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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1084209 times)
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« Reply #9450 on: Oct 20, 2013, 08:07 AM »

Saving the planet from short-term thinking will take ‘man on the moon’ commitment

By Larry Elliott, The Guardian
Sunday, October 20, 2013 9:47 EDT

“We choose to go to the moon.” So said John F Kennedy in September 1962 as he pledged a manned lunar landing by the end of the decade.

The US president knew that his country’s space programme would be expensive. He knew it would have its critics. But he took the long-term view. Warming to his theme in Houston that day, JFK went on: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

That was the world’s richest country at the apogee of its power in an age where both Democrats and Republicans were prepared to invest in the future. Kennedy’s predecessor Dwight Eisenhower took a plan for a system of interstate highways and made sure it happened.

Contrast that with today’s America, which looks less like the leader of the free world than a banana republic with a reserve currency. Planning for the long term now involves last ditch deals on Capitol Hill to ensure that the federal government can remain open until January and debts can be paid at least until February.

The US is not the only country with advanced short-termism; it merely provides the most egregious example of the disease. This is a world of fast food and short attention spans; of politicians so dominated by a 24/7 news agenda that they have lost the habit of planning for the long term. Britain provides another example of the trend. Governments of both left and right have for years put energy policy in the “too hard to think about box”. They have not been able to make up their minds whether to commit to renewables (which is what Germany has done) or to nuclear (which is what the French have done). As a result, the nation of Rutherford is now prepared to have a totalitarian country take a majority stake in a new generation of nuclear power stations.

Politics, technology and human nature all militate in favour of kicking the can down the road. The most severe financial and economic crisis in more than half a century has further discouraged policymakers from raising their eyes from the present to the distant horizon.

Clearly, though, the world faces long-term challenges that will only become more acute through prevarication. These include coping with a bigger and ageing global population; ensuring growth is sustainable and equitable; providing the resources to pay for modern transport and energy infrastructure; and reshaping international institutions so that they represent the world as it is in the early 21st century rather than as it was in 1945.

Pascal Lamy had a stab at tackling some of these difficult issues last week when he presented the findings of the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations, which the former World Trade Organisation chief has been chairing for the past year.

The commission’s report, Now for the Long Term, looks at some of so-called megatrends that will shape the world in the decades to come, and lists the challenges under five headings: society; resources; health; geopolitics and governance.

Change will be difficult, the study suggests, because problems are complex, institutions are inadequate, faith in politicians is low, and short-termism is well-entrenched. It cites examples of collective success – such as the Montreal convention to prevent ozone depletion, the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals, and the G20 action to prevent the great recession of 2008-09 turning into a full-blown global slump. It also cites examples of collective failure, such as depletion of fish stocks and the deadlocked Copenhagen climate change summit of 2009.

The report comes up with a range of long-term ideas worthy of serious consideration. It urges a coalition between the G20, 30 companies and 40 cities to spearhead the fight against climate change; it would like “sunset clauses” for all publicly funded international institutions to ensure they are fit for purpose; the removal of perverse subsidies on hydrocarbons and agriculture, with the money redirected to the poor; the introduction of CyberEx, an early warning platform aimed at preventing cyber-attacks; a Worldstat statistical agency to collect and ensure the quality of data; and investment in the younger generation through conditional cash transfers and job guarantees.

Lamy expressed concern that the ability to address challenges is being undermined by the absence of a “collective vision for society”. The purpose of the report, he said, was to build “a chain from knowledge to awareness to mobilising political energy to action”.

Full marks for trying, but this is easier said than done. Take trade, where Lamy has spent the past decade, first as Europe’s trade commissioner then as head of the WTO, trying to piece together a new multilateral deal. This is an area in which all 150-plus WTO members agree in principle about the need for greater liberalisation but in which it has proved impossible to reach agreement in talks that started in 2001.

Nor will a shake-up of the international institutions be plain sailing. It is a given that developing countries, especially the bigger ones such as China, India and Brazil, should have a bigger say in the way the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are run. Yet it has proved hard to persuade countries in the developed world to cede some of their voting rights and the deal is still being held up owing to foot-dragging by the US. These, remember, are the low hanging fruit.

Another conclave of the global great and good is looking at what should be done in one of the much tricker areas, climate change. The premise of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate is that nothing will be done unless finance ministers are convinced of the need for action, especially given the damage caused by a deep recession and sluggish recovery. Instead of preaching to the choir, the plan is to show how to achieve key economic objectives – growth, investment, secure public finances, fairer distribution of income – while protecting the planet. The pitch to finance ministers will be that tackling climate change will require plenty of upfront investment that will boost growth rather than harm it.

Will this approach work? Well, maybe. But it will require business to see the long-term benefits of greening the economy as well as the short-term costs, because that would lead to the burst of technological innovation needed to accelerate progress. And it will require the same sort of commitment it took to win a world war or put a man on the moon. © Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #9451 on: Oct 20, 2013, 08:08 AM »

The stomach-turning truth about what the Neanderthals ate

By Robin McKie, The Observer
Sunday, October 20, 2013 7:31 EDT

The idea of these early humans being plant-eating, self-medicating sophisticates has been brought into question

It was the tell-tale tartar on the teeth that told the truth. Or at least, that is what it appeared to do. Researchers – after studying calcified plaque on Neanderthal fossil teeth found in El Sidrón cave in Spain – last year concluded that members of this extinct human species cooked vegetables and consumed bitter-tasting medicinal plants such as chamomile and yarrow.

These were not brainless carnivores, in other words. These were smart and sensitive people capable of providing themselves with balanced diets and of treating themselves with health-restoring herbs, concluded the researchers, led by Karen Hardy at the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies in Barcelona. Our vision of these long-extinct people needs adjusting, they argued.

But now this tale of ancient tartar has taken a new twist with two researchers at London’s Natural History Museum challenging the Barcelona group’s conclusions. Dental research does not prove that Neanderthals were self-medicating, vegetable-eating sophisticates, one told the Observer. There are other, equally valid but decidedly more grizzly explanations to account for those microscopic fragments of herbs and plants found in Neanderthal teeth.

In a paper by Laura Buck and Chris Stringer and published in the latest edition of Quaternary Science Reviews, Stringer argues that the tiny pieces of plant found in Neanderthal teeth could have come from a very different source. They may well have become embedded in the stomach contents of deer, bison and other herbivores that had then been hunted and eaten by Neanderthals.

“Many hunter-gatherers, including the Inuit, Cree and Blackfeet, eat the stomach contents of animals such as deer because they are good source of vitamin C and trace elements,” said Stringer. “For example, among the Inuit, the stomach contents of an animal are considered a special delicacy with a consistency and a flavour that is not unlike cream cheese. At least that is what I am told.”

The crucial point about the stomach contents of grazing animals is that they are filled with fragments of the plants that those herbivores had consumed shortly before they were stalked and killed. When those contents are then chewed and eaten, the tiny pieces of grass and herbs are transferred to their hunter’s teeth and get embedded there. Then, when their devourers are themselves killed, or die of natural causes, shortly afterwards, those plant fragments are preserved in their teeth for later analysis by modern palaeontologists. “The mistake is to think that because you find plant fragments in teeth that they must have got there because these carnivores – in this case Neanderthals – had consumed them as part of a carefully constructed diet or were taken because it was realised that certain herbs and grasses had health-promoting properties,” added Buck. “In fact, they may have got there purely because Neanderthals liked to eat the stomach contents of some of the animals they killed.”

This point is backed by Stringer. “Neanderthals lived in Europe during many cold periods and it is interesting to note that many modern human hunter-gatherers who eat stomach contents today, such as the Inuit, also live in northerly regions. It is a behaviour often displayed by a cold-adapted species, in other words. And if you have gone to the time and trouble of hunting a large herbivore, you would not miss out on a nutritious part such as the stomach.”

However, Stringer and Buck stress that they are not arguing that Neanderthals definitely did not eat vegetables or could not have used certain herbs as medicines. “What we are saying is that the evidence of plant fragments in Neanderthal teeth is simply not strong enough to prove that they did so. There are other explanations, including the proposal that they ate these organs of the animals they killed. They had the stomach for it, if you want to put it that way.”

Chris Stringer is the chief scientific consultant for the exhibition Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story, which opens at the Natural History Museum, London, in February 2014 © Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #9452 on: Oct 20, 2013, 08:32 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

October 19, 2013

High School Sexual Assault Case Is Revisited, Haunting Missouri Town


MARYVILLE, Mo. — The mayor of this small manufacturing town in northwest Missouri hardly blinks an eye these days when he gets an e-mail that calls him an unflattering name in the subject line. Those tend to be the tame ones. Others cut much deeper.

“ ‘May you never sleep at night again, and may your soul burn eternally in hell’ — that’s commonplace now,” said the mayor, Jim Fall, recalling one of the hundreds of messages that flooded his in-box last week.

Ever since The Kansas City Star ran a long article last Sunday raising new questions about the Nodaway County prosecutor’s decision to drop charges against a 17-year-old football player accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl, the simplicity of small-town life here has been complicated by a storm of negative attention.

Some of the furor was tempered last week when the prosecutor, Robert L. Rice, asked a judge to appoint a special prosecutor to take a new look at the case. But the request is pending, and tensions remain high.

Local officials (even some, like Mr. Fall, who have nothing to do with the case), families and students say they have received threats. Businesses say customers have stayed away to avoid the reporters from around the globe. The Sheriff’s Department has taken down its Web site because of hacking threats.

And so a town of about 12,000, whose high school football team was praised a few years back for allowing a boy with Down syndrome to score a touchdown, now finds itself facing threats and scorn.

“Doesn’t matter how you view the situation happened,” said Steve Klotz, the assistant superintendent for the Maryville School District. “We’re all now in a position where we have an uneasy feeling about what does this mean for our town.”

The case resembles an episode in Steubenville, Ohio, in which two high school football players were convicted this year of raping a drunken girl at a party.

In that case, and in this, much of the outrage has been driven by social media, with the hacking collective Anonymous among the most vocal players, lashing out against people that it believes have failed or mistreated the accuser. The group has organized a rally to be held here on Tuesday. The accuser, Daisy Coleman, now 16, has spoken out publicly in the hope that she can help garner enough support to have her case reconsidered.

The community was shocked almost two years ago when Matt Barnett, then a senior at Maryville High School and the grandson of a once-prominent local politician, was arrested in January 2012 on charges that he had sex with Ms. Coleman, a freshman who the authorities said had been too drunk to consent. Under Missouri law, consensual sex between Mr. Barnett and Ms. Coleman would not be statutory rape because he was under 21 and she was at least 14. Two other boys were arrested — one, a 15-year-old, on charges that he sexually assaulted a 13-year-old girl, and another 17-year-old on charges that he filmed Mr. Barnett and Ms. Coleman.

The authorities had alleged that Ms. Coleman and a friend had been drinking before they sneaked out of Ms. Coleman’s house late that frigid night in January and went to Mr. Barnett’s home, where he was hanging out with several friends. Ms. Coleman said in an interview that she drank a clear liquid in a tall glass when she arrived and could not remember anything after that.

Eyewitness accounts say that Ms. Coleman went into a room with Mr. Barnett and that she had to be carried out afterward because she was so drunk, although one of Mr. Barnett’s friends told the police that the pair went into a room on two separate occasions and that it was only after the second time that Ms. Coleman could not walk on her own.

The 13-year-old went into a different room with the 15-year-old boy. He admitted to having sex with her even though she said no, according to the authorities. (His case went to juvenile court.)

Mr. Barnett and his friends drove Ms. Coleman and her friend back to her house. Melinda Coleman, Ms. Coleman’s mother, said she found her barely conscious in front of the house around 5 a.m., wearing sweat pants and a T-shirt. She called the police, and her daughter was taken to the hospital, where she was found to have a blood-alcohol level of 0.13 percent, well above the legal limit for driving.

Mr. Barnett admitted to having sex with Ms. Coleman but said it was consensual and disputed the claim that he had left her out in the cold in front of her house.

It didn’t take long for the town to take sides.

Ms. Coleman said she was harassed at school and on Facebook and Twitter. In one instance, she said, she was walking to the bathroom at school when a boy popped into the hallway and yelled “Liar!” at her.

“We had a handful of people that were really good to us, and we had a handful of people that just completely stayed out of it,” Ms. Coleman said. “But then we had a large group of people that were not so kind towards us.”

Her mother chimed in: “I would say it was pretty split. The people that were against us were so aggressively against us and so verbal and so hateful.”

Unable to withstand the harassment, the Colemans, who had moved to Maryville after the death of Ms. Coleman’s father, returned to their hometown, Albany, about 30 miles away. Their house in Maryville burned down after they left, and the cause remains unknown.

Mr. Rice, who declined to be interviewed, dismissed the charges months after they were filed, saying Ms. Coleman and her mother had stopped cooperating, something they both denied.

Mr. Barnett’s lawyer, Robert Sundell, also declined to be interviewed but released a statement accusing Ms. Coleman of inconsistent testimony at a deposition and changing her story several times. Ms. Coleman says she never changed her account of what happened that night, and Sheriff Darren White agrees.

“I think that they have been fairly consistent with that portion of it,” he said. But Sheriff White, who said he believed that Ms. Coleman had been sexually assaulted, also blamed the dropping of the case on her lack of cooperation.

Adam Clark, 32, who has lived here for about a decade, said he and a friend drove to a town about 45 minutes away on a recent evening to see a movie, to “kind of get breathing space from all the activity, the negativity.”

He said he had not taken a side in the case and welcomed a re-examination. “One thing about us here,” he said, “if there’s a problem, we’ll fix it.”

Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.


October 19, 2013

Fiscal Crisis Sounds the Charge in G.O.P.’s ‘Civil War’


After the budget standoff ended in crushing defeat last week and the political damage reports began to pile up for Republicans, one longtime party leader after another stepped forward to chastise their less seasoned, Tea Party-inspired colleagues who drove the losing strategy.

“Let’s face it: it was not a good maneuver,” Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the senior Senate Republican and supporter of the deal that ended the showdown, said on Thursday in an interview from his Capitol Hill office. “And that’s when you’ve got to have the adults running the thing.”

Around the same time, roughly a thousand miles away in Mississippi, a 42-year-old Republican state senator, Chris McDaniel, was announcing his bid to take the seat held by one of those “adults” — Senator Thad Cochran, 75, a six-term incumbent and the very picture of the Republican old guard, whose vote to end the standoff Mr. McDaniel called “more of a surrender than a compromise.”

Insurgent conservative groups like the Senate Conservatives Fund, the Madison Project and the Club for Growth immediately announced their support for Mr. McDaniel, the chairman of the Mississippi State Senate’s Conservative Coalition and a former Christian-radio host, providing an early glimpse of what the next three years are likely to hold for the Republican Party.

The budget fight that led to the first government shutdown in 17 years did not just set off a round of recriminations among Republicans over who was to blame for the politically disastrous standoff. It also heralded a very public escalation of a far more consequential battle for control of the Republican Party, a confrontation between Tea Party conservatives and establishment Republicans that will play out in the coming Congressional and presidential primaries in 2014 and 2016 but has been simmering since President George W. Bush’s administration, if not before.

In dozens of interviews, elected officials, strategists and donors from both wings of the party were unusually blunt in drawing the intraparty battle lines, suggesting that the time for an open feud over the Republican future had arrived.

“It’s civil war in the G.O.P.,” said Richard Viguerie, a veteran conservative warrior who helped invent the political direct mail business.

The moment draws comparisons to some of the biggest fights of recent Republican Party history — the 1976 clash between the insurgent faction of activists who supported Ronald Reagan for president that year and the moderate party leaders who stuck by President Gerald R. Ford, and the split between the conservative Goldwater and moderate Rockefeller factions in 1964.

Some optimistic Republicans note that both of those campaigns planted the seeds for the conservative movement’s greatest success: Reagan’s 1980 election and two terms as president.

“The business community thought the supply-siders were nuts, and the country club Republicans thought the social conservatives scary,” William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, said of those squabbles. “That all worked out O.K.”

Far from being chastened by the failure to achieve any of the concessions they had sought from President Obama — primarily to roll back his signature health care law — the conservative activists who helped drive the confrontation in Congress and helped fuel support for the 144 House Republicans who voted against ending it are now intensifying their effort to rid the party of the sort of timorous Republicans who they said doomed their effort from the start.

“This was an inflection point because the gap between what people believe in their hearts and what they see in Washington is getting wider and wider,” said Jim DeMint, a former South Carolina senator and current Heritage Foundation president, who as a founder of the Senate Conservatives Fund is helping lead the insurgency.

Mr. DeMint, a sort of political godfather to the junior Republican representatives who engineered the health care fight and shutdown, said of his acolytes: “They represent the voices of a lot of Americans who really think it’s time to draw a line in the sand to stop this reckless spending and the growth of the federal government.”

But the party’s establishment leaders now have what they regard as proof that the activist wing’s tactics do not, and will not, work.

“The 20 or 30 members of the House who have been driving this aren’t a majority, and too often the strategy — the tactic — was ‘Let’s just lay down a marker and force people to be with us,’ ” said the senior Republican strategist Karl Rove. “Successful movements inside parties are movements that persuade people,” he added. “The question is, can they persuade? And thus far the jury’s out.”

Unlike in the last two elections when they were caught off guard by grass-roots primary candidates, who went on to lose otherwise winnable races, the establishment’s most powerful elements are going to try to pre-empt another round of embarrassing defeats.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will decide which candidates to support in the 2014 midterm elections based in part upon whether they voted for the deal on Wednesday to end the shutdown and raise the debt ceiling.

The leading establishment “super PAC” co-founded by Mr. Rove, American Crossroads, has already started a new initiative called the Conservative Victory Project that is quietly working to head off Republican challengers whose victories in primaries, in its determination, would put party seats — or potential party seats — at risk of falling to Democrats in general elections.

But the jockeying for supremacy is making some longtime Republican lawmakers uneasy. Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri said the internal squabbles could weaken the party’s ability to wage battles against Democrats.

“You just can’t win these fights over a long period of time if you’re fighting over how to have the fight,” he said.

At its heart, this fight is the latest chapter of a long-running struggle for dominance between a generally pro-business, center-right bloc that seeks to tame but not exactly dismantle Washington, and populist conservatives who call for more extreme measures to shrink government.

Though the election and re-election of Mr. Obama may have radicalized many conservatives, the base’s fury has its roots in the two terms of his predecessor, Mr. Bush, whose expansion of Medicare, proposed immigration overhaul and 2008 bank bailout left many conservatives distraught.

“People just saw a party that had wandered away from its soul,” said Michael A. Needham, the chief executive of Heritage Action, an offshoot of the Heritage Foundation and perhaps now the most influential lobby group among Congressional Republicans.

But the conservatives’ sense of disillusionment with the establishment did not translate into success in the 2008 or 2012 nomination fights. And the divergent reactions to Mitt Romney’s defeat at the hands of Mr. Obama last year reignited a debate from Mr. Obama’s defeat of Senator John McCain in 2008.

Some establishment Republicans argued that the primary season helped drive Mr. Romney to take more conservative positions than he otherwise would have on issues like immigration. Activists voting against him asserted that he lost because he did not truly embrace conservative principles.

That argument has resurfaced this year in the Virginia governor’s race. The state attorney general, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, a Tea Party enthusiast, is trailing Terry McAuliffe, a former Democratic national chairman, in every poll. And Republicans are already pointing to Mr. Cuccinelli’s strident views and the shutdown as the explanation for why the race may be out of reach.

Conservatives reject this line of thinking, arguing that Mr. Cuccinelli’s problem is that he drifted from his roots and ran an overly safe campaign on the economy without responding in kind to Democratic attacks on his social views.

For mainline Republicans, there is an obvious contrast: Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey is on track to win re-election in a landslide.

“Cuccinelli represents the party of no, and that’s not going to do so well in Virginia,” said Alex Castellanos, a longtime Republican strategist. “Christie is somebody who represents straight talk and a change from business as usual, and he’s going to do very well.”

A Focus on the Senate

The more important intraparty fight will begin playing out chiefly in Senate primaries next year, with the targeting of incumbents like Mr. Cochran; Mitch McConnell, the minority leader; Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; and perhaps Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Pat Roberts of Kansas.

Their perceived roles as moderating drags on Tea Party-inspired senators like Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah in the shutdown negotiations has galvanized conservative organizations to elect more such Republicans.

Mr. DeMint said he thought the power of the establishment and its corporate money was waning. “It’s harder to buy influence in Washington now,” he said.

That is certainly true in the House, the bulwark of Tea Party conservatism thanks to the overwhelmingly Republican nature of many of the districts and the less expensive campaigns necessary in them.

As the Republican retreat on the shutdown demonstrated, Mr. Cruz and Mr. Lee are very much outnumbered in the Senate.

“The lesson is, we need more reinforcements,” said Daniel Horowitz, an official with the Madison Project. Groups like his are more reliant on smaller dollar donations than their rivals. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Crossroads, for example, can summon large amounts from donors across the business spectrum, many of whom are expressing concern about the latest turn of events on Capitol Hill and are intent on avoiding nominees like Richard Mourdock of Indiana, who unseated Senator Richard G. Lugar, a longtime veteran, in the primary but lost in the general election after making a damaging comment on rape.

“I have seen the problems in some of these primaries where we’ve knocked off some pretty good candidates and it resulted in nothing for us — like Lugar,” said Mel Sembler, a Florida real estate developer and former ambassador who helps Crossroads raise money.

Spencer Zwick, the chief fund-raiser for Mr. Romney’s campaign, said individual donors tell him they are eager to help the establishment wing’s cause however they can. “There are a lot of individual donors who were supportive of Mitt’s campaign who are quietly waiting to figure out how they can play, and I think there’s a lot of appetite to make sure that we nominate candidates who can win general elections,” he said.

The Tea Party-aligned groups say they have an established record of winning primaries against Republican rivals with deep corporate backing. “We’ve always been outspent by orders of magnitude,” said Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks. And they do have some big donors, like the multimillionaire investor Foster Friess, who backed a failed primary challenge to Mr. Hatch in Utah last year and indicated in an interview last week that he would consider new “opportunities to put young, dynamic people in.”

But two stalwart backers of the movement, the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, did not support the shutdown strategy, and people with knowledge of their thinking say they are unlikely to engage in primary efforts against incumbents.

Such reluctance illustrates a central challenge for the insurgents in their effort to take over the party: unity. And the primary challenge to Mr. McConnell from a wealthy Louisville businessman, Matt Bevin, offers a vivid example of how the Tea Party movement’s hand is weakened when its leaders do not rally around shared goals.

Former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska suggested last week that she would try to help defeat Mr. McConnell, and the Senate Conservatives Fund announced on Friday that it was backing Mr. Bevin. But the Club for Growth is still assessing the race because, its president, Chris Chocola, said, Mr. Bevin is “an unproven candidate.”

And when the issue of Mr. McConnell’s race came up at a meeting in New Orleans this weekend of the secretive conservative umbrella group the Council for National Policy, one participant there said, the members were torn: wealthy Hollywood interests have pledged to finance the Democratic challenger, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, and some conservatives fear aiding Mr. Bevin only to see him lose the general election.

That lack of a unified conservative challenge may have been at least one factor in Mr. McConnell’s decision to come off the sidelines to engineer the deal reopening the government and raising the debt ceiling with his Democratic counterpart, Senator Harry Reid.

In an interview, Mr. McConnell all but dismissed Mr. Bevin, pointedly calling Ms. Grimes “my real opponent.” He lamented that the party division in Congress “gives me a weaker hand” when negotiating as the minority leader.

Looking to 2016

Regardless of what happens in next year’s midterms, the fight for control of the Republican Party will play out most dramatically in the contest for the 2016 presidential nomination. If a candidate from the insurgent wing is to defy recent history and seize the nomination, he or she will have to run in a fashion that, organizationally, more closely resembles the sophisticated campaigns typically waged by establishment hopefuls.

“If there’s going to be a nominee who reflects their views and values,” said the longtime conservative strategist Ralph Reed, “that candidate is also going to have to be a prolific fund-raiser, build an organization in 30 states simultaneously and have to win the support of other elected officials.”

Asked if the insurgents could nominate one of their own in 2016, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who saw his own presidential hopes battered by an onslaught of negative TV ads financed by top contributors to Mr. Romney, said, “I think it is still very uphill because of the money.”

The Tea Party forces also lack the sort of singular leadership of a figure like Reagan. And besides overturning the health law and generally seeking to reverse the expansion of the federal government, the hard-liners do not have a cohesive policy plan.

“You have to have a specific agenda,” said Jeff Bell, a policy director in the 1976 Reagan campaign, citing the supply-side tax cuts that were so in vogue with Republicans of that era. “That’s a missing element in today’s conservative revolt.”

What some Republicans hope is that they can find a candidate with the ability to bridge the chasm between the party’s two factions, someone who is acceptable to the insurgents and will benefit from their energy but will also be able to win over swing voters.

Establishment Republicans worry that electing more hard-line conservatives will do little to address what they see as the party’s fundamental challenge with those swing voters.

“We want to elect a majority of senators and the president,” said Mr. Alexander, who is a former presidential candidate, secretary of education and governor. “And in order to do that, we’ve got to persuade the American people that they can trust us with the government. And you don’t do that by shutting down the government and defaulting on the debt.”

Then again, in the eyes of the new-era conservatives, Mr. Alexander is part of the problem.

“It’s my generation’s time to enter this fight,” said Mr. McDaniel, the newly announced Senate candidate from Mississippi. “We’re excited. We love the idea of having this conversation about the future of the country, and the future of our party.”

Jonathan Martin and Jeremy W. Peters reported from Washington, and Jim Rutenberg from New York.


October 18, 2013

A Ted Cruz on Every Corner


Have you noticed how many lawmakers from Texas were doing crazy things during the government shutdown debacle?

We need to discuss this as a matter of simple justice. These days, when you say “Texas” in the context of heavy-breathing Republican extremism, everybody immediately thinks of Senator Ted Cruz. Which is really unfair when there are so many other members of the state delegation trying to do their part.

I am thinking, for instance, of Representative Randy Neugebauer, who harangued an innocent park ranger about a shutdown-shuttered war memorial, insisting that the ranger and her colleagues should be “ashamed of themselves.”

Or Representative Louie Gohmert, who created a mild diversion when he charged that John McCain, an opponent of the shutdown, “supported Al Qaeda” in Syria. (McCain said that he did not take offense because “if someone has no intelligence, I don’t view it as being a malicious statement.”)

Or Representative Steve Stockman, who accused the president and House Democrats of “curb-stomping veterans.”

Or Representative John Culberson, who cried “Let’s roll!” in an apparent belief that shutting down the government was equivalent to resisting 9/11 terrorists.

Or Representative Pete Sessions, who summed things up rather neatly with: “We’re not French. We don’t surrender.”

See? Share the credit.

The nation keeps searching for signs of a resurgent political center, but there aren’t many hopeful peeps coming out of Texas. The pragmatic Texas Republican establishment is pretty much on its back, hyperventilating.

The old center-right standard-bearer, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, is desperately trying to wipe out his reputation as a mainstream politician while he runs for re-election.

“I don’t know about you, but Barack Obama ought to be impeached,” he told a Tea Party gathering recently, with more fervor for the cause than for grammatical construction.

Texas Democrats, who haven’t won a statewide race in a generation, spent the last decade whimpering and waiting around for all the Hispanic children to grow up and start voting. However, this year, they have an exciting candidate for governor: Wendy Davis, the state senator who starred in that famous 11-hour filibuster against anti-abortion legislation this past summer.

Some people think Davis, who is canny, energetic and attractive, might actually have a chance to win. But anybody who could just raise money and get 45 percent of the vote would be the party’s biggest star since Ann Richards.

Davis’s opponent will probably be the state’s attorney general, Greg Abbott, who has already amassed enough cash to buy Nebraska. Abbott once provided supporters with his vision of the attorney general’s duties: “I go into the office, I sue the federal government, and then I go home.”

So there’s that.

Even the bottom of the ticket is going to have little sparks of strange. Next year, the race for Texas land commissioner will feature a new-generation Bush, Jeb’s son George P. The singer Kinky Friedman says he’s running for the Democratic nomination for agriculture commissioner on a legalize-marijuana platform. The rest of us will just sit here and mull the fact that Texans feel the need to make these jobs elective.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Gov. Rick Perry appears to be planning to run for president again. And since Ted Cruz is pretty clearly planning a run, too, there could be two Texans in the Republican primary debates. Maybe an all-Texas ticket!

While Cruz has been trying to win the hearts of American voters by spreading fear, terror and economic chaos, Perry has been wandering around the country, criticizing other states for their high taxes and bragging about job growth in Texas.

Economic development has, indeed, been impressive, thanks mainly to the state’s plentiful land and cheap housing. On the downside, a large part of Texas seems to be running out of water. Once the presidential debates kick off, perhaps Perry’s opponents could lift their water glasses and make sloshing sounds every time he talks about growth. Ross Ramsey, a columnist for The Texas Tribune, suggested the governor’s critics might carry bags of gravel to remind the world that Texas’ undermaintained roads have deteriorated to such an extent that the highway department has let some of them revert from pavement to pebbles.

This week, Perry’s in Israel, burnishing his foreign affairs credentials and promoting the Texas economy. Do not expect a critique of the Israeli tax code.

In Texas, there’s so much craziness, it’s hard for a normal crazy to get attention. Imagine an election year with both Perry and Cruz on television every night. To get any airtime, the Texas guys in the House of Representatives would have to call for impeachment while bungee jumping. While waving “Secede!” signs. While carrying unconcealed weapons.

Remember the Alamo.


Cruz rails at Republicans who ended shutdown: Expect to be challenged from the right

By David Ferguson
Saturday, October 19, 2013 14:53 EDT

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is clinging doggedly to the notion that the shutdown of the federal government would have worked if only his fellow Senate Republicans hadn’t colluded with the Democrats and agreed to end the impasse. In an interview with Robert Costa of the National Review Online, Cruz warned that his insufficiently conservative colleagues will face primary challengers in the next round of elections, although he declined to name names.

“Unfortunately, rather than supporting House Republicans, a significant number of Senate Republicans actively, aggressively, and vocally led the effort to defeat House Republicans, to defeat the effort to defund Obamacare,” Cruz told Costa. “Once Senate Republicans did that, it crippled the chances of this effort, and it caused the lousy deal.”

When Costa asked if Cruz would care to call out any of his fellow Senators by name, he said, “I’m not interested in a battle of personalities.”

“But I will say this: from day one in office,” he continued, “I’ve urged the American people to hold every elected official accountable, and far too many elected officials are not listening to the American people…when you’ve got 10 to 20 Senate Republicans going on television, day after day after day, saying, ‘we cannot win, this is a fool’s errand, we will lose, nothing will happen, we will surrender,’ and blaming Republicans every step of the way, it eliminates the ability to get a positive outcome.”

The freshman Senator said that the moderates who ended the shutdown should expect to face primary opponents, warning, “Now, I have publicly said it is likely that I will stay out of all incumbent primaries, but every elected official has to make the case to the grassroots in his or her state on why he or she is effectively fighting for them.”

Cruz has come under heavy fire from fellow Republicans as well as Democrats who have lambasted him for essentially leading the party into a ditch and driving its popularity with the public to historic lows. It was evident from the start, say Republicans like New York Rep. Peter King, that the shutdown was a strategic dead end, but Cruz pursued it anyway, presumably out of an urge to shore up his credentials ahead of a 2016 presidential run.

When Costa asked if Cruz is uncomfortable being disliked by so many in Washington, he said, “Every day, I jump out of bed with a smile on my face, because it is a joy to have the opportunity to stand with the American people and work to help restore people’s faith and optimism in our nation. It’s an incredible honor to play a small role in expanding the American dream.”


‘Desperate’ donors tighten purse strings on right-wing groups and ‘self-immolating’ GOP

By David Ferguson
Saturday, October 19, 2013 12:55 EDT

Hard times have arrived for the Republican Party and particularly for right-wing pressure groups like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, Heritage Action and the one-time lavishly funded tea party PAC, FreedomWorks. According to a report in Politico, heavyweight Republican donors are frustrated and “horrified” that their money is going to wrong-headed politicians and groups that appear to have no effect on election outcomes.

“In conversation after conversation, donors express growing frustration with the party and the constellation of outside groups they’ve been bankrolling,” wrote Politico‘s Maggie Haberman and Anna Palmer.

Donors, they say, were “horrified in November after pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into campaigns for president and Congress with nothing to show for it,” and in the wake of the Republican shutdown fiasco, they have become even more concerned.

FreedomWorks PAC’s CEO Matt Kibbe took to CSPAN on Friday to declare that schisms between the old and new guards of the Republican Party are making it “a real possibility” that the party will split in two. Kibbe didn’t mention, however, that his group is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy thanks to a top-heavy management structure and tendency to hemorrhage cash on things like craft beers and Las Vegas hotel rooms.

Similarly, Karl Rove’s super PAC Crossroads GPS is, Politico said, among those “feeling the hardest pinch” from donors shutting their checkbooks. Crossroads spent $300 million in 2012 and saw nearly every single one of its candidates lose that November. Since then, donations have slowed considerably as the right’s financial backers have begun to lose faith in party gurus and politican strategists.

One-time backers of tea party Republican candidates, said Politico, are facing a kind of “Frankenstein syndrome” in which politicians like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and the House’s tea party caucus no longer fear the donors who put them into office and no longer believe that they need them.

Al Hoffman, a mega-donor and former U.S. ambassador to Portugal, told Politico that the money-holders on the right are wary now of financing politicos that are such ideologues that they end up hurting the very interests they were sent to Washington to protect.

“So many in the House are hard-right reactionary tea party,” he said, “And those Republicans, it appears, are ready to self-immolate, and are willing to risk the destruction of the party by risking the destruction of the economy, by risking a default.”

“I am desperate to get the Republicans moving again…in my view we’re becoming a party of irrelevancy,” he said.


Perspectives: The Right’s Closed Information Loop May Set Up the Next Shut Down

October 18, 2013
by Joshua Holland

This photo provided by Fox News Channel shows Sean Hannity interviewing former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in New York. (AP Photo/Fox News Channel, Shealah Craighead)

It’s impossible to say whether we’ll face another crisis of governance in three months, when the stopgap budget resolution passed on Wednesday expires, but it’s clear that the 40 or 50 hardcore, tea party-backed members of Congress who precipitated the shutdown want another crack at it. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConell (R-KY) may have told The National Review that another shutdown “is off the table,” but Rep. John Fleming (R-LA), a member of the tea party caucus, told reporters to get ready for “round two” because in January, “we’re going to start this all over again.”

On its face, the desire to reprise a tactical maneuver that was politically disastrous for the Republican Party – one that’s damaged its brand so badly that there’s now a remote chance that control of the House might be up for grabs next November – appears to be completely irrational. But it’s perfectly reasonable for those on the right who mostly speak to other true believers and get their information primarily from the conservative media.

As Mitch McConnell was reporting the details of the agreement he’d struck with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (R-NV), Ted Cruz (R-TX) told reporters that the shutdown had been “a great victory” for Republicans. That kind of disconnect was common throughout the standoff. Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC), a moderate, said on Wednesday that public opinion had played a major role in Republicans’ decision to fold their tent. But even as the GOP sank to depths of approval never before seen in either the Gallup or the NBC/Wall Street Journal polls, Breitbart published a piece titled, “Polls Show Obama, Dems Losing Public Opinion Battle Over Shutdown, Obamacare,” and The Weekly Standard offered “eight reasons the shutdown won’t hurt Republicans.” Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ) told one reporter that the sampling in those devastating polls was skewed.

And while the economic damage caused by shutting down the government and playing chicken with the debt limit was undeniable, Fox News dismissed it as a government “slimdown,” and an estimate by a Republican Budget Committee that only 17 percent of government had shut down quickly spread through the conservative media. “Debt ceiling deniers” – people who believed that the consequences of breaching the limit were exaggerated or imaginary – were easy to find among movement politicians and their allies in the conservative media.

And then there’s Obamacare. For many on the right, it’s not a law with a number of popular measures, one of which, the insurance exchanges, has had a very rocky rollout – it’s an unmitigated disaster that, as Ted Cruz put it, has already cost millions of Americans their jobs and their health care. And as Dylan Scott reported for Talking Points Memo, “The firm belief that the American public shares the same view of Obamacare that they do… remains omnipresent among hard-line conservatives.” So while Senator John McCain (R-AZ) said the shutdown was “one of the more shameful chapters I have seen in the years I have spent here in the Senate,” Sean Hannity’s message for Republicans was that this was “the hill to die on.”

What all of this means is that those hardcore conservatives who pushed their leadership to shut down the government aren’t only insulated from public opinion because they represent overwhelmingly white, heavily Republican districts. It’s also a result of “epistemic closure” — the tendency, universal but especially pronounced on the right – to seek out like-minded views and ignore information that contradicts one’s previously held beliefs. To the degree that we risk replaying this entire fiasco in a few short months, the alternative universe created day in and day out by a dedicated conservative media ecosystem is at least partially to blame.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the narrative of the party’s defeat that has gelled within the tea party. In their view, it wasn’t a result of the conservative wing pushing for a strategy that polls showed to be highly unpopular before it began. Rather, they were “betrayed by chicken-hearted RINOS” (Republicans in Name Only), as Fox News’ Todd Starnes put it, and, even worse, their otherwise highly popular message was the victim of “liberal media bias” among the mainstream press corps.

There was a telling moment during a press briefing by several House conservatives on Wednesday, when Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) told reporters, “We’ve been talking amongst this group for the last four weeks about fairness, about whether or not it’s fair to give extensions to people who have political connections and make our families live under a different law.” He assailed the media for not carrying that message to the American people. Of the prospect of another showdown in the future, he added, “if we can figure out a way to drive that message home, that this is about fairness … then the outcome may well be different.”

But “fairness” is such a transparently false talking point that no serious journalist would ever embrace it. It originated with the Obama administration’s decision to delay the mandate forcing large corporations to insure their workers because businesses needed more time to comply with the measure’s reporting requirements. They weren’t exempted from the law, and the consequence of the year-long delay is insignificant.

We expect politicians to respond to ordinary political incentives, and if that were the case, there would be no chance at all that tea party lawmakers would further sully their image with another disruptive showdown over the budget or debt ceiling. But when they’re mostly exposed to their own spin, those incentives get skewed, and that’s a big reason why we might end up in this mess once again early next year.


October 19, 2013

A Governor’s Last Campaign: To Prove Health Law Works


FRANKFORT, Ky. — In the windowless nerve center that resembles a campaign war room, Gov. Steven L. Beshear studied projections on a wall showing that 600 people were logged on to the state’s health insurance exchange.

Some 34,000 had begun applications, and more than 11,000 had signed up for plans, making Kentucky one of the most successful state-run insurance marketplaces under the new federal health care law.

“You are all doing a fantastic job,” Mr. Beshear told two dozen bleary-eyed workers.

In a state where dislike of President Obama runs strong and deep, Mr. Beshear, a Democrat, has positioned himself as a champion of the Affordable Care Act, out ahead of public opinion. It has endeared him to the White House at a time when news of the problem-plagued federal exchange,, has been embarrassing and damaging.

“My message to Kentuckians is simply this,” Mr. Beshear said in his office in the State Capitol. “You don’t have to like the president; you don’t have to like me. Because this isn’t about him, and it’s not about me. It’s about you, your family and your children. So do yourself a favor. Find what you can get for yourself. You’re going to like what you find.”

Kentucky is the only Southern state to operate its own insurance exchange as well as expand Medicaid coverage for the poor. It is an anomaly on the polarized political map, and a test — in a red state that has elected to the Senate Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, and Rand Paul, a Tea Party favorite — of whether bitterness over the law will dissolve if people decide it effectively provides affordable health care.

Mr. Obama “bragged on Kentucky,” Mr. Beshear said, describing a speech by the president that singled out the traffic to Kentucky’s exchange, Kynect, while attacking Republicans for shutting down the government over the law.

Yet even as the law wins some new fans who are able to sign up for benefits, there is a risk that those who already have insurance and see their premiums rise will blame the Affordable Care Act.

At 1,000 new sign-ups a day, which the governor called a great success, less than a third of the 640,000 Kentuckians who are uninsured will have signed up by March 31, the cutoff for coverage next year. (Through Thursday, enrollment had reached 15,480.)

Without large numbers of enrollees to spread risks, experts have said, the law could collapse.

Republican strategists in Kentucky said the health care overhaul would be a weight around the neck of every Democrat on the state ballot next year, as well as Democrats hoping to hold their majority in the State House.

“Kentuckians are suspicious and deeply concerned about Obamacare,” said Jesse Benton, Mr. McConnell’s campaign manager. “Any Democrat running in Kentucky in 2014 is going to be in a box: stand against your base, or endorse a policy that’s very unpopular and not working well.”

Wilson Stone, a tobacco farmer and Democratic state representative, said voters in his southern Kentucky district did not like the law. “People ask me if we can afford the Medicaid increase,” said Mr. Stone, who hopes his focus on constituent service secures his re-election next year. “I’m a little bit worried about how all this plays out and how aggressive the governor is.”

Mr. McConnell’s likely Democratic opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, has been noticeably quiet since the rollout of Kynect on Oct. 1.

“Alison has heard from Kentucky businesses and families who are afraid their rates are going up,” Charly Norton, a spokeswoman for Ms. Grimes, said in a statement. “She is concerned with some aspects of health reform, specifically the regulatory burden placed on small businesses, and believes Congress must come together to provide businesses additional tax relief.”

Ms. Grimes, the secretary of state, may face a tough campaign in a state that handed Mr. Obama a 23-point defeat last November. But Mr. Beshear does not. At 69, he is in the final stretch of his second term, the limit that Kentucky law permits. Many political observers believe he is acting to secure his legacy as an old-fashioned Kentucky liberal representing a tradition that has been in retreat for a generation, since social conservatives began defecting to the Republican Party.

“Steve Beshear is a man on a mission,” said Al Cross, the director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky. “He no longer has to worry about politics.”

Mr. Beshear, who failed in a 1996 challenge to unseat Mr. McConnell, spent a decade out of politics before capturing the governor’s office in 2007.

With control of the Legislature split between the parties and a shrinking budget, Mr. Beshear has had little chance to enact an agenda, except for a few hard-fought victories in education.

He insisted that Kentucky was at heart a progressive state. “When most of you all think about Kentucky,” he told an out-of-state visitor, “you think about the face of our Congressional delegation. That’s not really what Kentucky’s all about.”

Mr. Beshear said his decision to embrace the law was not political.

“To me this was a moral decision,” he said. “We’ve got 640,000 Kentuckians who don’t have access to any kind of affordable health care. The last ranking I saw, we’re 44th out of 50 in health status. You take any chronic disease or condition — heart disease, cancer, smoking, obesity, you name it — and we’re either the worst or close to the worst.”

He also said the law made economic sense, citing a state-commissioned study that found that an expansion of Medicaid over eight years would “create a $15.6 billion economic impact” and almost 17,000 new jobs.

He blamed the law’s unpopularity on Republicans who were “adept at demonizing the name ‘Obamacare.’ ”

“Most of these critics are going to end up with egg on their face,” the governor predicted. “People are finding that I can get health insurance for the first time in my life that I can afford. They’re going to look back at these folks after all the dust settles and say, ‘You misled us.’ ”


October 19, 2013

Driving a New Bargain on Health Care


The Affordable Care Act has gotten off to a rocky start. Federal and state online health insurance exchanges, which opened for business at the beginning of the month, have been bedeviled by technical snags. And opposition to the law from some House Republicans blocked funding for the entire federal government, leading to its partial shutdown.

In fact, with all the conflict and vituperation over Obamacare, it sometimes seems that one of the few things Democrats and Republicans agree on is that the law is imperfect at best. And they also agree that it could be improved. Even if a bipartisan deal to create a better health care system seems far off today, it’s not too soon to start imagining what a future bargain might look like.

Just to get started, I will assume that, at some point, Democrats will be willing to acknowledge that not everything has worked out as planned with the legislation, and that they would consider a rewrite that would expand coverage. I’ll also assume that Republicans will acknowledge that a feasible rewrite of the bill cannot give the Democrats nothing. And Republicans will need to recognize that repeal of Obamacare should not be their obsession, because they would then be leaving the nation with a dysfunctional yet still highly government-oriented health care system, not some lost conservative paradise. Both sides have a lot to gain, and, at some point, they should realize it.

Let’s look at some of the current problems in the health care system and see whether they might be patched up.

Even under Obamacare, many people will not have health insurance coverage, including two-thirds of poor blacks and single mothers and more than half the low-wage workers who lacked coverage before the law was enacted. That is largely because of the unwillingness of 26 governors to expand Medicaid coverage as the original bill had intended. The Supreme Court struck down that portion of the Affordable Care Act, however, giving states a choice.

Will many red-state governors eventually accept the act’s Medicaid extension, which is sometimes portrayed as a financial free lunch, since federal aid covers most of the coverage expansion? It’s not clear that they will. If the Republicans win the White House in 2016 and perhaps the House and Senate as well, they may cut off federal funds for that Medicaid expansion. In the meantime, many states don’t want to extend their Medicaid rolls, because such benefits are hard to withdraw once granted.

There is a deeper problem with relying heavily on Medicaid as the backbone of health care for the poor. The fact that so many governors have found political gain in opposing a nearly fully-funded Medicaid expansion suggests that long-term support for Medicaid is weaker than it appeared just a few years ago. Furthermore, in cyclical downturns, the increase in Medicaid coverage after a climb in unemployment puts much strain on state budgets.

A separate issue concerns employers who are shedding insurance coverage, whether by dropping retirees, moving more workers to part-time status, withholding coverage and paying fines mandated by law, or simply not hiring more workers in the first place. The magnitude of these effects is not yet clear, but over time we can expect that new businesses and new hiring will be structured to minimize costly insurance obligations. It’s no accident that the Obama administration handed out more than 1,000 exemptions from the employer coverage mandate, and postponed the employer mandate until 2015: both actions reflected underlying problems in the legislation. Ideally, the health care law should minimize what is essentially an implicit tax on hiring.

One way forward would look like this: Federalize Medicaid, remove its obligations from state budgets altogether and gradually shift people from Medicaid into the health care exchanges and the network of federal insurance subsidies. One benefit would be that private insurance coverage brings better care access than Medicaid, which many doctors are reluctant to accept.

To help pay for such a major shift, the federal government would cut back on revenue sharing with the states and repeal the deductibility of state income taxes. The states should be able to afford these changes because a big financial obligation would be removed from their budgets.

By moving people from Medicaid to Obamacare, the Democrats could claim a major coverage expansion, an improvement in the quality of care and access for the poor, and a stabilization of President Obama’s legacy — even if the result isn’t exactly the Affordable Care Act as it was enacted. The Republicans could claim that they did away with Medicaid, expanded the private insurance market, and moved the nation closer to a flat-tax system by eliminating some deductions, namely those for state income taxes paid.

At the same time, I’d recommend narrowing the scope of required insurance to focus on catastrophic expenses. If insurance picks up too many small expenses, it encourages abuse and overuse of scarce resources.

In sum, poorer Americans would get a guarantee of coverage and, with private but federally subsidized insurance, gain better access to quality care for significant expenses than they have now with Medicaid. Private insurance pays more and is accepted by many more doctors. But on the downside, the insured care would be less comprehensive than under current definitions of Obamacare’s mandate.

With a cheaper and more modest insurance package mandated under a retooled law, employers would be less intent on dropping coverage. That would help in job creation. It also would lower the federal cost of the subsidies through the exchanges, both because employers would cover more workers and because the insurance policies would be cheaper.

This wouldn’t be an ideal health care system, but it may be the best we can do, considering where we stand today.

TYLER COWEN is a professor of economics at George Mason University.
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« Reply #9453 on: Oct 20, 2013, 10:51 AM »

October 20, 2013 09:00 AM

Texas Republicans Figure out How to Disenfranchise Women Voters

By CrooksAndLiars

It’s become a sort of sour running joke; every time yet another shocking, revolting, or just plain insanely stupid story about Texan Republicans hits the news, people shake their heads. “What do you expect; it’s Texas.” Like that’s now explanation enough.

Yet even Texans are getting fed up with the bad rep the Lone Star State is garnering, and Republicans know it. It’s obvious they know it; they’ve had to “Perrymander” their way into power because there just really aren’t enough rich, old, white, male conservatives in Texas to carry the majority of the vote if they actually had to play fairly. They have openly, shamelessly bragged about their intentions to prevent Democrats from ever winning an election in Texas again. So far, they've succeeded.

But now there's a new, and even bigger danger to Republican control of Texas. Support for Wendy Davis swelled after her electrifying filibuster on the floor of the Texas, her popularity growing large enough to become a threat to Republican hegemony, rattling their confidence. Davis has earned enough political capital to have a real shot at taking the governorship of Texas. It’s no longer enough to prevent blacks, Hispanics or college students from voting, so Texas Republicans have figured out how to target the biggest group they fear might challenge their death grip on the throat of Texas politics – women.

It's a simple plan: Don’t allow women to vote.

As of November 5th, when Texas’s strict voter ID law goes into effect, voters will be required to show a photo ID at the polls. Twenty-five percent of eligible African-American voters and 16% of Hispanics do not have an ID that would satisfy the new Texas voter ID requirements. Eighteen percent of people over the age of 65 do not have a current ID at all, and student ID card issued by their college or university are not acceptable to allow them to vote in Texas. Unsurprisingly, most of these voters tend to vote for Democrats.

But there's an extra, very nasty little sting in the tail: these approved voter IDs also require that voters have their up-to-date legal name at the polls. This effectively impacts a huge proportion of women, particularly those who are married. Only 66% of voting age women has ready access to a photo document that will attest to proof of citizenship and what Texas considers a "legal" name. This is largely significant because married women don't always update their documents with their married names, while changing names after marriage isn't something that usually affects male voters. 34% of women voters – those who are even aware that such an ID will be necessary or they will be prevented from voting – are hurrying to update their documents, not so easy to do and, tellingly, not that quick. Texas is making obtaining this photo ID with a so-called "up-to-date" name as difficult as possible; women must show original documents, along with both a birth certificate and proof of marriage, divorce degree, or court-ordered changes. Photocopies just aren’t good enough.

As far as I can tell, there's no law in Texas that requires married women to take their husband's surnames, but by the time women who have been prevented from voting finish contesting the legality of this law, the election will be over, and the point will be moot.

Bad enough if you happen to be amongst the 16% of people over the age of 65 who don’t have birth certificates, you’re just tough out of luck. If you happen to have been born outside the States and obtaining an original birth certificate isn’t possible, too bad so sad for you. Disabled and elderly women are less able to travel any long distances or endure having to wait for hours in lengthy lines. Who cares? Not Texas. Then there’s the additional financial burden on poor women with a minimum charge of $20 to receive new copies of these documents, work schedules and travel expenses mean paying more to have them mailed, effectively becoming a poll tax, something the 24th Amendment prohibits – but piffling details like people not smart enough to be born into wealth or upholding the Constitution hasn’t stopped Texas before, why should it now?

Women’s votes matter. More women than men vote, and women make up the majority of minority, student and elderly voters. Black women in particularly have the highest turn out of any voting group, at 66%. Women voters were the deciding factor in electing Barack Obama, more than any other demographic block, and determined 22 of the 23 Senate races in 2012 that allowed Democrats to retain control. Texas’s new voter ID law and its draconian requirements will effectively remove 34% of women who would ordinarily be eligible to vote from being able to do so, a significant enough proportion that could ensure an election in the Republican Party’s favour.

At some point, Texas is going to have to do more than be a laughingstock for the rest of the country to roll its eyes at and dismiss as being a State chock full o' nuts. If the federal government can't stop Texas from behaving like a private oligarchy, then Texans themselves are going to have to have to galvanize their women, their minorities, their students, their elderly – even what percentage still exists of white, old, rich men who love democracy and the rights of their fellow Texans – to come out in unprecedented numbers that even Republican ID laws and gerrymandering can't resist, and get rid of the 19th century racist, misogynist throw-backs currently infesting the halls of the Texas legislature. Time for a revival of REAL Texan gallantry.

* texas-women.jpg (26.66 KB, 400x300 - viewed 86 times.)
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« Reply #9454 on: Oct 21, 2013, 06:21 AM »

Snowden leaks: France summons US envoy over NSA surveillance claims

Demand follows claims in Le Monde that US agency has been intercepting phone calls of French citizens on 'a massive scale'

Sam Jones, and Angelique Chrisafis in Paris, Monday 21 October 2013 12.58 BST   
Link to video: NSA: US ambassador summoned to French foreign ministry

The French government has summoned the US ambassador in Paris, demanding an explanation about claims that the National Security Agency has been engaged in widespread phone surveillance of French citizens.

On Monday, Le Monde published details from the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden suggesting that the US agency had been intercepting phone calls on what it terms "a massive scale".

The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, warned: "This sort of practice between partners that invades privacy is totally unacceptable and we have to make sure, very quickly, that this no longer happens."

His summoning of the ambassador for urgent talks came as the US secretary of state, John Kerry, arrived in the French capital for the start of a European tour focused on discussions over the Middle East and Syria, and keen to stress close military and intelligence ties with Paris, which he recently called America's "oldest ally".

The French interior minister, Manuel Valls, described the revelations as shocking and said he would be pressing for detailed explanations from Washington.

"Rules are obviously needed when it comes to new communication technologies, and that's something that concerns every country," he told Europe-1 radio. "If a friendly country – an ally – spies on France or other European countries, that is completely unacceptable."

The report in Le Monde, which carries the byline of the outgoing Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who worked with Snowden to lay bare the extent of the NSA's actions, claims that between 10 December 2012 and 8 January 2013 the NSA recorded 70.3m phone calls in France.

According to the paper, the documents show that the NSA was allegedly targeting not only terrorist suspects but politicians, businesspeople and members of the administration under a programme codenamed US-985D.

"The agency has several collection methods," Le Monde said. "When certain French phone numbers are dialled, a signal is activated that triggers the automatic recording of certain conversations. This surveillance also recovers SMS and content based on keywords."

Such methods, it added, allowed the NSA to keep a systematic record of each target's connections.

Le Monde said the unpublished Snowden documents to which it had access showed "intrusion, on a vast scale, both into the private space of French citizens as well as into the secrets of major national firms".

The most recent documents cited by Le Monde, dated April 2013, indicated the NSA's interest in email addresses linked to Wanadoo, which was once part of France Telecom. Around 4.5 million people still use email addresses in France.

Also targeted was Alcatel-Lucent, the French-American telecom company which employs more than 70,000 people and works in the sensitive sector of equipping communication networks. One of the documents instructed analysts to draw not only from the electronic surveillance programme but also from another initiative dubbed Upstream, which allowed surveillance on undersea communications cables.

Le Monde said US authorities had declined to comment on the documents, which they regard as classified material.

Instead, they referred the paper to a statement made in June by the US director of national intelligence, in which James Clapper defended the legality of the practices.

"[They] are lawful and conducted under authorities widely known and discussed, and fully debated and authorised by Congress," he said. "Their purpose is to obtain foreign intelligence information, including information necessary to thwart terrorist and cyber-attacks against the United States and its allies."

In July, Paris prosecutors opened a preliminary inquiry into the NSA's Prism programme, after the Guardian and Germany's Der Spiegel revealed wide-scale spying by the agency leaked by Snowden.

"We were warned in June [about the programme] and we reacted strongly but obviously we need to go further," the French foreign minister said on Monday.

In July, President François Hollande had threatened to suspend negotiations over the transatlantic free trade agreement, after allegations that the US spied on the French embassy and European Union offices.

In September, Der Spiegel reported that the NSA had targeted France's foreign ministry for surveillance and there had been a number of incidents of "sensitive access".

This summer, Le Monde reported that France runs its own vast electronic surveillance operation, intercepting and stocking data from citizens' phone and internet activity, using similar methods to the prism programme.


GCHQ Tempora sign-off should be investigated, says Chris Huhne

Former cabinet minister says questions must be asked over which Labour ministers signed off surveillance programme

Patrick Wintour   
The Guardian, Sunday 20 October 2013 21.15 BST      

The former cabinet minister Chris Huhne has called for an investigation into which Labour cabinet ministers signed off GCHQ's Tempora programme, the clandestine electronic surveillance programme revealed by leaks from the former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

Huhne, the Liberal Democrat who resigned from parliament after being jailed over lying about a speeding offence, has revealed the cabinet was not informed about Tempora, which was tested in 2008 and fully implemented in 2011.

Writing in the Guardian, the former member of the coalition's national security council asks whether the Labour cabinet was similarly kept in the dark and suggests the decision to authorise the programme could yet be made subject to judicial review.

He speculates that Labour's relative silence on the issue may have been prompted by the fact that the programme could have been signed off by the former Labour foreign secretary David Miliband, brother of Ed Milband.

Huhne writes: "If it was David Miliband, this may well explain why the Labour frontbench has been so muted. Though Ed Miliband has been happy to admit past Labour errors on Murdoch and other matters, his appetite for political fratricide may be sated."

The Tempora programme – revealed in the cache of documents leaked by Snowden – extracts and processes data from fibre optic cable communications. The data is preserved for three days while metadata is kept for 30 days.

GCHQ comes under the joint ministerial oversight of the foreign secretary and the prime minister. David Cameron has not denied that he failed to inform cabinet members of GCHQ's new technological powers, but said they were free to ask questions of GCHQ.

With some Conservative MPs planning in a parliamentary debate this week to make the case for the prosecution of the Guardian over the Snowden disclosures, the US ambassador to Britain, Matthew Barzun, rejected an opportunity to criticise the newspaper on Sunday, saying he wanted to focus on the importance of the debate about the tradeoffs between security and privacy.

Barzun, appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show for the first time since his arrival in London in June, talked about the impact of the debate on national security created by Snowden's leaks. He also stressed President Barack Obama was clear that his response to the leaks should not have "a chilling effect on the press".

Asked if he shared the UK security services' concerns about the threat to national security from the leaks, he said he wanted to focus on the "importance of having this debate about what the tradeoffs are between security and privacy, between transparency and secrecy, and to do so in a way that protects whistleblowers – which is different, by the way, from wholesale releasing of information, hundreds of thousands of documents".

Barzun said Obama had "promised to seek to balance the legitimate security concerns of not only our citizens but of our allies, and balance those with the privacy concerns shared by all people". He said the president "put in specific measures to protect whistleblowers if they see something illegal or unethical. That's an important part of the balance."

Harold Evans, the former editor of the Sunday Times and the Times, has come to the defence of the Guardian for its reporting of the Snowden leaks.

"No editor in his right mind wants to give aid to murderous enemies," he writes, "but every editor is duty bound to scrutinise the use of power, responsibly but fearlessly, however personally unappealing a leaker may be. Conflict between the conceptions of duty is inevitable, indeed healthy. Reporting often exposes an ill that government has not recognised or acknowledged."

Huhne argues the decision to go ahead with the Tempora programme could have been sanctioned by Jack Straw, the foreign secretary from June 2001 to May 2006, but it is more likely to have been agreed by Margaret Beckett, foreign secretary from May 2006 to June 2007, or David Miliband, who had the role from June 2007 to the general election in May 2010. Trials for the programme started in 2008 in Bude, Cornwall.

Labour has, since June, consistently sought ministerial reassurance that GCHQ has been operating under proper ministerial oversight, but has not treated the issue as a major campaign priority, as it does battle on mainstream cost of living issues.

The Lib Dems have promised a review of the law and the quality of oversight of the intelligence agencies by ministers and parliament.

Huhne says he is sure GCHQ would not have pressed ahead with the multi-million-pound programme without the agreement of ministers. He writes: "I discount the possibility that GCHQ went rogue. GCHQ's head at the time, Sir David Pepper, was a bureaucratic stickler. Sir David Omand, Cabinet Office permanent secretary in charge of intelligence, would also have insisted on ministerial signoff. So which prime minister and foreign secretary were responsible?"

He adds: "If the Home Office thought that a full-scale parliamentary act was necessary to take similar powers for the police – the communications data bill – questions have to be asked about the reasons GCHQ thought it had a legal basis for its activity."

Huhne argues: "The question of how these programmes were authorised are of constitutional importance, but none of them has been asked, let alone answered."

He suggests that if parliament is not willing to investigate the authority for these decisions, then it may be necessary to rely on the law.

The pressure group Liberty has already agreed to take a case to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal to see if warrants were properly issued under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act passed 13 years ago, before the technology was developed. There is little expectation that the case will reveal much due to the tight criteria under which the tribunal operates.

Huhne instead suggests the case could be subject to a judicial review. He cites Lord Macdonald QC, the former director of public prosecutions, saying: "The question is whether the government had proper lawful authority for what they have done. It is potentially a subject for judicial review."

Huhne says: "There is an overwhelming democratic interest in testing whether that decision was ultra vires – outside legal powers voted by parliament.

"There is normally a three-month time limit with judicial review, but that should not be an impediment when the powers continue to be used and when the original decision was secret. The Snowden revelations show an executive arm snatching exaggerated powers with no public debate or parliamentary approval. For the sake of our freedoms, but also our democracy, this needs to be put right."


Parliament has forsaken our liberty. Law is the last resort

Who sanctioned the snatching powers of the secret state? Blair? Straw? David Miliband? It's ripe for judicial review

• Chris Huhne responds to readers' comments below

Chris Huhne   
The Guardian, Sunday 20 October 2013 21.15 BST          

The Snowden revelations in the Guardian showed the most catastrophic secret accretion of power by the British state in our peacetime history, yet the reaction on this island that invented liberty under the law has been beyond parody. The three lines of defence of our freedoms – the press, parliament and the law – have so far bent the knee to the secret state.

Newspapers that are meant to defend freedom have argued instead for the investigation of the Guardian, while the House of Commons has proved itself an overblown electoral college from which the executive is selected, rather than an independent legislature with clout to hold ministers to account.

GCHQ has the capacity to scoop up and store the email and voice traffic of the entire population of this country, regardless of whether they are suspects or have ever committed any crime. GCHQ says it only looks at the suspect messages, but what are its checks? Given its inability to keep its own secrets, how credibly can it promise to keep ours?

The invasion of privacy is breath-taking. The defence that you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide is as outrageous as it was when made by the totalitarian states. Citizens may – for good or bad reasons – want their activity to be private without in any way being illegal. Privacy matters.

Not only were the cabinet and National Security Council not told of this programme, neither was the committee set up to scrutinise the communications data bill (proposed by the Home Office to take the same police powers that GCHQ already exercised). We know of the Home Office's disingenuous deception from a pair of former chief whips – the Tories' David Maclean (now Lord Blencathra) and Labour's Nick Brown. These are not lightweight players, and they were shocked.

Where were the watchdogs? After huffing and puffing about how everything was in order, the Commons intelligence and security committee has at last announced an inquiry. We can write its conclusions. It will give GCHQ a clean bill of health, and argue for some modest improvements in controls.

How do I know? Look at the composition of the committee, which is hand-picked by the prime minister, and only rubber-stamped by the Commons. All its MPs are paid-up members of the security establishment. Sir Malcolm Rifkind is chair, even though he had executive responsibility for the agency he is now overseeing when he was foreign secretary.

The home affairs select committee under chairman Keith Vaz has succumbed to pressure from rightwing Tory MPs to investigate not the disastrous state invasion of privacy, but the behaviour of the Guardian in bringing it to our attention. And the joint committee on human rights – which includes peers as well as MPs – has stayed bizarrely silent even though state aggrandisement at the expense of individual freedom falls squarely in its remit.

Surely the first question is who signed off this programme? I discount the possibility that GCHQ went rogue. Its head at the time, Sir David Pepper, was a bureaucratic stickler. Sir David Omand, cabinet office permanent secretary in charge of intelligence, would also have insisted on ministerial sign-off.

So which prime minister and foreign secretary were responsible? Given that the Home Office later thought a full-scale parliamentary act was necessary to take similar powers for the police – the communications data bill – just what was the legal basis of GCHQ's activity?

The GCHQ Tempora programme was trialled in 2008. The decision might have been taken as early as 2006, which would put it just within the purview as foreign secretary of Jack Straw (June 2001 to May 2006). It is more likely to have been Margaret Beckett (May 2006 to June 2007) or David Miliband (June 2007 to May 2010).

If it was David Miliband, this may well explain why the Labour frontbench has been so muted. Though Ed Miliband has been happy to admit past Labour errors on Murdoch and other matters, his appetite for political fratricide may be sated.

And the responsible prime minister? Tony Blair resigned in June 2007, so either he or Gordon Brown could be responsible. Was the Labour cabinet told? Or was this an extraordinary instance of prime ministerial authority and our "elective dictatorship"? These questions are of constitutional importance, but none of them has been asked, let alone answered.

If parliament is condemned to behave like the executive's poodle, we will have to rely on the law. Liberty is taking a case to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, but GCHQ has boasted to its US counterpart that it has never lost a case before that body, and that its compliance regime is substantially more lax than the Americans'.

That leaves judicial review. As Lord Macdonald QC, the former director of public prosecutions, says: "The question is whether the government had proper lawful authority for what they have done. It is potentially a subject for judicial review." There is an overwhelming democratic interest in testing whether that decision was ultra vires – outside legal powers voted by parliament.

There is normally a three-month time limit with judicial review, but that should not be an impediment when the powers continue to be used and when the original decision was secret. The Snowden revelations show an executive arm snatching exaggerated powers with no public debate or parliamentary approval. For the sake of our freedoms, but also our democracy, this needs to be put right.


The media has a duty to scrutinise the use of power

No editor wants to give aid to murderous enemies, but abuses of power must be revealed

Harold Evans   
The Guardian, Sunday 20 October 2013 21.15 BST   

I'd taken the accusations against the Guardian by other newspapers as part of the ritual dog-eat-dog fun of Fleet Street, but now that the prime minister has taken up the charge, I'd like to learn what independent reporting was attempted in this difficult area. More, one would hope, than attempted by the critics of the Guardian during the years it was isolated in challenging the cover-up of the hacking crimes.

Protecting the lives of its citizens is a first, sacred duty of government. No editor in his right mind wants to give aid and comfort to murderous enemies, but every editor is duty-bound to scrutinise the use of power – responsibly but fearlessly – however personally unappealing a leaker may be. Conflict between the conceptions of duty is inevitable, indeed healthy. Reporting often exposes an ill that government has not recognised or been willing to acknowledge. The state is not ominiscient. Nor is it unknown for government to conceal its own mistakes. I have not been impressed by the blather about "freedom of the press" surrounding the narcissistic Edward Snowden, but one point he made on 17 October bears examination: he had to do what he did, he argues, because the National Security Agency hierarchy required him to "report wrongdoing for those most responsible for it". True or false?

"Freedom of the press" loses its moral force when it is played in aid of reckless conduct: the Washington Times telling Osama bin Laden that the US was able to monitor his mobile phone was indefensible. But there is danger, too, when the respect due to "national security" is diluted by accusations that prove unsubstantiated. From the Pentagon Papers on, there is a whole history of authority crying wolf. I don't know if this is another. What I do know is that the current attacks on the Guardian echo those levelled at the Sunday Times in a number of investigations. We took national security as seriously as anyone, but over 14 years the barriers erected against legitimate inquiry on grounds of national security – reporting, not document dumps – proved spurious or self-serving. Kim Philby betrayed his country and sent countless people to their deaths. However, when we exposed the full measure of his treacheries the outrage in government and sections of the press was directed not at Philby and those who protected him for years but at our reporters. The diaries of the scholarly cabinet minister Richard Crossman have been recognised as shedding valuable light on the way we are governed, but government made a full-scale attempt to censor their publication. Same yet again in the long ordeal of Northern Ireland. Cheerleading was exalted and real reporting excoriated.

The cautionary maxim of Daily Beast writer Clive Irving's "Stasi principle" remains valid: "A state's appetite for collecting intelligence expands in direct relationship to its technical ability to do so."

• Harold Evans writes in a personal capacity


‘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. 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. and its sister site 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.

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« Reply #9455 on: Oct 21, 2013, 06:26 AM »

Photo of blonde girl found in Greece triggers thousands of inquiries

Parents of missing children round the world call charity after seeing photo of blonde, blue-eyed girl found in Roma camp

Helena Smith in Athens
The Guardian, Sunday 20 October 2013 19.15 BST   

Link to video: Greek Roma couple say 'Maria' was adopted

A Greek charity said yesterday that it was pursuing at least 10 "promising leads" – many from parents whose children had gone missing – following a worldwide appeal to help identify a blonde, blue-eyed girl found living in a Roma camp in the country.

Less than two days after launching the international campaign, the philanthropic organisation Smile of the Child announced that it had been bombarded with more than 10,000 calls and emails from around the world.

"Through our hotline we've been contacted by thousands of people in the US, Canada, Australia, Scandinavia, South Africa and the UK," Panaghiotis Partalis, the charity's international communications officer, told the Guardian.

"A lot of emails have come through from families whose own children went missing years ago. Based on pictures that we have also received, there are around 10 cases of children who bear a resemblance to the little girl and we are following them up to see if there is any link."

The girl, who is thought to be about four years old and answers to the name Maria, was discovered last Wednesday when Greek police raided a Roma settlement near Farsala in Larissa, 170 miles north of Athens, in search of weapons and drugs.

Officers were said to be taken aback when the pale-skinned child appeared in the home of a couple with 13 other offspring who were all dark-skinned. Unable to communicate in Greek, the girl could barely talk. What little she did say was conducted in the Roma dialect.

In a bid to unearth her identity, Partalis said the charity was also looking for specialists, including an anthropologist, who might be able to determine the child's origins and age.

"There is still mystery surrounding her age," he said. "We are looking for experts who can examine her teeth and other features to find out exactly how old she is and what her origin may be."

The charity has also compiled a "profile" of pictures of lookalike children. "We've put together a montage with Maria at the centre that we have passed to the police," he said. "There seems to be a lot of hope in the Swedish press that she is Scandinavian."

The girl is expected to be released from hospital on Monday, the same day the couple found raising her are due to appear in court on charges of abducting a minor. Police said it was likely they would be imprisoned pending trial. "The father already has a criminal record," said one officer in Thessaly, the region where the child was found.

DNA tests have proved conclusively that the little girl is not related to the couple – a 40-year-old woman and 39-year-old man.

Although the suspects have vehemently denied accusations of child smuggling, they have given a range of conflicting stories, telling investigators at first that the girl was found in a blanket at birth, before insisting her biological father was Canadian. Suspicions were further raised when the mother was discovered to have two identities and to have claimed to have given birth to six of her children in the same year. Costas Giannopoulos, who founded Smile of the Child after the death of his own son, said the discovery of the girl had not only shone a light on child trafficking in Greece, but revealed the parlous state of birth registrations with municipal authorities in the crisis-hit nation.

"There is a huge gap that allows anyone to claim a child as their own," he said.

On Friday, the parents of Madeleine McCann, the toddler who went missing in Portugal in 2007, said the case was a sign that children who had disappeared could still be found.

Authorities hope that the discovery of the girl will also help crack the mystery of Ben Needham, the Sheffield boy who went missing at the age of 21 months on the Aegean island of Kos 22 years ago. Ben's mother, Kerry Needham, told ITV: "My family and I are extremely delighted at the news that a four-year-old girl has been found in a gypsy camp in Larissa, Greece. We have always believed that Ben's abduction was gypsy-related and have a long ongoing inquiry in Larissa. We hope that the investigation into Ben's disappearance will now be looked at again."


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.

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« Reply #9456 on: Oct 21, 2013, 06:30 AM »

François Hollande's intervention in Roma deportation case sparks anger

French president's offer to allow deported teenage immigrant back into France to study without her family backfires

Reuters in Paris, Sunday 20 October 2013 17.43 BST   

The French president, François Hollande, was widely criticised on Sunday for offering to allow a deported teenage immigrant back into France without her family.

Hollande waded into the row on Saturday when he offered Leonarda Dibrani, a 15-year-old of Roma origin who was ordered off a school bus and deported to Kosovo, the chance to return to France to finish her studies, but only if she did so alone.

The proposal drew angry condemnation, including from Leonarda, who said she would not return alone, exposing Hollande to fresh attacks on his leadership.

"What do 80% of the French think about this?" asked François Bayrou, who ran against Hollande in the first round of the 2012 presidential election, on the digital news channel iTele. "They think the state has totally lost its compass, deciding one thing and then deciding its exact opposite one minute later … Hollande's authority is significantly weakened here."

Leonarda's expulsion after her family failed to obtain political asylum has tested Hollande's ability to handle the issue of illegal migration, a source of increasing public frustration in France.

Students protested to demand the schoolgirl be allowed back, but opinion polls showed that most French did not want the family to return. Opponents from the centre-right UMP party accused Hollande of being so obsessed with satisfying his Socialist base that he had betrayed the will of the public. Even members of his own party appeared dissatisfied with the president's attempt at a compromise.

Minutes after Hollande's TV appearance, in which he said police had followed rules but lacked tact in doing so, the Socialist party leader, Harlem Désir, appeared on a different channel saying Leonarda's family should be let back into France.

"I am going to talk to the president and the government about this," he said, adding that he wanted "all the children of Leonarda's family to be able to finish their studies in France, accompanied by their mother".

The Dibrani family suffered a further crisis on Sunday when Leonarda's mother Dzemila Dibrani was beaten and briefly treated in hospital in Kosovo.

She and Leonarda's father Resat Dibrani were accosted by another Roma couple in downtown Mitrovica, and she sustained unspecified injuries when the Roma man inquired about the fate of a child from their past romance, a Kosovo official said on condition of anonymity. Both couples are being questioned by police.

A poll in the weekly JDD newspaper showed Hollande's approval rating had sunk to 23%, the lowest level in his presidency and beating record low popularity ratings set by his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy.

But while Hollande wilts under grim economic data and attacks on his authority, his tough-talking interior minister, Manuel Valls, has become France's most popular minister.

A JDD poll published this month showed Valls had the support of 61% of the public, far ahead of any other minister. By emphasising a tough stance on Leonarda's family rather than the offer to allow her back, he appears to have come out of the affair unscathed.

"Nothing will make me deviate from my path," Valls told JDD in an interview published on Sunday. "The law must be applied and this family must not come back to France."

Valls has toughened his rhetoric against illegal migration and makeshift Roma camps as the far-right National Front party has surged in popularity ahead of municipal and European elections next year.

Leonarda, who was born in Italy, and her five brothers and sisters attended school in France, where they arrived in 2009. But an official report showed their attendance record was patchy and said the family's attempts to assimilate were disappointing.

Repeated requests for asylum by her father, Reshat, who is from Kosovo, were undermined by the fact that he lied about their nationality.

Leonarda, speaking in French from a house in the Kosovo city of Mitrovica, criticised Hollande as "having no heart" and said her family would return to France anyway.


October 20, 2013

Deported Woman Beaten in Kosovo


PRISTINA, Kosovo — A Roma family expelled from France in a case that touched off protests and a government investigation suffered another setback on Sunday when the mother was beaten and hospitalized in Kosovo.

The police in Mitrovica, a city in northern Kosovo, said Resat and Dzemila Dibrani, deported from France this month with their 15-year-old daughter, Leonarda, were accosted Sunday by another Roma couple in downtown Mitrovica.

Ms. Dibrani, who was briefly hospitalized, sustained unspecified injuries after the other Roma man stopped her and asked about the fate of a child from their past relationship, a Kosovo official said on the condition of anonymity. The police were questioning both couples.

The deportation of the Dibrani family, whose requests for asylum were rejected, set off a storm criticism and protests in France when details of the daughter’s detention during a school field trip became public.

On Saturday, President François Hollande of France said that while the family’s deportation was legal, “there was a lack of discernment in the execution of the operation.”

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« Reply #9457 on: Oct 21, 2013, 06:33 AM »

Austerity plans could see Ireland scrap 83 councils – but will it help?

• Proposed councils reductions from 114 to 31
• Since 2008 councils have seen staff reductions of 9,000 people
• Nearly €1bn (17%) cut from local authority outgoings

Aodh Quinlivan and Yannick Cabrol
Guardian Professional, Monday 21 October 2013 08.00 BST      

Over the period of 1995 to 2007 in Ireland public sector employment rose sharply, primarily in the areas of health (up 73%) and education (up 42%).

Excluding health and education, the increase in employment was 5% – low in comparison to a 45% rise in the overall labour force. The local government sector was one part of the public service which did not see massive increases in employment levels or in its budgets during these years. However, it has suffered the most during the economic downturn.

Since 2008 councils have seen staff reductions of 9,000 people (or 24%) and nearly €1bn (17%) has been cut from the outgoings of local authorities.

The government is now proposing even deeper cuts. In the Putting People First policy document of October 2012 it was announced that further cost savings of €420m (£355m) will be sought. Local councils across Ireland are at breaking point in trying to preserve a decent level of frontline services from a significantly decreased revenue stream.

Veteran Dublin city councillor, Dermot Lacey, notes: "The cutbacks have put a huge strain on the ability of the council to deliver services, particularly in the housing area. Social housing programmes have been abandoned and so we are seeing ever-lengthening housing lists."

Despite the pressures imposed through harsh economic realities the local government sector has responded speedily to the state's financial crisis. Significant efficiency gains have been made without commercial rates being increased. The primary innovations initiated by councils to achieve greater efficiency have come through changed workplace practices, shared services, depot rationalisation and process re-engineering facilitated through ICT and online service delivery.

Shared services are seen as key to not only achieve efficiency gains but also to enhance the quality and range of services available to citizens and businesses. Shared service projects are being developed through individual business cases in the areas of payroll, human resources, IT backoffice and accounts payable.

Innovation through technology is also bearing fruit and, for example, South Dublin county council launched Source, an online service which both archives and provides access to digitised history and heritage materials. Source is the world's first linked double digital archiving project based on DSpace open source software. It is also the first multi-file type digital archive developed or implemented by an Irish public library service.

The headline act of Putting People First is the proposal by government to reduce the number of local councils in Ireland from 114 to 31. This is to be achieved through the complete abolition of all town councils (Ireland will be reduced to a one-tier local government system) and mergers and amalgamations in Limerick, Waterford and Tipperary. Already, Ireland has the second most disconnected system of local government in Europe in terms of the number of councils to population and the population per councillor (second to the United Kingdom).

It is difficult to reconcile removing 73% of the existing councils, creating even greater distance between the citizen and the council and calling it Putting People First. While councillor Lacey supports aspects of the policy document, he believes that the key challenge 'is to break forever the strangulating control of the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government in the Custom House'. However, there is little prospect of this happening.

A draft Council of Europe report from February 2013, Local Democracy in Ireland, concluded: "The new policy paper (Putting People First), although it praises decentralisation in spirit, does not appear to provide many concrete steps in that direction. Some of the actual steps proposed go in the opposite direction."

Regrettably, there is next-to-no debate in Ireland about local government but any discussions which are taking place are being swamped by a particular narrative which arrogantly states big is better, cheaperand more efficient.

These claims are being made in support of abolitions and mergers in spite of the fact that international evidence refutes the notion that a smaller number of larger local authorities yield improvements, savings and efficiencies. Instead the evidence from other jurisdictions that have been down this road points to the fact that structural reform and the redrawing of local authority boundaries is not a cost-free exercise and frequently result in dis-economies of scale.

Since 2008, austerity has been the only game in town in Ireland and in terms of local government we are witnessing a programme of rationalisation, cost-cutting and reductionism disguised as reform.

Aodh Quinlivan is a lecturer in politics at the Department of Government, University College Cork.

Yannick Cabrol is a former Economic Development officer at Waterford County Council.

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« Reply #9458 on: Oct 21, 2013, 06:35 AM »

Europe urged to follow Italy's lead on people-trafficking

European parliament tells member states to draw on anti-mafia tactics such as witness protection and reuse of criminal assets

Lizzy Davies in Rome and Philip Oltermann in Berlin
The Guardian, Sunday 20 October 2013 18.58 BST   

European countries should learn from Italy and establish penal codes "fit for the mafia" to get to grips with people-trafficking organisations responsible for enslaving nearly one million people on the continent, according to a report by the European parliament.

The report by the parliament's committee on organised crime, corruption and money-laundering, which will be put to the vote on Wednesday, paints a devastating picture of slavery across Europe, with about 880,000 people in forced labour in the 28 EU member states, 270,000 of whom are victims of sexual exploitation. Criminal gangs are estimated to earn €25bn (£21bn) a year through trafficking.

One of the authors, Slovenian MEP Tanja Fajon, said the figures showed "the mafia is no longer Italian, it's everywhere in Europe. We are dealing with an octopus-like European mafia that is feeding off the current crisis and has its tentacles wrapped around member states' assets."

The European parliament urges member states to establish witness protection programmes for insiders who collaborate with investigators and to reuse assets seized from criminals for social purposes – all flagship measures of Italy's fight against the mafia.

Anti-slavery campaigners welcomed the main proposals. Anthony Steen, a former Conservative MP who is chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation, said: "Italy's approach to modern-day slavery is pretty advanced. They have learned that the best way to hurt criminal gangs is to take away their assets, and they are very good at helping the victims too."

A recent decision by a court in L'Aquila is considered a precedent for the rest of Europe: 17 victims of trafficking were each awarded €50,000 using assets confiscated from the perpetrators.

Laws allowing the seizure of assets including property, land or businesses are among a series of measures introduced in Italy during the 1980s and 90s to clamp down on the activities of the mafia.

Shaken by several high-profile assassinations, Italy first made active membership of the mafia a crime in and of itself – "mafia association" was introduced into the penal code in 1982 after the killing of the Palermo prefect Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa. Ten years later, the country passed a law to grant investigators new powers of extended confiscation of assets.

Other crucial features of the Italian legislative armoury include the use of pentiti – criminal insiders turned state witnesses who can expect leniency in return for information about their organisation and superiors – and telephone interception.

But observers say the weakening of the Sicilian mafia was to the detriment of investigations into the 'Ndrangheta and Camorra, which have emerged as deadly criminal organisations. Praise for Italy's anti-mafia strategy should be seen in that context, said Federico Varese, professor of criminology at the University of Oxford.

"Italy has been very effective and innovative in its use of judicial tools, but we cannot say the fight against the mafia has been won," he said. "There has been a tendency to think that innovation of the penal code would solve everything, but that's clearly not the case."

Only eight people were prosecuted for human trafficking in the UK in 2011, and the home secretary, Theresa May, announced in August that she would introduce a modern slavery bill to improve "shockingly low" prosecution rates in the UK. But the authors of the European parliament's report argue that greater European co-ordination is required to stand up to criminal gangs who are often more at ease with cross-cultural co-operation than national law-enforcers.

"If the member states are not brave enough to share police and judicial powers, then we will never manage to resolve this crisis but deepen it," said Fajon, a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats.

May and her colleagues will be particularly dismayed by the European parliament's call to establish a European public prosecutor's office to help tackle modern-day slavery. The launch of a pan-European prosecution body was proposed by the so-called wise men's committee of EU experts in 1999, as a measure to counter the fraud of EU funds, and has been opposed by a series of British governments.

The proposal's re-emergence as part of the anti-slavery initiative is likely to clash with the British government's drive to repatriate powers from the EU. One British Brussels insider described the office's inclusion as "worrying mission creep" that could leave the UK marginalised in Europe.

Spain has previously supported the creation of a European public prosecutor to help counteract the short-selling of eurozone financial products – which in turn could hurt traders based in the City. Steen called the proposals "another layer of bureaucracy" that was irrelevant to the cause of tackling modern slavery.

Klara Skrivankova of the NGO Anti-Slavery International said greater co-operation could be achieved by better use of pan-European police forces such as Europol. "The tools are there, but we don't use them enough. Europol is still seen as a supplementary force – it should be more proactive. Modern slavery works across borders: if you solve the problem in one place, the gangs just move elsewhere."

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« Reply #9459 on: Oct 21, 2013, 06:39 AM »

Montenegro police clash with extremists at gay pride march

Police in Podgorica fire teargas to repel anti-gay extremists who threw stones and firebombs in attempt to disrupt march

Associated Press in Podgorica, Sunday 20 October 2013 18.16 BST   

Police in Montenegro fired teargas to repel anti-gay extremists who threw stones and firebombs at officers protecting a gay pride march on Sunday.

As many as 60 people were injured in the clashes.

The violence occurred when the attackers tried to break through police lines to reach those taking part in the march in Podgorica. After the march, the gay rights demonstrators were evacuated to a safe location in police vehicles.

Police said about 20 of the injured during the clashes were officers, and the remaining 40 were from "hooligan groups".

About 60 of the estimated 1,500 extremists who took part in the riots were arrested, police said.

The organiser of the gay pride march, Danijel Kalezic, said the police protection allowed about 150 activists to walk peacefully through the city.

"As of today, gay people are no longer invisible in Montenegro," Kalezic said. "From today, these streets are ours as well."

Such marches are seen as a test of Montenegro's commitment to human rights as it seeks to join the EU. Opponents attacked a similar march in July in the coastal town of Budva.

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« Reply #9460 on: Oct 21, 2013, 06:43 AM »

Partido X enters Spanish political ring to break up fight between left and right

Born of the 'indignados' movement and Spain's financial crisis, members plan to end two-party hegemony of PP and PSOE

Paul Hamilos in Madrid
The Guardian, Sunday 20 October 2013 15.46 BST        

In Puerta del Sol square, in the heart of Madrid, a group of pensioners armed with megaphones had gathered to angrily denounce the government's failure to protect their savings. Nearby, past the street hawkers and the tourists, a young man quietly entered the fourth day of a hunger strike.

These two small-scale protests this month show that anger in Spain – at corruption, recession, debt, the lost generation – has scarcely abated since a group calling themselves the "indignados" occupied Puerta del Sol in May 2011. Now, a new political party, Partido X, has emerged from the protests, with the intention of breaking the hegemony of the People's party (PP) and the Spanish Socialist Workers party (PSOE) that have taken turns to run the countryfor the last 30 years.

"In Spain there is a political class that, at best, doesn't understand the needs of civil society, and at worst is completely corrupt and bankrupt. They have to go," said Simona Levi, a theatre director, actor and longtime political activist who has become something of a spokeswoman for the party.

The PP and PSOE have lost millions of voters since the crisis began five years ago, and it is this space that Partido X wants to occupy. The careers of the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, and the PSOE leader, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, were formed in the 1980s, when the country was firmly divided between left and right. Their rhetoric is that of two old boxers, endlessly trying to knock out their opponent and unaware that many have long since tired of watching them fight.

"They are dead. It's just no one has bothered to give them the death certificate," said Gonzalo Boye, editor of the satirical magazine Mongolia. "Spain is the Titanic and the government is the musical band."

The chief focus of attack is corruption. Listing the number of open investigations into financial and political corruption is almost impossible. At national and regional level, at least 130 politicians of all stripes are facing charges ranging from pillaging state coffers to handing family members plum jobs. But that barely scratches the surface, and is reflected in the social standing of politicians, with poll after poll putting them at the bottom of the ladder.

The hunger striker, Jorge Arzuaga, who was with the indignados at the start of their heady journey, said the venality of the entire political class is the target of his anger. "It is my way of saying I've had enough of this corrupt government. Every day the situation gets worse, and it's time for change," he said.

Partido X is positioning itself as a force for such change. Like many young parties, it is light on policy proposals in some areas, but says it has its sights set on tackling corruption with a "Nuremberg-style trial for bankers" and a dedicated anti-fraud unit, and to bring in more participatory democracy, with regular referendums.

The party promises to provide financial aid for Spain's small businesses, increase the minimum wage and introduce a maximum wage so no boss can earn more than 10 times his or her staff. These, and various other measures, may earn a shake of the head from the financial sector, but could appeal to those who have been left on the margins.

Unlike the traditional parties in Spain, Partido X understands the power of the internet, and its members have been using social media to spread their message and gather funds as well as ideas.

The party refuses, however, to be drawn on whether it is of the left or right. It describes itself as "progressive", a rejection of old-style politics. Partido X has not yet committed to putting forward candidates in next year's European elections or Spain's general elections in 2015, but believes it could have millions of supporters by then.

Its aim, said Levi, is not just to get "one poor soul elected in order to send them to Brussels to waste their time". The party hopes for 25% of the vote, which most observers say is fanciful. But with so many disaffected voters, Partido X believes its time has come.

Levi said the party was still in the process of drawing up its programme, but added: "In all elections from now on, the voice of the people will be heard. We are working on our policies, listening to our supporters, and then we will find the right people to stand."

Asked whether the party was Eurosceptic, she said: "We are following our route map, and if Angela Merkel doesn't like what we have to say, that's up to her. Maybe Germany will be the only country left in the euro."

Many have drawn comparisons with the Five Star movement led by the comedian Beppe Grillo, which stormed the Italian elections last year. Levi, who was born in Italy, agrees there are some similarities, and that the two groups have been in contact, but says Partido X is keen to avoid being led by a populist, charismatic leaderand sees itself as a "party of, and for, the citizens of this country".

Partido X may eschew traditional forms of leadership, but Levi is an increasingly recognisable face, and the party has the support of Hervé Falciani, the former HSBC employee who blew the whistle on tax evasion in Switzerland. On board as an adviser is Tarso Genro, the governor of the Brazilian state Rio Grande do Sul and an ally of ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

The sociologist Alejandro Navas, from the University of Navarra, has studied the indignados and understands the appeal in a country where youth unemployment has forced many educated Spaniards to leave. "We tell young people the world is theirs, but then the adult world doesn't allow that to happen. There is a shortage of jobs, and the ones that are out there often have low salaries and short-term contracts."

There is a contradiction inherent in Spain, said Navas: "Young people reject politicians, but they also expect a lot from the state. There is a lot of pessimism and resignation, which it will be hard to break." He is equivocal about whether Partido X can break that mood, and whether its activist base can come to terms with mainstream politics. But, he said, "change will only come from the ground up, from small parties and organisations."

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« Reply #9461 on: Oct 21, 2013, 06:45 AM »

10/21/2013 12:43 PM

'Non-Negotiable' Demands: Social Democrats OK Coalition Talks

Formal talks on a grand coalition between Merkel's conservatives and the Social Democratic Party are due to start Wednesday after an SPD conference on Sunday gave its blessing. But the talks could prove difficult, and the outcome will be put to an SPD membership ballot. 

A party congress of the center-left Social Democratic Party on Sunday gave the go-ahead for coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, allowing negotiations to start Wednesday.

But the SPD listed 10 points it called "non-negotiable," including a minimum wage of €8.50 ($11.60) per hour, equal pay for men and women, greater investment in infrastructure and education, and a common strategy to boost growth in the euro zone.

Of the 229 SPD members who voted on Sunday, 196 backed the talks, 31 voted "no" and 2 abstained -- surprisingly strong support given how reluctant many in the party had sounded in the days following the Sept. 22 election about the prospect of another right-left grand coalition between the two main parties.

The last such alliance, during Merkel's first term between 2005 and 2009, ended badly for the SPD, which plunged to its worst national election result since World War II in 2009 because Merkel got all the credit for the work of that government.

"We aim to form a government by Christmas. That should be enough time," SPD Chairman Sigmar Gabriel told reporters. He said there would be disagreements but implied that they were likely to produce a deal. "If you start negotiations, you do so with the aim of bringing them to a successful conclusion," he added.

Finance Ministry Post in Question

In addition to government policy, the parties need to thrash out the allocation of cabinet posts. Media reports said the SPD wants the finance ministry, currently occupied by Wolfgang Schäuble of Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU). It would be a major prize that would give the SPD a de facto veto over Merkel in key areas including Europe.

The SPD appears to have dropped its demand for a tax increase for the rich, though.

A grand coalition would enjoy an overwhelming majority in the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, and find it easier to push legislation through the Bundesrat, the upper house where the governments of Germany's 16 federal states are represented.

The new government is unlikely to take any steps to boost the rights of gay couples. In preliminary talks last week, Merkel and her Bavarian ally Horst Seehofer, leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU) party, ruled out measures such as introducing adoption rights for same-sex couples, and Gabriel accepted that demand.

But supporters of gay adoption expect the Federal Constitutional Court to make a ruling in their favor at some point, anyhow. The court has already recently forced Merkel's government to back down in its opposition to equal tax treatment for same-sex partnerships.

Even when a coalition agreement has been finalized -- which some say could take until December -- grassroots members of the SPD will have a final say on it. The SPD will seek approval of the pact in a ballot of its 472,000 members.

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« Reply #9462 on: Oct 21, 2013, 06:52 AM »

Hinkley nuclear power station gets go-ahead as coalition signs off EDF deal

Building to commence on Britain's first nuclear power station in 20 years as government hands subsidy to French company

Patrick Wintour   
The Guardian, Monday 21 October 2013   

Britain is to embark on building its first nuclear power station for two decades on Monday as the coalition hands a multibillion subsidy to France's EDF with help from a state-owned Chinese firm.

The two planned pressurised water reactors at Hinkley Point C, Somerset, are the first to start construction in Europe since Japan's Fukushima disaster and the first in the UK since the Sizewell B power station came online in 1995.

The new reactors, which will cost £14bn, are due to start operating in 2023 if constructed on time and will run for 35 years. They will be capable of producing 7% of the UK's electricity – equivalent to the amount used by 5m homes.

After months of delay, the news came as the coalition has come under intense pressure over rising electricity bills. British Gas and SSE have both announced price rises for customers of close to 10% and Ed Miliband's promise to freeze energy bills has struck a chord with voters. There are expected to be further rises announced by the big six energy companies this week.

Over the weekend the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, waded into the row over energy prices, warning that the latest wave of hikes looks inexplicable. Welby, a former oil executive, insisted the big six energy companies had an obligation to behave morally rather than just maximising profit.

"They have control because they sell something everyone has to buy. We have no choice about buying it," he told the Mail on Sunday. "With that amount of power comes huge responsibility to serve society."

The guaranteed subsidies promised by the government for Hinkley Point C will lead to accusations that ministers are loading a further cost on spiralling energy prices by again requiring British taxpayers to subsidise nuclear power. The coalition counters that similar subsidies are going to other carbon-free industries such as renewables and that the country needs the energy security and steady base load that nuclear provides. Gas prices, although relatively low, are predicted to rise.

Britain is taking a sharply different route to Germany, which has decided to phase out nuclear power, and Italy, which has scrapped a planned nuclear programme. France, traditionally the nuclear enthusiast, has pledged to cut atomic power to 50% of its electricity mix from 75% today.

The strike price – the guaranteed rate to be paid for electricity produced at the Somerset site – will be announced as £92.50 on Monday, following two years of complex negotiations. That is nearly twice the market price of energy. The price is guaranteed for 35 years and will rise in line with inflation.
Hinkley Point map

EDF was thought to have started negotiations demanding a figure of £100, with the Treasury's gambit being £80.

The price will fall to £89.50 if EDF presses ahead with a second plant at Sizewell, Suffolk. Chancellor George Osborne removed another obstacle last week when he announced that Chinese firms would be allowed to invest in civil nuclear projects in the UK.

Ministers will come under twin attack from green groups, both for endangering safety and providing subsidy, as well as from enthusiasts for shale gas for failing to put their faith in cheap gas, currently nearly half the cost of nuclear.

The energy secretary, Ed Davey, is preparing to counter green groups by arguing that onshore or offshore wind could not fill the energy gap created by the decommissioning of the first wave of power stations. By some estimates, Hinkley Point C will generate the equivalent output of 6,000 onshore wind turbines.

EDF's longtime partner, China General Nuclear Power Group, possibly in combination with China National Nuclear Corporation, is expected to have a 30% to 40% stake in the consortium, with Areva taking another 10%, according to French weekend newspaper reports. The deal is thought to provide a 10% return on EDF's investment.

The coalition policy is being led by the Liberal Democrats – the party that had, in principle, opposed nuclear power right up until its party conference in September. The deal is a huge gamble for both the government and EDF, since projecting the state of the electricity market and wholesale prices 35 years ahead is fraught with risk.

Michael Fallon, the Conservative energy minister, signalled another review of the green subsidies imposed on energy firms, but Davey said: "It only takes a GCSE in maths to recognise that green subsidies are not pushing up prices. It is a fact that 47 % of energy prices come from wholesale prices and they have risen 50% in five years."

• This article was amended on 21 October 2013. An earlier version said that 7% of the UK's electricity was enough to power 7m homes. The correct figure is 5m.


David Cameron hails nuclear power plant deal as big day for Britain

Planned reactors at Hinkley will be first to begin construction since Fukushima disaster and will come online in 2023

Patrick Wintour, political editor, Monday 21 October 2013 08.54 BST   

David Cameron has hailed the UK government agreement with French-owned EDF to build the first new British nuclear power station in 20 years, saying it was a very big day for Britain and would kickstart a new generation of nuclear power in the UK.

The energy secretary, Ed Davey, claimed it was a great deal for consumers and would result in energy bills falling by more than £75 by 2030.

He added: "If we don't make these essential investments … we're going to see the lights going out."

The 35-year deal, struck at £92.50 per megawatt hour, is twice the current wholesale market rate for electricity, and will be attacked by some as a massive subsidy to help another non-carbon fuel, with the funds going to the French taxpayer and the Chinese government, which has a minority stake to build the new plant at Hinkley C in Somerset.
Hinkley Point map

With the deal between the UK government and EDF announced on Monday morning, Cameron said: "This is a very big day for our country: the first time we've built a new nuclear power station for a very long time."

He said the deal would be the first of many "kick-starting again this industry, providing thousands of jobs and providing long-term, safe and secure supplies of electricity far into the future".

The subsidy inherent in the strike price reflects the risk in constructing the plant, uncertainty over the future market and the need to reduce the UK's dependence on carbon fuels, such as coal and gas.

But the deal comes at a politically sensitive time as the government fends off criticism that government-imposed green subsidies are pushing up the price of electricity.

Cameron has rejected a Labour proposal for a 20-month government-imposed freeze on energy prices.

The shadow energy secretary, Caroline Flint, said Labour supported nuclear power, but claimed: "David Cameron is now in the ridiculous position of saying that they can set prices 35 years ahead for the companies producing nuclear power, while insisting they can't freeze prices for 20 months for consumers while much-needed reforms are put in place."

Davey said 57% of the jobs and contracts would go to UK contractors, a way of rebuilding the country's nuclear skills.

The two planned pressurised water reactors at Hinkley Point C will be the first to start construction in Europe since Japan's Fukushima disaster and the first in the UK since the Sizewell B power station came online in 1995.

The new reactors, which will cost £14bn, are due to start operating in 2023 if built on time and will run for 35 years. They will be capable of producing 7% of the UK's electricity – equivalent to the amount used by 5m homes.

In details released on Monday morning, the strike price – the fixed price at which output will be sold – has been set at £89.50 per megawatt hour for electricity produced at the new power station. That price will be fully indexed to consumer price inflation. But the price, at 2012 prices, is dependent on EDF moving ahead with a second plant, Sizewell C, in Suffolk. If it decides not to proceed, another £3/MWh will be added to the strike price for Hinkley, bringing it up to £92.50/MWh.

The reduction reflects the fact that advanced costs for a "first of a kind" nuclear power station are high, but reduce with each successive new plant as economies of scale kick in, the official said. The strike price covers not only the costs of building Hinkley Point C, but all decommissioning and nuclear waste management costs.

EDF was thought to have started negotiations demanding a figure of £100, with the Treasury's gambit being £80.

EDF, which is majority-owned by the French taxpayer and whose investment is likely to be guaranteed by the UK Treasury, will have to start depositing money into a special fund for such liabilities from the start of the project. The government has still not yet completed the process of agreeing a system of storing the waste.

The agreed strike price should allow EDF to make a 10% rate of return on the project. Costs would fall for taxpayer if EDF managed to refinance its package in the future, so sharing the gain.

The strike price is expected to be reviewed 7.5 years, 15 years and 25 years after the commercial operations date of the first reactor as well at the end of the contract term. Protection would be provided for any increases in nuclear insurance costs as a result of withdrawal of HMG cover.

• This article was changed on 21st October. And earlier version said that 7% of UK electricity is enough to power 7m homes. The correct figure is 5m.

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« Reply #9463 on: Oct 21, 2013, 06:57 AM »

Stop and search: on the streets with the police

With its 9% success rate and disproportionate targeting of young black men, stop and search is widely blamed for public distrust of the police. Ben Ferguson and Guy Grandjean joined a London patrol to see how the power is used

Ben Ferguson and Guy Grandjean   
he Guardian, Sunday 20 October 2013 20.00 BST    

Link to video: Stop and search: police battle for control of London's streets

Willesden, north-west London, 2.30am. A passer-by has seen a man try to break into some vehicles, chased him away and called 999. Minutes later, PC Paul Jones reaches the area and begins searching through bins, down alleyways and behind fences until he spots someone fitting the description. Jones is not convinced by the 19-year-old's account of why he's there, and soon discovers what he thinks might be a tool for breaking windows nearby. This gives Jones the grounds he needs to search him, and he begins running his hands down the man's legs, through the seams of his jacket and the turn-ups of his trousers.

As one suspect admitted to me – immediately after Jones had unloaded a spare watch and a wallet containing someone else's ID card from his jacket – Jones is "one of the good guys. Other officers, certain CID, unmarked cars, they're the worst."

Earlier this year, a police watchdog suggested there could be quite a few of these "other officers". A review by HMIC (Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary) found police had carried out a stop and search without reasonable grounds in 27% of cases. Under the law, the power should be used when based on specific and objective information that a person is in possession of a stolen or prohibited item. The home secretary Theresa May resolved that it was "time to get stop and search right", launching a public consultation that closed in September with 4,000 responses. Keenly aware of the fact that stop and search is a major issue for ethnic minority voters, May will announce the outcome before the end of the year.

Denise Richards, the chair of a stop-and-search scrutiny group for Brent police (where Jones works), believes the large response to the consultation indicates the widespread distrust and resentment created in communities by "negative" searches – those in which stolen or prohibited items are not found. "Stop and search doesn't just have an impact on the young person. It impacts on their family, their mothers, their fathers, their grandmas. It impacts on the community," she says.

It's perhaps no coincidence that the Metropolitan police suggested we see how stop and search works in the London borough of Brent; it has a better record than most, with 21% of searches resulting in arrest, considerably more than the national average of 9%. To the general public, this figure makes stop and search look at best like a waste of police time and at worst like the result of incompetence. But there's a second, more disturbing reason why the power has become discredited: black people are searched seven times as often as white. For Richards, the only explanation is institutional racism. "It's linked in with the perception that the police have of young black men. I don't have a problem with stop and search. I have a problem with the disproportionate number of young black men who are being searched."

The recent political attention has left many officers worried that the power might even be taken away. "I think stop and search is one of my best tools to prevent crime and solve it," says Jones, a 33-year-old who worked as an estate agent before joining the police. "If I'm going to a call with suspects on the premises, I'm looking for that person as I approach. I might not catch them in the house, but if I can catch them coming out of the house with stolen property, stop and search is the only way I can get my hands in their pockets."

Other officers from Wembley police station share Jones's view, recounting successes that range from the discovery of a meat cleaver strapped to a penis to a rock of crack cocaine the size of a bar of soap up someone's backside. Tales of unsuccessful searches are not so common, yet despite Brent's good record, officers are still statistically more likely to have a negative stop and search.

A few days later we accompany 23-year-old PC Rob Farriello on patrol in one of Brent's three large social housing estates, Church End. Farriello, who joined the force at 18, is on the look-out for two suspects described as mixed-race teenagers with large afros, who local residents have witnessed committing a street robbery. As we drive, he says that from his point of view even negative stop and searches are useful, as a deterrent, because gang members need to bear in mind that they could be frisked. "People you know are actively involved in drug dealing, in carrying weapons – they're the right people to search," he says. "If you don't find something, there's a good chance you've disrupted them from doing something."

Most people will be reassured to learn that the police have a pretty good idea who all the gang members are, as well as other people involved in crime. This information is kept on an extensive "CrimInt" (criminal intelligence) database, alongside updates on gang rivalries and what to look out for while on patrol. But a known face or previous convictions do not constitute reasonable grounds for a search, and it's here that the practical application of the power risks veering beyond the margins of legality. Putting aside the philosophical problems – Is the friend of a gang member also a gang member? Is a gang member a gang member when he's with his mother? – a negative search leaves those who have been frisked feeling like victims of harassment. The result, one resident says, is that people who would be quite useful sources of information put up walls of silence. On a more prosaic level, the "right" people know they are the "right" people; they are used to being searched and the boy (usually a boy) just gives his knife or drugs to someone less likely to get searched – a girl or a white friend – instead.

During our time with the Brent officers, we witness Jones and Farriello uncover drugs, weapons and stolen items from suspects; they also dodge left hooks, dress stab wounds, and do other things that seem quite noble and heroic. Yet in spite of all this, members of the public continue to peer into the police car as if there is a huge rubber hand on the roof giving every passer-by the middle finger. With every scowling face I'm reminded of a brilliant interview with a Bronx police chief called Tony Bouza in the 1977 documentary The Police Tapes. "You look at the average policeman … he goes to the police academy and he's told he's going to be helping people … and then he gets out there and he suddenly discovers he is bitterly resented and he's shocked … the policeman has great difficulty assimilating this knowledge and he becomes hardened. The insularity grows, the parochialism grows and they become an island." For any officer who might want to step off this island to go fishing, stop and search would act as quite a good rod.

During our time with the officers, the only white person we see searched is a 50-year-old man with mental health problems in the leafy northern part of the borough. Our days and nights are mainly spent responding to emergency calls on the built-up south side, where non-white faces are much more common. On a day off we meet Roy Croasdaile, a local resident and member of an independent police advisory group. He explains that the geography of policing is associated with inadequate housing, poor education, high rates of unemployment and cultural perceptions. Together these things become inextricably linked to the disproportionate number of young black men searched. He adds that quoting disproportionality figures – as Theresa May has done this conference season – is misleading.

"If you have people reporting crimes involving black people fighting black people, it's understandable that you should have police officers targeting black people under section 60," he says, referring to a provision of the Police and Public Order Act allowing officers to perform stop and search in exceptional circumstances in response to specific gang violence. But he makes a key distinction: "That's not the same as discrimination, when you don't have that kind of intelligence but you're still stopping lots of black people."Since 2011, when stop and search was found to have been a major source of discontent among those who took part in the riots, broad changes have occurred in the use of the power. Across London, Pace (Police and Criminal Evidence Act) searches for drugs, weapons and stolen items – which have a broad profile of offenders – have dropped from over half a million to 356,567. Brent has halved its figure from 33,331 to 16,556. According to Farriello and Jones's boss, Borough Detective Superintendent Simon Rose, "Officers have to be more selective, to use the power with more consideration and measure outcome rate not usage." Consideration, it seems, includes not searching people based on the colour of their skin, since the proportion of black people searched has also fallen since 2011.

Midnight. A 21-year-old Somali man is stopped near Church End after the Audi A3 hire car he is driving triggers Farriello's automatic number-plate reading system. The display says: "Involved in the supply of drugs". This on its own isn't enough to justify searching the driver, but a waft of weed smoke, along with flakes of cannabis on the car floor, torn off Rizla packets and broken cigarettes, give Farriello the reasonable grounds he needs.

"You're just picking on me right now. That's how it feels," sighs the driver, who was on his way to eat. The street search is negative so the hungry motorist is taken back to Harlesden police station, where a strip search also turns up nothing. Earlier that week I'd witnessed Jones tell two boys sharing a joint that Brent are too busy to arrest for cannabis, so later I ask Farriello whether the intelligence on this man's car meant he was treated differently. "No," says Farriello. "His previous convictions or anything he was known for had nothing to do with the reason he was strip searched," adding that "often a positive search comes down to luck."

Metropolitan police commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe accepts that it is difficult to eliminate the "luck" factor in stop and search, and tells me that commanders of forces need to work on teaching their officers how to stand down in situations where they have got it wrong. One resident we meet, Kevin Noel, acquired a criminal record at the age of 18 when a negative search turned into a charge of assault on two police officers. He argues that people who live on housing estates that have become synonymous with crime get targeted by surveillance and disruption powers far more frequently than anyone else. "We're all just poor around here, but not everyone is a criminal. When officers use stop and search as a deterrent, we're going to see it as harassment."

Jones concedes that others members of the force might be less professional than him. "I guess when you get 30,000 officers you're going to get 30,000 different ways of doing something." He thinks the focus needs to be on conversion figures – the ratio of stops to arrests – for specific officers: an officer with a poor conversion rate should spend time alongside officers with a better record.

Back in Willesden, a police van arrives to collect the 19-year-old who Jones has now arrested. The suspect finishes his cigarette and climbs in. I manage to get a word with him before he gets in the cage. Whatever comes of the consultation on stop and search, the teenager says, it will take at least 10 years of good policing for everyone to have faith once again.

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« Reply #9464 on: Oct 21, 2013, 07:02 AM »

October 20, 2013

Opera Fights Hungary’s Rising Anti-Semitism


BUDAPEST — Ivan Fischer is best known as a first-class conductor whose Budapest Festival Orchestra has entranced audiences worldwide. Last week, Mr. Fischer took on a new role — social critic — when the orchestra gave the premiere of an opera he had composed as a rebuke to what he and others see as growing tolerance for anti-Semitism in today’s Hungary.

Based on an infamous 19th-century case in which a group of Jews were wrongly accused in the death of a Hungarian peasant girl, Mr. Fischer’s opera, “The Red Heifer,” is a vivid display of how cultural figures have emerged as some of the most vocal critics of Hungary’s rightward and authoritarian drift under Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

At a time when the traditional left-wing political opposition is hobbled by corruption scandals and its Communist past, Mr. Fischer is among a growing group of artists challenging a government that has tested the ideals of the European Union. The others include the pianist Andras Schiff and a popular theater director, Robert Alfoldi, who was ridiculed by right-wing politicians for his homosexuality.

The tensions in Hungary come as many right-wing parties are on the rise across the Continent and cultural figures from France to Greece to Eastern Europe are starting to respond. At the same time, many former Soviet countries are wrestling with their identities, pulled between the market and social forces of the West and deeply rooted national tendencies.

But in few places are cultural figures taking as strong a part in the debate as they are in Hungary. Since coming to power in 2010, Mr. Orban’s government has changed the constitution to limit the power of the judiciary and restrict press freedom, civil liberties groups say. More troubling, the far-right Jobbik party controls nearly 20 percent of Parliament, with a nationalistic, anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant platform unthinkable elsewhere in Europe.

“The Red Heifer” is based on a blood libel from 1882 that divided the country much as the Dreyfus affair later did in France. His ambitious composition uses both a full orchestra and a Gypsy band, with references to music from Klezmer to rap to Mozart. The production, featuring adults and children, is set in the 19th century but includes pointed contemporary references.

Onstage, a red papier-mâché cow stomps on the peasant girl’s foot. Another scene features lively folk dancing by the same crowd that later turns into soccer hooligans blowing vuvuzelas, waving Hungarian flags and calling for retribution against the Jews. After that, the 19th-century Hungarian statesman Lajos Kossuth arrives out of the past, singing in a deep bass-baritone: “I am ashamed by the anti-Semitic agitation; as a Hungarian, I feel repentant toward it, as a patriot, I scorn it.”

In an interview this month, Mr. Fischer said that he had long wanted to write an opera based on the case, but it was the rise of Jobbik that spurred him to action.

“In the last one or two years, it came up to me, and I thought, ‘Now I have to write it,’ ” Mr. Fischer said as he sat in the study of his airy home here, near a grand piano and a wall of books in many languages — an island of cosmopolitanism in a country increasingly turning inward.

“Culture shouldn’t be interested in day-to-day politics,” said Mr. Fischer, who has also been the principal conductor of the Washington National Symphony Orchestra. “We want to be valid next year and the year after. But I think culture has a strong responsibility to find the essence, the real concealed truth which lies behind the day to day.”

Today, that picture shows Mr. Orban subtly courting voters on the far right, hoping to preserve his majority in elections scheduled for next spring. This has contributed to a climate in which, as part of more generalized criticism against foreign forces — especially the European Union and the International Monetary Fund — it has become acceptable public discourse to blame Jews for the country’s economic problems. Last year, Imre Kertesz, Hungary’s Nobel Laureate novelist, compared Mr. Orban to the Pied Piper and said democracy had never fully taken root in Hungary. That same year, Mr. Schiff, a renowned pianist, stirred debate when he said he would not set foot in his native Hungary while Mr. Orban was still in power.

Mr. Fischer, who is Jewish, said he doesn’t feel the same way and is dedicated to the Budapest Festival Orchestra, which receives funds from the government. Still, he has moved his family to Berlin, commuting to remain part of the conversation in Hungary.

The blood libel, known as the Tiszaeszlár (tea-sa-ESS-lar) affair, after the eastern Hungarian town where it took place, is well known in Hungary. Last year, a member of Parliament from Jobbik urged lawmakers to reopen the case, in which the Jews were eventually acquitted of the girl’s death.

He was roundly condemned. Indeed, the Orban government has taken pains to separate itself from Jobbik. “There is no cooperation or partnership with Jobbik, and its support is not required for any decision in Parliament,” a government spokesman, Ferenc Kumin, wrote in an e-mail.

The rise of the far right also comes amid a significant Jewish revival in Hungary since the fall of the Berlin Wall. This month, Hungary’s deputy prime minister said in Parliament that Hungarians must accept responsibility for the Holocaust. Next year, Hungary plans to dedicate millions of dollars for programs commemorating the 70th anniversary of the deportation of Hungarian Jews.

Mr. Fischer said he welcomed the steps but wished the government would go further, “to isolate themselves from everything that the far-right does.” As part of a family-values campaign, in the past two years, Jobbik politicians have publicly ridiculed Mr. Alfoldi in Parliament for being gay. He was ousted as director of the National Theater last summer, replaced by a director closer to the government.

While Mr. Fischer is better known abroad than at home, Mr. Alfoldi has become something of a national hero. Before his ouster, Mr. Alfoldi’s productions, from revamped Hungarian classics to Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America,” had been so popular that people camped out all night for tickets. He is now starring on television in the Hungarian version of “The X-Factor,” which he said averages 2.5 million viewers in a country of 10 million.

A speech he delivered this month in Vienna about the role of culture in a democracy was widely republished and debated in the Hungarian press.

In an interview here, Mr. Alfoldi touched on its themes. “I am not what the government thinks a Hungarian citizen ought to be,” he said. “According to them, a good citizen ought to be Christian, heterosexual, have more than one kid; he should not have a critical attitude and should believe in the past.”

He added: “A citizen should not ask questions either. But I think it is the job of a theater director, especially the job of the director of the National Theater, to ask questions, and to ask questions that are important for the whole society,”

Hungary has a vocal civil society. Since 2011, thousands have taken to the streets to protest the government’s changes to the constitution and its new media law. Journalists and analysts say that the changes have not stifled free speech but are a potential threat — a weapon the government could use if it decided to. The result has been self-censorship. (The government denies that the law represses free speech.)

After the performance of “The Red Heifer,” audience members debated its impact. “If 700 or 800 people see this opera, it will have no effect,” said Josef Janos. A friend, Katalin Patkos, chimed in. “We shouldn’t be so pessimistic,” she said. “It’s a contribution. How effective a contribution, that isn’t Fischer’s problem.”

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