The Christian Science Monitor
'Asteroid 2032:' Will 2013 TV135 crash into Earth in 2032? Probably not.
Asteroid 2032: Asteroid 2013 TV135 has a 1 in 49,000 chance of hitting Earth in 2032, says NASA. Of course, that's based on just one week of data out of a 4-year orbit, so don't start digging your bunker yet.
By Liz Fuller-Wright, Correspondent / October 18, 2013 at 5:32 pm EDT
Last week, Ukranian scientists observed an asteroid on a collision course with Earth – in 19 years. The astronomers sent word out to their colleagues around the globe, several of whom independently confirmed the discovery of 2013 TV135, as it has been lovingly named.
2013 TV135 buzzed past Earth last month, on Sept 16, and is due for a return visit on Aug. 26, 2032, at which point it could collide with Earth – or just whiz past again. If it does collide with our planet, the asteroid's large size and high speed will combine to make an explosion equivalent to a 2,500 megaton bomb, NASA estimated. That's equivalent to 50 of the largest atomic bombs ever created, and 125,000 times the size of the bomb dropped on Nagasaki.
Should you worry?
"The current probability of no impact in 2032 [is] about 99.998 percent," said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program (NEOP) in a NASA press release entitled Asteroid 2013 TV135 – A Reality Check. That's about a 1 in 49,000 chance of impact.
So maybe we should hold off on panicking.
The asteroid is certainly massive. It's difficult to measure dark objects against a dark sky, but the NEOP has constrained it to between 200 and 800 meters across. So it's at least as big as the Astrodome, and might be a full half-mile across. That's not the size of Texas, but it's plenty big.
It was first discovered by Gennady Borisov from the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory on October 12, he told Itar-Tass news agency. “The first observations show that it moves quickly and is relatively close.”
Within a week, the discovery had been confirmed by astronomers in Italy, Spain, the UK, and Russia’s Siberian republic of Buryatia, plus NASA, though NASA emphasized that the details are still tentative.
"With only a week of observations for an orbital period that spans almost four years, its future orbital path is still quite uncertain," said NASA's press office, "but this asteroid could be back in Earth’s neighborhood in 2032."
2013 TV135 follows an elliptical orbit around the sun. At its closest approach to the sun, it's still almost 100 million miles away, and it reaches most of the way to Jupiter before circling back in. Assuming 2013 TV135 doesn't slam into us in 19 years, it will fly by Earth again in 2047, when its odds of colliding drop down to 1 in 6,000,000.
NASA's NEOP office has been tracking near-Earth asteroids since 1995. They developed the "Torino scale" to rate the likelihood that an asteroid poses a threat to Earth. The scale goes from 0 to 10. Level 0 means no threat at all, Level 10 means we're toast. Of the 10,334 near-Earth asteroids they have identified, nearly all have a Torino level of zero. Two asteroids, including 2013 TV135, are at Level 1.
According to NASA, Level 1 on the Torino scale isn't even worth bothering astronomers about: "A routine discovery in which a pass near the Earth is predicted that poses no unusual level of danger. Current calculations show the chance of collision is extremely unlikely with no cause for public attention or public concern. New telescopic observations very likely will lead to re-assignment to Level 0."
In other words, it's probably not the end of the world as we know it.
After all, a 1 in 49,000 chance is about equal to your odds of rolling snake eyes three times in a row. Put another way, it's 16 times less likely than your odds of ever getting struck by lightning. So let's not panic quite yet.
In the USA...United Surveillance America
October 18, 2013
N.S.A. Plan to Log Calls Is Renewed by Court
By CHARLIE SAVAGE
WASHINGTON — The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court released a new legal opinion on Friday that reauthorized the once-secret National Security Agency program that keeps records of every American’s phone calls. The opinion also sought to plug a hole in a similar ruling made public last month.
In the six-page opinion, which was signed on Oct. 11, Judge Mary A. McLaughlin said she was personally approving for the first time the extension of the call log metadata program, which must be approved every 90 days. But she wrote that she endorsed a lengthy legal opinion written by a colleague, Judge Claire V. Eagan, who was the previous judge to approve extending it.
Judge Eagan’s opinion, which was made public last month, held that the N.S.A. could lawfully collect the bulk data about all Americans’ calls without warrants, in part because of a 1979 case, Smith v. Maryland. In that matter, the Supreme Court held that call records were not protected by the Fourth Amendment because suspects had exposed that metadata to their phone companies and had no reasonable expectation of privacy.
Judge Eagan’s opinion has been criticized, in part, because she made no mention of a landmark privacy case decided by the Supreme Court in 2012. That case, United States v. Jones, held that it was unconstitutional for the police to use a G.P.S. tracking device to monitor a suspect’s movements without a warrant.
Although the Supreme Court decided the case on narrow grounds — citing that the police had to trespass on the suspect’s property when installing the device — five of the nine justices separately called into question whether the 1979 precedent was valid in an era of modern technology. They suggested that the automated long-term collection of data about someone’s location might raise Fourth Amendment issues even though each individual movement is disclosed to other people.
In her new opinion, Judge McLaughlin acknowledged the existence of the 2012 case but explained why she did not think it was relevant. First, she said, that case involved physical location, not communication links. And second, she said, the Supreme Court had decided the case on different grounds and did not fully consider the broader issue.
“The Supreme Court may someday revisit the third-party disclosure principle in the context of 21st-century communications technology, but that day has not arrived,” so the 1979 precedent remains the controlling legal precedent, she wrote.
Brett Max Kaufman, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union, criticized Judge McLaughlin for distinguishing aggregated location tracking from aggregated call records, saying that both types of data “reveal intimate details of our lives” and that the Fourth Amendment should be interpreted as protecting “against all unreasonable intrusions into Americans’ privacy, however they are accomplished.”
Following disclosures about the scope of N.S.A. data collection about Americans prompted by leaks from the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has been making more information public about why it approved such programs and safeguards it put in place.
Also this week, the court made public a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee by Judge Reggie B. Walton, the surveillance court’s presiding judge, that sought to counter critics who have portrayed it as a rubber stamp because it hears only from the government and approves more than 99 percent of the government’s requests for surveillance powers.
Judge Walton wrote that the 99 percent statistic does not reflect “substantial” interventions by the court at earlier stages; in a recent three-month period, he wrote, 24.4 percent of applications involved changes to the authority sought or requests for greater information.
US shutdown fallout: why the show of bipartisanship is unlikely to last
Republicans are alreading signaling that the brief co-operation of this week is not something Washington should get used to
Dan Roberts in Washington
The Guardian, Friday 18 October 2013 19.21 BST
The giddy euphoria that greeted this week's hard-fought agreement to reopen the government is fast giving way to a sober recognition that the deal is very unlikely to usher in a new era of co-operation between Democrats and Republicans.
President Obama tried to prolong the bipartisan high on Thursday by calling on both parties to reach a more permanent agreement on the federal budget and other vexing issues like immigration reform by Christmas, but early indications from key Republicans suggest that making progress on those things will not be easy.
Congressman Raúl Labrador, an Idaho Republican once seen as a bridge to conservatives in the House of Representatives on the question of legalising undocumented migrants, shot down the idea in remarks that revealed just how much bad blood had been caused by the brinkmanship between Obama and Republicans.
"I think what [Obama] has done over the past two and a half weeks – he's trying to destroy the Republican party," Labrador told conservative activists on Wednesday. "I think that anything we do right now with this president on immigration will be with that same goal in mind, which is to destroy the Republican party and not to get good policies."
Republican leaders were only slightly more optimistic about the prospects for a breakthrough in talks over their radically divergent tax and spending priorities. Though House budget committee chairman Paul Ryan finally sat down on Thursday with Patty Murray, his Democratic counterpart in the Senate, to begin long-awaited 'conference' negotiations, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell sounded a sceptical note, saying the real problem is Obama's unwillingness to accept that he is not in charge of the government's purse strings.
"I wish them well, but with all due respect to all of my congressional colleagues, there is only one Democrat who really counts: the president," said McConnell in an interview. "He's going to be there for three more years. Maybe he'll have an epiphany."
But not all hope is lost, according to Washington political analysts who are busy picking over the wreckage of the Republican shutdown strategy to work out what it means for the balance of power between moderates and conservatives.
On the face of it, the painful decision by House speaker John Boehner to finally overrule his conservative wing and allow a deal to be passed with the help of Democrats could herald more such violations of the so-called Hastert rule – an unofficial doctrine that requires the speaker to block floor votes that are not supported by a majority of his own party.
Ted Alden, an immigration reform expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, says: "Many of the same 87 House Republicans who voted to reopen the government on Wednesday could easily vote for the Senate immigration bill if it was brought to the floor by Boehner."
But part of the reason why Boehner fought so hard over the shutdown was that on the previous occasions when he violated the Hastert Rule to allow for bipartisan votes on high-profile issues like the fiscal cliff, relief spending after hurricane Sandy and legislation to prevent violence against women, he angered his caucus and weakened himself.
Boehner is often simplistically portrayed by Democrats as frightened of risking his members' wrath again, and merely trying to cling on to his job as speaker, suggesting it might be easier for him to stand up to the 30 or 40 hardline Tea Party supporters in the future now that their shutdown strategy has failed.
Yet Wednesday's vote points to an underlying problem for moderate Republicans who choose to strike deals with Democrats – one that won't go away overnight.
The 144 Republicans who voted against the agreement to reopen the government were not all Tea Party activists, but many feared that appearing to side with Democrats could invite a challenge from more conservative rivals during primary elections, especially if they are criticized by activist groups that monitor ideological purity.
"The problem is that tactical decisions have been made into ideological decisions," says Chris Henick, a Republican strategist and former adviser to George W Bush. "Somehow a senator or congressman who otherwise has a 98% rating from interest groups suddenly might face a primary challenge just because they disagreed with the [shutdown] strategy."
For mainstream Republican veterans like Henick, the worry is that political priorities such as promoting economic growth or highlighting the weaknesses of Obamacare have become overshadowed by a desperate battle for survival among congressmen who fear black marks from interest groups will lead to a primary challenge.
But there are signs that this underlying cause of Washington's dysfunction may finally have reached its limits.
While rightwing activist groups such as the Heritage Foundation and Freedom Works may continue to promote conservative candidates at the expense of anyone daring to compromise with the Democrats, major Republican donors and representatives of big business like the chamber of commerce were shocked at how close America came to financial catastrophe during the budget standoff.
"Heritage and Freedom Works will double down but people tell me the chamber [of commerce] has been really chastened by this," says Alden. "I think business will refuse to fund Tea Party candidates now, which will at least even the playing field for moderates."
If House Republicans' fear of losing their jobs before they even get to the general election subsides, longer term electoral interests may encourage the GOP to broaden its base of support through immigration reform and force economic concessions from Obama that will help the party repair its dire standing in opinion polls after the shutdown.
It remains unclear which instinct will prevail, but at least there is a chance the Washington deadlock may begin to ease as a result of the past week's events.
"It's the big existential question right now," concludes Alden. "Does the Republican leadership do things they believe are in the long-term interests of the party and will help them win the White House, or do they act in the short-term interests of House members worried about primary challenges?"
October 18, 2013
States Are Focus of Effort to Foil Health Care Law
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
RICHMOND, Va. — The federal government is again open for business, and Republicans in Washington are licking their wounds from the failed Tea Party attempt to derail President Obama’s health care overhaul. But here in Virginia’s capital, conservative activists are pursuing a hardball campaign as they chart an alternative path to undoing “Obamacare” — through the states.
One leading target is Emmett W. Hanger Jr., a Republican state senator from the deeply conservative Shenandoah Valley, who prides himself on “going against the grain.” As chairman of a commission weighing one of the thorniest issues in Virginia politics, whether to expand Medicaid under Mr. Obama’s Affordable Care Act, he is feeling heat from the Republican right.
His openness to expansion has aroused the ire of Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy group backed by the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch. Dressed in emerald green T-shirts bearing the slogan “Economic Freedom in Action!” its members are waging what the senator calls “an attempt to intimidate me” in Richmond and at home.
They have phoned his constituents, distributed leaflets and knocked on 2,000 doors in his rural district. When the Republican town committee met Monday night in Mr. Hanger’s home county, Augusta, Americans for Prosperity was there.
In Richmond on Tuesday, hundreds of volunteers in green shirts turned out for a commission hearing, bused in by the advocacy group’s field organizers, who provided Subway sandwiches for lunch.
“This has been one of those trench warfare kind of efforts for a year now, and I think it is one of those hidden stories of the whole fight against Obamacare,” said Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity. “It’s not flashy; it’s just in a whole bunch of state capitals and in the districts of a whole lot of state legislators, but it’s such a crucial aspect of the overall long-term effort to roll back Obamacare.”
The state-by-state strategy represents a split from the course pursued by Heritage Action for America and its sister organization, Heritage Foundation, which drove the “defunding Obamacare” movement that led to the recent government shutdown. In an opinion article published Friday by The Wall Street Journal, Jim DeMint, the foundation president, made no apologies. “Obamacare will now be the issue for the next few years,” he wrote.
Expanding Medicaid, a joint federal-state program for the poor, is critical to the law’s goal of covering the nation’s 48 million uninsured. Hospitals and insurers were also counting on more Medicaid patients to make the economics of the law work. For states, the terms seemed attractive: The federal government would pay 100 percent of the cost of new enrollees for the first three years, 90 percent after that.
But in June 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that states could opt out of Medicaid expansion. The ruling opened the door for conservative opponents of the law. Americans for Prosperity, with paid staff members in 34 states, walked through it. So did another group, Tea Party Patriots, which recently gave $20,000 to organizers of a referendum drive to put the question of Medicaid expansion on the Arizona ballot.
Americans for Prosperity has spent millions in states around the country, including Arkansas, Florida, Ohio, Louisiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania, to run the kind of aggressive campaign that it is now waging here in Virginia, where much will depend on the governor’s race. The Democratic candidate, Terry McAuliffe, who leads in the polls, favors expansion. The Republican candidate, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, is opposed.
So far roughly half the states are moving forward with Medicaid expansion, and an increasing number of Republican governors are expressing interest. Michigan, where Gov. Rick Snyder recently signed Medicaid expansion legislation into law, was “a tough loss,” Mr. Phillips conceded. In Ohio, Gov. John R. Kasich wants to expand. So does Gov. Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania, even though the legislature has already rejected it.
“This is going to be an issue all through 2014 for us,” said Jennifer Stefano, a former television reporter who runs Americans for Prosperity’s Pennsylvania chapter. “I don’t believe this fight is in Washington or ever was. I think this is a street fight. It’s a man to man, so to speak, fight of going door to door.”
That, at least, is the way the battle is being waged here in Virginia, where Mr. Hanger, a 30-year veteran of state politics, is navigating politically treacherous waters.
His panel, formed after the State House and Senate could not agree, must evaluate whether the state Medicaid program has put in place certain changes to improve care and cut costs. It has five members from each chamber; the program can be expanded only if three from each chamber agree. So far, four House members are opposed.
Mr. Hanger said he had not made up his mind, but added, “It makes absolutely no sense to not utilize those federal dollars when we have this unmet need.”
But he will put off a vote until after the election for governor on Nov. 5. Referring to Mr. Cuccinelli, he said, “If he’s elected, we can talk about it,” adding, “If I can present enough evidence about reform and revenue flows, I think he can be convinced.”
Mr. Hanger is not the only target of Americans for Prosperity. Another Republican commission member, State Senator John C. Watkins, complains that the group, which is not required to disclose its donors, is sending misleading mailings to his constituents.
“They related Medicaid expansion to defeating Obamacare, and they ignore the fact that the Affordable Care Act is the law,” he said. “I think their tactics are very deceptive.”
Tuesday’s hearing offered a peek into the group’s organizing prowess. Many of the advocacy group’s organizers are young, like Miranda Robinson, 21, a regional field manager. She dislikes Mr. Obama: “We have different morals,” she said. But before working for Americans for Prosperity, she paid scant attention to his economic policies.
Ms. Robinson arrived at 7:30 a.m. for a session that did not begin until 1 p.m., and she spent the day herding people on and off buses and keeping volunteers fed. She brought along her youth pastor, Justin Dehart, who said his youth group recently knocked on doors for Americans for Prosperity, which donated money to the youth program.
As many as 400,000 of Virginia’s one million uninsured residents would be eligible for coverage under an expanded Medicaid program, although Katharine M. Webb, senior vice president of the trade association representing Virginia hospitals, estimates that only 250,000 would enroll.
Ms. Webb said Virginia has a decade of experience with managed care for mothers and children, experience that could be transferred to childless adults covered by Medicaid. She sees the state taking “a thoughtful, policy-driven approach,” and marvels that Virginia has not yet rejected expansion, as other states have.
“We’re still alive in Virginia,” Ms. Webb said, “and that’s a miracle.”
In making its case, Americans for Prosperity taps into deep unease its members feel with the size and scope of the federal government. It argues that the federal government will never make good on its obligation to pick up the cost. Citing a University of Virginia study that found worse surgical outcomes for Medicaid patients than for the uninsured, it contends that Medicaid coverage is worse than no coverage at all.
Critics say that interpretation is deeply flawed because the uninsured tend to be healthier than people on Medicaid. But leaders of Americans for Prosperity like Dave Schwartz, a seasoned political operative who is the group’s director in Virginia, cite the study often.
“The folks that need the most help will get hurt the most if you expand Medicaid,” Mr. Schwartz told the panel on Tuesday.
The hearing lasted six hours; about 125 people testified, with about twice as many favoring Medicaid expansion as against. Consumer advocates and members of the AARP also turned out, wearing bright blue “Everyone Needs Coverage” T-shirts.
One of Mr. Hanger’s constituents, Georgia Long, a nurse and member of Americans for Prosperity, was there in a green shirt, sounding exasperated. Mr. Hanger, who is not up for re-election until 2015, has already survived one Republican primary challenge, and Ms. Long would like to see him face another.
“Emmett Hanger is hardheaded,” she said. “I would like to pressure him into being more fiscally conservative.”
Mr. Hanger, who once landed on a “Virginia’s Least Wanted” poster put out by the Washington anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, seems unconcerned, though he says it irks him that “outside groups” are trying to influence Virginia politics. “I’m somewhat frustrated with them on that,” he said, “so perhaps I am hardheaded.”
October 18, 2013
Texans Stick With Cruz Despite Defeat in Washington
By MANNY FERNANDEZ
HOUSTON — Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas and the face of the angry right, has been criticized, lambasted and lampooned for putting the nation through a 16-day government shutdown and the prospect of a financial default.
Bloomberg Businessweek put him on its cover as a mad hatter who defines how “crazy is the new normal.” Representative Peter T. King, a Republican from New York, has said Republican leaders need to go after Mr. Cruz and accused him of bringing the country “to the edge of ruin.”
In Texas, it is a different story.
Drivers speeding down a busy highway about 70 miles outside Houston have been greeted with two blunt messages that Bruce Labay put up at his oil field services business. One declared that Mr. Labay was tired of softhearted Republicans, though he used a more colorful adjective. The other read, “We Need More Republicans Like Ted Cruz.”
Mr. Labay, 55, made his signs by sticking 1,200 plastic foam cups, one by one, into the loops of his chain-link fence, a 90-minute project that filled much of the fencing around BL Oilfield Services in the town of El Campo.
“I was proud of him,” Mr. Labay said of the state’s junior senator. “I was proud he was a Texan. I wish they would have held firm, and we’d still be shut down.”
Home states and districts are usually loyal to their senators and representatives in times of political crisis. But the continued support for Mr. Cruz among Texas Republicans illustrates something larger: the cultural and political divide that continues to widen between a red state that President Obama lost by nearly 16 points in the 2012 election and the blue or even purple parts of the country where Mr. Cruz’s tone and tactics have caused outrage and consternation.
“Texas is not America,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Republican political consultant in Austin and the former spokesman for Mr. Cruz’s Republican predecessor in the Senate, Kay Bailey Hutchison. “It’s in America, but it’s not America. National polls don’t mean anything. Democrats haven’t won a statewide office in Texas since 1994. There are no Peter Kings in Texas.”
In recent interviews here, Republican elected officials, voters and political strategists said the fact that Mr. Cruz and House Republicans lost their fight with the White House over Mr. Obama’s health care law was a side issue. What mattered, they said, was that Mr. Cruz, who had campaigned on shaking up the status quo in Washington, had fulfilled his promise. From local party leaders to county commissioners to Tea Party members, Mr. Cruz was praised for his courage.
“For a lot of us, this was refreshing,” said Mike Gibson, chairman of the Republican Party in Fort Bend County in suburban Houston. “We had a politician who said what he was going to do and then did it. Most Texas Republicans have been tired of our elected officials talking tough in Texas and then going to Washington and going along.”
Mr. Cruz, for one, said his Texas support has been uplifting. “The many supportive letters, e-mails, calls and social media comments we’ve received from Texans since Labor Day have been inspirational,” he said in a statement. “Hearing from constituents keeps me focused on the concerns of the people I work for and the issues I ran on. That’s what matters.”
Of course, not everyone is applauding, particularly Democrats in Texas, where Republicans control both houses of the Legislature.
“I just kind of shake my head and say, ‘I don’t believe this guy is for real,’ ” said State Senator John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat. “Many individuals in his own party say he has helped the Democrats. I’m more concerned about what he’s done to the country than the good he’s done to any Democratic effort.”
Moderate and establishment Republicans in Texas privately grumble about Mr. Cruz and his handling of the budget fight. They criticize the wisdom of forcing a government shutdown over a health care law that the Supreme Court validated, and wondered how much of Mr. Cruz’s battle was done to benefit his presidential aspirations.
“I grit my teeth and bear it,” said a prominent Texas Republican, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he said he wanted to avoid an intraparty fight. “I really hope he implodes sooner rather than later.”
One of the few public displays of any Texas backlash came in an editorial on Wednesday in The Houston Chronicle. Headlined “Missing Kay,” the editorial criticized Mr. Cruz, whom the paper endorsed last year, for being “part of the problem in specific situations where Hutchison would have been part of the solution.” But even that criticism was muted. When news outlets reported that The Chronicle had “unendorsed” Mr. Cruz, the paper’s editors clarified that they did not pull their endorsement, but were evaluating the work of elected officials in an “active, ongoing process.”
The doubts from Texas Republicans invariably play out behind closed doors. They do not fear Mr. Cruz’s personal wrath, but that of his supporters and the possibility of a primary fight if they criticize him. Mr. Cruz won his Senate seat by defeating one of the most powerful Republicans in Texas, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a victory that exposed the ideological split between moderate establishment Republicans and the younger, more aggressive and conservative movement of grass-roots activists and Tea Party supporters.
One county commissioner in Collin County in North Texas, Matt Shaheen, a Tea Party supporter of Mr. Cruz’s who welcomed Mr. Cruz’s father, Rafael Cruz, to Plano at a Republican event on Tuesday, was asked what moderate Republicans were saying about Mr. Cruz. “I don’t know,” he replied. “I don’t hang out with the moderates.”
Mr. Dewhurst, who is now running for re-election against three prominent Republican conservatives, has tried to steer farther to the right after his loss to Mr. Cruz. In the aftermath of the government shutdown, Mr. Dewhurst complimented his former Senate primary opponent. “I give Senator Cruz credit for using every means available to draw attention to one of the biggest examples of Washington’s overreach, the financial disaster known as Obamacare,” Mr. Dewhurst said in a statement.
State Senator Dan Patrick, a Houston Republican who endorsed Mr. Dewhurst last year over Mr. Cruz but is now one of the three conservatives running against Mr. Dewhurst for lieutenant governor, said he supported Mr. Cruz’s stand and principles.
“Texas likes a fighter,” Mr. Patrick said. “He’s only been there 10 months, but he’s proven to be a fighter. If our party doesn’t lead as a bold conservative party, then we will disappear as a party.”
Authorities investigate online death threats against Ted Cruz
By Arturo Garcia
Friday, October 18, 2013 23:55 EDT
U.S. Capitol Police are investigating a series of violent threats made online against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Friday, which included the public posting of Cruz’s home address.
According to The Hill, the person, who identifies himself online as Troy Gilmore Jr., called for Cruz to be attacked at his home, writing on Twitter, “what goes around comes around.”
Gilmore’s anger towards Cruz apparently stems from his role in instigating the recent government shutdown; he wrote that Cruz “needs to be taken out the F*cker [sic] and Heritage Action Grp, Freedom Way and all Tea party b*stards they caused this.”
“We’re aware of it and have alerted the proper authorities.” a spokesperson for Cruz told The Hill. “I can’t comment further on security matters,”
The self-identified veteran, who claimed to have served in the Army and Navy, has also directed his invective toward not only Cruz’s fellow Republicans like Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), but Democratic Party Vice President Joe Biden.
“I am a veteran and still waiting for my benefits,” Gilmore wrote to Biden on Thursday. “I filed in 2008.And I wrote u as well. Thank for nothing!!”
A 26-year-old Alabama man was sentenced in June 2013 to a year in federal prison after making several threats against President Barack Obama on Twitter.
Gilmore’s account remains active as of Friday night.
Ted Cruz Has Found Himself a Niche Within a Niche Market
By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Saturday, October 19th, 2013, 7:35 am
Think about exotic teas. We would call a market dedicated to those specific types of tea a niche market. A niche market is specialized, whether it is teas or sports or what have you. A niche market has a specific demographic that it targets. The word niche itself identifies a person who has found something for which they are best suited, as in, oh, I don’t know…maybe something like this: “Hey mom, I found my niche: destroying America!”
Most of us would say it is oxymoronic to say you’re living the American dream if by dream you mean a dream to destroy America. But they, who said the tea party had to make sense? That hasn’t happened in three years so don’t start hoping now.
Speaking of the tea party…who wants a tea party? Fewer and fewer people, as it turns out. According to Pew Research this week, unfavorable views of the tea party have nearly doubled since its inception in 2010 as a means of big, regulation-hating corporations to dupe simple-minded Americans into thinking we don’t need no damn government.
Pew Tea Party 10-16-2013_1
Pew says that “Overall, nearly half of the public (49%) has an unfavorable opinion of the Tea Party, while 30% have a favorable opinion.” If that seems a mild rebuke to you, consider the damage done to its own brand by the tea party since June, “when 37% viewed it favorably and 45% had an unfavorable opinion.” Yes, the American public can wake up to facts, if slowly at times.
Remember, this belated epiphany is despite millions and millions of dollars spent by the Koch brothers and corporations – and an entire network – to sell the lie that the tea party supports people instead of corporations. This shift is across party lines and it is quite miraculous when you think about it. Best of all, it demonstrates that there are limitations to well-funded corporate shill-dom.
And speaking of shills…
The only people who seem to want Texas Senator Ted Cruz (outside of Texans – I said niche, remember?) in the wake of his failed coup are those dwindling few who identify themselves as members of the tea party (look, even Hitler had fanatical followers as Berlin crumbled around him). So if the tea party is a niche market in American politics – a market focused on hate-fueled anarchy – what does that make Ted Cruz? A niche within a niche.
If the tea party is falling out of favor generally, it is falling out of favor specifically too, among Republicans. According to Pew, “The Tea Party’s favorability rating has fallen across most groups since June, but the decline has been particularly dramatic among moderate and liberal Republicans. In the current survey, just 27% of moderate and liberal Republicans have a favorable impression of the Tea Party, down from 46% in June.”
Pew Tea Party Favorability
“By contrast,” Pew tells us, “Sen. Ted Cruz’s popularity has soared among Tea Party Republicans while declining among non-Tea Party Republicans. Since July, as Cruz’s visibility has increased, his favorable rating among Tea Party Republicans has risen by 27 points – from 47% to 74%.”
What can you say? Haters gonna hate.
But since July, “Unfavorable opinions of Cruz among non-Tea Party Republicans have risen 15 points.” As goes the tea party, so goes Cruz: moderate or liberal Republicans lead the charge with only 27 percent of them retaining a favorable view of the tea party, a full 19 points lower than June’s numbers. But fewer conservative Republicans are feeling the love now too, with their favorable ratings dropping from 74 percent in June to just 65 percent now.
Cruz and the tea party are feeling the heat from what they call “establishment Republicans” and Pew tells us that “Unfavorable opinions of Cruz among non-Tea Party Republicans have risen 15 points since then, while favorable views are unchanged.”
Now we can argue all day long whether the tea party is an actual party or not or whether it is a part of the Republican party or not. Tea partiers seem to think they’re Republicans – they run as Republicans in local, state, and national elections after all, and they call non-tea partiers in their own party “establishment Republicans” as opposed to just “Republicans” – though you can’t blame Republicans now for wanting to disown these parasites.
The fact is, the tea party is a Republican phenomenon and it’s a little late to want to disown it now
The Senate has the Constitutional Power to Expel Ted Cruz
By: Yellow Dog Yankee
Friday, October 18th, 2013, 8:20 pm
Sometimes, instead of carrying a copy of the Constitution around in your pocket it would be smart to read it. And Ted Cruz would do well to read Article 1, Section 5. It reads in part:
Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members, and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a smaller Number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide.
Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member. (Emphasis is mine.)
This means that Ted Cruz could, theoretically, be expelled from the Senate by a two-thirds vote immediately and with no recourse. Alternatively the body could refuse to allow him to assume his duties at the beginning of the next session in January, 2015. My reading is that this would require only a majority vote. Of course Texas might immediately secede, but sometimes sacrifice is required.
Cruz despite his constant blathering about out foundational document, apparently thinks he is immune to reprisals and appears blind to the signals being telegraphed around him. He is reportedly so unpopular among his colleagues that one senator told MSNBC that Republicans do not attend the chamber when he is scheduled to speak. John McCain, Lindsay Graham and Orrin Hatch are only a few senators that have spoken out against him. Some House members have made it clear they would love to have his scalp and Speaker Boehner has the tone and bearing of someone searching Craig’s List for a hit man.
Even ultra-conservative former Republican Majority Leader Trent Lott, who himself got cross-wise with the Senate and had to resign his leadership position, said about the right-wing insurgents, “You roll them. I do think we need stronger leadership, and there’s got to be some pushback on these guys who think they came here with all the solutions.” Think he was talking about Cruz?
There is no sign in the hours since the shutdown ended that Cruz has touched base with reality, in fact he has doubled down and seems to have an agenda beyond anything related to the Affordable Care Act or any actual policy. Somebody has to deal with him before he and his not-very-bright followers in the house have a chance to drive American into a second gut wrenching shutdown, or cost the country another $24 billion or its credit rating.
The citizens of Texas might return Cruz to office in perpetuity, which unfortunately is their right, but the rest of the country has the right to protect itself against those intent on destroying it. Even if Texas voters want to act on the buyer’s remorse being expressed by some in the state including the Houston Chronicle which disavowed their Cruz campaign endorsement, they can’t do anything until 2018. The Senate can act now or at the latest in January 2015 and the rest of us should demand they do so.
Ted Cruz Anoints Himself the Conservative Chosen One to Destroy America
By: Sarah Jones
Friday, October 18th, 2013, 11:30 am
Senator Ted Cruz isn’t afraid to wear his crown of victimization when talking to Jonathan Karl of ABC News (infamous for passing off Republican talking points about Benghazi emails as reality). Yes, everyone in D.C. (Hell, in this metaphor if Cruz is Jesus, and if you missed that, you’re not paying attention) might revile him, but that’s okay. Jesus was hated too.
A piously persecuted Cruz intoned to the GOP water carrier, “Given the choice between being reviled in Washington, DC and appreciated in Texas, or reviled in Texas and appreciated in Washington, I would take the former 100 out of 100 times.”
Watch here unless you’ve recently eaten (the full interview will be aired this Sunday – woo hoo!):
They love Cruz in Texas, you see, and Cruz lives to serve The People, even if most of them didn’t want him to shut down the government and The Houston Chronicle took back their endorsement of him. They say there are two things sorely lacking in Cruz one of which is “an unswerving commitment to the highest and best interests of Texas at all times.”
That’s a “no” to being appreciated in Texas.
So Cruz says he’s just fighting for the people, “Given the choice between being reviled in Washington, DC and appreciated in Texas, or reviled in Texas and appreciated in Washington, I would take the former 100 out of 100 times.”
You see, Ted Cruz shutdown the government to keep you from getting affordable health insurance because his top priorities are jobs and economic growth. Even though the shutdown cost us .6% of the nation’s economic growth and 24 billion dollars. I only mention that so you can keep in mind that when Senator Cruz is speaking, reality can be found in opposites.
“There’s an old saying that, ‘Politics, it ain’t beanbag.’ And, you know, I’m not serving in office because I desperately needed 99 new friends in the U.S. Senate.”
Clearly. No one is going to accuse Ted Cruz of caring what anyone thinks of him, except his wallet. The thorns, they make him bleed, but you can make it better if you donate. He’s just fighting for Jesus because Jesus also wanted hard working Americans to die due to lack of affordable health insurance. Jesus was very corporate, as you may not know if you’re not into Tea. He had an exclusive deal with WalMart. Just ask Sarah Palin (and by the way, her name is trademarked because Jesus loves Tea winners).
Cruz is a uniter, but the evil doers won’t listen to him: “I will say that the reason this deal, the lousy deal was reached last night, is because, unfortunately, Senate Republicans made the choice not to support House Republicans. I wish Senate Republicans had united, I tried to do everything I could to urge Senate Republicans to come together and stand with House Republicans.”
Yes, that’s exactly what happened! Or, Senate Republicans chose to save their party and their own careers instead of helping Tea jihadists destroy America. Yes, it was a tough choice, but again, I keep trying to explain the concept of survival instincts to Republicans to no avail. For instance, even if ObamaCare exchanges take a month to get into, people will still want affordable healthcare. They will never choose to put the Republican Party’s fundraising and get out the vote efforts ahead of their access to healthcare. Expecting them to do that was quite simply stupid.
Cruz might have won the Values Voters poll, but the Tea Party goes through phony heroes to worship like they go through jingles. It’s a band of political clowns and losers – Cain, Trump, Palin – who all, ironically, think they were picked by God to sell us into corporate whoredom. These folks can’t win a national election. The Tea Party is reviled.
Let’s do the math and see how “appreciated” Ted is. According to a Pew Research Study, “Forty-nine percent of Americans now view the tea party unfavorably, while just 30 percent view it favorably — an 11-point net drop since just this June.” It gets worse. “The poll found that Ted Cruz, one of the most prominent tea party faces in the recent government shutdown, has seen his favorability soar among tea party supporters — from 47 percent in July to 74 percent today. Among non-tea party Republicans, however, he’s at just 25 percent.”
A twenty-five percent approval rating is Cruz for “appreciated”. No one liked Jesus either. So your hate is just proof that he’s the Chosen One to destroy America for conservatives.
Sarah Palin Says Obama Caused the Government Shutdown By Not Bombing Syria
By: Jason Easley
Friday, October 18th, 2013, 2:22 pm
Sarah Palin is trying to dodge all responsibility for nearly destroying the economy by claiming that President Obama caused the government shutdown by not bombing Syria.
MEGYN KELLY, HOST: So, the president you heard there suggesting that nothing has done more damage to our credibility in the world and our standing with other countries than this latest D.C. fight. Really?
Joining me now, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, she’s a Republican and with the 2008 vice presidential candidate and she’s a Fox News contributor. Governor, good to see you again. Your thoughts on that remark by the president?
SARAH PALIN, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I think that remark is one of his more out of touch remarks that we’ve heard in recent days. No, what emboldened our enemies and what empowered competitors was his promise to fundamentally transform America from being a solvent, free, exceptional country into something that we’re not going to recognize.
Also, what has emboldened enemies is he doubling of our debt since he’s been elected, putting us on a path towards bankruptcy and then locking up pipe lines and resources that will result in us being more reliant on foreign imports for energy.
And then, of course, he, having left behind his administration, left behind our brave men in Benghazi to be murdered. Then, of course, there is Syria where he promised to bomb Syria because in that civil war, Syria was going to bomb Syria, and then we never heard another word again about his threat to bomb in a foreign civil war.
And then, of course, most recently, Megyn, he is using our military, those who would fight against our enemies, our military, our vets, shutting down their memorials and holding them hostage in terms of budget deals, threatening to withhold paychecks for our brave men and women.
As for economic — as for economic competitors, corporate tax rate –
After consulting with resident Palin whisperer Sarah Jones, we have determined that Palin’s choo-choo of illogic was trying to blame Obama’s promise to transform America for the government shutdown, and one of the ways that the Obama transformation of America has emboldened our enemies was by not bombing Syria after, according to Palin, he promised he would. Therefor, President Obama could have prevented the government shutdown if he would have bombed Syria.
There are numerous things wrong with what Palin said. Obama never promised that he would transform America. Five days before the 2008 election, Obama said, “In five days we are going to fundamentally transform America.” We, as in the American people, not Obama himself alone. It is Sarah Palin and other right wingers who have been running around screaming that Obama is transforming America since 2008.
Secondly, the president never promised to bomb Syria. The president’s threat to Syria was that if they did not turn over their chemical weapons, the United States may take action. The Syrians did cut a deal to get rid of their chemical weapons, so there is no need to bomb them. Leave it to Sarah Palin to turn a diplomatic success into an Obama failure to spread death and destruction.
Sarah Palin denied all responsibility for the damage caused by the government shutdown. In her mind, nearly destroying the US economy was an act of self defense against, the president’s transformation of America. Palin’s answer to Megyn Kelly wasn’t word salad. It was an attempt to cram every insult and lie about President Obama that she could think of into a single answer. What was most interesting about her non answer to the question was that she never mentioned the ACA.
In Sarah Palin’s broken little bitter world of Obama hate, the government shutdown would have never happened if the president would have bombed Syria. Her answer made absolutely no sense, but neither did the idea that Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and some House Republicans could get rid of the ACA by threatening the economy.
Republicans Have Resumed Their Koch Funded Seditious Conspiracy To Destroy Government
Friday, October 18th, 2013, 6:13 pm
For most Americans, when certain disaster is prevented it is normal to breathe a sigh of relief, but if Americans think that just because economic disaster was averted with a temporary debt ceiling increase and short term agreement to fund the government until January, they should temper their relief with the knowledge that Republicans are not finished in their drive to destroy America’s government. The seditious conspiracy to use any means necessary to derail implementation of the Affordable Care Act was months, and millions-of-dollars, in the making, and it is naïve to think the conspirators will abandon their dysfunctional mindset that there are no bounds to impose fascism on America. The American people should brace themselves for a repeat of the last three weeks because a group of Republicans are prepared to destroy the country rather than give up the fight to kill the ACA.
Two days before Speaker John Boehner allowed a vote on the Senate plan to open the government and raise the debt ceiling, Republican operative Pat Buchanan revealed the extremists’ true intent when he exhorted the entire GOP to be “Samson-like and bring down the roof of the temple on everybody’s head” rather than allow the three-year-old health law to move forward. Buchanan was resolute that even if it means the demise of the Republican Party, conservatives should bring America down with them like biblical Samson who killed himself along with countless Philistines when he brought down the temple rather than compromise his ideology. This was, and still is, the intent of extremist conservatives who adhere to the twisted ideology that “extremism in defense of their liberty is no vice,” and the United States is worth destroying if they cannot have their liberty to annul America’s representative democracy.
It is important to remember that Republicans consider being pushed to do their jobs of funding the government they despise and paying the nation’s debts they incurred a defeat. The sentiment was best put in words by Michele Bachmann who said “it is a very sad day” because America’s economy was not decimated, the shutdown only cost taxpayers $24 billion, annualized growth was cut by nearly one percentage point, and hundreds-of-thousands of Americans went back to work. In fact, a Republican congressman who voted against re-opening the government until Jan. 15 and raising the debt ceiling until at least Feb. 7 said he is anxiously looking forward to the next showdown. The Republican, John C. Fleming (R-LA) said just prior to the vote, “I’ll vote against it, but that will get us into Round 2. See, we’re going to start this all over again.” The seditious conspiracy in the war for America is still ongoing and the next major assault is already in the planning stages and there is little any American can do to stop it regardless their appeals to the Department of Justice for relief and protection from the next assault.
According to the extremists attempting to bring down the government, their costly shutdown was disappointing because “ObamaCare is still the law of the land” and they refuse to accept it despite President Obama and the Senate who proposed and voted for it were victorious in the 2012 election. The Republican assailants were also very angry that their shutdown meant “thousands of government workers just got a two-week vacation courtesy of the taxpayers,” and besides more Republican demonization of government and those who work for it, it is an attack on the entire constitutional system of governance. It is critical for Americans to understand that the past three weeks’ events were not solely about the Affordable Care Act, it was, and is, about laying waste to America’s barely functioning democracy.
Republicans in the House and Senate who voted to keep government closed and destroy the world, and America’s, economy may not have been privy to the seditious conspiracy at its outset, but they followed the plan by attacking the framework of the nation’s governing system with the expressed intent of taking down the government to achieve their goals. As many political observers have opined, Republicans are engaged in a “form of secession and abandonment of the notion of a country under one rule of law,” and they have abandoned partisan opposition and resorted to sabotage to destroy the federal government. It is bad enough that Republicans and teabaggers are on a tear to sabotage the law of the land, but it is criminal that they are actively planning to cause the government to collapse if they cannot impose their form of fascism on the nation.
President Obama said that re-opening the government and averting a global economic disaster was not a victory, and he told Republicans that “how business is done in this town has to change.” It is likely the President hoped to encourage Republicans to stop their machinations to keep America in a perpetual state of crisis, but he is dreaming if he thinks an all-out war to decimate the government is going to end because the extremists were thwarted or suffered a drop in their approval rating. There may well be some Republicans willing to return to the normal process of governing the country, but they are in the minority and based on the number of Republicans voting to send the government into default, it is unlikely few will change their fascist ways.
The extremists in the GOP are Hell-bent on sabotaging this nation’s democracy, and with unlimited funds from the Koch brothers and legislative pressure from Jim DeMint and the Heritage Foundation they will not stop what morphed from a seditious conspiracy into an assault on Constitutional governance until they achieve their ultimate goal. If it means eviscerating the Republican Party to destroy the American government, it appears the events of the past two weeks will be repeated in a little over two months. If Americans are prudent they will hoard what little money they have and batten down the hatches because there are fascists waging a war for America and if they cannot win they will make another attempt to destroy the country in a couple of months.
Americans have witnessed Republicans engage in a concerted effort over the past two-and-a-half years to bring the government to its knees because the people elected an African American as President. In Early in 2012 Republicans began warning their members that “armed revolution” would be necessary to impose their will on the people if President Obama won re-election in 2012. Although they have not yet brought out their considerable arsenals, they are rebelling against the Constitutional government and are more than willing to see its demise than give up their coup d’état to rule by extremist minority. It is a sad commentary indeed that after 237 years of a functioning representative democracy, Americans are going to be subjected to another assault on their government by ideological extremists driven by racial animus. At least they are forewarned this time that in a little over two months, this country’s government will once again come under a vicious assault by extremists with no compunction to destroy the entire country if they are not victorious.
Paul Ryan’s Worst Nightmare Comes True as Bernie Sanders Is On The Budget Committee
By: Jason Easley
Friday, October 18th, 2013, 3:28 pm
Majority Leader Harry Reid has shattered Paul Ryan’s dreams of killing Social Security and Medicare by putting Sen. Bernie Sanders on the budget conference committee.
Sen. Sanders reacted to the official news of being appointed to the budget conference committee by saying, “I am excited about being a member of the budget conference committee and I look forward to working with my Democratic and Republican colleagues to end the absurdity of sequestration and to develop a budget which works for all Americans. In my view, it is imperative that this new budget helps us create the millions of jobs we desperately need and does not balance the budget on the backs of working people, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor.”
In other words, Bernie Sanders opposes everything that Paul Ryan wants. Sen. Sanders has long been an outspoken critic of the Ryan budgets, and the Wisconsin Republican’s borderline obsession with privatizing Social Security and voucherizing Medicare.
In response to Ryan’s recent Wall Street Journal editorial where he once again put entitlements in the crosshairs, Sanders said, “In a sense, what Paul Ryan is saying is yeah, I lost the election. It doesn’t matter. I want you to implement all of the ideas that I campaigned on and lost. You know what? The American don’t want to see cuts in Social Security, or privatization of Social Security, They don’t want to see cuts in Medicare. They don’t want to see cuts in Medicaid. They don’t want to see the EPA abolished, the Department of Education abolished. They don’t want to see the VA privatized. They don’t want to see the minimum wage, the concept of the minimum wage, done away with so that the people of America could work for four bucks an hour.”
In 2012, Sen. Sanders called out Rep. Ryan for continuing Republican class warfare with his budget, “I think clearly what Ryan is about is continuing the Republican effort to engage in class warfare. Who in their right minds could support a proposal which says more tax breaks for the wealthiest people and yet we’ll cut Medicare and Medicaid in drastic form.”
Harry Reid and Bernie Sanders have been working together for years to protect Social Security. Reid has stated everytime that he has been asked over the past few years that no cuts to Social Security will pass the Senate. It is likely that Reid put Sanders on the budget conference committee to act as the anti-Ryan.
Paul Ryan has claimed that he wanted a budget conference committee, and now he’s got it. What he has also got that he might not have expected was Bernie Sanders sitting across the table from him fighting against his efforts to destroy Social Security and Medicare.
The appointment of Sen. Sanders sets the stage for some very interesting budget negotiations over the next two months that Paul Ryan definitely may not like.
October 18, 2013
Low-Cost B.A. Starting Slowly in Two States
By TAMAR LEWIN
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — With tuition, student loan debt and default rates all spiraling higher, what’s not to love about a $10,000 bachelor’s degree?
In the last two years, two Republican governors — Rick Perry in Texas and Rick Scott in Florida — have challenged their states’ public colleges to develop bachelor’s degrees costing no more than $10,000, less than a third of the average sticker price for tuition and fees at a four-year public college. Governor Perry said he hoped 10 percent of the state’s degrees would meet that goal with online learning and new efficiencies. Governor Scott sought low-cost degrees in high-demand fields.
Democrats were critical of both announcements, calling the idea a gimmick that would lead to a watered down “Walmartization” of higher education. Meanwhile, in California, a Republican legislator has called for a pilot program there.
Now the $10,000 degrees are available in Florida and Texas — but not for many students, not for many majors and not on the flagship campuses. The original goal was that the degrees would use new teaching techniques and technologies to bring down costs; so far, many of the programs are unchanged.
In Florida, the two dozen former community colleges that offer both associate and baccalaureate degrees all volunteered to meet the $10,000 challenge, but several programs are not yet under way. The state universities are not in the program.
Broward College, which has 67,000 students, is offering the low-cost baccalaureate in its four smallest bachelor’s programs — middle-school math education, middle-school science education, information technology, and global trade and logistics — and seeking a total of 80 students. Even that may be a stretch.
To qualify, students must have a grade-point average of at least 3.0 and be Florida residents, in college for the first time, and committed to continuous enrollment. But most Broward students drop out before completing a two-year degree. And among those who earn an associate degree, many transfer for their final two years, or have no interest in the targeted majors.
“This isn’t going to be for the masses,” said J. David Armstrong, Broward’s president, adding that it would be impossible to offer thousands of low-cost degrees unless the state funded the program.
Broward designed its programs to confront the dropout problem that plagues community colleges nationwide. Posters on campus exhort students to “Finish What You Start,” and to that end, the savings in the affordable degree programs will come in the form of a free last semester. (Broward received no extra money for the program and is paying for it with pre-existing tuition waivers.)
“I know some places are using front-end incentives, but we’re using the money as a carrot at the back end, to incent students to complete,” Mr. Armstrong said.
Randy Hanna, the chancellor of the Florida College System, said that whatever the numbers, the program is an important addition to the system’s efforts to promote college access.
In fact, the Florida system is already among the cheapest in the nation, with tuition and fees averaging $13,264 for a four-year degree.
Miami Dade College, the biggest in the system, is offering eight $10,000 bachelor’s degree programs to students who graduate from a local high school, enroll full-time and have a grade-point average of at least 3.0. So far, they have drawn 62 students.
Despite the governors’ calls for new efficiencies, most of the affordable programs, at least so far, involve re-pricing — but not rethinking — degree programs, according to Daniel J. Hurley, a policy analyst at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. Furthermore, he said, whatever the official price, once federal and state aid is taken into account, most students at the Florida colleges already end up paying less than $10,000 for their degrees.
Nationally, tuition and fees at a public university cost in-state students about $9,000 a year, or $36,000 for a four-year degree. Private universities’ average tuition is $30,000 a year, or $120,000 for a degree. Room and board add about another $9,000 a year.
In Texas, 13 institutions now offer $10,000 degrees. But so far, most of them are based on students’ amassing college credits while they are still in high school, or at a community college, whose tuition may not be included in the total. Books are generally not included, either.
“There’s been an evolution,” said Dominic Chavez, a spokesman for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, acknowledging that the first round of programs did not exactly reach the $10,000 goal.
But that is changing, he said. In partnership with the faculty at South Texas College and Texas A&M University-Commerce, the state is building from scratch a degree in organizational leadership that uses online resources and a competency-based approach, in which students get credit for demonstrating what they know rather than how many courses they take.
“It will cost $6,000-$13,000, and be a model to show other institutions that you can create an affordable pathway at your institution,” Mr. Chavez said.
Mr. Chavez said Texas would use the approaches another Republican governor, Scott Walker, is trying in Wisconsin’s new self-paced, competency-based Flexible Option degrees for working adults — an effort President Obama praised in his August push for greater affordability.
But many academic leaders, including Hunter R. Rawlings III, president of the Association of American Universities, still have qualms about the political quest for cheaper degrees.
“It’s at the lower end of the scale, treating higher ed as a commodity, and I think that’s a bad thing, because education is so different from making widgets,” Mr. Rawlings said. “It does sound a bit like Walmart.”
On Broward’s Davie campus, news of the low-cost degree option is just now spreading, but even in an education class where most students plan to be teachers, there was not much interest. Several students said that financial aid covers much of their tuition, so any small savings would not sway them from longstanding plans to teach elementary school.
But two were signing up. Luis Santiago, who planned to be a history teacher, had already been accepted to complete his degree at the University of Central Florida, where tuition is twice as much as Broward’s. He now wants to stay at Broward for an affordable middle-school math degree.
“I like math, and I know there’s a critical need for math and science teachers,” Mr. Santiago said. “And it would be so expensive to go to U.C.F.”
His classmate Maggie Biegelsen, 57, who started college after raising three daughters, will also pursue the $10,000 math-teacher degree.
“I never planned to become a math teacher,” she said. “At the start, I had to take remedial math classes, but then I met a professor who encouraged me to stick with the math, and helped me, and next thing I know I’m hearing about the shortage of math teachers, and now Broward offers this program.”
Assassination pushes Libya towards civil war two years after Gaddafi death
Fighting rages in Benghazi as Tripoli braces for fallout from the kidnapping of prime minister Ali Zaidan
Chris Stephen in Tripoli
The Observer, Saturday 19 October 2013 18.21 BST
Libya marks the second anniversary of the death of Muammar Gaddafi with the country on the brink of a new civil war and fighting raging in the eastern city of Benghazi, birthplace of its Arab spring revolution.
Violence between radical militias and regular forces broke out on Friday night and continued yesterday, while the capital Tripoli is braced for fallout from the kidnapping earlier this month of prime minister Ali Zaidan. Federalists in Cyrenaica, home to most of Libya's oil, open their own independent parliament in Benghazi this week, in a step that may herald the breakup of the country.
For months, radical militias and regular forces in Benghazi have fought a tit-for-tat war. Last week two soldiers had their throats slit as they slept in an army base. But Friday's killing of Libya's military police commander, Ahmed al-Barghathi, shot as he left a mosque, has became the trigger for wider violence. Hours after an assassination branded a "heinous act" by US ambassador Deborah Jones, armed units stormed the Benghazi home of a prominent militia commander, Wissam Ben Hamid, with guns and rockets.
Fighting continued into the night, with army units heading for the home of a second militia commander, Ahmed Abu Khattala, indicted by the US for the killing of US ambassador Chris Stevens last year. There, they were turned back by powerful militia units.
"There's fighting everywhere, checkpoints everywhere, I've moved my wife and children to somewhere safe," said one Benghazi businessman, Mohammed, who declined to give his second name.
Ben Hamid went on live television to insist he had no role in the killing of al-Barghathi, and vowed reprisals against those who destroyed his home.
Libya's militias are in the spotlight as never before, in a country racked by violence and economic stagnation. Zaidan has blamed the Revolutionaries Control Room, headquarters for the biggest militia – Libya Shield – for his kidnapping 10 days ago, promising harsh measures once the Eid religious holiday week ends.
Shield forces deployed in the capital denied staging the abduction, but their units were this weekend fortifying their positions in fear of attack.
The trigger for this spiralling violence was the arrest two weeks ago by Delta Force commandos of al-Qaida suspect, Anas al Liby, from his Tripoli home. That arrest has polarised opinion between supporters and opponents of Zeidan, and Nato, which bombed the rebels to victory in the 2011 Arab spring, has found itself in the hot seat over plans to train a new government army. Britain is to join the US and Italy in training Libyan army cadres at a base in Cambridgeshire.
Libyan PM's kidnapping deepen fears for country's disintegration
Abduction of Ali Zeidan by own security force points up divisions, with regular army and police units increasingly in opposition to powerful militias
Chris Stephen in Tripoli
theguardian.com, Thursday 10 October 2013 19.11 BST
Libya was thrown into turmoil on Thursday after the prime minister, Ali Zeidan, was kidnapped by more than 100 members of his own security force in retaliation for the arrest of an al-Qaida suspect by US special forces in Tripoli.
The day's chaotic events deepened fears that Libya may be on the verge of disintegration, with security forces split between regular forces and many militia formations.
As news of the kidnapping spread, embassies were closed and diplomats put on lockdown amid fears of a reprisal attack on a western target following the arrest on Saturday of Abu Anas al-Liby.
Gunmen of the Revolutionary Operations Room of Libya, a semi-autonomous police brigade, said they had "arrested" Zeidan in his room at Tripoli's luxury Corinthia hotel at 4am.
The brigade said the seizure was a response to statements by the US secretary of state, John Kerry, that Libya approved the capture of al-Liby by Delta Force commandos. "His arrest comes after [Kerry] said the Libyan government was aware of the operation," a spokesman told Reuters.
Retaliation for the American attack had been anticipated, with several Islamist websites accusing Zeidan of being complicit. But many were surprised that the gunmen had been able to penetrate the heavily guarded Corinthia hotel, where Zedian moved following raids on his office by militias earlier this year. The hotel is regarded by foreigners as a safe haven.
Witnesses said more than 150 militiamen staged the raid, arriving before dawn in the car park of the hotel in a fleet of pick-up trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns. The gunmen moved quickly to Zeidan's quarters and took him away after a bloodless struggle with his bodyguards. He was then led down through the hotel lobby and driven in a convoy to a base in the east Tripoli district of Suq Juma.
The abduction caused confusion for several hours, with many in the Libyan capital fearing a coup was under way. Police units abruptly vanished from the Corinthia and the prime minster's office, to be replaced by militiamen who told reporters Zeidan was under arrest. Libyan cabinet ministers, meanwhile, gathered for an emergency meeting at the electricity ministry.
Abdel-Moneim al-Hour, an official with the interior ministry's anti-crime committee, said Zeidan had been "arrested" and would be charged with violating state security. The loyalist Zintan militia, one of the strongest armed groups in Libya, responded by mobilising units and threatening to move on the capital to "level" the bases of the militias responsible for the kidnapping.
The United Nations and the British government condemned the abduction. Human Rights Watch said it was "deeply troubled" by Zeidan's detention by "armed forces apparently aligned with the state".
In the early afternoon, however, after a brief exchange of fire between the kidnappers and a mixture of army units and local volunteers at a militia compound, news came of Zeidan's release.
Hashim Bishar, head of the Tripoli supreme security committee, the government's gendarmerie, said his forces helped in the operation. "Our revolutionaries went to the place where he was being detained and demanded he be handed over. He was handed over, now he is safe," he told a Libyan TV station.
Abruptly the militiamen left the Corinthia hotel and police in red and white vehicles returned to deploy in the car park, barring journalists from entering the hotel. "No one is allowed inside," one of Zeidan's bodyguards, dressed in T-shirt, jeans and flip-flops told the Guardian.
Later Zeidan arrived back at his office, guarded by a phalanx of regular army troops in red berets.
"This is part of everyday political games [in Libya]," he said of his kidnapping.
It is also a game with ever wider divisions, with regular army and police units increasingly in opposition to powerful militia forces.
Hassan el-Amin, a former dissident who chaired Libya's congressional human rights commission until he fled to the UK last year after militia death threats, described the kidnappers as "immature".
"There are no revolutionaries now, the people who did this are froukk (immature)," he said. "They have betrayed the martyrs [of the revolution]."
Looking tired but unhurt, Zeidan used his post-kidnap press conference to promise security for foreigners: "I assure foreign diplomatic missions in Libya that they are not targeted," he said.
On Wednesday, the US embassy had warned its citizens to "maintain a high level of vigilance" against possible retaliation for the Delta Force raid. "The embassy is aware of public statements threatening the kidnapping of US citizens in Libya, but has no specific information about these threats," said a statement posted on the embassy website.
US marines were earlier this week deployed to Italy in readiness to reinforce units already guarding the heavily fortified American embassy there.
Libya is already facing its worst economic crisis since the end of the Arab spring two years ago this month, with rebel army units in the east and tribal militias in the west entering the fourth month of a blockade of most oil ports.
Tripoli's rival factions – who's who
The Revolutionary Operations Room, the Supreme Security Committee, the Zintanis – and the various government units
Chris Stephen in Tripoli
theguardian.com, Friday 11 October 2013 18.52 BST
Tripoli's militias are under the spotlight as never before as officials investigate Thursday's kidnapping of the prime minister, Ali Zeidan.
Revolutionary Operations Room of Libya
The spotlight for the kidnapping has fallen the gunmen of the Revolutionary Operations Room, which is the headquarters of a group of former rebel militias called the Libya Shield who were drafted in from other parts of the country during the summer by the congress leader, Nuri Abu Sahmain. Early reports said this headquarters had ordered the capture of Zeidan, which they called an arrest.
Most Shield units drive beaten-up pickup trucks with mounted machine guns that date from the 2011 revolution, still sporting the black paintwork applied to make them distinguishable to Nato bombers. Some units are better equipped: one Misrata group appeared in Tripoli in the summer in a gleaming red and chrome jeep, its armament consisting of four polished silver anti-tank missiles fixed to the rollbars.
Supreme Security Committee
The Supreme Security Committee (SSC), which operates in bright red pickup trucks, is an independent gendarmerie based at Mitiga, a military airbase in the heart of the city. There was controversy when the justice minister, Salah Marghani, said he had been refused access to the prison at Mitiga, despite the SSC being on the government payroll.
The commander of the Tripoli-based SSC's elite Deterrence Force, Hashim Bishar, insists the independence of his militia is the only guarantee of security in a turbulent city. His units have won admirers for tackling Tripoli's drug gangs in a series of gun battles.
The Zintan militias are battle-hardened former rebels from the Nafusa mountains 90 miles south-west of Tripoli who liberated the capital and have stayed on. Their base at Tripoli airport, close to the US embassy, has been the source of tension with rival militias keen for the airport security contract, but many passengers have noted that since the Zintanis arrived the airport has been violence-free.
This summer a group of Zintani militiamen attacked the headquarters of the defence ministry's petroleum guard, after the Zintan contract for guarding oil fields was given to another group. Zintani and SSC units clashed in the western suburb of Salah-Eldeen in August.
The government is pushing to replace the militias with its own forces. Black and white diplomatic protection jeeps stake out embassies, and regular police have red and white jeeps still sporting logos from their donors in Doha – though they scattered from the Corinthian hotel when the prime minister was seized. Interior ministry officials in fully armoured jeeps with black and grey stripes have won plaudits for confiscating tinted windows from cars. Piles of these windows, a favourite with gangsters, now lie discarded at traffic intersections.
Al-Shabaab suicide bomber attacks restaurant in Somalia
At least 13 people are killed as attacker blows himself up in a restaurant near a military base in the city of Beledweyne
Kevin Rawlinson and agencies
theguardian.com, Saturday 19 October 2013 13.06 BST
At least 13 people have been killed and another 10 wounded in a suicide bomb attack in Somalia.
The al-Shabaab group claimed responsibility for the explosion, which happened at a restaurant near a military base in the city of Beledweyne, around 210 miles north of Mogadishu. The city is under the control of the central government and African Union peacekeepers from Djibouti are stationed there.
"Our main target was Ethiopian and Djibouti troops who invaded our country. They were sitting there," al-Shabaab's military operation spokesman, Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, said.
He put the death toll from the attack at 25.
"A man with an explosives jacket entered unexpectedly in the tea shop where soldiers and civilians sat … and blew himself up," local elder Ahmed Nur said from the scene of the blast.
"I could see the bodies of several soldiers being carried, but I could not make out whether they were dead or injured." Al-Shabaab frequently attacks political targets as well as restaurants and other recreational spaces popular with foreigners and government soldiers.
The al-Qaida linked militants also claimed responsibility for an attack last month on a shopping centre in Nairobi in which at least 72 people were killed.
Ethiopian troops have been fighting Islamist militants in neighbouring Somalia for much of the past decade.
The country waged an ill-fated war between 2006 and 2009, and sent troops across the border again in 2011 to combat al-Shabaab militants, who were also battling Kenyan troops and an African Union military mission.
October 19, 2013
Swap Frees Lebanese Held by Syrian Rebels in Exchange for Turks
By BEN HUBBARD and HWAIDA SAAD
BEIRUT, Lebanon — A flurry of back-room Middle East diplomacy led to an ambitious international prisoner swap on Saturday that freed Lebanese citizens held by Syrian rebels and Turkish pilots kidnapped by Lebanese gunmen.
Late on Saturday, a plane carrying the nine freed Lebanese captives arrived in Beirut from Istanbul while a plane from Beirut to Istanbul took the Turkish pilots home.
The swap was brokered and carried out by Lebanese, Turkish, Qatari and Palestinian officials, underlining the strong links between the warring parties in Syria and foreign powers, some of which have actively sought to influence the course of the war.
Some local reports said the Syrian government was expected to release a number of female prisoners as demanded by the rebels in exchange for the captives from Lebanon, which is home to Hezbollah, a Syrian ally. Some women were recently released, but it was unclear if that was part of the larger deal.
The full conclusion of the deal would be a rare bright spot in Syria’s civil war, which has left more than 100,000 people dead, sent millions of refugees streaming across international borders and exacerbated sectarian tensions across the Middle East. On Saturday, more than 30 people were killed in intense fighting east of Damascus, about half of them soldiers killed by a suicide bomber.
Despite the success of the swap on Saturday, it appeared most unlikely that the agreement, which involved only one of Syria’s hundreds of rebel groups and focused solely on the exchange of captives, could be expanded to open the possibility of talks aimed at ending the war.
In fact, the 17-month detention by Sunni rebels left some of the Lebanese captives, all of them Shiites, seeing the war in starkly sectarian terms.
“The situation is worse than you think,” Abbas Shuaib, one of the released men, told television reporters after his return to Lebanon. “If those people came to Beirut, they would consider our women free for the taking. This is war against the Shiites.” (The rebels in Syria are mainly Sunni, and the president, Bashar al-Assad, is a member of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.)
Other men who were interviewed said that they had been held in cramped conditions and had often heard battles nearby, but that their captors had never threatened their lives. Their return to Beirut set off a frenzy at the airport and celebrations in their neighborhoods.
The head of Lebanon’s general security agency, Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, accompanied the men on their flight to Beirut and thanked Qatar, Turkey and Mr. Assad for facilitating the agreement. It was unclear what role Mr. Assad may have played.
The Lebanese and Turkish captives flew home aboard private Qatari jets. In Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan joined a crowd at the airport to welcome the released pilots.
News of the impending swap had spread on Friday, when Lebanon’s interior minister said the Lebanese captives who had been held for more than a year had crossed from northern Syria into Turkey. The Syrian rebels had accused the men of belonging to Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group. Hezbollah officials and the captives’ families denied that, saying the men had been returning by bus from a pilgrimage to Iran. Eleven were originally held captive, but two were released months ago.
Then on Saturday, two Turkish Airlines pilots who had been kidnapped this year by gunmen were given to Lebanese security officials, who flew them by helicopter to Beirut’s international airport. It was widely believed the gunmen had captured the pilots in hopes of pressuring Turkey, which backs the Syrian rebels, to push for the Lebanese captives’ release. Late on Saturday, at roughly the same time, the two jets took off.
In Syria, fighting raged between rebels and the military for control of a Damascus suburb after a suicide bomber attack on a government checkpoint that an opposition monitoring group said killed at least 16 soldiers. After the attack, at least 15 rebel fighters were killed in heavy clashes as the government launched airstrikes and rebels peppered a government-controlled area with mortar rounds, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict from Britain through a network of contacts in Syria.
While clashes erupt daily between the ring of mostly rebel-held suburbs around the capital and the government-controlled core of the city, the death toll in Saturday’s battle was high, reflecting the rebels’ determination to advance toward downtown even after the government reclaimed territory elsewhere.
The use of a suicide bomber to open a rebel offensive also shows the increasing sway of extremist groups in areas close to the capital. While two affiliates of Al Qaeda are active in Syria — the Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria — they are most prominent in the country’s north and east, where they can easily transport arms and foreign fighters across the Turkish and Iraqi borders.
Recently, their presence has increased in central and southern Syria, although more mainstream rebel groups still outnumber them.
The Syrian Observatory, which supports the opposition, said Saturday’s battle began when a suicide bomber from the Nusra Front blew up the car he was driving near a government checkpoint between the suburbs of Jaramana and Al Mleiha.
Reporting was contributed by Sebnem Arsu and Karam Shoumali from Istanbul, and Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem.
10/20/2013 11:37 AM
Fresh Leak on US Spying: NSA Accessed Mexican President's Email
By Jens Glüsing, Laura Poitras, Marcel Rosenbach and Holger Stark
The NSA has been systematically eavesdropping on the Mexican government for years. It hacked into the president's public email account and gained deep insight into policymaking and the political system. The news is likely to hurt ties between the US and Mexico.
The National Security Agency (NSA) has a division for particularly difficult missions. Called "Tailored Access Operations" (TAO), this department devises special methods for special targets.
That category includes surveillance of neighboring Mexico, and in May 2010, the division reported its mission accomplished. A report classified as "top secret" said: "TAO successfully exploited a key mail server in the Mexican Presidencia domain within the Mexican Presidential network to gain first-ever access to President Felipe Calderon's public email account."
According to the NSA, this email domain was also used by cabinet members, and contained "diplomatic, economic and leadership communications which continue to provide insight into Mexico's political system and internal stability." The president's office, the NSA reported, was now "a lucrative source."
This operation, dubbed "Flatliquid," is described in a document leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden, which SPIEGEL has now had the opportunity to analyze. The case is likely to cause further strain on relations between Mexico and the United States, which have been tense since Brazilian television network TV Globo revealed in September that the NSA monitored then-presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto and others around him in the summer of 2012. Peña Nieto, now Mexico's president, summoned the US ambassador in the wake of that news, but confined his reaction to demanding an investigation into the matter.
Now, though, the revelation that the NSA has systematically infiltrated an entire computer network is likely to trigger deeper controversy, especially since the NSA's snooping took place during the term of Peña Nieto's predecessor Felipe Calderón, a leader who worked more closely with Washington than any other Mexican president before him.
Brazil Also Targeted
Reports of US surveillance operations have caused outrage in Latin America in recent months. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff cancelled a planned trip to Washington five weeks ago and condemned the NSA's espionage in a blistering speech to the United Nations General Assembly.
The US surveillance of politicians in Mexico and Brazil is not a one-off. Internal documents show these countries' leaders represent important monitoring targets for the NSA, with both Mexico and Brazil ranking among the nations high on an April 2013 list that enumerates the US' surveillance priorities. That list, classified as "secret," was authorized by the White House and "presidentially approved," according to internal NSA documents.
The list ranks strategic objectives for all US intelligence services using a scale from "1" for high priority to "5" for low priority. In the case of Mexico, the US is interested primarily in the drug trade (priority level 1) and the country's leadership (level 3). Other areas flagged for surveillance include Mexico's economic stability, military capabilities, human rights and international trade relations (all ranked at level 3), as well as counterespionage (level 4). It's much the same with Brazil -- ascertaining the intentions of that country's leadership ranks among the stated espionage targets. Brazil's nuclear program is high on the list as well.
When Brazilian President Rousseff took office in early 2011, one of her goals was to improve relations with Washington, which had cooled under her predecessor, the popular former labor leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Lula focused primarily on establishing closer ties with China, India and African nations, and even invited Iran's then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Brazil, in a snub to the US. President Barack Obama postponed a planned visit to the capital, Brasília, as a result.
Rousseff, however, has distanced herself from Iran. And the first foreign minister to serve under her, Antonio Patriota, who recently resigned, was seen as friendly toward the US, maintaining good ties with his counterpart Hillary Clinton. Obama made a state visit to Brazil two years ago and Rousseff had planned to reciprocate with a visit to Washington this October.
Then came the revelation that US authorities didn't stop short of spying on the president herself. According to one internal NSA presentation, the agency investigated "the communication methods and associated selectors of Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff and her key advisers." It also said it found potential "high-value targets" among her inner circle.
Rousseff believes Washington's reasons for employing such unfriendly methods are partly economic, an accusation that the NSA and its director, General Keith Alexander, have denied. Yet according to the leaked NSA documents, the US also monitored email and telephone communications at Petrobras, the oil corporation in which the Brazilian government holds a majority stake. Brazil possesses enormous offshore oil reserves.
Just how intensively the US spies on its neighbors can be seen in another, previously unknown operation in Mexico, dubbed "Whitetamale" by the NSA. In August 2009, according to internal documents, the agency gained access to the emails of various high-ranking officials in Mexico's Public Security Secretariat that combats the drug trade and human trafficking. This hacking operation allowed the NSA not only to obtain information on several drug cartels, but also to gain access to "diplomatic talking-points." In the space of a single year, according to the internal documents, this operation produced 260 classified reports that allowed US politicians to conduct successful talks on political issues and to plan international investments.
The tone of the document that lists the NSA's "tremendous success" in monitoring Mexican targets shows how aggressively the US intelligence agency monitors its southern neighbor. "These TAO accesses into several Mexican government agencies are just the beginning -- we intend to go much further against this important target," the document reads. It goes on to state that the divisions responsible for this surveillance are "poised for future successes."
While these operations were overseen from the NSA's branch in San Antonio, Texas, secret listening stations in the US Embassies in Mexico City and Brasília also played a key role. The program, known as the "Special Collection Service," is conducted in cooperation with the CIA. The teams have at their disposal a wide array of methods and high-tech equipment that allow them to intercept all forms of electronic communication. The NSA conducts its surveillance of telephone conversations and text messages transmitted through Mexico's cell phone network under the internal code name "Eveningeasel." In Brasília, the agency also operates one of its most important operational bases for monitoring satellite communications.
This summer, the NSA took its activities to new heights as elections took place in Mexico. Despite having access to the presidential computer network, the US knew little about Enrique Peña Nieto, designated successor to Felipe Calderón.
Spying on Peña Nieto
In his campaign appearances, Peña Nieto would make his way to the podium through a sea of supporters, ascending to the stage like a rock star. He is married to an actress, and also had the support of several influential elder statesmen within his party, the PRI. He promised to reform the party and fight pervasive corruption in the country. But those familiar with the PRI, which is itself regarded by many as corrupt, saw this pledge as little more than a maneuver made for show.
First and foremost, though, Peña Nieto promised voters he would change Mexico's strategy in the war on drugs, announcing he would withdraw the military from the fight against the drug cartels as soon as possible and invest more money in social programs instead. Yet at the same time, he assured Washington there would be no U-turn in Mexico's strategy regarding the cartels. So what were Peña Nieto's true thoughts at the time? What were his advisers telling him?
The NSA's intelligence agents in Texas must have been asking themselves such questions when they authorized an unusual type of operation known as structural surveillance. For two weeks in the early summer of 2012, the NSA unit responsible for monitoring the Mexican government analyzed data that included the cell phone communications of Peña Nieto and "nine of his close associates," as an internal presentation from June 2012 shows. Analysts used software to connect this data into a network, shown in a graphic that resembles a swarm of bees. The software then filtered out Peña Nieto's most relevant contacts and entered them into a databank called "DishFire." From then on, these individuals' cell phones were singled out for surveillance.
According to the internal documents, this led to the agency intercepting 85,489 text messages, some sent by Peña Nieto himself and some by his associates. This technology "might find a needle in a haystack," the analysts noted, adding that it could do so "in a repeatable and efficient way."
It seems, though, that the NSA's agents are no longer quite as comfortable expressing such pride in their work. Asked for a comment by SPIEGEL, the agency replied: "We are not going to comment publicly on every specific alleged intelligence activity, and as a matter of policy we have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations. As the President said in his speech at the UN General Assembly, we've begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share."
Meanwhile, the NSA's spying has already caused considerable political damage in the case of Brazil, seriously denting the mutual trust between Rousseff and Obama. Brazil now plans to introduce a law that will force companies such as Google and Facebook to store their data inside Brazil's borders, rather than on servers in the US, making these international companies subject to Brazilian data privacy laws. The Brazilian government is also developing a new encryption system to protect its own data against hacking.
So far, Mexico has reacted more moderately -- although the fact that the NSA infiltrated even the presidential computer network wasn't known until now. Commenting after TV Globo first revealed the NSA's surveillance of text messages, Peña Nieto stated that Obama had promised him to investigate the accusations and to punish those responsible, if it was found that misdeeds had taken place.
In response to an inquiry from SPIEGEL concerning the latest revelations, Mexico's Foreign Ministry replied with an email condemning any form of espionage on Mexican citizens, saying such surveillance violates international law. "That is all the government has to say on the matter," stated a spokesperson for Peña Nieto.
Presumably, that email could be read at the NSA's Texas location at the same time.
Colombia’s army nabs six FARC rebels
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, October 20, 2013 9:17 EDT
Government troops captured six rebels including a member of the security team of the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the army announced.
Freddy Chona Payares and five other suspected guerrillas were taken in an army operation against the FARC’s 33rd Front in Tibu, Norte de Santander department.
Payares, alias “Freddy Chiapas,” is believed to be a security insider for FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez, alias Timochenko, and head of the rebel unit’s finance commission.
The suspects were involved in collecting and transporting coca paste — from which cocaine is processed — to be sent through Venezuela on to Europe and the United States, the army said.
The FARC, which now has 7,000-8,000 troops, has waged an insurgency against the state since the Marxist-inspired force’s founding in 1964.
The government and FARC negotiators are negotiating on a peace plan in Cuba.
Four previous attempts at a negotiated settlement of the conflict have ended in failure.
Peru’s Air Force reviving team to investigate UFO’s
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, October 20, 2013 9:21 EDT
Peru’s air force has said it is reviving a department to research anomalous aerial phenomena — in other words, UFO sightings.
For people “who observe seemingly unconventional phenomena, which cause surprise or concern, know that there is an institution that will study and research your information,” Colonel Julio Vucetich said in remarks published Saturday.
The Department of Investigation of Anomalous Aerial Phenomena, or DIFAA, will bring together sociologists, archaeologists and astronomers, as well as air force personnel, to analyze how often these events occur, where and what times, Vucetich said, according to the official Andina news agency.
DIFAA was first created in 2001, but it had been closed down five years ago due to administrative problems. Similar agencies exist in regional neighbors, including Brazil, Argentina and Chile.
Peru’s office is now being reopened because of “increased sightings that are occurring in the country and that people are reporting to media,” Vucetich said.
According to media reports, residents of the town of Marabamba, in the central Andes, this week saw luminous objects in the sky over several days.
A ‘World Cup of Terror’ coming to Brazil if crime bosses prevail
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, October 19, 2013 19:16 EDT
Leaders of one of Brazil’s most feared gangs have warned they will order a wave of terrorist attacks during next year’s World Cup if they are moved into a maximum security prison in the state of Sao Paulo.
One of Brazil’s largest criminal gangs has threatened to unleash a wave of terrorist attacks during next year’s FIFA World Cup and presidential elections if authorities transfer jailed bosses to a solitary confinement unit in the state of Sao Paulo, according to a Brazilian daily.
The First Command of the Capital gang, better known in Brazil by the Portuguese acronym PCC, also plan to organize prison strikes and target police officers, according to mobile telephone conversations intercepted by intelligence units and leaked to the Estado de Sao Paulo daily.
The threat to spread fear during next year’s international football tournament comes a week after an extensive report by prosecutors on the PCC’s activities was revealed by the same newspaper. The report confirmed that the gang’s leaders continued to run crime operations from inside prisons via mobile phones.
The PCC’s “World Cup of Terror” warning came after Brazil’s press reported that cartel bosses would be moved to the maximum security Presidente Bernardes Prison, located near Sao Paulo’s isolated western border, and that new equipment blocking mobile telephone signals would be installed at penitentiaries.
The state’s top cop, Benedito Roberto Meira, said he had ordered his troops to be on high alert. Over 100 state police officers were murdered in 2012 after the PCC ordered attacks on security forces.
‘Security system strong’
Authorities rushed to downplay the danger to tourists, who are expected to flock to Brazil in their thousands for the World Cup starting in June.
“I don’t think that a criminal organisation can threaten an event like the World Cup,” Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo told reporters on Wednesday after a parliamentary session dedicated to tourism. “As we know, Brazil is a country with many problems, but relatively sophisticated in some areas. Our security system is strong.”
“It is a group that should be taken seriously and is being fought like any criminal organization,” Sao Paulo’s public security office said in the statement. “However, the information gathered so far by intelligence services does not point to any indication that an attack will occur.”
The gang’s threat to violently disrupt the World Cup is just the latest bad publicity for Brazil as the country prepares to host one of the most eagerly awaited and watched events on the planet.
Latin America’s largest country saw unprecedented mass protests in June, with middle-class Brazilians sometimes clashing with police outside new multimillion-dollar stadiums built for the sports event. Brazilian police have also faced criticism for a drive to “pacify” shanty-towns in Rio de Janeiro with heavy-handed operations.
Reacting to its own report in an editorial on Wednesday, the Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper said the PCC had gone too far and urged the government institutions to wage an incessant war on the crime syndicate.
“As soon as possible, [police] must launch an offensive and give no quarter to that criminal organisation, which represents an unacceptable threat to the authority of the state,” the newspaper said. “Getting rid of mobile phones in prisons and putting their leaders in solitary confinement [...] are critical measures to contain and break the PCC.”
Former head of Tijuana drug cartel Arellano Felix shot dead at family party
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, October 19, 2013 7:55 EDT
The former head of a major Mexican drug cartel was shot dead by an unknown gunman at a family party Friday night, newspapers said.
Francisco Rafael Arellano Felix, 63, the former head of the Tijuana cartel, was killed in a hotel in the resort town of Cabo San Lucas in northwest Mexico, said the newspaper Reforma, quoting what it called unofficial sources.
A gunman went into the party and shot Arellano Felix in the head and chest, Reforma said.
The body was identified by one of his children, said another paper, El Universal. It quoted unnamed military and law enforcement authorities.
An Interior Ministry official confirmed there was a shooting at the hotel but would neither confirm nor deny the victim was Arellano Felix.
Arellano Felix was arrested in 1980 in San Diego, California, for drug trafficking and upon his release on bail returned to Mexico.
In 1993 he was arrested in Mexico and jailed on drug charges, and in 2006 was extradited to the United States. There, he was sentenced to six years in jail after confessing to selling drugs to an undercover agent.
He was released in 2008, winning time off his sentence for good behavior, and repatriated to Mexico.
One of his brothers was killed in a gunbattle in 2002 and three others are in prison.
The power of the Arellano Felix family among Mexico’s violent cartels has waned in recent years, but they do control part of the border with California, experts say.
Now the cartel is run by a daughter of the man reported killed Friday and by one of her sons, analysts say.
Spain's communist model village
Marinaleda, in impoverished Andalusia, used to suffer terrible hardships. Led by a charismatic mayor, the village declared itself a communist utopia and took farmland to provide for everyone. Could it be the answer to modern capitalism's failings?
The Observer, Sunday 20 October 2013
In 2004, I was leafing through a travel guide to Andalusia while on holiday in Seville, and read a fleeting reference to a small, remote village called Marinaleda – "a communist utopia" of revolutionary farm labourers, it said. I was immediately fascinated, but I could find almost no details to feed my fascination. There was so little information about the village available beyond that short summary, either in the guidebook, on the internet, or on the lips of strangers I met in Seville. "Ah yes, the strange little communist village, the utopia," a few of them said. But none of them had visited, or knew anyone who had – and no one could tell me whether it really was a utopia. The best anyone could do was to add the information that it had a charismatic, eccentric mayor, with a prophet's beard and an almost demagogic presence, called Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo.
Eventually I found out more. The first part of Marinaleda's miracle is that when its struggle to create utopia began, in the late 1970s, it was from a position of abject poverty. The village was suffering more than 60% unemployment; it was a farming community with no land, its people frequently forced to go without food for days at a time, in a period of Spanish history mired in uncertainty after the death of the fascist dictator General Franco. The second part of Marinaleda's miracle is that over three extraordinary decades, it won. Some distance along that remarkable journey of struggle and sacrifice, in 1985, Sánchez Gordillo told the newspaper El País: "We have learned that it is not enough to define utopia, nor is it enough to fight against the reactionary forces. One must build it here and now, brick by brick, patiently but steadily, until we can make the old dreams a reality: that there will be bread for all, freedom among citizens, and culture; and to be able to read with respect the word 'peace '. We sincerely believe that there is no future that is not built in the present."
As befits a rebel, Sánchez Gordillo is fond of quoting Che Guevara; specifically Che's maxim that "only those who dream will someday see their dreams converted to reality". In one small village in southern Spain, this isn't just a T-shirt slogan.
In spring 2013 unemployment in Andalusia is a staggering 36%; for those aged 16 to 24, the figure is above 55% – figures worse even than the egregious national average. The construction industry boom of the 2000s saw the coast cluttered with cranes and encouraged a generation to skip the end of school and take the €40,000-a-year jobs on offer on the building sites. That work is gone, and nothing is going to replace it. With the European Central Bank looming ominously over his shoulder, prime minister Mariano Rajoy has introduced labour reforms to make it much easier for businesses to sack their employees, quickly and with less compensation, and these new laws are now cutting swaths through the Spanish workforce, in private and public sectors alike.
Spain experienced a massive housing boom from 1996 to 2008. The price of property per square metre tripled in those 12 years: its scale is now tragically reflected in its crisis. Nationally, up to 400,000 families have been evicted since 2008. Again, it is especially acute in the south: 40 families a day in Andalusia have been turfed out of their homes by the banks. To make matters worse, under Spanish housing law, when you're evicted by your mortgage lender, that isn't the end of it: you have to keep paying the mortgage. In final acts of helplessness, suicides by homeowners on the brink of foreclosure have become horrifyingly common – on more than one occasion, while the bailiffs have been coming up the stairs, evictees have hurled themselves out of upstairs windows.
When people refer to la crisis in Spain they mean the eurozone crisis, an economic crisis; but the term means more than that. It is a systemic crisis, a political ecology crack'd from side to side: a crisis of seemingly endemic corruption across the country's elites, including politicians, bankers, royals and bureaucrats, and a crisis of faith in the democratic settlement established after the death of Franco in 1975. A poll conducted by the (state-run) centre for sociological research in December 2012 found that 67.5% of Spaniards said they were unhappy with the way their democracy worked. It's this disdain for the Spanish state in general, rather than merely the effects of the economic crisis, that brought 8 million indignados on to the streets in the spring and summer of 2011, and informed their rallying cry "Democracia Real Ya" (real democracy now).
But in one village in Andalusia's wild heart, there lies stability and order. Like Asterix's village impossibly holding out against the Romans, in this tiny pueblo a great empire has met its match, in a ragtag army of boisterous upstarts yearning for liberty. The bout seems almost laughably unfair – Marinaleda's population is 2,700, Spain's is 47 million – and yet the empire has lost, time and time again.
In 1979, at the age of 30, Sánchez Gordillo became the first elected mayor of Marinaleda, a position he has held ever since – re-elected time after time with an overwhelming majority. However, holding official state-sanctioned positions of power was only a distraction from the serious business of la lucha – the struggle. In the intense heat of the summer of 1980, the village launched "a hunger strike against hunger" which brought them national and even global recognition. Everything they have done since that summer has increased the notoriety of Sánchez Gordillo and his village, and added to their admirers and enemies across Spain.
Sánchez Gordillo's philosophy, outlined in his 1980 book Andaluces, Levantaos and in countless speeches and interviews since, is one which is unique to him, though grounded firmly in the historic struggles and uprisings of the peasant pueblos of Andalusia, and their remarkably deep-seated tendency towards anarchism. These communities are striking for being against all authority. "I have never belonged to the communist party of the hammer and sickle, but I am a communist or communitarian," Sánchez Gordillo said in an interview in 2011, adding that his political beliefs were drawn from those of Jesus Christ, Gandhi, Marx, Lenin and Che.
In August 2012 he achieved a new level of notoriety for a string of actions that began, in 40C heat, with the occupation of military land, the seizure of an aristocrat's palace, and a three-week march across the south in which he called on his fellow mayors not to repay their debts. Its peak saw Sánchez Gordillo lead a series of expropriations from supermarkets, along with fellow members of the left-communist trade union SOC-SAT. They marched into supermarkets and took bread, rice, olive oil and other basic supplies, and donated them to food banks for Andalusians who could not feed themselves. For this he became a superstar, appearing not only on the cover of Spanish newspapers, but in the world's media, as "the Robin Hood mayor", "the Don Quixote of the Spanish crisis", or "Spain's William Wallace", depending on which newspaper you read.
In the darkness of a winter morning, between 6 and 7am, Marinaleda's workers are clustered around the counter of the orange-painted patisserie Horno el Cedazo. Here they stand, knocking back strong, dark coffee accompanied by orange juice, pastries and pan con tomate: truly one of the world's best breakfasts, a large hunk of toast served alongside a bottle of olive oil and a decanter of sweet, salty, pink tomato pulp. Pour on one, then the other, then a sprinkling of salt and pepper, and you are ready for a day in the fields. Those with stronger stomachs also knock back a shot of one of the lurid-coloured liqueurs arrayed on a high shelf behind the counter; the syrupy, pungent anís is the most popular of these coffee chasers. All work in the Marinaleda co-operative in shifts, depending on what needs harvesting, and how much of it there is. If there's enough work for your group, then you will be told in advance, through the loudspeaker on the van that circles the village in the evenings. It's a strange, quasi-Soviet experience, sitting at home and hearing the van drive past announcing: "Work in the fields tomorrow for group B". The static-muffled announcements get louder and then quieter as the van winds through the village's narrow streets, like someone lost in a maze carrying a transistor radio.
When the 1,200-hectare El Humoso farm was finally won in 1991 – awarded to the village by the regional government following a decade of relentless occupations, strikes and appeals – cultivation began. The new Marinaleda co-operative selected crops that would need the greatest amount of human labour, to create as much work as possible. In addition to the ubiquitous olives and the oil-processing factory, they planted peppers of various kinds, artichokes, fava beans, green beans, broccoli: crops that could be processed, canned, and jarred, to justify the creation of a processing factory that provided a secondary industry back in the village, and thus more employment. "Our aim was not to create profit, but jobs," Sánchez Gordillo explained to me. This philosophy runs directly counter to the late-capitalist emphasis on "efficiency" – a word that has been elevated to almost holy status in the neoliberal lexicon, but in reality has become a shameful euphemism for the sacrifice of human dignity at the altar of share prices.
Sánchez Gordillo once suggested to me that the aristocratic family of the House of Alba could invest its vast riches (from shares in banks and power companies to multimillion-euro agricultural subsidies for its vast tracts of land) to create jobs, but had never shown any interest in doing so. "We believe the land should belong to the community that works it, and not in the dead hands of the nobility." That's why the big landowners planted wheat, he explained – wheat could be harvested with a machine, overseen by a few labourers; in Marinaleda, crops like artichokes and tomatoes were chosen precisely because they needed lots of labour. Why, the logic runs, should "efficiency" be the most important value in society, to the detriment of human life?
The town co-operative does not distribute profits: any surplus is reinvested to create more jobs. Everyone in the co-op earns the same salary, €47 (£40) a day for six and a half hours of work: it may not sound like a lot, but it's more than double the Spanish minimum wage. Participation in decisions about what crops to farm, and when, is encouraged, and often forms the focus of the village's general assemblies – in this respect, being a cooperativista means being an important part of the functioning of the pueblo as a whole. Where once the day labourers of Andalusia were politically and socially marginalised by their lack of an economic stake in their pueblo, they are now – at least in Marinaleda – called upon to lead the way. Non-co-operativists are by no means excluded from involvement in the town's political, social and cultural life – it's more that if you are a part of the co-operative, you can't avoid being swept up in local activities outside the confines of the working day.
Private enterprise is permitted in the village – perhaps more importantly, it is still an accepted part of life. As with the seven privately owned bars and cafés in the village (the Sindicato bar is owned by the union), if you wanted to open a pizzeria or a little family business of any kind, no one would stand in your way. But if a hypothetical head of regional development and franchising for, say, Carrefour, or Starbucks, with a vicious sense of humour and a masochistic streak, decided this small village was the perfect spot to expand operations, well – they wouldn't get very far. "We just wouldn't allow it," Sánchez Gordillo told me bluntly.
Marinaleda's alternative is decades in the making, but other anti-capitalist alternatives are sprouting in the cracks of the Spanish crisis, in the form of numerous quotidian acts of resistance, not just strikes and protests, but everyday behaviour – the occupation of vacant new-builds by those made homeless by their banks, firemen refusing to evict penniless families, doctors refusing to turn away undocumented immigrants. There is also a new Marinaleda-style farming co-operative in Somonte, a collective farm established on occupied government land in 2012, only an hour or so's drive from the village. When I visited Somonte earlier this year, I met Marinaleños who had left their home to bring Sanchez Gordillo's message of "land belongs to those who work it" to new terrain.
When I visited in February this year, a young man called Román strode bare-chested through the endless fields to greet us, looking strong but tired – they work from dawn until dusk, stopping only to dip into much-needed cauldrons full of pasta, rice and bean stews; surplus vegetables are sold on market day in nearby towns. They were growing beans, pimentos, potatoes and cabbages when I visited, planting trees and trying to resuscitate 400 hectares of idle land – as best they could, with only two dozen pairs of hands. Paradoxically, in light of Spain's staggering unemployment figures, they still need more people to join their co-operative, and have more farmland than they can currently cultivate. One of the murals painted on the Somonte barn wall contained a telling slogan, alongside portraits of Malcolm X, Geronimo and Zapata: "Andalusians, don't emigrate, fight! The land is yours: recover it!" It's a message cried somewhat into the void, as thousands of young Spaniards scurry down the brain drain to Britain, Germany, France and beyond.
But Somonte is not without support. Hundreds of people have visited at weekends or for short stays, from Madrid, Seville and many from overseas, bringing their labour and other resources, to help with the land, to build infrastructure or paint murals, donating secondhand farming equipment, furniture and kitchenware. As we strolled past a small collection of chickens and goats, Florence, a French woman who had been living in Marinaleda before joining the "new struggle" in Somonte, explained that the land was some of the most fertile in Spain, but had for decades been used by the government to grow corn, to bring in European subsidies – it created next to no work, and no produce; the corn was left to rot. Those 400 wasted hectares were about to be auctioned off privately by the government when the Andalusian Workers' Union turned up in March 2012; they occupied it, were evicted by 200 riot police, and in true Marinaleda style, returned the next day to start again. The auction never took place. Somonte is now 18 months old, growing slowly but steadily, and is the kind of Marinaleda domino effect that the crisis may yet bring more of.
No one ever forgets "that strange and moving experience" of believing in a revolution, as George Orwell reflected after arriving in Barcelona on the brink of civil war to a society fizzing with energy as it fleetingly experienced living communism. Marinaleda is neither fully communist nor fully a utopia: but take a step outside the pueblo and into contemporary Spain, and you will see a society pummelled, impoverished and atomised, pulled into death and destruction by an economic system and a political class who seem not to care whether the poor live or die. Sánchez Gordillo's achievements are more than just the concrete gains of land, housing, sustenance and culture, phenomenal though they are: being there is a strange and moving experience, and, as Orwell suggested, an unforgettable one.
In the eight or so years I have known about Marinaleda, I have sometimes had to remind myself of the gap between the grandiose claims made about the village, by left and right alike, and the humble size and intimacy of the place itself. It is a village which means so much to so many people, across the world; but it has only 2,700 inhabitants, and whole hours can pass in which the only noise emanates from a motorcycle speeding down Avenida de la Libertad, or the vocal exercises of a particularly enervated rooster.
It is both poignant and appropriate that Sánchez Gordillo seems to see no bathos, or discrepancy, in devoting as much attention and passion to the local specifics of the pueblo – the need to start planting artichokes this month, not pimentos – as he does to the big picture, persuading the world that only an end to capitalism will restore dignity to the lives of billions.
The indignado movement had informed not just Spain, but the world, that millions of Spaniards were unwilling to brook the crisis. They were desperately looking for an alternative to the current system – and yet, in their midst, there was already one in operation. Faced with the massed ranks protesting in Puerta del Sol in Madrid, in Wall Street in New York, and outside St Paul's Cathedral in London, the damning questions rang out from conservatives and liberals: "What's your alternative? What's your programme? How would it work in practice?"
They may have ignored the village before, or dismissed it with a chuckle as a rural curiosity run by a bearded eccentric; but they can do so no longer. "What's your alternative?' bark the dogs of capitalist realism. Increasingly, the indignados are able to respond: 'Well, how about Marinaleda?'"
This is an edited extract
*************The Village Against the World
by Dan Hancoxhttp://www.guardianbookshop.co.uk/BerteShopWeb/viewProduct.do?ISBN=9781781681305
Front National's victory signals French sense of abandonment from mainstream
Anxiety over Front National's latest win is underscored by feeling that anti-immigration and anti-EU parties are gaining prominence
The Observer, Saturday 19 October 2013 23.40 BST
There is a monument on the outskirts of the small southern French town of Brignoles that provides a clue to why, a week ago today, its residents voted decisively to back the candidate from Marine Le Pen's far-right Front National (FN) in local elections.
The statue does not commemorate France's dead from two world wars. Instead it depicts – in a style that is socialist realist in inspiration – the figure of a miner in big boots and helmet, weight behind a drill, marking the passing of the region's bauxite mines, the last of which closed in 1990.
These days Brignoles – at 55 miles from the coast, too far to attract tourists – survives on some agriculture and a little commerce. Its voters – both those who backed the FN candidate, Laurent Lopez, and those who didn't – feel abandoned by Paris and by France's political mainstream, left and right.
If Brignoles, in the words of one French columnist, has exploded "a hand grenade" that has sent shock waves through all levels of a French society battered by the global economic crisis, analysts are still struggling to understand precisely what the result means.
What is clear is that it is not simply about a small town in the Var. Along the length of the old Route National 7 that leads eventually to Fréjus on the coast, the far right is gaining strength in towns just like Brignoles. And it is gaining strength nationally, too. A poll a few days before the second round of the voting in Brignoles that delivered Lopez 53.9% of the electorate suggested that the FN would come top in the European parliament elections next May, putting it ahead of the two mainstream parties for the first time.
There is another factor that has amplified the result of this local election – the sense that France's mainstream politics is in the midst of a wider crisis. The left has lost eight byelections for parliamentary seats and three local byelections in the last 12 months, while the rightwing UMP has been riven by its very public power struggles.
Underscoring the anxiety over the FN's latest victory is the sense that Brignoles is as much a European as a French phenomenon, on a continent where anti-immigration and anti-EU parties are surging. President François Hollande has warned that virulent Euroscepticism is gaining a dangerous momentum across the continent. The Italian prime minister, Enrico Letta, last week predicted that next May's European elections could amount to a humiliation for mainstream pro-Europeans. He told the New York Times: "We have the big risk to have the most 'anti-European' European parliament ever."
In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders's Europhobic, anti-immigration Party for Freedom is again riding high in polls. Austria's far-right Freedom party is on the march. In Italy, the political establishment is braced for another surge of Eurosceptic populism next May, after the stunning success of Beppe Grillo at the recent general election. Little wonder that, in Brussels, the Brignoles poll is being treated as a harbinger of dark times to come.
If the town feels sharply familiar to an English visitor, it's because its problems are familiar. Europe – including the UK – is littered with towns and cities such as Brignoles, places that feel both forgotten and far from the centre, civic centres decaying as business has moved to the outskirts. They are places that have been left high and dry by the receding tide of the industries that once sustained them, and which neither globalisation nor central government has replaced.
An anxious crisis of identity has been exacerbated by recent immigration.
In Lopez's own words: "Brignoles is a town that's dying. It has nice neighbourhoods, but businesses are closing and people are throwing up their hands." Speaking after his victory – amid the chants of his supporters that "We're home!" – Lopez directly addressed these victims of change. "I think of those who elected me," he said, "of all these ostracised [and] modest people."
In the bars and shops of this town of 17,000, it is easy to find those who echo the FN's newly modulated line designed for mass consumption. In one of the little hairdressers near the main square a woman talks about her fear of immigration. Others complain about unemployment and petty crime.
And Brignoles, for all its size, is one of those southern French towns where immigration, largely from north Africa, is very visible in comparison with some of its near neighbours. Yet despite being in the FN's traditional Mediterranean heartland, Brignoles is far from being a "racist" or a far-right town.
The town's mayor, Claude Gilardo, is a Communist. His predecessor, Jacques Cestor of the centre-right UMP – re-elected on six occasions – is black, his family originally from Martinique. As Cestor insisted last week to a journalist from Le Figaro: "I'm well placed to tell you this is not a racist vote. It tells you that people are pissed off. It's a problem of poor living standards that have encouraged people to turn to the FN."
In his fishmonger's shop, Gilles Mouttet explains that in the first round of voting many like him were not aware of "the peril" of an FN victory at a time when the Socialists were backing a Communist for the departmental council seat won by Lopez and when the rightwing UMP were disengaged. Like many in the town who voted FN, he complains about the lack of opportunities, the "little incivilities" he has encountered in the town centre – people throwing rubbish and youths smoking hashish.
In the town square, Laurent Biganski, 63, is worried by the FN's victory, but blames a lack of leadership from the main parties and says the middle classes in towns such as Brignoles feel abandoned. Describing himself as a "social democrat who would never vote FN", he complains about unemployment and immigration. "There is no leadership here from the main parties," he adds bitterly. "The FN put up posters and handed out flyers, but there was nothing from the others to challenge what they were claiming."
Former centre-right president Nicolas Sarkozy was reported to have supplied his own trenchant critique, even as Brignoles voters were preparing to elect Lopez in the second round. "That's what happens," he remarked, "when you have the crappest left and the stupidest right in the world." The FN under Marine Le Pen has attempted to moderate the language of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, and is managing through subtly different tactics in the country's north and south to pull voters both from both right and left of the spectrum. Lopez told voters who had abandoned the centre-right that the FN represented "real socialism".
While leading French pollster Jérôme Fourquet of IFOP believes this attempt to appeal across the political spectrum may cause problems for the FN in the future, he says for now it is working. "There is a real dynamic behind the FN now. That doesn't mean, even with the party leading the polls for the European elections, that they have a majority. But in two rounds in Brignoles they took voters in the first round from the Communist candidate and in the second round from the right. They can draw in people from different political horizons.
"When Laurent Lopez says in Brignoles that the FN is the real socialism, what he means to deliver is a populist message – that François Hollande and the PS may be in power, but they are in hock to Europe and the banks."
Fourquet also argues that across Europe rightwing populist parties have recognised that their message is more effective if it appeals to what he calls "welfare chauvinism".
"There are two strands they are utilising. The first insists on the primacy of French values [against multiculturalism]. The second is on benefits for nationals only. It is not the old call of the British far right of 'Pakis go home'. They have recognised immigrants are not going home. The insistence now is on benefits for national citizens."
If this populism is the key, it is one that worries Biganski as he prepares to leave the cafe in Brignoles. "It would be silly to make comparisons with Germany in the 1930s," he says, remarking on the wider rise of the far right in Europe, "but there are some dangerous similarities that worry me."
October 19, 2013
France Says Deportation of Roma Girl Was Legal
By ALISSA J. RUBIN
PARIS — A 15-year-old girl who was ordered off a school bus by French police officers so that she and her family could be sent back to Kosovo was legally deported, but the operation could have been conducted with more sensitivity, the French government said Saturday after an investigation.
President François Hollande on Saturday affirmed the Interior Ministry’s findings but said the ministry was sending instructions to representatives of the central government across France to prohibit the police from entering school premises to pull out children who are being deported with their families because they lack the proper immigration papers.
“The law was perfectly respected,” Mr. Hollande said, and there was no fault on the part of the police who stopped the girl. “But there was a lack of discernment in the execution of the operation,” he said.
The girl, Leonarda Dibrani, whose parents are from Kosovo, was on a school field trip when at the request of the police the school bus she was on was stopped and she was escorted by police officers to join her family, which was being put on a flight to Kosovo later that day.
Teachers at her school and another school wrote an open letter to local government officials protesting that she had been taken during a school trip. Public attention to her case grew when the letter was posted on the Web site of the Network for Education Without Borders, and students in Paris as well as other areas mounted protests to support her and another student who was expelled in the past 10 days, a 19-year-old Armenian.
In both cases, the government had the legal right to expel the students, who were in the country illegally and were not from European Union countries. The Interior Ministry’s report laid out the specifics of the asylum process that Ms. Dibrani’s family had unsuccessfully gone through.
The case was complicated, however, by the fact that the family is Roma, an ethnic group that Interior Minister Manual Valls has said should be expelled from France; “only a minority” of the Roma, he has said, can be integrated into French society.
His flat statements on the Roma have drawn the ire of people on the left, who had expected that a socialist government would take a more lenient approach toward the minority, many of whom live in shantytowns on the edges of France’s large cities. The European Union has threatened sanctions over the expulsions.
Most of the Roma come from European Union states, including Romania and Bulgaria. But because Ms. Dibrani’s family is Kosovar and Kosovo is not a European Union member, the family needed the French government’s approval to remain in France. Further complicating matters is that Ms. Dibrani’s nationality is unclear; her father said in interviews that she had been born in Italy, where the family lived for a while, but that she was not an Italian citizen.
“The law must be applied,” Mr. Hollande said, but “schools must be preserved from the conflicts of society.”
However, Mr. Hollande said that if Ms. Dibrani wished to continue her education in France, she would be allowed to do so but that her family would not be permitted to return.
“With regards to the case of this young girl, Leonarda, if she makes a request, given the circumstances, and if she wants to continue her schooling in France, a place will be made for her, and for her alone,” Mr. Hollande said.
The case revealed some of the internal contradictions in France on the question of immigrants. France is generous compared with other European countries when it comes to giving asylum to immigrants.
But the French have been frustrated by the large number of impoverished foreigners seeking refuge here and generally have been supportive of the enforcement of immigration laws.
At the same time, a number of people here say the right to attend school is sacred and should be respected. That means that even if it might be acceptable to expel a family from the country, it should be done in a way that does not interrupt the school day.
“The values of the republic also involve accounting for human situations,” Mr. Hollande said. “This affair has been the occasion for a clarification, and there is now no more doubt about what school must be, and what it’s possible to do there.”
Two face charges over blond-haired girl found in Gypsy camp
Discovery in central Greece reinforces suspicion of Roma involvement in child trafficking, but brings hope to parents of Madeleine McCann
Helena Smith Athens
The Observer, Sunday 20 October 2013
Greek officials have launched an international campaign to try to identify a four-year-old blond-haired, blue-eyed girl found in a Gypsy camp in central Greece as the couple believed to have raised her face charges of kidnapping.
"They will appear on Monday before a magistrate on charges of abducting a minor after DNA tests revealed they bore no relationship to her," said Lukas Krikos, a police official in Athens. "An extensive investigation is under way around the Roma camp in Farsala, where she was found."
Police found the child, with her conspicuous deep-set blue eyes and pale skin, when they conducted a raid on the settlement 170 miles north of Athens in search of weapons and drugs. The girl appeared disoriented and confused by the abrupt change in her environment when she was taken into the care of a children's charity.
"She communicates mostly in the Roma dialect and understands only a few words of Greek," said Costas Giannopoulos, who heads the charity, called Smile of the Child.
Greek authorities said it was imperative that they find the child's real parents so they could understand how she ended up in the camp. A global search has been initiated through Interpol and international children's groups.
Police say the suspects, a 40-year-old woman and a 39-year-old man, have given a range of explanations, from the girl being found in a blanket to her having a Canadian father. The woman, who was found to have two identities and 14 children, claimed to have given birth to six of them in the same year. At least three were registered in different parts of Greece.
"This case has reinforced our suspicions of Roma involvement in child trafficking. We have discovered how easy it is for anyone to register children as their own," Giannopoulos told the Observer. "Blond, blue-eyed children are clearly being targeted."
The parents of Madeleine McCann, the toddler who went missing in Portugal in 2007, said the case gave them "great hope". It could also help crack the mystery of Ben Needham, the Sheffield boy who went missing on the island of Kos in 1991.
Georgia's billionaire PM wants to give up office, but will he relinquish power?
Much-criticised billionaire prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili says he simply wishes to retreat to the shadows. But it may not be all that black and white
The Observer, Saturday 19 October 2013 14.17 BST
Georgia's billionaire prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili looks surprised at the suggestion that he might be a touch sensitive to criticism.
"Quite the opposite," he insists, enunciating his words very carefully, in lightly accented Russian. "I really love criticism! Everyone who knows me knows that."
Anyone who has followed Georgian politics recently could be forgiven for believing the opposite to be true. And even the man himself admits that he wishes the populace and media would sometimes be a bit more generous with plaudits, especially given that he has "done everything right" during his year in politics.
"Society should not just criticise; it should also praise the government when it works well," says Ivanishvili, now in a gently hectoring tone. "That should be felt too, but it is missing from society at the moment."
Ivanishvili, who made a vast fortune in 1990s Russia and has been ranked by Forbes magazine as one of the 200 richest people in the world, lived as a recluse until he entered politics in 2011. In elections last October he surfed a wave of popular discontent directed at Mikheil Saakashvili, president of Georgia since the 2003 "rose revolution". He united a motley group of everyone from urbane intellectuals to frothing-at-the-mouth nationalists into the Georgian Dream coalition and won an overwhelming parliamentary majority.
One year on, Ivanishvili receives the Observer during a religious festival in the city of Mtskheta, the ancient former capital of Georgia. He wears an immaculate suit and his short greying hair is swept back.
Outside the window of our meeting room is an 11th-century cathedral, its courtyard filled with beggars, pious believers crossing themselves. Priests with black robes and luxuriant beards are moving among the flock. It is a reminder that, for all of Saakashvili's reforms, away from the bright lights and alfresco cafes of central Tbilisi, Georgia is still largely rural, conservative and crushingly poor.
Critics say his year in power has been disastrous politically, economically and diplomatically, in terms of relations with Russia. Ivanishvili, naturally, disagrees: "It's all just shouting and emotions… We are moving in the right direction."
But the widespread expectation that the billionaire's money would trickle down in the direction of ordinary Georgians has gone unfulfilled, and Ivanishvili finds himself coming to the end of his honeymoon with the electorate. With elections to the newly diminished presidential role coming up, Ivanishvili says that when they are completed he will nominate a new figure to replace himself as prime minister and retreat back into the shadows.
Saakashvili's team of young enthusiastic reformers made sweeping changes to Georgia, taking it from the brink of a failed state to an inchoate democracy. But then came the devastating 2008 five-day war with Russia, crackdowns on protests, and accusations of creeping authoritarianism, which in time became ever harder to ignore.
After the high-octane revolutionary leader, many had felt that the country needed a bit of a breather. In the later Saakashvili years it has been a common refrain among diplomats in Tbilisi that Georgia could do with "someone boring" to calm the waters.
But instead of the competent, understated technocrat that it perhaps needed, the country elected a character who seemed to have strolled out of a tale penned by an overimaginative novelist. A reclusive oligarch who lived in a contemporary chateau perched on the hillside above the capital city, Ivanishvili was the richest man in the country but no one even knew what he looked like.
There were all kinds of rumours about the Wizard of Oz figure hidden inside the weird glass castle: that he travelled the country incognito and doled out sacks of cash to artistic or social causes he deemed worthy; that he had a teenage albino son who secretly recorded rap tracks with leading US hip-hop stars; that he kept pet zebras, lemurs and kangaroos at his various palatial residences; and even that he imported fresh fish from Antarctica to ensure that his collection of penguins did not get depressed by Georgia's unsuitably warm climate.
He was the mystery figure who had financed many of Saakashvili's reforms, but the two men had a falling-out of epic proportions and were now sworn foes. As it later turned out, almost all the rumours were true.
After a year in charge, his project to turn Georgia into a perfect European democracy is "on track", he says, but has been assaulted by what he sees as obstructiveness from Saakashvili, who reaches the end of his second and final term as president when elections for the post are held next Sunday.
Ivanishvili has nominated a candidate, Giorgi Margvelashvili, with little frontline political experience. However, he is leading in the polls despite what the billionaire feels is an abundance of scurrilous gossip and unfounded criticism from the media.
Earlier this month Ivanishvili summoned several Georgian journalists for a four-hour dressing down, broadcast live on television, in which he read the journalists' quotes back at them from a sheaf of papers and demanded they account for their words. He berated them for reporting facts without checking them and thus becoming "postmen, not journalists". He held a similar meeting with political analysts.
Ivanishvili denies that such irritation at criticism is a result of living the mollycoddled life of the oligarch, surrounded by oily sycophants. The way he sees it, he simply wants people to get their facts straight.
"Those journalists and experts, I asked them: 'Look, you're saying this, this and this, but where are your arguments? You've got no arguments!' They couldn't prove anything and then they were all offended. 'Oh look, he doesn't like criticism,' they said! Please, criticise me, but you need to do it with arguments and not say things that are not true."
He is not keen on the foreign press coverage of his time in office either. His PR aides complain that foreign journalists persist in writing about the prime minister's zebras, instead of his policies, probably because Ivanishvili keeps insisting on meeting journalists at his zebra-filled summer retreat rather than, say, in an office. Show a journalist a pet zebra, and the journalist will probably write about the zebra first and planned agricultural reform second. This is something that, after a year of showing zebras to journalists, Ivanishvili has apparently still failed to grasp.
Several members of his team say they genuinely believe that the prime minister wants the best for Georgia, and even opposition figures no longer seriously entertain their earlier claims that he is a Kremlin stooge, but many privately admit that he is not the best at taking advice from others, or at getting his message across to the media.
In an opaque scheme that no one but he understands entirely, Ivanishvili plans to appoint a new prime minister shortly after the presidential elections and retreat from politics, becoming a kind of omnipresent benefactor, providing cash and "control" to the government.
It sounds a bit ominous. Does he accept that, as a clearly partisan political figure, it will be hard for him to accept the role of a neutral benefactor of civil society?
"But I won't be a politician any more," he says, matter of factly, as if by stepping away from the fiercely political battle of which he has been one half, he can suddenly acquire neutrality.
Shortly after meeting the Observer, he went on Georgian television to tell voters that unless at least 60% of them back his preferred presidential candidate, he will be offended and "lose enthusiasm" for his initiatives, essentially blackmailing Georgians with turning off the cash taps if they do not vote as he says.
Giga Bokeria, a key member of Saakashvili's team, sees Ivanishvili's decision to leave politics through the prism of his oligarchic background. According to Bokeria, the billionaire has deliberately picked a weak and politically inexperienced figure as candidate for president and is likely to pick another novice politician to succeed him as prime minister.
"The dream of all oligarchs in 1990s Russia was to control politics from behind the scenes," he says. "Of course, in Russia, they chose the wrong figure in Putin, and it all went wrong."
Ivanishvili is not particularly reassuring about how his behind-the-scenes role really will facilitate the growth of the "perfect European democracy" he says he is building.
"Together with society, I will control the government which I leave behind," he says. "I would prefer not to reveal the mechanism for now, the way in which I will act."
‘Guardian’ scoops up two online journalism awards for NSA coverage
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, October 20, 2013 9:13 EDT
Britain’s The Guardian scooped up two awards for online journalism on Saturday for its coverage of the National Security Agency (NSA) leaks from former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.
The Guardian’s exposure of the electronic surveillance by the US spy agency was honored in the categories of innovative investigative journalism and watchdog journalism at the annual awards banquet here of the Online News Association (ONA).
Other online journalism award winners on Saturday included The New York Times and The Boston Globe, which both picked up multiple awards.
NYTimes.com was singled out for general excellence in online journalism, and the newspaper also picked up an award for feature reporting for a stunning multi-media presentation called Snow Fall about a deadly avalanche.
BostonGlobe.com and its sister site Boston.com were honored in the breaking news category for their coverage of the Boston marathon bombings.
The Boston Globe also won a public service award for its coverage of a troubled neighborhood of the city, a project called 68 Blocks.
Ezra Klein of The Washington Post won the award for online commentary at a large media organization, while New Zealand’s Stuff Nation picked up the award for online commentary at a medium-sized organization.
In the feature category, Radio Canada picked up an award for its interactive report #Banlieuelanuit.
The Online News Association was founded in 1999 and has more than 2,000 members around the world.
US quietly releases $1.6bn in aid to Pakistan after thaw in relations
Nato supply routes have reopened, drone strikes are down and the uncomfortable allies have resumed their 'strategic dialogue'
Associated Press in Washington
theguardian.com, Saturday 19 October 2013 14.30 BST
The US has quietly decided to release more than $1.6bn (£1bn) in military and economic aid to Pakistan that was suspended when relations between the two countries disintegrated over the covert raid that killed Osama bin Laden and deadly US air strikes against Pakistani soldiers. Officials and congressional aides said ties have improved enough to allow the money to flow again.
US and Nato supply routes to Afghanistan are open. Controversial US drone strikes are down. The US and Pakistan recently announced the restart of their "strategic dialogue" after a long pause. Pakistan's new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, is travelling to Washington for talks this coming week with President Barack Obama.
But in a summer dominated by foreign policy debates over the coup in Egypt and chemical weapons attacks in Syria, the US has not promoted its revamped aid relationship with Pakistan. Neither has Pakistan.
The silence reflects the lingering mutual suspicions between the two.
The Pakistanis do not like being seen as dependent on their heavy-handed partners. The Americans are uncomfortable highlighting the billions provided to a government that is plagued by corruption and perceived as often duplicitous in fighting terrorism.
Congress has cleared most of the money, which should start moving early next year, officials and congressional aides said.
Over three weeks in July and August, the State Department and the US Agency for International Development informed Congress that it planned to restart a wide range of assistance, mostly dedicated to helping Pakistan fight terrorism. The US sees that effort sees as essential as it withdraws troops from neighbouring Afghanistan next year and tries to leave a stable government behind.
Other funds focus on a range of items, including help for Pakistani law enforcement and a multibillion-dollar dam in disputed territory.
US-Pakistani relations have weathered numerous crises in recent years. There was a months-long legal battle over a CIA contractor who killed two Pakistanis, in addition to the fallout from Bin Laden's killing in the Pakistani military town of Abbottabad in May 2011. The Pakistani government was outraged that it received no advance warning of the Navy Seal raid on Bin Laden's compound.
Adding to the mistrust, the US mistakenly killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers in November 2011. Islamabad responded by shutting land supply routes for troops in Afghanistan until it received a US apology seven months later.
The State Department told Congress that the US had not conducted any significant military financing for Pakistan since the "challenging and rapidly changing period of US-Pakistan relations" in 2011 and 2012. The department stressed the importance now of enhancing Pakistan's anti-terrorism capabilities through better communications, night vision capabilities, maritime security and precision striking with F16 fighter jets.
The department told Congress on 25 July that it would spend $295m to help Pakistan's military. Twelve days later it announced $386m more. A pair of notifications arriving on 13 August and worth $705m centred on helping Pakistani troops and air forces operating in the militant hotbeds of western Pakistan, and other counterinsurgency efforts.
The administration had until the end of September to provide Congress with "reprogramming" plans at the risk of forfeiting some of the money, which spans federal budgets from 2009-2013.
State Department officials said the renewal of aid was not determined by any single event. But they noted a confluence of signs of greater cooperation, from Pakistan's improved commitment to stamping out explosives manufacturing to its recent counterterror offensive in areas bordering Afghanistan that have served as a primary sanctuary for the Taliban.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk publicly about the aid relationship ahead of Sharif's visit. They said the money would start reaching Pakistan in 2014 but take several years to disburse fully.
In its notifications to Congress, the department described fighting terrorism as a mutual concern but said little about the will of Pakistan's government, army and intelligence services to crack down on militant groups that often have operated with impunity in Pakistan while wreaking havoc on US and international forces across the border in Afghanistan.
Top American officials have regularly questioned Pakistan's commitment to counterterrorism. In 2011, Admiral Mike Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described the militant Haqqani network as a "veritable arm" of Pakistani intelligence. Lawmakers and administration officials have cited Pakistani support for the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba and other militant groups. In September, the administration sent officials from multiple agencies for closed-doors briefings with the House and Senate foreign relations committees, officials and congressional aides said.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee has cleared all of the notifications. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is reviewing a $280m chunk of military financing, Senate aides said. Aides spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk publicly on the matter.
While Washington has publicly challenged Islamabad to step up its fight against militant groups, Pakistan's biggest complaint has been the huge surge in drone strikes on terrorist targets, which Pakistanis see as violations of their sovereignty. The number of attacks has dropped dramatically this year.
The countries say they are now moving past the flaps and mishaps that soured their partnership in recent years. During an August trip to Pakistan, the secretary of state, John Kerry, announced the restart of a high-level "strategic dialogue" with Pakistan on fighting terrorism, controlling borders and fostering investment.
Among the economic aid programmes included in the US package, support for the Diamer-Basha dam near Pakistan's unresolved border with India has the potential for controversy and tremendous benefit.
Pakistan's government has been unable to secure money for the project from the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank is waiting to hear from the United States and India before providing financing to help construction. The dam faces massive funding shortfalls.
In its 24 July notification to Congress, USAID said the project could cost up to $15bn and take a decade to complete. The agency promised only to provide "financial and technical assistance" for studies, including on environmental and social aspects, while expressing hope the dam could be transformative for a country with chronic power shortages. State Department officials put the bill for the studies at $20m.
If the dam were ultimately built, USAID wrote, it could provide electricity for 60 million people and 1m acres of crop land, and provide a ready supply of water for millions more. It noted that Pakistani officials have sought American support at the "highest levels".
Despite amounting to just a small portion of the overall US aid package, congressional aides said Pakistan's government has lobbied particularly hard for the dam money to be unlocked.
Pakistan's embassy in Washington refused to comment on the aid or say if Sharif would bring up any specific programmes in talks at the White House.
October 19, 2013
Policing Village Moral Codes as Women Stream to India’s Cities
By ELLEN BARRY
ROHTAK, India — Meena, 20, was a village girl herself, so she can recognize the changes that come when girls from the village arrive in this city as students and take their first gulps of freedom.
Blue jeans, forbidden at home, are crammed into a corner of the backpack for a midday costume change. A cellphone is acquired and kept on silent.
She always tells them: You never know who might be watching. If word gets back to the village that a young woman has stepped across the village’s moral boundaries — it could be something as simple as being spotted chatting with a group of male students after class — her life could be upended in a day.
“I tell them, we have to be careful,” Meena said. “Maybe they are not aware that someone can watch them and go and report back.”
As young Indian women leave rural homes to finish their education in cities, often the first women in their families to do so, they act like college students everywhere, feeling out the limits of their independence. But here in the farming region of Haryana State, where medieval moral codes are policed by a network of male neighbors and relatives, the experience is a little different. There is always the danger that someone is quietly gathering information.
The old and new are continually rushing at each other in India, most starkly in places like Haryana, a largely rural, conservative state abutting New Delhi whose residents can commute 20 miles to work in nightclubs and office buildings. But their home villages are sleepy places, whose main streets are patrolled by glossy, lumbering black water buffalo.
The villages are ruled by khap panchayats, unelected all-male councils that wield strong control over social life, including women’s behavior. That job becomes much harder once the women have left for the city. When one khap leader listed city shops that were allowing young women to store mobile phones and change into Western clothes, another suggested posting informers outside the shops with cameras to capture photographic evidence as women came and went.
Om Prakash Dhankar, a khap leader who voiced his support for this approach, said measures like these would protect young women from much worse dangers that might follow if they freely cultivated friendships with men.
“The mobile plays a main role,” he said in an interview. “You will be surprised how this happens. A girl sits on a bus, she calls a male friend, asks him to put money on her mobile. Is he going to put money on her mobile for free? No. He will meet her at a certain place, with five of his friends, and they will call it rape.”
A generation ago, women here lived in complete seclusion from men, and could appear in public only wearing a lightweight cloth that completely covered their head and face. Though that tradition is fading, many women are still not allowed to leave the house without permission from a father or husband.
Haryana’s khaps focus much of their energy on defending a single ancient prohibition: Men and women are not allowed to marry anyone from the same village. The local interpretation of ancient Hindu texts holds villagers to be brothers and sisters, rendering their unions incestuous. Young people defy the ban very rarely, but those who do are sometimes murdered by a gang of male relatives. As much as the khaps condemn these “honor killings,” they are just as adamant about preventing these romances, a quest that involves tight control over women.
Meena, who left her village several years ago to escape an arranged marriage, said young women there were terrified of the elders in the khap, who scrutinized their behavior and issued a steady stream of criticism. The criticism, in turn, terrified her parents, who feared being ostracized.
“They would say, ‘Why is your daughter going around in the village with her head naked?’ ” she said. “If you were walking with your head straight, the khap guys would say, ‘Look down at the ground, don’t make eye contact. Don’t have irrelevant conversations.’ ”
Whether their influence extends to college women in Rohtak, one of Haryana’s largest cities, is another matter.
As young women poured out of the gates of Maharishi Dayanand University recently, walking down the road in the golden light of afternoon, they described the alchemy that takes place when young women from the village mix with classmates from big cities. Some begin illicit romances, something strictly forbidden at home. But for many, the changes are modest ones.
“In the cities, the girls have phones, because parents provide them, but in the village we are not given phones,” said Sunita Meham, 23. “She comes to college and sees that other people are using phones, so she also wants to use one. If her parents agree, and if her friends call her on that phone, they say, ‘Why do you have so many friends?’ To save herself all these questions, she has a secret phone.”
Satish, who runs a photocopy shop next to the college, said the khaps are simply too far away to monitor students’ behavior. Phones are often exchanged as gifts and kept secret from the family, he said. “Generally,” he said, “everyone around here has two mobiles at least.”
Sonal Dangi, 20, shrugged off the talk of tighter controls. Social change had taken hold in Haryana, she said, and it could not be halted.
“Everything has its positive and negative sides,” she said. “But they can’t stop it.”
But others were far more wary. The moral arbiters from the village have informers everywhere, Meena said. Police officers often work with the khap, many said. A young man from the same village might report back to a woman’s family if he spotted her walking with a man, others said. So could the rickshaw driver who drove her to the city.
All the young women interviewed in Rohtak could reel off stories of classmates who simply disappeared, withdrew from school and were swiftly married to men of their parents’ choosing after word of a moral infraction reached their village.
The possibility of violence ran like a thin blade through their chatter: Just last month, a young man and woman studying in Rohtak were killed in public by the woman’s relatives after they were discovered violating the ban on same-village romance. The man was beheaded.
“You know,” said Puja, a 19-year-old student, “the first time the parents hear that the girl is roaming around, either they take her home and get her married or else they kill them.”
Even within the khap panchayats, there seemed to be little consensus on how, or whether, to keep an eye on young women away from home. In interviews, numerous local khap leaders scoffed at Mr. Dhankar’s notion of placing surveillance units at places where young women change out of their traditional, billowing clothes.
But Mr. Dhankar was undaunted, saying the photographs could be shown to the girls’ parents, or to friendly police officers, who could threaten to press trumped-up criminal charges unless the behavior stopped. Great dangers await, Mr. Dhankar said, when a young woman keeps secrets from her family.
“It starts with a small lie,” he said. “Then they get into borrowing money and other bad things. The end result is that she will commit suicide or someone else will kill her.”
As he was explaining this, his daughter, a high school science teacher in her early 40s, chimed in with a robustly dissenting view, and Mr. Dhankar admitted cheerfully that the women in his house generally ignore what he says.
Growing serious, he added that it was misguided to see any collision of interests between young women and the traditionalists in the village. They are, he said, on the same team.
“As long as the girl lives within moral codes, she can have as much freedom as she wants,” he said. “If they are going after love affairs or extra freedom, then they are killed.”
Delhi hospitals overflow with victims of mysterious dengue fever epidemic
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, October 20, 2013 8:58 EDT
Factory worker Mohammad Awwal is gripped by fever, sweats and the sort of agonising aches that mean his condition is sometimes called “breakbone disease”. It’s an annual plague in India and a hidden epidemic, say experts.
Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne disease with no known cure or vaccination that strikes fear into the citizens of New Delhi when it arrives with the monsoon rains — just as the scorching heat of the summer is subsiding.
Hospital wards are overwhelmed and tales abound of deaths and cases while New Delhi public authorities insist that only 3,500 have fallen sick so far this year — with only five fatalities.
“I took him first to a government hospital. I was shocked to see that it was packed with dengue patients. There was not even a single bed available,” said Awwal’s mother, Mehrunissa, sitting in her one-room shack in east Delhi.
She is now treating him at their home, giving him multi-vitamins, paracetamol and water as he lies on the floor with two pillows and a bedsheet but no mattress.
In a sign that this year’s outbreak could be as bad as record-breaking 2010, the city’s largest public hospital, Hindu Rao, announced earlier this month that it had suspended all routine surgeries to make room for more dengue patients.
The Delhi government has blamed prolonged monsoons for the hike in infections, but says it has added beds at hospitals and increased resources for spraying insecticides to tackle the mosquito menace.
“It’s nothing to worry about, there is no crisis,” Charan Singh, additional director of Delhi health services, told AFP, dismissing allegations that the city of 17 million under-reports the problem.
“It is a lot of hype going on… The government is in action and we report all cases according to international guidelines,” he added.
The virus — first detected in the 1950s in the Philippines and Thailand — affects two million people across the globe annually, with the number of cases up 30 times in the last 50 years, according to the World Health Organisation.
Transmitted to humans by the female Aedes aegypti mosquito, it causes high fever, headaches, itching and joint pains that last about a week. There are four strains, one of which can cause fatal internal bleeding.
In India, cases have increased sharply over the last five years — there have been 38,000 so far in 2013 — but doctors say these numbers only capture part of the problem.
At the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), India’s most prestigious public hospital, doctors are overwhelmed by patients whose beds are squeezed together like Tetris tiles in the emergency ward with saline drips nailed to the walls.
Medics, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that they were seeing 60 new dengue patients a day — an influx they suspected was not reflected in the official figures.
“Maybe it’s because they don’t want to create panic or because they don’t want to be blamed, but if they hide, people won’t know how bad the situation is,” said one doctor.
The former health chief at the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) said that only positive results from one of the two standard dengue tests — known as ELISA test — was registered.
“There is gross under-reporting of these cases every year. I believe the real numbers are always three times higher than those projected by the MCD,” V.K. Monga told AFP.
Sandeep Budhiraja, internal medicines director at private Max Healthcare hospital in Delhi, blamed city authorities for failing to be prepared and said cases would only decline with the onset of winter next month.
“It’s an epidemic that hits the country every year, yet there is never any preparedness by officials. It just keeps getting worse,” said Budhiraja, adding that Max had opened its fever wards to accommodate dengue patients.
While dengue is painful and debilitating, death is usually rare but patients are vulnerable to other fatal viral infections during or shortly after the time of illness.
There is still no specific treatment, but last year French healthcare giant Sanofi Pasteur said it would begin tests for a dengue vaccine in India before making it available internationally by 2015.
A leading Brazilian biomedical research institute, Butantan, also said last month it was working on a new dengue vaccine that they hoped would be ready by 2018.
British firm Oxitec has also created genetically modified sterile male Aedes mosquitoes – what they call “birth control for insects” – but met with severe criticism for releasing unnatural species into the environment.
The only defence so far is preventive steps, like removing stagnant water near residential areas, spraying insecticide, applying mosquito repellent and wearing long sleeves and trousers.
Many victims in India gulp down papaya-leaf juice believing it to boost blood platelet levels, which are decimated by the virus.
“It is a largely preventive, self-limiting virus, but we still hardly invest in research for treatments,” said Budhiraja from Max Healthcare.
“There are only some vaccines being tried out, but no luck yet.”
In Ulan Bator, winter stoves fuel a smog responsible for one in 10 deaths
Mongolia's capital is the coldest in the world – and in its tented slums, pollution from traditional heating is a killer. But change is on the way
The Observer, Sunday 20 October 2013
They call Mongolia the "land of blue sky"; its spectacular desert, forest and grasslands are blessed by sun for two-thirds of the year. But climb to a snow-dusted hilltop overlooking Ulan Bator and you see a thick grey band hanging over the city. In the coming weeks, as temperatures plummet, the smog will spread across the streets and into homes, shutting out the light.
While Beijing's "airpocalypse" has made headlines worldwide, it pales beside the haze of the Mongolian capital. Ulan Bator is the world's second-most polluted city, superseded only by Ahvaz in Iran, according to World Health Organisation research.
Pollution is a common problem for quickly developing countries. But the biggest issue is not the smokestacks on the horizon – Mongolia's manufacturing sector remains minute – nor the vehicles jamming the capital's streets. Rather, it is the collision of urbanisation and traditional culture: 60-70% of winter pollution comes from the old-fashioned stoves heating the circular felt tents or gers that sprawl across the slopes around the city.
More than half of the city's 1.2 million inhabitants live in the impoverished ger districts, burning coal, wood and sometimes rubbish to cook and keep warm. Ulan Bator is the world's chilliest capital, with temperatures dipping as low as -40C in January.
"As soon as people start getting cold they start up their stoves, and that's when the smog begins. It looks like thick fog and every year it's getting worse. It's only a bit of an exaggeration to say you could get lost in it," said Otgonsetseg Lodoisambuu, who lives in a district to the north of the city with his children. "The little one stays inside all the time in the winter, but my older son is in first grade now, so we have to take him to school; I just put a scarf over his face. The only time it's OK to let the kids out is between one and two in the afternoon, when people let their fires die down because they have finished cooking.
"In the morning it hurts my throat as soon as I go outside. It must be hurting my lungs, too."
Ulan Bator's pollutant levels of PM2.5 – tiny particulate matter, which can penetrate deep into lungs – are six or seven times higher than the WHO's most lenient air-quality guidelines for developing countries. The result, say researchers, is that one in every 10 deaths is caused by air pollution – on their most conservative estimate.
Ryan Allen, of Simon Fraser University, in Canada, who led the study, said the true figure could be as high as one in five. The study did not consider the effects of indoor air pollution, excluded the deaths of those aged under 30 and was based on data from a centrally located government monitoring site, in a relatively less polluted area of the city.
He and his Mongolian co-researchers are now studying how pollution affects foetuses and whether using air filters could reduce the impact; Ulan Bator's public health institute has warned of a sharp increase in birth defects in the capital as well as a 45% rise in the number of patients with respiratory illnesses between 2004 and 2008. The World Bank has estimated that pollution-related health problems cost the country £290m annually.
Dr Byambaa Onio, vice-director of the Bayanzurkh district hospital, arrived in the capital 46 years ago, when it was "a nice, clean city"; now the pollution levels are "disastrous", he said – and are producing a growing number of patients.
Like many of the capital's residents, he and his wife rarely open the windows in winter. But when they set up an air purifier at home, to test how severe the problem had become, they were shocked to see how dirty the filter became in just two days. "We've continued to use the purifiers, so my wife and I are breathing clean air – but others don't," he said.
Nor do others have the option to buy their children masks and decamp to a home outside the city at weekends, as the couple do, he notes. The residents of ger districts are hit twice over: pollution levels can be double those of the city centre, and they cannot afford to take evasive measures.
Joint research by the World Bank and National University of Mongolia suggests that halving ger stove emissions could cut year-round levels of the larger PM10 particles by a third. Foreign donors and Mongolian authorities have spent millions of dollars subsidising the distribution of 128,000 "clean" stoves in the last year and attempting to step up the production of clean fuels.
Galimbyek Khaltai, deputy head of the city's air pollution agency, says PM2.5 levels have already fallen by around 25% since the programme began. Other experts believe it is too early to judge its effectiveness because the monitoring network is not rigorous enough and unusually high levels of wind and snow last year are likely to have affected data.
Jugder Batmunkh is one of the keenest advocates of the stove replacement project. The 63-year-old is raising her grandchildren in a ger district to the north of the capital; last year she developed asthma, which her doctor blamed on pollution.
Disposing of the ashes from gers is easier and cleaner with the new model. When you take the cover off, the ger does not fill with smoke as it tended to do before. But the biggest advantage for her is its efficiency: it uses just half as much coal. Her family burn through just one bag a day now, saving themselves perhaps 45,000 tugriks (£16) a month – in an area where the average income is around 600,000 tugriks.
Most of her neighbours in Bhayan Khoshuu have bought the appliances, but not all are so enthusiastic. Some have heard rumours that the new stoves might explode; others are unimpressed by their performance.
Twenty-two-year-old Nadmid Rentsenosor's recent purchase is standing idle. "It takes too long to heat up, so it warms the place much more slowly – we are still using the old one instead," she said.
The city is launching a two-month campaign to show people how to use the stoves and minimise emissions. But even if officials can persuade everyone to adapt, the resulting fall in pollution will be vulnerable to fresh shifts in Ulan Bator's development. As its economy grows, construction projects are under way around the city, churning up dust, and more vehicles sit in traffic jams on the streets. The city's population continues to swell and another bitter winter could bring a fresh surge of migrants to the ger districts; many of the current residents moved to the capital from desperation when their livestock died in extreme weather conditions.
"Clean stoves reduce air pollution, but that's a short-term project. Our long-term project has to be to build affordable apartments," said Galimbyek of the air pollution agency.
The scale of demand is daunting and the quality of new buildings will be as important as the quality. Much of the city's housing dates from the Soviet era: it lacks double glazing and in many cases has just 5mm of basic polystyrene insulation on the concrete walls, said Graham McDarby of Gradon Architecture, a British firm now working on flats in the city. Raising current building standards to European levels could dramatically improve energy efficiency. "If you've got quality insulation and it's air-tight, the family in there will generate enough heat," he said.
The country also has its first wind farm, not far from the capital. There are ambitious plans for a new subway system, which should help cut traffic pollution.
But the ultimate problem, said Galimbyek, was that there were simply too many people in the capital: its size has tripled since 1979 and it has over a third of the country's population. It is where all the universities are located, and much of Mongolia's employment. To make Ulan Bator a healthier place, he believes, it has to stop mushrooming, which means that rural areas have to be developed instead. That might sound like a radical prescription, but drastic changes are needed. "For years we thought the effects of air pollution fell on a straight line: if you reduced it by 10 units, it didn't matter whether you were at the higher or lower end. What we seem to be learning more recently is that it is a curve, not a straight line, and actually you get the biggest bang for your buck in lower [pollution] conditions," said Allen.
"In a city like Ulan Bator you would actually need to have quite a dramatic reduction in air pollution before you started to see really good improvements in public health."
October 19, 2013
Outspoken Chinese Professor Says He Was Dismissed
By CHRIS BUCKLEY
HONG KONG — A politically outspoken Chinese economist, Xia Yeliang, will lose his professorship at Peking University, one of China’s most prestigious and internationally prominent schools, after a committee voted to dismiss him, Professor Xia said on Saturday. The decision came after months of contention over his future, which his supporters have said reflects the Communist Party’s efforts to deter liberal political views on campuses.
Professor Xia said the School of Economics at the university notified him on Friday that an evaluation committee had voted last week against renewing his contract, which runs out in late January. The Associated Press previously reported the decision.
“To me, the decision is deeply unreasonable, but there’s little I can do,” Professor Xia said in a telephone interview. On Friday, he said, “a head of the school told me that if I keep saying to the international media that this is a political case, not an academic one, then my situation will become even worse.” He declined to name the faculty leader.
Professor Xia, 53, must now find new work, with virtually no prospect that another Chinese university will dare to employ him.
The decision may complicate Peking University’s extensive ties with universities and academics in the United States and elsewhere. Repeated calls to the university’s School of Economics and Office of International Relations were not answered on Saturday, which was not a working day in China.
China has plenty of academic economists who, like Professor Xia, favor unfettered free markets and see them as allied to liberal democracy. But more than others, Professor Xia has spoken out in support of democratization and against the Communist Party’s restrictions. He believes that is why the university decided against him, although, he said, university leaders had not spelled that out in discussions over his impending dismissal.
Last year, Professor Xia issued a call on the Internet for Chinese intellectuals to gather in public spaces to discuss and promote political reform. Before that, he mocked a propaganda minister for having a degree from a technical school.
In 2008, he put his name to a petition demanding sweeping political changes that would amount to an end to one-party rule. Liu Xiaobo, one of the main organizers of that petition, Charter 08, was arrested soon after it appeared and is serving an 11-year sentence on subversion charges. Mr. Liu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010.
Peking University, in the northwest corner of Beijing, has traditionally been among China’s more liberal campuses, but like all universities in the country it comes under party control. Senior appointments are made by the party’s organization department, and a network of party committees operates throughout the campus.
Peking University also has an abundance of international partners. American schools with ties to it include Stanford University, which opened a research center on the Peking University campus last year, as well as Cornell and Yale.
The threat to Professor Xia’s job had already aroused opposition abroad. Last month, more than 130 faculty members at Wellesley College signed a petition urging their school to reconsider its partnership with Peking University if he was dismissed. Professor Xia said universities would have to decide for themselves what to do.
“My personal view is that I wouldn’t like to see this incident lead to American universities stopping exchanges or cooperation with Chinese universities,” he said. “That wouldn’t help Chinese students and academics.”
Professor Xia said he would finish teaching two courses before his contract expired and was not sure what work he could find after that.
“In China, life can be a very big headache without a work unit,” he said. “I told my wife not to fret. Something will come up.”
October 18, 2013
Wave of High-Profile Crimes Has Put Malaysians on the Defensive
By THOMAS FULLER
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia’s population has tripled over the past four decades. Its largest city, Kuala Lumpur, a place once so sparsely populated that it looked like a botanical garden, has exploded into a cosmopolitan metropolis of shopping malls, luxury hotels and sprawling suburbs.
But with modernity and urbanization came an unwanted corollary: a soaring crime rate that has blighted Kuala Lumpur, previously considered one of Asia’s safest cities, and other urban areas across Peninsular Malaysia. It is hard to find someone in Kuala Lumpur today who does not have a story about a purse snatching, a burglary or worse.
“Whatever defense we put up is not enough,” said Chong Kon Wah, a British-trained engineer who was burglarized twice at his home in the Kuala Lumpur suburbs and robbed once while in his car — all within 10 days in August.
Residents in middle-class and wealthy neighborhoods have begun to gate their communities, often without local government permission. And the demand for personal guards has soared, with the number of certified security companies nationwide more than tripling over the past decade to 712 from 200, according to the Security Services Association of Malaysia, which trains guards.
Last month, the United States Embassy in Kuala Lumpur sent a warning to American citizens here: “Remember to carry your backpack or purse on the shoulder AWAY from the road to prevent having it snatched by motorbikers.”
The possible reasons for a higher crime rate are a matter of debate — some say the country’s ethnic-based policies that favor majority Malays are partly to blame; others say the police force is corrupt and ineffectual. Even the extent of the crime wave in this country of 29 million people is in question.
Despite the widely held perception of a sustained crime wave, the government says that after doubling from 2000 to 2009, the number of reported cases of violent crime nationwide has declined sharply since then. Government officials say they have achieved the drop by adding police officers on the streets and security cameras and barriers along roads to deter thefts by people on motorbikes, as well as by studying policing methods in cities like New York.
But a series of high-profile crimes this year — including some against government officials or their relatives — have led the authorities to begin to acknowledge the depth of the problem. Since August, the police have arrested more than 11,000 people suspected of being gang members. And in a reversal of earlier changes meant to shed some of the country’s authoritarian legacy, the government last month passed laws that would give the police the authority to detain suspects without trial.
As worries rise, the opposition says the government is manipulating the statistics. Critics note that, after years of providing the public with data on murders, rapes, thefts and other crimes, the government has changed the way it presents crime statistics, focusing on what it calls “index crimes” rather than giving a detailed accounting. Tony Pua, an opposition member of Parliament, said he had “no confidence at all” that the figures were accurate.
The Malaysian government has also stopped providing crime statistics to the United Nations, according to Enrico Bisogno, the official responsible for compiling crime data at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
But in response to a request from The New York Times, the Malaysian police provided detailed crime statistics that show the number of homicides over the past 12 years has remained relatively unchanged at about 600 a year. The data also show wide swings in some categories of crime, including a reduction in robberies using a firearm to 17 cases in 2012, from 722 cases nationwide in 2000. Another category, gang robbery, fell to 110 cases in 2012, from a high of 1,809 in 2010.
One crime that did show a steep rise was rape, with the number reported from 2000 to 2012 doubling to 2,964 cases.
Teh Yik Koon, a criminologist at the National Defense University of Malaysia, says it is widely accepted that crime rates are higher than reported, and she says one problem is a sense of hopelessness that the police can solve crimes.
“There are a lot of people not reporting crimes,” she said, “because they feel there’s nothing the police can do.”
In a country that has long relied on foreign visitors — investors and tourists — for a good share of its economic growth, Malaysia’s paternalistic government had consistently minimized the crime problem.
“If you try to make a fuss out of one or two cases, it will only worsen the situation and create a picture that the country is not safe,” Hishammuddin Hussein, who was home minister at the time, said last year.
But in the months since Mr. Hishammuddin made those comments, the string of high-profile cases in Kuala Lumpur and other cities has brought crime to the top of the political agenda.
Close relatives of the deputy prime minister and the chief of police were burglarized in separate crimes last May. The former head of a local bank was killed in July, and a top executive of one of the country’s most successful companies, AirAsia, was killed during a robbery in August.
When the house of Khairy Jamaluddin, a prominent politician and government minister, was burglarized in June, Malaysians got the straight talk from a government official many had been hoping for.
“The burglary is a reminder to all of us that crime is a serious problem in Malaysia,” Mr. Khairy wrote on his Facebook page.
This month, the home minister, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, highlighted the government’s new get-tough approach in a speech in which he said it would “no longer compromise” with criminals, according to the news Web site Malaysiakini.
And in comments that drew outrage from the opposition, he said the police should “get the evidence” and “shoot first.”
Human rights groups say they are alarmed by a number of recent cases of criminal suspects who died in police custody.
Critics of the government’s approach say that amid what they call an obfuscation of crime statistics and the sudden crackdown, any real discussion of the roots of Malaysia’s crime problem is being lost.
They blame not only a police force that they view as corrupt and ineffectual, but also income inequality and the alienation of ethnic Indians who represent 7 percent of the country’s population, yet, according to the police, make up two-thirds of gang members.
Some suggest the government needs to modify the country’s seemingly inviolable preferential policies for Malays, who receive scholarships, cheaper housing and government contracts as part of a policy dating from the 1970s.
Ahmad Ghazali Abu Hassan, a professor at the National Defense University of Malaysia, says the system of preferences for Malays “should be modified to address inequality within our society, without identifying race.”
Particularly in need of help, he said, were ethnic Indians. “I still believe that poverty is the root cause of this,” he said.
As the debates continue, Malaysians have begun trying to protect themselves.
Mr. Chong, the engineer who was burglarized twice, helped pay for a guard booth and two security guards for his neighborhood several years ago. Thieves stole the television inside the booth while the guards were on patrol.
“We told the police, ‘This is serious. The thieves are everywhere,’ ” he said. “ ‘Something has to be done.’ ”
A restaurant across from Kuala Lumpur’s domestic airport hired an armed security guard in May to deter would-be thieves after attacks on several restaurants in the area.
“A lot of people think it’s a gimmick,” said Terence Wong, the restaurant’s manager. “It’s too expensive to be a gimmick. And my customers say they feel more secure.”