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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1080824 times)
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« Reply #9360 on: Oct 16, 2013, 07:31 AM »

Burma hotel bombing: arrested man 'involved in planting second device'

Man accused of planting bomb in Rangoon's Traders Hotel also suspected of playing role in foiled plot to blow up restaurant

Associated Press in Rangoon, Wednesday 16 October 2013 09.10 BST   

A man arrested over a hotel bombing in Burma in which an American woman was injured had been under surveillance for alleged involvement in the planting of a second device found at a restaurant the next afternoon, police said.

Authorities moved in on Saw Myint Lwin, 26, after matching his photograph with images captured on the Traders Hotel CCTV, according to a statement issued by Mon state police on Tuesday.

The 26-year-old rode his motorcycle through a barricade set up to apprehend him in Belin township, it said, but police caught up with him following a chase. It was not immediately clear if he had been charged.

The explosion at Traders Hotel, one of Burma's ritziest, occurred in the heart of Rangoon. It was the most high-profile in a series of bombings that the government alleges is an attempt to tarnish the state's image as it emerges from decades of oppressive military rule.

Officials said the attacks, which reportedly left two dead and several others wounded, appear to be organised, with a restaurant, two bus stops, Buddhist temples and a market all targeted. No one has claimed responsibility.

The homemade bomb, which went off just before midnight on Monday, was hidden in the bathroom in an American family's room on the ninth floor. There was no indication they had been targeted.

On Tuesday afternoon, authorities safely detonated a bomb found at Western Park restaurant in Rangoon.

Saw Myint Lwin was suspected of playing a role in that foiled plot, the Mon state police statement said, without elaborating.

The government speculated the recent bombings were being organised by individuals or groups who want to smear the country's image as it prepares to take leadership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations regional grouping in 2014. Others have speculated the campaign was part of a backlash launched by Islamists in retailiation for anti-Muslim violence in the Buddhist state.

A US state department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said on Tuesday in Washington that she could not comment on any motive behind the bombings. She said the embassy released a security message to alert US citizens who reside in or are traveling to the country to the recent bombings.

"While there is no indication at this time that any of these IEDs were specifically directed toward US citizens, the embassy asks that all US citizens exercise an appropriate level of caution," she said.

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« Reply #9361 on: Oct 16, 2013, 07:33 AM »

Chinese plan for HIV bathhouse ban angers health campaigners

Plan to bar people with Aids from spas and bathhouses will only increase discrimination, say NGOs and health officials

Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing, Tuesday 15 October 2013 16.00 BST   

Chinese NGOs and public health professionals have lashed out at a draft ordinance prohibiting people with HIV from entering public bathhouses, underscoring a rift between the country's government and emerging civil society.

The draft legislation, posted on the ministry of commerce's website on Saturday, stipulates that bathhouses, spas, and foot massage parlours must display signs barring "people with sexually transmitted diseases, Aids and infectious skin diseases" from entering. Violators, it said, could be charged 30,000 yuan (£3,076).

"This is ridiculous," said Yu Fangqiang, the director of Justice for All, a Nanjing-based advocacy group. "The law's only effect will be to increase discrimination against people with Aids."

Guy Taylor, a Beijing-based advocacy and information officer for the UN Programme on HIV and Aids (UNAids), expressed concern at the ordinance.

"HIV transmission through casual contact is not possible," he said. The virus can be transmitted through unprotected sex, from mother to child during pregnancy and labour, and through "use of contaminated injection equipment". Sharing a bath with an HIV-positive person "poses absolutely no risk from a public health perspective, and that's important to realise".

The ministry will "gather public opinion" on the ordinance until 11 November, when it will be sent to a higher government body for final approval.

Based on the most recent figures in 2011, UNAids and the Chinese government estimated more than 780,000 people in the country were living with HIV, including those who had developed Aids. Most face a deep-rooted social stigma. Out of more than 10,000 people who responded to a survey on Sina Weibo, the country's most popular microblog, more than 72% supported the ban, ostensibly because of public health concerns. Only about 20% objected.

Two pieces of high-level Chinese legislation, introduced in 2004 and 2006 respectively, expressly prohibit discrimination against people with HIV. But experts say there's a gap between legislation and implementation, due in part to a lack of co-ordination among government agencies.

"I assume that when [the ministry of commerce] came out with this proposal, they didn't consult people from health areas," said Shen Tingting, the Beijing-based advocacy director of the NGO Asia Catalyst.

Shen said that despite government efforts to bolster HIV and Aids education, many of the country's institutions – even its hospitals – have a poor understanding of the virus. People with HIV are completely barred from civil service jobs; they're frequently refused medical treatment at hospitals. Children who are HIV-positive are often turned away by schools.

"For [hospital staff], one fear is that other patients, if they know that there are people there with HIV and Aids, they'll think 'this is an AIids hospital' and never come back," she said. "It's the same with schools."

The ministry drafted the ordinance in an apparent effort to clean up the country's notoriously under-regulated bathhouse industry. Bathhouses are far more common in China than the west; they're usually more elaborate too, allowing customers to bathe, receive massages, eat from a buffet, surf the internet, and fall asleep while watching television in plush armchairs.

An employee at Beijing's Xiedao Resort, which includes a spa, told the state-run Global Times newspaper that the business had no way to check whether a customer suffered from heart disease, let alone Aids. "The bans could only be followed by self-discipline, because it is not possible for us to ask our customers to show their health assessment forms," the employee said.

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« Reply #9362 on: Oct 16, 2013, 07:37 AM »

Plummeting morale at Fukushima Daiichi as nuclear cleanup takes its toll

Staff on the frontline of operation plagued by health problems and fearful about the future, insiders say

Justin McCurry in Fukushima
The Guardian, Tuesday 15 October 2013 16.15 BST   

Dressed in a hazardous materials suit, full-face mask and hard hat, Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, left his audience in no doubt: "The future of Japan," he said, "rests on your shoulders. I am counting on you."

Abe's exhortation, delivered during a recent visit to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, was only heard by a small group of men inside the plant's emergency control room. But it was directed at almost 6,000 more: the technicians and engineers, truck drivers and builders who, almost three years after the plant suffered a triple meltdown, remain on the frontline of the world's most dangerous industrial cleanup.

Yet as the scale of the challenge has become clearer with every new accident and radiation leak, the men working inside the plant are suffering from plummeting morale, health problems and anxiety about the future, according to insiders interviewed by the Guardian.

Even now, at the start of a decommissioning operation that is expected to last 40 years, the plant faces a shortage of workers qualified to manage the dangerous work that lies ahead.

The hazards faced by the nearly 900 employees of Tokyo Electric Power [Tepco] and about 5,000 workers hired by a network of contractors and sub-contractors were underlined this month when six men were doused with contaminated water at a desalination facility.

The men, who were wearing protective clothing, suffered no ill health effects in the incident, according to Tepco, but their brush with danger was a sign that the cleanup is entering its most precarious stage since the meltdown in March 2011.

Commenting on the leak, the head of Japan's nuclear regulator, Shunichi Tanaka, told reporters: "Mistakes are often linked to morale. People usually don't make silly, careless mistakes when they're motivated and working in a positive environment. The lack of it, I think, may be related to the recent problems."

The radiation spill was the latest in a string of serious water and radiation leaks, which have raised fears over the workers' state of mind – and Tepco's ability to continue the cleanup alone.

According to sources with knowledge of the plant and health professionals who make regular visits, the slew of bad news is sapping morale and causing concern, as the public and international community increase pressure on Japan to show demonstrable progress in cleaning up the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

"Very little has changed at Fukushima Daiichi in the past six months," said Jun Shigemura, a lecturer in the psychiatry department at the National Defence Medical College who heads of a team of psychologists that counsels Fukushima plant workers. "Tepco is doing its best to improve matters, but you can see that the situation is severe."

Shigemura is most concerned about the 70% of Tepco workers at Fukushima Daiichi who were also forced to evacuate their homes by the meltdown. They have yet to come to terms with that loss and many live away from their families in makeshift accommodation near the plant.

"They were traumatised by the tsunami and the reactor explosions and had no idea how much they had been irradiated," Shigemura said. "That was the acute effect but now they are suffering from the chronic effects, such as depression, loss of motivation and issues with alcohol."

Their anxiety is compounded by uncertainty over the future of their embattled employer. Tepco is coming under mounting pressure to resolve the worsening water crisis at Fukushima Daiichi, which recently prompted the government to step in with half a billion dollars (£312m) to help contain the build-up of toxic water.

Its ability to stem the water leaks by the time Tokyo hosts the Olympics in 2020 – as promised by Abe – could be hampered by a looming labour shortage.

As Tepco was reducing costs and attempting to calm public anger over its handling of the crisis, it imposed a 20% pay cut for all employees in 2011. From a total workforce of 37,000, 1,286 people left the firm, between April 2011 and June this year. The firm did not hire any employees in fiscal 2012 and 2013.

The utility plans to take on 331 employees next April, according to Mayumi Yoshida, a Tepco spokeswoman. "[The employment] system will change so it will be easier for talented employees to gain promotion and for unproductive employees to be demoted," she said.

But there is little the firm can do about the departure of experienced workers, forced to leave after reaching their radiation exposure limit.

Tepco documents show that between March 2011 and July this year, 138 employees reached the 100-millisievert [mSv] threshold; another 331 had been exposed to between 75 mSv and 100 mSv, meaning their days at the plant are numbered. Those nearing their dose limit have reportedly been moved to other sites, or asked to take time off, so they can return to work at Fukushima Daiichi at a later date.

Some workers have left because of exhaustion and stress, while others have decided to find work closer to their displaced wives and children.

"They are less motivated and are worried about continuing to work for a firm that might not exist in a decade from now," Shigemura said.

Workers who have stayed on do so in the knowledge that they risk damaging their health through prolonged exposure to radiation and in accidents of the kind that occurred this week.

Earlier this year, Tepco said that 1,973 workers, including those employed by contractors and subcontractors, had estimated thyroid radiation doses in excess of 100 mSv, the level at which many physicians agree the risk of developing cancer begins to rise.

"These workers may show a tiny increased risk of cancer over their lifetimes," said Gerry Thomas, professor of molecular pathology at Imperial College, London University. "One hundred millisieverts is the dose we use as a cut-off to say we can see a significant effect on the cancer rate in very large epidemiology studies. The numbers have to be large because the individual increase is minuscule."

But she added: "I would be far more worried about these workers smoking or feeling under stress due to the fear of what radiation might do to them. That is much more likely to have an effect on any person's health."

While Thomas and other experts have cautioned against reaching hasty conclusions about a possible rise in thyroid cancer among Fukushima Daiichi workers, there is little doubt that their punishing work schedule, performed under the international spotlight, is taking a toll on their health.

"I'm particularly worried about depression and alcoholism," said Takeshi Tanigawa, a professor in the department of public health at Ehime University in western Japan. "I've seen high levels of physical distress and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder."

Many of the casual labourers employed by subcontractors live in cheap accommodation in places such as Yumoto, a hot-spring resort south of the exclusion zone around the plant. The number of workers has declined in the past year amid complaints from hoteliers and inn-keepers about drink-fuelled fights. These days, more seem to prefer the bars and commercial sex establishments of nearby Onahama port.

A 42-year-old contract worker, who asked not be named, confirmed that alcohol abuse had become a problem among workers. "Lots of men I know drink heavily in the evening and come to work with the shakes the next day. I know of several who worked with hangovers during the summer and collapsed with heatstroke."

"There isn't much communication between workers. People want to look after number one. Newcomers are looked down on by their colleagues and some don't really know how to do their jobs."

Another worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he had seen hungover colleagues collapse with heatstroke just minutes after beginning work.

In the long term, Tepco and its partner companies will struggle to find enough people with specialist knowledge to see decommissioning through to the end, according to Yukiteru Naka, a retired engineer with General Electric who helped build some of Fukushima Daiichi's reactors.

"There aren't enough trained people at Fukushima Daiichi even now," he said. "For Tepco, money is the top priority – nuclear technology and safety come second and third. That's why the accident happened. The management insists on keeping the company going. They think about shareholders, bank lenders and the government, but not the people of Fukushima."

Naka, who runs a firm in Iwaki, just south of Fukushima Daiichi, that provides technical assistance to Tepco, said the lack of expertise afflicts the utility and general contractors with a pivotal role in the cleanup.

"Most of their employees have no experience of working in conditions like these, and all the time their exposure to radiation is increasing," he said. "I suggested to Tepco that it bring in retired workers who said they were willing to help, but the management refused."

Faced with labour shortages and a string of accidents, Tepco has in recent weeks come under pressure to accept more specialist help from overseas. At the start of this month, Shinzo Abe, told an international science conference in Kyoto: "My country needs your knowledge and expertise."

But this apparent spirit of openness is unlikely to turn the decommissioning operation into a genuinely international effort, said Ian Fairlie, a London-based independent consultant on radioactivity in the environment. "Japanese officials ask for help, but Tepco and the government are not in the business of saying: 'This is serious, please come and help us,'" he said.

Tepco's unshakable belief in its ability to complete the decommissioning operation rules out any meaningful co-operation, even with Japanese government officials. "Tepco has always wanted to do its own thing," said Akihiro Yoshikawa, a Tepco employee of 14 years who recently left the company. "It doesn't want the government stepping in and telling it what to do; it just wants the government's money."

Yoshikawa said the spirit of resilience his former colleagues had displayed in the aftermath of the accident had turned to despondency amid mounting criticism at home and abroad, forcing younger workers to leave and older ones to take early retirement. "They felt like they were being bullied, even though they were putting their lives at risk," he said.

"Tepco is spending its money on fixing the technical problems, but it also needs people to carry out that work. I'm very worried about the labour shortage. If they don't do something about it soon, the employment system at Fukushima Daiichi will collapse first, not the plant."

For the thousands of non-Tepco employees hired across Japan to perform backbreaking, dangerous work for contractors and subcontractors, the lure of earning decent money in return for working close to lethal levels of radiation has proved an illusion.

Once money for accommodation has been subtracted from their wages, labourers are typically left with a few thousand yen at the end of each day. In some cases, smaller companies withhold danger money, which can amount to more than half of a worker's daily wage because, they say, they need the extra cash to keep their business afloat.

The poor pay has forced growing numbers of men to quit and take up jobs decontaminating the area around the plant, for which they can earn similar momey but with much less exposure to radiation.

"The real work at Fukushima Daiichi is being done by the general contractors, with the smaller companies picking up the crumbs," Yoshikawa said. "They outbid each other for contracts and so end up with less money to pay their workers. They have no choice but to hire cheap labour."

Conditions for Tepco workers living in J Village – a football training complex just south of Fukushima Daiichi – have only recently improved.

For two years after the disaster, those living in prefabricated units at J Village had to walk hundreds of metres to use communal toilets at night. Tepco belatedly installed private toilets earlier this year after the firm's incoming president, Naomi Hirose, heeded health experts' warnings that the lack of facilities was compromising employees' health.

"The managers at Tepco headquarters have little idea of how their Fukushima Daiichi employees live," said Tanigawa, the public health professor. "The company's management is focused on the compensation problem and doesn't want to be accused of only looking after its own when there are still evacuees who haven't been compensated."

But as concern grows over Tepco's ability to address the myriad technical challenges facing Fukushima Daiichi – starting next month with the removal of 1,300 spent fuel assemblies from the top of reactor No 4 – the unfolding human crisis is being largely ignored.

There is still no full-time mental health counselling available at the plant, said Shigemura, whose team visits about once a month to talk to workers and administer pharmacological treatments. "That amazes me," he said.

"Tepco workers worry about their health, but also about whether Tepco will take care of them if they fall ill in the future. They put their lives and their health on the line, but in the years to come, they wonder if they will just be discarded."

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« Reply #9363 on: Oct 16, 2013, 07:40 AM »

Rogue kangaroos invade airports

Marsupial captured inside pharmacy in Melbourne terminal as maverick runway intruder evades capture in Queensland

Oliver Milman, Wednesday 16 October 2013 06.10 BST   
Airport visits by kangaroos are not unheard of – last year a distressed animal was found on the fifth floor of Melbourne airport’s multi-storey car park

Wildlife carers have called for better safeguards to be put in place for kangaroos after two separate cases of rogue marsupials infiltrating Australian airports.

Passengers at Melbourne airport were startled to discover a male kangaroo hopping inside the terminal on Wednesday morning.

The animal, dubbed Cyrus after one of the helpers on the scene, was cornered in a pharmacy, where it dislodged several toiletry products before being sedated and removed by wildlife volunteers.

The intrusion follows a prolonged rampage by a large male kangaroo at Bundaberg airport in south-east Queensland.

The maverick eastern grey kangaroo has evaded capture for two months, despite attempts to trap it with dogs and even to shoot it. There are concerns that the kangaroo, which is regularly spotted eating grass near the aircraft hangar, creates uncertainty for landing pilots by bouncing across the airstrip.

Airport visits by kangaroos are not unheard of – last year a distressed animal was found on the fifth floor of Melbourne airport’s multi-storey car park.

Amy Amato, of Wildlife Victoria, which sedated and removed Wednesday’s intruder, told Guardian Australia the animal was severely traumatised.

“It has injuries to its teeth, of all things, which we aren’t sure if he got from bashing into something,” she said. “We removed it to a wildlife shelter in Gisborne and we will keep an eye on it.

“Hopefully it will survive the night. Kangaroos can get a condition called capture myopathy, which is caused by severe stress and can kill them. This animal was very stressed.”

Amato said more needed to be done to stop kangaroos entering the airport.

“It is slightly bizarre but there are a couple of big mobs of kangaroos around this area, as this was their habitat before we moved in,” she said.

“It’s an issue for their safety and also human safety. Something needs to be done as this issue hasn’t been looked at properly. Serious plans need to be put in place – you can put in fences high enough that they can’t jump but if a car can get in, so can a kangaroo.”

Amato added that calls to the volunteer service for animal rescues had soared “astronomically” this spring compared with last year. Calls to the volunteer service to help possums, kangaroos, echidnas, koalas and other animals had risen by 40%, year on year.

A spokeswoman for Melbourne airport said: “The kangaroo was contained in the pharmacy for its own safety and the safety of everyone else. There won’t be any review of our processes.

“This is an unfortunate incident but we haven’t had a kangaroo in the terminal before. We believe it only came in because it was injured.”

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« Reply #9364 on: Oct 16, 2013, 07:46 AM »

Violence at Rio de Janeiro protest

Show of support for striking teachers to mark national holiday in their honour ends in clashes with police and many arrests

Dom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro, Wednesday 16 October 2013 06.28 BST   

Link to video: Brazil: teachers' protest in Rio de Janeiro turns violent

A protest in support of striking teachers ended in dozens of arrests in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday night as the annual 15 October Teachers' Day holiday came to a violent conclusion. A police car was set on fire, bank foyers and cash machines smashed and fires lit in Floriano Square after thousands joined an action that brought the city centre to a standstill.

Police used teargas and percussion grenades as they struggled to regain control of the city centre from a crowd including black-clad masked youths linked to the Black Bloc protest movement. Some protesters threw rocks, fireworks and other missiles – advancing across Floriano Square behind sheets of corrugated iron and forcing riot police to retreat at one point. Police, who were evident in much smaller numbers, also threw rocks at protesters. Adolfo Tavares, 28, was treated by volunteer medics after he said he was hit in the leg by a  rock thrown by police. "Police formed a barrier and began throwing rocks," he said.

The Folha de S Paulo newspaper reported that buses were used to ferry arrested protesters to police stations in Rio. It said Brazilian lawyers' association the OAB, which accompanies protests, reported 200 arrests throughout the day.

There were 56 arrests at a student march in São Paulo where a furniture shop was invaded and protesters clashed with police, reports said. Smaller demonstrations were reported in Porto Alegre and Brasília.

The Rio riot followed the same pattern as a demonstration a week ago in Rio – peaceful protest followed by conflict with police. Earlier a carnival atmosphere had prevailed as samba drums pounded and a protester dressed as Spider-Man led a brass band past the city council chamber – where demonstrators had climbed an iron gate and daubed "Dilma out" in a reference to President Dilma Rousseff.

The G1 news site estimated there were 10,000 on the march, which filled Floriano Square and nearby streets – just a few miles from the Maracanã stadium where the 2014 World Cup final will be held, and where Rio's municipal theatre and council chamber are situated.
Local media blamed the violence on Black Bloc members who are a feature of protests in Rio, but protesters said the black-clad youth had formed an unlikely alliance with striking teachers, shocked by heavyhanded police tactics at previous marches.

"Those who come to the street aren't scared because they know the boys are right," said high school teacher Regina Silva, 50, before the violence broke out. Silva earns R5,000 (£1,433) a month and is on strike for more money and a better career plan.

Student Ariane Santos, 26, who was wearing an Anonymous mask, said the Black Bloc protected protesters. "The Black Bloc always defend the demonstrations when the police come here," she said. "They protect the teachers in various situations."


Thousands join teachers' protest in Rio de Janeiro

March draws biggest turnout since wave of protests during Confederations Cup in June, and anarchist groups clash with police

Jonathan Watts in Rio de Janeiro, Tuesday 8 October 2013 18.47 BST   

Rio de Janeiro was once again racked by violent protest on Tuesday night as a teachers strike became the latest rallying point for public discontent over public services and police brutality.

Several tens of thousands joined a demonstration in support of teachers, who are opposed to a salary and benefit package proposed by Rio's mayor, Eduardo Paes.

The turnout, despite a torrential downpour, was among the biggest since a nationwide wave of protests in June that overshadowed preparations for next year's World Cup.

Anarchist groups smashed banks and burnt a bus, while "Black Block" protesters threw firebombs at the police, who responded with teargas, rubber bullets and percussion grenades.

The scenes outside the city hall will resurrect fears about social stability that had abated in recent months. After the million-strong protests three months ago, the president, Dilma Rousseff, tried to assuage public anger with a promise to divert more revenue to education and health.

But scepticism remains. Brazil spends a similar amount of its GDP on education as the UK, but the returns on this public investment are poor. With short school hours, high truancy rates and comparatively poor academic results, many suspect the system is mired in corruption and excessive bureaucracy.

In Rio, the teachers' union says the mayor's pay offer is too low. Many feel that the public education system is failing the nation and needs major reform. They have been on strike for 46 days.

Among the protesters was Gisela Ferreira, who earns 1,000 reais (£280) for a 64-hour month of teaching in a secondary school in Paraty. She said she joined the demonstration because the education system in Rio was being privatised by stealth.

While contracts were extended to private companies for classroom air conditioner rentals and other basic services, she said, there was less money for teachers, some of whom were expected to teach more than 10 subjects. "I've been a teacher for six years and in that time, conditions have got worse and worse. Every year we have less autonomy."

At the beginning the demonstration was colourful and largely peaceful. One group calling itself the Tropa de Prof (Teachers' Troop) played music and danced in bright red and green carnival wigs.

"We want to show our solidarity with the teachers," said Isabel Mansur. "Their conditions are terrible. And when they protested last week, there was an unacceptably violent response from the police."

Many on the march wore crash helmets and masks in preparation for conflict with the police. Black Bloc protesters carried banners depicting molotov cocktails and slogans reading "The people's rebellion is justified". They handed out leaflets outlining their position, which said: "Relax people. It's us, the Black Bloc. What you can't do, we can. We don't just attack, we defend people against police abuse and defend our right to protest."

When crowds gathered outside the city council building amid a downpour, the sporadic clashes intensified. One group of Black Bloc anarchists smashed a gate to the city hall, while others broke into shops and set fire to banks and buses. Police fired volleys of teargas and percussion grenades to disperse the crowds, who responded with firebombs.

Another teacher at the protest, Aline de Luca, said that despite the violence of last week's demonstration, she had come back because the education system needed to be changed.

"I want our classes to be better resourced. At present we can't function properly as a school because there is no money even for a janitor or a secretary," she said.

She was heartened by the increased turnout. "We have support from the people. Many of those who are here are not education professionals", she said. "I am hopeful things will improve because we have never seen society as mobilised as it is now."

Additional reporting by Anna Kaiser


Brazil protests: president to hold emergency meeting

Night of protests draws vast crowds in cities across Brazil, with a total turnout estimated at 2 million

Jonathan Watts in Rio de Janeiro, Friday 21 June 2013 10.43 BST   

Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, and key ministers are to hold an emergency meeting on Friday following a night of protests that saw Rio de Janeiro and dozens of other cities echo with percussion grenades and swirl with teargas as riot police scattered the biggest demonstrations in more than two decades.

The protests were sparked last week by opposition to rising bus fares, but they have spread rapidly to encompass a range of grievances, as was evident from the placards. "Stop corruption. Change Brazil"; "Halt evictions"; "Come to the street. It's the only place we don't pay taxes"; "Government failure to understand education will lead to revolution".

Rousseff's office said she had cancelled a trip to Japan next week.

A former student radical herself, Rousseff has tried to mollify the protesters by praising their peaceful and democratic spirit. Partly at her prompting, Rio, São Paulo and other cities have reversed the increase in public transport fares, but this has failed to quell the unrest.

A vast crowd – estimated by the authorities at 300,000 and more than a million by participants – filled Rio's streets, one of a wave of huge nationwide marches against corruption, police brutality, poor public services and excessive spending on the World Cup.

A minority of protesters threw stones, torched cars and pulled down lamp-posts. Police responded by firing volleys of pepper spray and rubber bullets into the crowd and up onto overpasses where car drivers and bus passengers were stuck in traffic jams. At least 40 people were injured in the city and many more elsewhere.

Simultaneous demonstrations were reported in at least 80 cities, with a total turnout that may have been close to 2 million. An estimated 110,000 marched in São Paulo, 80,000 in Manaus, 50,000 in Recife and 20,000 in Belo Horizonte and Salvador.

Clashes were reported in the Amazon jungle city of Belem, Porto Alegre in the south, Campinas north of São Paulo and Salvador.

Thirty-five people were injured in the capital Brasilia, where 30,000 people took to the streets. In São Paulo, one man was killed when a frustrated car driver rammed into the crowd. Elsewhere countless people, including many journalists, were hit by rubber bullets.

The vast majority of those involved were peaceful. Many wore Guy Fawkes masks, emulating the global Occupy campaign. Others donned red noses – a symbol of a common complaint that people are fed up being treated as clowns.

"There are no politicians who speak for us," said Jamaime Schmitt, an engineer. "This is not just about bus fares any more. We pay high taxes and we are a rich country, but we can't see this in our schools, hospitals and roads." Many in the mostly young, middle class crowd were experiencing their first large protest.

Matheus Bizarria, who works for the NGO Action Aid, said people had reached the limit of their tolerance about longstanding problems that the Confederations Cup and World Cup have brought into focus because of the billions of reals spent on new stadiums rather than public services. Rio is also due to host a papal visit to World Youth Day next month, and the Olympics in 2016.

"It's totally connected to the mega-events," Bizarria said. "People have had enough, but last year only 100 people marched against a bus price rise. There were 1,000 last week and 100,000 on Monday. Now we hope for a million."

Initially the mood in Rio was peaceful. When a handful of people began tearing down posters for the Confederations Cup, the rest of the crowd sat down around them and shamed them with shouts of "no violence" and "no vandalism".

But later protesters pulled down security cameras, smashed bus stops and torched cars. Every hoarding that advertised the Confederations Cup was destroyed.

Police had increased their numbers more than 10-fold from Monday, and were quickly on the offensive.

After a confrontation near the city hall, they drove back the protesters, who fled coughing and with tears streaming down their cheeks. At least one person was hit by rubber bullets, and showed the bruise on his leg where he was hit.

Some were furious that the police action seemed indiscriminate. "Where we had been tranquil, then suddenly they started firing gas into the crowd. People were scared and appalled," said Alessandra Sampaio, one of the protesters.

"They are cowards. They wanted to disperse the crowd never mind who it was. I'm very angry. It was a real abuse of power."

Victor Bezerra, a law student, said the police action was like something from the dictatorship era. "These are bad days for Brazil. The police were acting just like they did 30 years ago."

The crowd were driven into side streets and back towards the central station by lines of police backed by officers carrying shotguns on horseback and motorbikes.

"Look at this. It's hard to believe. Terrible!", said Ellie Lopes, a 22-year-old passerby, as she surveyed the debris and flames.

Riot police eventually cleared the entire central area, but they were still dispersing gatherings in the Lapa music and bar district late into the night. As helicopters buzzed overhead, they fired teargas into the crowded square next to a concert by the band Cannibal Corpse. Hotdog kiosk vendors found themselves with sore and streaming eyes, inadvertently pushed onto a moving frontline.

Despite the crackdown, many said they would return to the streets for the next demonstration, planned for Saturday.

Additional reporting by Dom Phillips

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« Reply #9365 on: Oct 16, 2013, 07:48 AM »

Trouble brewing in Guatemala's coffee and cardamom fields

With prices tumbling and disease taking hold, farmers are unearthing a viable alternative to monoculture agriculture

Mark Tran in Raxnam and Rabinal, Guatemala, Wednesday 16 October 2013 07.00 BST   

If you turn off the main road from the city of Cobán and drive down a dirt road, you will come across a magical green kingdom. Tall bushes of coffee and cardamom grow on the pine-topped hills that recede into the distance.

But it is a cursed kingdom. The coffee and cardamom bushes in this village in Alta Verapaz, a department in central Guatemala, are dying from disease. Coffee rust disease – roya in Spanish – is killing the coffee and attacking cardamom.

"The disease began last year and all my plants are sick," says Rolando Rax, who grows both crops on the region's steep slopes. "I think it's climate change, and the plants do not have enough shade because we cut down too many trees and didn't replant them. But it will take 10-20 years to grow new ones."

Pausing as we squelch along narrow, muddy paths, Rax tugs at a coffee branch to show what the disease looks like. The leaf is mottled yellow and brown instead of bearing its customary glossy green sheen.

Whether or not climate change is the culprit, the village's 124 families – members of the Q'eqchi' indigenous group – also face the problem of falling cardamom prices. Last week cardamom growers formed a roadblock as senior officials arrived to try to defuse the situation.

As the crisis bites, it is beginning to dawn on some that while coffee and cardamom can bring benefits in good years, there are risks involved in basing exports around limited crop cultivation. Guatemala's best coffee beans are shipped abroad, while Guatemalans drink insipid watery coffee. The country's cardamom, meanwhile, is exported mostly to the Middle East.

Neither are native to Guatemala. Coffee was introduced to the country by the Spanish; cardamom arrived courtesy of Germans after the first world war. While Guatemala focuses on agricultural exports, many residents suffer from malnutrition. Despite its highly fertile land, the country has one of the world's highest child stunting rates (48%).

Rax and his family discuss the problem in the kitchen over a special meal of chicken soup, with carrots and a swede-like vegetable, accompanied by corn tortillas. They talk about whether to spend money on a disinfectant to tackle the disease, but Maria Quib, Rax's mother, wonders whether it makes sense to invest in this area while coffee and cardamom prices are so low. Some have already started using the disinfectant.

Mario Tiul Cucal, director of the grandly named academy and cultural centre, in reality a brick building full of typewriters and computers that lies idle due to a lack electricity and modems, started using the disinfectant in May. He says it is working, but it is expensive, and only 10% of the community are using it.

As for the Rax family, Quib believes it was, perhaps, unwise to rely exclusively on limited crops. "We've been fooled into depending on one of two crops," she says.

Rax and his family are lucky in one sense: they are not in debt. They were given the land by the former German owner of the finca, or plantation, when he retired. His grandparents had worked on the finca and, along with others, were offered either cash or land as compensation for working for years for a pittance. Like all the other workers, they chose the latter.

A few hours away, in the town of Rabinal, Maria Saturnina Ojom, from the Maya Achi indigenous people, follows a different agricultural path. Her family grow their own food – maize, onions, amaranth (a leaf vegetable), radishes and coriander – and sell any surplus. They seem to be doing well. Their house, reached by a bumpy dirt road that has turned muddy from a steady drizzle, has whitewashed walls and red tiles, and includes a large room where corn is stacked high, ready to be turned into tortilla in the coming months. Their field runs down a slope, with a mountain in the distance.

As turkeys and chickens scuttle about their feet, Ojom and her son sit shelling pumpkin seeds to make a bit of extra money. She says life is much better now than when they used to live in Guatemala City, the capital, where her husband earned about 800 quetzales (£63) a month working in a factory, which was not enough to send the children to school.

Now the family have their own home, live off their produce and earn a bit more than 800 quetzales a month from selling excess produce. Ojom belongs to the Asociación Qachuu Aloom, or Mother Earth Association, which advocates food sovereignty – a concept introduced more than 20 years ago by the international peasants' movement La Via Campesina.

Unlike food security – defined as ensuring people have enough to eat – food sovereignty focuses on power and control of land, water and seeds. Ojom has not heard of food sovereignty, but that is what she is practising. She uses a third of her seeds to produce food for the family, a third to sell and trade, and saves the remainder for the next season. She is adamant about not using chemicals because she fears they lead to illness.

"Food is your medicine: if you eat well, you don't get sick," she says. "There are no illnesses in our house. People who use chemicals in their crops get sick – they have stomach problems, many of their kids are overweight."

Magdalena Alvarado, the head of Qachuu Aloom in Rabinal, emphasises the importance of using traditional seeds. The association advises Ojom and other members how best to store seeds – big jars in a cool, dark place – buys their seeds, and acts as a seed bank and retailer.

"Before our network, people were buying hybrid seeds from big landowners, full of chemicals," she says. "They are contaminated. They may produce big carrots, but they are not good for your health. And they rot sooner."

Food sovereignty, as advocated by Alvarado, may seem quixotic in an era of industrial-scale agriculture. It is questionable whether small-scale farming can feed the growing cities of the developing world. But in a report published last month by the UN trade and development body, Unctad, experts argued that food sovereignty was a viable alternative to industrial, monoculture agriculture, which they said had failed to provide enough affordable food where it is needed while causing "mounting and unsustainable" environmental damage.

The report called for the reform of agricultural trade rules to give countries more opportunity to promote policies that encourage local and regional food systems. Neither Ojom nor Quib have read the study, but Ojom's type of farming – focusing on organic food for family consumption, with a bit of trade on the side – is proving a safer option than growing coffee and cardamom for export.

Ojom's 16-year-old son says he found it very tiring to work in the field. He has taken a year off to help the family farm but wants to return to Guatemala City to become a police officer. Farming is a tough life, no matter how it is done.

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« Reply #9366 on: Oct 16, 2013, 07:50 AM »

Ethiopa's lone opposition MP warns of backlash against authoritarianism

Girma Seifu Maru says government could face violent struggle if it fails to open up to critical voices

David Smith, Africa correspondent, Tuesday 15 October 2013 16.34 BST   

Girma Seifu Maru has possibly the loneliest job in African politics. Five hundred and forty-six members of the Ethiopian parliament are loyal to the ruling party. He alone is not.

But the country's sole opposition MP has warned that unless the government opens up to critical voices and guarantees human rights, it faces a potentially "violent struggle".

In a rare interview with the Reuters news agency in Addis Ababa, Girma argued that Ethiopia's impressive economic growth of 10.6% over the past decade was based on Chinese-style authoritarianism and must go hand in hand with political freedoms.

"The Chinese model is that economic development is the primary issue; don't ask about human rights issues, don't ask about your freedom, keeping silent on people's rights so that a few politicians get the economic benefits," said the 47-year-old economist.

The government risked a popular backlash if it did not change direction, he said. "That will be a seed they are just giving water to at this time if they don't change their route and give hope to peaceful activities."

To the outside world, a construction boom in Addis Ababa appears to symbolise how far the country has come since the infamous famine of the 1980s. But frustration at autocratic rule is intensifying. In June, witnesses said, thousands of Ethiopians staged the country's biggest anti-government demonstration since 2005.

Last month Amnesty International warned that basic rights were under attack after two opposition parties reported the arrests of many members attempting to hold peaceful protests.

Hopes of change via the ballot box seem remote. The disputed 2005 election ended in violence and the deaths of 200 people. Opposition candidates won 174 seats but many did not take them up, alleging that the vote was rigged.

Girma was the only opponent to win a seat in 2010. He claims that the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and its allies used state institutions to keep out most rivals.

The Reuters interview noted: "Dressed in a tracksuit and sipping a local St George beer, he brushed off with a smile the idea he was lonely in parliament. 'I am one and they are one,' he said."

The next parliamentary elections will be held 2015. Girma says his party, Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ), is committed to reform by peaceful means and pushing for greater openness with a "millions of voices for change" campaign and demonstrations for freedom around the country.

Girma said his party activists had also launched a petition to repeal the 2009 anti-terrorism law, which rights groups say has been used to lock up opponents. Human Rights Watch says 13 journalists have been convicted since 2011, including Eskinder Nega Fenta, a journalist and blogger who received the 2012 PEN Freedom to Write award.

"A spirit of fear is very dangerous," Girma said. "So if individuals can become free of this fear, they can bring change."

Amnesty said last month: "As eyes begin to turn towards the parliamentary elections due to be held in 2015, the Ethiopian government must release its stranglehold on political participation. The authorities must allow political opposition parties to function without harassment, and allow all persons, including peaceful protest groups, to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association."

But the government brushes off such criticism. Hailemariam Desalegn, who became prime minister following the death of Meles Zenawi in 2012, said last week that it could not be blamed for the opposition's weak showing. "Shall we say to the people: elect this guy or that guy?" he asked Reuters. "It is the people who decide."

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« Reply #9367 on: Oct 16, 2013, 07:52 AM »

France to boost troops in Central African Republic as crisis deepens

Fearing their plight has been eclipsed by conflicts in Syria and Mali, many in strife-hit country see France as their best hope

Reuters in Bangui, Wednesday 16 October 2013 12.37 BST   

France will boost its military presence in the Central African Republic by the end of the year to stop the country from spiralling out of control, the French foreign minister has said.

"President Hollande we want your help!" read one banner as locals in Bangui, the capital, welcomed Laurent Fabius at the weekend.

The country has been in turmoil since mostly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted President François Bozizé in the predominantly Christian country in March. It now teeters on the brink of increased sectarian violence, malnutrition and a collapse of state rule.

The promise of increased French intervention comes two months after the World Food Programme bolstered its operations in the country. The UN agency says ongoing insecurity has fuelled hunger among the population, many of whom have fled their homes and land. Most of the displaced are farmers, who may not return in time for the planting seasons.

Fearing their plight has been eclipsed internationally by conflicts in Syria and Mali, many in the Central African Republic see France as their best hope. "We've seen coups before, but nothing like this," said Bangui-based journalist Steve Niko. "In Mali, the population suffered in one area, but here we're suffering everywhere. It's like our crisis has been forgotten."

The landlocked country is rich with minerals, including uranium and diamonds. But decades of instability and corruption have meant those potential riches have been of little benefit to the population.

As violence, including murder and rape, drives more than 440,000 people from their homes, there are just seven surgeons in a country of 4.6 million people to deal with bullet and machete injuries. One in 10 children die at birth.

"The Seleka rebels came with weapons, hurt us, burned our houses and then there were reprisals from Christian militias," said a woman called Dore at a hospital in Bangui, recounting how she fled hundreds of miles on foot with three children under the age of six.

France has long been seen by many in the Central African Republic as meddling in its affairs after independence in 1960. It has intervened several times in the past, for example when it supported Bozizé in 2006 against northern rebels.

But official French policy has employed a more hands-off stance in such conflicts. Paris is all the more reluctant to be left to deal with another African hotspot after it felt allies such as the US were hesitant to support it in Mali.

Nonetheless, its 400-strong contingent guard the airport and patrol districts where French interests lie, a move that has deterred potential looters.

Fabius tried to allay fears of meddling. "It wouldn't be an intervention in the classic sense of the word," he said. "We're not going to send parachutists, but there needs to be a presence because the state has been completely unseated."

Sources estimate France may increase its force in the country to between 700 and 1,200.

While order has largely returned to the capital, rule of law is largely absent barely 130 miles outside. "Everybody is armed here," said a police officer. "I don't go out after dark, because everyone has weapons … and we have no cars, uniforms or food."

Bozizé is believed to be in east Africa, looking for support to regain power, French diplomatic sources say. For now, the Central African Republic is ruled by former rebel leader Michel Djotodia, the first Muslim to run the country. He has vowed to stand down once elections are held in early 2015.

"Be it Bozizé before or Djotodia now, the same problems exist," presidential spokesman Guy Kodégué said. "It is a problem of misery and poverty. It doesn't cost a lot compared to what France spent to hunt down Islamists in a small part of Mali. With similar help, we would be okay for 40 years."

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« Reply #9368 on: Oct 16, 2013, 07:54 AM »

10/15/2013 01:54 PM

Laboratory of Violence: Egypt Struggles for Control of Sinai

By Ralf Hoppe, Samiha Shafy and Daniel Steinvorth

The Sinai Peninsula is both a vacation paradise and a haven for jihadists and gangs of thugs. The military and the police are trying to regain control over the region. But a new class of haughty warlords and a resentful public mean the state's chances are remote.

On the day of his departure, warehouse manager Hussein Gilbana packed his five best shirts and pairs of pants into a black suitcase, together with books and photos. He embraced his wife and kissed his five-year-old son, Omar, and his little boy, Assar.

He told the children that he would return soon, and that he would come to get them and take them to a new home as soon as possible. Then he got into his old Fiat and drove away. He was leaving his home in al-Arish, on the Sinai Peninsula, which he had grown to hate.

Gilbana and his wife had recently taken to calling their city "signa," or "prison." Al-Arish, a city on the northern coast of Sinai, had been sealed off militarily.

Gilbana and his wife had looked on as outsiders invaded al-Arish: petty criminals, Islamists and former felons. They had seen how these people tried to take over the city, and how the Egyptian government had responded with brute violence. They had become familiar with two types of murderers, says Gilbana, "murderers with long beards and murderers in polished military boots."

Gilbana, 32, is a slim and energetic man. He's a Sinai native, and a member of a Bedouin tribe called the Aulad-Suleiman. Life in al-Arish wasn't bad. He worked as a warehouse manager in a cement factory and made a good living. But then his city turned into a war zone, says Gilbana.

The entire country has descended into violence since the military coup in July, but nowhere in Egypt is the fight being waged as bitterly and violently as on the Sinai Peninsula, which is roughly the size of the Republic of Ireland.

Growing Hotbed of Terrorism

The Sinai is a laboratory of violence, a test zone. This is where the military must prove it can establish law and order, now that it has eliminated the democratically elected Islamist government of former President Mohammed Morsi. The generals must demonstrate they can save the country -- and soon, or else the majority of Egyptians will lose the last vestige of confidence in the military, and so will Egypt's allies.

But the prospects are not good, as several incidents last week demonstrated. On Monday, a car bomb exploded in front of the police headquarters building in the center of el-Tor, the capital of the South Sinai Governorate. Egyptian media reported that shrapnel ripped open the front of the building across four floors. Four police officers were killed and 48 people were injured.

On the same day, gunmen attacked an army patrol in Sinai, near the Suez Canal. Thursday, only three days later, a suicide bomber drove his car into a checkpoint outside al-Arish, killing three soldiers and a police officer. Earlier, six people were killed in an attack on Egyptian intelligence headquarters in Rafah.

Last month in Cairo, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim narrowly escaped being killed by a car bomb. The attack was most likely the work of the Islamist militant group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which is present everywhere in Egypt but has its headquarters on the Sinai Peninsula.

Sinai, an upside-down triangle, has a harsh and unwelcoming desert in its interior but one of the most beautiful coastlines in the Middle East. It is bordered by the Gulf of Suez to the west, the Gulf of Aqaba to the east and the Mediterranean to the north. Saint Catherine's, one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world, near where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments from God, is in Sinai.

Sinai has been a Bedouin region for thousands of years. The Bedouins are a tough race. Though nominally Egyptian, their loyalty was to the tribe and not an abstract state that did little to nothing for them. Poor as they were, the Sinai Bedouins lived a free life. That is, until the tourists arrived.

Tourists Scared Off By Violence

In the mid-1990s, British, French and German tourists discovered southern Sinai. It was a paradise for beachgoers and amateur divers, with clear water and luminous coral reefs, just a few hours by plane from rainy Frankfurt. In Sharm el-Sheikh alone, the number of tourists skyrocketed from 60,000 in 1990 to 1.7 million in 2000. Hundreds of hotels were built, especially in the south. Meanwhile, there were looming developments in the north that had little to do with coral and culture.

The year 2010 was celebrated as a record year. Then the revolution overthrew the brutal but stable government, and Sinai became a virtually lawless zone.

The tourists stayed away, and smugglers, human and drug traffickers and jihadists took over. Since this summer and the removal of President Morsi from power, the army, the police and special forces have been trying to regain control over the peninsula.

In September, the government declared the situation was stable in southern Sinai. Lobbyists for Egyptian tourism urged European officials to lift their travel warnings for the Red Sea beach resorts. Then came last week's series of attacks in the north, dashing any hopes that the situation would improve in the foreseeable future.

Bringing peace to Sinai seems impossible at the moment, as Colonel Ahmed Mohammed Ali knows all too well. The officer is sitting in a palace in Cairo, in a conference room filled with velvet, crystal and brocade, wearing combat fatigues and shiny boots and drinking a glass of juice. Colonel Ali is a member of the staff of the head of the Egyptian military, General Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi.

Jihadists have been coming to the peninsula since 2005, Ali says. Some come from Sudan, while others arrive through the smugglers' tunnels connecting Sinai with the Gaza Strip. They have found shelter primarily in three cities: Sheikh Zuwaid, Rafah and al-Arish, the city from which warehouse manager Gilbana fled.

According to Ali, the groups have their hideouts in these three cities and about 15 surrounding villages in northern Sinai, which is now their base of operations. There are nine groups, consisting of about 1,200 combatants, along with about 7,000 to 10,000 helpers. It is very difficult to get information from the population, says Ali, because people are scared.

New Power Structures Emerge
Ali says the terrorists have proclaimed a sort of fatwa, or religious decree, even though they lack the theological authority to do so. According to this pseudo-fatwa, all soldiers and police officers are to be seen as infidels and are therefore legitimate targets for killing.

The terrorists have all sorts of light weapons, says Ali, along with mortars, surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles. Three or four large arms caches are found every week, but there are many more, says Ali.

Terrorism and Sinai expert Samir Ghattas, the director of a Cairo think tank, explains why Sinai will likely remain a war zone for a long time to come. The traditional tribal structures have been destroyed, says Ghattas, and have been replaced with new centers of power. Ghattas blames the tunnels for this.

Under the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israel opened diplomatic representations in various Arab countries. Former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak had feared the loss of his political monopoly as Israel's Arab negotiating counterpart, says Ghattas, and that was why he allowed the smugglers to do as they pleased: as a threat to Israel and as a bargaining chip for Egypt, because it strengthened Mubarak's position. But there is more to the story than that, says Ghattas.

As a result of the smuggling activities between Egypt and Gaza, young men have made a lot of money and gained considerable influence in the last decade, says Ghattas. A new elite has emerged from nowhere, young warlords who no longer acknowledge the traditional status and authority of tribal elders. In addition, the tunnels strengthen the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza.

Many of the smuggler barons, says Colonel Ali, are now giving themselves an additional religious veneer. "A bit jihad cosmetics provides them with prestige and justification, in addition to money and weapons," he says. "They're so cocky that they have people call them 'emir' or 'prince.' They feel grand in the role they are playing, that of the Islamist liberator."

To make matters worse, says the colonel, prisons were stormed after the 2011 revolution, in places like Wadi Natrun, Tora and Faiyum. From there, many freed criminals went to Sinai. Under the aegis of the Morsi government, smuggling activities in the direction of the Gaza Strip became easier because Morsi's interior minister had called off the army and the police. The military still wielded substantial power. It could have intervened, but apparently it chose not to.

'Recalibration' of US Military Aid

Hussein Gilbana, the man from al-Arish, didn't vote for Morsi. Nevertheless, he believed that the Morsi government should have been accepted, because it had come into power in a democratic election. Instead, the military seized power and violence escalated.

There were many nights when Gilbana and his wife lay awake in bed, listening to the gunshots and talking about fleeing from al-Arish. They knew that if they stayed, they would eventually be caught between fronts.

Many feel the same way as Gilbana. The military, for its part, is now feeling the dire consequences of its failure to build trust with people in Sinai during the Mubarak era.

The warnings from their American allies have also done little good. In the middle of last week, officials in Washington told Cairo they had decided to "recalibrate" US military aid to Egypt, which is currently worth a little over $1 billion (€740 million) a year. This probably means that deliveries of tanks and helicopters will be curtailed for the time being. But Egypt has also found support among Israelis, whose powerful lobby in Washington has urged US lawmakers to send money and weapons to Egypt after all. Indeed, military support for Sinai has remained untouched, although the public is not told exactly how the millions of dollars are being used.

One of the characteristics of this Sinai war is that it is being waged behind the scenes. It has become difficult for journalists to move around in the region, where they run the risk of being kidnapped or killed by jihadists -- or ending up in a military prison.

Attacks on the Press

That was the fate of reporter Ahmed Abu Deraa, 38, who works for the respected daily newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm and various television stations. "We suffered under the police state during the Mubarak era," says Abu Deraa, "but now things have gotten much worse."

On Sept. 3, Abu Deraa was in al-Arish taking pictures of a mosque and three apartment buildings that soldiers had set on fire. An Egyptian TV station aired his photos, together with an interview with the reporter, in which he said that civilians had also been hit by the attack. He knew this, says Abu Deraa, because a distant relative was among the injured.

The relative had been taken to army barracks in the city. When Abu Deraa went there to visit him, he was arrested. "I was accused of spreading false rumors that could damage the military," he says.

Abu Deraa was taken to a tiny windowless cell. His family was not allowed to visit, and it took 11 days before his attorney came to see him. "Fortunately, my colleagues and the journalists' association protested on my behalf," says Abu Deraa. After he spent 30 days in the cell, a military court sentenced him to six months' probation and ordered him to pay a fine of 200 Egyptian pounds, or €21.39. He was released on Oct. 5.

He wants to continue working as a journalist, says Abu Deraa, even though it has become virtually impossible to do so. "The situation in Sinai has gone from bad to miserable."

And while Abu Deraa was on his way to a meeting of the journalists' association last Friday evening to celebrate his release, Hussein Gilbana, the warehouse manager from al-Arish, had arrived in Cairo. He had picked up the key to his new apartment, which isn't far from Tahrir Square. The monthly rent is reasonable, at 1,100 Egyptian pounds, or about €110. He bought two small beds for his boys, a double bed, a closet, lamps, dishes and a pot. He planned to drive back to al-Arish the next day to pick up his family.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #9369 on: Oct 16, 2013, 07:55 AM »

October 15, 2013

Uganda Fights Stigma and Poverty to Take On Breast Cancer


KAMPALA, Uganda — Mary Namata unbuttoned her dress in an examining room at Mulago Hospital, revealing a breast taut and swollen with grape-size tumors that looked as if they might burst through the skin.

“How long have you had this?” a doctor asked gently. Ms. Namata, 48, an elegant woman with stylishly braided hair and a flowing, traditional Ugandan dress, looked away, shamefaced.

“About a year,” she murmured. The truth, she admitted later, was closer to four years.

Such enormous tumors, rare in developed countries, are typical here. Women in Uganda, trapped by stigma, poverty and misinformation, often do not see help for breast cancer until it is too late.

For Ms. Namata, though, there was still hope that the cancer had not yet spread beyond the breast, her doctors said. Treatment could prolong her life, maybe even cure her — if it started soon.

But would she be treated in time? Women in Africa often face perilous delays in treatment as a result of scarce resources, incompetence and corruption. Would Ms. Namata wind up like so many women here, with disease so far gone that doctors can offer nothing but surgery to remove rotting flesh, morphine for pain and antibacterial powder to kill the smell of festering tumors that break through the skin?

Cancer has long been neglected in developing countries, overshadowed by the struggle against more acute threats like malaria and AIDS. But as nations across the continent have made remarkable progress against infectious diseases once thought too daunting to tackle, more people are living long enough to develop cancer, and the disease is coming to the forefront. Given the strides poor countries have made against other health problems, they should also be able to improve the treatment of cancer, public health experts increasingly say.

Two years ago, the United Nations began a global campaign against noncommunicable diseases — cancer, diabetes, heart and lung disease — noting that they hit the poor especially hard. Worldwide, at least 7.6 million people a year die from cancer, and 70 percent of those deaths occur in poor and moderate-income countries, according to the World Health Organization.

Breast cancer takes a particularly harsh toll. It is the world’s most common cancer in women and their leading cause of cancer death, with 1.6 million cases a year and more than 450,000 deaths.

Survival rates vary considerably from country to country and even within countries. In the United States, about 20 percent of women who have breast cancer die from it, compared with 40 to 60 percent in poorer countries. The differences depend heavily on the status of women, their awareness of symptoms and the availability of timely care. At the same time, scientists’ deepening insights into the genetic basis of cancer have introduced a complicated new dimension into the care of women globally.

Uganda is trying to improve the treatment of all types of cancer in ways that make sense in a place with limited resources. A new hospital and clinic, paid for by the Ugandan government, have been added to the Uganda Cancer Institute in Kampala, though they have not yet opened, for lack of equipment. A research center is being built.

But women like Ms. Namata, with breast cancer so advanced that there is just a tiny window of time, if any, in which to save their lives, will be among the toughest challenges here.

“The terrible part about breast cancer is that if we just did what we already know how do in other places, we could make major shifts in survival,” said Dr. Benjamin O. Anderson, who heads the Breast Health Global Initiative, based at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

There is a pressing need for action because breast cancer is “escalating,” the initiative says, predicting that incidence and death rates in developing countries will increase by more than 50 percent in the next 20 years.

The breast cancer rate in Africa seems to be increasing, though cervical cancer kills more women in the sub-Saharan regions. It is not clear whether breast cancer is actually becoming more common, or is just being detected and reported more often, but physicians consider it a looming threat. Compared with breast cancer patients in developed countries, those in Africa tend to be younger, and they are more likely to die, in large part because of late diagnosis and inadequate treatment.

Doctors also suspect that more aggressive types of tumors may be more common in young African women, as they appear to be in young black women in the United States, though there is not enough pathology data from Africa to know for sure. Among women who die young (ages 15 to 49) from breast cancer, 72 percent are in developing countries, and many leave small children.

“The story of breast cancer here is a miserable one,” said Dr. Fred Okuku, an oncologist at the Uganda Cancer Institute in Kampala, which treats about 200 women a year for breast cancer. “There is little information for the people who need to be helped. Only a few know how to read and write. Many don’t have TV or radio. There is no word for cancer in most Ugandan languages. A woman finds a lump in her breast, and cancer doesn’t cross her mind. It’s not in her vocabulary.”

Mary Namata’s Story

Ms. Namata, a gracious woman with a radiant smile, lives in Buddo, a village outside Kampala, in a three-room tin-roof house with no electricity or indoor plumbing. Lush jackfruit and papaya trees surround the house, which Ms. Namata shares with two granddaughters and her elderly mother, who is blind and a bit senile. Ms. Namata used to farm, but now looks after her mother and the girls, while their mother — Ms. Namata’s only daughter — works as a hairdresser to support the entire family. Ms. Namata and her husband parted ways long ago.

In late July, sitting on the cement floor with her granddaughters close by her side and her mother listening from a couch, Ms. Namata said that she had first noticed a lump in her right breast four years before, and that a doctor had told her the breast would most likely have to be removed.

Her mother broke into the story, shaking her head angrily and insisting that no woman should have her breast cut off.

Mastectomy is far more common in Africa than in developed countries, even for small lumps, because the technology may not be available to make sure that a lumpectomy is done properly.

Ms. Namata went on, saying she had planned to have the surgery, but friends and relatives talked her out of it, telling her that it would just spread the cancer and kill her. Instead, she decided to try herbal treatments, which her daughter took out a loan to pay for.

Herbs are popular here, widely used for stomach trouble and coughs, and many people try them for cancer. They are sold in shops and from vans parked along busy roads, and are peddled door to door by Masai tribesmen from Kenya. In Kampala not far from the cancer institute, herb peddlers in a van hawked remedies for ulcers, diabetes, toothaches and syphilis over a loudspeaker, and offered a yellow plastic container labeled Healthy Booster for $7 to treat cancer.

Ms. Namata’s tumors kept growing and her breast began to hurt so much that she could not sleep. A hospice program for people with advanced cancer gave her morphine. Finally, on July 17, the pain drove her back to the breast clinic at Mulago. The clinic is held only once a week, and does not have enough doctors to see all the patients who show up; many are sent home week after week and told to come back another time.

On this day, more than 100 women jammed its benches and dim corridors, where a guard called out warnings to beware of pickpockets. Ms. Namata was among the lucky few who were called in to be examined.

A team of American doctors happened to be visiting. Dr. Constance D. Lehman, a radiologist at the Fred Hutchinson center and the director of breast imaging at the University of Washington, used ultrasound to scan Ms. Namata’s armpit, and then performed a needle biopsy. A pathologist from the Hutchinson center, Dr. Margaret Porter, studied the biopsy slide under a microscope.

Despite the large tumors, the doctors were hopeful. The cancer did not seem to have spread, and the cells did not look terribly aggressive, Dr. Porter said.

But it would be important to treat her quickly, maybe with chemotherapy or a hormonal treatment first to shrink the tumors and make it easier to perform a mastectomy.

“I’m so nervous that she’ll fall through the cracks,” Dr. Lehman said. “She’s at a point where she is curable.”

The Americans huddled with a Ugandan surgical resident, who suggested admitting Ms. Namata to the hospital immediately. The Americans were delighted. But Ms. Namata declined, saying she had to find someone to care for her mother and granddaughters. She promised to return.

The American doctors, busy examining other patients, did not learn until later that she had left. Crestfallen, they wondered if she would come back.

A First Step to Progress

Breast cancer in Africa is usually not diagnosed until it has reached Stage 4, the final stage, when it has invaded organs or bones and cannot be cured. If doctors could just find the disease a bit earlier — known as “downstaging” — and start treatment at Stage 3, before the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body, they could increase a woman’s odds of survival by 30 percentage points, according to the 2012 World Breast Cancer Report, published by the International Prevention Research Institute.

Downstaging could be accomplished by getting women like Ms. Namata into the clinic as soon as they notice a lump. But finding cases earlier will require sending health workers into rural areas to educate and examine women, Dr. Okuku said.

Earlier diagnosis here would not require mammograms to search for tiny tumors too small to feel. Instead, American experts hope to help downstage breast cancer in Uganda by teaching doctors to use ultrasound to examine lumps that women have already noticed, and quickly identify those who most urgently need treatment. Ultrasound works better than mammography in younger women, and can help to distinguish cysts and other benign growths from lumps that need biopsies.

In July, a team led by Dr. Lehman gave a course on ultrasound to doctors from Mulago Hospital and the cancer institute, which share a campus in Kampala. Dr. Lehman hopes eventually to set up a more efficient breast clinic, where women waiting to be seen would sort themselves into “more and less worrisome groups” by matching their symptoms to images on a laminated card. The images would include photographs of bulging tumors in the breast so that someone like Ms. Namata could move to a high-priority group.

“I know that paradigm can work, and I know it can be translated to countries around the world,” Dr. Lehman said.

She and most other breast cancer specialists say that the last thing Africa needs is to mimic the screening programs in richer countries that offer mammograms every year or two to all healthy women over the age of 40 or 50. There are nowhere near enough trained people in Africa to run the machines, maintain them and read the scans. In Uganda, a donated mammography van was used for a cancer-education program — not for mammograms.

Experts say that emphasizing mammograms could divert resources from the many women who urgently need care for palpable lumps that can easily be found without mammograms. In any case, mammography would not do a good job of finding tumors in the large proportion of African patients under 50, because younger women have dense breast tissue that hides tumors from X-rays.

Even in Western countries, there are growing concerns about potential harm from mammography, because it can identify minute growths that might never progress but are nonetheless given aggressive treatments with significant side effects.

To transfer such screening-mammography programs to Africa “feels wrong,” Dr. Lehman said. “It feels like we’re infecting them with our problems, rather than really sharing with them our triumphs.”

The Birth of an Activist

Gertrude Nakigudde is an accountant for an international freight forwarding firm in Kampala. Twelve years ago when she was 28, she noticed a lump in her breast. Assuming she was too young to have cancer, she did not see a doctor for about a year.

By then, she had Stage 2 breast cancer — a tumor more than two centimeters in diameter that may have spread to nearby lymph nodes — and needed a mastectomy and chemotherapy.

The treatments came as a tremendous shock. No one warned her that her hair would fall out, or that she would vomit. The government did not help to pay for chemotherapy (as it does now), so she had to buy the drugs, syringes and gloves herself. Once, on a hot day, her medication deteriorated in the heat on the way to the hospital and had to be thrown away; no one had told her it had to be kept cold. Radiation treatment was recommended, but the machine was broken, so she gave up and went without it.

An activist was born.

She joined forces with other patients to form the Uganda Women’s Cancer Support Organization. It now has about 50 members.

Its volunteers visit the cancer institute and the breast clinic at Mulago Hospital to counsel other women and hand out pamphlets, bras and breast prostheses. Most of all, they try to spread the word that breast cancer can be cured if it is treated early, and to dispel stigma and misinformation. Some women believe that cancer is always fatal, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy by keeping them away from doctors.

Patients encounter demoralizing drug shortages and mistakes like lost biopsies that can lead to dangerous delays in care. Chemotherapy is supposed to be free at the cancer institute, but if it runs out of drugs, patients have to buy their own. And the drugs do run out, because the government agency that supplies them does not consistently order enough. In addition, some drugs have become harder to obtain because problems with counterfeit chemotherapy drugs from India have led the institute to stop buying from that country, which has been an important supplier.

A number of women in Ms. Nakigudde’s group have been deserted by husbands or boyfriends because they have cancer, she said, counting herself among them. Some have been fired from work for taking time off for treatment. It is not uncommon for women to try to keep the disease a secret, for fear that if word gets out, no one will marry their children. Women with one breast are sometimes shunned as witches or as having been cursed by a witch.

Ms. Nakigudde said one of the biggest problems for breast cancer patients is that the cancer institute does not yet offer surgery or radiation, so women must seek those treatments at Mulago Hospital, which is huge, disorganized and intimidating. Its radiation machine, the only one in the country, is a rickety cobalt unit long past its prime. There is such a demand for treatment — patients are referred here from Kenya, Rwanda and South Sudan — that the machine is kept running night and day.

Ms. Nakigudde and other group members have also tried to expose what they describe as a culture of bribery that delays or denies treatment. The hospital has two tiers: free, public wards for the poor, and a private one for those who can pay. Paying patients are generally treated more quickly. Ms. Nakigudde said her group receives numerous reports from women who are supposed to receive free care but say they are being pressured to pay surgeons and other hospital employees for everything from being admitted to shortening the wait for surgery or radiation.

Her group has been working with a bioethics committee at Makerere University (whose medical students train at Mulago) to find a way to discipline doctors and end the demands for money.

A spokesman for Mulago Hospital, Enock Kusasira, confirmed that there were problems, noting that it is a massive complex open to the public and teeming with 7,000 people on any given day — 5,000 patients and their relatives, and 2,000 employees.

“There are those incidents,” Mr. Kusasira said. “What can you do about them?”

He attributed some bribetaking to students and con men who steal white coats and pose as hospital employees, something widely acknowledged to occur. But hospital employees are not highly paid, and Mr. Kusasira said some patients do not want to wait their turn and “lure these workers into temptation.”

Ultimately, Ms. Nakigudde said, the best hope may lie in the continuing expansion of the cancer institute, where bribery is not entrenched. Its expansion cannot come too soon. Now, it is a cluster of one-story tin-roof buildings with too many patients and not enough chemotherapy. The tumor ward often has 35 patients for its 25 beds. In mid-July, a half-dozen patients lay on mattresses on the floor, tucked wherever they fit. Relatives slept on mats under the beds. Most of the patients had advanced cancer, and some had come here to die.

The new hospital will bring the institute’s first operating rooms, and administrators hope to add a radiation center. They also want to improve its pathology labs so they can perform tests that will help determine which treatments will best suit each patient. In addition, a new cancer research center with another clinic is being built with money from Uganda, the United States Agency for International Development, and the Hutchinson center in Seattle.

Visits to the cancer institute surged to 2,800 in 2012 from 1,800 in 2011. Its six oncologists, the only ones in the country, are struggling to keep up; each one might see 40 patients a day. A tent had to be pitched at the outpatient clinic to hold the overflow from the waiting room.

Dr. Jackson Orem, the director of the cancer institute, said, “We have become a victim of our own success.”

What is needed ultimately, he said, is a nationwide cancer program involving clinics in remote areas and a system to refer patients who need specialized treatment to the cancer institute.

“My prayer,” Dr. Orem, 51, said, “is to see that by the time I retire, there is a system in place, a safety net for cancer patients.”

Treatment Begins

A week after seeing the American doctors — who by now had gone home — Ms. Namata traveled two hours back to Mulago by bus, two motor-scooter taxis and another bus.

Expecting to be admitted, she hauled a suitcase, a plastic jug holding more than a gallon of water and, because hospitals here do not provide sheets or blankets, an enormous roll of bedding. The pressure of the bedroll against her breast clearly pained her. The activist, Ms. Nakigudde, had put in a word for her, and a surgeon had agreed to see her. Led by a member of the group, Ms. Namata squeezed through the crowded corridors.

The surgeon examined her but did not admit her, telling her instead to return the following Monday for a mastectomy. Drug treatment would come after the operation, he said, giving advice contrary to that offered by the American physicians. She hauled her belongings home.

The next Monday, she was admitted to Mulago Hospital. She waited for a week in constant pain before another surgeon finally examined her, only to tell her, as the American doctors had, that it would be better for her to take drugs to try to shrink the tumors before surgery because they were so large that it would not be possible to close the wound. She left the hospital frustrated and frightened, beginning to doubt that she would survive.

But she made her way to the cancer institute, where she began receiving chemotherapy on Aug. 19.

Her hair, expertly braided by her daughter, is now gone. Her skin has darkened, a common side effect of chemotherapy that African women find particularly distressing, for aesthetic reasons, but also because H.I.V. treatment does the same thing, and people assume they have AIDS.

“I look like a scarecrow,” Ms. Namata said. “I don’t want to eat or drink.”

She calls Ms. Nakigudde just about every night for advice on what to eat, and reassurance that her hair will grow back.

The cancer institute has run out of chemotherapy drugs again, so she must buy them herself, and is struggling to scrape together the cash. Sometimes, rather than asking her daughter for money, she borrows from other people.

But the tumors seem to be shrinking. She no longer needs morphine. In a few months, she hopes to have surgery. And she prays that she will live.

Jennifer Bakyawa contributed reporting from Kampala.

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Archaeologist: Most prehistoric cave art painted by women, not men

By Travis Gettys
Tuesday, October 15, 2013 15:01 EDT

Most of the prehistoric cave paintings found in France and Spain were made by women, researchers have determined.

The art has long been assumed to have been painted by men, because the works often depict game animals such as bison, reindeer and wooly mammoths, but new research suggests otherwise.

Archaeologist Dean Snow, of Penn State University, said he analyzed hand marks found in eight caves in Europe, and he determined 75 percent of the prints were female by comparing the relative lengths of certain fingers.

He then compared the ratio of the index finger to the ring finger and the index finger to the pinky finger to distinguish between females and adolescent males.

Snow said about 10 percent of the hand prints he studied were from adult males, while the remaining 15 percent were from adolescent males.

Archaeologists have found hundreds of hand stencils, created by paint marks blown around handprints, on cave walls around the world.

Snow based his analysis on visits to multiple caves and by using some of the few photos that give relative size indications.

Then he collected hand images from people of European and Mediterranean ancestry on which to base his measurements.

Although he can’t be certain, Snow believes the handprints were left intentionally, as a form of signature.

Click to watch:

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« Reply #9371 on: Oct 16, 2013, 08:38 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

New York Times executive editor: Reporting on Snowden’s NSA info has served the public

By Ben Quinn, The Guardian
Tuesday, October 15, 2013 22:25 EDT

Jill Abramson says on BBC’s Newsnight that Guardian articles on NSA files are ‘very much in the public interest’

Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times, has mounted a defence of the ability of journalists at her own paper and at the Guardian to publish public interest stories based on the thousands of secret intelligence files leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

“I think the issue is that what the Guardian has published, and they have published far more material than we have, that those articles are very much in the public interest and inform the public,” she said during an appearance on the BBC’s Newsnight.

Abramson also addressed the criticism which has been directed at the Guardian in recent weeks over its role in illuminating the activities of US and British spy agencies, saying: “It distresses me to see other people in the media being critical of journalists doing their job, which is to inform the public, and I think these articles have been in service of that.”

In the interview, she confirmed that some things had not been published because to do so would have harmed the safety of the public, and insisted: “Responsible journalists do care, as citizens do, about national security and the safety of citizens.”.

Asked about an episode in which computer hard drives containing copies of some of the Snowden files were destroyed by the Guardian after a threat of legal action by the British government, Abramson said: “I thought it was unfortunate that they had to destroy some of their computers but they certainly took steps to ensure that good journalism continued and that is partly why Alan Rusbridger, who I think is a superb journalist, reached out to me to share some of these documents.”

“In dealing with these stories and making very difficult decisions where we weigh – we balance – the need to inform the public against possible harm to national security and we do that very seriously and soberly.”

Asked about claims by MI5 director general, Andrew Parker, that newspaper reports on how the intelligence agencies intercept voice and internet communications were causing “enormous damage” to the fight against terrorism, Abramson said that there had been no proof of actual harm to security.

She compared the warnings by Parker and others to those voiced when the New York Times published reports based on thousands of documents about US policy towards Vietnam after they were leaked in 1971.

“When the New York Times published the Pentagon Papers back in the 1970s, the same claims were made, that publishing did grave harm to national security, and yet a couple of years after we published them, the same officials who said that admitted that actually there had not been any real harm to national security,” she said.

“I think that the press in Britain has more restrictions on it than we do and the framers of our country had a big fear of too much power put in the central government, and as a bullwark against any excesses on the part of the government they believed passionately in the need for a free press. That is a stronger tradition in the US than it is here.”

In the same interview, Abramson said that she would “probably not” sign up to the proposed royal charter on press regulation if she was editor of a newspaper in the UK.

© Guardian News and Media 2013


Snapchat admits to handing unopened 'snaps' to US law enforcement

The director of operations says the company has complied with search warrants under the ECPA about a dozen times since May

Amanda Holpuch in New York, Tuesday 15 October 2013 20.35 BST   

The photo-sharing app Snapchat has admitted to handing over to American law enforcement agencies images not yet seen by its users.

In a blogpost on Monday, the company outlined the circumstances under which it has given photos – which the company calls "snaps" – to investigators.

“Since May 2013, about a dozen of the search warrants we’ve received have resulted in us producing unopened snaps to law enforcement,” said Snapchat director of operations Micah Schaffer. The only photos handed over have been unopened snaps, because those are the only images the company stores on its servers.

Snapchat works by allowing users to take photos or short videos, then share them with friends for up to 10 seconds before the image self-destructs. If a recipient screenshots the photo, the app alerts the original sender, though hacks to interrupt this function do exist.

In a blogpost in May, Snapchat said once a photo has been opened by all of its recipients, it is deleted from the servers. A forensic software company said it can recover the deleted photos from Android phones and was working on a way to recover them from iPhones.

The photos must be uploaded on company servers to get to the recipient, and Schaffer said only he and the co-founder Bobby Murphy have access to a tool that lets them manually retrieve unopened snaps.

The company said it would retrieve an unopened snap if it receives a search warrant and the snap is still on its server, under requirements by the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).

Schaffer said he was clarifying Snapchat’s access policy following the release of the app’s new stories feature, which organizes snaps together. These photos can be viewed repeatedly in the first 24 hours after being sent and are then deleted from the company’s servers. The same legal requirements apply to stories and snaps.

Snapchat is thought be worth about $800m. A former friend of Murphy and Snapchat’s co-founder Evan Spiegel is suing the pair for 20% share into the company.


October 14, 2013

A World Without Privacy


In his great and prophetic novel “1984,” George Orwell laid out his vision of what totalitarianism would look like if taken to its logical extreme. The government — in the form of Big Brother — sees all and knows all. The Party rewrites the past and controls the present. Heretics pop up on television screens so they can be denounced by the populace. And the Ministry of Truth propagates the Party’s three slogans:




Dave Eggers’s new novel, “The Circle,” also has three short, Orwellian slogans, and while I have no special insight into whether he consciously modeled “The Circle” on “1984,” I do know that his book could wind up being every bit as prophetic.

Eggers’s subject is what the loss of privacy would look like if taken to its logical extreme. His focus is not on government but on the technology companies who invade our privacy on a daily basis. The Circle, you see, is a Silicon Valley company, an evil hybrid of Google, Facebook and Twitter, whose cultures — the freebies, the workaholism, the faux friendliness — Eggers captures with only slight exaggeration.

The Circle has enormous power because it has become the primary gateway to the Internet. Thanks to its near-monopoly, it is able to collect reams of data about everyone who uses its services — and many who don’t — data that allows The Circle to track anyone down in a matter of minutes. It has begun planting small, hidden cameras in various places — to reduce crime, its leaders insist. The Circle wants to place chips in children to prevent abductions, it says. It has called on governments to be “transparent,” by which it means that legislators should wear a tiny camera that allows the world to watch their every move. Eventually, legislators who refuse find themselves under suspicion — after all, they must be hiding something. This is where The Circle’s logic leads.

Of course, nobody who works for The Circle thinks what he or she is doing is evil. On the contrary, like many a real Silicon Valley executive, they view themselves as visionaries, whose only goal is benign: to make the world a better place.

“We’re at the dawn of the Second Enlightenment,” says one of The Circle’s founders in a speech to the staff. “I’m talking about an era where we don’t allow the majority of human thought and action and achievement and learning to escape as if from a leaky bucket.” It believes if it can eliminate secrecy people will be forced to be their best selves all the time. It even toys with the idea of getting the government to require voters to use The Circle — to force them to vote on Election Day. And, of course, it has found multiple ways to monetize the data it collects. As for the potential downside of this loss of privacy, it is waved away by Circle executives as if too trifling to even consider.

Is this vision of the future far-fetched? Of course it is — though no more than “1984” was. “The Circle” imagines where we could end up if we don’t begin paying attention. Indeed, what is striking is how far down this road we have already gone. Thanks to Edward Snowden, we know that the National Security Agency has the ability to read our e-mails and listen to our phone calls. Google shows us ads based on words we use in our Gmail accounts. Last week, Facebook — which has, in shades of Orwell, a chief privacy officer — removed a privacy setting so that any Facebook user can search for any other Facebook user. The next day, Google unveiled a plan that would make it possible for the company to use its customers’ words and likeness in ads for products they like — information that Google knows because, well, Google knows everything.

So, yes, while we’re not in Eggers territory yet, we are getting closer. I don’t have either a Facebook or a Twitter account, yet every few days I get an e-mail from one of the two companies saying that so-and-so is waiting for me to join them in social media land. The people it picks as my potential “friends” are very often people with whom I’ve never been a true colleague, but I’ve briefly met at some point in my life. It is creepy to me that the companies know that I know these particular people.

“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know,” Eric Schmidt, the former chief executive of Google, once said, “maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” That line could easily have been uttered by one of Dave Eggers’s characters. That is the thought-process that could someday cost us our last shred of privacy. “The Circle” is a warning.

(And in case you’re wondering, here are The Circle’s three slogans:




Frank Bruni is off today. David Brooks is on book leave.


October 16, 2013

11th-Hour Senate Fiscal Deal in Works


WASHINGTON — Rank-and-file senators on Wednesday morning will review a deal to reopen the government and extend its borrowing authority. Aides to the Democratic and Republican Senate leaders worked on the proposal through the night.

The deal is likely to be announced by midday, when the Senate formally opens for business, aides said on Wednesday morning. The government would be financed at tight levels through Jan. 15, reflecting across-the-board spending cuts that went into effect in March. The debt ceiling would be raised into February, and negotiators would be required to complete work on a detailed budget plan for the next decade by Dec. 13.

The only concession to the movement to gut President Obama’s health care law is a mild tightening of income verification rules for people obtaining subsidized health insurance on the new insurance exchanges. Even any alteration of the law’s tax on medical devices, hated by members of both parties, was removed from the final deal.

Whether it can pass ahead of Thursday’s deadline for a possible default on government obligations will depend on those senators who have sought to link further financing of the government to defunding the health care law. Senators from both parties were leaning on Senators Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, and Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, to agree to fast-track the deal to a final vote.

If Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, reach a final accord, Senate leaders expect to use a parliamentary maneuver that will allow the majority leader to move the deal to the Senate floor quickly on Wednesday. With unanimous consent, a final vote would come the same day. But if Senate hard-liners object, the Senate will have to wait until Friday, then muster 60 votes to cut off debate. Further obstruction would delay the final vote until Saturday, when the bill would go back to the House. There, it would pass only if it had overwhelming Democratic support, since many Republicans would not vote for it.

With so little time left, chances rose that a resolution would not be approved by Congress and sent to Mr. Obama before Thursday, when the government is left with only its cash on hand to pay the nation’s bills.

“It’s very, very serious,” Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, warned on Tuesday. “Republicans have to understand we have lost this battle, as I predicted weeks ago, that we would not be able to win because we were demanding something that was not achievable.”

Tuesday was supposed to bring Washington to the edge of resolving the fiscal showdown, but instead there was chaos and retrenching. And a bitter fight that had begun over stripping money from the president’s signature health care law had essentially descended in the House into one over whether lawmakers and their staff members would pay the full cost of their health insurance premiums, unlike most workers at American companies, and how to restrict the administration from using flexibility to extend the debt limit beyond a fixed deadline.

Even so, the House speaker, John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, and his leadership team failed in repeated, daylong attempts to bring their troops behind any bill that would reopen the government and extend the Treasury’s debt limit on terms significantly reduced from their original push against financing for the health care law. The House’s hard-core conservatives and some more pragmatic Republicans were nearing open revolt, and the leadership was forced twice to back away from proposals it had floated, the second time sending lawmakers home for the night to await a decision on how to proceed Wednesday.

“We’re trying to find a way through it,” said Representative Greg Walden of Oregon, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, emerging from Mr. Boehner’s office to announce that no votes would be held Tuesday night.

The House setback returned the focus to the Senate, where the leadership had suspended talks after the Senate Republican leadership opted to give the House a chance to produce an alternative to the Senate measure taking shape.

Given the progress that had been made in the Senate, Congressional Democrats and officials at the White House criticized Mr. Boehner’s move on Tuesday as an attempt to sabotage the bipartisan Senate talks even as they seemed to be nearing an agreement.

Initially, Mr. Boehner proposed a bill to reopen the government until Jan. 15, extend the debt ceiling until Feb. 7, delay a tax on medical devices two years and deny members of Congress, the president, the vice president and White House political appointees taxpayer subsidies to help buy insurance on President Obama’s health insurance exchanges.

“We’re trying to find a way forward in a bipartisan way that would continue to provide fairness to the American people under Obamacare,” Mr. Boehner said as he acknowledged “there are a lot of opinions” among his rambunctious members.

By Tuesday afternoon, House Republican leaders were back with a new proposal to finance the government through Dec. 15, extend the debt ceiling into February and deprive not only lawmakers but all their staff members of employer assistance to buy their health care. By extending that provision to staff members, Republican leaders hoped to appeal to the party’s far-right flank, but the proposal angered more moderate Republicans and was not enough for the conservative hard core.

Complicating the speaker’s task, Heritage Action, the conservative Heritage Foundation’s political arm, which wields great influence with the most conservative elements of the Republican Party, opposed the plan.

“I think there’s always hope there can be a final package I can vote on, but this is not the one,” said Representative Ted Yoho, Republican of Florida, as he and two other Tea Party conservatives left the speaker’s office.

Republican leaders had initially hoped the loss of members like Mr. Yoho could be made up with support from Democrats. But Democratic leaders made it clear they would offer no assistance. Democrats latched on to a provision in the House proposals that would have forbidden the Treasury to juggle government accounts — so-called extraordinary measures — to meet obligations beyond a debt-ceiling deadline.

In the midst of the turmoil, the credit rating agency Fitch put the United States on a “negative ratings watch,” warning that Congressional intransigence had put the full faith and credit of the government at risk.

The news came as the Treasury Department said it had only about $35 billion in cash on hand. It expects to run out of “extraordinary measures” to keep on paying all of the government’s bills on Thursday, at which point outgoing payments might exceed that cash, plus any revenue, on any day going forward.

As the United States nears default, investors have demanded more compensation for lending to the government, with yields on short-term debt spiking to their highest levels in years.

Fitch warned that Congress has not “raised the federal debt ceiling in a timely manner.” It said that it “continues to believe that the debt ceiling will be raised soon,” but that “political brinkmanship and reduced financing flexibility could increase the risk of a U.S. default.”

Annie Lowrey and Ashley Parker contributed reporting.


House Republicans Implode as Tea Partiers Force Boehner to Kill His Own Debt Ceiling Bill

By: Jason Easley
Tuesday, October 15th, 2013, 7:51 pm

Not only did John Boehner have to pull his own debt ceiling bill due to tea party rebellion, but word is that the bill itself is dead.

The trouble started for Boehner the very second that he announced his debt ceiling alternative. Democrats and the White House opposed the bill, and House tea partiers vowed to vote against it because it didn’t go far enough. Boehner spent the rest of the day trying to change the bill, so that it would get enough support to pass with just Republican votes. Boehner added the full Vitter amendment, which prompted a veto promise from the White House.

In the last two hours Boehner’s bill totally collapsed when the Heritage Foundation’s action arm told House Republicans to vote no, “Tonight, the House is scheduled to vote on a plan that would extend government funding to December 15 and the debt ceiling through February 7 in exchange for overturning the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) ruling that created the congressional exemption. Unfortunately, the proposed deal will do nothing to stop Obamacare’s massive new entitlements from taking root — radically changing the nature of American health care…Heritage Action opposes the House proposal and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.”

The first sign that Boehner’s bill was in trouble was cancelation of the House Rules Committee’s scheduled 5:40 PM ET meeting. Then came the announcement that there would be no votes tonight.

Then the news got even worse for Boehner.

CNN’s Dana Bash tweeted:

    Told its not just pulled/delayed – this house gop plan to fund the govt/raise debt ceiling is dead – not enuf gop votes

    — Dana Bash (@DanaBashCNN) October 15, 2013

Boehner’s effort to pass a debt ceiling bill that didn’t do enough damage to the ACA for the tea party’s liking is dead. Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell are trying to prevent a total collapse of the US markets tomorrow morning by reopening negotiations tonight, but the problem remains the Cult of Cruz in the Republican controlled House.

As long as Speaker Boehner continues to refuse to pass any debt ceiling bill with majority Democratic support, nothing that could pass the Senate will be passed by the House. If Boehner refuses to bring the Senate bill to the House floor for a clean vote, the country will most definitely default.

The false optimism created on Wall Street and in the media over the Reid/McConnell negotiations never took into consideration the paralysis caused by the deadly combination of cowardice, delusion, and stupidity that has gripped the Republican majority in the House of Representatives.

Speaker Boehner is pulling a reverse Spock. Instead of following the famous Spock quote in The Wrath of Khan that, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one,” Boehner has decided that the needs of the few and the one outweigh the needs of the many.

John Boehner would be wise to keep in mind another Spock quote as he tries to decide what to do next, “Without followers, evil cannot spread.”

Speaker Boehner has followed the evil to edge of a default, but now he must decide if he has the courage to sacrifice himself for the needs of the many.


Nancy Pelosi Busts John Boehner for Trying to Sabotage the Senate Debt Ceiling Deal

By: Sarah Jones
Tuesday, October 15th, 2013, 12:20 pm

Democrats gave a presser in response to Speaker John Boehner’s presser over the House Republicans’ fake deal full of poison pills. As I explained earlier, the House’s proposal is meant to derail the Senate deal, whilst avoiding taking any responsibility for their destruction of the country.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said “This is a very big deal.” House Republicans are being “reckless, radical and irresponsible” by “sabotaging a good-faith effort” from Senate. She clarified the other problem Boehner faces, “What you saw here… was a Speaker who didn’t have the votes for his proposal.” This means that Boehner intentionally sabotaged the Senate deal for no reason other than to appease the Tea Party.

Indeed, Robert Costa says the House is tweaking their proposal to become more conservative in order to get to 217 (Costa says 218; I’m using 217 because they don’t have the full members but it’s the same concept):

    What's in the works now: adding FULL Vitter language to House plan, prob only way to get 218+

    — Robert Costa (@robertcostaNRO) October 15, 2013

Matthew Yglesias called the narrower Vitter Amendment proposed this morning (and already a loser) “… a bizarre idea, government by trolling.” So there will be more trolling now. I’m sure you’re not surprised.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) wasn’t impressed either. He pulled no punches calling Boehner out for saving his job over the country, “I’m very disappointed with John Boehner who would once again try to preserve his role at the expense of this county.”

Reid continued, “Let’s be clear: the House legislation will not pass the Senate.” He explained, “Extremists in the House are attempting to torpedo progress in the Senate.”

Boehner knew Democrats would never accept this deal, and in calling all of this attention to a deal he hasn’t actually hammered out yet and does not have his own party’s full support on yet, Boehner was trying to duck responsibility for the impending default. Nancy Pelosi is having none of that, and if Boehner keeps this up, he had best look elsewhere to be saved the next time he needs to pass something for his party.


Obama Promises to Veto House Republican Debt Ceiling Bill If It Contains Vitter Amendment

By: Jason Easley
Tuesday, October 15th, 2013, 6:22 pm

President Obama isn’t budging an inch on the ACA, as the White House has threatened to veto any House Republican debt ceiling bill that contains the Vitter Amendment.

According to Politico,

    President Barack Obama told House Democratic leaders Tuesday that he would veto debt-ceiling legislation if it includes a provision pushed by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and House GOP leaders that would cut health subsidies for congressional and senior executive branch officials, according to sources familiar with the discussion at a private White House meeting.


    Obama brought up the issue of the so-called Vitter language unprompted, according to one of the sources. The president and congressional Democrats also discussed how to set caps for discretionary spending for next year given the possibility that a short-term spending bill could fund the government for only a few months, and their shared perception of a need to come up with a larger budgeting plan to avoid governing, as Obama often says, “from crisis to crisis,” the sources said.

John Boehner just isn’t getting it. He can’t keep caving to the tea partiers in caucus by devising legislation that is never going to be passed by the Senate, and signed by the president. This is the second time today that the White House has to tell House Republican no to changes on the ACA. The original House debt ceiling idea was immediately rejected by Senate Democrats and the White House because it too demanded changes to Obamacare.

House Republicans continue to inaccurately assume that they can take this crisis down to the deadline, and force Democrats to choose between cutting and gutting the ACA or default. This strategy didn’t work on the government shutdown. It hasn’t worked on the debt ceiling, and it won’t work as the country approaches a default.

Speaker Boehner has to decide whether he is going to follow the Ted Cruz lemmings in his caucus off the cliff and into a default. There seems to be a great deal of fascination with the fact that Boehner can’t get enough votes for his own debt ceiling bill, but the reality is that the Speaker could end this drama right now if he wanted to.

If Boehner sincerely wants to avoid a default, all he has to do is pass a clean CR and debt ceiling extension. Unforunately, Rep. Boehner is more interested in saving his speakership than saving the country. The president isn’t going to budge until Boehner does things the right way. Once and for all, President Obama is not going to pay House Republicans a ransom.

Every second that Boehner wastes on the impossible is another step towards a Republican caused default.


The Republican Shutdown and Default Is Designed to Destroy the Legacy of Obama

By: Dennis S
Tuesday, October 15th, 2013, 5:24 pm

Republicans have a unique and undisguised strategy to freeze the 113th Congress. It’s a one-card deck. And that card is the race card played incessantly 24/7, every operative day of the legislative year and every day Congress is not in session. The card is directed at the black man in the White House, Barack Obama. This is not news. You’ve seen it in my prior writings and from pundits throughout the progressive universe.

It goes something like this. The red neck and power tie consortium of backward, hateful whites and the greedy billionaire tax cheat power mongers, who politically play the former for all their worth at the polls, are dedicated to setting the stage to completely castrate the Obama administration. This unholy duo is bent on accomplishing this abominable goal to the extent that the history books will dismiss Obama’s two terms as economically ineffective, devoid of accomplishments and exercises in futility. And please don’t be so naïve as to think these attacks are aimed at just Barack. The true purpose is to guarantee that no black man or woman will ever again see the light of the Oval Office.

In short, we’re fighting a political domestic war every bit as fiercely as the Civil War. From 1861-1864 an estimated 600,000 people died because one side of the conflict wanted to continue to own and control the roughly 4 million slaves as counted in1860, about the same percentage of the population that blacks represent today. That side called itself “The Confederate States of America.” Ironic, insofar as 7 Southern states had just seceded from “America” with 4 more on the cusp. Lest we go too nuts over iconic Republican President Lincoln, you’ll remember that he was content to let the South keep their slaves, he was just pissed that they seceded.

The current hostilities that I choose to call the “Uncivil War” reflect every bit as much of a war in dimension and intensity as the original War Between the States except the current war well exceeds that accursed blot on our history in body count. No, there aren’t 600,000 physically dead casualties; there are untold millions of “dead” hopes, dreams, aspirations, opportunities and fair play, frosted with a deep-seated race hatred that in some corners of our nation hasn’t changed one iota since the 1860s, the 13th Amendment notwithstanding.

The social slaves of the new millennium are the poor and undereducated, most minorities, gays and a surprising number of repressed women. These are the groups that the South and some bandwagon haters from other parts of the country are fighting to keep repressed through the New Uncivil War assuring that these “slaves” will have no meaningful input into society and no identifiable futures.

In the war context, let’s do a little between-the-lines reading of the latest overtures on the upcoming raising of the Debt Ceiling deadline and the partial government shutdown. On the surface the Senate seems to playing nice in talks primarily between Republican Senator Mitch McConnell and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “We’ve made tremendous progress,” Reid declared after Monday confabs covering a range of debt ceiling and partial shutdown issues. McConnell allowed as to how tomorrow will be a bright day. Here’s what the boys and their political henchmen are apparently fiddling around with. First of all, you knew some dimension of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act would be on the table.

By the way, no more Obamacare, just ACA. Seems polls asking questions about ACA are invariably positive toward the act, while the very mention of “Obamacare” causes the numbers to plummet. So for my progressive submission to PoliticusUSA, it’s ACA from now on. But I digress. To get the Senate to agree to raise the debt limit above it’s present $16.7 trillion figure until at least mid-February, 2014, Democrats must allow a one-year delay in the $63 fee imposed on companies per employee covered by ACA. Also included in the deal, agencies could be ‘flexible’ in adjusting to cuts in their funding. No more money, mind you, just who to screw out of services.

Another political tumble weed making its way down Capitol Hill, is a requirement that people needing subsidies to help fund their health care coverage would be subject to stronger income verification, thereby, at the very least, delaying the process. Typical Republican hate and distrust of the poor. Uncivil war!

The only reason Republicans are talking at all is that polls are exposing them as doing great harm to the country. At this point things look mildly promising in the Senate. But Congress is like Catwoman and The Joker. Catwoman operates in the Senate, subtly and with great stealth, even taking an occasional foray to the other side, while the Joker is viciousness and evil incarnate behind his clownish grin. The House of Representatives is the Joker and the Joker is resplendent in Tea Party garb.

The Tea Party wants to use the sequestration, debt ceiling and partial shutdown to destroy the ACA (not to mention the federal government). Little Democratic concession nibbles at the corners aren’t enough. Anything less than defunding ACA represents a loss to the TP’ers. On the other hand, troublesome polls, 350,000 furloughed fed workers and countless private sector workers plus their extended families, pulling back veterans benefits and forcing states to spend their own money on favorite projects and an imminent Democratic win in the Virginia governor’s race could change a lot of minds.

We’ll see where the real power lies here. Party Chairman Reince Priebus packs the requisite hate for our president, but he doesn’t seem to hold his own party in much regard either, characterizing its 2012 platform as “horrific and racist.” There appears to be little individual power within the House itself. John Boehner is terrified of the Tea Party, Paul Ryan lost his mojo along with the Vice-Presidency in 2012. Eric Cantor has been largely silent and Darrell Issa is too busy with dead-end investigations. There are no identifiable outside Republicans possessed of the respect and record that would seem capable of leading the current House to reasonable positions. The elder Bush is too old; his ex-president son is a non-entity; Jeb Bush is trying to keep a low profile as he lusts for the presidency and travels the country organizing counties for a 2016 effort. Palin has been reduced to a Kardashian-like figure making appearances at silly events.

That leaves The Koch brothers or some billionaire you’ve never heard of. They may order a strategic retreat that will appear to be a Democratic victory, but is, in reality, merely a regrouping for a new plan of attack.

So, we might squeeze out some kind of limited, near-term agreement for the reasons mentioned, but the attack on the president and the ACA will escalate for years to come.


October 15, 2013

Signs Indicate That Obama’s Debt Ceiling Gamble May Be Paying Off


WASHINGTON — More than two years ago, President Obama was still in the thick of his previous showdown with Republican House leaders over the nation’s debt limit when he called five senior advisers into his office. He did not ask their advice, one said. Rather, he told them, in a way that brooked no discussion: From now on, no more negotiating over legislation so basic and essential to the economy, and the country.

“I’m not going through this again. It’s bad for democracy. It’s bad for the presidency,” Mr. Obama said, according to the adviser, who declined to be identified describing internal discussions. The president then told the group — his Treasury secretary, chief Congressional lobbyist, chief economic adviser and both his and the vice president’s chiefs of staff — to spread that word, “even in your body language.”

Since then, so has Mr. Obama. To make his message on the debt ceiling stick, he had to deliver it, repeatedly, not only to Republicans convinced that he would “cave,” as many often have said, but also to business groups, the broader public and even to Democrats in Congress. Failure could shake not only the economy, but also Mr. Obama’s presidency, given his reputation, fair or not, for drawing red lines and then watching foes cross them.

The current fight is hardly over, yet the steady retreat of House Republicans since late last week, when they first proposed a short-term increase in the debt limit without policy strings, suggests that Mr. Obama’s big gamble could be paying off. It is a stand that was, and still is, fraught with risks if neither side backs down.

But scorched by the July 2011 fight that hurt the economy and his political standing (though not so badly as the Republicans’), Mr. Obama was determined to undo the precedent he had set by making concessions — in that case, more than $2 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years, including the across-the-board reductions known as sequestration — so that Congress would ensure that the government paid its bills.

The year began with an early test of the president’s approach, and, for a time, it was vindicated. With Mr. Obama having been re-elected and Republicans chastened by November losses, Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio announced a less confrontational course, with support from the most conservative lawmakers, at a party retreat in Williamsburg, Va.

Instead of demanding one dollar in spending cuts for every dollar increase in the debt ceiling, as before, Republicans set two new conditions for agreeing to suspend the borrowing limit at the time: Senate Democrats had to pass an annual budget for the first time in four years, which they subsequently did, and House Republicans had to pass one that proposed a balanced budget in 10 years, instead of three decades as their recent budgets had. There were no demands on Mr. Obama.

Conservatives came to oppose the so-called Williamsburg Accord, and by summer they were demanding repeal of “Obamacare” in return for raising the ceiling. Mr. Boehner had revived his dollar-for-dollar demand in August, but by September he had been pressed into the conservatives’ cause against the health care law.

Mr. Obama, in response, virtually campaigned for his no-negotiations stand.

He had the united backing of Congressional Democrats. “It took very little persuasion,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York. “The theory is very simple: It’s that if you do it now, we’ll be doing it every three months.”

But the House Republican majority, dominated by Tea Party conservatives who scorned the default warnings, was widely seen until last week as less likely than Mr. Obama to flinch. Mr. Boehner, at an August fund-raiser in Idaho, promised “a whale of a fight.”

As this week’s deadline neared, the investor Warren Buffett, among others, likened threatening default to a kind of economic nuclear warfare. The White House approached the confrontation with the gravity of those October days a half-century ago when President John F. Kennedy stared down Nikita Khrushchev over the Soviet Union’s nuclear missiles in Cuba. If Mr. Obama blinked this time, he and his advisers believed, he would invite more showdowns and threaten his already limited leverage to enact the rest of his second-term agenda.

Yet however justifiable Mr. Obama’s stand might be, even supporters say that in the event of a crisis the nation and the world would look to the president — both to seek help and apportion blame. These stakes made Mr. Obama’s no-negotiations stand a more hazardous one than his similar position in the parallel fight with Republicans over funding the government in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. That impasse forced a government shutdown now in its third week.

In both instances, Mr. Obama has said he will negotiate with Republicans on anything — once they reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling. But they have sought to blame his stance for whatever the consequences.

National polls have more Americans siding with the president. “The Democrats’ argument for an up-or-down vote on opening the government and keeping it open trumps the Republicans’ accusation that Obama won’t negotiate,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster.

But, Mr. Garin acknowledged, the public’s view on the debt limit is more complicated. Many Americans believe an increase is a license for new spending, rather than authorization to pay bills already owed.

“You do have to address people’s larger concerns with the deficit,” Mr. Garin said. “The president needs to make it clear, as he does, that he’s willing to negotiate with the Republicans over debt reduction. But he certainly has the public on his side in saying negotiations should not involve brinkmanship on a default.”

On Monday, Leon E. Panetta, Mr. Obama’s former defense secretary, implicitly criticized the president’s general leadership, saying, “You’ve got to roll up your sleeves and you’ve got to really engage, engage in the process.”

But he endorsed Mr. Obama’s refusal to negotiate on the borrowing ceiling, “to make sure that we do not continue a process of using a debt limit as kind of a nuclear weapon aimed at our own economy as a way for people to get their way.”

For weeks, the president has explained his position before audiences and television cameras, and enlisted business groups increasingly worried at the brinkmanship of their traditional Republican allies.

“I’m happy to negotiate with them around the budget, just as I’ve done in the past,” Mr. Obama told the Business Roundtable, a corporate group, in mid-September. “What I will not do is to create a habit, a pattern, whereby the full faith and credit of the United States ends up being a bargaining chip to set policy.”

“It would fundamentally change how American government functions,” he added. “And if you doubt that, just flip the script for a second and imagine a situation in which a Democratic speaker said to a Republican president, ‘I’m not going to increase the debt ceiling unless you increase corporate taxes by 20 percent.’ ”


South Dakota Conservatives Abandon the Tea Party Government Shutdown

By: Adalia Woodbury
Tuesday, October 15th, 2013, 9:12 pm

The Tea Party’s claim that a government shutdown will force Washington into fiscal responsibility doesn’t mean much to its supporters in South Dakota.   A devastating blizzard that destroyed 80,000 heads of cattle earlier this month is showing them the hard way that there are circumstances in which people need government.  The only thing more traumatic is realizing that government isn’t there because of the very shutdown they supported.

When Hurricane Sandy devastated businesses in eastern States, Tea Party members of Congress opposed Sandy aid to rebuild businesses because that’s  ”pork”.

The Tea Party doesn’t believe in pork, because that leads to a culture of dependency which is bad unless they are the dependents .

The first public battle between establishment and Tea Party Republicans ensued when Tea Party members opposed Sandy aid for New Jersey and New York, but wanted it for Colarado.  Once again, that battle exposed Tea Party lawmakers as hypocrites.  More importantly, it showed the fatal flaw of  the Tea Party’s ideology.  Even the Tea Party’s supporters believe that government is a friend when you are in need.

When supporters of the Tea Party shutdown start sounding like liberals, it’s the proverbial canary in the coal mine. Take Silvia Christen, the executive director of South Dakota’s Stock-growers Association.

    Some ranchers lost all their cattle. They’ve yet to find one alive… They’re facing absolute destruction. … one appropriate role for these guys is to lend a hand after disasters like this … and they’re not here.

Then there’s Scott Reder who lost all of his cattle in the blizzard.  Since the shutdown, Reder passes a federal Farm Services Administration office whose doors are closed. Like most ranchers, he subscribes to solving his own problems and when help is needed he looks to his neighbors.

In other words, Reder isn’t someone who subscribes to this imaginary culture of dependency that Tea Party lawmakers talk about.  Losing his cattle and his livelihood through no fault of his own, Reder is seeing that government actually can be a friend when you’re in need.

    “We’re just a bunch of ranchers from South Dakota — it’s hard for our voices to be heard,” he said, sitting at the kitchen table at dawn Friday, drinking coffee, fielding calls from fellow cattlemen. “You see crises across the country, the hurricanes and tornadoes, and officials are right on top of it. But something of this magnitude, that has just about leveled this part of the country, and there’s nothing.”

Reder and Christen illustrate the Tea Party’s Achilles heel.  Even its base believes in government and in the idea that we’re all in this together.

The Tea Party is so giddy over its victorious government shutdown that they ignored warnings from the sugar daddy who has been paying the bills. Now, as they anticipate turning America into a deadbeat nation, the Tea Party politicians are oblivious to the fact that their political support will follow the U.S. economy over the debt-ceiling cliff.


October 15, 2013

Oregon Father’s Memorial Trek Across Country Ends in a Family’s Second Tragedy


DENVER — As he made his way across the country, Joe Bell walked through rain squalls, slept in ditches and talked to anyone who would listen about how his gay son had killed himself after being taunted and bullied at school.

Mr. Bell’s artificial knees ached and his feet were mapped with blisters, but he told friends and strangers that he was determined to make it on foot from his home in eastern Oregon to New York City, where his son, Jadin, 15, had dreamed of one day working in fashion or photography. “I miss my son Jadin with all my heart and soul,” he wrote on Facebook in late May. “I know you’re with me on this walk.”

But last Wednesday, Mr. Bell’s American journey — one that drew attention from local newspapers and attracted thousands of followers on social media — ended in an instant on a two-lane road in rural eastern Colorado. He was struck and killed by a tractor-trailer whose driver had apparently fallen asleep, the state police said.

For nearly six months, Mr. Bell, 48, had been on the road, sharing his son’s story and trying to salve his own grief. He spoke at motorcycle rallies and college bars, schools, diners and gay-outreach centers, telling people about his sensitive, artistic son who hanged himself from a piece of playground equipment on Jan. 19.

While Jadin had plenty of friends and support — 200 classmates and community members showed up at a vigil while he lingered on life support — he also stood out in his hometown, La Grande, Ore., family friends said. Some students pushed him around at school, or threw things at him on the street, said Bud Hill, a friend of Mr. Bell’s who knew Jadin for most of his life.

“He was very open and very proud,” Mr. Hill said in an interview.

After Jadin died in early February, Mr. Bell lay in bed and wondered what he could have done differently, reproaching himself for missing signs or yelling at his son for smoking days before he hanged himself, his friends said. One day, he decided he needed to get out on the road, joining scores of others who have crossed the country to raise money or promote social causes. For Mr. Bell, the cause would be his son.

“He had to heal himself,” Mr. Hill said.

Mr. Bell mapped out a route and assembled a network of friends who would track his progress from afar. He quit his job at a plywood mill, threw some clothes and a sleeping bag onto his back and loaded up a three-wheeled pushcart with food and gallons of water, then set off on April 20. As he walked east, from Oregon to Idaho to Utah to Colorado, he chronicled his progress in Facebook posts and videos describing the people who fed him chicken dinners, refilled his water jugs and lent him a bed and made small donations to keep his trek going.

He wrote about sleeping under the stars, and described how a sunset in Utah made him miss his family and wish he could be with them. Sometimes, he would meet up with his partner, Lola Lathrop, or one of his three other children when he stopped in a big city. Mostly, he was alone.

He considered how long he would be on the road — two years, at least — and wrestled with the hunger, aches and loneliness that accompanied his trip.

“I’m going through a tough time right now,” he said in a video message posted on Facebook in early October as he headed away from Denver. “I’ll get it straightened out by the time I get to Wichita.”

He met people everywhere, knitting together a diaspora of friends, family and strangers who are now reeling from his death.

Ed the cabdriver helped him when his pack got too heavy. Juliet at the Turkey Crossing Cafe fed him dinner. Jim and Janice gave him a warm bed. In Utah, when his pushcart was stolen and a sinus infection hobbled him, Ann Clark helped him find a place to stay after meeting him on the road, and helped organize meetings in Salt Lake City where Mr. Bell could speak.

“I worried about his safety,” Ms. Clark said. “There were times I said, ‘I wish you’d go home.' ”

When Mr. Bell was alone in the mountains or the desert, he would unfurl his sleeping bag and sleep under a tree or along the side of the road. He spent weeks in larger cities, finding speaking opportunities and a place to sleep and do laundry with members of anti-bullying organizations and suicide-prevention groups.

Many of them offered to drive him down the road, but Mr. Bell always demurred. He would accept rides inside a city or to a particular destination, but once he was back on the road, every inch had to be on foot.

The day he died, Mr. Bell had been trying to log a few more miles before speaking at a Methodist church in Hugo, Colo. A day earlier, he and the sheriff of Lincoln County had started chatting on the side of the road, and bonded quickly as fathers of gay sons. The sheriff, Tom Nestor, set up a talk for Wednesday evening.

Mr. Nestor had been planning to fetch Mr. Bell when he got word that a pedestrian had been hit along Highway 40. He raced to the scene. Mr. Bell’s cart was lying in the road. Medics were already covering his body.

On Thursday, he will be remembered at a memorial service in Oregon.

“I got down on one knee and put my hand on Joe’s head and said a silent prayer,” Sheriff Nestor said in an e-mail.

“I only knew him for a very short time but this man had to of made a huge difference in everyone he met. He made me realize how important basic humanity still is.”

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US shutdown: Christine Lagarde calls for stability after debt crisis is averted

IMF chief appeals for less uncertainty around fiscal policy after deal is reached to avoid default

James Meikle, Paul Lewis and Dan Roberts, Thursday 17 October 2013 11.50 BST   

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has appealed to Washington to sort out its finances after the US pulled back from the brink of a debt default and hundreds of thousands of federal employees prepared to return to work after a 16-day government shutdown.

As the US president, Barack Obama, warned: "We've got to get out of the habit of governing by crisis," the IMF's managing director, Christine Lagarde, appealed for more stability.

"It will be essential to reduce uncertainty surrounding the conduct of fiscal policy by raising the debt limit in a more durable manner," she said.

"We also continue to encourage the US to approve a budget for 2014 and replace the sequester with gradually phased-in measures that would not harm the recovery, and to adopt a balanced and comprehensive medium-term fiscal plan."

A Senate-drafted peace deal that contained almost no concessions to the conservatives who had driven the country to the precipice of a new financial crisis was passed by the Republican-dominated House of Representatives just hours before a deadline to extend the US debt limit was to pass.

The World Bank too expressed its relief that the global economy had "dodged a potential catastrophe", with its president, Jim Yong Kim, urging policymakers in all countries to "continue to focus on crafting and implementing policies that promote economic growth and boost jobs and opportunity for all".

Stock markets in Japan, China, Hong Kong and South Korea initially reflected relief after the Republicans finally capitulated in their failed attempt to undermine Obama's healthcare reforms. But in Asia and Europe stock markets overall displayed a muted reaction with traders apparently expecting another battle in Washington early in 2014.

The shutdown is estimated to have cost the US $24bn – £1.5bn a day – according to the ratings agency Standard and Poor. China's official Xinhua news agency had accused Washington of jeopardising other countries' dollar assets. China is the US government's largest creditor.

Obama signed the necessary legislation to fend off a default shortly after midnight on Thursday after a Republican split in the House of Representatives. The bill had passed easily with broad bipartisan support in the Senate, where Democratic and Republican leaders forged the agreement. It offers a temporary fix, funding the government until 15 January and raising the debt ceiling until 7 February.

But the president made clear he did not expect another bitter budget fight and shutdown next year.

In brief remarks at the White House shortly before the House vote, Obama said he hoped the deal would "lift the cloud of uncertainty" that had hung over the country in recent weeks.

"Once this agreement arrives on my desk, I will sign it immediately," he said, in a statement delivered at the White House. "Hopefully next time it won't be in the 11th hour. We've got to get out of the habit of governing by crisis."

As he left the lectern after his Wednesday night press briefing, the president was asked by a journalist whether the crisis would happen all over again in a few months. Speaking over his shoulder, Obama replied: "No."

Earlier, the Republican senator Mike Lee had struck a defiant tone, perhaps indicating more trouble ahead: "The media keeps asking: 'Was it worth it?' My answer is, it is always worth it to do the right thing," he said, adding: "This is not over."

However, the political deal on Wednesday was one of the worst of all possible outcomes for Republicans. None of their stated goals were achieved and polls showed that voters overwhelmingly blamed them for the crisis.


China downgrades U.S. credit rating and accuses lawmakers of holding world hostage

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 17, 2013 7:03 EDT

A Chinese ratings agency downgraded its U.S. sovereign credit rating Thursday despite Washington’s resolution of the debt ceiling deadlock, warning that fundamentals for a potential default remained “unchanged.”

Dagong lowered its ratings for U.S. local and foreign currency credit from A to A-, maintaining a negative outlook, the agency said in a statement.

The announcement came after the U.S. Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed a bill that extends the nation’s borrowing authority and ends a two-week government shutdown.

“The fundamental situation that the debt growth rate significantly outpaces that of fiscal income and gross domestic product remains unchanged,” Dagong said in the statement, adding Washington’s solvency was vulnerable as old debts were still repaid through raising new debts.

“Hence the government is still approaching the verge of default crisis, a situation that cannot be substantially alleviated in the foreseeable future,” it said.

Dagong made headlines in August 2011 when it lowered its main rating for US sovereign debt after Congress passed an earlier bill to raise Washington’s debt ceiling.

The agency, which is far less prominent than long-established Western competitors including Moody’s, Fitch and Standard and Poor’s, has been working to further raise its profile.

China’s official news agency Xinhua said Thursday in a bylined commentary that U.S. politicians had held the rest of the world hostage in the crisis.

But Beijing welcomed the agreement, saying it will contribute to global economic stability.


Republicans in turmoil as Congress passes bill to end debt crisis

US debt default averted and federal shutdown over for now, after bill goes through with barely any concessions to hardliners

Paul Lewis and Dan Roberts in Washington, Thursday 17 October 2013 04.06 BST   

The US Congress passed legislation to rescue the country from the brink of a looming debt default on Wednesday night, bringing an end to the two-week crisis that has closed large portions of the government and revealed deep divisions in the Republican party.

President Barack Obama quickly signed the spending measure, a temporary fix that will last only through to the start of 2014. The bill passed easily with broad bipartisan support in the Senate, where Democratic and Republican leaders forged the agreement just hours earlier.

But it was able to pass the Republican-dominated House shortly after 10pm only with the support of Democrats. It laid bare a rupture between moderate and more rightwing Republicans, who triggered the crisis by using their budgetary leverage in what turned out to be a futile effort to undermine Obama's signature healthcare reforms.

Only 87 House Republicans voted for the bill. The party leadership was opposed by 144 members, including Paul Ryan, the former vice-presidential candidate and a key figure in Congress.

In brief remarks at the White House shortly before the House vote, Obama said he hoped the deal would "lift the cloud of uncertainty" that had hung over the country in recent weeks.

"Once this agreement arrives on my desk, I will sign it immediately," he said in a statement delivered at the White House. "Hopefully next time it won't be in the 11th hour. We've got to get out of the habit of governing by crisis."

Minutes after the bill was passed, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said government employees "should expect to return to work in the morning".

On both sides of the Capitol building Republican lawmakers looked deflated after the votes, which capped a dramatic capitulation after weeks of brinkmanship with Democrats who refused to blink.

When it came, the Republican surrender was swift. With just hours to go until the deadline set by the US Treasury for extending the debt limit, House Speaker John Boehner signalled he was ready to accept a Senate-drafted peace deal that contained almost no concessions to the conservatives who had driven the country the precipice of a new financial crisis.

"We fought the good fight, but we just didn't win," Boehner told a local TV station in his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio.

The standoff ended just after midday when Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader, announced the deal on the the floor of the Senate. Calling for all sides to work together, he said: "Now is not the time for pointing the fingers of blame. Now is the time for reconciliation."

Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, acknowledged the fight was over. "This has been a long, challenging few weeks," McConnell said. "This is far less than many of us had hoped for, but it is far better than some had sought."

The deal, crafted by Reid and McConnell, will fund the government until 15 January and lift the debt ceiling until 7 February, setting the stage for a possible repeat of the showdown. Both sides also agreed to a formal budget conference in an attempt to reach a longer-term deal by 13 December.

The only change to the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans had targeted when they precipitated the government shutdown, requires the Obama administration to carry out better checks on the incomes of people registering for insurance exchanges.

The bill also ensures the 800,000 federal workers who were furloughed for at least part of the shutdown will receive back pay.

By 3pm, Boehner hosted a short meeting with forlorn-looking Republicans in the House. Sources inside the meeting said he told his colleagues they had lost the fight, and was then given a tepid applause.

Several conservative members leaving the meeting conceded that the hardline Republican tactics had left them empty-handed. "We got nothing," said Thomas Massie, a Republican from Kentucky, who admitted his side had emerged with "a goose egg".

Yet for the most part they rallied behind Boehner, who had sought to appease the restive conservative element until it was no longer feasible to do so.

Recriminations among Republicans flew thick and fast, with moderates accusing House conservatives of trashing the party's reputation in pursuit of an impossible ambition to repeal or defund the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, said the Democractic party had experienced the "best two weeks" in recent history. "When we evaluate the last couple of weeks, it should be entitled the time of great lost opportunity," he said. "If we had been focused on the rollout of Obamacare and its confusion, public support would have diminished. Instead, our numbers have gone down, Obamacare has mysteriously gone up, and other than that, this has been great."

Graham was scathing about the influence of conservative advocacy groups such as Heritage Action, which torpedoed a deal on Tuesday when it threatened to withdraw support from Republicans who backed it. He also warned of the damage that the party had inflicted on itself.

"The way we are behaving and the path we have taken the last couple of weeks leads to a marginalised party in the eyes of the American people," he said.

Ted Cruz, the first-term Republican senator from Texas who had led the rebellion against Obamacare with a marathon 21-hour speech last month, was unrepentant. The Tea Party-backed senator was one of 18 Republicans who rebelled against their leadership to vote against the bill in the Senate.

Shortly before the Senate vote, Cruz took to the floor to urge his colleagues to vote against it. "This is a terrible deal," he said. "It embodies everything about the Washington establishment that frustrates the American people."

However he did not attempt any tactics to delay or stall the vote.

Underscoring the fault lines in the Republican party, Cruz blamed fellow senators for failing to go along with his strategy. "Unfortunately the Senate chose not to follow the House and in particular we saw real division among Senate Republicans. Had Senate Republicans united and supported House Republicans the outcome of this would have been very, very different," he said.

It was one of the worst of all possible outcomes for Republicans. None of their stated goals were achieved, and polls showed that voters overwhelmingly blamed them for the crisis. By refusing to blink, Democrats pushed Republicans to show that they would not let the US default on its debts, making it hard for the GOP to repeat its tactic.

A Louisiana Republican, Charles Boustany, said the Tea Party-backed members of the House of Representatives had put the GOP's position at risk. "This could trigger a wave of discontent that could wash out our Republican majority in the House if we're not careful – it's getting to that level," he told the National Journal.

Tim Huelskamp, a member of Tea Party congressional caucus, told the Guardian the divisive vote in the House would help identify the moderates in his party which he said had “given up the fight”.

“People back at home realise not all Republicans are conservatives,” he said. “And some Republicans are anti-conservative.”

Senator Mike Lee, a Republican ally of Cruz, struck a defiant tone on the floor, perhaps indicating more trouble ahead “The media keeps asking: was it worth it? My answer is it is always worth it to do the right thing,” he said, adding: “This is not over.”

That view was not shared at the White House. As he left the lectern after his Wednesday night press briefing, the president was asked by a journalist whether the crisis would happen all over again in a few months. Speaking over his shoulder, Obama replied: “No.”


US shutdown and debt ceiling deal: what does the agreement mean?

Barring any last-minute hiccups, Congress will pass the proposed budget agreement, and the US government will soon reopen. It's been a bumpy old ride – and it's not quite finished yet

Paul Lewis, Wednesday 16 October 2013 22.56 BST   

An eleventh-hour agreement has been forged in Washington to avert a budget and debt default catastrophe. What’s going on?

After two weeks in which the federal government has been paralysed and the US economy brought to the brink of defaulting on its debts, a deal was done. Senate majority leader Harry Reid and minority leader Mitch McConnell announced it in the Senate, and a bill was due to be voted on later on Wednesday. The White House has indicated that Barack Obama will sign that bill into law.

Barring any last-minute hiccups, the US government will soon reopen and the US Treasury will be able to borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

How did this come about?

In their determination to hobble the Affordable Care Act, Republicans in the House of Representatives, egged on by hardliners in the Senate such as Ted Cruz of Texas, refused to pass a budget resolution that would have authorised the funding of the federal government unless Democrats gave concessions over Obama's healthcare law.

The White House and Senate Democrats held firm, calculating (correctly, as it turned out) that Republicans would be blamed for the government shutdown, and would – in the end – balk at allowing the US to default.

In the last week, cracks appeared in the Republican position and talks began to take place, particularly between moderate Republicans in the Senate and their Democratic counterparts.

It’s been a bumpy process.
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz Cruz faces the media after his 21-hour marathon spech atacking Obamacare Photograph: Jason Reed/Reuters

So where did we end up?

Reid and McConnell finally announced an agreement on Wednesday. It would have been announced on Tuesday, but the Republican speaker of the House, John Boehner, intervened, and said he wanted to pass his own bill that would carry the support of conservatives.

What happened to that?

It fell apart. Boehner, in the end, could not persuade the conservative elements of his party to back his proposals. It didn’t help when conservative advocacy groups, including the powerful Heritage Action, announced they would withdraw lucrative support for Republican candidates who backed the deal. The votes melted away and Boehner was left holding a very sick baby. After a wasted day, Reid and McConnell restarted their Senate initiative.

Crisis averted.

Not quite. First of all, this bill has to be passed. It’ll easily get the votes in the Senate, and it will also probably pass the House, but, embarrassingly for Boehner, he will need to rely on the minority Democrats to reach the 217 votes he needs – plus a couple dozen Republicans. Then there is the fact the deal doesn’t quite avert the crisis.
Federal workers demonstrate for an end to the US government shutdown, at the west front of the US Capitol. Federal workers demonstrate for an end to the US government shutdown, at the west front of the US Capitol. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Why not?

The short-term threat of a US government default is off the table for now. But the metaphorical can, which has been kicked down many rhetorical roads, is rolling again. Under the deal, the debt ceiling raise will only last until 7 February next year. The government will reopen, but will only be funded through until 15 January next year – so we could see a repeat of all of this in three months.

Don’t tell me we’ve got to go through all this again.

Well, possibly. But the deal also includes an agreement to appoint members to a bipartisan group of members of Congress to negotiate future spending levels. The hope is they will come to a consensus by early December, so theoretically they will hammer out their differences without the threat of economic disaster hanging over everyone’s head.

Because that’s always worked so well in the past.

Cynic. There is another important provision in the proposed legislation. It allows the US Treasury to use so-called “emergency measures” to pay its bills beyond February 7 – effectively meaning the guillotine would not fall for some weeks or months after that date.

Reassuring. Anything we need to know about the bill?

One more thing. The legislation includes a provision to make sure that individuals taking advantage of subsidies under Obamacare do not lie about how much money they’re earning. It is a small, an anti-fraud provision, to make sure the government isn’t swindled.

Didn’t Obama say he wouldn’t be held to ransom over Obamacare?

He did say that. But as White House spokesman Jay Carney pointed out at the briefing on Wednesday, it’s not a ransom when everyone agrees with it. Democrats are happy to live with it because the clause falls way, way, short of the full defunding of Obamacare that Republicans demanded when they first embarked on this standoff.

Think of it like a sprig of parsley garnish to make Republicans swallow a meal they really don’t want to eat.
White House press secretary Jay Carney speaks during his daily briefing on 16 October. White House press secretary Jay Carney speaks during his daily briefing on 16 October. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Anything else in the bill?

No. But don’t take our word for it. Read it for yourself.

I don’t need to. I have as much confidence in your word as I have for the full faith and credit of the United States of America.

Maybe you should read it.

Later. Where does this leave the Republican party?

In a bad place. They’ve been hammered in the polls. They opted for an extreme course of action, taking the country to the brink of economic disaster but emerging with virtually nothing to show for it. They were divided beforehand. Now it’s a whole lot worse.

Compare Louisiana Republican Charles Boustany, who said in an interview...

    There are members with a different agenda. And I'm not sure they're Republicans and I'm not sure they're conservative.

... with Kansas Repulbican Tim Huelskamp, a member of Tea Party congressional caucus, who told me:

    People back at home realise not all Republicans are conservatives. And some Republicans are anti-conservative.


U.S. borrowing rate falls a fraction on budget deal

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 17, 2013 7:23 EDT

Trading in U.S. government debt took the last-minute US budget deal in its stride early on Thursday when treasury bond yields were slightly lower than before the agreement.

The bond market did not push down borrowing rates for the United States sharply in the light of the last-ditch deal, which analysts had largely anticipated even though trading on markets on Wednesday had been nervous.

The interest rate or yield on benchmark 10-year Treasury bonds was at 2.643 percent, down from 2.663 percent late on Wednesday in trading on the secondary market for debt already issued.

The three-month rate, which had risen markedly as the deadlock dragged on into the last hours before a deadline for the agreement, also eased slightly to 0.09 percent from 0.11 percent before the settlement.

US long-term debt was and is considered a safe asset for investors despite the possibility that the ceiling for permitted US debt might not have been raised, risking the possibility of a disastrous default.

However, overall, the US bond market had not reacted much to the crisis in recent days since most analysts held that a last-minute compromise would be found.

Regarding eurozone debt, the yields on German and French bonds moved in line with U.S. bonds.

The benchmark 10-year Germany bond yield was at 1.890 percent from 1.929 percent late on Wednesday, and the French 10-year yield at 2.403 percent from 2.432 percent.

The Spanish 10-year yield was steady at 4.298 percent from 4.299 percent, and the Italian yield at 4.244 percent from 4.250 percent.

Outside the eurozone, the yield on British 10-year debt was steady at 2.833 percent.


Cruz: It was a ‘remarkable victory’ until Senate Republicans caved on the shutdown

By David Edwards
Wednesday, October 16, 2013 14:11 EDT

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Wednesday blasted members of his own party after he said that they wasted a “remarkable victory” by making a deal with Democrats to re-open the government and avert a default on U.S. debt by raising the nation’s credit limit.

At the same time Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was on the Senate floor telling Republicans that it was time to move on, Cruz was elsewhere in the Capitol lashing out at his colleagues.

As CNN’s Dana Bash pointed out to Cruz, he had nothing to show for his efforts — President Barack Obama’s health care reform law had not been defunded nor delayed — after 16 days of a government shutdown.

Cruz, however, said that he disagreed: “Months ago, when the effort to defund Obamacare began, official Washington scoffed, they scoffed that the American people would rise up, they scoffed that the House of Representatives would do anything and they scoffed that the Senate would do anything.”

“We saw the House of Representatives take a courageous stand, listening to the American people, that everyone in official Washington just weeks earlier said would never happen,” he continued. “And that was a remarkable victory, to see the House engage in a profile in courage.”

“Unfortunately, the Senate chose not to follow the House. And in particular, we saw real division among Senate Republicans. That was unfortunate. I would point out that had Senate Republicans united and supported House Republicans, the outcome of this, I believe, would have been very, very different.”

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Posts: 28690

« Reply #9373 on: Oct 17, 2013, 06:04 AM »

10/16/2013 06:47 PM

Emerging Challenges: What's In Store for the New Global Powers

An Essay by Erich Follath

China, India and Brazil are taking the global economy by storm, becoming more politically confident on their way. But even as they form a front against the West, they will have to tackle slower growth and major domestic problems that their newly prosperous citizens are no longer willing to tolerate.

What will be the world's most important cities in the future? To answer this question, the US-based journal Foreign Policy and the McKinsey Global Institute examined criteria such as economic growth and receptiveness to technology. The result? Shanghai edged out Beijing and Tianjin, followed by the first non-Chinese mega-city, São Paulo in Brazil. No Western European city ranks among the top ten "most dynamic cities." Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich don't even appear among the top 50, but other cities in China, India and Brazil do. If we are to believe the study's conclusions, humankind will be speaking Mandarin, Hindi and Portuguese in its urban centers in 2025. "We are witnessing the biggest economic transformation the world has ever seen," the experts say.

And what are currently the most competitive countries in terms of industrial production, and what will they be in the future? The management consulting firm Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu has established that China is now ahead of Germany, the United States and India. But according to the projection, for which 550 top executives of leading companies were surveyed, the hierarchy will already have shifted by 2017. Germany and the United States will drop out of the top ranks, and "old" powers will no longer lead the pack, having been replaced by China, followed by India and Brazil.

What's more, according to the 2013 United Nations Human Development Report, "the rise of the South is unprecedented in its speed and scale." For the first time in 150 years, the combined output of the developing world's three leading economies -- Brazil, China and India -- is about equal to the combined GDP of the longstanding industrial powers of the North -- Canada, France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom and the United States. In addition, this year Beijing will, for the first time, import more oil from the OPEC countries than the United States.

Getting in on Western Commerce

It isn't just the sheer land mass and huge numbers of consumers in these three countries, which make up close to 40 percent of the world's population. China, India and Brazil are also stunning the world with their impressive performance in many areas, including research and technology. The owner of the world's biggest beer brewery is Brazilian billionaire Jorge Paulo Lemann, who acquired US-based Anheuser-Busch. The South American country is also considered an international leader in food research. São Paulo, together with the surrounding area, is the world's top location for German business, with about 800 branches of German companies headquartered in the area. Brazil has literally taken off, providing a home to Embraer, the world's third-largest aircraft manufacturer after Boeing and Airbus. And Rio de Janiero is an undisputed party capital, especially now that the city has been selected to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.

The most expensive private residence in the world, owned by entrepreneur Mukesh Ambani, is in the Indian city of Mumbai. Anyone who drives a Jaguar or a Land Rover is driving a car made by an Indian company, now that Tata Motors has bought the traditional British automaker. India is the world's largest producer of polyester and a leading force in renewable energy. Pune in western India is home to wind turbine maker Suzlon, which acquired Hamburg-based REpower. New Delhi is one of the world's leading producers of computer software and space technology. Though, on a less positive note, India spends more on arms imports than any other country.

Volkswagen has been selling more cars in China than in Germany for a long time, and the company plans to open five new plants there in this year alone. Conversely, the Chinese are also investing in Germany, where they already own automotive supply companies and have purchased some of the pearls of Germany's mid-sized companies, known as the Mittelstand. Changsha-based Sany, for example, has acquired Putzmeister, a concrete pump manufacturer based in southwestern Germany's Swabia region. The people who assemble London taxis, which are about as quintessentially British as Bobbies or plum pudding, report to Chinese bosses, as do many workers at the port of Piraeus in Germany. It seems that nothing works anymore without the wealthy Chinese, who have accumulated the world's largest foreign currency reserves. Beijing is also home to the world's fastest computer.

Forming a Front

Politically speaking, the new major powers are also becoming increasingly self-confident -- and sometimes form a united front against the West. In the United Nations Security Council, China blocks every Middle East resolution it doesn't like, while the Chinese navy flexes its muscles in the waters of the Far East. India is bucking the international trend by beefing up instead of reducing its arsenal of nuclear weapons. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff demonstratively cancelled a trip to the United States and a meeting with US President Barack Obama to protest the NSA's surveillance practices. It's difficult to imagine German Chancellor Angela Merkel taking such decisive steps to represent Germany, which has seen similar treatment by the NSA.

A few years ago, the three emerging economies joined forces with Russia and South Africa to form the BRICS group. In March, the BRICS leaders decided to launch their own development bank, with a starting capital of $100 billion. It is apparently intended as an alternative to the US-dominated World Bank. Together, these countries are also trying to thwart the imposition of stricter environmental protection rules on their industries and gain influence in the traditional international centers of power. With Beijing's and New Delhi's votes -- and against the wishes of the United States -- Brazilian Roberto Azevêdo was chosen as the new head of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in May, and is now in a position to help shape the flow of goods around the world.

Forty years ago, Brazil was still a bankrupt military dictatorship, India was a backward agricultural country and China was groaning under the harsh dictates of the Cultural Revolution, with no private automobiles in the streets. But today we are on the edge of a new historical turning point.

Confronting Domestic Turmoil

But that's only one side of the success story that is constantly and proudly repeated in Beijing, New Delhi and Brasilia, not to mention by international institutions. There is another truth that isn't as pleasant: China, India and Brazil are currently being shaken by inner turmoil. In all three countries, people are taking to the streets to protest corruption, nepotism and inefficient government. At the same time, the economic recovery is flagging.

Ironically, the emerging nations have begun to see a considerable weakening of their economies in recent months, just as they pull ahead of the West. Growth rates in 2013 are expected to be about half of what they were in the boom year of 2007, declining in China from 14 to about 7.5 percent, from about 10 to 5 percent in India and from 6 to an estimated 2.5 percent in Brazil. These are still better figures than in the United States and the European Union, but they are not good enough to satisfy the rising powers' expectations. And now that the glitter is fading, differences are also coming to light once again. The three new powers may be in agreement most of the time when it comes to opposing Western dominance and a possible dictate on CO2 emissions, but their political differences are substantial.

They couldn't be more different when it comes to their own development models. China is a centralist, one-party dictatorship with clear elements of brute capitalism. India is a federal, chaotic democracy that is often its own worst enemy. And Brazil has a presidential governing system with a calcified party landscape. Shockingly, little has changed for hundreds of millions in the rural areas, where farmers have generally not benefited from the booming economy. But a new urban middle class has also taken shape. And, while earlier it seemed to be politically sedated by the steady rise in standard of living, priorities are shifting now that their basic economic needs have been met and the economic upturn has slowed down, at least temporarily. People are increasingly noticing societal injustice, the nepotism that enriches officials and the sharp divide between rich and poor.

The People Demand Justice
Ironically, the very people from whom the political elite believed they could expect gratitude, or at least tacit support, are now taking to the streets. It's a testament to the theory of French world traveler Alexis de Tocqueville, who wrote in the mid-19th century that it is not the impoverished masses who bring about change, but the people who have something to lose. In India, they are protesting the construction of pollutive factories and a sluggish legal system. In China they are speaking out against toxic food and the privileges of the party elite. And in Brazil, they are protesting the lack of educational opportunities and sinfully expensive vanity projects. They have become increasingly self-confident in demanding accountability, responsibility and good governance from their politicians.

Which of the three models can best cope with the economic setbacks and react most flexibly in the interest of its citizens? Are authoritarian systems better equipped for the challenges of the future than democratic systems? Is this just a temporary economic weakness, or have the predictions for these three new powers been too euphoric all along? And what does all this mean for the United States and Europe? Will they continue to fall behind, or could the West be on the verge of a comeback?

Some experts would have us believe that we are truly ailing, while Beijing, New Delhi and Brasília merely have a slight cough. But does Germany really have to get used to rising unemployment? Or can we actually expand the edge we still have when it comes to demanding jobs and high-tech research?

Corruption Remains a Problem

A few years ago, Harvard Professor Amartya Sen, the Indian winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics who helped create the UN's Human Development Index, told me that while GDP and per-capita income are important, they are by no means the only criteria that determine quality of life. "In my view, development means material prosperity as well as access to education, basic medical care, the right to free exercise of religion, the ability to exert political influence and protection against police repression," he said.

And this is where he sees considerable deficits among the new global players. "One country's weakness is another country's strength. China has achieved greater successes in expanding basic medical care and education. Life expectancy is high and the illiteracy rate is low. India fares better when it comes to protecting civil rights. The governments must comprehend that development means freedom -- freedom from poverty and tyranny." Sen is convinced that democracy, despite many setbacks, has proved to be successful on the whole. Unlike autocracy, said Sen, democracy helps to correct extreme aberrations.

And yet Sen, 79, was overcome by rage when he spoke about his native country. He deplored India's high child mortality rate, and the lack of access to clean drinking water and toilets. There are reasonable social programs in India, he said, but the authorities have failed in terms of implementation -- unlike Brazil were, despite many problems, things are at least slowly progressing. The South American giant has surged ahead of China and India in Sen's UN index. However, all three countries fare poorly on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index, with Brazil ranked 69th, China 80th, and India in last place among the three powers at 94th.

Difficult Stage Ahead for New Powers

A visit with Lee Kuan Yew, the former prime minister of Singapore and a globally respected elder statesman of Chinese descent, provides another perspective. Even the political leadership in Beijing reveres this man who, in his 45 years as premier and senior minister, transformed the former British colony into a flourishing city-state -- and one with a largely authoritarian government. "I will cultivate an intelligent, constructive opposition," he said in 1986 during our first interview.

Lee, 90, a friend of former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, has long seen a shift in global policy in the direction of Asia. "The 21st century will be an age of competition between China and the United States. I cannot predict how long the Americans can remain ahead. China is relentlessly on its way to number one," he says. Lee sees most of the excessive human rights violations in India, not in the land of his ancestors. "However, the idea of human rights is only gradually beginning to take hold in China. The notion that the state is the supreme authority, and that it cannot be questioned, still dominates their way of thinking," he adds.

Singapore's leader was long a devotee of Confucian values, and he is pleased that the great philosopher enjoys considerable respect in the People's Republic once again, after being banned for many years. But Lee doesn't just see Confucian teachings as promoting authority. Instead, he believes that Confucius emphasized education and the government's responsibility to the people. The absence of constitutional mechanisms and Chinese culture's mistrust of a free competition of ideas is harmful in the long term, says Lee. These are astonishing words for a thinker who spent a significant portion of his life flirting with the superiority of Asian values.

Necessary Competition

Lee believes that the new Chinese leadership has recognized, under the "impressive" Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, that the system must become more open. But Lee does not feel that this will automatically lead to a Western-style multi-party system. According to Lee, a confrontation with the United States can only be prevented if Beijing interacts intensively with the West in all areas.

Nobel laureate Sen and political professional Lee agree that the West has no reason to timidly withdraw from the competition between systems. So what could the world look like in 2025? Can we combine the predictions of economists, academics and politicians and, by conducting our own research, arrive at a relatively solid prediction?

China, India and Brazil are likely to continue their unstoppable ascent in the coming decade, but at a slower pace and without achieving the record growth rates of the past. It is now a question of the next, more difficult development stage, in which the three countries will be forced to recognize that the road from the world's underclass to its middle class is easier than the road to the top. In Beijing, in particular, something called the Lewisian turning point, named after a British economist, is likely to occur. This is when low-wage farm workers, long beneficial for the economy, are increasingly absorbed into the industrial sector, where they become a burden because of rising wages and the fact that the government must now provide them with health insurance and retirement pensions. India and Brazil, which, with their high birth rates, have at least a theoretical advantage over China and the West, are exposed to another unpleasant phenomenon -- the "middle income trap," in which the rising cost of production causes rapid, relatively simple growth to stagnate.

What About Europe?

In 2025, no one will be talking about the "Chinese dream" anymore, which Communist Party leader Xi Jinping recently touted as an alternative to the American dream. By then, everyone's illusions about Beijing's brand of authoritarian state capitalism will have been shattered, much like what happened with the so-called "Washington Consensus" of market fundamentalists who advocated giving completely free rein to forces in the financial sector. China, India and Brazil will have to find the ideal development model on their own. Models that have proven to be effective in Western societies cannot necessarily be transferred to other regions, at least not directly. But in the face of pressure from their increasingly well-informed citizens, they will have to turn their attention to the environment and strengthen institutions in the next decade. Russia will likely face the most difficult path. The population is shrinking, the economy is based almost exclusively on commodities, and civic participation in government has long since fallen victim to cynicism. In international diplomacy, Moscow's clever use of tactics on the Syrian issue was nothing more than a last gasp. Russia's rival China will get the better of Moscow, from Central Asia to Africa.

Despite the tendency toward self-destruction that it has demonstrated once again with its current government shutdown in Washington, the United States has a strong economic outlook, and it can be summed up in one word: fracking. As a result of this environmentally controversial technology for extracting natural gas from substantial depths, the United States will become independent of energy imports in the coming decade and can focus on nation-building at home.

But Europe remains the big puzzle. Will the old Continent, which former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer once called a "European chicken yard," have pulled itself together by 2025, after embarrassing years of petty disputes? Berlin will play a key role in the next decade. The successors of Germany's dithering Chancellor Angela Merkel could agree to a communitization of debts through Eurobonds, under strict conditions, and the institutions in Brussels could become more effective, transparent and democratic. A banking union could become reality, and there could be a sharp decline in youth unemployment in the south. A few high-tech jobs will likely return to Germany, when it becomes apparent that conditions abroad are not as favorable as some had believed.

That's the optimistic scenario. But it's also possible that Europe will persist in its current lethargy and become a pawn in the hands of the new powers -- a cultural amusement park that will be visited and admired by the winners of globalization as something of a well-preserved museum. According to a study by the Mercer consulting firm, Vienna, Zurich, Auckland and Munich are the cities with the highest quality of life worldwide. It is up to us to decide whether they simply remain pleasant places to live or also become dynamically oriented toward the future.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #9374 on: Oct 17, 2013, 06:32 AM »


How do you solve a problem like Russia?

From its diplomatic triumph on Syria to the jailing of Greenpeace activists, the Kremlin's newfound confidence is both confusing and concerning Europe. Should the EU be worried? We ask foreign policy experts

Correspondents from Le Monde, the Guardian, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Gazeta Wyborcza, Barcelona centre for international affairs and La Stampa, Thursday 17 October 2013 11.03 BST   

A resurgent Kremlin is setting the agenda on major world issues and has once again started to boss its back yard. Buoyed by his Syria diplomatic triumph, Pig Putin has regained some of the swagger that temporarily deserted him during protests against his re-election last year.

Greenpeace activists have been put behind bars, a Dutch diplomat beaten up, and former Soviet republics hounded, with the Kremlin banning Lithuanian cheese imports for its hosting of an EU summit with eastern European states and bullying Ukraine for daring to attend.

So what is the reaction to Pig Putin's newfound foreign policy confidence in Europe's major capitals, and are they responding with one voice?

France: Yves-Michel Riols and Piotr Smolar, Le Monde

Ever since he arrived in the Élysée Palace last year, François Hollande has been trying to solve a conundrum: how to adopt the right stance towards Moscow. Implacable on major issues such as Syria and Iran, Russia has also conducted an aggressive policy in the parts of its backyard (Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia) that are tempted by European integration. Domestically, the "vertical power" introduced by Pig Putin remains largely a monopoly. Rejecting any interference in its affairs, the regime has developed an anti-western rhetoric, whether towards US imperialist designs or European tolerance of gay marriage.

"Russia systematically forces a showdown on all subjects," said a French foreign ministry official – an approach illustrated by the Syrian crisis. For months, Russia proved inflexible, supporting Damascus unconditionally. Then suddenly it turned around and concluded, to general surprise, a deal with the US on the dismantling of Syria's chemical weapons.

The episode was galling for France, which had adopted an aggressive stance towards Syria. Now, at the Quai d'Orsay, the only consolation is the foreign ministry's view that "the Russians did not move spontaneously. They responded to threats of [military] strikes supported by France."

But in fact, France's influence in Russia is limited. Laurent Fabius, the foreign minister, came back from a trip to Moscow in September empty-handed. "The Syrian crisis has unveiled strong tensions between France and Russia, even if they were not publicly displayed," noted Thomas Gomart, Russia specialist at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI).

He added: "Since the western intervention in Libya in 2011, the Russians are very critical of the close ties between Qatar and the French political class. Moscow considers Qatar and Saudi Arabia as destabilising regimes that encourage Sunni extremism in Syria and also in the Russian Caucasus."

Before Syria, Franco-Russian relations were generally improving. After years flailing behind Germany and Italy, France decided to copy them by emphasising the bilateral relationship. France's new ambassador to Moscow, Jean-Maurice Ripert, who studied with Hollande at the elite National College of Administration (ENA), will have a clear roadmap: continued rapprochement. Ever since the financial crisis took hold, European powers have been forced to court emerging markets more. Moscow meanwhile wants to diversify its own economy. There are mutual interests here.

Once upon a time, France lagged behind in direct investment, with only its biggest companies such as Alstom and Total in Russia. Now 400 have operations there and 6,000 do business with Russia. Investment shot up to nearly €12bn in 2012. Military co-operation is intensifying. The first French-built Mistral-class helicopter carrier, the Vladivostok, will be delivered to Russia next year.

The casualty of this increased co-operation is the focus on human rights. France has remained silent on the issue during the new Pig Putin presidency. Hollande summed up the attitude towards Putin's repressive array of new laws during his first official visit to Moscow in February: "I do not have to judge, I do not have to evaluate."

UK: Simon Tisdall, foreign affairs columnist, the Guardian

It has long been plain that Pig Putin, Russia's nationalist strongman, is no gentleman. Russia's increased assertiveness internationally is attributed in part to his crude, combative, take-no-prisoners attitude.

But appearances can be deceptive. According to British diplomats and experts on Russia, the power and influence of both Pig Putin and Russia, measured in political, economic and demographic terms, are steadily eroding while the EU's leverage is growing. The more noise Moscow makes, the more it seems to be striving to disguise the evidence of decline.

"The premise that Russia has become more assertive is correct," said Sir Andrew Wood, Britain's ambassador in Moscow from 1995 to 2000. "Is this due to weakness or strength? Weakness, probably. There are growing problems with the economy, large internal problems and tensions. The ruling group is trying to reassert control."

Like other British observers, Wood noted that particular Russian angst, bordering on paranoia, surrounded the expansion of the EU's Eastern Partnership. This programme seeks to strengthen ties with former Soviet republics that Russia once deemed its property.

The issue will come to a head next month at a summit in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. It is widely expected to produce an EU association agreement, including a free trade deal, with Ukraine, and possibly with Moldova and Georgia.

"Losing Ukraine would be a massive blow to Russia. It's the most important post-Soviet state," said James Nixey, head of the Russia and Eurasia programme at the Chatham House thinktank in London. "Ukraine is viewed by Pig Putin as part of Russia. He'll ask himself, how can you be a great power if this huge appendage is lopped off? Overall, Russia is losing the battle for control of the sandwich states between Russia and the EU."

Russia's discomfiture stems in part from the blow such defections would deliver to its own pet Customs Union project, part of Putin's grandiose plan for a Eurasian union. In a sign of distress, he imposed a partial trade embargo on Lithuania. Moscow has also reportedly offered Kiev an $8bn gas price cut if it joined the Customs Union.

"The EU has been very feeble in the past in dealing with Russia," said Sir Anthony Brenton, Britain's ambassador to Moscow from 2004 to 2008. "We received zero support from our EU partners over the [Alexander] Litvinenko affair [the former KGB spy who was poisoned in London in 2006]."

That was changing, he said. "If Ukraine wants the association agreement, and if they release Yulia Tymoshenko [the jailed opposition leader], then the EU should go ahead and also launch proceedings against Russia through the WTO [World Trade Organisation] over Lithuania."

Brenton and other British diplomats expressed satisfaction that Germany was taking a tougher stance towards Russia after years of placing its energy supply requirements ahead of other considerations. Growing human rights concerns, and high-profile trials involving the punk group Pussy Riot and now Greenpeace, had changed attitudes. They also noted that France under François Hollande has a less cosy relationship with Moscow than in Nicolas Sarkozy's time."The United Kingdom has always pursued a relatively tough, robust policy," said Wood. "I think we're now seeing a new realism about Russia on all sides in the EU, free of delusions about a special Washington-Moscow relationship. The EU is now the third leg."

David Clark, chair of the independent Russia Foundation, said Britain's relations with Russia had undergone a "mini-reset" under the Conservative government, involving tacit agreement to draw a line under the Litvinenko affair, greater emphasis on business and commercial ties, and co-operation on matters of shared interest. One result was last week's $5.3bn BP-Rosneft oil deal. Despite this, relations remained "in a bit of a rut", he said.

Charles Grant, director of the London-based Centre for European Reform (CER), said that while Putin's personal relationship with Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, was famously bad, David Cameron was said to have developed a pragmatic working relationship with the Russian leader. Foreign ministers William Hague and Sergei Lavrov also "got on well" together. But such bonhomie did not prevent the hurtful sneer at last month's St Petersburg summit, attributed by some to Putin, that Britain was "a small island that no one listens to".

Wood said the large number of Russians living in "Londongrad", including the so-called oligarchs and wealthy middle class who have bought football clubs, driven up property prices and competed for elite school places in fashionable areas such as Knightsbridge, was an indication of the underlying strength of the bilateral relationship.

Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise after being seized by Russian authorities Greenpeace vessel Arctic
But he said last month's arrest of Greenpeace activists in the Arctic was an example of how the Russians could shoot themselves in the foot. "Obviously this was done as a demonstration of some kind. Pig Putin has distanced himself from it, but it is convenient for him. It's not aimed at the EU specifically, but is aimed at asserting Russia's primary role in the Arctic.

"Russians are very contradictory people. They hire people to improve their image, then they do things like Greenpeace and Pussy Riot. Maybe it makes them feel strong and powerful. But it doesn't do them any good in the outside world."

The CER's Grant said the EU possessed other levers to counteract Russian over-assertiveness. They included Brussels' insistence that Moscow observe the EU's energy market rules, and the prospective launch by the European commission of a multi-billion dollar anti-trust case against the Russian energy giant, Gazprom.

Clark said Pig Putin continued to be motivated by fear of encirclement and the imposition on Russia of western political and civil rights agendas. His diplomatic success over Syria notwithstanding, his posture was essentially defensive.

"Russia's economic position is very fragile due its dependency on global oil prices; it is very exposed, very vulnerable. There has been no progress in modernising and diversifying, despite what Pig Putin says," Clark said.

Despite a contracting economy and falling popularity ratings, the Pig remained a formidable opponent, Brenton said. "Putin is very professional. He is very well briefed. He tends to go for the jugular if he sees an opportunity. He is not a diplomat. He's not the sort of guy you would invite to a tea party. But we have to do business with him."

Germany: Daniel Brössler, Süddeutsche Zeitung

Modern Germany longs for harmony – and there is no area in which this longing is this reliably satisfied better than in foreign policy. Broadly, most parties, with exception of the leftwing Die Linke, are in agreement over Germany's position in the world. No one is seriously questioning Angela Merkel's strategic combination of carefully dosed shows of strength and greatest possible avoidance of risk. Things are likely to stay that way, irrespective of the outcome of the current coalition negotiations. There's only one aspect of foreign policy where the German consensus is shattered: Russia.

Germany has tradition in this respect. The comradeship between former chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Pig Putin during the latter's first stint as president wasn't welcomed by everyone. With Putin's return to the Kremlin, the old controversy has flared up again. Ever since, there has been a bitter battle over how to behave in relation to a Russian president who represses critics at home and attacks critics from abroad. Russia even became an issue during an election campaign which ignored the world outside Germany in every other respect: SPD chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück accused Merkel of doing too little to get the Pig to co-operate on Syria.

That accusation was unfair but telling. Unfair because Merkel had tried to talk to Putin early on during the Syrian conflict and earned only ridicule from the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov. Telling because it shows the different stances on Russia within German politics. On all sides, there has been a change in attitudes in view of the Pig calculated turn away from the west and the aggressiveness with which he tries to keep Ukraine and other former Soviet countries from the EU. But the conclusions from this shock have been different.

"Put an end to this Russia bashing," the SPD's former foreign policy expert Gernot Erler recently demanded. He called for more understanding of the "frustration" that had built up in Russia towards the west since the 90s. In Russian eyes, at least, Nato and the EU had made merciless use of Russia's weakness. This school of thought dominates in SPD circles. It sees itself in the tradition of Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik, calls for critics to get to grips with Russia on its own terms and warns of countering Pig Putin's cold shoulder with a blast of frosty air.

Merkel, on the other hand, has opted for polite determination in dealing with Pig Putin, whom she has known since the start of her rule. At a discussion at the Kremlin last year, she told him that criticism shouldn't always be dismissed as "destructive". And when Putin recently cancelled her speech at an exhibition about looted art in St Petersburg, she immediately threatened to cut her visit short – which produced the desired effect: her speech was rescheduled. That episode shows how Merkel likes to deal with Putin. She considers it pointless, counterproductive even, to answer the Russian's provocations with passive reserve. She and her foreign policy adviser Christoph Heusgen are certainly less worried about standing up to Putin than the SPD and their foreign policy experts.

If the next German government consists of a grand coalition between Merkel's party and the SPD, it is almost certain that policy towards Russia is going to be the source of conflict. This will particularly be the case if the Social Democrats claim the foreign ministry. As foreign minister in the last grand coalition, the SPD's Frank-Walter Steinmeier had pursued the same kind of strategy that he had followed when he was Gerhard Schröder's chief of staff in the chancellery. He was cautious when it came to criticising Russia's human rights abuses in public. The "modernising partnership" – a term coined when Steinmeier was foreign minister – lives on in language only, and has suffered from the fact that Putin's Russia only wants to equate modernisation with technological progress.

Regardless of which party provides the new foreign minister, the foreign ministry has a reputation as a bastion of "Russia empathisers", civil servants who warn of trying Russia's patience with too many patronising lectures. A ruling coalition between the Christian Democrats and the Green party could be a more attractive option in that light. No one has been more outspoken in calling for a strong defence of human rights when dealing with Russia than the Greens. Of course, any Green foreign minister could end up suffering the same fate as his or her predecessor, Joschka Fischer. Moscow simply ignored him; instead, they went straight to Schröder and his people. And Fischer soon learnt to avoid the Russian capital altogether.

Poland: Pawel Swieboda, director of Warsaw thinktank Demos Europa and guest columnist, Gazeta Wyborcza

From a political point of view, Russia is no longer a factor for Poland. While sensitive issues surface from time to time, especially around the Smolensk tragedy, Russia is no longer a political reference point for Poles. But its culture remains very popular and Russia's tormented soul continues to intrigue.

Russia made a strategic mistake by resisting the Atlanticist aspirations of central Europe. If at the time it had treated the changes in these countries openly and dispassionately, it could now boast genuine respect. Instead, new EU members from eastern Europe were so riled that they were dubbed the "new warriors of the cold war". Poland even blocked the candidacy of Paavo Lipponen as European commission president because he had advised Russian companies.

Since then, a thaw of sorts. Firstly some small cross-border trade opened up with Russia's Kaliningrad exclave, which borders Poland. Trade with Russia itself has also increased – but on political issues Poland does not flinch. We do not want to reveal what we think of the state of Russian "democracy". We are shocked by Russia's Syria policy, but are quietly satisfied that Russia is so busy with Middle Eastern affairs that it pays less attention to eastern Europe.

On the delicate matter of its energy dependence on Russia, Poland has finally started doing its homework. The construction of the LNG terminal in Swinoujscie has been delayed but it will be finished next year. No one in Poland would deny that the dash for shale gas is directly linked to bargaining positions vis-a-vis Gazprom, the Russian natural gas giant. On the other hand, the Polish leadership shudders when it observes Russian defence policy. Poland does not understand Nato's insouciance towards Russia's military potential. Russia's army has serious shortcomings, but Russia remains a nuclear power – and an unpredictable one at that. The 2008 Georgia war may have been forgotten in the west. Not in Poland.

Then there is Ukraine – a large space in which Poland and Russia have had a long strategic battle. Polish leaders sat up and took notice when the Kremlin began to pressure Kiev to renounce its ambitions to join the EU. It has long been clear that Pig Putin's personal project is the "Eurasian alliance" – a cynical attempt to restore Russia's sphere of influence with the former Soviet Union.

The Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, has tried so far to play it both ways at the same time, but now seems determined to sign the EU agreement. For Poland, Ukraine is a priority. Until the ink is dry on the EU pact, Warsaw will continue to work for its inclusion in Europe.

What does this mean for the future? The European Union is resigned to Russia. In recent years, almost everything has been tried – trade talks, the so-called "common spaces". The entry of Russia into the World Trade Organisation (WTO) raised great hopes, which until now have not resulted in much. It was hoped that Russia would follow the lead of China, which used its entry into the global economic system to reform and open up. The EU has accepted that Russia will not be like it any time soon. For now, it is playing a waiting game, hoping that the changes in the world order will instil a new mood in the Kremlin. Poland is waiting too.

Spain: Carmen Claudin, Senior Researcher, CIDOB (Barcelona centre for international affairs)

Spain seems to think that Putin's Russia is not a problem for it. Recent events that have again put Russia under the international spotlight – its role in Syria or the pressure it placed on Ukraine not to sign the new Association Agreement with the EU next November – have not earned any special attention in Madrid.

Even so, and despite the signing in March 2009 of the Strategic Partnership between the two countries, there is no indication that Russia really takes Spain seriously, as a country that carries any weight within the EU. The new Concept of Russian Foreign Policy, from February 2013, where each word was carefully measured, devotes a separate paragraph to the importance of developing bilateral relations with European countries such as Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands, while Spain is relegated to the category of "other". The military co-operation agreement signed between the two countries in July 2013 looks likely to be the most serious event in their bilateral relations.

Spain rarely decouples itself from Brussels in its Russia policy. And when it does so – as with negotiations for the elimination of visas for Russian citizens in the Schengen area, or on its refusal to recognise Kosovo – it tends to lean towards Russia. Perhaps Spain will one day understand that with Russia it is not enough to simply take a friendly and uncritical approach in order for it truly consider Spain as a strategic partner. Reaching agreements is certainly important but it is not the same as making policy.

Italy: Roberto Toscano, La Stampa

In recent weeks, Russia has been showing strong signs of the assertiveness that has characterised the politics and the style of Vladimir Putin for some time. There is no doubt that the Russia's triumphant activism was facilitated by Barack Obama's uncertainty over Syria, after he was pushed towards a fight he did not believe in.

With his diplomatic initiative on chemical weapons, the Pig offered Obama a way out. But it would be a mistake to see this political victory as a one off, as the result of some talented diplomacy by a Russian leader who knew how to seize the moment.

Instead, it is worth looking at recent events as the fruit of coherent political strategy by Russia and Pig Putin, the aims of which are clear.

It all starts with the humiliation that Russians feel, even anti-communist Russians, over the loss of Russia's former global influence and over the fragmentation of a state that most Russians would have preferred to see remain intact, even after the end of the Soviet Union. This was precisely the view Pig Putin expressed in 2005, when he defined the end of the USSR as the "biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century".

How can Russia get over this humiliation and win back the global influence that it has never ceased to consider its right? And to what degree is this ambition compatible with our interests, as European and Italians?

The Pig is ambitious but not a megalomaniac. He knows only too well that the bipolar world will not return and that America cannot be challenged or even counterbalanced.

With great realism, Pig Putin has realised that the only way Russia can back its interests and boost its image as a great power is through diplomacy.

That is not to say Russia has stopped creating problems for the US or opposing US interests by helping America's enemies, by putting pressure on countries in the sphere of influence Russia tries to maintain (from central Asia to the Caucauses to Ukraine), even if they are formally independent, by strongly opposing US plans to set up anti-missile systems near its borders.

But all these gambits are part of a bigger and more important diplomatic game, a game that Russia intends to play on a multilateral level. Proof is the text Concept of Russian Foreign Policy approved in February, in which the aims of Russian foreign policy are laid out.The UN is mentioned numerous times, as are the embryonic but dynamic multilateral initiatives that Russia is launching in Asia.

Moscow is assuming there will never again be a bipolar world, while it loves to remind the US – as Putin did in his provocative editorial in the New York Times on September 11 – that its dream of a unipolar world has failed.

That leaves a multipolar world in which some countries are more equal than others when it comes to organising the structure and the rules of the international system. At the start of the previously cited strategic document, there is a reference to the "augmented responsibility of Russia in defining the international agenda and the construction of the international relations".

But isn't a multipolar world one in which the EU can seek a global role?

Russia's challenge can be seen from a critical point of view by the US and Europe (not all their interests will coincide), but they should not be blindly hostile.

Russia has always been seen by Italy as an extremely interesting commercial and economic partner, but it is not just about economics. If Russia switches from its proverbial "nyet" at the UN to a more flexible game in a bid to build influence through the UN – and not against the UN – that will favour a country such as Italy, which has a multilateral foreign policy.

Russia, as shown in its strategy document, has no intention of abandoning its privileged status on the security council, but it insists on the need for a security council that is more representative, or larger. Just as Italy does.

In Rome, there is a cautious but substantial optimism about Russia.

© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.


10/16/2013 06:57 PM

Russian Opposition: Navalny's Suspended Sentence Reveals Rifts

By Benjamin Bidder

Alexei Navalny, an anti-corruption blogger and leader of the Russian opposition, won't be going to jail after all. But the court's decision to suspend his sentence in the wake of his politically motivated trial doesn't mean Putin is suddenly on his side.

Alexei Navalny, a controversial leader of the Russian opposition who ran in Moscow's September mayoral elections, was given a suspended sentence on Wednesday. The blogger and vocal critic of Russian President Pig Putin had been found guilty earlier this summer of embezzling timber during his time as an adviser to Kirov's governor, Nikita Belykh. Many saw the charge as politically motivated. The court did not overturn the guilty verdict, but for Navalny, who was originally sentenced to five years in prison, the court's decision represents something of a victory.

The judge in Kirov announced his decision surprisingly quickly. Navalny had brought a bag, packed with clothing and a toothbrush, with him to Kirov in case he was handcuffed before leaving the court. It ended up being unnecessary.

When Navalny returns to Moscow, supporters may well give him the kind of triumphant welcome he received in July, the day after the judge in Kirov sentenced him to five years in jail. He had been immediately put into custody, but the next day, in a move that stunned the public, the prosecution requested Navalny be released for the duration of the appeals process.

Mysterious About-Face

"I don't know why the Pig changed his mind either," said Navalny at the end of his appeal. The change of heart by the Kremlin continues to baffle people in Moscow. The only thing people seem to agree on, is that, as Georgy Satarov, the president of the well-regarded Moscow think thank Indem and a former adviser to president Boris Yeltsin, puts it, "the decision didn't belong to a judge."

Satarov told SPIEGEL ONLINE that the wrangling in the Navalny case shouldn't be blamed on contradictory decision-making by President Pig Putin -- but rather on a "battle between different groupings in the ruling elite."

"Many people believe Russia is a dictatorship of one man, Pig Putin. But it's never been that -- it's just that over the years, the conflicts within the elite haven't been as open as they have been about Navalny. First, he was illegally convicted, and then a few days later he was set free, which was equally illegal. If those are the decisions of one and the same organ, you'd have to diagnose the state authority as being schizophrenic."

After Navalny received his unexpectedly severe sentence in July, about 10,000 of his supporters demonstrated in front of the Kremlin. According to the Navalny camp, his release on the following morning was a direct result of the protest, which, they claim, scared Putin. But more likely there was a dispute within Pig Putin's leadership team.

Warring Factions

Moscow's Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, wanted Navalny as a sparring partner for his election. Sobyanin had surprised the opposition by moving up the election, which was originally planned for 2015, to this year. He was hoping to use Navalny to give the election the appearance of legitimacy, and use a victory to recommend himself for higher posts. Vyacheslav Volodin, the first deputy chief of staff of Russia's presidential administration, supported the plan.

But there was another fraction, led by Alexander Bastrykin, the head of the Investigative Committee of Russia. Navalny is a thorn in Bastrykin's side -- the blogger had accused the Investigative Committee Chef of corruption -- and his fraction of hardliners is famous for its punishing stance against the opposition.

But the Kremlin was worried Navalny could use the trial and his severe sentence to gain political capital and become even more popular. Moreover, the legal argument against him was unconvincing -- even a witness of the prosecution said she thought the trial was "politically motivated."

Navalny Allies in the Government?

Does Navalny have allies in the Kremlin? "Not in the sense that they share his goals and ideals," says veteran Kremlin expert Satarov. He argues that, instead, there are "people who see Navalny as an instrument to use in their struggle against other groups.'

Shortly before the start of the appeal hearing, a reporter for the Moskovsky Komsomolets tabloid asked Navalny whether he "felt used" as a pawn in a bigger game. Navalny replied: "In truth I'm the one who's using all of the others. We're using the system to fight the system."

However it is doubtful that Navalny will readily be able to continue his political career. A suspended sentence is tantamount to "political isolation" thinks Ilya Yashin, an opposition politician and a long-time political ally of Navalny's. As a result of his conviction, Navalny's freedom of movement will be limited. He will be unable to travel abroad and he will not be allowed to participate in elections.

Navalny's fight for his own freedom is not over yet: A further case against him is pending in Moscow. Navalny and his brother ran a logistics business together and are now accused of conning the cosmetics company Yves Rocher out of 1.8 million dollars while providing transport services to the French firm. The Russian Investigative Committee, headed by Putin's confidant Bastrykin, is confident that the charges will be proven.


Angela Merkel pressures the Pig over Arctic 30 arrests

The detention of Greenpeace activists needs a swift resolution, the German chancellor told the Russian president in a phone call

Reuters, Thursday 17 October 2013 11.08 BST   
German chancellor Angela Merkel told Russia's President Pig Putin on Wednesday of her concerns over the arrest of Greenpeace activists after an Arctic drilling protest, and urged a swift resolution of the case.

The 30 environmentalists have been held on piracy charges since trying to scale the Prirazlomnoye oil rig on 18 September.

Merkel's spokesman said in a statement: "The chancellor expressed her concern to the Pig over the arrest of the crew of the Greenpeace boat, impounded in Russia, and voiced her hope that this case will soon be resolved."

Germany has become an increasingly vocal critic of Moscow's record on human rights, despite Russia's importance as an energy exporter, straining personal ties between Merkel and Pig Putin. A Kremlin statement about the leaders' telephone call made no mention of the activists.

The Greenpeace members, who come from nearly 20 countries, have been ordered to be held until late November pending further investigation.

Courts have denied bail to a number of them in the past week, including the American captain of the Arctic Sunrise. On Wednesday, judges in the northern Russian city of Murmansk denied bail to four more people – Anthony Perrett of Britain, Gizem Akhan of Turkey, Jonathan Beauchamp of New Zealand and Francesco Pisanu of France.

The piracy charges, punishable by up to 15 years' jail, appear aimed at sending a message that Moscow will not tolerate attempts to disrupt its development of the resource-rich Arctic.

Greenpeace says the protest at the rig, owned by state-controlled Russian energy company Gazprom, was peaceful and calls the piracy charges absurd and unfounded.

The Pig has said the activists were not pirates but that they had violated international law. The head of the Kremlin's human rights advisory body has said he would ask prosecutors to withdraw the piracy charges.

Investigators have also said more charges will be pressed against some protesters as drugs and other suspect items had been found on the ship. Greenpeace denies there were any illegal items aboard.


Attack on diplomat in Moscow deepens Dutch-Russian rift

Dutch deputy head of mission in Russia assaulted at his flat 10 days after opposite number was arrested in The Hague

Tom Balmforth in Moscow, Wednesday 16 October 2013 18.59 BST   

A senior Dutch diplomat has been assaulted by unidentified assailants at his home in Moscow days after police in the Netherlands arrested his Russian counterpart.

Two men barged into the home of Onno Elderenbosch, the Dutch deputy head of mission in Russia, and beat him, tied him up with tape and drew a heart pierced with an arrow on his mirror in pink lipstick and beneath it the letters LGBT, the acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

The Russian foreign ministry said authorities would "take all measures" to find those responsible, working in close partnership with the Dutch, but the incident looks certain to worsen fraying ties between the countries, with the king and queen of the Netherlands due to visit Russia next month.

Upon returning home on Tuesday night Elderenbosch found that the lift in his apartment building was not working and encountered two men posing as electricians, according to Russian media reports.

They reportedly asked to check his fourth-floor apartment for electricity, and when he opened the door they overpowered him and forced their way inside. Elderenbosch, 60, sustained minor injuries in the incident. The intruders stole nothing.

Ten days earlier Dutch police arrested Elderenbosch's opposite number, Dmitry Borodin, the number two in the Russian embassy in the Hague, despite him having diplomatic immunity.

Borodin, who says he was beaten with a police baton, was detained for three hours on 5 October in an incident that Pig Putin said violated the Vienna convention. The Russian president demanded a public apology, subsequently issued by the Dutch foreign minister, Frans Timmermans. But the Netherlands declined to bring any police officers to account.

According to Dutch media reports cited by the AFP news agency, Borodin was found drunk and barely able to stand when police arrived at his home after neighbours complained he was mistreating his children. Russia has rubbished these reports.

In the wake of the incident an aide to Gennady Onishchenko, the chief health inspector known for banning produce from countries at odds with the Kremlin, threatened to impose an import ban on Dutch tulips and dairy products.

Ties between the Netherlands and Russia began to fray conspicuously in September when border guards seized a Dutch-flagged Greenpeace ship that activists used for an environmental protest on an oil rig operated by the Russian state gas giant Gazprom in the Arctic Pechora Sea.

On 4 October the Dutch launched legal proceedings against Russia, hoping to go to the international tribunal for the law of the sea, based in Hamburg, to contest the manner by which Russian border guards seized the Arctic Sunrise in international waters.

The Greenpeace activists, among them two Dutch nationals, have been charged with piracy, which carries 10 to 15 years in jail in Russia. They could face further charges after investigators claimed they found illegal substances on board the boat. A court in Murmansk, northern Russia, has so far rejected all appeals for bail.

Dutch politicians have said they hope legal proceedings will draw further attention to the charges, which have been criticised as baseless.

It is not the first time diplomats have encountered problems in Russia. Britain's former ambassador Anthony Brenton was hounded for months in 2006 by members of a pro-Kremlin youth group after the murder of Alexander Litvinenko led to a spate of tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions between the UK and Russia.

The current US ambassador, Michael McFaul, has complained that pro-government television crews have displayed an uncanny knowledge of his movements, suggesting they are able to monitor his phone calls and email correspondence. On Wednesday McFaul condemned the attack of Elderenbosch, writing on Twitter that "such actions are unacceptable".

Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, was reported to have spoken to his Dutch counterpart by telephone on Wednesday evening to inform him of progress in the investigation, although no details were forthcoming.

As well as the Greenpeace incident, Russia and the Netherlands have been at odds over LGBT issues this year. When Pig Putin flew to Amsterdam in April, thousands waved rainbow flags in Amsterdam to protest against Russian legislation prohibiting the distribution of "gay propaganda" among minors.

In July four Dutch nationals who were producing a film about LGBT rights were detained by police in the Russian north and questioned for several hours before being released. They were subsequently banned from returning to Russia for three years, purportedly because they had violated their visa regulations. They are believed to be the first foreigners to have crossed paths with the legislation.

Dutch politicians have urged King Willem-Alexander to cancel his planned visit next month. The king is due in Russia to mark the end of a bilateral project called "Netherlands-Russia year", designed to mark 400 years of relations between the two countries. On Wednesday Dutch politicians called for the project to be abandoned entirely.


Migrant worker killed after race riots in Moscow

Uzbek citizen stabbed to death in possible revenge attack after killing of Russian in Biryulyovo district last week

Reuters in Moscow, Wednesday 16 October 2013 15.15 BST   

A migrant worker was found stabbed to death on Wednesday in a Moscow neighbourhood rocked this week by race riots, in what a community leader suggested was a revenge attack for the killing of an ethnic Russian.

Last Thursday's killing of Yegor Shcherbakov in Biryulyovo, heavily populated by immigrants from ex-Soviet central Asian and Caucasus states, unleashed the capital's worst race riots for three years.

Before a suspect in Shcherbakov's death was arrested on Tuesday, crowds of Russians roamed Biryulyovo's streets hunting for non-Slavic men who matched a police description of the alleged killer.

A police source said the body of a citizen of predominantly Muslim Uzbekistan was found in the district on Wednesday, news agency Interfax reported.

"We warned migrants to be careful of nationalist scum, and now the body of an Uzbek has been found," said Mukhamad Amin Madzhumder, head of the Federation of Migrants of Russia.

Migrant labour has played a significant role in the Russian economy during an oil-fuelled boom that took off around the time Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000.

But many Muscovites resent the influx into the capital of migrant labourers from mostly Muslim ex-Soviet states, and have called for tougher policing and visa restrictions.

State TV showed footage of Shcherbakov's alleged killer – from Azerbaijan and named by police as Orhan Zeynalov – being detained in the city of Kolomna on Tuesday and flown to Moscow by helicopter.

In a video released by police, Zeynalov admitted stabbing Shcherbakov, 25, but said he had acted in self-defence.

In a third day of unrest in Biryulyovo, police detained hundreds of nationalist youths who had gathered to protest at Shcherbakov's killing late on Tuesday.

It was the worst outbreak of race-related unrest in Moscow since December 2010 when several thousand rioted near the Kremlin.

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