kilometer for all new cars from 2020, analysts say.

"It's not a fight over principles but how we bind the necessary clarity in climate protection with the required flexibility and competitiveness to protect the car industry in Europe," German Environment Minister Peter Altmaier said on Monday. "I am convinced we can find such a solution. We can find it in the next weeks," he said.

Germany wants the caps to come into force from 2024 onwards, which according to Deutsche Umwelthilfe, an environmental organization, would lead to added CO2 emissions totalling 310 million metric tons.

'BMW Has Merkel in the Bag'

LobbyControl, an anti-lobby group based in Germany, criticized the donation to Merkel's party. "The biggest donations so far in the election year 2013 came less than a month after the election. It poses the question whether the Quandt/Klatten family deliberately kept its support out of the election campaign," said Christina Deckwirth, a campaigner with the organization.

Klaus Ernst, a lawmaker for the opposition Left Party, said it was "the most blatant case of purchased policymaking in a long time. BMW has Merkel in the bag. No one's done it that openly so far."

Environmentalist campaigners say Germany is throwing away the chance to make European cars more energy efficient and to cut the bloc's dependency on oil imports.

Merkel's intervention on behalf of the car industry angered some EU partners, who have watched her government lobby hard to torpedo the 95-gramm deal since June. First, Germany browbeat smaller countries like Hungary, Portugal and Slovakia into supporting its line. German car firms run factories in those countries.

Then Germany started working on the big EU nations. At the June EU summit, diplomats noticed that Merkel didn't object to Britain keeping its EU rebate intact in a dispute over a proposed new method to calculate the sum. The revised calculation would have slashed the rebate by 1.5 billion pounds (€1.8 billion) over the 2014-2020 budget period.

Berlin appeared to have offered the British government another deal: If you help us with cars, we'll make concessions on plans for a banking union, which Prime Minister David Cameron regards as an assault on the London financial center. Cameron's junior coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, evidently regarded this horsetrading as so immoral that they insisted Germany should get more involved in reforming EU emissions trading.

The French were even tougher negotiators. Initially, they had no problem with the new limits because they already build smaller vehicles with lower emissions than German gas-guzzling luxury limousines. But the European car industry crisis has hit France so hard that they, too, want a delay in the introduction of the new limits.

On Monday, EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard told reporters she was disappointed that agreement on implementing the CO2 target had been blocked. "It is not a terrific thing that we could not conclude on cars," she said. She added that a German proposal to delay full implementation of the 95-gram target for four years to 2024 was not acceptable.

With reporting by Dietmar Hawranek, Christoph Pauly and Gerald Traufetter of SPIEGEL


10/15/2013 01:19 PM

Learning to Fight: How Afghanistan Changed the German Military

By Christopher Alessi

In Afghanistan, dangerous combat has helped post-war Germany's reluctant armed forces gain self-confidence and expertise. But with the public and politicians loath to enter into new conflicts, what will the military's role be going forward?

The German military entered Afghanistan over a decade ago as a peacekeeping force tasked with aiding in the reconstruction and development of infrastructure and civil society. Today, it leaves the country as a combat force that engaged in deadly warfare.

The evolving role of the Bundeswehr, Germany's armed forces, in the conflict has helped to dramatically reshape it as a more experienced and capable fighting operation. Yet the German public has become even more opposed to military engagement overseas than it was 10 years ago, calling into question what sort of role the Bundeswehr will play in supporting NATO and the United Nations in future international conflicts.

"Afghanistan has been the most important experience for the German armed forces. It was the first time since World War II that the German military was involved in real combat action," says retired General Harald Kujat, the former Chief of Staff of the Bundeswehr from 2000-2002 and former Chairman of the NATO Military Committee from 2002-2005. Kujat says the Afghanistan experience has created a new generation of young officers with personal combat experience, contributing to a "more self-confident" Bundeswehr. The expertise gained by many of these soldiers has made the Bundeswehr a more educated military, better able to weigh the pros and cons of war and what it is capable of contributing to a given mission, explains Kujat.

Indeed, for much of the war, the military command did not adequately communicate to the German political leadership what the actual situation on the ground was -- a war zone -- and what equipment soldiers needed, says Roderich Kiesewetter, a parliamentarian with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and former Bundeswehr officer.

Kiesewetter cites the apparent failure of the military to correctly advise politicians about the war as a major factor in a controversial 2009 German-ordered air strike on two hijacked tanker trucks that ultimately left dozens of civilians dead. The German commander involved "did not have the reconnaissance means to detect what was going on," Kiesewetter notes. The Bundeswehr has since learned how to more transparently advise politicians on its aims, he says, even if it still has more to learn about acting as an offensive -- and not merely defensive -- force in pursuing its political and military objectives.

'Political Disengagement' from Military Policy

The Bundeswehr's development in Afghanistan into a "real fighting force" has had a significant impact on recent reforms implemented by the Defense Ministry, says Christian Mölling, an international security associate with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). The ministry, Mölling explains, is working to streamline the Bundeswehr and make it a "highly deployable force." But the political discourse has not caught up with the military advances, he argues. "There has been political disengagement from a comprehensive, multilateral defense policy."

Germany -- the third-largest contributor to the US-led coalition in Afghanistan and the country responsible for Regional Command North -- has lost 54 soldiers since 2002, 35 of whom died during attacks or fighting. The Bundeswehr has now begun to slowly withdraw troops from the country ahead of a December 2014 deadline, officially handing over command of the Kunduz base, in northern Afghanistan, to Afghan security forces earlier this month. The remaining 900 German troops at Kunduz are expected to withdraw by the end of October, bringing the total number of German troops in the country to around 3,100.

While the overall success of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has been hotly contested, Kujat argues that the military aspect of the NATO mission worked "quite well," including the German contribution. "The political part of the mission did not succeed," he says, alluding to governance issues, a weak civil society, and the failure of Afghan forces to take full control of the security situation. The growing sense in Germany that the efforts of coalition forces -- particularly German troops -- in Afghanistan were for naught has made Germans even "more reluctant now to engage in military operations," says Kujat.

A Reluctant Public

German support for the war has dropped significantly since the start of the conflict, from 65 percent in 2005 to 37 percent in 2011, according to the Bundeswehr Institute of Social Sciences. "The lesson learned by the German public was that it wasn't worth the money," says Olaf Boehnke, head of the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations and a former parliamentarian with the center-left Social Democratic Party. German public opinion reverted to an anti-war stance because Germans largely believe "it didn't work out," argues Boehnke.

A turning point may have come in 2009, when former German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg became the first German official to label German operations in Afghanistan as a "war," bringing the reality back home to the German public. "The preferred German perception is of the German soldier building schools and digging wells in Afghanistan," notes Boehnke. Germans, he says, would still rather be security consumers than security providers. "People still believe in this big Switzerland idea," says Boehnke, "that we don't have to go outside our borders."

Despite German reluctance to engage in future military endeavors, it is likely Germany will be called on to assist with future international armed missions, says Patrick Keller, an expert on foreign and security policy with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, a foundation associated with the conservative CDU. "It's not too far fetched that we will have to be prepared to act" in potential conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa region or in central and eastern Europe, argues Keller.

However, Keller acknowledges an inherent tension between Germany's "strategic interest," which he says is to help protect a rule-based, liberal international order, and its "political will," which he believes is hobbled by a post-war disinclination to use force. This schizophrenia played out in 2011 when Germany declined to support the United States, France, and Britain in authorizing a no-fly zone in Libya, abstaining from the vote at the UN Security Council. Still, Keller adds, "Germany has increasingly shouldered more responsibility."

'A Question of Responsibility'

But how much responsibility is Germany actually willing to bear? The question comes back to the broader issue of Germany's hesitation to play a leading role in European Union and global affairs. "Germany has a great difficulty in taking on leadership. We don't want to be in a leadership position," be it about security issues or the euro-zone crisis, says Stefani Weiss, a European foreign and security policy expert at the Bertelsmann Stiftung.

Similarly, SWP's Mölling says Germany could play a "significant and positive" role within NATO and the EU on defense issues given its central location in Europe, if it were not for a lack of political will. "It's a question of responsibility. We don't feel we are responsible for finding a solution to international conflicts."

But parliamentarian Kiesewetter suggests Germany should begin to take on a greater leadership role in helping Europe develop a cohesive security policy and a shared military apparatus -- if only to help it cope with fiscal constraints imposed by the euro crisis. "There is a need for leadership within the EU," he says. "Germany could be a partner to create synergy between EU states … to take over responsibility where others are not willing to."


10/15/2013 04:57 PM

World from Berlin: Bishop Scandal 'A Major Burden for Catholics'

The scandal surrounding a German bishop's lavish spending continues to grow in Germany, as Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst awaits an audience with the pope in Rome. German editorialists say the affair could be a turning point for the Catholic Church here.

He's been disparaged in France as "Bishop Bling Bling" and is the subject of mercilous media coverage in Germany this week. Now Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst is seeking to send out a different message -- one of modesty. On Sunday, he flew Ryanair to Rome, where he is expected to have a tête-á-tête with Pope Francis later this week during which his future in the Catholic Church could be decided.

Tebartz is under fire for allowing costs of a new bishop's headquarters and residence in Limburg, Germany, to swell to around one third of the bishopric's total estimated wealth. His lavish lifestyle is the antithesis of the message being sent by Pope Francis, who has been seen driving around Vatican City in clunkers in recent weeks. Indeed the contrast could not be greater to German bishops, who are often shuttled around their parishes in luxury sedans.

As Tebartz awaits his audience with the pope, the controversy over the bishop's spending is mounting in Germany. On Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the church crisis via her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, who said the German leader was hoping for a "solution for the faithful," noting that "it was clear to everyone that a difficult situation had arisen," one that was a "major burden" for Catholics and the church alike.

'People Want Clarity'

The head of Germany's Catholic Church, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, also flew to Rome over the weekend, saying he wanted to address the situation as quickly as possible -- also at a meeting on Thursday with the pope. Zollitsch further distanced himself from Tebartz-van Elst on Monday, saying, "I am under a lot of pressure because people want clarity," he said. "It is without a doubt a question of credibility and we are considering that," he said.

Originally slated to cost €2.5 million ($3.37 million), the price tag on construction of Tebartz-van Elst's new bishop's headquarters and residence has since ballooned to over €31 million. Numerous sources involved in construction have strongly suggested that Tebartz-van Elst's special requests, including a €15,000 bathtub, contributed significantly to those cost overruns.

Tebartz-van Elst is also in trouble for telling a SPIEGEL reporter in summer 2012 that he had taken a business-class flight to India -- and not a first-class flight as the magazine's reporting indicated -- to meet the poor, a claim he repeated in two public affidavits. Public prosecutors in Hamburg, however, claim the bishop made incorrect statements and have pressed charges against him. If he is found guilty by a Hamburg district court, he would become the first bishop in the history of the church in postwar Germany to be convicted in a criminal court. Tebartz-van Elst had sued SPIEGEL, claiming false reporting.

Although public pressure is mounting for Tebartz-van Elst to step down, Germany's Catholic bishops have remained largely silent on the issue. In the meantime, officials in Limburg and other communities that are part of the bishopric, are reporting significant increases in the number of people leaving the church -- a step that requires registry at local administrative offices.

The affair remained prominent in the German media on Tuesday, with some editorialists writing that it could threaten the current hierarchy of Catholic Church bishops in Germany.

Conservative Die Welt notes that the Tebartz-van Elst situation creates a fundamental problem for the country's bishops:

"The bishops are in a dilemma. Of course they'd be happy if Tebartz was out of the picture soon. But if he were to step down, it could be the start of a dangerous development for them -- one that could shake the understanding of church office and weaken the position of Catholic dignitaries in the long run. Catholic bishops are neither managers nor politicians, even if their careers do involve some similar tasks. Their spiritual and worldly responsibilities are derived from God and not from the trust of a supervisory board or the will of voters. … So the church places very high barriers for bishops stepping down early or being removed from office."

"Because of this sacral understanding, bishops have never had to adhere to the laws of a media democracy. No matter how severely they have been criticized, their position has been untouchable."

"If Tebartz-van Elst loses his job because the public pressure becomes too much and not because the church apparatus made the decision, then the church would be bending to public anger. That's why the German bishops are avoiding taking any clear positions. They know this could become a first breach in the dike that would threaten them. Indeed, the case of Limburg will set a precedent. If critics continue for long enough to lash out at church representatives, there's a chance the church will let them fall. This is a message the bishops want to avoid at all costs."

Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"Just blame the pope. Perhaps the criticism of this bishop wouldn't have been as radical without this pope. Perhaps people would have said, 'This is just the way Catholic Church is, in Germany particularly … Without this new pope, Tebartz-van Elst might have been considered the fitting spiritual specimen of a church that preaches water but drinks wine and that veils its self-love and its egoism with fine talk of the love of God. Without the pope, the criticism of the little parish prince would have died down pretty quickly. … But the criticism isn't fading -- because the pope and the demands he is making of the church are an indictment of the very system Tebartz-van Elst embodies."

"This pope took on the name Francis, whose message is in stark contrast to the pomp of the church hierarchy. Live in poverty for the poor. This is the Franciscan message the pope has heralded. The excesses and untruths of this German bishop now raise doubts about this course. That makes the frivolous antics of this bishop so dangerous for the pope."

"This is not just about the bishop as a person. He is just one eccentric albeit mediocre representative of a system in which money, possessions and wealth have been and still remain important. The bishop is now a risk factor for this system. He draws attention to the peculiarities of an apparatus that not only allowed Tebartz to become bishop, but also gave him the power to do what he likes without any limits or control -- because this is how the Catholic hierarchy is constructed. Other bishops are smart enough to refrain from exercising this power, to act reservedly and listen to advisory boards."

Center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"There was no length to which Tebartz-van Elst and his general vicar didn't go to evade showing the supposed meddlers the exact financing of the €31 million bishop's headquarters. They stripped the cathedral chapter of power, installed a diocesan finance council whose members had to agree to secrecy, and outsourced the bookkeeping to an external auditing firm. But the wall of silence didn't hold. … With an energy that could almost be described as criminal, the bishop and his helpers have ignored every single legal hurdle and appear to have defended themselves against guileless controllers right up to the end. But this could have legal consequences for all involved, because a third of the assets the diocese has built up over almost two centuries has been squandered within just three years."

-- Daryl Lindsey


10/15/2013 06:51 PM

Haribo Head Dies: Germany Says Goodbye to Gummy Bear Magnate

By Alexander Demling

Hans Riegel transformed his father's candy business into the global sweets giant Haribo, which made gummy bears a household name in 110 countries. He died on Tuesday at the age of 90.

In June in 1986, Hans Riegel told one of the jokes for which he had become well-known. The Haribo CEO told a reporter he had just swallowed Maoam. All Riegel had to do was wait a second for a question in response: "The candy?" "No," he answered triumphantly. "The company. It was a lot of fun -- they used to be a competitor."

It would be hard to find another executive in Germany as multifaceted as the former head of Bonn-based gummy bear empire Haribo. Riegel was equal parts tenacious businessman, jokester, workaholic and bon vivant. Above all, he was the man associated with Haribo -- few entrepreneurs have been as closely identified with their brands as he has been. In his 67 years at the helm, he transformed his father's small candy company into a global sweets giant with an estimated €2 billion ($2.7 billion) in annual sales of gummy bears and other candies in 110 countries around the world.

Riegel died on Tuesday at the age of 90.

He was the archetype of the old-school German capitalist from the Rhineland -- hardworking, responsible, persistent and full of business acumen. After having just returned from being a prisoner of war after World War II, Riegel and his brother Paul assumed responsibility for the family business, which at the time had 30 employees, 10 sacks of sugar and the secret recipe for gummy bears that still guarantees the company's success today. Paul, who was more behind the scenes, developed the machines used to make the company's liquorices. The more outgoing Hans worked on the company's first commercials.

The Man Who Turned Warren Buffet Away

The division of labor between the two brothers was a success, and it didn't take long before the company's motto, "Kids love it so," created by their father, was known by youth all across Germany. Although the company's gummy bears soon became a gold mine, financial success eluded the young entrepreneur. One day, when the local bank tried to seize bags of sugar at the Haribo plant because the company had been late on a loan payment, Riegel swore he would never borrow money to grow the company again.

It's a position he stuck to for the rest of his life. When star investor Warren Buffett came knocking on his door in 2008, Riegel sent him away. "Money was never my motivation," he said at the time. "I don't even know when I made my first million."

Riegel wanted to maintain control of his own company. Indeed, each gummy creation at Haribo had to be approved by the boss before it could go into serial production. He knew what customers wanted, too. Whereas other companies developed the products for the tastes of the masses, Riegel continued to stubbornly make his gummy candies according to his family recipe. He made a few name changes to his father's products here and there, but adding adults to the company's slogan was one of the few large additions. The company had a tendency to hang on to things that worked.

An Eccentric Leader

At times, though, Riegel's management could be a bit eccentric. Each morning he would read his executives' letters before personally sharing the details with them. Employee emails were also monitored if there was a reason. Riegel said he did such things out of concern for the company. "Otherwise troublesome letters would have just disappeared into people's drawers," he once said. "And I would also lose oversight."

But "Hans II," as some liked to call him, was more a benevolent dictator when it came to his 6,000 employees. He paid them well and rented his properties to them cheaply. He also hired famous German bands to play at company parties and even sometimes played the saxophone himself. Riegel was never a cheapskate concerned only with his business. As a young man, he brought a badminton set back with him during a business trip to Denmark and became the first German champion in the men's double competition. Later, he discovered his passion for helicopters and for hunting deer on his 4,800 hectare property in Austria's Steiermark region.

But work remained his greatest passion: "I'm at the office almost every day," Riegel proudly said not long ago. In the "pulpit," as he called his glass-covered command center overlooking the Bonn facility, he tinkered with new types of fruit gummies: lemon-ginger for adults, gummy pacifiers for children, marshmallow footballs for sports fans and gummy bears for everyone.

'He Who Retires Gets Older Faster'

Even at an advanced age, he didn't lose sight of his core customers: Riegel remained a child at heart, watching cartoons and eating gummy bears from the package.

Haribo was not only his life's work, but also his fountain of youth. He worked far beyond Germany's statutory retirement age and was fond of adages like, "He who retires early gets old faster." He liked to say that without the company, he would have fallen ill.

One has to grant him that, because until the end he served his company well. When he had to have a tumor removed from his brain in July 2013, representatives took over marketing and sales for several months. The company's continued existence as a family business was guaranteed after the death of Paul Riegel in 2009. Hans Riegel and his nephew Hans-Guido led the newly formed holding company from that point on. Now Riegel is leaving a thriving business to the next generation.

"I just wanted to make something of my father's life work," the billionaire once said. It was a simple wish -- and one Hans Riegel spent a lifetime fulfilling.

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« Reply #9356 on: Oct 16, 2013, 07:09 AM »

French voters turned to the National Front as a protest

The polling figures from the party's local election victory do not support its leader Marine Le Pen's hopes for national success

Nabila Ramdani, Tuesday 15 October 2013 19.21 BST           

It wasn't an "earthquake" but Sunday's electoral success by the Front National (FN) in France has nevertheless caused shockwaves. A party traditionally associated with antisemitism and racism is positioning itself as a mainstream political force, while opponents insist that the anti-immigrant bigotry of its founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, has never gone away.

Whatever the true nature of the modernised FN, there is no doubt that its victory in a local council election in Brignoles, in the southern départment of Var, was a convincing one. Its candidate, Laurent Lopez, won just under 54% of the vote, claiming that his campaign messages were a strong reflection of the national mood in France. They included complaints about everything from economic mismanagement by the ruling Socialist party to Roma gypsies from Romania and Bulgaria setting up illegal shanty-towns around major cities. The alleged "Islamification" of France – the FN's oldest and most venomous rallying cry – was also used to stir up vote-winning prejudice.

But increasing evidence of corruption within the mainstream political establishment translated into FN votes too. This ranged from the Socialist budget minister tasked with cutting down on financial fraud facing charges of tax evasion, to former president Nicolas Sarkozy finding himself at the centre of a flurry of sleaze investigations and spared the humiliation of a criminal trial just days before the second-round Brignoles vote.

A poll for the Nouvel Observateur indicated last week that the FN could now achieve about a quarter of the vote in next May's elections to the European parliament, as working-class voters, disillusioned by the mainstream's handling of the economy, reject both the ruling Socialists and the conservative UMP.

Marine Le Pen, daughter and political heiress of the FN's firebrand founder, has softened the party to such an extent that she believes it is ready for government. Measures have included selecting electoral candidates from ethnic minorities and getting rid of some of the more extreme policies that helped to earn Le Pen Père a number of criminal convictions.

The FN won 6.4m votes in the first round of last year's presidential election, and its leaders are convinced that this share will be bettered in mayoral and European elections in early 2014.

Its problem, however, is that, despite its high profile, it is still a limited-issue party favoured by voters who want to let off steam before going on to choose their preferred moderate in run-off votes. This was the case in 2002 when, infamously, Jean-Marie Le Pen came second in an "earthquake" presidential election, knocking the Socialist candidate out in the first round. There was such shock at the prospect of an FN president that his opponent, Jacques Chirac, won 82% of the final vote.

But whatever claims the FN makes about its rise after sweeping to victory in Brignoles, a sober analysis of its overall electoral success suggests that its status as a protest movement remains unchanged. It is represented in parliament by just two MPs and no senators. It has 118 regional councillors out of 1,880 – just over 6%. Out of 74 French MEPs, just three of them belong to the FN.

The figures simply do not support Marine Le Pen's aspirations to help to form a government, let alone her own presidential ambitions. Her party's limited success will continue to cause tremors as in-fighting in the main parties harms an already severely damaged French political landscape, but it will by no means come close to anything approaching real power. Like her father before her, she is an expert at stirring up a great deal of ill-feeling and making a lot of noise.


France shows its support for independent booksellers

Law stops online giants from offering discounts along with free post and packing

Hélène Bekmezian and Alain Beuve-Méry   
Guardian Weekly, Tuesday 15 October 2013 14.01 BST   

Supporting bookshops is one of the few issues on which both sides of the French parliament more or less agree. On 3 October they passed a bill to update a 1981 law that set a fixed-price system for books.

The original aim of the revision was to stop sellers including postage in the price of books, but in its final draft the amendment stipulates that retailers cannot combine the currently allowed 5% discount on new books with free post and packaging. At present only two online companies – Amazon and Fnac – apply this two-tier reduction.

There was heated debate between the government and the conservative MP Christian Kert who tabled the bill. "The government has been in a pickle all along, because they support the bill," centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) MPs joked. But the Socialists (PS) were nevertheless determined to vote against the opposition bill as it stood. When agreement was finally reached on the amendment, it was passed almost unanimously, which is unusual for an opposition bill.

The aim of the bill, as Kert explains, "is to ensure that the price of a book sold online is higher than one sold by an independent bookshop". The government puts it slightly differently, stating that the purpose of the amendment is to "restrict predatory behaviour". Online booksellers now represent the third-largest trading network in France, behind independent bookshops and big cultural chains (such as Fnac), both of which have 23% market share. In 2012 the internet accounted for 17% of sales of "general literature", with Amazon taking 70% of this market, well ahead of Fnac and other online vendors.

"E-trade now holds a 20% share of the market for printed books and is putting increasing pressure on bookshops," says Vincent Chabault, a researcher at Paris Descartes University.

French bookshops have been slow to respond to the internet. Despite being represented by a single body, the French Booksellers Association (SLF), they have focused their efforts on maintaining their independence, and have failed to agree on a common website for online sales. The only venture of this sort,, was a commercial disaster that cost the trade almost €2m ($2.6m). These days the cost of launching a site is much too steep for an independent bookseller. So some large shops – such as Mollat in Bordeaux or Sauramps in Montpellier – and chains such as Gibert, based in Paris, or Decitre in Lyon now have their own websites. Bookshops in and around eastern Paris have formed the Librest collective (, and Charles Kermarec, the former head of Dialogues, a bookstore in Brest, Brittany, has launched a site ( supported by shops all over the country. "All bookshops are losing money at present, even if they have an internet outlet, but at the same time they cannot afford not to be represented online," says Guillaume Husson, the head of SLF.

The new amendment should reduce Amazon's competitive advantage and ease the financial pressure on Fnac. Free postage, which is a key feature of Amazon's strategy, costs the company an estimated $5.1bn worldwide, SLF alleges, condemning the practice as a form of dumping.

In response, Amazon France said that it makes "more than 70% of its sales with remainders" and that it is more "complementary" rather than "in competition" with French booksellers, who sell mainly new books. It also suggested that, by raising the price of books, the amendment would be bad news for consumers.
Grant to aid booksellers

A new head is to be appointed for France's National Book Centre. On taking office his or her top priority will be to convene a board meeting and release funds allocated by the government to help retail booksellers. The €11m ($14.5m) package, announced in March, will double support (rising to €2m) for online trading. The Institute for Funding Films and Cultural Industries will receive €5m to help bookshops manage cashflow, with a further €4m given to the Association for the Development of Creative Booksellers to assist the transfer of bookselling businesses.

This article appeared in Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from Le Monde

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« Reply #9357 on: Oct 16, 2013, 07:20 AM »

Iran nuclear talks in Geneva to continue into second day

Iran gives hour-long presentation on proposals to end deadlock, and detailed technical discussions take place in afternoon

Julian Borger in Geneva, Tuesday 15 October 2013 19.11 BST   

Negotiations in Geneva are due to go into a second day on Wednesday after the first "very detailed" technical discussions between Iran and major powers over Tehran's nuclear programme for years.

Iranian and US diplomats were holding face-to-face meetings last night after a day of multilateral talks in which Iran unveiled a PowerPoint presentation of proposals to end the decade-old deadlock. Iran's deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araqchi, met the US undersecretary of state, Wendy Sherman, at an impromptu session while the foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, met the EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton.

Wednesday's session comes amid the first signs of real progress for at least four years.

No details of the Iranian presentation, titled "Closing an unnecessary crisis: Opening new horizons", were disclosed but it is thought to propose curbs on the Iranian programme in return for sanctions relief and international recognition of Iran's right to enrich uranium.

"For the first time, very detailed technical discussions continued this afternoon," said Ashton's spokesman, Michael Mann.

Speaking to reporters after the Iran presentation, Araqchi said: "We believe our proposal has the capacity to make a breakthrough." He said the Iranian plan set out a timeline of six months to get to a deal. He said Iran hoped the next step – a new round of talks on the details of a deal – would take place within a month.

Senior diplomats from the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China – who make up a negotiating group chaired by Ashton – were consulting with their capitals on a common response to the Iranian presentation.

Unlike previous negotiations, the two days of talks in Geneva are being carried out in English, which Zarif and Araqchi speak fluently. Without the need for interpreters, the negotiations were moving at least twice as quickly as previous talks.

After giving the PowerPoint presentation in the morning, Zarif retired to his hotel complaining of severe backache and telling reporters he was in to much pain to talk. He has said the condition was brought on by attacks by the conservative press in Tehran which he said had misquoted him as saying the recent thaw with the US was a mistake.

The twinges forced Zarif to lie down for much of the flight from Tehran to Geneva, on which he brought a doctor to help keep the pain under control. The backache was apparently not the only reminder of the pressures at home: according to one Iranian report, Zarif's delegation received a phone call from Tehran on Tuesday morning with last-minute changes to the Iranian proposal.

Asked about the foreign minister's condition, Araqchi said: "He's not alright at all. He is suffering a lot." He said Zarif had gone back to the hotel but would not leave Geneva.

Before the talks began, a senior US official said the aim was to make progress towards an interim confidence-building deal that would defuse tensions and buy time for a more comprehensive solution to the Iranian nuclear standoff.

The official said Araqchi's announcement days before Geneva that Iran would not contemplate shipping out enriched uranium as part of a deal was not a critical problem. "There's a variety of ways of dealing with that," she said.

"To get to a comprehensive agreement is very, very difficult with highly technical issues that have to be resolved. We are looking for a confidence-building step that will put some time on the clock," the official said. "The aim is to rebuild trust … to constrain the programme and even take it back a notch."

She pointed to the fact that the US delegation included financial experts as evidence that Washington was ready to talk about scaling down sanctions in response to Iranian concessions. "If they are ready to go, we are ready to go," she said.


Iran presents 'timetable' to end nuclear talks deadlock

Opening gambit from Tehran at Geneva talks apparently includes PowerPoint presentation of confidence-building measures

Julian Borger in Geneva and Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem, Tuesday 15 October 2013 14.42 BST   

The Iranian delegation to international talks in Geneva has presented proposals which it claims will end the longstanding deadlock over its nuclear programme.

Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, gave an hour-long PowerPoint presentation of the proposals, entitled "Closing an unnecessary crisis: Opening new horizons", to senior diplomats from the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China at the Palace of Nations in Geneva on Tuesday.

The presentation was not made public, but it is believed to lay out a timetable for a confidence-building deal that would place limits on Iran's nuclear programme in return for relief from sanctions and international recognition of the country's right to enrich uranium.

The presentation marked the opening gambit in the first round of negotiations between the new Iranian government of President Hassan Rouhani and the six-nation negotiating group chaired by the EU foreign policy chief, Lady Ashton. All sides have described the talks as the most constructive for years.

Unlike previous negotiations, the two days of talks are being carried out in English, as Zarif and his deputy, Abbas Araqchi, are fluent, so they moved at at least twice the speed, without the need for interpreters.

Speaking to reporters after the presentation, Araqchi said: "We believe our proposal has the capacity to make a breakthrough."

He said the Iranian plan set out a timeline of six months to get to a deal and that Iran hoped the next step, a new round of talks on the details of a deal, would take place within a month.

Ashton's spokesman, Michael Mann, said: "We heard a presentation this morning from foreign minister Zarif. It was very useful. Talks are reconvening this afternoon to look at further details."

However, immediately after the morning session of talks, Zarif went straight to his hotel because of a backache, telling reporters he was in too much pain to talk. He has claimed the condition was brought on by attacks from the conservative press in Tehran, which he said had misquoted him as saying the recent thaw with the US was a mistake. The continuing twinges forced Zarif to lie down for much of the flight from Tehran, on which he brought a doctor to help keep the pain under control.

The backache was apparently not the only reminder of the pressures back home. According to one Iranian report, Zarif's delegation received a phone call from Tehran on Tuesday morning with last-minute changes to the Iranian proposal.

Asked about the foreign minister's condition, Araqchi said: "He's not alright at all. He is suffering a lot." He said Zarif had gone back to the hotel but would not leave Geneva.

The afternoon session at the Palace of Nations will be led by Araqchi on the Iranian side and the foreign ministry political directors from the six-nation group.

Speaking before the talks began, a senior US official said the aim was to make progress towards an interim confidence-building deal that would defuse tensions and buy time for a more comprehensive solution to the standoff. The official said that Araqchi's announcement days before Geneva that Iran would not contemplate shipping out enriched uranium as part of a deal was not a critical problem. "There's a variety of ways of dealing with that," she said.

"To get to a comprehensive agreement is very, very difficult with highly technical issues that have to be resolved. We are looking for a confidence-building step that will put some time on the clock," the official said. "The aim is to rebuild trust … to constrain the programme and even take it back a notch."

She pointed out that the US delegation included financial experts; evidence that Washington was ready to talk about scaling down sanctions in response to Iranian concessions. "If they are ready to go, we are ready to go," she said.

Meanwhile, Israel convened its security cabinet on Monday night to discuss how to respond to the diplomacy in Geneva. It issued a statement saying: "Now is an opportune moment to reach a genuine diplomatic solution that peacefully ends Iran's nuclear weapons programme. However, this opportunity can be realised only if the international community continues to put pressure on Iran and does not ease the sanctions prematurely."


10/15/2013 04:23 PM

Geneva Nuclear Talks: Iran Bets on Easing of Sanctions

By Matthias Gebauer and Gregor Peter Schmitz

The next round of talks on Iran's nuclear program kicks off Tuesday in Geneva. But unless Tehran offers up credible concessions, the recent trickle of goodwill could quickly run dry.

United States Secretary of State John Kerry will not travel to Geneva, at least as things currently stand. But his absence at the next round of nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers is unlikely to cast much of a shadow. After all, American-Iranian relations have been suffused lately with an almost unhealthy euphoria.

First Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Jawad Sharif met in person at the United Nations headquarters in New York. Then President Hassan Rohani spoke by phone with his American counterpart, Barack Obama. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini even gave his blessing to Rohani's contact with the former "Great Satan."

But such exuberance could vanish at talks on Tuesday and Wednesday in Switzerland. Iran will meet with representatives of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, as well as Germany. A source at the European Union says the new round of talks offers "a real chance" for progress. But one thing must be made clear: Without any substantial concessions on Tehran's part, any rapprochement will soon be forgotten.

The talks in Geneva should serve to test how sincere President Rohani's new style of diplomacy is -- and how long it can be expected to continue. Ayatollah Khamenei has reportedly given his new president a period of just three months in which to convince the West to ease at least some of the strict economic sanctions currently imposed on the country. Rohani also has his own reasons for acting quickly: He promised the suffering Iranian people during his election campaign that he would get the sanctions lifted. But if Tehran wants to achieve this, it needs to make significant concessions to the West.

Western Wish List

Since the last round of talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan in April 2013, the West has put its political wish list on the table: Production of 20 percent enriched uranium is to be immediately suspended, and inventories of uranium enriched up to 5 percent is to be thinned out or removed from the country. In addition, the West has asked that inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) be given full access to all Iranian nuclear facilities, even to the top-secret, subterranean Fordo enrichment facility south of Tehran.

At the last meeting a year and a half ago Iran rejected this kind of concession, so long as the West was offering merely to hold back on further sanctions. "Peanuts" was how an Iranian representative described what had been offered during an appearance on CNN.

Even just before the newest round of talks was set to begin, the country's representatives were beginning to balk: "We will negotiate regarding the form, amount, and various levels of [uranium] enrichment, but sending the materials out of the country is our red line," said Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi on Iranian state television. The new Iranian negotiating team also suggested that future talks should be conducted at a higher level, among foreign ministers. But it is also rumored that Tehran could at least implement an additional protocol for better inspections of its nuclear facilities, as it previously did on a trial basis in 2003.

An Easing of Sanctions?

Iran apparently hopes this offer will lead to the first step toward easing economic sanctions. But EU sources say such concessions will certainly not be discussed in Geneva, even in light of the surprising announcements from Tehran. Brussels is highly anticipating the talks, which the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton played a major role in facilitating.

In recent months Ashton has had four calls with her US-educated, apparently pro-Western Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif.

It was Ashton's idea to set up direct negotiations between Zarif and the foreign ministers of the six nations which make up the international negotiating group -- China, Russia, the US, the UK, France and Germany. In an unusual move, representatives of the otherwise divided group accepted Ashton as chief negotiator.

Ashton has been helped by the new Iranian government's efforts to improve relations with the EU. In a recent letter to the president of the European Parliament, President Rohani wrote: "One of the main aims of Iran's new foreign policy is to begin a new political era on the basis of better understanding."

Even if a new era does materialize, the chief question remains whether both parties will be able to win over stakeholders at home to compromises. President Rohani has hardliners to deal with, for whom any concession over Iran's nuclear program is tantamount to treason.

Meanwhile President Obama will be able unable to loosen sanctions against Iran without bipartisan support from a traditonally pro-Israel Congress. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanjahu recently told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that Iran is 50 time more dangerous than North Korea.

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« Reply #9358 on: Oct 16, 2013, 07:25 AM »

October 16, 2013

Afghans Fend Off Taliban Threat in Pivotal Year


KABUL, Afghanistan — When the Taliban announced the beginning of their spring offensive, they saw few limits to their ambitions: to kill top Afghan officials across every major ministry, to plot even more infiltration attacks against Americans and to bloody, break and drive off the Afghan security forces who were newly in charge across the country.

Now, Afghan and American officials are cautiously celebrating a deflation of the Taliban’s propaganda bubble, the militants’ goals largely unmet.

With this year’s fighting season nearly over, the officials say the good news is that the Afghan forces mostly held their own, responding to attacks well and cutting down on assassinations. But at the same time, the Afghans were unable to make significant gains and, worse, suffered such heavy casualties that some officials called the rate unsustainable.

That assessment, detailed in interviews with commanders, officials and local leaders, is an important factor in urgent efforts by the Americans and Afghans to hash out a long-term deal to support the Afghan security forces, with national elections and the Western military withdrawal looming over the coming months.

Though the Afghan forces endured, they did little to answer some persistent questions about their ability and image, including whether they can handle their own planning and logistics as American forces continue to pull back. And in the rural southern Taliban heartland, the insurgents’ continued appearance as the more credible military force away from cities added weight to theories that the Taliban could control those areas after 2014.

“What we saw this year was an insurgency unable to make a decisive blow against the A.N.S.F.,” one Pentagon official said, referring to the Afghan National Security Forces. But the official added: “The Afghans still have a lot of learning to do. They had some tough brawls, and they took substantial casualties.”

Some American and Afghan commanders characterized a kind of moral victory for the Afghan forces: they mostly survived, and they did not completely give back gains from past Western offensives.

“The Taliban’s operational directive at the start of the fighting season was to press the Afghan security forces and try to break their will,” said Col. David Lapan, a spokesman for the American military commander, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. “It’s so far been our assessment they have not succeeded in any of their stated goals.”

While the Taliban’s assassination campaign did take a toll on police officials and mostly low-level district officials, an insurgent success came late in the season — on Tuesday, when the well-regarded governor of Logar Province was killed while preparing to speak in a mosque, though the Taliban denied responsibility.

The Taliban were quick to take responsibility for many of the so-called insider attacks last year, when Afghans in uniform killed 60 members of the international military force, and vowed to intensify them this year. But with new security measures in place, there have been just 14 such killings this year.

Even the insurgents’ strategy of waging high-profile attacks against Western targets in the capital, Kabul, mostly fizzled or ended up misdirected, as in a bombing that the Taliban said had been aimed at a C.I.A. safe house but instead killed four at the International Organization for Migration.

“We knew going into this that the insurgency understood this would be the last fighting season before the elections of April 2014,” said one Defense Department official, who along with some other officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the Afghan forces’ progress. “They knew it was time to get creative, that if ever there was a time to make a spectacular impact or strike a decisive blow, this would be it.”

Though there was no such decisive blow, the cuts were deep.

In some areas of the south and east, most notably in the Sangin district of Helmand Province, the Taliban were able to restrict the movement of Afghan forces and inflict heavy casualties.

Just how much those casualties have increased, however, is a matter of dispute. American officials defer requests for statistics to the Afghan authorities, saying it is now their responsibility.

Sediq Seddiqi, the Interior Ministry spokesman, said the increase was only slight for the police forces, who suffered the greatest share of the casualties. But he refused to give any recent statistics. The Afghan military has similarly resisted giving figures for this year.

Last year, the Afghan government said 2,970 police officers and soldiers had been killed in 2012.

The toll this year is at least double that, and probably much more, said Hamayoun Hamayoun, the chairman of the defense committee in the Afghan Parliament. He said figures given in confidence to his committee by government ministries showed that 6,000 Afghan soldiers and police officers had been killed since March.

“You know the government hides the correct numbers,” he said.

Mr. Hamayoun cited a major fight in northern Badakhshan Province in August. Government spokesmen said 20 policemen had been killed, but when committee investigators went to the area, they found the total was 80, he said.

In addition, Mr. Hamayoun expressed concern about the continued high attrition rate for the Afghan National Army from desertions, casualties and resignations. In recent years, the military had to replace roughly a third of its force annually, and that has continued, he said.

“If this keeps on for a long time, the military will collapse,” Mr. Hamayoun said.

American military officials say they are not nearly so alarmed. They expected the Afghans to take some punishment once they were really on their own, and they say that so far the Afghans have not had a hard time finding replacement recruits in a country with high unemployment and widespread poverty.

Trying to blunt the effect of increased Afghan casualties, American commanders say, they flew more helicopter medevac missions for Afghan forces — despite an effort to persuade the Afghans to use ground transportation and regional military hospitals in preparation for the decreasing American support presence.

“This is their first fighting season in the lead, so we’re doing more medevacs than previous years because they’re doing more than previous years,” said Colonel Lapan, the American military spokesman.

The performance of their allies was not as poor as many American military officials had feared. One senior military officer said he would give the Afghan security forces a C-plus grade — not a ringing endorsement, but better than the C he said he would give the insurgency.

But if the Afghans’ performance has allayed short-term fears, it has answered few questions about what the long-term balance against the Taliban will look like.

One critical point will be security for the national election, scheduled for the first week in April and characterized as crucial to the government’s credibility. Some Afghan officials insist that date is too early — snow is still likely to be blocking mountain passes, potentially reducing turnout. But American officials are quietly urging the Afghans to stay on course anyway, because a later date would make it easier for the Taliban to disrupt the vote.

“It is not lost on us that the timing of the election is April, which is generally before the major fighting season starts,” one Pentagon official said. “We are encouraging our counterparts to continue moving toward that goal. If it is delayed into the summer fighting season, the A.N.S.F. will be challenged.”

There are longer-term questions as well, particularly in remote districts of eastern Afghanistan and stretches of farmland in southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban are strongest.

One American official involved with the Human Terrain System, a program that uses social science techniques to help the military understand Afghan society, said that in those areas, the perception among most people was that the Taliban remained the dominant force in their villages.

That, in particular, does not bode well for the hope that the central government will be able to exert its authority in those southern and ethnic Pashtun areas after the official end of the American combat mission next year.

“You’re looking at these people, you listen to them and you hear them out and you talk, and you realize that these are the Taliban,” said an American Army officer who served in rural areas thick with insurgents outside Kandahar, the main city in southern Afghanistan.

“It’s not that each one of them is an active insurgent — these are old men, a lot of them. It’s that they are the reason the Taliban exists. It came from where they live,” the officer said. “I think, when we take the long view here, we should be cognizant of the context. Maybe the best outcome would be Taliban in the villages and the government in the district centers.”

Rod Nordland and Matthew Rosenberg reported from Kabul, and Thom Shanker from Washington. Azam Ahmed contributed reporting from Kabul and Sangin, Afghanistan.

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« Reply #9359 on: Oct 16, 2013, 07:28 AM »

India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
October 16, 2013, 7:23 am

The Faces of Statehood Supporters in India’s Northeast


It was late July, and the monsoons had finally arrived in Delhi. The month of July had been particularly good for me: my work from the northeast was finally getting some recognition and I had been awarded a prestigious global grant to continue my project on ethnic conflict related displacement in western Assam, India.

I was in just the initial planning phases for my next trip to Kokrajhar in the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous District, home of the Bodo tribals, which was to be the epicenter for my reportage work. Clashes there had displaced more than 400,000 ethnic Bodos and Bengali Muslims just over a year earlier, which I had documented.

Meanwhile, in the national capital, the government finally gave the go-ahead to the proposal for the formation of Telangana, a new southern state to be carved out of Andhra Pradesh. Soon afterward, many areas in the northeast saw a renewed call for statehood.

I was particularly interested in the Bodoland areas, where people were calling for a separate state of Bodoland, and Karbi Anglong, one of the largest hill districts in India, where the ethnic Karbis were also demanding their own state. In my initial years as a photographer, I had spent considerable time in both these places covering conflict-induced displacement.

I found out through my sources in Kokrajhar that the ethnic Bodos would be putting up a rail blockade starting Aug. 2 in Kokrajhar to draw attention to their demand for statehood. At the time, I was still in Delhi, and I was told that traveling by road wasn’t safe. I decided to go anyway, first flying to Guwahati on the morning of Aug. 1 and then catching the evening local from the Kamakhya station to Kokrajhar.

As it was the last day before the rail blockade, hordes of people were on the train, heading home. Kokrajhar has seen much violence in the past few decades, and everyone seemed edgy as I got into town.

Nearly 100,000 people turned up the next morning, standing on the railway tracks, blocking all rail traffic connecting mainland India to the northeastern corridor. The chants of “Why Telangana? Why not Bodoland?” stopped only later in the evening. I had never seen such a gathering in this idyllic small and sleepy town. People had come from far-flung villages all over western Assam to ask for a separate homeland.

There was a strike the next day, a regular occurrence in these parts, followed by another huge rally. This was followed by another strike, which went on for a full 72 hours, bringing the town to a total standstill. Even the cooking gas in our hotel ran out, which meant limited food for a few days.

Stuck in my tiny hotel room in Kokrajhar, I watched TV. The flashing headlines of a local news channel informed me that numerous government buildings had been torched and train tracks removed in the Karbi Anglong district by angry activists of different organizations demanding a separate state.

Karbi Anglong, a district in Assam with an area of 10,434 square kilometers (4,000 square miles), has mostly been in news for its militancy and sectarian disturbances, but the statehood movement, which started in 1960, had been fairly subdued in recent years. The fresh demand of statehood in Bodoland also revived the statehood movement in the Karbi Anglong region.

On July 31, an angry group of students marched up to the Karbi Anglong Autonomous District council in Diphu, the district headquarters of Karbi Anglong, to plead with their leaders to hold talks with New Delhi on statehood. Subsequently, security forces, including the Assam police and Central Reserve Police Force cadres, were deployed to disperse the crowd, which refused to budge.

Eventually, the officers started firing tear gas canisters and live bullets without any warning, which led to the death of one youth and injuries to nine others. Then the angry mob started torching government buildings and public vehicles in Diphu. I immediately started looking for a way to get to Diphu, which I eventually reached with some difficulty. I spent many days there shooting the scenes of devastation.

Meanwhile, protesters in the Darjeeling Hills of West Bengal had escalated their demands for their own Gorkhaland. They had blocked access to the hills for close to two weeks by the time I decided to head to Darjeeling. Reporting in Assam can be a tedious task, with access and connectivity being a struggle, but I thought the story wouldn’t be complete without images from Darjeeling, as it sits atop the narrow strip of land that connects mainland India to the northeast.

After finding a driver who would take me to Darjeeling from New Jalpaiguri for triple the usual price, we spent four hours winding through empty mountain roads that were regularly blocked by villagers. I would then get out of the car with my camera and have a long conversation with the locals, who would then let us through.

The streets of Darjeeling were usually empty during the day, but they would fill up in the evenings with large crowds, addressed by local college student leaders. I stayed for many days photographing and collecting stories.

Vivek Singh is a freelance photojournalist based in New Delhi. He reported with the help of a grant from the Manuel Rivera Ortiz Foundation for Documentary Photography and Film.

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