October 25, 2013
Loss of Power in Georgia Can Bring Trial, or Worse
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
KUTAISI, Georgia — Three days before Georgia’s presidential election, Ivane Merabishvili, the former prime minister and still a leader of the country’s main opposition party, sat in a courtroom here, in the glass box reserved for defendants held without bail.
Prosecution witnesses were testifying against him in a convoluted case of alleged vote-buying ahead of last year’s parliamentary elections, which his party lost. In a larger sense, though, Mr. Merabishvili was Exhibit A of the consequences of falling out of power in this part of the world, which can mean not just losing a job but facing prosecution, prison, exile or worse.
As voters go to the polls on Sunday to replace President Mikheil Saakashvili in what by all predictions will be a rare, peaceful transition, Mr. Merabishvili is not alone. More than 10 other former ministers or other high-level officials who served with him in Mr. Saakashvili’s government are on trial or facing prosecutions that could bring long sentences.
There is also intense speculation that Mr. Saakashvili will be arrested when he leaves the presidency later this month — to the point that he has been in talks about taking a position as a visiting professor at Columbia University, with supporters advising him that time outside the country might reduce his chances of incarceration.
To members of Mr. Saakashvili’s party, United National Movement, the criminal cases represent ruthless political retribution. It is particularly undeserved, they say, because Mr. Saakashvili accepted his party’s defeat last year by Georgian Dream, the party led by the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is now prime minister.
“So far in Georgia the bad tradition is winners take all and losers stop existing,” David Bakradze, United National Movement’s candidate for president, said in an interview on Friday. “That was the tradition of all previous elections except the last one. Usually, we never had a ruling party which survived after the defeat in elections.”
Mr. Bakradze is widely expected to lose to the Georgian Dream candidate, Giorgi Margvelashvili, in a race that has been overshadowed by Mr. Ivanishvili’s plan to step down as prime minister. He has said he will name a successor after the election.
A late surge by a third candidate, Nino Burdzhanadze, who is a former speaker of Parliament, could further upend the race. If no one receives more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held. Ms. Burdzhanadze favors improved relations with Russia and has also called for Mr. Saakashvili’s arrest.
Mr. Bakradze said his bid had been severely hamstrung by the prosecutions. “We have thousands and thousands of party activists who have been summoned and questioned, so basically the party machinery is severely damaged,” he said.
Members of Mr. Ivanishvili’s government say the criminal cases represent something just as rare as peaceful elections in Georgia: legal accountability for corrupt public officials who have abused their authority.
Archil Kbilashvili, the country’s chief prosecutor, described an array of crimes committed by former officials, including theft, bribery and embezzlement, as well as abuse of prisoners and other rights violations. In an interview in his office in Tbilisi, the capital, Mr. Kbilashvili denied that his office had made targets of political opponents.
“What can I say?” he asked with a philosophical air. “On the one side, many say there are too many defendants from the prior government, and the process could be assessed as politically motivated. However, if you go to the Georgian public and ask their opinion, the prosecutor’s office is not as strong as it should be.”
The officials facing criminal cases include two former defense ministers, Bachana Akhalaia and Davit Kezerashvili, who was arrested last week in France; a former justice minister, Nika Gvaramia; a former finance minister, Alexander Khetaguri; and a former health minister, Zurab Tchiaberashvili.
Mr. Kbilashvili recited details of many of the cases, without consulting notes. “Each case is quite well prepared and substantiated,” he said, noting that Mr. Merabishvili was charged here after a six-month investigation.
“For these six months, we questioned thousands of witnesses,” he said, adding, “These are not politically motivated prosecutions.”
Mr. Bakradze and other supporters of Mr. Merabishvili expressed particular outrage that he had been jailed without bail for more than five months. They have compared his case to that of Yulia V. Tymoshenko, the jailed former prime minister of Ukraine. Mr. Kbilashvili countered that Mr. Merabishvili was so feared that no witness would testify against him knowing he was free.
Western governments, which have pressed for Ms. Tymoshenko’s release, have expressed muted concern about the developments in Georgia.
In a statement about Georgia this month, the European Union said, “Criminal prosecutions should be transparent, respectful of the due process, and apply the rule of law in an impartial way, free of political motivation — including in cases involving high-profile political personalities.”
A recent report by Transparency International, a pro-democracy group, noted some positive aspects of the court proceedings. “The principles of equality and adversariality of the parties were observed,” the report said. “Defense as well as the prosecution enjoyed equal opportunities.”
On the more than two-hour drive to the courthouse here from Tbilisi, Mr. Tchiaberashvili, the former health minister, who is a co-defendant with Mr. Merabishvili, alternated between expressing outrage over the prosecutions and promoting the Saakashvili government’s achievements, including the smoothly paved highway he was traveling.
Mr. Tchiaberashvili, who was Georgia’s permanent representative to the Council of Europe, in Strasbourg, France, as well as ambassador to Switzerland and the United Nations office in Geneva, said the charges were baseless, and would discourage young Georgians from public service.
“Whatever good you do for your country, one day may come and a government that will put you in jail,” he said. “This brings nihilism and apathy.”
He said he had refused to testify against Mr. Merabishvili, who is widely known as Vano. “Vano was the target from the beginning,” he said. “I’m collateral damage.”
In addition to the current case, Mr. Merabishvili faces three others, including charges of ordering excessive force in the dispersal of a protest held in May 2011 when he was interior minister.
In court, Mr. Merabishvili at times laid his head on his hands so he could speak to his lawyers through a small opening in the glass box. At other times, he jumped in to question witnesses, which is allowed under court rules, or winked and waved to supporters.
In an interview on Friday night, President Saakashvili said he expected the prosecution to fail. “This case will collapse if there is even the slightest fairness in the court,” he said. But he conceded that he, too, could be a target. “The prime minister envisions for me either exile or jail,” he said, noting that he would enjoy an academic appointment but that no offer had been made, and that he would never leave Georgia for good.
Mr. Tchiaberashvili said the prosecutions were unnecessary given Mr. Saakashvili’s willingness to turn over power after losing the parliamentary election last year. Simply winning, though, is not enough in the Georgian political tradition, he said.
“In the post-Soviet space, when you lose, you lose everything,” he said. “There is this mentality of winner takes all.”
Olesya Vartanyan contributed reporting from Tbilisi, Georgia, and Andrew E. Kramer from Moscow.
India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
October 25, 2013, 8:49 am
How an Indian Stranger’s Blood Saved a Young Pakistani in Delhi
By SHAHAN MUFTI
I ended up in India, oddly, because I could not get to Pakistan. I had lived half my life in Pakistan. Both of my parents are Pakistani, with family roots in and around the city of Lahore as far as either one could see. But I am a citizen of America. I was born in the United States and had spent the other half of my life living in this country. I was a few hours’ drive from New York when the planes struck in September 2001.
Months later, I saw on a college notice board that the American Fulbright program was inviting American applicants to travel and study in countries with large Muslim populations. And so I immediately decided to apply. But I quickly found that there wasn’t an opportunity to go to Pakistan — it was deemed too dangerous.
One day as I looked at a map, pondering where to go, my eyes settled on the mammoth country along Pakistan’s eastern border. It was so opaque to me that it might as well have been a blank space on the map. I did know that in that country of a billion people there were nearly as many Muslims as there were in Pakistan. And so I sent in my application listing the city 300 miles east of Lahore, as my preferred location: Delhi.
I arrived in India in the fall of 2004, at a time when relations between the two South Asian nuclear powers had never been warmer. Pakistan and India had fought four wars, one in nearly every decade since the two countries became independent in 1947, but in the months before my arrival, Pakistan and India inaugurated a bus and a train line connecting Lahore and Delhi. Islamabad and Delhi opened up a nuclear hotline, to expedite the exchange of quick and frank information in case of any misunderstanding regarding the countries’ nuclear weapons. Most important, the two countries had started playing cricket against each other for the first time since the tit-for-tat nuclear weapons tests of 1998.
Still, it was virtually unheard of for a Pakistani civilian to be living in India, or vice versa. A tiny fraction of people from either country would ever get a visa to travel across the border, and even those who did could stay for only a few days at a time. For both Pakistanis and Indians, the neighbor was always like an itch in a phantom limb that could never be scratched.
The technicality of my being an American enabled me to spend a full year in India. Here was an opportunity like none other, and I could not wait to plunge right into it. Looking back, it was that attitude that probably got me in trouble in the first place.
It took me only three days to find an apartment. It was a small studio in the leafy neighborhood of Vasant Vihar, near a block of foreign embassies, and I signed a lease on the spot. My landlord was a towering but jovial Punjabi Sikh man with gray eyes who wore a magnificent blue turban. He didn’t budge much on the price, but he insisted that he had given me a good deal because his grandfather, like mine, was from Lahore.
Early the next morning, I left my apartment to meet a group of local outdoor adventurers for a rock-climbing trip. I had picked up rock climbing years ago, exploring the wilderness of the American Southwest. If passion for cricket was my Pakistani badge, this thrilling and deeply personal adventure sport was my American one. I thought I was going out for the day and so I packed a banana and a water bottle. Little did I know that morning that I would not return to my apartment for almost two weeks.
It was just before noon when I fell off a tall rock face and came crashing to the ground. Caa-rrrack. It sounded like a thick branch snapping off a tree. At first, it didn’t seem like a noise that could have possibly come from a human body. It did not hurt either. But as soon as I tried to stand up, my left leg gave way, and I collapsed to the ground. That’s when I saw that my leg was dangling at a right angle halfway up the shin. Then I saw the rhythmic spurts of blood sprouting through my track pants. The bone had torn right through the skin.
I felt a numbing current run up my body and I began to scream, very loudly. My memories from the next several hours register only in flashes. The horrified faces of the people I had met only hours before crowded into my vision as I lay on my back. I panicked when I realized that I had not learned the name of a single person yet.
Someone wrapped my leg in a dirty insulation pad and I was hauled to and laid out in the backseat of a van. The smell of sweaty climbing shoes stuffed my nostrils and mixed with the metallic taste in my mouth. A woman wearing a parka peered over my face and apologized for the traffic we were apparently stuck in. It was the beginning of Diwali, the most important annual Hindu religious holiday, she explained. Delhi was experiencing some of its worst traffic jams of the year.
When I came to, it was very dark and quiet. My mouth felt like it was lined with thick paper and I had barely enough strength to open my eyes. I saw my left leg suspended in the air, wrapped up in white bandages, lifted off a hospital bed by a wire. “Paani,” I called out for water, using the word common to Urdu and Hindi.
A nurse briskly approached my bedside in the dark and poured water into my mouth with a pipette. “Is it over?” I asked in Urdu. “You need to rest, go back to sleep,” the young female voice instructed me in strongly Indian-accented English.
The doctor who had operated on me walked in the next morning and introduced himself pleasantly as Dr. Dey. I fired all the questions I had been pondering in the hours I had lain there awake and alone. “Will I walk again? Will I walk with a limp? How long will I have to stay in bed?” He told me that I was bedridden for at least eight weeks. It was a long surgery, six hours in total. I had lost many ounces of blood in the hour I was stuck in traffic. I had lost a small piece of my tibia and now had a pound of metal rods and screws inside my leg holding it together. I would have to stay in the hospital for about 10 days.
He didn’t answer my other questions. “You’re very weak right now and you need time to recover,” he said in English. Then scanning the empty room he asked, “Don’t you have anyone coming for you?” I did not tell him that my family was in Pakistan.
I grew weaker with every passing day. I had noticed that the doctors had started to whisper outside the door to my private room. On day five, Dr. Dey burst in, dressed in a white coat, studying a clipboard of notes, and without missing a beat declared, “We need to get blood in you.” He explained that my hemoglobin had dipped below the point where my system could lift it up again on its own. I had hit a slippery slope. “I don’t need it, Dr. Dey,” I lied. “I feel better today.”
He repeated himself, this time looking straight at me. Within minutes, a tall rickety rack was carted over by my bedside and a needle was inserted into my forearm. I traced with my flailing eyeball the stream of ruby-colored blood up to a plump plastic pouch. It sat there, resolutely dripping, one drop at a time, and I felt a chill crawl over me. It was the first time someone else’s blood had run through my body.
I began to shiver and a nurse walked over and placed a blanket over my chest. It was normal to feel cold, she whispered. I didn’t respond. My heart did not even have the energy to race, and I closed my eyes.
In that moment I began imagining, like a movie, a story my mother had told me about her life as a young teenager in Lahore: It was the war of 1965 between India and Pakistan. The fighting on the border was intense. Hundreds were being killed every day, and my mother, only 16 years old at the time, had snuck out to the Mayo Hospital without telling her parents. She wanted to donate blood for the soldiers, but the nurse on duty told her that to do so, she had to be at least 18 years old.
But my mother pleaded with her, begging to take her blood. It was needed badly on the battlefield and so, eventually, the nurse gave in. My mother had watched with satisfaction as the soft plastic pouch full of her deep purple blood was carted off to another room to be spilled elsewhere on the land. I opened my eyes now, to see myself in India receiving the blood of an Indian.
This essay has been excerpted from “The Faithful Scribe: A Story of Islam, Pakistan, Family and War,” Shahan Mufti’s memoir of Pakistan. Mr. Mufti has written for Harper’s magazine, Grantland, Bloomberg Businessweek and The New York Times Magazine.
Five killed as massive nationalist protest rocks Bangladesh
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, October 25, 2013 13:12 EDT
Five demonstrators were killed across Bangladesh and more than 100,000 opposition activists rallied in the capital Dhaka on Friday to demand that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina quit and order polls under a caretaker government.
Police said the protesters died after officers and border guards opened fire in three towns as the supporters of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its Islamist allies rioted across the country.
Two protesters were killed and several others were injured by bullets in the southern resort district of Cox’s Bazaar when border guards opened fire at several thousand supporters of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).
“The border guards opened fire after the BNP activists defied a ban on rallies and attacked the forces,” Cox’s Bazaar district deputy police chief Babul Akter told AFP. “Two persons were killed and a few more were hit by bullets.”
Two more were killed by bullets in the central district of Chandpur after BNP activists clashed with police and ruling party supporters, local police chief Amir Jafar told AFP. “Police fired after the BNP supporters attacked them with arms and small bombs,” he said.
A demonstrator died in the northern town of Jaldhaka after the elite Rapid Action Battalion opened fire at about 10,000 rampaging supporters of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, a key ally of the BNP, area police head Mohammad Moniruzzman told AFP.
The clashes occurred as the BNP and its Islamist allies called nationwide mass protests to force Hasina to resign ahead of the January 2014 elections and set up a technocrat-led caretaker government to oversee the polls.
BNP leader Khaleda Zia addressed a rally of over 100,000 supporters at a national memorial in central Dhaka, renewing her threat to boycott the polls and setting Hasina a new weekend deadline to hold a dialogue on her demand for a caretaker government.
“There will be no election under Hasina. We won’t allow any one-party election. The election must include all parties and be conducted by a neutral caretaker government,” Zia told the crowd, announcing a nationwide strike for Sunday to Tuesday to press her demands.
Local Dhaka police chief Sirajul Islam put the number of the crowd at the rally at “over 100,000″. Witnesses and BNP officials said the figure was double.
Tensions have been rising in Bangladesh since Hasina’s ruling Awami League (AL) party rejected an October 24 deadline set by the BNP for accepting its demands. The AL instead called on its activists to take to the streets to face down the opposition.
Zia, who has twice served as premier, branded the government “illegal” as of Friday, citing a legal provision that requires a neutral caretaker government to be set up three months before elections slated for January 2014.
But the ruling AL abolished the provision in 2011, handing the job of overseeing polls to a reformed Election Commission.
Deadly year of political violence
The government has deployed thousands of police and paramilitary border guards in Dhaka, in the port city of Chittagong where the ruling party called a rival rally that was peaceful, and other potential flashpoints.
“We’ve sent BGB (Border Guard Bangladesh) troops to 20 major cities and towns,” BGB director colonel Hafiz Ahsan told AFP.
Police said they fired rubber bullets in half a dozen other towns, leaving scores injured after the supporters of the AL party and the BNP clashed.
While the nation has a long history of political violence, this year has been the deadliest since Bangladesh gained independence in 1971.
At least 150 people have been killed since January after a controversial court began handing down death sentences to Islamist leaders allied to ex-premier Zia.
An ex-mayor of Dhaka fuelled tensions last week after he asked opposition supporters to join the protests armed with machetes and axes.
Fearing clashes, police banned all political rallies and street protests in major cities. But on Thursday night they decided to allow the BNP to hold the Friday rallies after the party vowed to defy the ban.
The last time the two main parties fought street battles was in late 2006, when dozens were killed, causing the country to shut down for weeks before the army stepped in to cancel elections and set up a military-backed caretaker government.
The seed for the latest crisis was sown in 2010 when the Hasina government announced there would be no caretaker administration at the next elections, arguing such a system enables the army to seize power in a country which has seen at least 19 coups since 1975.
The BNP has vowed to boycott polls without a caretaker government, arguing the system has delivered four successive free and fair polls since 1990 when democracy was restored after over a decade of military rule.
Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?
What happens to a country when its young people stop having sex? Japan is finding out… Abigail Haworth investigates
The Observer, Sunday 20 October 2013
Ai Aoyama is a sex and relationship counsellor who works out of her narrow three-storey home on a Tokyo back street. Her first name means "love" in Japanese, and is a keepsake from her earlier days as a professional dominatrix. Back then, about 15 years ago, she was Queen Ai, or Queen Love, and she did "all the usual things" like tying people up and dripping hot wax on their nipples. Her work today, she says, is far more challenging. Aoyama, 52, is trying to cure what Japan's media calls sekkusu shinai shokogun, or "celibacy syndrome".
Japan's under-40s appear to be losing interest in conventional relationships. Millions aren't even dating, and increasing numbers can't be bothered with sex. For their government, "celibacy syndrome" is part of a looming national catastrophe. Japan already has one of the world's lowest birth rates. Its population of 126 million, which has been shrinking for the past decade, is projected to plunge a further one-third by 2060. Aoyama believes the country is experiencing "a flight from human intimacy" – and it's partly the government's fault.
The sign outside her building says "Clinic". She greets me in yoga pants and fluffy animal slippers, cradling a Pekingese dog whom she introduces as Marilyn Monroe. In her business pamphlet, she offers up the gloriously random confidence that she visited North Korea in the 1990s and squeezed the testicles of a top army general. It doesn't say whether she was invited there specifically for that purpose, but the message to her clients is clear: she doesn't judge.
Inside, she takes me upstairs to her "relaxation room" – a bedroom with no furniture except a double futon. "It will be quiet in here," she says. Aoyama's first task with most of her clients is encouraging them "to stop apologising for their own physical existence".
The number of single people has reached a record high. A survey in 2011 found that 61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18-34 were not in any kind of romantic relationship, a rise of almost 10% from five years earlier. Another study found that a third of people under 30 had never dated at all. (There are no figures for same-sex relationships.) Although there has long been a pragmatic separation of love and sex in Japan – a country mostly free of religious morals – sex fares no better. A survey earlier this year by the Japan Family Planning Association (JFPA) found that 45% of women aged 16-24 "were not interested in or despised sexual contact". More than a quarter of men felt the same way.
Many people who seek her out, says Aoyama, are deeply confused. "Some want a partner, some prefer being single, but few relate to normal love and marriage." However, the pressure to conform to Japan's anachronistic family model of salaryman husband and stay-at-home wife remains. "People don't know where to turn. They're coming to me because they think that, by wanting something different, there's something wrong with them."
Official alarmism doesn't help. Fewer babies were born here in 2012 than any year on record. (This was also the year, as the number of elderly people shoots up, that adult incontinence pants outsold baby nappies in Japan for the first time.) Kunio Kitamura, head of the JFPA, claims the demographic crisis is so serious that Japan "might eventually perish into extinction".
Japan's under-40s won't go forth and multiply out of duty, as postwar generations did. The country is undergoing major social transition after 20 years of economic stagnation. It is also battling against the effects on its already nuclear-destruction-scarred psyche of 2011's earthquake, tsunami and radioactive meltdown. There is no going back. "Both men and women say to me they don't see the point of love. They don't believe it can lead anywhere," says Aoyama. "Relationships have become too hard."
Marriage has become a minefield of unattractive choices. Japanese men have become less career-driven, and less solvent, as lifetime job security has waned. Japanese women have become more independent and ambitious. Yet conservative attitudes in the home and workplace persist. Japan's punishing corporate world makes it almost impossible for women to combine a career and family, while children are unaffordable unless both parents work. Cohabiting or unmarried parenthood is still unusual, dogged by bureaucratic disapproval.
Aoyama says the sexes, especially in Japan's giant cities, are "spiralling away from each other". Lacking long-term shared goals, many are turning to what she terms "Pot Noodle love" – easy or instant gratification, in the form of casual sex, short-term trysts and the usual technological suspects: online porn, virtual-reality "girlfriends", anime cartoons. Or else they're opting out altogether and replacing love and sex with other urban pastimes.
Some of Aoyama's clients are among the small minority who have taken social withdrawal to a pathological extreme. They are recovering hikikomori ("shut-ins" or recluses) taking the first steps to rejoining the outside world, otaku (geeks), and long-term parasaito shingurus (parasite singles) who have reached their mid-30s without managing to move out of home. (Of the estimated 13 million unmarried people in Japan who currently live with their parents, around three million are over the age of 35.) "A few people can't relate to the opposite sex physically or in any other way. They flinch if I touch them," she says. "Most are men, but I'm starting to see more women."
Aoyama cites one man in his early 30s, a virgin, who can't get sexually aroused unless he watches female robots on a game similar to Power Rangers. "I use therapies, such as yoga and hypnosis, to relax him and help him to understand the way that real human bodies work." Sometimes, for an extra fee, she gets naked with her male clients – "strictly no intercourse" – to physically guide them around the female form. Keen to see her nation thrive, she likens her role in these cases to that of the Edo period courtesans, or oiran, who used to initiate samurai sons into the art of erotic pleasure.
Aversion to marriage and intimacy in modern life is not unique to Japan. Nor is growing preoccupation with digital technology. But what endless Japanese committees have failed to grasp when they stew over the country's procreation-shy youth is that, thanks to official shortsightedness, the decision to stay single often makes perfect sense. This is true for both sexes, but it's especially true for women. "Marriage is a woman's grave," goes an old Japanese saying that refers to wives being ignored in favour of mistresses. For Japanese women today, marriage is the grave of their hard-won careers.
I meet Eri Tomita, 32, over Saturday morning coffee in the smart Tokyo district of Ebisu. Tomita has a job she loves in the human resources department of a French-owned bank. A fluent French speaker with two university degrees, she avoids romantic attachments so she can focus on work. "A boyfriend proposed to me three years ago. I turned him down when I realised I cared more about my job. After that, I lost interest in dating. It became awkward when the question of the future came up."
Tomita says a woman's chances of promotion in Japan stop dead as soon as she marries. "The bosses assume you will get pregnant." Once a woman does have a child, she adds, the long, inflexible hours become unmanageable. "You have to resign. You end up being a housewife with no independent income. It's not an option for women like me."
Around 70% of Japanese women leave their jobs after their first child. The World Economic Forum consistently ranks Japan as one of the world's worst nations for gender equality at work. Social attitudes don't help. Married working women are sometimes demonised as oniyome, or "devil wives". In a telling Japanese ballet production of Bizet's Carmen a few years ago, Carmen was portrayed as a career woman who stole company secrets to get ahead and then framed her lowly security-guard lover José. Her end was not pretty.
Prime minister Shinzo Abe recently trumpeted long-overdue plans to increase female economic participation by improving conditions and daycare, but Tomita says things would have to improve "dramatically" to compel her to become a working wife and mother. "I have a great life. I go out with my girl friends – career women like me – to French and Italian restaurants. I buy stylish clothes and go on nice holidays. I love my independence."
Tomita sometimes has one-night stands with men she meets in bars, but she says sex is not a priority, either. "I often get asked out by married men in the office who want an affair. They assume I'm desperate because I'm single." She grimaces, then shrugs. "Mendokusai."
Mendokusai translates loosely as "Too troublesome" or "I can't be bothered". It's the word I hear both sexes use most often when they talk about their relationship phobia. Romantic commitment seems to represent burden and drudgery, from the exorbitant costs of buying property in Japan to the uncertain expectations of a spouse and in-laws. And the centuries-old belief that the purpose of marriage is to produce children endures. Japan's Institute of Population and Social Security reports an astonishing 90% of young women believe that staying single is "preferable to what they imagine marriage to be like".
The sense of crushing obligation affects men just as much. Satoru Kishino, 31, belongs to a large tribe of men under 40 who are engaging in a kind of passive rebellion against traditional Japanese masculinity. Amid the recession and unsteady wages, men like Kishino feel that the pressure on them to be breadwinning economic warriors for a wife and family is unrealistic. They are rejecting the pursuit of both career and romantic success.
"It's too troublesome," says Kishino, when I ask why he's not interested in having a girlfriend. "I don't earn a huge salary to go on dates and I don't want the responsibility of a woman hoping it might lead to marriage." Japan's media, which has a name for every social kink, refers to men like Kishino as "herbivores" or soshoku danshi (literally, "grass-eating men"). Kishino says he doesn't mind the label because it's become so commonplace. He defines it as "a heterosexual man for whom relationships and sex are unimportant".
The phenomenon emerged a few years ago with the airing of a Japanese manga-turned-TV show. The lead character in Otomen ("Girly Men") was a tall martial arts champion, the king of tough-guy cool. Secretly, he loved baking cakes, collecting "pink sparkly things" and knitting clothes for his stuffed animals. To the tooth-sucking horror of Japan's corporate elders, the show struck a powerful chord with the generation they spawned.
Kishino, who works at a fashion accessories company as a designer and manager, doesn't knit. But he does like cooking and cycling, and platonic friendships. "I find some of my female friends attractive but I've learned to live without sex. Emotional entanglements are too complicated," he says. "I can't be bothered."
Romantic apathy aside, Kishino, like Tomita, says he enjoys his active single life. Ironically, the salaryman system that produced such segregated marital roles – wives inside the home, husbands at work for 20 hours a day – also created an ideal environment for solo living. Japan's cities are full of conveniences made for one, from stand-up noodle bars to capsule hotels to the ubiquitous konbini (convenience stores), with their shelves of individually wrapped rice balls and disposable underwear. These things originally evolved for salarymen on the go, but there are now female-only cafés, hotel floors and even the odd apartment block. And Japan's cities are extraordinarily crime-free.
Some experts believe the flight from marriage is not merely a rejection of outdated norms and gender roles. It could be a long-term state of affairs. "Remaining single was once the ultimate personal failure," says Tomomi Yamaguchi, a Japanese-born assistant professor of anthropology at Montana State University in America. "But more people are finding they prefer it." Being single by choice is becoming, she believes, "a new reality".
Is Japan providing a glimpse of all our futures? Many of the shifts there are occurring in other advanced nations, too. Across urban Asia, Europe and America, people are marrying later or not at all, birth rates are falling, single-occupant households are on the rise and, in countries where economic recession is worst, young people are living at home. But demographer Nicholas Eberstadt argues that a distinctive set of factors is accelerating these trends in Japan. These factors include the lack of a religious authority that ordains marriage and family, the country's precarious earthquake-prone ecology that engenders feelings of futility, and the high cost of living and raising children.
"Gradually but relentlessly, Japan is evolving into a type of society whose contours and workings have only been contemplated in science fiction," Eberstadt wrote last year. With a vast army of older people and an ever-dwindling younger generation, Japan may become a "pioneer people" where individuals who never marry exist in significant numbers, he said.
Japan's 20-somethings are the age group to watch. Most are still too young to have concrete future plans, but projections for them are already laid out. According to the government's population institute, women in their early 20s today have a one-in-four chance of never marrying. Their chances of remaining childless are even higher: almost 40%.
They don't seem concerned. Emi Kuwahata, 23, and her friend, Eri Asada, 22, meet me in the shopping district of Shibuya. The café they choose is beneath an art gallery near the train station, wedged in an alley between pachinko pinball parlours and adult video shops. Kuwahata, a fashion graduate, is in a casual relationship with a man 13 years her senior. "We meet once a week to go clubbing," she says. "I don't have time for a regular boyfriend. I'm trying to become a fashion designer." Asada, who studied economics, has no interest in love. "I gave up dating three years ago. I don't miss boyfriends or sex. I don't even like holding hands."
Asada insists nothing happened to put her off physical contact. She just doesn't want a relationship and casual sex is not a good option, she says, because "girls can't have flings without being judged". Although Japan is sexually permissive, the current fantasy ideal for women under 25 is impossibly cute and virginal. Double standards abound.
In the Japan Family Planning Association's 2013 study on sex among young people, there was far more data on men than women. I asked the association's head, Kunio Kitamura, why. "Sexual drive comes from males," said the man who advises the government. "Females do not experience the same levels of desire."
Over iced tea served by skinny-jeaned boys with meticulously tousled hair, Asada and Kuwahata say they share the usual singleton passions of clothes, music and shopping, and have hectic social lives. But, smart phones in hand, they also admit they spend far more time communicating with their friends via online social networks than seeing them in the flesh. Asada adds she's spent "the past two years" obsessed with a virtual game that lets her act as a manager of a sweet shop.
Japanese-American author Roland Kelts, who writes about Japan's youth, says it's inevitable that the future of Japanese relationships will be largely technology driven. "Japan has developed incredibly sophisticated virtual worlds and online communication systems. Its smart phone apps are the world's most imaginative." Kelts says the need to escape into private, virtual worlds in Japan stems from the fact that it's an overcrowded nation with limited physical space. But he also believes the rest of the world is not far behind.
Getting back to basics, former dominatrix Ai Aoyama – Queen Love – is determined to educate her clients on the value of "skin-to-skin, heart-to-heart" intimacy. She accepts that technology will shape the future, but says society must ensure it doesn't take over. "It's not healthy that people are becoming so physically disconnected from each other," she says. "Sex with another person is a human need that produces feel-good hormones and helps people to function better in their daily lives."
Aoyama says she sees daily that people crave human warmth, even if they don't want the hassle of marriage or a long-term relationship. She berates the government for "making it hard for single people to live however they want" and for "whipping up fear about the falling birth rate". Whipping up fear in people, she says, doesn't help anyone. And that's from a woman who knows a bit about whipping.
October 25, 2013
Angry Over Syrian War, Saudis Fault U.S. Policy
By BEN HUBBARD and ROBERT F. WORTH
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia has abandoned its traditional policy of discretion in recent weeks, signaling deep anger at the Obama administration’s Middle East policies and threatening to break with its most powerful ally and pursue a more robust and independent role in supporting the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
But privately, Saudi officials concede that their efforts to forge an alternative strategy in Syria have run up against the same issue the Americans face: how to bolster the military might of a disorganized armed opposition without also empowering the jihadists who increasingly dominate its ranks.
And while Saudi officials have hinted at a broader diplomatic shift away from the United States, their options are limited there, too: Saudi Arabia is dependent on American military and oil technology, and the other countries the Saudis have courted — including France and India — can help only on the margins, analysts say.
Diplomats who have spent time recently with Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi intelligence chief running the kingdom’s Syria operation, say he seems most preoccupied not with Mr. Assad’s forces, but with the number of foreign jihadists in Syria, which he estimates at 3,000 to 5,000, including about 800 Saudis whose identities his government closely tracks. He expects those numbers to double every six months, said an American official who knows him well.
The Saudis work to broaden their support to the Syrian rebels by sending money and arms to nonjihadist factions. But their fear of blowback is a limiting factor, rooted in their bitter experience with Saudis who fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s and later returned to mount deadly terrorist attacks here.
“No Saudis will be trained to fight in Syria — in fact, we don’t want any Saudis there at all,” said Prince Turki al-Faisal, who was the kingdom’s intelligence minister when thousands of Saudis went — with the government’s blessing — to fight in Afghanistan.
It is particularly galling for the Saudis to see that their regional rival, Iran, has no such fears as it carries out a far more effective proxy war in Syria. It has deployed its Revolutionary Guards and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah as far afield as Yemen to recruit jihadist-style fighters for the cause, who are then trained and equipped in Iran or Syria, American officials say. The commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, visits Damascus regularly and is playing a leading role in Mr. Assad’s military campaign against the rebels, American and Arab officials say.
In a sense, Prince Bandar is Mr. Soleimani’s counterpart, but his failure to shape a cohesive rebel force helps explain the depth of the Saudis’ anger at the Obama administration’s decision not to launch airstrikes on Mr. Assad’s military in September. They feel their hands are tied, and the recent gestures — including Saudi Arabia’s unprecedented refusal of a seat on the United Nations Security Council — are rooted in a belief that only the United States has the military power and global authority to make a difference in Syria.
“Refusing the council seat this way, after we had won it, had more impact than if we had just withdrawn two years ago,” said Prince Turki, who gave a speech on Tuesday in Washington assailing the Obama administration for its failure to provide more support to the rebels. Prince Turki, who has no official position, said he believed the gesture was aimed in part at a Saudi domestic audience and in part at the United States, in hopes that it could win some leverage for a more aggressive stance on Syria.
“Whether we can get Mr. Obama to change his mind, I don’t know,” Prince Turki said.
Syria is not the only Saudi grievance against the Obama administration. With Egypt, the Saudis were angry that Washington turned on its longtime ally, President Hosni Mubarak, and accepted the election of an Islamist, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Saudis were again upset that the United States suspended some aid after the military overthrew Mr. Morsi in July.
While Washington may have felt it had no choice but to support the millions who poured into the street calling for Mr. Mubarak’s ouster and to show some displeasure with a military takeover, the Saudis saw the United States as having let down an ally in support of the Islamists, twice.
The Saudis also feel slighted by Washington’s seeming eagerness to reach a nuclear deal with Iran — negotiations they feel they should be a part of. Iran is Saudi Arabia’s nemesis in the region, and the Saudis are worried that Washington is again being naïve in trusting that Iran will offer a sincere and verifiable compromise with its nuclear program.
But Syria has been a special concern for Saudi Arabia’s monarch, King Abdullah, Saudi officials say, for two reasons. He feels responsible for halting the wide-scale killing of his fellow Sunni Muslims. And Syria has become the most important battleground, in Saudi eyes, for the perennial conflict with Iran, which is seen here as almost an existential threat to the kingdom because of its goal of exporting its own brand of revolutionary Shiite Islam across the Muslim world.
“Saudi Arabia cannot afford to be encircled by Iran, from Iraq and Syria. That is out of the question,” said Khalid al-Dakhil, a political sociology professor at King Saud University who has called for Saudi Arabia to become less dependent on the United States.
The Saudis were initially reluctant to provide military support to the rebels in Syria after the uprising turned into an armed opposition movement in 2011. The interior minister, Muhammad bin Nayef, was against it, and cited the concern that money and arms could flow to jihadists, according to a Western diplomat who spoke with him at the time.
The Saudis began funneling arms to the rebels in 2012, but provided light weapons only, largely out of concern that heavier weapons could get into the hands of jihadists. They mostly worked through middlemen, including Lebanese political figures who had long been part of their patronage network. But that approach hampered their effectiveness, with much of the money landing in foreign bank accounts instead of buying weapons for the rebels.
One of those intermediaries was Okab Saqr, the Lebanese member of Parliament who fled to Europe because of death threats after his role was exposed, though some in the Syrian opposition say he is still involved. Wissam al-Hassan, the Lebanese security general who was killed in an explosion in Beirut last year, also helped to coordinate military support to the rebels, according to a Lebanese official and a Saudi adviser who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal operations.
The Syrian opposition’s political arm complained about the intermediary role of the Lebanese, and asked the Saudis to deal with the opposition more directly.
In late 2012, Saudi Arabia grew frustrated with Qatar, which had been financing Islamist rebel brigades, and shifted its focus to Jordan, where it began working with the Jordanians and the C.I.A. in an effort to vet and train the more secular rebel groups. The Saudi effort was largely in the hands of Prince Bandar’s younger half-brother, Prince Salman bin Sultan, with Prince Bandar supervising from Riyadh.
Last weekend, Prince Bandar hinted that he would downscale this joint effort, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal, and that he might work more through the French and Jordanians. But French, Jordanian and Saudi officials dismissed those prospects, saying that Prince Bandar’s comments were meant to show anger at American inaction on Syria, not an actual plan.
“We can’t punish America,” said the Saudi official, adding that while the sense of grievance was strong, no specific steps had been taken to break with the United States. “We don’t have the tools.”
Other Saudis also expressed doubts that the kingdom could easily decrease ties with the United States.
“Move to what?” asked Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist with close ties to the royal family. “There is no alternative. It is just a tactical pressure on the American administration when it comes to Syria,” he said. “But Saudi Arabia has so much of value in the relationship with America, in security exchanges and the war on terror. We benefit more from this than the U.S. does from us.”
For the Syrian opposition, the Saudi outbursts have been encouraging, but members say they have not seen any signs of a new direction that might benefit them.
“If all this Saudi anger translates into more support for us, great,” said Najib Ghadbian, the United States representative of the Syrian Coalition, the opposition’s main political arm.
Ben Hubbard reported from Riyadh, and Robert F. Worth from Washington.
October 25, 2013
U.N., Fearing a Polio Epidemic in Syria, Moves to Vaccinate Millions of Children
By RICK GLADSTONE
United Nations officials said Friday that they were mobilizing to vaccinate 2.5 million young children in Syria and more than eight million others in the region to combat what they fear could be an explosive outbreak of polio, the incurable viral disease that cripples and kills, which has reappeared in the war-ravaged country for the first time in more than a dozen years.
The officials said that the discovery a few weeks ago of a cluster of paralyzed young children in Deir al-Zour, a heavily contested city in eastern Syria, had prompted their alarm, and that tests conducted by both the government and rebel sides strongly suggested that the children had been afflicted with polio.
The possibility of a polio epidemic in Syria, where the once-vaunted public health system has collapsed after 31 months of political upheaval and war, came as the United Nations is increasingly struggling with the problem of how to deliver basic emergency aid to millions of deprived civilians there.
Valerie Amos, the top relief official at the United Nations, told the Security Council on Friday that combatants on both sides of the conflict had essentially ignored the Council’s Oct. 2 directive that they must give humanitarian workers access to all areas in need.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Ms. Amos said she had expressed to the Council’s members “my deep disappointment that the progress that we had hoped to see on the ground as a result of that statement has not happened, and in fact what we are seeing is a deepening of the crisis.”
Dr. Bruce Aylward, the assistant director general for polio and emergencies at the World Health Organization, which is helping to lead the new polio vaccination effort in Syria, said officials at the agency were taking no chances and assuming that the 20 paralyzed children in Deir al-Zour were polio victims. “This is polio until proven otherwise,” he said in a telephone interview from the group’s headquarters in Geneva.
Despite the war, Dr. Aylward said he believed that both sides understood the urgent need for repeated vaccinations of all young children because polio can spread indiscriminately and is so difficult to eradicate. Nonetheless, he said, it remained unclear whether the vaccination effort, in all parts of Syria, would be impeded by the conflict’s chaos and politics.
“The virus is the kind of virus that finds vulnerable populations,” he said, “and the combination of vulnerability and low immunization coverage, that is a time bomb. There is a real risk of this exploding into an outbreak with hundreds of cases.”
The World Health Organization, working with Unicef and other aid groups, has organized a plan to administer repeated oral doses of polio vaccine in concentric geographical circles, starting with children in Deir al-Zour and eventually reaching western Iraq, southern Turkey, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories and Egypt. In Lebanon, home to more than 700,000 Syrian refugees, public health officials said Friday that they were undertaking a related effort to vaccinate all children under age 5.
Altogether, Dr. Aylward said, more than 10 million young children in the Middle East would get polio vaccinations over the next several weeks.
The World Health Organization has spent 25 years trying to eradicate polio. In recent years, the disease’s presence had narrowed to just three countries — Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan — from more than 125 when the campaign began in 1988. The virus is highly infectious and mainly affects children younger than 5. Within hours, it can cause irreversible paralysis or even death if breathing muscles are immobilized. The only effective treatment is prevention, the World Health Organization says on its Web site, through multiple doses of a vaccine.
While the source of the Syrian polio strain remained unclear, public health experts said the jihadists who had entered Syria to fight the government of President Bashar al-Assad may have been carriers. Dr. Aylward said there were some indications that the strain had originated in Pakistan. He cited the recent discovery of the Pakistani strain in sewage in Egypt, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.
The Syria aid crisis portrayed by Ms. Amos in her Security Council briefing reflected new levels of frustration over the Council’s inability to act decisively on the conflict, despite its binding — and so far successful — Sept. 27 resolution on the dismantling of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.
By contrast, the Council’s Oct. 2 statement requesting that all combatants in Syria protect civilians and allow unfettered access for humanitarian aid has no enforcement power.
“This is a race against time,” Ms. Amos said. “Three weeks have passed since the adoption of the Council’s statement, with little change to report.”
Ms. Amos told the Council that the Syrian government had withheld approval of more than 100 visas for United Nations staff members and members of other international aid groups, and had restricted workers from operating in areas with the greatest need. She also said as many as 2,000 armed opposition groups in Syria had made travel within the country increasingly dangerous. Kidnappings of humanitarian workers are increasingly common, she said, citing an instance last week when “we had a convoy that was ready to go, but we could not get enough drivers, as they fear for their lives.”
Saudi Arabia's women hold day of action to change driving laws
Government warily observes public reaction as media joins calls for ban on female drivers to be rescinded
Ian Black, Middle East editor
The Guardian, Saturday 26 October 2013
Saudi women are holding a day of action to challenge the kingdom's ban on female driving, amid signs of slowly growing readiness by the authorities to consider reform in the face of strong opposition by the clerical establishment.
Twitter, Facebook and other social media have been used to get women drivers on the roads on Saturday in a marathon push against this unique restriction.
Activists say they have 16,600 signatures on an online petition calling for change. Efforts to publicise the issue by the "October 26 driving for women" group have been described as the best-organised social campaign ever seen in Saudi Arabia, where Twitter has millions of users and is used to circulate information about the monarchy and official corruption.
Now the mainstream press is getting involved too, a telling indication of a thaw on this issue. "It's time to end this absurd debate about women driving," wrote Dr Thuraya al-Arid in al-Jazirah newspaper. In another paper, al-Sharq al-Awsat, Mshari al-Zaydi said: "The time has come to turn the page on the past and discuss this issue openly."
Previous attempts to promote change fizzled out in arrests for public order offences and demoralisation. In 2011, activist Manal al-Sharif made a YouTube video urging women to drive their own cars, and was imprisoned for over a week. But the signs are far more positive now.
Three female members of the shura (advisory) council – among 30 appointed by the 90-year-old King Abdullah – recommended this month that the ban be rescinded, though no debate has yet taken place. Latifa al-Shaalan, Haya al-Mani and Muna al-Mashit urged the council to "recognise the rights of women to drive a car in accordance with the principles of sharia [Islamic law] and traffic laws".
The three – praised by supporters for "stirring the stagnant water" – framed their argument with careful references to fatwas (religious edicts) banning women from being in the company of an unrelated male (a driver). Other ideas designed to reassure critics are appointing female traffic police and driving instructors. Cost is another big factor, with families having to employ chauffeurs, as is convenience.
Writer Maha al-Aqeel, who is planning to take her Mazda out for a spin in Jeddah — with her brother or nephew — sees the issue as the thin end of a wedge of reform in Saudi Arabia. "Driving is such a visible and symbolic thing," she told the Guardian. "It's not like women on the shura council – you cannot see that and you cannot see advances for women in the workplace. Many conservatives feel that if women get the right to drive then that's it, the last bastion of male control will fall. I think it should lead to other changes. That's why those who oppose it are so vehement. And that's why the government is treading so carefully. It does not want to cause a big uproar."
Signs of powerful opposition are easy to detect. This week 150 clerics and religious scholars held a rare public protest outside the king's palace in Jeddah to object to "westernisation" and "the conspiracy of women driving", blaming the US – a byword in traditionalist circles for anything distasteful or immoral – for being behind the campaign.
Until then, the government had conspicuously refrained from cracking down. But on Wednesday the interior ministry issued a stern pre-emptive warning that unlawful assemblies and marches would not be tolerated, and invoked the danger of sedition. On a closer reading, activists noted, the ministry did not actually attack the idea of dropping the ban. "They are not saying clearly that women shouldn't drive," Aqeel said. "The government wants to stay on the middle ground."
Neither sharia law nor national traffic regulations explicitly ban women from driving, but they are not issued licenses.
Campaigners have been emboldened by the low-key official response, with some emulating Sharif and uploading films on social media of themselves driving. In a video posted by the blogger Eman al -Nafjan, a female driver is seen cruising down a relatively busy road while passing motorists give enthusiastic thumbs-up signs in support. As expectations mount, many Saudi fathers are teaching their daughters to drive. "People are positive that things are going to change," said the journalist Abeer al-Mishkhas. "They just hope it will come soon. The government says it is waiting to see if society is becoming more tolerant."
Arguments aimed at keeping women off the roads can be shocking and nonsensical. "If a woman drives a car that could have negative physiological impacts as...physiological medical studies show that it automatically affects the ovaries and pushes the pelvis upwards," warned Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Lohaidan.
Nafjan argued in a commentary for Amnesty International that the fundamental issue was challenging patriarchy. "If there was one word to describe what it is like to be a Saudi woman, it would be the word patronising. No matter how long you live, you remain a minor in the eyes of the government."
Ecuador threatens to sue Britain over asylum for Julian Assange
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, October 25, 2013 13:58 EDT
Ecuador threatened Friday to sue Britain in international venues over the status of Julian Assange if it rejects a proposal to submit the matter to a bilateral commission.
The WikiLeaks founder took refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy in August 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning in two sexual assault cases.
Assange fears Sweden will hand him over to American authorities for prosecution for publishing a massive trove of classified US documents. But Britain has refused him safe passage to Ecuador.
In hopes of breaking the deadlock, Ecuador has proposed creating a bilateral commission to resolve the issue.
“We are hoping for a response, including one in writing, from (the British) and if they do not do so in a few days we will have to prepare an international suit so that the United Kingdom respects international law,” Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said in an interview with Ecuadoran public radio.
If London rejects the proposal, Patino said, “we will have no alternative but to go to international judicial venues to compel respect for Ecuador’s right to grant asylum, and their obligation to provide safe conduct.”
Chile's student protest leaders hope to dismantle the system from the inside
Camila Vallejo among those expected to elected to congress two years after free education call precipitated nationwide shutdown
Jonathan Franklin in Santiago
theguardian.com, Friday 25 October 2013 15.33 BST
Two years ago Giorgio Jackson was at the forefront of Chile's biggest protests since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship, when hundreds of thousands of students took to the streets in support of the right to free university education.
Now the 26-year-old is running for election – one in a group of former student activists hoping to make the leap from the frontlines of street activism to those of congress. Presidential and congressional votes are set for 17 November, and polls suggest Jackson – an independent running under the slogan "Now is the time" – is likely to be elected.
Two other activists, Camila Vallejo and Karol Cariola – both from the Communist Youth party – are expected to be voted in too. "For those of us who fought for such a long time [for education] … it was important to be actors and not spectators," says Jackson.
In a sign of Jackson's growing political force, many of his campaign adverts are directed by the Oscar-nominated Chilean film-maker Pablo Larraín, who directed No, a film dramatising the campaign in 1988 to vote Augusto Pinochet out of office. But Chile's electoral system penalises non-party affiliated candidates so Jackson will have to speak fast: he was allocated just four seconds for his public TV spot.
If elected, the student leaders will be at the forefront of a host of social movements that have rocked the political stage over the past three years. Not only students, but union leaders and environmentalists are seeking political office and a chance to bring new voices to a congress long dominated by traditional party stalwarts and backroom dealings.
Despite a return to democracy in 1990, the electoral laws remain mired in a set of rules established under Pinochet to help the right wing maintain a disproportionate share of power. The dictator was designated "senator for life" and leading members of the armed forces "designated senators", giving both the votes to veto reforms in the senate.
A host of other Pinochet-era election rules continues to distort Chilean democracy and make it difficult for independents or smaller party candidates to be elected. But turmoil and infighting within the right has hobbled the governing Alianza coalition over the past year, opening the way for the return of socialist Michelle Bachelet, Chile's first female president from 2006-2010.
Bachelet, a paediatrician who until recently ran the UN Women programme, is expected to win the presidential race easily and her popularity may help elect a lesser-known progressive candidates throughout Chile. "This new bloc that comes from different social movements could have a common front," says Jackson. "We have a lot of issues that unite us."
Vallejo, a former president of the University of Chile student union, says the election to congress of student leaders "will not only demonstrate that the social movements can and should have their own representatives in congress, but also make it possible … to build political spaces that allow us to make the structural changes our society demands".
With her silver nose ring and impassioned references to Karl Marx and Fidel Castro, Vallejo has become a modern Latin American folk hero. In the Chilean capital, Santiago, art galleries sell oil paintings of her while chalked messages of support decorate streets.
Running for office from the working-class Santiago neighbourhood La Florida, Vallejo is focusing her campaign on education reform and an overhaul of the Pinochet-era constitution. Ratified in 1980, the document is widely seen as obsolete and part of what she hopes to change with her "democratic revolution" – a plan she says could be financed by higher corporation taxes and which works within the boundaries of a constitutional democracy.
Vallejo's Communist party membership has long been a target of criticism from Chilean politicians and commentators. But Vallejo's effectiveness as a student leader and activist has earned the 25-year-old political respectability and a Twitter audience of more than 748,000 followers and a growing profile.
But Chilean rightwingers are dismissive of Vallejo and the new political activism.
"This new type of leadership is bad for the country," says Victor Pérez, a senator from the UDI party. "I am sure that the majority of Chileans are going to punish this form of politics, in which the citizen's aspirations are being toyed with and in which social progress is not the objective but simply personal projects."
Jackson says students are fighting to change a style of education imposed by the Pinochet dictatorship and maintained by civilian leaders. Under the military regime entire subjects were outlawed and senior army officers placed in charge of universities.
Even after the return to democracy, Chilean officials looked aside as higher education companies boomed, many of them "diploma mills" more focused on profits than education.
Jackson argues that the students are battling "a legacy of the privatisation of education, an understanding that education is not a right but something that you can purchase".
Vallejo says the Chilean government has long treated education as a commodity that "immediately distorts the principal objective which is to educate not earn profits, as well as generates a brutal socioeconomic segmentation … In other words the children who are born poor are going to receive a poor education and will continue to be poor."
The Christian Science Monitor
Titan's 'Great Salt Lake'? North pole of Saturn moon looks like Utah.
By Pete Spotts, Staff writer / October 24, 2013 at 6:11 pm EDT
Saturn's moon Titan hosts the equivalents of Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats – dried lake beds strewn with compounds left behind by evaporation – over a much wider expanse of the moon's north polar region than previous observations indicated, according to scientists.
New images delivered by NASA's Cassini orbiter also hint that much of Titan's northern region shares a common underlying geology, an observation that could help unravel the mystery of how the lakes formed and why most of the moon's lakes and all of its seas appear near the north pole.
The images mark the first time Cassini has been able to capture the entire north pole, according to Elizabeth Turtle, a planetary scientist at The Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., and a member of the Cassini science team.
The new images, which NASA released Wednesday, “have the potential to change our understanding of the north pole” of Titan, Dr. Turtle says.
Many planetary scientists view Titan as a time capsule, giving them a glimpse of what conditions on Earth might have been like before life emerged. Though Earth is much warmer than Titan, the moon hosts an inventory of organic compounds thought to be similar to those on Earth before life took hold. And the processes shaping Titan's surface – from flowing liquids to volcanic action – mirror those of Earth. Indeed, some astrobiologists posit that simple forms of life may exist below Titan's surface.
Unlike Earth, however, where lakes and ocean basins are filled with water, Titan's lakes are filled with methane and ethane. They fill lakes and seas, fall as rain, and etch channels as they flow along Titan's icy surface. (On the much-warmer Earth, these hydrocarbons appear as gases.)
Since its arrival in the Saturn system in 2004, Cassini has performed 94 close flybys of Titan. Researchers have identified and named three seas and 34 lakes, seven of which are dry lakes.
Two years ago, a team led by University of Idaho planetary scientist Jason Barnes identified what they interpreted as residue from evaporation on the beds of some of Titan's northern dry lakes. On Earth, such residue shows up as deposits of calcium carbonate, calcium sulfate, or salts. On Titan the residue would show up as solid organic compounds,
The new observations cover the entire north polar region and show similar deposits surrounding many of the liquid lakes, much as the Bonneville Salt Flats appear near the Great Salt Lake.
The big surprise came with the observation that most of the lakes appear to share geological underpinnings, Turtle says. This shows up as a vast bright area that spans much of the north polar region. It can be seen only at certain wavelengths of light picked up by the spacecraft's Imaging Science Subsystems cameras.
Getting a better understanding of what that underlying formation is made of could help sort between two leading ideas for how the seas formed, Turtle says.
Researchers take their lead from the shape of the lakes, which tend to be rounded, even if oblong, with steep sides that form crisp boundaries
“If we were looking at Io, we'd identify these as volcanic calderas,” Turtle says, referring to one of Jupiter's largest moons and the most volcanically active object in the solar system.
Indeed, one scenario for the lakes' origins points to volcanism, Titan style, where liquid or gaseous hydrocarbons, and perhaps even water, replace lava as the effluent. Some of the lakes also have a nested look common to some volcanic calderas.
Another scenario envisions underlying geology that liquids can easily dissolve. This would imply that the lake basins formed as sink holes. Researchers are performing lab experiments to see if this possible explanation is plausible, Turtle says.
Researchers are looking forward to Cassini's next close northern flyover, set to take place in about four years.
“If we were able to compare the observations we have now with observations four years from now we could see if things have changed,” Turtle says. “For example, if it rains in one area and the lake levels change there, but not elsewhere, that would suggest that, hydrologically, those areas are disconnected. But if there's an aquifer that connects them all and it rains in one area, they may all change.”
The new images highlight one broad aspect of Cassini's exploration of Titan: It's seldom boring.
“We've been looking at Titan with Cassini for a long time,” Turtle says. “And we're still discovering new things. It's such a complex system that we can be completely surprised, still.”
Associate director at Centers for Disease Control: We’ve reached ‘the end of antibiotics, period’
By Scott Kaufman
Friday, October 25, 2013 8:53 EDT
In an interview that aired on PBS’s Frontline, an associate director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Arjun Srinivasan, said that “for a long time, there have been newspaper stories and covers of magazines that talked about ‘The end of antibiotics, question mark?’ Well, now I would say you can change the title to ‘The end of antibiotics, period.’”
“We’re in the post-antibiotic era,” he continued. “There are patients for whom we have no therapy, and we are literally in a position of having a patient in a bed who has an infection, something that five years ago even we could have treated, but now we can’t.”
As an example, Dr. Srinivasan discussed the spread of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, which recently made headlines when word spread that three players from the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers were battling it. The options for treating it have always been limited, but until the past decade, MRSA infections were rarely seen outside of health-care facilities.
But about a decade ago, Dr. Srinivasan began to see “outbreaks in schools [and] health clubs. And what most of these people were getting was something very different from what we saw in hospitals.”
“In hospitals, when you see MRSA infections, you oftentimes see that in patients who have a catheter in their blood, and that creates an opportunity for MRSA to get into their bloodstream,” he continued. “In the community, it was causing a very different type of infection. It was causing a lot of very, very serious and painful infections of the skin, which was completely different from what we would see in health care.”
Because such infections can’t be treated with conventional antibiotic therapies, doctors have begun to “reach back into the archives” and use older antibiotics. “We’re using a lot of colistin,” Dr. Srinivasan said. “And we’re using more of it every year. It’s very toxic. We don’t like to use it. It damages the kidneys. But we’re forced to use it in a lot of instances.”
*************The entire Frontline report, “Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria,” can be viewed here.http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/hunting-the-nightmare-bacteria/
In the USA...United Surveillance America
October 25, 2013
Promised Fix for Health Site Could Squeeze Some Users
By ROBERT PEAR and SHARON LaFRANIERE
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration said Friday that it would fix problems in the federal health insurance marketplace by Nov. 30, just two weeks before the deadline to sign up for coverage to replace health insurance policies being canceled because they do not meet new federal standards.
To help meet that schedule, the Obama administration, in an abrupt shift, named a “general contractor” on Friday to oversee changes to the troubled Web site of the federal marketplace.
Such a condensed time frame raises the question of how hundreds of thousands of people whose current policies do not comply with the health law will obtain new coverage in time, and how millions who may qualify for subsidies will enroll. Some experts predicted a groundswell of demands from Congress and elsewhere to delay the deadlines.
Jeffrey D. Zients, President Obama’s troubleshooter on the project, said the general contractor, Quality Software Services Inc., a unit of the UnitedHealth Group, would now “manage the overall effort,” like a general contractor on a home improvement project. Notably, that company had a role in developing one of the most troubled components of the marketplace, which helped verify the identities of those registering.
Until now, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services served as the project’s quarterback. Contractors complained that the agency did not have the expertise to lead such a complex and ambitious undertaking, requiring the integration of dozens of programs and databases.
People involved in the repair effort said the Nov. 30 deadline was challenging but not impossible to meet. Mr. Zients, a management expert who is in line to take over as the chief White House economic adviser on Jan. 1, said, “By the end of November, HealthCare.gov will work smoothly for the vast majority of users.”
“It will take a lot of work,” he said. “A lot of problems need to be addressed. But let me be clear: HealthCare.gov is fixable.”
Since it went live on Oct. 1, the Web site has frustrated millions of people trying to obtain insurance under Mr. Obama’s health care law. For the administration, making it work is increasingly urgent for both political and practical reasons.
In recent weeks, insurance companies have notified hundreds of thousands of people around the country that their current coverage will end on Dec. 31 because it does not comply with the Affordable Care Act. For example, the policies may not provide “essential health benefits” like maternity care and may not cover as much of the medical costs as required by new federal standards.
In a typical letter, about 25,000 policyholders of Independence Blue Cross in Pennsylvania were informed, “As a result of the health care law, your current health plan will be discontinued effective December 31, 2013.”
Consumers living in Washington, D.C., were informed by CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield that “your current plan will cease to exist” on Jan. 1 because it does not conform to the new federal mandates.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida said it was informing about 300,000 subscribers that their insurance policies did not meet the new requirements.
Consumers are typically offered new coverage that meets federal standards, but the cost of comparable policies may be more or less than what they now pay, depending on a person’s age, income, family size, place of residence and tobacco use, among other factors.
Millions of consumers with individual policies are expected to qualify for subsidized rates. But the government must calculate the correct subsidies and process the enrollments — functions that were to be handled mainly by the Web site. People can also file applications on paper or by phone.
More than 19 million people have visited the Web site in the three and a half weeks since it opened as the main online vehicle in 36 states for choosing insurance coverage. But insurance executives said they were still receiving incomplete and inaccurate data on those who manage to get through the application process.
The new law requires most Americans to have health insurance. People generally must sign up by Dec. 15 for coverage that takes effect on Jan. 1. But the open enrollment period continues to March 31 for coverage that starts later. People who go without insurance after that date may be subject to tax penalties.
The chaos and confusion surrounding the federal exchange have prompted some Democrats and many Republicans to suggest that the penalties be deferred or the enrollment period extended for at least several months.
“The dam is going to burst now, calling for a delay,” said Robert Laszewski, president of Health Policy and Strategy Associates, a consulting firm in close touch with insurance executives. “It is a train wreck, truly a train wreck.”
Daniel J. Hilferty, president of Independence Blue Cross, which insures more than seven million people, said, “If the fix is in place by the end of November, we still believe that will be ample time” if insurance companies do enough “hand-holding.”
More than 30 House members signed a letter to Mr. Obama this week calling for the resignation of Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, who they said was responsible for “the fiasco that is HealthCare.gov.” Ms. Sebelius, who repeatedly promised that the exchange would be ready by Oct. 1, is scheduled to testify before Congress next week.
At a Congressional hearing on Thursday, lawmakers heaped scorn upon the contractors and their government supervisors.
“It does not instill confidence that officials at Q.S.S.I., who have been at the forefront of this mess,” are being selected to save the project, Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said on Friday, referring to Quality Software Services Inc.
The designation of Quality Software Services to coordinate work on the federal exchange represents a radical change in management of the project. People involved in the project have said that no one was effectively coordinating or integrating the work of the contractors. Appointing the company as the coordinator, said one specialist, “is better than not having anyone.”
CGI Federal, a unit of the CGI Group, has been the lead contractor on the federal exchange. How Quality Software Services will work with CGI, which built the system’s architecture, is unclear. The two companies have been pointing fingers at each other — and at the government — as Congress tries to determine who was responsible for the shortcomings of the federal exchange.
Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the administration had selected Quality Software Services to supervise the operation because the company was already “familiar with the complexity of the system” and had “the skills and expertise to address these problems right now.”
Specialists working on the project said it was better to choose a company already involved in the effort because trying to bring a new contractor up to speed would only delay the work.
Quality Software Services has been functioning as the project’s second biggest contractor. It built a “data services hub,” which transmits data back and forth among federal and state insurance exchanges and numerous federal agencies. The company said problems with the identity verification component had been largely fixed.
The company was acquired in September 2012 by the UnitedHealth Group. The parent company owns one of the nation’s largest insurance companies.
Robert Pear reported from Washington, and Sharon LaFraniere from New York. Ian Austen contributed reporting from Ottawa, and Reed Abelson from New York.
Ted Cruz isn’t the only Tea Party nut. There’s plenty more of them
By Ana Marie Cox, The Guardian
Friday, October 25, 2013 12:39 EDT
It’s instructive to remember that when the Tea Party first began to gather steam, the name referred to a “party” in the celebration sense – the Boston Tea Party, specifically: an event of planned chaos, a protest that masqueraded as an Indian attack. Over time, the name has lost its punny puckishness much as the movement has steadily shifted from a proudly anarchical – even populist – response and rebellion within the GOP to a smoothly functioning alternative to it. The government shutdown proved that attempts by the GOP establishment to co-opt the Tea Party as a source of energy just created a network of political sleeper agents. With its own mechanism for drafting (and supporting) candidates, its own agenda, and its own media eco-system, the Tea Party is a third party by almost any criteria but ballot affiliation – and leadership. The absence of any official organizational structure might be one reason the Tea Party has remained so lively despite a terrible national reputation and negligible policy achievements. When something goes wrong, those identified with the failure fade for a time and the attention of Tea Party-identified voters shifts smoothly to someone else. There’s also no demand for positive policy victories or signature legislation: no one has to win a debate, just spoil the outcome. Thus it’s no surprise that Ted Cruz is the current face of the Tea Party: All his achievements are proudly in the negative, all his goals are set resolutely in the past. But the Tea Party’s fickle and hive-like nature virtually demands that Cruz cycle out of the spotlight eventually. He will either fail to stop something from happening or, perhaps worse, accidentally cause something to get done. For when that happens: here’s a look at some of the Tea Party’s once and perhaps future leaders. The don’t-call-them comebacks: politicians and activists who’ve tasted Tea Party’s adoration and haven’t given up on a second sip. These are primarily hacks who clawed their way on stage at some point and are now biding their time in minor-media purgatory with the hope that they’ll be able to fake-controversy themselves into relevance once more. Herman Cain: the one-time front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination sputtered into the national conversation just this week, asserting the accusations of sexual harassment that sealed the end of his campaign were the work of “a force bigger than right”: the Devil. He is an aggressive and peppy Twitter user and turns up on Fox Business to predict disaster on a regular basis.
Former Congressman Allen West (Florida): the former congressman who compared the Democrats to Josef Goebbles and worried about Obama supports being a “threat to the gene pool” last month left his post as the director of programming for the conservative news aggregator Pajamas Media under allegations of anti-Semitism. He claimed that he was moving on voluntarily “to pursue political aspirations.” So keep an eye out.
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (Minnesota): she’s leaving Congress even as an ethics investigation against her continues; if she is seeking a quieter life you wouldn’t know it by the bombs she keeps throwing: In the last month, she proclaimed the government reopening to be “a very sad day” and said that Obama’s presidency was a sign of the end of the world. Miley Cyrus played her in an SNL sketch.
Congressman Paul Ryan (Wisconsin): former vice-presidential candidate currently in some kind of witness protection program, but he did manage to smuggle out a Wall Street Journal op-ed that was mostly ignored. He’s in a gym somewhere, waiting. Waiting.
Former Governor Sarah Palin (Alaska): will not be ignored, even though people try to: Her trippy word-salad appearance on Fox during the shutdown prompted an uncharacteristic reining in of the Wasilla wildwoman, with Megyn Kelly desperately trying to stop the crazy train: “Let me jump in! Let me jump in! But I want to ask you a question governor!”
Joe “the plumber” Wurzelbacher: His 15 minutes of fame ticks inexorably on, strung out by Wurzelbacher’s proud adoption of the Misunderstood White Guy cause. He popped into consciousness last month for re-posting a rant about “wanting a white President.” He is also available to act as a plumber. Most likely to succeed: Sarah Palin. She combines lack of self-awareness with a contradictory but well-honed sense of what makes good clickbait. Reporters will never, ever tire of her. The junior varsity class: They have yet to capture the Tea Party’s full attention, but could bound onto centerstage at any moment.
Senator Mike Lee (Utah): Right now probably best known as the guy still willing to sit next to Ted Cruz in the Senate cafeteria, Lee was one of the first candidates to stage a “Tea Party” challenge to a sitting Republican senator. Despite a narrow victory in that primary (that included placing second at the official nominating convention), Lee has legislated like a man who believes he’s got the mandate of a movement. He was at Cruz’s side, literally, during most of the shutdown and echoed the fiery rhetoric of the most extreme conservatives (he compared the campaign to shutdown the government to the Revolutionary War). Utahans are reportedly unhappy about this – all the better to move to a national stage!
Congressman Tom Cotton (Arkansas): Cotton has racked up an impressive amount of national attention as a fresh Republican face, and he’s done it without saying anything especially insane. He did quote John Wilkes Booth approvingly once, but has reserved his extremism more for policy than punditry – he wanted to extend sanctions on Iranian human rights violators to family members (in violation of the Constitution’s prohibition against conviction on the basis of “corruption of blood”) and was among those to vote for stripping food stamp provisions from the Farm Bill (this despite representing a third of Arkansas’ over 500,000 food stamp recipients). He’s challenging a conservative Democrat, Mark Pryor, rather than a moderate Republican in the state’s Senate race; a win could put him at the mean girls table with Lee and Cruz.
Matt Bevin: Bevin is the Kentucky hedge-fund manager mounting a populist primary challenge to that RINO squish Mitch McConnell (the current Senate Republican leader). McConnell’s refusal to champion Tea Party causes – he didn’t speak about the government shutdown until its third day – has made Bevin attractive to far right fundraisers and activists. Based more on disappointment in McConnell than Bevin’s promise (or crazy talk), his otherwise quixotic campaign (unseating a five-term minority leader) has gotten national attention and support from the likes of the Senate Conservative Fund (early backers of Cruz and Lee, as well as Cotton) and Palin. Most likely to succeed: I’ve got my eye on Cotton. He’s currently beating Democrat Mark Pryor by four points in the US senate race matchup. Pryor has already put up ads tying Cotton to the shutdown, but the tactic might not succeed as well as it could in other races – not because Arkansas voters liked the shutdown much more than anyone else, but because Cotton was savvy about moderating his support of it. In the end, in fact, he was one of the few House Republicans who voted to end it. Could that cost him national Tea Party support? It didn’t even cost him the support of the Club for Growth, who has been running ads on his behalf. As for the Tea party base, once Cotton is in the Senate he won’t have to answer to voters as often or as quickly and can take the same cost-free extreme stands that other Tea Party senators do. The models of false-modesty: these elected officials have been lauded as Tea Party leaders despite professed reluctance and unsure attachment. They have political positions that make for an occasionally uncomfortable fit but seem willing to tailor them if the Tea Party mantle comes with extra large pockets and a presidential berth. Governor Chris Christie (New Jersey): despite his notorious post-Sandy embrace of Obama, Christie’s bullying personality echoes favorably among Tea Party supporters. He casts his history of bipartisan negotiation as a form of steamrolling practicality, and many of his actual policies, save regarding gun control, fit comfortably within the far right framework. It’s chic now for the hard right to denounce him: he didn’t fight gay marriage hard enough, for instance. But if he can roll out enough insults to Democrats and pal around with more conventional Tea Party heroes such as Steve Lonegan (the erstwhile GOP NJ senate candidate), Christie could convince the conservative base he has their best interests at his large heart.
Senator Marco Rubio (Florida): Rubio was a relatively minor player in the shutdown theater, but he stands to benefit enormously from it as far as Tea Party support goes, as it has weakened the chances that the immigration debate will return to front-and-center. Rubio’s valiant effort to craft a message on immigration that could appeal to the deeply skeptical conservative fringe shook up what had been a masterful Jenga-like tower of mixed positions: a little Tea Party here, a little GOP careerism there. He now looks more careerist than ever. Perhaps more problematic is Rubio’s attempt to distance himself from the shutdown in retrospect: He now says, “I was never in favor of shutting down the government,” a story that seems tailored to make him seem reasonable, which won’t do at all.
Senator Rand Paul (Kentucky): Paul’s weak spot is foreign policy—not so much that he doesn’t have any experience (few Tea Party darlings do) but that he sounds an isolationist note that can register to many self-proclaimed patriots dangerously like weakness. Paul has been sly about positioning on this, however; at the Value Voters conference earlier this month, Paul gave a rousingly xenophobic speech heavy on Biblical allusions to Muslims’ perfidy… he just declined to say we should bomb them. He thundered, “I will not rest” until Christian pastor Saeed Abedini is released from Iranian prison, but was cagey about what his wakefulness entailed: “everything within our power, within our voice, from the White House, from the State Department, from our government” stops conspicuously short of military intervention. That base covered, or at least shaded, Paul’s other positions (pro-life, pro-gun, against NSA surveillance, Obamacare, regulation in general) need little protective coloring in the deep red climes of Tea Party nation. What’s more, his genial stiffness and shy self-awareness give him a kind of awkward dignity compared to the preening smugness of Cruz. Most likely to succeed: Rand Paul. I suspect he’ll continue to stand to Cruz’s side for awhile longer, collecting speaking engagements and offering Cruz fulsome praise until Cruz’s moment ends. The only important variable is when that moment comes; I’m betting that Rand hopes it lasts until sometime in the fall of 2015.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
Ohio Christian Conservatives Are Fighting to Deny Poor People Healthcare
Friday, October 25th, 2013, 9:32 am
The idea that all Americans deserve basic healthcare has been a divisive issue since President Obama made giving all Americans access to affordable healthcare insurance a priority, and it is a mystery why chief among the opponents of the Affordable Care Act are evangelical Christians. One would think that any follower of Christ would welcome an opportunity to help Americans, especially poor Americans, to gain access to basic medical care, but around the country conservative Christians have led the fight to deny healthcare for the poor by opposing Medicaid expansion in the Affordable Care Act.
A question most decent Americans ask when confronted with the knowledge that evangelicals press state legislators and governors to oppose expanding Medicaid for their state’s poorest residents is, “Is it because they’re hard-hearted or cold-hearted? It’s probably because they don’t understand the problem because they have never walked in somebody’s shoes.” That was the assessment of Ohio Governor John Kasich who many Americans would hesitate to label a compassionate American, but he asked the question last week at an event to promote Medicaid expansion and wondered “Why is it that some people don’t get it?” It is because they are inhumane, cold-hearted, and hate poor Ohio residents as much as they hate President Obama who proposed Medicaid expansion to provide basic healthcare for the poor.
Kasich cited his religious convictions about caring for the poor in pushing Medicaid Expansion that will cover between 275,000 to 330,000 low-income Ohio residents without healthcare insurance. Kasich, like any semi-compassionate human being, cannot understand the opposition to giving the poor healthcare coverage, and he likely was flummoxed that two pro-life groups and six Republican lawmakers filed a lawsuit to prevent the state from accepting federal money to fund the Medicaid expansion. The inhumane pro-life and conservatives assert that Kasich made an illegal move in convening a seven-member special panel that voted 5 to 2 to go ahead with plans to provide healthcare for hundreds-of-thousands of low-income Ohioans.
According to the Associated Press, Right to Life chapters in Cleveland and Cincinnati joined the conservative’s lawsuit because they “oppose the use of federal funding for expansion and wanted the chance to debate the issue with the Legislature, according to the filing.” It is unclear why two so-called “Christian” pro-life groups lust to deny healthcare coverage for the poor because there are protections in the Affordable Care Act that prohibit federal funds for abortion services as well as the Hyde Amendment restricting federal funding for abortion. It is equally unclear why, in light of several new abortion restrictions in the state’s two-year budget, right to life advocates are opposed to Medicaid expansion other than as Kasich put it, they are cold-hearted.
The Ohio budget contains some of the harshest anti-choice measures in the nation including stripping funding from Planned Parenthood and shifting it to phony clinics to entrap pregnant women with the promise of free ultrasounds then misinform them about abortions, eliminate funding from rape crisis centers, and make impossible requirements that prevent clinics from staying open. The worse part of the Ohio pro-life budget was inclusion of a personhood clause defining a fertilized egg as a person before it implants in the uterine wall making certain forms of birth control murder in the state of Ohio. As an economic punishment, Ohio forces a woman to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound before they have an abortion and requires them to pay for it whether their doctor thinks it is necessary or not. It is painfully obvious that the right to life groups oppose Medicaid expansion for the same reason the six Republicans suing Kasich do; they are cold and hard-hearted.
For many political observers the fact that Kasich pressured fellow Republicans for months to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act was remarkable. Indeed, Ohio is only the fourth Republican-controlled state take advantage of free expansion for three years. It is also noteworthy that Kasich set aside his conservative disregard for the poor and disadvantaged to provide them with healthcare based on his religious convictions, but it is too bad Kasich cannot extend his Christian compassion to other areas within his purview. However, some humanity for the poor is better than none at all and may signal that other religious Republicans will follow Kasich’s lead. It is highly likely that Kasich, like Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, can hardly pass up the economic benefits expanding Medicaid will bring to Ohio, but if he is prone to cite religious compassion it is certain that low-income Ohio residents will take healthcare access regardless if it is for economic or humane reasons and may give hope to poor people in other Republican-controlled states.
However, based on Republicans’ virulent opposition to anything associated with President Obama, it is unlikely low-income residents in most Republican-led states have any hope, or delusion, that their religiously-inclined leaders will take advantage of expanding Medicaid; especially if they have active right-to-life groups in their state. Perhaps the bible-loving pro-life crowd will adhere to the bible commandment to tell the truth and admit that their opposition to Medicaid expansion for men, women, and children has nothing to do with being pro-life and everything to do with being Americanized cold-hearted Christians.
Texas Voter ID Law Prevents Women from Voting while Married
By: Adalia Woodbury
Friday, October 25th, 2013, 7:01 pm
If you’re a woman in Texas, getting married or divorced could cost you your vote, especially if you drive too. In fact, Republicans are counting on it.
Under Texas’ new voter ID law, Women who were married or divorced will have to update their voter ID to match their current legal name.
It means first, middle and surname on your voter ID must be your current legal name and must match with your voter registration card exactly. This is serious stuff. Some estimates suggest this law affects 34% of eligible women voters. It is complicated, as a Texas judge found out the hard way.
District court Judge, Sandra Watts was flagged for voter fraud because her driver’s license lists her maiden name as her middle name, but her voter registration form lists her real middle name. This was never a problem for Watts during the past 49 years in which she voted with the same identification, containing the same information.
One may be tempted to suggest Watts and other women should have known to coordinate their voter registration card with the state mandated name on their driver’s license. However, we’re talking about Texas. As Watts noted, the state mandated that women use their maiden name as their middle name on their driver’s license in 1964 and the problem with the registration card is a direct result of the new voter ID law.
I don’t think most women know that this is going to create a problem,” Watts said. That their maiden name is on their driver’s license, which was mandated in 1964 when I got married, and this. And so why would I want to use a provisional ballot when I’ve been voting regular ballot for the last 49 years?
Watts had to sign a “voter affidavit” to affirm she really was the person her ID said she was. The other alternative would be the provisional ballot that won’t be counted until at least a week after an election.
Aside from the fact that getting the underlying documents for acceptable voter ID’s cost money that Republicans hope will price poor people out, access to DMV in Texas adds to the challenge, especially if you’re Hispanic. There aren’t any DMV offices in 81 of Texas’s 254 districts, most of which are predominantly Hispanic.
Single women may think twice before taking their husband’s name or going the hyphenated route. Married women (or women who are divorced) have to make sure their voter registration information matches exactly the information on their driver’s license. We can hope that courts will see this for the voter version of a TRAP law that it is. In the meantime, spread the word and get prepared.
Of course, the boys club will claim there is no trick, no complication – nothing that women can’t handle, snicker.
One might be tempted to think that Republicans did this because Greg Abbott is afraid of Wendy Davis. In reality, Republicans in Texas should be afraid of every woman whose vote they are trying to suppress.
Kansas Could Turn Blue as Democrat Leads Republican Gov. Sam Brownback by 4 Points
By: Jason Easley
Friday, October 25th, 2013, 7:58 pm
The Republican Party is so damaged that even in deep red state Kansas, Republican Governor Sam Brownback is trailing Democrat Paul Davis 43%-39%.
According to a new SurveryUSA poll, Davis leads Brownback 43%-39%. Only 59% of Republicans support Gov. Brownback. The governor gets the support of 62% of conservatives, but trails Davis with moderates, 58%-28%. There are several things happening in Kansas that mirror the problems of the national Republican Party.
Brownback is at the center of a Republican civil war in Kansas. The governor helped to oust moderate Republicans from the state senate in 2012. He also alienated moderates by signing a tax reform bill that both liberal and conservative experts consider to be the worst piece of tax reform legislation passed in the entire country.
Gov. Brownback’s tax cut was a Republican dream come true. It reduced income taxes on the top two brackets, slashed corporate taxes, and made LLC pass through income non-taxable. The Republicans paid for this gift to the wealthy by raising taxes on working people, the poor, and senior citizens. Of course, this scheme blew a giant hole in the state’s budget which Brownback tried to fix by slashing hundreds of millions of dollars in education spending, laying off public sector workers, and cutting transportation funding.
National Review published a lengthy profile of Brownback where they enthusiastically paint Kansas as a model for the country and suggest that Brownback is a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, while the voters back home are seriously contemplating throwing him out of office.
Brownback is trailing a Democrat in a state where Republicans hold every statewide office, and the entire congressional delegation. Republicans outnumber Democrats in the state 46% to 25%. Democrat Paul Davis has a chance to win because Brownback has taken the state too far to the right for many in Kansas. Moderates, which in Kansas mostly means moderate Republicans, are supporting Davis because the ALEC/tea party/Koch agenda is unpopular with them.
National Republicans and their media are so out of touch with reality that they are touting the presidential future of a governor whose policies are so unpopular that he might not get a second term.
If Davis won, he would be a conservative Democratic governor, but a Brownback defeat would be a supreme humiliation for far right Republicans and their agenda.
The Republican Party may have finally become too extreme for even deep red state Kansas to tolerate.
NSA surveillance: Merkel's phone may have been monitored 'for over 10 years'
As German officials prepare to travel to the US, Der Spiegel cites a previously secret NSA document
Kevin Rawlinson and agencies
The Observer, Saturday 26 October 2013 20.19 BST
New claims emerged last night over the extent that US intelligence agencies have been monitoring the mobile phone of Angela Merkel. The allegations were made after German secret service officials were already preparing to travel to Washington to seek explanations into the alleged surveillance of its chancellor.
A report in Der Spiegel said Merkel's mobile number had been listed by the NSA's Special Collection Service (SCS) since 2002 and may have been monitored for more than 10 years. It was still on the list – marked as "GE Chancellor Merkel" – weeks before President Barack Obama visited Berlin in June.
In an SCS document cited by the magazine, the agency said it had a "not legally registered spying branch" in the US embassy in Berlin, the exposure of which would lead to "grave damage for the relations of the United States to another government".
From there, NSA and CIA staff were tapping communication in Berlin's government district with high-tech surveillance. Quoting a secret document from 2010, Der Spiegel said such branches existed in about 80 locations around the world, including Paris, Madrid, Rome, Prague, Geneva and Frankfurt. Merkel's spokesman and the White House declined to comment on the report.
The nature of the monitoring of Merkel's mobile phone is not clear from the files, Der Spiegel said. It might be that the chancellor's conversations were recorded, or that her contacts were simply assessed.
Ahead of the latest claims , the German government's deputy spokesman, Georg Streiter, said a high-level delegation was heading to the White House and National Security Agency to "push forward" investigations into earlier surveillance allegations.
Meanwhile several thousand people marched to the US Capitol in Washington yesterday to protest against the NSA's spying programme and to demand a limit to the surveillance. Some of them held banners in support of Edward Snowden, the former CIA contractor who revealed the extent of the NSA's activities.
The march attracted protesters from both ends of the political spectrum as liberal privacy advocates walked alongside members of the conservative Tea Party movement.
The delegation will include senior officials from the German secret service, according to German media reports.
Germany and Brazil are spearheading efforts at the UN to protect the privacy of electronic communications. Diplomats from the two countries, which have both been targeted by the NSA, are leading efforts by a coalition of nations to draft a UN general assembly resolution calling for the right to privacy on the internet. Although non-binding, the resolution would be one of the strongest condemnations of US snooping to date.
"This resolution will probably have enormous support in the GA [general assembly] since no one likes the NSA spying on them," a western diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. The Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, had previously cancelled a state visit to Washington over the revelation that the NSA was scooping up large amounts of Brazilian communications data, including from the state-run oil company Petrobras. The drafting of the UN resolution was confirmed by the country's foreign ministry.
The Associated Press quoted a diplomat who said the language of the resolution would not be "offensive" to any nation, particularly the US. He added that it would expand the right to privacy guaranteed by the international covenant on civil and political rights, which went into force in 1976.
The draft would be sent next week to the general assembly subcommittee on social, humanitarian, cultural and human rights issues, and be put to the full general assembly in late November.
Germany and France demanded on Thursday that the Americans agree to new transatlantic rules on intelligence and security service behaviour by the end of the year. Merkel added that she wanted action from Obama, not just apologetic words.
British and US civil liberties groups on Saturday added their voices to the criticism of snooping by both UK and US intelligence services after the Guardian revealed that the British intelligence agency GCHQ repeatedly said it feared a "damaging public debate" on the scale of its own activities.
Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, and Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, issued a joint statement, saying: "The Guardian's publication of information from Edward Snowden has uncovered a breach of trust by the US and UK governments on the grandest scale. The newspaper's principled and selective revelations demonstrate our rulers' contempt for personal rights, freedoms and the rule of law.
"Across the globe, these disclosures continue to raise fundamental questions about the lack of effective legal protection against the interception of all our communications. Yet in Britain that conversation is in danger of being lost beneath self-serving spin and scaremongering, with journalists who dare to question the secret state accused of aiding the enemy.
"A balance must of course be struck between security and transparency, but that cannot be achieved while the intelligence services and their political masters seek to avoid any scrutiny of, or debate about, their actions."
"The Guardian's decision to expose the extent to which our privacy is being violated should be applauded and not condemned."
Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said the fact GCHQ had doubts about the legality of its surveillance "reinforces the public interest in the disclosures about what has taken place in America and closer to home
"Parliament never legislated to allow the scale of interception that has been exposed, with laws written long before widespread broadband internet access or Facebook existed. There is a clear and overwhelming need for a fundamental review of our legal framework."
"If companies are handing over customer data or access to their equipment when there is no legal authority, then those businesses may well have broken the law. This should be urgently investigated by the information commissioner."
Defending the NSA's actions, the US administration has insisted that it is necessary to intercept vast amounts of electronic data to effectively fight terrorism, but the White House has said it is examining countries' concerns as part of an ongoing review of how the US gathers intelligence.
Leaked memos reveal GCHQ efforts to keep mass surveillance secret
Exclusive: Edward Snowden papers show UK spy agency fears legal challenge if scale of surveillance is made public
The Guardian, Friday 25 October 2013 18.45 BST
The UK intelligence agency GCHQ has repeatedly warned it fears a "damaging public debate" on the scale of its activities because it could lead to legal challenges against its mass-surveillance programmes, classified internal documents reveal.
Memos contained in the cache disclosed by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden detail the agency's long fight against making intercept evidence admissible as evidence in criminal trials – a policy supported by all three major political parties, but ultimately defeated by the UK's intelligence community.
Foremost among the reasons was a desire to minimise the potential for challenges against the agency's large-scale interception programmes, rather than any intrinsic threat to security, the documents show.
The papers also reveal that:
• GCHQ lobbied furiously to keep secret the fact that telecoms firms had gone "well beyond" what they were legally required to do to help intelligence agencies' mass interception of communications, both in the UK and overseas.
• GCHQ feared a legal challenge under the right to privacy in the Human Rights Act if evidence of its surveillance methods became admissible in court.
• GCHQ assisted the Home Office in lining up sympathetic people to help with "press handling", including the Liberal Democrat peer and former intelligence services commissioner Lord Carlile, who this week criticised the Guardian for its coverage of mass surveillance by GCHQ and America's National Security Agency.
The most recent attempt to make intelligence gathered from intercepts admissible in court, proposed by the last Labour government, was finally stymied by GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 in 2009.
A briefing memo prepared for the board of GCHQ shortly before the decision was made public revealed that one reason the agency was keen to quash the proposals was the fear that even passing references to its wide-reaching surveillance powers could start a "damaging" public debate.
Referring to the decision to publish the report on intercept as evidence without classification, it noted: "Our main concern is that references to agency practices (ie the scale of interception and deletion) could lead to damaging public debate which might lead to legal challenges against the current regime." A later update, from May 2012, set out further perceived "risks" of making intercepts admissible, including "the damage to partner relationships if sensitive information were accidentally released in open court". It also noted that the "scale of interception and retention required would be fairly likely to be challenged on Article 8 (Right to Privacy) grounds".
The GCHQ briefings showed the agency provided the Home Office with support in winning the PR battle on the proposed reforms by lining up people to talk to the media – including Lord Carlile, who on Wednesday gave a public lecture condemning the Guardian's decision to publish stories based on the leaked material from Snowden.
Referring to the public debate on intercept evidence, the document notes: "Sir Ken McDonald [sic] (former DPP [director of public prosecutions]), Lord Goldsmith (former AG [attorney general]) and David Davis (former Shadow HSec [home secretary) [have been] reiterating their previous calls for IaE [intercept as evidence].
"We are working closely with HO [Home Office] on their plans for press handling when the final report is published, e.g. lining up talking heads (such as Lord Carlisle [sic], Lord Stevens, Sir Stephen Lander, Sir Swinton Thomas)."
Carlile was the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation in 2001-11, and was awarded a CBE in 2012 for his services to national security.
Another top GCHQ priority in resisting the admission of intercepts as evidence was keeping secret the extent of the agency's co-operative relationships with telephone companies – including being granted access to communications networks overseas.
In June, the Guardian disclosed the existence of GCHQ's Tempora internet surveillance programme. It uses intercepts on the fibre-optic cables that make up the backbone of the internet to gain access to vast swaths of internet users' personal data. The intercepts are placed in the UK and overseas, with the knowledge of companies owning either the cables or landing stations.
The revelations of voluntary co-operation with some telecoms companies appear to contrast markedly with statements made by large telecoms firms in the wake of the first Tempora stories. They stressed that they were simply complying with the law of the countries in which they operated.
In reality, numerous telecoms companies were doing much more than that, as disclosed in a secret document prepared in 2009 by a joint working group of GCHQ, MI5 and MI6.
Their report contended that allowing intercepts as evidence could damage relationships with "Communications Service Providers" (CSPs).
In an extended excerpt of "the classified version" of a review prepared for the Privy Council, a formal body of advisers made up of current and former cabinet ministers, the document sets out the real nature of the relationship between telecoms firms and the UK government.
"Under RIPA [the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000], CSPs in the UK may be required to provide, at public expense, an adequate interception capability on their networks," it states. "In practice all significant providers do provide such a capability. But in many cases their assistance – while in conformity with the law – goes well beyond what it requires."
GCHQ's internet surveillance programme is the subject of a challenge in the European court of human rights, mounted by three privacy advocacy groups. The Open Rights Group, English PEN and Big Brother Watch argue the "unchecked surveillance" of Tempora is a challenge to the right to privacy, as set out in the European convention on human rights.
That the Tempora programme appears to rely at least in part on voluntary co-operation of telecoms firms could become a major factor in that ongoing case. The revelation could also reignite the long-running debate over allowing intercept evidence in court.
GCHQ's submission goes on to set out why its relationships with telecoms companies go further than what can be legally compelled under current law. It says that in the internet era, companies wishing to avoid being legally mandated to assist UK intelligence agencies would often be able to do so "at little cost or risk to their operations" by moving "some or all" of their communications services overseas.
As a result, "it has been necessary to enter into agreements with both UK-based and offshore providers for them to afford the UK agencies access, with appropriate legal authorisation, to the communications they carry outside the UK".
The submission to ministers does not set out which overseas firms have entered into voluntary relationships with the UK, or even in which countries they operate, though documents detailing the Tempora programme made it clear the UK's interception capabilities relied on taps located both on UK soil and overseas.
There is no indication as to whether the governments of the countries in which deals with companies have been struck would be aware of the GCHQ cable taps.
Evidence that telecoms firms and GCHQ are engaging in mass interception overseas could stoke an ongoing diplomatic row over surveillance ignited this week after the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, accused the NSA of monitoring her phone calls, and the subsequent revelation that the agency monitored communications of at least 35 other world leaders.
On Friday, Merkel and the French president, François Hollande, agreed to spearhead efforts to make the NSA sign a new code of conduct on how it carried out intelligence operations within the European Union, after EU leaders warned that the international fight against terrorism was being jeopardised by the perception that mass US surveillance was out of control.
Fear of diplomatic repercussions were one of the prime reasons given for GCHQ's insistence that its relationships with telecoms firms must be kept private .
Telecoms companies "feared damage to their brands internationally, if the extent of their co-operation with HMG [Her Majesty's government] became apparent", the GCHQ document warned. It added that if intercepts became admissible as evidence in UK courts "many CSPs asserted that they would withdraw their voluntary support".
The report stressed that while companies are going beyond what they are required to do under UK law, they are not being asked to violate it.
Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty and Anthony Romero Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union issued a joint statement stating:
"The Guardian's publication of information from Edward Snowden has uncovered a breach of trust by the US and UK Governments on the grandest scale. The newspaper's principled and selective revelations demonstrate our rulers' contempt for personal rights, freedoms and the rule of law.
"Across the globe, these disclosures continue to raise fundamental questions about the lack of effective legal protection against the interception of all our communications.
"Yet in Britain, that conversation is in danger of being lost beneath self-serving spin and scaremongering, with journalists who dare to question the secret state accused of aiding the enemy.
"A balance must of course be struck between security and transparency, but that cannot be achieved whilst the intelligence services and their political masters seek to avoid any scrutiny of, or debate about, their actions.
"The Guardian's decision to expose the extent to which our privacy is being violated should be applauded and not condemned."
Congressional oversight of the NSA is a joke. I should know, I'm in Congress
I've learned far more about government spying on citizens from the media than I have from official intelligence briefings
theguardian.com, Friday 25 October 2013 12.45 BST
In the 1970s, Congressman Otis Pike of New York chaired a special congressional committee to investigate abuses by the American so-called "intelligence community" – the spies. After the investigation, Pike commented:
It took this investigation to convince me that I had always been told lies, to make me realize that I was tired of being told lies.
I'm tired of the spies telling lies, too.
Pike's investigation initiated one of the first congressional oversight debates for the vast and hidden collective of espionage agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the National Security Agency (NSA). Before the Pike Commission, Congress was kept in the dark about them – a tactic designed to thwart congressional deterrence of the sometimes illegal and often shocking activities carried out by the "intelligence community". Today, we are seeing a repeat of this professional voyeurism by our nation's spies, on an unprecedented and pervasive scale.
Recently, the US House of Representatives voted on an amendment – offered by Representatives Justin Amash and John Conyers – that would have curbed the NSA's omnipresent and inescapable tactics. Despite furious lobbying by the intelligence industrial complex and its allies, and four hours of frantic and overwrought briefings by the NSA's General Keith Alexander, 205 of 422 Representatives voted for the amendment.
Though the amendment barely failed, the vote signaled a clear message to the NSA: we do not trust you. The vote also conveyed another, more subtle message: members of Congress do not trust that the House Intelligence Committee is providing the necessary oversight. On the contrary, "oversight" has become "overlook".
Despite being a member of Congress possessing security clearance, I've learned far more about government spying on me and my fellow citizens from reading media reports than I have from "intelligence" briefings. If the vote on the Amash-Conyers amendment is any indication, my colleagues feel the same way. In fact, one long-serving conservative Republican told me that he doesn't attend such briefings anymore, because, "they always lie".
Many of us worry that Congressional Intelligence Committees are more loyal to the "intelligence community" that they are tasked with policing, than to the Constitution. And the House Intelligence Committee isn't doing anything to assuage our concerns.
I've requested classified information, and further meetings with NSA officials. The House Intelligence Committee has refused to provide either. Supporters of the NSA's vast ubiquitous domestic spying operation assure the public that members of Congress can be briefed on these activities whenever they want. Senator Saxby Chambliss says all a member of Congress needs to do is ask for information, and he'll get it. Well I did ask, and the House Intelligence Committee said "no", repeatedly. And virtually every other member not on the Intelligence Committee gets the same treatment.
Recently, a member of the House Intelligence Committee was asked at a town hall meeting, by his constituents, why my requests for more information about these programs were being denied. This member argued that I don't have the necessary level of clearance to obtain access for classified information. That doesn't make any sense; every member is given the same level of clearance.
There is no legal justification for imparting secret knowledge about the NSA's domestic surveillance activities only to the 20 members of the House Intelligence Committee. Moreover, how can the remaining 415 of us do our job properly, when we're kept in the dark – or worse, misinformed?
Edward Snowden's revelations demonstrate that the members of Congress, who are asked to authorize these programs, are not privy to the same information provided to junior analysts at the NSA, and even private contractors who sell services to foreign governments. The only time that these intelligence committees disclose classified information to us, your elected representatives, is when it serves the purposes of the "intelligence community".
As the country continues to debate the supposed benefits of wall-to-wall spying programs on each and every American, without probable cause, the spies, "intelligence community" and Congressional Intelligence Committees have a choice: will they begin sharing comprehensive information about these activities, so that elected public officials have the opportunity to make informed decisions about whether such universal snooping is necessary, or constitutional?
Or will they continue to obstruct our efforts to understand these programs, and force us to rely on information provided by whistleblowers who undertake substantial risks to disseminate this information about violations of our freedom in an increasingly hostile environment? And why do Generals Alexander and Clapper remain in office, when all the evidence points to them committing the felony of lying to Congress and the American people?
Representative Pike would probably say that rank-and-file representatives will never get the information we need from the House Intelligence Committee, because the spying industrial complex answers only to itself. After all, Pike, and many of the members of his special congressional committee, voted against forming it. As it is now constituted, the House Intelligence Committee will never decry, deny, or defy any spy. They see eye-to-eye, so they turn a blind eye. Which means that if we rely on them, we can kiss our liberty good-bye.
As Europe erupts over US spying, NSA chief says government must stop media
With General Alexander calling for NSA reporting to be halted, US and UK credibility as guardians of press freedom is crushed
theguardian.com, Friday 25 October 2013 20.22 BST
The most under-discussed aspect of the NSA story has long been its international scope. That all changed this week as both Germany and France exploded with anger over new revelations about pervasive NSA surveillance on their population and democratically elected leaders.
As was true for Brazil previously, reports about surveillance aimed at leaders are receiving most of the media attention, but what really originally drove the story there were revelations that the NSA is bulk-spying on millions and millions of innocent citizens in all of those nations. The favorite cry of US government apologists -–everyone spies! – falls impotent in the face of this sort of ubiquitous, suspicionless spying that is the sole province of the US and its four English-speaking surveillance allies (the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand).
There are three points worth making about these latest developments.
• First, note how leaders such as Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted with basic indifference when it was revealed months ago that the NSA was bulk-spying on all German citizens, but suddenly found her indignation only when it turned out that she personally was also targeted. That reaction gives potent insight into the true mindset of many western leaders.
• Second, all of these governments keep saying how newsworthy these revelations are, how profound are the violations they expose, how happy they are to learn of all this, how devoted they are to reform. If that's true, why are they allowing the person who enabled all these disclosures – Edward Snowden – to be targeted for persecution by the US government for the "crime" of blowing the whistle on all of this?
If the German and French governments – and the German and French people – are so pleased to learn of how their privacy is being systematically assaulted by a foreign power over which they exert no influence, shouldn't they be offering asylum to the person who exposed it all, rather than ignoring or rejecting his pleas to have his basic political rights protected, and thus leaving him vulnerable to being imprisoned for decades by the US government?
Aside from the treaty obligations these nations have to protect the basic political rights of human beings from persecution, how can they simultaneously express outrage over these exposed invasions while turning their back on the person who risked his liberty and even life to bring them to light?
• Third, is there any doubt at all that the US government repeatedly tried to mislead the world when insisting that this system of suspicionless surveillance was motivated by an attempt to protect Americans from The Terrorists™? Our reporting has revealed spying on conferences designed to negotiate economic agreements, the Organization of American States, oil companies, ministries that oversee mines and energy resources, the democratically elected leaders of allied states, and entire populations in those states.
Can even President Obama and his most devoted loyalists continue to maintain, with a straight face, that this is all about Terrorism? That is what this superb new Foreign Affairs essay by Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore means when it argues that the Manning and Snowden leaks are putting an end to the ability of the US to use hypocrisy as a key weapon in its soft power.
Speaking of an inability to maintain claims with a straight face, how are American and British officials, in light of their conduct in all of this, going to maintain the pretense that they are defenders of press freedoms and are in a position to lecture and condemn others for violations? In what might be the most explicit hostility to such freedoms yet – as well as the most unmistakable evidence of rampant panic – the NSA's director, General Keith Alexander, actually demanded Thursday that the reporting being done by newspapers around the world on this secret surveillance system be halted (Techdirt has the full video here):
The head of the embattled National Security Agency, Gen Keith Alexander, is accusing journalists of "selling" his agency's documents and is calling for an end to the steady stream of public disclosures of secrets snatched by former contractor Edward Snowden.
"I think it's wrong that that newspaper reporters have all these documents, the 50,000 – whatever they have and are selling them and giving them out as if these – you know it just doesn't make sense," Alexander said in an interview with the Defense Department's "Armed With Science" blog.
"We ought to come up with a way of stopping it. I don't know how to do that. That's more of the courts and the policy-makers but, from my perspective, it's wrong to allow this to go on," the NSA director declared. [My italics]
There are 25,000 employees of the NSA (and many tens of thousands more who work for private contracts assigned to the agency). Maybe one of them can tell The General about this thing called "the first amendment".
I'd love to know what ways, specifically, General Alexander has in mind for empowering the US government to "come up with a way of stopping" the journalism on this story. Whatever ways those might be, they are deeply hostile to the US constitution – obviously. What kind of person wants the government to forcibly shut down reporting by the press?
Whatever kind of person that is, he is not someone to be trusted in instituting and developing a massive bulk-spying system that operates in the dark. For that matter, nobody is.
As many of you likely know, it was announced last week that I am leaving the Guardian. My last day here will be 31 October, and I will write my last column on that date.
Warrantless surveillance evidence faces court test in 'terrorist' case
The Justice Department has said it intends to use intercepted emails and telephone calls against Jamshid Muhtorov
Associated Press in Washington
theguardian.com, Saturday 26 October 2013 19.00 BST
The Justice Department has said for the first time that it intends to use information gained from one of the government's warrantless surveillance programmes against an accused terrorist, setting the stage for a probable supreme court test of the Obama administration's approach to national security.
The court has so far turned aside challenges to the law on government surveillance, saying people who bring such lawsuits have no evidence they are being targeted.
A Justice Department spokesman, Brian Fallon, declined comment on Saturday on the new development, beyond the court filing.
Jamshid Muhtorov was accused in 2012 of providing material support to the Islamic Jihad Union, an Uzbek terrorist organisation that, authorities say, was engaging Nato coalition and US forces in Afghanistan. According to court papers in the case, the FBI investigated Muhtorov because of his communications with a website administrator for the group.
In a court filing on Friday, the government said it intended to offer into evidence in Muhtorov's case "information obtained or derived from acquisition of foreign intelligence information conducted pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978".
Last February a sharply divided supreme court threw out an attempt by US citizens to challenge the expansion of the surveillance law used to monitor conversations of foreign spies and terrorist suspects. In a 5-4 vote, the court ruled that a group of US lawyers, journalists and organisations could not sue to challenge the 2008 expansion of the law, because they could not prove that the government would monitor their conversations along with those of potential foreign terrorist and intelligence targets.
In the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito suggested a way for a challenge to be heard. He said if the government intends to use information from such surveillance in court, it must provide advance notice. In his argument before the court's decision, solicitor general Donald Verrilli had made similar comments to the justices on behalf of the administration.
In September, the supreme court justice Antonin Scalia, who ruled with the majority in the earlier 5-4 ruling, said the courts ultimately would have to determine the legality of National Security Agency surveillance programmes.
In the Muhtorov case, the FBI obtained email communications from two accounts that Muhtorov used, according to the court papers. The FBI also obtained communications originating from Muhtorov's phone lines. In one call, Muhtorov told an associate that the Islamic Jihad Union said it needed support, an FBI agent said in an affidavit filed in the case. The associate warned Muhtorov to be careful about talking about a founder of group, the affidavit stated.
The FBI also said Muhtorov communicated with a contact with the group by email using code words, telling a contact that he was "ready for any task, even with the risk of dying".
Muhtorov and another man, Bakhtiyor Jumaev, are suspected of plotting a terrorist attack planned by the Islamic Jihad Union, an FBI agent said in an affidavit. The group first conducted attacks in 2004, targeting a bazaar and police, and killing 47 people. The organisation subsequently carried out suicide bombings of the US and Israeli embassies and the Uzbekistani prosecutor general's office in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
Muhtorov, a human rights worker, resettled in Aurora, Colorado, in 2007 with the help of the United Nations and the US government. He was arrested on 21 January 2012, in Chicago and when in possession of about $2,800 in cash, two shrink-wrapped iPhones and an iPad as well as a GPS device. He has denied the criminal charge.
Georgia goes to the polls for presidential election
Election in former Soviet republic to decide on Saakashvili's successor expected to strengthen rival Bidzina Ivanishvili
Associated Press in Tbilisi
theguardian.com, Sunday 27 October 2013 11.09 GMT
Georgians are voting on Sunday for a president to succeed Mikhail Saakashvili, who during nearly a decade in power has turned the former Soviet republic into a fledgling democracy and a staunch US ally.
For Saakashvili, it's a bitter departure. The vote is expected to cement the control of his rival, billionaire prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose coalition routed Saakashvili's party in a parliamentary election a year ago.
Ivanishvili's chosen candidate, Georgi Margvelashvili, a former university rector with little political experience, is expected to win Sunday's election but much uncertainty remains.
Ivanishvili has promised to step down next month and nominate a new prime minister, who under Georgia's new parliamentary system will acquire many of the powers previously held by the president.
Ivanishvili has not yet named his choice to lead the country. He also says he intends to maintain influence over the government, although how is not entirely clear. But his fortune, estimated at $5.3bn (£3.3bn), gives him considerable leverage in this country of 4.5 million people with a gross domestic product of $16bn.
Much uncertainty also hangs over the future of Saakashvili. Since last year's election and what was in effect a transfer of power, dozens of people from Saakashvili's team, including several former government ministers, have faced criminal charges and some have been jailed, including the former prime minister.
Ivanishvili says prosecutors are likely to question Saakashvili as well once he has left office.
In Sunday's election, Saakashvili's party needs its candidate, former parliamentary speaker David Bakradze, to finish a strong second among the 23 candidates to maintain political influence.
While Ivanishvili made his money in Russia and has had some success in restoring trade ties with Georgia's hostile neighbour, he has maintained the pro-western course set by Saakashvili.
"Nobody can change this. This is the will of the Georgian people, to see their country in the EU and in Nato," said Alexi Petriashvili, one of Ivanishvili's ministers. "The majority see the US as Georgia's strongest strategic partner."
If not for Washington, Georgia most likely wwould not have survived as an independent state, Petriashvili said in an interview with the Associated Press. He pointed specifically to Washington's support for the closure of Russian military bases there in 2005.
The US supports Georgia diplomatically and financially, with assistance in 2013 totalling about $70m.
Mons prepares to share its memories of Europe's killing fields
As the anniversary of the outbreak of the first world war draws near, the Belgian city that became a symbol of conflict gets set to greet 250,000 visitors to its humbling memorials
The Observer, Saturday 26 October 2013 23.13 BST
Lieutenant MJ Dease's headstone differs little from the many others that lie in solemn row upon row in the Saint-Symphorien military cemetery. Here, guarded by giant spruces and firs and surrounded by a cordon of lush Belgian farming country, is the final resting place of more than 500 German and British Commonwealth troops, many unknown.
On Friday, in the half light as the dusk was descending, there was a quiet dignity to the stones that was both humbling and heartbreaking. But their symmetry had been broken. A small wooden cross had been placed next to Dease's headstone, which records that the Royal Fusilier was 24 when he died on 23 August 1914, and that he received the Victoria Cross. In black ink etched on the cross someone had written: "Never forget the price paid for the freedom we enjoy today."
Nearby a wreath, laid by British embassy staff in Brussels, pledged Britain's "grateful and everlasting memory" to the near 900,000 of its troops who fell in the Great War, the war that was supposed to end all wars. In the visitors' book at the cemetery gate, similar expressions of gratitude and grief are declared to the Glorious Dead who lie under the stones.
"I have a feeling that I know them all," said Michael Vasko, deputy manager of the local tourist office. "Every stone tells a story. There's a man behind each stone."
In the nearby city of Mons, once home to Van Gogh and soon to be the 2015 European Capital of Culture, visitors can read the tragic stories. They learn that Dease was the first British soldier of the war to be posthumously awarded the VC, for continuing to man a machine gun when all his fellow gunners were dead. He was wounded five times before he was evacuated by the ambulance in which he died.
Mons is not short of firsts. It was where the British Expeditionary Force first encountered the German army and where they fired their first shot. It was where the first British soldier, Private Parr, was killed. It was also the last place a British soldier, Private Ellison, was killed in the war. And, on 11 November 1918, at 10.58am, it is also the place where a Canadian, George Lawrence Price, was the last soldier to be killed.
Mons, acutely aware of the coming anniversary marking 100 years since the start of the war, refers to itself as "the First and the Last". The city even boasts the first reported supernatural sighting of the war. Legend has it that towards midnight on 23 August 1914, with the British at risk of being surrounded, angels came out of the sky in the form of archers, stopping the Germans and allowing the 8th Brigade to retreat in total darkness. The story owed much to the febrile imagination of Arthur Machen, a fantasy writer who published a version in the London Evening News in September 1914, but it was promoted by the government, who believed it boosted morale.
Now, with the 2014 centenary fast approaching, Mons's symbolism is not lost on the current British government. Last year David Cameron sent a defence minister to the city to confirm its suitability as a focal point for the UK's centenary commemorations. So far the omens appear good. The city's dignitaries believe that a senior royal, possibly even the Queen, will be sent for the commemoration of the battle of Mons next August. There is also talk that Angela Merkel will be invited to the same ceremony.
If the German chancellor accepts, she will be among an estimated 250,000 people who are expected to visit the city next year to mark the centenary. The predicted influx asks questions of Mons, which has a population of 92,000, and the many other relatively small cities and towns in Belgium and France that played an important role in the war and will likewise play host to the world.
As a result, Vasko is spending a lot of his time in talks with bus companies and tour operators, making sure the city and its military sites can accommodate the large numbers expected. Many will be the descendants of the dead, but a large number will have no familial connection to the war. They are people who recognise what the Belgians call devoir de mémoire – the need to keep the memory of the war alive.
Mons itself is big on devoir de mémoire. Like many other towns and regions ravaged by the war, notably Ypres, the Somme and Flanders, the city is investing heavily ahead of the centenary, aware that the eyes of the world will soon be upon it. Statues and civic buildings are being given facelifts. So, too, is its unloved railway station.
The city will also have a fine new war museum, albeit one that opens in 2015, to coincide with its city of culture status. In 2014 there will be art commissions, guided tours and processions. There is talk of performing Benjamin Britten's War Requiem and Wilfred Owen's poetry in its impressive cobbled square. A smartphone app will guide visitors around places of historic interest and allow access to archived documents.
Does Vasko ever think that places such as Mons might resent being responsible for keeping alive other countries' history? He answers with a story. "In August we decided we would just do something with local people. We went to the cemetery, gave everyone the chance to create a poppy, and many came. And then we said: 'Right, go and choose the grave for your poppy', and they all did it and it was just fantastic."
Mons, like many of the other war towns, has been in close contact with London's Imperial War Museum to discuss what key messages it needs to push next year. Emphasis will be placed on educating children and encouraging them to continue the act of remembrance laid down by previous generations. Two pupils and a teacher from each state secondary school in England will visit the battlefields as part of a four-year £50m programme, beginning with a candlelit vigil at Westminster Abbey on 4 August, the day war was declared.
The plans have not been without criticism. Some detect a creeping nervousness in government about the centenary that is in danger of diminishing the sacrifices made. There is a feeling that ministers are wary of upsetting Germany, fearful the centenary will slide into jingoism.
Historian Max Hastings believes ministers are pushing a "non-judgmental approach" that fails to recognise that "it was not morally different from the second world war – it was an unspeakable experience for Europe and the British people, but for a cause worth fighting".
Conversely, there is a concern that an overly heavy focus on the killing fields of northern France and Belgium may be an opportunity missed. The director of the British Future thinktank, Sunder Katwala, believes that a debate about how to approach the centenary is healthy. Its polling shows most people have a limited knowledge about the war and its origins. When asked, many people talk about mud and trenches, Blackadder, and opposing armies playing each other at football at Christmas.
Katwala thinks the centenary promises a chance to provide a more rounded picture of the impact of the war on civilians, and examine how it transformed Britain into a multicultural society as 1.2m people from the Indian subcontinent answered the call "your empire needs you". "The first world war is fundamental to how this country is now," said Katwala, who points out that there are now only 11,000 Britons who were alive when war was declared.
The last known combat veteran of the war, Claude Choules, died in Australia in 2011, aged 110. The history of the war is moving from living to recorded memory. But many of us will have been told stories by those who experienced the war. Katwala hopes that they will now pass these on to the younger generation, allowing children to reconnect with their grandparents. "For the younger generation that history is just beyond their fingertips, but they can have it back," Katwala said.
In Mons that is what they intend to do: to keep telling the stories to a new generation and leave the arguments for the historians.
October 26, 2013
Czech Election Reflects Dissatisfaction of Voters
By DAN BILEFSKY
PARIS — The center-left Social Democrats won the most votes in Czech parliamentary elections on Saturday, but fell short of winning a majority in a vote that underlined voters’ deep dissatisfaction with endemic corruption and the political status quo.
The country will now enter what is likely to be a lengthy period of deal making as parties scramble to form a government.
The Czech Republic, whose first president, Vaclav Havel, helped fashion the country as a global symbol of liberty after the fall of the Berlin Wall, has been undergoing a potent backlash against the political establishment after a scandal over alleged bribery and illegal spying. There is a growing feeling that the revolution of 1989 did not deliver on its aspirations.
With nearly all the votes counted, the Social Democrats won 20.5 percent of the vote, a far slimmer victory than expected. Instead, voters turned to protest parties vowing to eliminate corruption, handing 18.7 percent of the vote to the party of Andrej Babis, a Slovak billionaire with a Czech passport. The Communist Party, the last such party in the former satellite countries of the old Soviet bloc, finished third with about 15 percent.
The center-right party at the heart of the scandal was trounced, receiving only 7.7 percent of the vote.
Mr. Babis indicated Saturday that he did not want to join any coalition government, leading analysts to predict a difficult period of political haggling ahead. If Mr. Babis changes his mind, his party, ANO, or Yes, and the Social Democrats could join forces with a third party to form a majority. Alternatively, Mr. Babis could agree to support a minority coalition government.
Either way, Mr. Babis, a plain-talking entrepreneur who runs an agricultural, food processing and chemical empire, had emerged as a surprise kingmaker, analysts said. His one-year-old party is personality-driven, and lacks a clear ideology and economic agenda.
“Protest parties are the clear winners in these elections, which have shown the extent to which Czechs are fed up with politics in this country, fed up with corruption, and fed up with a bad economy,” said Jaroslav Plesl, the deputy editor of Tyden, a leading Czech political magazine.
Mr. Plesl said that with the country suffering through economic hard times, a backlash against austerity had also favored the Social Democrats, who have pledged to increase spending. “We have had weak or no economic growth since 2009 and people feel worse off than they did before,” Mr. Plesl said. “They feel the politicians have been stealing like crazy.”
The vote comes amid growing restiveness across the region as people have demonstrated simmering disappointment with the post-1989 political order. In Bulgaria, thousands have protested against endemic corruption and economic hardship. In Hungary, the perceived authoritarianism of Prime Minister Viktor Orban has drawn protesters to the streets.
Days before the election this weekend, the Czech sculptor David Cerny conveyed the visceral anger of many Czechs when he installed a 30-foot-high purple sculpture of a hand with a raised middle finger on a float in the Vltava River in Prague, the Czech capital. It was, he said, aimed at the Prague Castle, the seat of the Czech president, as a potent rebuke to the political class.
Then, on a hill overlooking Prague’s historic center, a civic group called Dekomunizace put up a huge poster of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia dressed like Stalin — a reminder, the group said, of the country’s dark past under the communists. But it is a sign of Czechs’ rebellious mood that even the communists, long reviled by many Czechs, performed relatively well.
“This election shows a spectacular rise of anti-politics and a huge amount of cynicism, with Czechs saying, ‘How can things be any worse than what we have had now or in the recent past?’ ” said Jiri Pehe, the director of New York University in Prague and a former adviser to Mr. Havel.
One party that will enter Parliament for the first time, the Dawn of Direct Democracy, was founded by Tomio Okamura, a Czech senator who has preached people power and called for referendums as a way to empower voters.
The strong showing of protest parties followed a corruption scandal over the summer that forced out Petr Necas, the former center-right prime minister. Mr. Necas resigned after his chief of staff, Jana Nagyova, who was also his girlfriend, was accused of using the country’s security services to spy on his wife.
Ms. Nagyova was also accused of bribing three members of Parliament, who had opposed the government, to leave office in return for lucrative posts in state companies.
She has denied the charges. Mr. Necas, who has never been charged in the scandal, has since divorced his wife and married Ms. Nagyova.
The scandal helped fuel a strong backlash against the center-right Civic Democrat Party, which has had a strong presence in Czech politics in the decades following the revolution of 1989.
Alzbeta Sabova, a 23-year-old from Prague who works in public relations, said she had lost faith in the people running the country, and had little optimism that the elections would change anything. “Politics are terrible here,” she said before the vote, “a total farce.”
Ondrej Rous, 27, a restaurant manager, said that he was disgusted by the political status quo and that the country was in dire need of a new generation of politicians to shake things up. “We should throw the current lot out of the window,” he said.
Hana de Goeij contributed reporting from Prague.