October 28, 2013
Pentagon Says Shabab Bomb Specialist Is Killed in Missile Strike in Somalia
By ERIC SCHMITT and MARK MAZZETTI
WASHINGTON — The United States military carried out a missile strike against a top Shabab operative in Somalia on Monday, according to Defense Department officials, three weeks after a Navy SEAL raid in another part of the country failed to capture a senior leader of the Somali Islamic militant group.
The American strike is the latest evidence that the Obama administration has decided to escalate operations against the Shabab in the aftermath of the bloody siege at a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, last month in which more than 60 men, women and children were killed. A White House spokeswoman declined to comment on the strike, referring questions to the Pentagon.
Preliminary evidence collected by the military indicated that the attack killed its intended target, Ibrahim Ali, an explosives specialist for the Shabab known for his skill in building and using homemade bombs and suicide vests, a Defense Department official said.
“He’s been identified as someone we’ve been tracking for a long time,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the mission was conducted by the military’s secretive Joint Special Operations Command.
Residents in the Somali town of Jilib reported that a huge explosion hit a car carrying Shabab commanders traveling to Baraawe, a coastal town that is one of the group’s strongholds. Navy SEALs staged an unsuccessful raid in Baraawe this month that had targeted a Kenyan of Somali origin known as Abdikadir Mohamed Abdikadir, who uses the nom de guerre Ikrimah and is considered one of the Shabab’s top planners for attacks outside Somalia.
Residents said that at least two people were killed when the car burst in flames. “We heard a loud explosion — it was awful,” said Nuh Abdi of Jilib. “We later learned that a car headed to Baraawe was hit.”
Another resident, Liban Dahir, said that he saw militants remove two bodies from a burning car. “I don’t know exactly who was targeted, but I confirm that the car was carrying Shabab members,” Mr. Dahir said. The men were carrying guns and wore black scarves that hid their faces, he said.
Even as President Obama has ordered a punishing campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, the administration has been far more reluctant to use similar tactics in Somalia. The reluctance partly centered around questions of whether the Shabab — which has not tried to carry out an attack on American soil — could legally be the target of lethal operations by the military or the C.I.A.
Some argued that American strikes might only incite Shabab operatives, transforming the group from a regional organization focused on repelling foreign troops from Somalia into one with an agenda akin to Al Qaeda’s: striking the West at every turn.
There are also domestic concerns for the administration, since about 30 Somali-American men have left their homes in places like Minneapolis and Columbus, Ohio, to fight among the Shabab’s ranks in Somalia. F.B.I. officials have sought to closely monitor any battle-tested young men returning to the United States for signs of radicalization and possible plans to conduct attacks on American soil.
Even as commanders at the Joint Special Operations Command pushed this year for permission to begin operations intended to capture or kill Shabab’s leaders, their views were mostly marginalized as the White House pursued a strategy of using African troops to fight the Shabab in Somalia.
But Monday’s strike is a sign that views about the Shabab inside the administration may have changed. In May, the White House announced that it would carry out targeted killing operations only against those who posed a “continuing and imminent threat to the American people.”
The strike on Monday was the first known American operation resulting in a death since that policy was announced.
Mohammed Ibrahim contributed reporting from Mogadishu, Somalia, and Nicholas Kulish from Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: October 29, 2013
An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that a Twitter account associated with the Shabab militant group stated that the missile strike had killed “innocent and unarmed civilians,” not Shabab fighters. But the Twitter account was not associated with the militant group.
Argentina's midterms cast shadow over Cristina Fernández de Kirchner
Third term hopes fade for president and leader of Front for Victory party after election setback
Jonathan Watts, Latin America correspondent
theguardian.com, Monday 28 October 2013 19.38 GMT
The political vultures are circling in Argentina after President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner suffered a setback in midterm polls that sharply diminishes her prospects of standing for a third term.
Following major losses for her party in key electoral battlegrounds on Sunday, rival candidates both inside and out of the ruling Peronist camp are staking a claim for the presidential election in 2015.
Still recovering from brain surgery earlier this month, the 60 year-old now faces arguably the toughest challenge of her political life if she is to continue a decade-long residency in the Casa Rosada that began with the election of her husband Nestor Kirchner in 2003.
In Sunday's poll support for the ruling Front for Victory party plunged to 33%, down from 54% when Fernández won her second term in 2011. Some of the biggest losses were in the most important districts, such as Santa Fe, Cordoba and Mendoza. In Buenos Aires, home to more than one in three voters, Fernández's chosen candidate was crushed by more than 12 percentage points.
The winner in the capital's race, Sergio Massa, is now among the favourites to be the nation's next president. A former minister in Fernández's cabinet, Massa quit the government and ran as a candidate for the Renewal Front, a breakaway faction within Fernández's party.
"Sergio will be the most-voted-for leader in the entire country with this election. This is an overwhelming response by the people to our times," said Dario Giustozzi, another Renewal Front candidate. "This is the end of an era, a new space. Now the people have a place where they can be heard."
Another former ally and possible successor is former vice-president Julio Cobos who outran the Front for Victory with 47.88% of the vote against 28.18% for the president's candidate in the prosperous wine-growing province of Mendoza.
The conservative camp also revelled in the apparent shift in the political winds. With a 40% vote for one of its candidates standing for senator, the right-of-centre PRO party is optimistic that its leader, Buenos Aires mayor Mauricio Macri, can make a strong run in 2015. "This makes us a real alternative for the presidential elections in 2015," said Diego Santilli of PRO party at a colourful celebration.
The desire for change has focused on the economy, crime, and growing concern about corruption. Although GDP has grown at about 3% this year, public concerns have focused on high inflation, estimated to be two to three times higher than the official rate of 10%, and foreign exchange controls that have created a black market for dollars at twice the government's formal rate.
The president has also been debilitated by health concerns. Earlier this month she underwent surgery to remove blood that pooled on her brain after a fall in August. Although the operation is said to have gone well, Fernández has been unable to campaign during her 30-day convalescence and doctors forbade her from flying to Santa Cruz where she normally casts her vote.
Although Fernández has never publicly stated a desire to run for a third term, her supporters wanted to amend the constitution so she could stand again. That now appears an extremely difficult goal even for such a wily political operator as Fernández, who may have to concentrate on her health and her legacy, while her party looks for a new candidate.
But the president cannot yet be dismissed as a lame duck. She has proved in the past that she is capable of surprising comebacks, and her party narrowly held on its majority in both houses.
Fernández also remains easily the most recognised politician in the country. Since her surgery, polls suggest the president's popularity has improved and now stands at about 44%.
But concerns about her health may make this a comeback too far. Despite reassurances about her condition from her aides, the president has not been seen in public since her operation. The longer she stays out of sight, the more the doubts will grow.
One critic, Elisa Carrió of the UNEN party, has questioned the president's competenence to maintain power even until 2015. "We are heading towards tremendous economic, social and political difficulties, two years of government are still ahead and we don't know if we have a president," Carrió said on TN television on Monday. "Cristina is not here today and we don't know if she is coming back."
Brazilian judge suspends work on huge Amazon dam project
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, October 28, 2013 17:31 EDT
A Brazilian judge has ordered that work on the controversial Belo Monte dam in the Amazon be halted on grounds that environmental commitments were not met, the court said Monday.
A spokesman for the Federal Court in Brasilia said Judge Antonio Souza issued the ruling Friday, suspending the project’s environmental license as well work at the dam, located in the northern state of Para, following objections from state prosecutors
The judge said the license was granted on condition that the environmental commitments be honored.
The ruling also means that Brazil’s BNDES development bank, which is bankrolling the project, is barred from disbursing funds until the commitments are met.
“We are not against the country’s development. But we say that the law must be applied,” said Para prosecutor Thais Santi.
Norte Energia, the consortium in charge of the construction work, told AFP it had yet to be notified of the court’s decision.
It insisted that it was “rigorously complying with its obligations and commitments.”
Indigenous groups fear the dam across the Xingu River, a tributary of the Amazon, will harm their way of life. Environmentalists have warned of deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions and irreparable damage to the ecosystem.
Belo Monte, a $13 billion project aiming to produce 11,000 megawatts of electricity, is expected to flood a 500-square-kilometer (200-square-mile) area, displacing 16,000 people, according to the government.
It would be the third-biggest dam in the world,after China’s Three Gorges and Brazil’s Itaipu in the south.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Brazil will make and export measles-rubella double vaccine
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, October 28, 2013 20:55 EDT
Brazil will produce a combined vaccine against measles and rubella exclusively for export to poor countries, mainly in Africa, its health minister said Monday.
Alexandre Padilha said the aim was to produce 30 million doses by 2017 for sale at a price of 54 US cents each. Currently such vaccines are made only in India.
Padilha made the announcement at an event in Rio where he announced that the government was inking an investment deal with the US Bill & Melinda Gates foundation to develop the vaccine.
He said his ministry would invest $727 million in construction of a state-of-the pharmaceutical plant at the Bio-Manguinhos Institute, a government institution located in Rio.
“This plant will generate employment, revenue, know-how, research and technological innovation in this country,” he added.
“The agreement which we are signing provides more investments and buying guarantees, which makes it possible to export at the lowest cost,” he said.
The Gates Foundation is meanwhile allocating $1.1 million for the project.
Measles was eradicated in Brazil in 2000 and rubella (or German measles) in 2009.
But the diseases remain endemic in some countries.
In 2011, 158,000 people died of measles around the world, most of them in poor countries, according to data from the World Health Organization.
Meanwhile Carlos Gadelha, the health ministry’s science and technology secretary said Latin America’s dominant economic power also hopes to make headway toward developing the pentavalent vaccine and a vaccine against dengue fever.
The pentavalent vaccine simultaneously provides protection against five life threatening diseases ? Diphtheria, Pertussis, Tetanus, Hepatitis B and Hib (Haemophilus influenza type b).
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
In the USA...United Surveillance America
October 28, 2013
Warily, Schools Watch Students on the Internet
By SOMINI SENGUPTA
SAN FRANCISCO — For years, a school principal’s job was to make sure students were not creating a ruckus in the hallways or smoking in the bathroom. Vigilance ended at the schoolhouse gates.
Now, as students complain, taunt and sometimes cry out for help on social media, educators have more opportunities to monitor students around the clock. And some schools are turning to technology to help them. Several companies offer services to filter and glean what students do on school networks; a few now offer automated tools to comb through off-campus postings for signs of danger. For school officials, this raises new questions about whether they should — or legally can — discipline children for their online outbursts.
The problem has taken on new urgency with the case of a 12-year-old Florida girl who committed suicide after classmates relentlessly bullied her online and offline.
Two girls — ages 12 and 14 — who the authorities contend were her chief tormentors were arrested this month after one posted a Facebook comment about her death.
Educators find themselves needing to balance students’ free speech rights against the dangers children can get into at school and sometimes with the law because of what they say in posts on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. Courts have started to weigh in.
In September, a federal appeals court in Nevada, for instance, sided with school officials who suspended a high school sophomore for threatening, through messages on Myspace, to shoot classmates. In 2011, an Indiana court ruled that school officials had violated the Constitution when they disciplined students for posting pictures on Facebook of themselves at a slumber party, posing with rainbow-colored lollipops shaped like phalluses.
“It is a concern and in some cases, a major problem for school districts,” said Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, which represents public school superintendents.
Surveillance of students’ online speech, he said, can be cumbersome and confusing. “Is this something that a student has the right to do, or is this something that flies against the rules and regulations of a district?”
Interviews with educators suggest that surveillance of students off campus is still mostly done the old-fashioned way, by relying on students to report trouble or following students on social networks. Tracking students on social media comes with its own risks: One principal in Missouri resigned last year after accusations that she had snooped on students using a fake Facebook account. “It was our children she was monitoring,” said one Twitter user who identified herself as Judy Rayford, after the news broke last year, without, she added, “authorization” from children or parents.
But technology is catching on.
In August, officials in Glendale, a suburb in Southern California, paid Geo Listening, a technology company, to comb through the social network posts of children in the district. The company said its service was not to pry, but to help the district, Glendale Unified, protect its students after suicides by teenagers in the area.
Students mocked the effort on Twitter, saying officials at G.U.S.D., the Glendale Unified School District, would not “even understand what I tweet most of the time, they should hire a high school slang analyst #shoutout2GUSD.”
“We should be monitoring gusd instead,” one Twitter user wrote after an instructor was arrested on charges of sexual abuse; the instructor pleaded not guilty.
Chris Frydrych, the chief executive of Geo Listening, based in Hermosa Beach, also in Southern California, declined to explain how his company’s technology worked, except to say that it was “a sprinkling of technology and a whole lot of human capital.” He said Geo Listening looked for keywords and sentiments on posts that could be viewed publicly. It cannot, for instance, read anyone’s Facebook posts that are designated for “friends” or “friends of friends.”
But with Facebook’s announcement this month that teenagers will be permitted to post public status updates and images, Geo Listening and similar services will potentially have access to more information on that social network.
Glendale has paid Geo Listening $40,500 to monitor the social media posts. Mr. Frydrych declined to say which other schools his company works with, except to predict that by the end of the year, his company would have signed up 3,000 schools.
David Jones of CompuGuardian, based in Salt Lake City, said his product let school officials monitor whether students were researching topics like how to build bombs or discussing anorexia. His customers include five schools, but he, too, is optimistic about market growth.
“It helps you boil down to what students are having what problems,” he said. “And then you can drill down.”
But when does protecting children from each other or from themselves turn into chilling free speech?
John G. Palfrey Jr., head of Phillips Academy in Massachusetts, said he favored a middle ground. He follows his students on Twitter if they follow him, for instance, but he is wary of automated tools that try to conduct what he called National Security Agency-style surveillance.
He briefly contended with this question last year when students created a blog where they could anonymously share “secrets.” Many posts were on the fringe, Mr. Palfrey recalled, and some teachers and students were concerned that children’s identities could be determined from their writing patterns. The blog’s student founders were persuaded to add a note of caution, warning participants that their identities could be discovered.
Mr. Palfrey offered an offline analogy. “We wouldn’t want to record every conversation they are having in the hallway,” he said. “The safety and well-being of our students is our top priority, but we also need for them to have the time and space to grow without feeling like we are watching their every move.”
That fine line seems to be equally confounding the courts.
In the Nevada case, a 16-year-old boy bragged on Myspace about having guns at home, and threatened to kill fellow students on a particular date. He also cited the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, in which a troubled student killed 32 people.
The boy ended up spending 31 days in a local jail and was suspended from school for 90 days. He then sued the district, saying his free speech rights had been violated.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the claim. It called his threats “alarming” and so specific that they presented “a real risk of significant disruption” to the school. Administrators were justified, the court ruled, for penalizing what was ostensibly off-campus speech.
“It’s going to be more and more of legal issues,” said Gretchen Shipley, a lawyer who represents school districts. “The ability to monitor is growing so quickly.”
The Indiana case offers a contrast. In the summer of 2009, two incoming 10th graders at Churubusco High School posted what the court called “raunchy” pictures of themselves. Once school officials found out, the girls were suspended from extracurricular activities for the school year. The girls sued, saying their free speech rights had been violated. The school contended that its student handbook bars conduct that could “discredit” or “dishonor” it.
The court found that prohibition too broad. The students’ pictures, “juvenile” though they were, did not cause “substantial disruption” at school, the court ruled, and even though it was just “crude humor,” it was protected speech. “No message of lofty social or political importance was conveyed, but none is required,” the court said.
October 28, 2013
Health Site Puts Agency and Leader in Hot Seat
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
WASHINGTON — Ten days before HealthCare.gov opened for business, Marilyn Tavenner, the obscure federal bureaucrat whose agency oversaw the creation of the troubled online insurance marketplace, had a bad omen. It was a Sunday, and her mobile device was on the fritz, forcing her to go into the office.
“It reminded me that I can still be brought to my knees by a malfunctioning BlackBerry,” she joked in late September, recounting her technology woes to a group of insurance executives.
Nobody at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency Ms. Tavenner runs, is joking now.
On Tuesday, she will be on Capitol Hill to face a grilling from House Republicans over the website’s failures. It will be an unusual turnabout for Ms. Tavenner, 62, who was confirmed overwhelmingly by the Senate in May on a bipartisan 91-to-7 vote and had the enthusiastic backing of the House Republican leader, Representative Eric Cantor, who knows her from her days as health secretary in his home state, Virginia.
Her testimony, before the House Ways and Means Committee, will serve as a warm-up for that of her boss, Kathleen Sebelius, the health and human services secretary, who will appear before another House panel on Wednesday. Republicans, who have scheduled a series of hearings to examine the problems with the troubled website, have demanded that someone in the Obama administration be held accountable for the problem-plagued rollout.
“There’s a lot of fault to go around when it comes to the launch of the Obamacare exchanges, least of which is trying to figure out who was in charge,” said Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, who voted to confirm Ms. Tavenner. Referring to Ms. Tavenner’s agency and to the Health and Human Services Department, he added, “Was it C.M.S.? Was it H.H.S.? Was it the White House? That it’s this hard to unravel is unacceptable.”
While the Medicare and Medicaid agency has major responsibility for carrying out the president’s health care overhaul, there have been hints that Ms. Tavenner was kept out of the loop on some critical decisions.
In July, after the Obama administration announced it was delaying the so-called employer mandate — a requirement that companies with more than 50 employees contribute to the cost of insurance or pay a penalty — Ms. Tavenner told lawmakers that she had been on vacation when the decision was announced and had no part in it.
“I was not consulted,” she said.
A onetime nurse and hospital executive, Ms. Tavenner came to Washington in 2010 to serve as deputy to Dr. Donald M. Berwick, President Obama’s first, and controversial, pick to run the sprawling agency. After Dr. Berwick, who became a symbol of Republican discontent about Mr. Obama’s health policies, was unable to win Senate confirmation, Ms. Tavenner took over in an acting capacity in December 2011. This year, she became the agency’s first Senate-confirmed administrator since 2006.
Ms. Tavenner was not available for an interview on Monday.
Republicans said they expected to press Ms. Tavenner on a range of issues, including how many people have signed up for insurance through the online exchanges and how hands-on she was in monitoring the development of the website and managing the various federal contractors on the project.
Representative Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican and the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said through a spokeswoman that he viewed Ms. Tavenner as “a serious witness” who would “shed light on the systemic failures that led up to the rollout.”
But Democrats expect Republicans to use Ms. Tavenner’s testimony mostly to lay the groundwork for tougher treatment of Ms. Sebelius, who some Republicans have said should resign.
“Clearly, the launch has had some substantial problems,” said Representative Sander M. Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the committee, “but I think the basic difference here is Democrats want to make it work and Republicans don’t.”
In recent days, press officers for Ms. Tavenner’s agency have been fending off questions about whether she foresaw problems and whether she notified Ms. Sebelius. On Monday, asked to describe the chain of command for work on the Affordable Care Act, a spokeswoman, Julie Bataille, said the agency took responsibility. “Our administrator has been in charge of our overall A.C.A. implementation effort,” she said.
Ms. Tavenner may have to answer for the work of her subordinates: Many decisions on the project were made by Michelle Snyder, the agency’s chief operating officer, and by Henry Chao, the head of the technology team. Contractors have said it was Mr. Chao who gave the last-minute order to require users to create accounts before they could shop for plans, a decision that contributed to a huge bottleneck once the website went live.
Although it might seem there is little in Ms. Tavenner’s background that would prepare her to oversee the daunting task of building a website to serve millions of uninsured consumers, she does have considerable experience running complex organizations. This has, at least in the past, endeared her to Republicans like Mr. Cantor.
“She approaches problems of health care from the patients’ perspective,” Mr. Cantor told senators at Ms. Tavenner’s confirmation hearing, referring to her history as a nurse. “And given her long experience in the private sector, I have complete faith that she is an individual that will be able to take on the challenges that we face on behalf of the constituents that we represent.”
Administering the health care law is only one part of Ms. Tavenner’s job. She also oversees a vast bureaucracy responsible for two huge social welfare programs: Medicaid, the joint federal-state program that insures the poor, and Medicare, which covers the elderly.
After beginning her career as a nurse, she rose up through the Hospital Corporation of America, a commercial chain, ultimately becoming its group president for outpatient services. During her time in Washington, Ms. Tavenner has kept a generally low profile, but she has won praise from people in the health care industry and the policy world.
Karen Ignagni, the insurance industry’s top lobbyist in Washington, said in an interview on Monday that she saw Ms. Tavenner as “a strong, thoughtful and steady person.” And Gail Wilensky, who ran the Medicare and Medicaid agency under the elder President George Bush, said Ms. Tavenner was “particularly well-suited” to her current job — not only because of her private sector experience but because of her time as health secretary in a politically divided state, Virginia, under a centrist Democratic governor, Tim Kaine, now a senator.
Ms. Wilensky said that beyond questioning Ms. Tavenner, lawmakers ought to be asking more fundamental questions: Why did the Obama administration decide to give the Medicare and Medicaid agency responsibility for the website in the first place? And how much oversight did the White House itself provide?
“Unlike Marilyn Tavenner, who actually has some operations experience with a relatively complex entity, most of the people in the White House haven’t,” Ms. Wilensky said. “If the White House wasn’t overseeing and having periodic reports about how this website was progressing, shame on them.”
White House touts youth gains under Obamacare amid complaints about cancelled policies
By Arturo Garcia
Monday, October 28, 2013 22:37 EDT
While federal officials released a study on Monday highlighting what they called significant medical coverage gains for young single adults under the Affordable Care Act, (ACA) NBC News reported that the law was written in such a way that it reneges on President Barack Obama’s pledge that Americans would be able to retain their current policies after it was enacted.
According to NBC, documents from July 2010 concerning the regulation of the program, known as Obamacare, accounted for the cancellation of “40 to 67 percent” of policies for Americans who buy their own insurance. People who go through government services or their employers for their medical insurance are not expected to be affected.
“This says that when they made the promise, they knew half the people in this market outright couldn’t keep what they had,” health industry consultant Robert Laszewski told NBC. “And then they wrote the rules so that others couldn’t make it either.”
Several policy holders interviewed by NBC stated that the alternative plans suggested to them after their current policies were canceled contained exhorbitant increases to their premiums and deductibles. NBC’s report did not mention whether they accounted for the subsidies offered by the government as a discount for people who join the ACA’s health exchange program.
White House spokesperson Jessica Santillo responded to the criticism by saying policy holders are reporting getting cancellation notices from their insurance providers because their plans do not meet the federal standards imposed by the law, which includes a ban on denying treatment based on pre-existing conditions.
“Nothing in the Affordable Care Act forces people out of their health plans,” Santillo told NBC. “The law allows plans that covered people at the time the law was enacted to continue to offer that same coverage to the same enrollees. Nothing has changed and that coverage can continue into 2014.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) released a report (PDF) stating that nearly half of eligible people between the ages of 18 and 34 in states that have signed on for the exchange program may qualify for a health policy that costs less than $50 a month. The report also stated that, should those states opt to expand their Medicaid program, the percentage of eligible young adults would grow from 50 to 86 percent.
October 28, 2013
Ohio Governor Defies G.O.P. With Defense of Social Safety Net
By TRIP GABRIEL
COLUMBUS, Ohio — In his grand Statehouse office beneath a bust of Lincoln, Gov. John R. Kasich let loose on fellow Republicans in Washington.
“I’m concerned about the fact there seems to be a war on the poor,” he said, sitting at the head of a burnished table as members of his cabinet lingered after a meeting. “That if you’re poor, somehow you’re shiftless and lazy.”
“You know what?” he said. “The very people who complain ought to ask their grandparents if they worked at the W.P.A.”
Ever since Republicans in Congress shut down the federal government in an attempt to remove funding for President Obama’s health care law, Republican governors have been trying to distance themselves from Washington.
Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin schooled lawmakers in a Washington Post opinion column midway through the 16-day shutdown on “What Wisconsin Can Teach Washington.” Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, with a record of bipartisan support at home, remarked after a visit to the nation’s capital, “If I was in the Senate right now, I’d kill myself.”
But few have gone further than Mr. Kasich in critiquing his party’s views on poverty programs, and last week he circumvented his own Republican legislature and its Tea Party wing by using a little-known state board to expand Medicaid to 275,000 poor Ohioans under President Obama’s health care law.
Once a leader of the conservative firebrands in Congress under Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, Mr. Kasich has surprised and disarmed some former critics on the left with his championing of Ohio’s disadvantaged, which he frames as a matter of Christian compassion.
He embodies conventional Republican fiscal priorities — balancing the budget by cutting aid to local governments and education — but he defies many conservatives in believing government should ensure a strong social safety net. In his three years as governor, he has expanded programs for the mentally ill, fought the nursing home lobby to bring down Medicaid costs and backed Cleveland’s Democratic mayor, Frank Jackson, in raising local taxes to improve schools.
To some Ohio analysts, those moves are a reaction to the humiliating defeat Mr. Kasich suffered in 2011 when voters in a statewide referendum overturned a law stripping public employees of bargaining rights. Before the vote, Mr. Kasich’s approval in this quintessential swing state plunged.
Now, as the governor’s image has softened, his poll numbers have improved heading into a re-election race next year against the likely Democratic nominee, Ed FitzGerald, the executive of Cuyahoga County.
He still angers many on the left; he signed a budget in June that cut revenues to local governments and mandates that women seeking an abortion listen to the fetal heartbeat. Democrats see his centrist swing as mere calculation, a prelude to a tough re-election fight.
“This is someone who realized he had to get to the center and chose Medicaid as the issue,” said Danny Kanner, communications director of the Democratic Governors Association. “That doesn’t erase the first three years of his governorship when he pursued polices that rewarded the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.”
Ohioans earning in the top 1 percent will see a $6,000 tax cut under the latest budget passed by the Republican-led legislature, while those in the bottom fifth will see a $12 increase, according to Policy Matters Ohio, an independent research group.
The governor dismissed the notion that his Medicaid decision was political. “I have an opportunity to do good, to lift people, and that’s what I’m going to do,” he said. “You know what?” he added, using a phrase he utters before aiming a jab. “Let the chips fall where they may.”
The son of a mailman who grew up outside Pittsburgh, Mr. Kasich (pronounced KAY-sik) has said he didn’t meet a Republican until he arrived as a freshman at Ohio State. He has often showed an independent streak. He supported President Bill Clinton’s assault weapons ban while in Congress in 1994, and he teamed with Ralph Nader to close corporate tax loopholes.
In the interview in his office, he criticized a widespread conservative antipathy toward government social programs, which regards the safety net as enabling a “culture of dependency.”
Mr. Kasich, who occasionally sounds more like an heir to Lyndon B. Johnson than to Ronald Reagan, urged sympathy for “the lady working down here in the doughnut shop that doesn’t have any health insurance — think about that, if you put yourself in their shoes.”
He said it made no sense to turn down $2.5 billion in federal Medicaid funds over the next two years, a position backed by state hospitals and Ohio businesses.
Yet, at the same time Ohio under Mr. Kasich refused to run its own state insurance exchange as encouraged by the health care law, known as the Affordable Care Act. The governor said he did not believe that the law, which mandates that people buy insurance, will work. To the contrary, he said, “It’s going to throw people out of work and not control costs.”
Expanding Medicaid, which became an option for states after the 2012 Supreme Court ruling upholding the health care law, is different, Mr. Kasich asserts. The governor argued all year that extending eligibility beyond poor mothers and children to include childless adults earning up to $15,860 will help thousands of the mentally ill and drug-addicted.
The governor, whose brother is mentally ill, spoke of how Medicaid would get more people into treatment, decreasing the homeless and prison populations.
“For those who live in the shadows of life, for those who are the least among us,” Mr. Kasich said in a February speech, echoing the Bible, “I will not accept the fact that the most vulnerable in our state should be ignored.”
In some ways, his balancing act has scrambled the usual ideological alliances. A Wall Street Journal editorial last week mocked his religion-based explanation for expanding Medicaid and labeled him “the Apostle Kasich.”
But mental health groups that usually find Democrats more sympathetic are cheering. “It’s been an astonishing thing to watch,” said Terry Russell, executive director of the National Alliance for Mental Illness in Ohio. “Since he’s become governor we’ve received more for mental health care than any time in the past 20 years.”
Still, the governor got nowhere with the legislature, where Republicans hold majorities in both houses and many conservatives are rankled with his half-embrace of Mr. Obama’s law. The right flank had dealt him an earlier defeat, refusing a proposal to raise taxes on oil and gas companies and use the money for an income tax cut — which Tea Party supporters called redistributing wealth.
Ohio’s legislative districts have been drawn to create safe seats, a dynamic that increasingly pulled the General Assembly to the right. “So many of these legislators are really concerned about a Tea Party challenge,” said John C. Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron.
The Ohio Liberty Coalition, a network of Tea Party groups, threatened a primary challenge to any lawmaker supporting the governor on Medicaid expansion.
“We said, You’re supposed to be about limited-government and free markets, and we’re here to hold you accountable,” said Ted Stevenot, president of the Tea Party coalition.
As a result, Medicaid expansion never came up for a vote in the General Assembly. The budget that lawmakers sent the governor in June even prohibited the expansion of Medicaid. But Mr. Kasich vetoed the item, and last week he did an end-run through a special committee known as the Controlling Board, which approves day-to-day adjustments to the budget.
He also used his leverage to stack the board in his favor. A senior member of the Kasich administration acknowledged in interviews that it pressed Republican leaders of the legislature — the House speaker and Senate president — to assure a majority of “yes” votes on the board.
Hours before the vote on Oct. 21, two “no” votes were replaced with other members, one of whom voted for expansion, increasing the margin in favor to 7-2. “The fix was in,” said one disgruntled Republican in the House, Representative Matt Lynch.
Tea Party leaders acknowledge that Mr. Kasich won the round. Although some grass-roots activists may refuse to help him next year, he seems unlikely to face a serious primary challenger on his right flank. “Our governor’s numbers among Republicans are very good,” said Matt Borges, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party.
The governor cast a cold eye on hard-liners in his party, especially in Washington. “Nowhere in life do we not compromise and give,” he said.
Bernie Sanders slams Ted Cruz for blocking FCC nomination in the name of oligarchy
By Arturo Garcia
Monday, October 28, 2013 20:02 EDT
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) slammed his colleague Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Monday for blocking Tom Wheeler’s nomination to lead the Federal Communications Commission, telling MSNBC host Ed Schultz that Cruz is doing so to benefit high-powered corporate donors who have exploited the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling.
Not only do conservative funding sources like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson have the ability to spend “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars” on campaigns, Sanders argued, but what Cruz is pushing for the stripping of limitations from individual donations, as well.
“Ultimately, what they are about is creating a campaign finance system where billionaires can spend unlimited sums of money on campaigns and candidates electing the people they want,” Sanders told Schultz. “That is not, in my view, a democracy. That is called oligarchy, where a nation is run by a handful of billionaires.”
Cruz has publicly warned Wheeler, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, that the FCC should not, in his opinion, exceed its mandate and require individual donors to reveal their contributions. Cruz is reportedly setting up a private meeting with Wheeler to discuss the issue. The Tea Party senator is also an opponent of the DISCLOSE Act, which would require outside groups like unions, corporations and political action committees to notify the Federal Elections Commission when they spend more than $10,000 to air campaign ads.
Sanders also criticized Cruz for opposing an FCC-backed proposal that would call for publishing the sources of political ad buyers in the country’s 50 biggest television markets.
“In my view, we should see that, not only in the 50 largest markets, but all over this country, not only on television, but on radio” Sanders said. “Bottom line here is, what Senator Cruz and his friends want is a campaign system where a few billionaires can spend unlimited sums of money without any disclosure at all.”
GOP event hails ‘superhero’ Ted Cruz as right-wing Jesus
By Travis Gettys
Monday, October 28, 2013 8:54 EDT
Conservative activists compared Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) to Jesus Christ during an event Friday, earning a chorus of amens from the audience of Iowa Republicans.
Steve Scheffler, a conservative Christian activist, thanked God for the freshman Texas senator who helped engineer the 16-day government shutdown in his effort to derail the Affordable Care Act.
He also prayed for more conservative leaders like Cruz who were willing to “be crucified for their belief system,” reported BuzzFeed.
The Republican establishment, including Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Orrin Hatch, have criticized Cruz for his legislative efforts to defund or delay Obamacare, but tea party activists applaud his stance.
“Every time one of these guys attacks him, it’s good for him,” said one Iowa Republican operative. “He’s like a superhero. The more bullets that get shot at him, the bigger and stronger he gets.”
Cruz and other conservatives at the annual Reagan fundraising dinner cast themselves as victims and compared themselves to David fighting an army of Goliaths that included the mainstream media and the Obama administration.
The Republican senator said “this is not a typical moment in the political process” because Obama was “intent on violating every constitutional protection.”
“For everyone who talks about wanting to win elections in 2014 — particularly an off-year, nonpresidential year — nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing matters more than an energized and active and vocal grassroots America,” Cruz said.
He said Republicans had lost elections in 2006, 2008 and 2012 because they weren’t conservative enough.
“I gotta say, if you took every Washington strategist and dumped them in the ocean, you know you’d call it? A good start,” he said.
Worst Congress Ever: House Republicans Refuse To Vote But Give Themselves More Vacation Days
By: Jason Easley and Sarah Jones
Monday, October 28th, 2013, 3:28 pm
Republicans are pondering canceling some of the remaining days in their session because they can’t come up with anything to do now that their efforts to defund ObamaCare, shut down the government and take us to the brink of default have failed. It’s not as if Speaker Boehner would actually allow a vote on real legislation, after all.
For the first time in months, House Republicans are facing no immediate cataclysmic deadlines, and GOP leaders are struggling to come up with an agenda to fill the 19 legislative days that are left in 2013.
Need evidence? The House votes Monday evening and will finish its work week Wednesday. After that, the House is out of session until Nov. 12. Internally, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and senior Republicans aren’t discussing coming back early from the scheduled recess, but instead, they are wondering if they’ll cancel some of the remaining days in session.
House Republicans are refusing to vote on immigration reform. They have been refusing to vote on a real jobs bills for years. The list of things that House Republicans won’t vote on is longer than the list of things that they have voted on. If Boehner and Cantor can’t hold a vote against the ACA, they don’t know what to do with themselves.
House Republicans would rather cancel work days than vote on anything.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. The Republican-led House has set records for working fewer days and passing the least amount of legislation. In December of 2012, we reported that even though House Republicans are going to be in session for only 126 days in 2013, they are still demanding their full $174,000 salary.
With that salary, House Republicans have wasted taxpayer money on pretend ObamaCare repeal votes, witch hunts over scandals they made up and fed to the press with lies, they wasted 24 billion on their government shutdown, and now they’re wasting more money on glitch hunts. They are not passing any actual legislation, however, which is their actual job.
In July, we reported that this 113th Congress was historically lazy, having passed only 16 legislative items in six months. The 112th Congress set another historic low of 23 legislative items passed by the same time of year. “They made history as the most unproductive session since the 1940s (records only go back to 1947) for passing only 220 laws. For perspective, President Harry Truman labeled his Congress the “Do-Nothing Congress” for passing just 906 laws.”
Before Republicans took over the House, we had the same level of movement in Congress as prior to Obama taking office. USA Today explained, “When Democrats controlled both chambers during the 111th Congress, 258 laws were enacted in 2010 and 125 in 2009, including President Obama’s health care law.”
Speaker John Boehner’s House is just going to give up even pretending to work now. Since their plan to shutdown the world in a fit of pique failed, they’re going to take their balls and go home. At least they can’t destroy America as easily from home, but their failure to do their jobs is hurting America and her people. It’s ironic that Republicans show such disdain for “lazy” people, given that they are historically the laziest House ever.
Victory for Texas Women: Judge Blocks Key Parts of Republicans’ Anti-Abortion Law
By: Sarah Jones
Monday, October 28th, 2013, 4:08 pm
In the nick of time, a federal judge ruled today that part of Texas’s new anti-abortion law passed by the Republican-led state legislature is unconstitutional and another part placed an undue burden on women.
The contentious law that Democratic state Senator and now gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis filibustered was set to go into effect tomorrow, the 29th of October.
U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel found that the Republican law restricted access to abortion clinics and violated the rights of abortion doctors to care for their patients. His decision was final, not just an injunction against the impending law.
Texas attorney general Greg Abbott claimed that the law was meant to provide better medical protections to women and fetuses.
Yeakel responded to that argument as not having a rational relationship to the state’s responsibility to women or fetuses. He concluded that the provision “does not bear a rational relationship to the legitimate right of the State in preserving and promoting fetal life or a woman’s health and, in any event, places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus and is thus an undue burden to her.”
A.G. Abbot is expected to file an emergency appeal of Yeakel’s decision.
The judge did not block the part of the law that bans abortions after 20 weeks, but this ruling is still a huge victory for Texas women, for justice, for individual freedom and for sanity.
Read the full “Planned Parenthood v. Abbott” decision here via Talking Points Memo’s front page editor Zoe Schlanger.
Bill Clinton lambasts DC partisan politics at McAuliffe campaign rally: “The constitution might as well be subtitled, ‘The Art of the Deal’”
By Dan Roberts, The Guardian
At Virginia rally for gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, Clinton hinted at frustration towards isolated Obama White House
Bill Clinton has criticised the lack of deal-makers in Washington politics, hinting at the frustration some in his camp feel toward the isolated Obama White House during a campaign rally for long-time fundraiser and current Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe.
Though primarily attacking Republican intransigence during the government shutdown, the former president made a series of arguments for more consensus-building across the partisan divide and defended the would-be governor of Virginia’s reputation for being a power broker.
“When people sneeringly say McAuliffe is a deal-maker, I say: oh, if we only had one in Washington,” Clinton told a cheering crowd of supporters in Norfolk, Virginia.
“The constitution might as well be subtitled the art of the deal,” he added. “It is exhausting seeing politicians wasting time with all these heated arguments when people need jobs.”
Clinton faced two government shutdowns of his own while president, but the failure of the current administration to win bipartisan support for any of its major policy initiatives has led to veiled criticism from veteran aides, who, when speaking privately, say the White House today lacks figures who can reach across the party divide and strike deals.
“Our founding fathers wanted us to be practical,” added Clinton on Monday. “They had huge arguments but they settled on a system that prevented us from becoming too radical in either direction and forced us to deal with each other.”
“We all have to deal with each other. Respectfully, we all have our differences but we have to get this show on the road.”
The ideal of moderate and practical Democrats has become the central theme of McAuliffe’s campaign in the run up to next Tuesday’s gubernatorial election in Virginia. His team are hoping to tarnish opponent Ken Cucinelli with the general anger toward Republicans that followed the government shutdown – a crisis that proved deeply unpopular in a state with the second-highest proportion of government workers in the country and helped tip the polls in McAuliffe’s favour.
But the race has also become a trial run for the Clinton election machine, receiving substantial support from both Bill and Hillary, who spoke at a rally last week, and financial backing from many of those expected to bankroll the next national election campaign. Several McAuliffe advisers are also thought to be leading contenders to run any presidential challenge by Hillary in 2016.
In contrast, Barack Obama has been more visible in New Jersey, where Democrat Barbara Buono is trailing moderate Republican governor Chris Christie in the run up to the other election for state governor due to take place next week.
Bill Clinton warned that the unusual timing of New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial elections during the “off year” that follows national elections was the biggest danger for Democrats facing a radicalised Republican base.
“There is one redeeming political virtue of extremism, they do show up to vote,” he said, noting that turnout in Virginia in 2009 was just 40% compared with 72% in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.
During the final flurry of campaign events designed to bolster core support, the Democratic team is focusing its attacks on Cucinelli’s social and fiscal conservatism, barely mentioning the word Republican at all and referring to him constantly as a Tea Party supporter.
“Over the last few days, the Tea Party is going to try to make this election about personal attacks on me,” claimed McAuliffe.
“Ken Cucinelli says this election is about showing conservatism isn’t dead; well I say this election is about creating jobs,” he added.
Across town, an unrepetentant Cucinelli appeared at a similar rally for his base on Monday alongside libertarian Republican senator Rand Paul.
They both focused on the faltering start to Obama’s healthcare reforms as an example of big government woes.
“I was the first person in the country to fight Obamacare,” said Cucinelli, referring to a legal challenge he made as state attorney general.
Paul also gave a hint of the liberatarian politics likely to feature in his run for presidential office in 2016, attacking government telephone surveillance and praising Cucinelli for his defence of free speech, privacy and gun rights.
© Guardian News and Media 2013
White supremacist’s enclave foiled by zoning regulations in ‘evil and nasty’ North Dakota town
By Scott Kaufman
Monday, October 28, 2013 10:28 EDT
A white supremacist’s plan to set up a racist enclave in Leith, North Dakota has been foiled by the city’s planning and zoning board.
Craig Cobb, a hate crimes fugitive from Canada, purchased a house and nineteen other properties in Leith and spoke of renaming the town “Cobbsville.” He would have required residents to fly a “racialist banner” from their homes.
“Imagine strolling over to your neighbors to discuss world politics with nearly all like-minded volk. Imagine the international publicity and usefulness to our cause! For starters, we could declare a Mexican illegal invaders and Israeli Mossad/IDF spies no-go zone,” he wrote last year. “If leftist journalists or antis come and try to make trouble, they just might break one of our local ordinances and would have to be arrested by our town constable.”
His dream of living among “like-minded volk” has been shattered by the city’s planning and zoning board, which issued an edict yesterday that all inhabited houses must have running water and sewer, as well as an ordinance that prohibited tents and campers from remaining on a property for more than 10 consecutive days.
Failure to comply will result in fines or condemnation.
Cobb talking to the Bismarck Tribune, asked “Why now? Is it a wonderful coincidence that the moment I show up these are necessary? It’s patently unfair.”
He then referred to Leith’s current residents as “evil and nasty,” and suggested the town be renamed the “Village of the Damned.” He also said that if the town attempts to take action against him, they’ll have to sue his “Cathedral of Creativity” religion, to which he transferred all his Leith
NSA spying on Europe reflects the transatlantic culture gap
The US simply does not respect privacy and rule of law as much as Europe. But we can start to change this by hitting US social media giants operating in Europe where it hurts
Stephan Richter and Jan Philipp Albrecht
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 October 2013 11.19 GMT
The latest wave of spying scandals should prompt close scrutiny of the often bizarre mechanisms that shape the transatlantic relationship. There are of course numerous European transatlantic apologists. For them, any hint of holding the US accountable as a responsible global power goes out the window. Such lofty talk is reserved for China.
And then there is a group of largely American analysts, diplomats and journalists who make a point of challenging the Europeans on any point of principle. Their mantra goes: everyone spies on everyone – what else did you expect? They regard Europeans collectively as naive, not cut out for the tough world that's out there.
What gets lost in all this is the root cause of the current scandals. It is decidedly not that Europeans live on Venus. It is the catastrophic lack of effective checks and balances in the US.
In one sense the spying revelations show that other nations have little to complain about. They are, after all, not being treated any worse by US authorities than American citizens themselves.
What the European unease, at both the popular and senior political levels, highlights, however, is the big difference between the US and Europe. Europeans still operate under the assumption that it is critical to uphold the rule of law. The US government is more than flexible with the rule of law by turning any notion of privacy into Swiss cheese. The dangerous implications this holds for the core ideas of democracy are obvious.
But it isn't just that the US government has undermined the rule of law at home. It is that American citizens themselves, to a stunningly large extent, have bought into the notion that the "war on terror" and "Islamic extremism" justify all means. Their acquiescence, if not active tolerance, is what allows Washington to operate above the law, from drones to routinely spying on the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the Spanish people, to name but a few of the targets.
Being too flexible with the law imposes real costs. These begin with the hollowing out of basic democratic control mechanisms. When President Obama recently told the American people – amidst revelations about the existence of the Prism programme – that no American citizens' phone calls were being listened in on, it is hard to imagine that he did not know the truth. If he did, he lied. And if he didn't, he is clearly out of his depth and/or not in control of his administration.
Either way, such highly misleading statements by an American president are the stuff that impeachments proceedings were made for – not dalliances with interns of the Bill Clinton kind. Of course, Democrats would never dare to even mention this – and Republicans are too into spying to make a case of it.
What are law-abiding European citizens to make of all this? As allies, there is little we Europeans can do to make the Americans reconsider. If they don't believe in the rule of law for themselves, even in extenuating circumstances like dealing with a very broadly defined terrorist threat, then there is little we can achieve with Washington – other than keeping our distance.
There is one powerful weapon available, though and it's called treble damages. Before the current US supreme court turned law into a corporate handmaiden, there was a time in the last quarter of the 20th century when the United States was actually tough on itself. Specifically, American corporations that were caught in grave acts of failure really had reason to worry.
If and when a large corporation committed a major no-no, it could be sued for treble damages. The point was that, in applying a tough penalty on one company, a whole industry could be made to clean up its act – in order to avoid being exposed to similar penalties later.
The fact that US social media companies are effectively making common cause with the American government, in systematically hollowing out any rights of privacy of European citizens, provides us with a potent tool.
Americans, in the end, only take notice of things when it hits their pocket book. If and when we make European privacy regulations binding for US firms operating on our territory, and impose serious penalties (similar to treble damages) in cases of violation, only then will we have a chance of defending our European rights.
And if we do that, then today's stunningly cowed American citizens may also wake up and ask that not all rights of privacy get conveniently shredded in a treacherous double alliance of the US government and social media companies.
10/29/2013 03:06 PM
NSA Scandal: Parliamentary Spying Inquiry Poses Challenges
By Veit Medick and Annett Meiritz
New details continue to emerge over alleged US spying in Germany. A parliamentary investigation could provide clarity - but it also has limitations. The issue constitutes the first stress test for a future coalition government.
The list is long: There have been 39 investigatory committees in the history of the German Federal Republic. Soon that number may rise to 40. The center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), the far-left Left Party and the Greens have insisted on a parliamentary inquiry into the activities of US intelligence agencies in Germany. The conservatives are committed, at the very least, not to hinder such a probe. That leaves the door wide open for one.
All participants know that such an investigatory committee would be unprecedented in that it would be dealing with the fundamental problems of the digital age. It would be different from prior committees. And because there is a desire to send a multi-party signal of protest to Washington, it is hard to get around it.
On the other hand, the committee could quickly reach its investigatory limits. Because how useful is an investigation that would largely have to make do without witnesses or files from overseas? How should an honest evaluation work if the two biggest parties are forming a new government and therefore acting in unison? And what exactly should be investigated?
There are four problems standing in the investigation's way. The first is that it complicates ongoing talks to form a new government.
The spying scandal broke right as coalition talks were underway between Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) and the Social Democrats. Any possible investigative committee could prove to be the first test of whether the parties can function well together. For example, if the parties quibble over appointments to the panel, it could look awkward and have negative effects on ongoing coalition talks. What's more, even once a panel is chosen, the two sides could try to score points against each other by calling witnesses with potentially embarrassing information.
The situation is particularly uncomfortable for the Social Democrats. After criticizing Merkel's government during the summer, they must now also demonstrate a willingness to join any investigation -- but in a tempered way that doesn't frighten off the conservatives. For this reason, the SPD is reportedly saying that an investigative committee is "unavoidable," in language meant to induce the CDU and CSU to support its plans. Both sides have now taken the first step toward collaboration by agreeing to hold a special meeting of the Bundestag, Germany's parliament, to discuss the NSA scandal. But the primary goal of doing so was really to buy time.
What Kind of Mandate?
The second problem involves its investigative mandate. The more concrete the investigative mandate is, the better the chances of finding answers to the panel's questions. For example, such a mandate could call for explanations on: how Merkel's cell phone was tapped; whether or not she was overly lax in how she used it; how the NSA allegedly eavesdropped on millions of German citizens; and the role of the Chancellery in the entire scandal.
As things are still taking shape and being aligned, the problem is that the grand coalition might formulate any possible investigation mandate in terms that are as vague as possible. Indeed, as much as many Social Democrats would like to see Ronald Pofalla, Merkel's chief of staff, or Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich land in a pickle, in strategic terms they cannot be interested in having a committee that is destabilizing a government that they belong to themselves. Consequently, the committee might primarily focus on the role played by German intelligence services, as well as on the question of why it took them so many years to get wind of the spying activities.
Limited Means and Hybrid Solutions
The possible committee's third problem relates to its limited means. In the digital age, surveillance is not something that necessarily takes place within defined national boundaries, but the committee's resources would be directly influenced by these borders.
For example, the committee won't be in a position to subpoena witnesses from the United States, or NSA files and White House documents, leaving them without many key pieces of the puzzle. Instead, the panel will be forced to limit itself to questions related to happenings within Germany itself. Having Edward Snowden testify would also be illuminating, but the possibility is unrealistic. What's more, witnesses might refrain from providing public testimony if they believe that doing so could harm Germany's security. Indeed, one can always cite this argument and use it as a pretext when refusing to provide details about the security-service operations.
One way around this would be to have the panel assume the hybrid form of an investigative committee and a Parliamentary Control Panel (PKGr), which is responsible for scrutinizing the work of the intelligence services at the federal level. In this way, some matters could be handled in a completely public manner, while others could be looked at behind closed doors.
Questions Over Staffing
A complicated parliamentary calendar is the fourth problem for a possible committee. Although the Bundestag plans to hold a special session on Nov. 18 to discuss these matters, it is questionable whether any investigative committee would be able to start its work anytime soon. After all, the panel still needs to be staffed, to formulate an investigative mandate, to subpoena documents and to hammer out witness lists and schedules.
The biggest hurdle involves personnel issues: The panel needs to be formed immediately, but that won't be all that easy before the new government is sworn in. Important posts still need to be awarded, and no one can tell at this point who will even be available to assume a position on this panel.
Spain colluded in NSA spying on its citizens, Spanish newspaper reports
El Mundo says it has obtained document detailing collaboration between US intelligence agency and foreign countries
Paul Hamilos in Madrid
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 October 2013 11.41 GMT
The widespread surveillance of Spanish citizens by the US National Security Agency, which caused outrage when it was reported this week, was the product of a collaboration with Spain's intelligence services, according to one Spanish newspaper.
In the latest revelations to emerge from the documents leaked by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden, Spanish agents not only knew about the work of the NSA but also facilitated it, El Mundo reports.
An NSA document entitled "Sharing computer network operations cryptologic information with foreign partners" reportedly shows how the US relies on the collaboration of many countries to give it access to intelligence information, including electronic metadata.
The US classifies co-operation with various countries on four different levels. In the first group are allies: the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The second group, of which Spain is a member, includes 19 countries, all of them European apart from Japan and South Korea.
The reports come a day after the director of the NSA, General Keith B Alexander, testified before the US house intelligence committee that suggestions the agency monitored millions of calls in Spain, France and Italy were "completely false" and that this data had been at least partially collected by the intelligence services of those countries and then passed on to the NSA.
On Monday, El Mundo reported that the NSA had intercepted 60.5m phone calls in Spain over one month alone.
Alexander said foreign intelligence services collected phone records in war zones and other areas outside their borders and passed these on to the NSA. He said this arrangement had been misunderstood by French and Spanish newspapers, which reportedthat the NSA was spying in their countries.
But this explanation has not allayed European or domestic US concerns about the exact nature of NSA surveillance in allied countries.
The suggestion that the Spanish intelligence agency was working with the NSA will confirm the suspicions of many in Spain who believe that the government has not only failed to protect its own citizens' privacy, but was actively supportive of US surveillance inside the country.
Although there are strong anti-privacy laws in Spain, and judicial oversight is required before a phone can be tapped, there are concerns that these laws are applied less than rigorously.
The US has offices for the CIA and the NSA in Madrid.
On Monday, Amnesty International called on the Spanish government to "reflect on its total failure to protect its own citizens' privacy".
The prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, announced on Wednesday that the director of the Spanish national intelligence centre (CNI), Félix Sanz Roldán, would be called to appear before the official secrets committee to explain the activities of the NSA and the CNI. Unlike in the US, however, this meeting will be held behind closed doors.
The latest document, published by El Mundo on Wednesday, shows the NSA to be watchful of any information gathered by countries outside the top tier of allies, which together with the US are known as the "five eyes".
According to the Spanish newspaper's report, the NSA says any co-operation with countries outside this group is to be carefully evaluated, and they should be reliable allies, capable of protecting any classified information from the US itself.
October 29, 2013
Spying Known at Top Levels, Officials Say
By MARK LANDLER and MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT
WASHINGTON — The nation’s top spymaster said on Tuesday that the White House had long been aware in general terms of the National Security Agency’s overseas eavesdropping, stoutly defending the agency’s intelligence-gathering methods and suggesting possible divisions within the Obama administration.
The official, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, testified before the House Intelligence Committee that the N.S.A. had kept senior officials in the National Security Council informed of surveillance it was conducting in foreign countries. He did not specifically say whether President Obama was told of these spying efforts, but he appeared to challenge assertions in recent days that the White House had been in the dark about some of the agency’s practices.
Mr. Clapper and the agency’s director, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, vigorously rejected suggestions that the agency was a rogue institution, trawling for information on ordinary citizens and leaders of America’s closest allies, without the knowledge of its Washington overseers.
Their testimony came amid mounting questions about how the N.S.A. collects information overseas, with Republicans and Democrats calling for a congressional review, lawmakers introducing a bill that would curb its activities and Mr. Obama poised to impose his own constraints, particularly on monitoring the leaders of friendly nations. At the same time, current and former American intelligence officials say there is a growing sense of anger with the White House for what they see as attempts to pin the blame for the controversy squarely on them.
General Alexander said news media reports that the N.S.A. had vacuumed up tens of millions of telephone calls in France, Italy and Spain were “completely false.” That data, he said, is at least partly collected by the intelligence services of those countries and provided to the N.S.A.
Still, both he and Mr. Clapper said that spying on foreign leaders — even those of allies — was a basic tenet of intelligence tradecraft and had gone on for decades. European countries, Mr. Clapper said, routinely seek to listen in on the conversations of American leaders.
“Some of this reminds me of the classic movie ‘Casablanca’ — ‘My God, there’s gambling going on here,’ ” Mr. Clapper said, twisting the line from the movie uttered by a corrupt French official who feigns outrage at the very activity in which he avidly partakes.
Asked whether the White House knows about the N.S.A.’s intelligence-gathering, including on foreign leaders, Mr. Clapper said, “They can and do.” But, he added, “I have to say that that does not extend down to the level of detail. We’re talking about a huge enterprise here, with thousands and thousands of individual requirements.”
The White House has faced criticism for the N.S.A.’s surveillance practices since the first revelations by a former agency contractor, Edward J. Snowden, in June. But in recent weeks it has struggled to quell a new diplomatic storm over reports that the agency monitored the cellphone of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany for more than a decade. White House officials said that the president did not know of that surveillance, but that he has told Ms. Merkel that the United States is not monitoring her phone now and would not in the future.
On Wednesday, a delegation of senior German officials is scheduled to meet at the White House with Mr. Clapper, the president’s national security adviser, Susan E. Rice; his homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, Lisa Monaco; and other officials.
Several current and former American officials said that presidents and their senior national security advisers have long known about which foreign leaders the United States spied on.
“It would be unusual for the White House senior staff not to know the exact source and method of collection,” said Michael Allen, a National Security Council official in the George W. Bush administration and a former staff director for the House Intelligence Committee. “That information helps a policy maker assess the reliability of the intelligence.”
Mr. Allen, the author of a book about intelligence reform called “Blinking Red,” said this information often comes to the president during preparation for phone calls or meetings with the foreign leaders.
The White House declined to discuss intelligence policies, pending the completion of a review of intelligence-gathering practices that will be completed in December. But a senior administration official noted that the vast majority of intelligence that made it into Mr. Obama’s daily intelligence briefings focused on potential threats, from Al Qaeda plots to Iran’s nuclear program.
“These are front-burner, first-tier issues,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter. “He’s not getting many briefings on intelligence about Germany.”
Another senior administration official said that Mr. Obama did not generally rely on intelligence reports to prepare for meetings or phone calls with Ms. Merkel.
“He knows her well, he speaks with her regularly and our governments work together every day on a wide range of issues,” said this official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic concerns. “Because we talk so frequently, we know where they stand and they know where we stand on most issues.”
Mr. Clapper and General Alexander got a warm reception from the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan, who defended the N.S.A.’s methods and said he had been adequately briefed about its activities.
But elsewhere on Capitol Hill, the outrage among America’s allies was clearly fueling concern.
Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and one of the fiercest defenders of American surveillance operations, said Monday that she did “not believe the United States should be collecting phone calls or emails of friendly presidents and prime ministers.” Ms. Feinstein said her committee would be conducting a “major review” of the intelligence programs.
Another strong defender of the N.S.A., Speaker John A. Boehner, agreed that “there needs to be review, there ought to be review and it ought to be thorough,” he said. “We’ve got obligations to the American people to keep them safe. We’ve got obligations to our allies around the world.”
“But having said that, we’ve got to find the right balance here,” he added. “We’re imbalanced as we stand here.”
An aide to Mr. Boehner said, “The speaker still believes our surveillance programs save lives, but the president needs to do a better job of managing and explaining them.”
On Tuesday, House Democrats and Republicans introduced a bill that would curb some of the N.S.A.’s practices, including the bulk collection of telephone data inside the United States.
“The picture drawn is one of a surveillance system run amok,” said Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan, a sponsor of the bill. “Our intelligence community has operated without proper congressional oversight or regard for Americans’ privacy and civil liberties.”
Even on the House Intelligence Committee, members sparred over what they had been told by the intelligence agencies about eavesdropping on foreign leaders. Representative Adam B. Schiff, a California Democrat and a senior member of the committee, said that he had first learned about the practice after the recent news media reports.
“Would you consider that a wiretap of a leader of an allied country would be a significant intelligence activity requiring a report to the intelligence committees?” Mr. Schiff asked Mr. Clapper.
Mr. Clapper said the agencies had “lived up to the letter and spirit of that requirement.”
Mr. Schiff disagreed, saying that the agencies had much work to do “to make sure we’re getting the information we need.” He said that disclosures about such eavesdropping could create significant “blowback.”
Mr. Rogers disputed Mr. Schiff’s claim, saying that Mr. Schiff needed to take the time to educate himself about what the committee had been briefed on.
“To make the case that somehow we are in the dark is mystifying to me,” Mr. Rogers said. “It is disingenuous to imply that this committee did not have a full and complete understanding of activities of the intelligence community as was directed under the national intelligence priority framework to include sources and methods.”
Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting.
White House offers tentative support for plans to rein in NSA surveillance
Administration says NSA leaks have already prompted changes in intelligence-gathering, including check on UN monitoring
Dan Roberts and Spencer Ackerman in Washington
theguardian.com, Tuesday 29 October 2013 20.00 GMT
The White House indicated on Tuesday that it would support at least some of the congressional efforts to rein in the controversial surveillance practices of the National Security Agency, as political opinion in Washington hardened against the country’s embattled intelligence community.
The administration revealed that an internal government review in the wake of revelations by the whistleblower Edward Snowden had already led to changes in US intelligence-gathering activities – thought to be a ban on eavesdropping on the leaders of friendly governments and a curb on surveillance at the United Nations.
But wider checks on domestic surveillance practices also looked increasingly likely on Tuesday, as bipartisan legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives and Senate and party leaders united in calling for reform.
Even as the White House acknowledged that legislative reform of the NSA was inevitable, senior intelligence officials mounted a uncompromising defence of their current programs. At a congressional hearing, General Keith Alexander, the director of the NSA, forcefully and emotionally rejected calls to curtail his agency’s power. Alexander, who declared he was speaking “from the heart”, said the NSA would prefer to “take the beatings” from the public and in the media “than to give up a program that would result in this nation being attacked”.
At the White House, chief spokesman Jay Carney welcomed the various reform efforts in principle but declined to discuss specific recommendations until the conclusion of a separate White House investigation.
“In general the president is supportive of the idea that we need to make some reforms,” Carney said in response to questions about the new legislation. He said that it was important “to increase the confidence that the American people have in these programmes, and to perhaps provide greater oversight and greater transparency as well as more constraints on the authorities that exist”.
White House press secretary Jay Carney speaks at the daily press briefing White House press secretary
Carney also revealed that the White House review would concentrate on whether the US acted appropriately in relation to surveillance activities on its allies. The White House has been under intense pressure in recent days since reports emerged that the NSA had targeted the cellphone of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. “The concerns raised by our allies cause us concern too,” Carney said.
The House speaker John Boehner and Senate majority leader Harry Reid also expressed support for reform on Tuesday. "The NSA situation is one we need to look at," said Reid. "I support the complete review of all of these programs."
On Monday night, President Barack Obama said his administration was conducting a complete review of intelligence activities. Interviewed on television network Fusion, Obama said: "What we've seen over the last several years is their capacities continue to develop and expand, and that's why I'm initiating now a review to make sure that what they're able to do doesn't necessarily mean what they should be doing.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, called for a "total review of all intelligence programs" following the Merkel allegations. In a statement on Monday, the California Democrat said the White House had informed her that "collection on our allies will not continue". Carney would not elaborate on that statement on Tuesday.
The near unanimity among political leaders left intelligence leaders striking an increasingly lonely defence of the practices at a hearing on Capitol Hill.
At a hearing of the House intelligence committee, Alexander argued that a continued threat of terrorism justified retaining the agency’s post-9/11 powers. At the same hearing, the director of national intelligence James Clapper warned the panel to be mindful of the “risks of overcorrection” in surveillance reform – suggesting that proposed restrictions on bulk surveillance would leave the country in danger of a terrorist attack.
Addressing the growing international row over NSA spying, Alexander forcefully argued that reports of the agency collecting millions of Europeans’ phone calls were “absolutely false”.
But Clapper danced around the central question of how much Obama knew about NSA’s separate surveillance activities on foreign leaders. He said that the intelligence agencies “do only what the policymakers, writ large, have actually asked us to do”. He added that the “level of detail” about how those requirements are implemented rarely rose to the attention of presidents.
Two Democratic representatives, Adam Schiff of California and Jan Schakowski of Illinois, suggested that the House intelligence committee was not informed about the foreign leader spying. Clapper, without confirming that the spying took place, said that “we have by and large complied with the spirit and intent of the law”.
Schiff drew a heated and unexpected rebuke from the committee chairman, Republican Mike Rogers, who called his suggestion “disingenuous”. The committee has access to “mounds of product” from the NSA, Rogers said. Schiff shot back a direct question about whether Rogers in fact knew about the foreign leader spying, which Rogers said he could not answer without confirming – but invited the committee member to view reams of intelligence in private.
There is an increasing sense in Washington that Congress, and perhaps the White House, will impose some form limitation on the NSA’s authorities – a rarity since 9/11. Even Charles "Dutch" Ruppersberger, another staunch NSA ally, signalled he was open to transforming the collection of Americans’ call data.
“Can we move away from bulk collection and toward a system like the one used in the criminal prosecution system, in which the government subpoenas individual call data records,” Ruppersberger told the House committee hearing.
NSA faces sweeping surveillance review as intelligence chiefs face hostile House
Lawmakers move forward with bill to rein in programs amid signs of a split between White House and intelligence community
Spencer Ackerman and Dan Roberts in Washington
theguardian.com, Tuesday 29 October 2013 14.32 GMT
US intelligence agencies were facing an increasingly hostile Congress on Tuesday as lawmakers prepared multiple efforts to rein in a series of surveillance programs from which even the White House was distancing itself.
Director of national intelligence James Clapper and NSA director Keith Alexander were due to testify at an open hearing of the House intelligence committee amid growing signs of a split between the intelligence community and the Obama administration.
The hearing comes just 24 hours after the intelligence chiefs found themselves abandoned by Washington's political establishment, with anonymous administration officials claiming President Obama was unaware of the extent spying on foreign leaders – a practice unexpectedly rebuked by Senate intelligence chair Dianne Feinstein, who has been a significant NSA ally.
Meanwhile, legislative efforts to end bulk collection of Americans’ communications data gathered pace with two complementary bipartisan bills aimed at curbing “a trust deficit” sparked by the revelations by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
On Tuesday morning, congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, a veteran Wisconsin Republican and author of the Patriot Act, introduced his long-awaited USA Freedom Act, that would stop the NSA’s bulk domestic phone records collection. The legislation would also stop the NSA from searching through its foreign communications databases for identifying information on Americans.
A companion bill in the Senate was also being introduced Tuesday by Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who chairs the Senate judiciary committee. Both bills have already attracted significant support: Sensenbrenner claims 60 co-sponsors, including eight who either opposed or abstained from a July effort in the House to stop the bulk phone records collection, a number that would have swung the earlier vote against the NSA. Both bills will come through the judiciary committees, whose members are far more sceptical of the surveillance activities than the intelligence committees.
“The intelligence community now faces a trust deficit with the American public that compromises its ability to do its job,” Leahy and Sensenbrenner wrote in an op-ed for Politico on Tuesday. “It is not enough to just make minor tweaks around the edges. It is time for real, substantive reform.”
Those bills still face a tough ride through Congress, not least because they are up against Feinstein’s own surveillance legislation which will be marked up, the process by which a congressional committee debates and rewrites proposed legislation, on Tuesday in a closed-door session of the Senate.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has launched a legal action against the NSA’s domestic phone records collection in a New York federal court, threw its support behind the Leahy-Sensenbrenner effort. “The legislation introduced today by Senator Leahy and Representative Sensenbrenner is a true reform bill that rejects the false and dangerous notion that privacy and our fundamental freedoms are incompatible with security,” said Michelle Richardson, the ACLU’s surveillance lobbyist.
The first salvo in the fight against Leahy and Sensenbrenner’s bill was due to come on Tuesday afternoon, in the House intelligence committee. Clapper, Alexander, NSA deputy director John C Inglis and deputy attorney general James Cole were due to testify about pending legislative reforms to their broad surveillance powers.
The chairman of that committee, congressman Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and former FBI agent, is the NSA’s strongest congressional supporter. He has pledged to introduce legislation that will increase transparency around NSA’s bulk surveillance but leave the surveillance intact.
Senator Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat who has long opposed the bulk collection, recently attacked Rogers and his ilk as the “business as usual brigade,” who plan on trading transparency for substantive surveillance reform.
Until Monday afternoon, a charter member of that group and staunch ally of Rogers was his Senate counterpart, Dianne Feinstein. But Feinstein unexpectedly pledged that her committee to undertake a “major review into all intelligence collection programs”, a dramatic reversal of the unequivocal and vocal support she has given the NSA in the five months since the Guardian began publishing secret surveillance documents leaked by Snowden.
Feinstein declared herself “totally opposed” to NSA spying on US allies like France and Germany and suggested that the White House was going to ban the practice – something the White House spent Monday evening knocking back.
Her position left many longtime intelligence observers puzzled. NSA spying on foreign leaders is far more traditional than its domestic bulk collection, which Feinstein has not criticized.
Regardless of Feinstein’s motivations, intelligence veterans seemed to understand that the political momentum is not on their side. “We’re really screwed now,” an anonymous NSA official told Foreign Policy magazine.
Adding to their dilemma, the NSA and the White House have spent days trading and deflecting blame for the major diplomatic embarrassment caused by the revelation that the NSA had spied on the communications of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. The White House has told reporters that it was unaware of the practice, which has left intelligence veterans feeling abandoned.
On Monday, Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, said an internal reform panel was examining options to curtail spying on foreign allies – raising an expectation that Obama will rein in that relatively traditional NSA surveillance activity. In the background are reports from France, Germany and Spain that NSA collection on those countries has turned broader than typical spycraft, thanks to technological innovation and leeway from US policy.
“This is officially the White House cutting off the intelligence community,” an anonymous senior intelligence official told the Los Angeles Times.
Quotes like that and others raise the prospect of the first major split between the White House and the NSA since Snowden’s revelations began. NSA veterans have bridled in the past at what they consider Obama’s tepid support, but both sides earlier showed support for each other.
The White House has yet to signal support or opposition for the Leahy and Sensenbrenner bills. On the eve of their introduction, congressional aides were unsure how strongly the White House will intervene in the unfolding legislative drama over surveillance reform.
Embattled NSA chief Keith Alexander rejects calls to limit agency's power
Alexander goes before House committee and claims reports of NSA collecting millions of phone calls were 'absolutely false'
Spencer Ackerman in Washington
theguardian.com, Tuesday 29 October 2013 19.21 GMT
The director of the National Security Agency forcefully and emotionally rejected calls to curtail his agency’s power on Tuesday, as legislation to reform the US security services was introduced in Congress against the backdrop of a growing diplomatic crisis.
General Keith Alexander, the director of the NSA, speaking “from the heart” before a Tuesday hearing of the House intelligence committee, said the NSA would prefer to “take the beatings” from the public and in the media “than to give up a program that would result in this nation being attacked.”
Alexander spoke hours after bills came before the House and Senate judiciary committees that would end the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records, sponsored by Congressman James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, and Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat.
The program, performed under authorities claimed under the Patriot Act – which Sensenbrenner helped draft in 2001– was first revealed in June by the Guardian from material leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Alexander said that in the past year the NSA collected “billions” of records from Americans under the program, but, as in past testimony, said it was only searched by a handful of NSA officials possessing “reasonable articulable suspicion” of connection to a specified terrorist group, and searched fewer than 300 times over the past year.
Alexander, accompanied by the embattled director of national intelligence James Clapper and other NSA and Justice Department officials, argued that a continued threat of terrorism justified retaining the NSA’s post-9/11 powers. He and his colleagues have contended that since 9/11, they have prevented 54 terrorist plots, although under congressional pressure, they have not argued that the domestic phone records collection has been a leading factor in the thwarted plots.
Addressing an international row over NSA spying on the US European allies over the past week, Alexander forcefully argued that reports of the agency collecting millions of phone calls were “absolutely false”. He said: “Those screenshots that show or at least lead people to believe that we, NSA, or the US, collected that information is false – and it is false that it was collected on European citizens. It was neither.”
Alexander and Clapper focused mainly on a defense of their existing powers, although the hearing was called to solicit their perspectives on surveillance reforms.
A member of Code Pink protests as NSA director Keith Alexander, centre, prepares to take a break from a House intelligence committee hearing. A member of Code Pink protests as NSA director Keith Alexander, centre, prepares to take a break from a House intelligence committee hearing. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images
The pair testified they were open to greater transparency around their surveillance efforts. In a prepared joint statement, they proposed one major concession: saying their were “open to discussing” the creation of a public advocate who would appear before the foreign intelligence surveillance (Fisa) court – a reiteration of an earlier stance, and one that several reform-minded legislators have already embraced.
Clapper, who is under political fire after apologizing to the Senate for misleading it on domestic surveillance, invoked the specter of Vietnam-era abuses – a sign of how seriously the intelligence community sees its current political predicament – to say “the intelligence community today is not like that.”
Clapper explicitly warned the panel to be mindful of the “risks of overcorrection” in surveillance reform – suggesting, as Alexander did, that proposed restrictions on bulk surveillance would leave the country in danger of a terrorist attack.
That perspective has strong advocates on the House committee, which has proposed alternatives to the Leahy and Sensenbrenner bills. Chairman Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, proposed increasing the public’s visibility into the NSA’s activities without substantially curtailing them.
Rogers’s Democratic counterpart, Charles “Dutch” Ruppersberger of Maryland, said he favored a “meaningful process of reform that will enhance transparency and privacy, while maintaining the necessary capabilities to protect this nation.” He added: “We don’t want to make it easier to be a terrorist than a criminal in this country.”
A complementary bill, supported by California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, was marked up in the Senate intelligence committee, the first stage in a bill becoming law. A day earlier, Feinstein, a staunch NSA ally, rebuked the agency over spying on foreign leaders.
But there is an increasing sense in Washington that Congress, and perhaps the White House, will impose some form of limitation on the NSA’s authorities – a rarity since 9/11. Even Ruppersberger, another staunch NSA ally, signaled he was open to transforming the collection of Americans’ call data.
“Can we move away from bulk collection and toward a system like the one used in the criminal prosecution system, in which the government subpoenas individual call data records – phone numbers, no content – to be used for link analysis?” Ruppersberger asked.
John Inglis, Alexander’s deputy at NSA, did not commit to moving away from domestic bulk collection, but said “numerous technical architectures” are “viable,” provided they have privacy procedures; the records are comprehensive; they can be stored for three to five years; and can provide “agility” to time-pressured intelligence analysts.
The testimony of Alexander and Clapper came against another backdrop: an increasing acrimony, playing out through anonymous sources in the press, between the White House and the NSA.
Ever since German chancellor Angela Merkel confronted President Obama over allegations that NSA spied on her phone, a struggle has broken out between Fort Meade and the White House over responsibility for a growing diplomatic controversy – particularly over how aware Obama was of the spying on his foreign counterparts.
Angela Merkel Angela Merkel Photograph: Xinhua /Landov / Barcroft Media
That struggle came on the eve of the surveillance reform debate in Congress, raising questions about how strongly the White House will fight the reform efforts.
Dancing around the central question of how much Obama knew about NSA spying on foreign leaders, Clapper testified that the intelligence agencies “do only what the policymakers, writ large, have actually asked us to do.” But he added that the “level of detail” about how those requirements are implemented rarely rises to the attention of presidents.
Two Democratic representatives, Representative Adam Schiff of California and Jan Schakowski of Illinois, suggested that the House intelligence committee was not informed about the eavesdropping on foreign leaders. Clapper, without confirming that the spying took place, said that “we have by and large complied with the spirit and intent of the law”.
Schiff drew a heated and unexpected rebuke from Rogers, who called his suggestion “disingenuous.” The committee has access to “mounds of product” from the NSA, Rogers said.
Schiff shot back a direct question about whether Rogers in fact knew about the foreign leader spying, which Rogers said he could not answer without confirming – but invited the committee member to view reams of intelligence in private.
Stewart Baker, a former NSA attorney, said the divide appeared to be driven by “mainly ex-officials,” and reflected a surprise that the Obama administration would back away from spying on foreign leaders, a traditional NSA activity.
“I think it’s mainly people who know the agency but are no longer constrained by obligations to the president. Mainly ex-officials,” Baker told the Guardian. “I think they are genuinely shocked at the idea that intelligence agencies are supposed to respect the privacy of some global community. That’s very post-national; and intelligence agencies are the last places you’d expect to find post-nationalists. Even after 50 years of the European Union, they’re all still spying on each other.”
Baker, who also testified at the House hearing, said the NSA had “neither the tools nor the disposition to defy the White House,” and there was little peril of a narrative of dispute “unless the Guardian tries to keep one alive.”
“The risk for the White House is the Republicans in Congress will decide that the president is selling the intelligence community out,” Baker said.
10/29/2013 05:29 PM
Spying Fallout: Conservative Calls for End of Data Pact
By Björn Hengst
With members of his party calling for consequences in the NSA spying affair, a leading member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's sister party says he wants the EU to cancel its Safe Harbor data agreement with the US.
For US Internet giants like Facebook and Google, the so-called "Safe Harbor" pact between the EU and the US is extremely practical. The agreement allows US companies doing business in the EU to transfer personal data like the birthplace, telephone numbers and email addresses of EU citizens to the US. More than 3,000 US firms joined the program, including, among others, Facebook, Google and Microsoft.
The 1998 agreement has come under criticism time and again because of the lax data privacy laws in the US. Although the Safe Harbor agreement provides for a level of protection for the transferred data according to EU standards, data protection advocates often voiced doubts about how seriously it was being implemented.
The concerns grew in Brussels by the time former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed the secret monitoring program of the National Security Agency (NSA) in the US, and it became known that companies like Facebook and Google had provided data to the NSA. EU Justice Minister Viviane Reding has called the Safe Harbor agreement a "loophole," rather than a "protection of our citizens." For years, audits have revealed serious breaches of the Safe Harbor rules by US companies.
'Play By Our Rules'
So far, the German government has not pushed at the EU level for the agreement to be renegotiated or cancelled. But that is now changing. Manfred Weber, a member of the European Parliament from Chancellor Angela Merkel's sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), is now calling for a radical restructuring of the relationship between the EU and the US as it relates to data.
"The US and US companies must, with respect to EU citizens and the European market, finally play by our rules," Weber told SPIEGEL ONLINE. A member of the executive board and steering committee of the CSU and vice-chairman of the conservative European People's Party (EPP) faction in the European Parliament, Weber said he favors an end to the agreement. "The Europeans should terminate the Safe Harbor agreement," he said.
The NSA spying scandal has led to mounting criticism of the US within the CSU. Federal Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich (CSU) has signalled after revelations that the NSA was monitoring the cell phone calls of Chancellor Angela Merkel that he wants to hold those taking part in the electronic eavesdropping accountable.
Ilse Aigner, the economy minister of the German state of Bavaria and a former member of Merkel's cabinet, has said that she thinks that a proposed free trade agreement between the EU and the US should be put on ice. And Horst Seehofer, the chairman of the CSU, told the regional newspaper Donaukurier that the trust in the US had been "strikingly impaired."
The New York Times, citing current and former administration officials, reported Monday that NSA operatives in Germany were authorized to not only collect data on the numbers Merkel was calling on her cell phone, but also to listen in on her cell phone conversations. According to the report, it was uncertain if excerpts from her conversations appeared in US intelligence reports.
10/30/2013 12:31 PM
Pushover Party: Social Democrats Must Not Give Up on Europe
A Commentary By Gregor Peter Schmitz
In coalition negotiations, the center-left Social Democrats appear to have backed off on their demands to control the Finance Ministry. Relinquishing the post would mean letting Angela Merkel trample over them -- and abandoning their push to move Germany's Europe policy to the left.
Germany's Social Democrats have been talking a lot about Europe lately. "When it comes to Europe policy, (the coalition government) can't just continue on the same course," Michael Roth, the European policy spokesman for the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), argues. According to Roth, improving Europe needs to be one of the guiding principles of a governing coalition. "European unity remains Germany's most important task," reads a set of SPD guidelines at Wednesday's coalition negotiations.
The Social Democrats have prepared important questions for the conservatives about everything from the possible tax on financial transactions to the creation of a European social fund, a debt-repayment fund and a sound banking union. But when the subject turns to who will face down Chancellor Angela Merkel on European policy, the SPD doesn't have an answer.
The solution, however, is simple: A Social Democrat needs to take charge at the Ministry of Finance.
That ministry is the only one with the means to fight Merkel. It has the most technically accomplished bureaucrats and, at least theoretically, veto power over the chancellor. More importantly, the finance minister represents Germany in the influential circle of European finance ministers and therefore essentially molds the decisions of the European Council.
"If the SPD renounces the finance ministry, the chancellor will ignore them mercilessly when it comes to Europe," says a high-ranking member of Merkel's outgoing governing partner, the business-friendly Free Democratic Party. "If they do that, they are as dumb as we were during the last coalition negotiations."
Nobody Interested in the Job
According to SPIEGEL information, the SPD no longer plans to insist on clinching the prestigous post that would give the party major power to shape European policy. They would happily leave the post to Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in exchange for some major political concessions.
SPD faction speaker Thomas Oppermann is a possible candidate for the position, but he is openly ogling the Ministry of the Interior. Party head Sigmar Gabriel hopes to head a super-ministry consisting of the Ministry of Economic Affairs with additional powers from the Ministries of the Environment and Transport. And former Foreign MinisterFrank-Walter Steinmeier would prefer to continue as leader of the SPD's national parliamentary faction.
If this is really the cabinet the Social Democrats have in mind, then they can go ahead and coin the new coalition motto: "Go ahead, Angela." They would ultimately be mere minions in a marriage of convenience with the conservatives.
A Baffled Europe
Of course, this follows in the wake of an election in which Social Democratic chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück gave the impression that Europe's future wasn't up for debate. Stunned foreign observers wondered why the rest of Europe was having a heated discussion about Germany's Europe policy, but not the German opposition.
The Social Democrats have an eloquent excuse for passing on the post: Leading the Finance Ministry wouldn't be politically opportune, because without the tax increases the SPD called for, there's barely any money to spend. Furthermore, party head Sigmal Gabriel likely fears competition if a party rival were to take on the position. And some SPD members probably lack the courage to take on a position like that in the first place.
Russia and Ukraine edge closer to 'gas war'
Gazprom demands payment of half a billion pounds in arrears in move seen by some as punishment for aligning with EU
Shaun Walker in Moscow
theguardian.com, Tuesday 29 October 2013 18.32 GMT
The possibility of a new "gas war" between Russia and Ukraine inched closer on Tuesday, as the Russian state energy giant Gazprom complained that Kiev had outstanding debts of over half a billion pounds and demanded swift payment.
Gazprom's concern comes a month before Ukraine is due to sign up for closer ties with the European Union, a deal that has infuriated the Kremlin.
The complaint brought back memories of crises in 2006 and 2009 in which Russia turned off the gas to Ukraine, leaving many European nations that rely on pipelines passing through the country without energy in the middle of winter.
Russia wants Ukraine to join its own Customs Union of former Soviet states, and has repeatedly sent dire warnings that by signing the deal with Europe, Ukraine will lose billions of dollars and face myriad problems. One Kremlin economic adviser even predicted that if the deal is signed "political and social unrest" will ensue and Russia could cease to recognise Ukraine's status as a sovereign state.
"We are deeply concerned about the arrears accumulated by Ukraine for supplies of Russian natural gas," said Alexei Miller, Gazprom's chief executive, on Tuesday. He said the Russian side has made a number of concessions to Ukraine, including paying for transit of gas across it in advance, and giving discounts. Nevertheless, he said, Ukraine has failed to pay $882m (£550m) for gas deliveries that was due by 1 October at the latest. Miller said the current situation was "a dire state of affairs" and added the issue "has to be addressed and settled quickly".
Gas prices are a controversial issue in Ukraine, with the prime minister, Mykola Azarov, recently claiming that the country has overpaid by over $20bn over the past three years for Russian gas.
Former premier Yulia Tymoshenko was jailed for seven years in 2011 on charges of abuse of office, related to a gas deal she brokered with Russia in 2009 when she was prime minister. The current government says the deal forced cash-strapped Ukraine into paying unfairly high prices for gas.
Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy director of a pro-Kremlin thinktank on relations between former Soviet countries, denied that Gazprom's announcement was a political ploy designed to increase pressure on Ukraine not to sign the EU deal, and insisted that Ukraine had manufactured the dispute on purpose, in order to play the victim in Europe.
He said: "They were making the payments before, so why have they suddenly stopped? They want the EU to feel sorry for them, and to prove what a bad neighbour Russia is and how much pressure they are putting on poor Ukraine."
Ukraine is due to sign the association agreement on closer trade links with the EU at a summit in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius on 29 November, but European leaders have said several times that the deal will be possible only if Ukraine's president, Viktor Yanukovych agrees to release Tymoshenko from custody.
She is currently being held in a hospital in eastern Ukraine under prison guard. The case against her has been widely denounced as politically motivated.
A delegation of European politicians was expected in Kiev on Tuesday in the latest attempt to cement a deal on Tymoshenko. Yanukovych is reluctant to grant a pardon to his arch rival, but may allow her to leave Ukraine to receive medical treatment in Germany.
Russia has repeatedly warned Ukraine that the consequences of aligning with Europe will be painful, but despite Moscow's harsh rhetoric, it seems the Kremlin is resigned to seeing Ukraine slip out of its orbit. The focus now is on proving to Kiev what a terrible mistake it has made.
"To say we are dreaming of having Ukraine in the Customs Union, especially with the behavioural patterns of the current Ukrainian leadership, is not quite true," said Zharikhin, insisting the EU deal will prove far more damaging to Ukraine itself than to Russia. "They are very unreliable partners."
Ukraine film festival targeted by anti-LGBT protesters
Molodist festival hit by placard-waving picketers complaining about 'gay propaganda'
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 October 2013 10.07 GMT
Ukraine's premier film festival, Molodist, has been picketed by protesters complaining about the presence of LGBT films at the event.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, dozens of people stood outside the Zhovten cinema in Kiev, some holding up placards with anti-LGBT slogans and burning a flag. The co-chairperson of the Parents' Committee of Ukraine was also quoted as saying, of the festival programme: "The state is doing nothing to stop propaganda of homosexuality. How much money from the state budget was actually spent on gay propaganda?"
These protests appear to follow on from a crackdown in Ukraine's neighbour Russia over the screening of LGBT-themed films, which saw the Bok o Bok (Side by Side) event targeted by officials, before winning an appeal against a crippling fine. It also reflects a wider ideological battle in Ukraine over whether to move closer to Russia, or the more liberal environment of the EU.
The Molodist festival has been operating since 1970, and the 2013 showed a modest amount of LGBT films in a strand called Sunny Bunny, including Malgorzata Szumowska's In the Name Of and Alain Guiraudie's Stranger by the Lake.
François Hollande becomes most unpopular French president ever
Poll shows only 26% of French people have positive opinion of Socialist president, lower even than Sarkozy's 30%
Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
theguardian.com, Tuesday 29 October 2013 20.58 GMT
François Hollande has become the most unpopular French president on record, just as the beleaguered Socialist government was forced to make its second tax climbdown in one week following violent street protests in Brittany.
Only 26% of French people have a positive opinion of the Socialist president, a BVA poll showed . It was the worst score for a French leader since BVA began polling 32 years ago. Hollande, who never enjoyed a state of grace and saw his popularity plummet very soon after his election in May 2012, has now plunged lower than even the former right-wing president Nicolas Sarkozy who had 30% approval at his lowest point during the economic crisis.
The poll shows Hollande's near-unanimous unpopularity among right-wing voters: 97% have a bad opinion of the Socialist leader, a level never reached by any president among supporters of other parties, even Sarkozy who deeply antagonised many left-wing voters.
Some 84% French people believed government policy was not efficient and 74% felt it was not fair. Meanwhile, in the run up to crucial local and European elections next spring, the far-right Front National is rising in popularity and now has the same level of approval ratings as the Socialist party.
The poll underlines the difficulties facing Hollande, whose consensus-style politics have increasingly seen him lampooned by the media and opposition as indecisive and lacking in authority or coherent policies. Meanwhile, his government, hit by in-fighting and u-turns has been criticised for being in disarray.
On Tuesday the government announced the suspension of an environment tax on heavy goods vehicles transporting commercial goods, after violent protests by agricultural workers in Brittany who were furious at unemployment and food-processing plant closures, not just the tax. The Breton protests were particularly awkward for the government because the western region is a left-wing heartland, where Hollande got some of his highest presidential scores. But the Breton protestors who want the eco-tax totally scrapped have now vowed to continue with more protests this weekend.
Days earlier, the government had backtracked on plans to increase tax on some savings products after an outcry from the public. Earlier this month, a u-turn was made to scrap a new corporate tax that had infuriated business leaders.
The government has had what media are calling a "calamitous" few months, with the finance minister first acknowledging French people were "fed up" with increasing taxation, then Hollande promising a "tax pause" next year only to be hastily corrected by his own prime minister who said no pause would come before 2015. The leadership's u-turns and have created a sense of government vulnerability in an increasingly gloomy country where voters are still waiting for the Socialists to fully turn-around unemployment and the struggling economy, and the smallest spark can cause protests. Hollande's recent poorly-received intervention in the controversial case of Leonarda, a Roma girl deported after being taken off a school bus, added to a sense of confusion and dithering clinging to the left-wing president.
Gael Sliman of the BVA pollsters told Le Monde that the label "indecisive" risked sticking as firmly to Hollande as the negative "bling, bling" tag stuck to Sarkozy.
The government denied that the suspension of the environment tax, which had been conceived by the right under Sarkozy but was due to come into force in 2014, was a capitulation to the latest lobby to oppose the government. "Courage is not obstinacy, it is listening, understanding," the prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said, promising more debate.
The Green party partners in the Socialist government demanded a new date be set for the introduction of the tax.
French hostages freed in Niger after three years in captivity
The four men were kidnapped in 2010 while working in northern Niger and held hostage by gunmen linked to al-Qaida
Reuters in Niamey
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 October 2013 08.48 GMT
Four French nationals held hostage for three years in the Sahara desert by gunmen linked to al-Qaida have left Niger on a French government plane.
The men, who were kidnapped in 2010 while working for the French nuclear group Areva and a subsidiary of construction group Vinci in northern Niger, were freed on Tuesday after secret talks.
The four men boarded the jet on Wednesday morning with two French ministers, including foreign minister Laurent Fabius, sent to pick them up.
"I am very happy. It was difficult, the ordeal of a lifetime," said Thierry Dol, one of the freed men.
Fabius said the men were in a state of shock, having been isolated for so long. "They slept well but on the floor as they are not yet able to sleep on mattresses," he said.
The men's release gave François Hollande a boost a day after a poll showed he had become the most unpopular French president on record.
No details have been given on the circumstances of the quartet's release but Niger's president, Mahamadou Issoufou, said they had been retrieved from northern Mali.
Thousands of French troops were dispatched to Mali's desert north earlier this year to prevent Islamists and criminal gangs operating in the zone who occupied the region in 2012 from extending their reach further south.
Poland’s pension takeover plan could face court challenge
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, October 29, 2013 17:05 EDT
State legal experts in Poland on Tuesday cast doubt on the constitutionality of a planned pension reform, which they said could be interpreted as expropriation.
Centre-right Prime Minister Donald Tusk announced last month a pension reform aimed at curbing public debt, which is approaching legal limits.
Under the plan the state would take over some of the liabilities of private pension funds, along with the government bonds held to back them up which would then be retired.
This would quickly lower state debt, which is rising towards constitutionally-mandated limits, while the pension obligations would be paid from future tax revenue.
The private funds targeted under the plan include international players like ING, Axa, Aviva and Generali. Polish treasury bonds account for about half of their assets, with the rest held in stocks.
“The draft legislation is designed to deprive companies of part of their assets for the benefit of state institutions, which is a classic case of nationalisation,” experts at the State Treasury Solicitors’ Office said in a statement on their website Tuesday.
“There is a potential risk for incompatibility with the Constitution,” they warned.
The opinion echoes those made by critics of the reforms, which could be implemented as soon as January 2014.
Government officials were quick to insist the planned reforms are legal.
“We have studies by constitutional specialists and economists who confirm these reforms are constitutional,” Labour Minister Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz told reporters Tuesday.
His top advisor, Jan Krzysztof Bielecki, on Tuesday also “categorically” denied the planned reforms amount to expropriation.
Tusk has vowed that Poland’s 14 private pension funds — known by their Polish acronym OFE — will be able to hang on to assets invested in stocks traded on the Warsaw Stock Exchange.
The plan has rattled markets, as the state pension fund barely takes in enough to cover its current obligations.
Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski says the pension overhaul would allow Poland’s public debt, now at 55 percent of GDP, to be cut by up to eight percentage points over time.
If the debt rises above 55 percent of GDP mandatory spending cuts and tax increases kick in, but with tepid growth the government has allowed the deficit to climb somewhat this year as it tries to avoid tipping the economy into recession.
Warsaw has slashed its 2013 growth estimate to 1.5 percent down from an earlier projected 2.2 percent.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Taking on the big six energy giants is not a leftwing delusion – ask Hungary
The centre-right prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has cut bills by 20% and wants to return utilities to the public sector
theguardian.com, Tuesday 29 October 2013 08.00 GMT
For daring to deviate from the neoliberal script on the subject of energy company profiteering, Labour leader Ed Miliband was portrayed as a sinister hardcore Marxist whose dastardly plan was to fulfil his late father's dream and transform Britain into the old Soviet Union. According to this dominant narrative, if you want to take any meaningful action against the "big six" energy giants, and interfere with market forces, you must be some kind of unreconstructed Bolshevik – or at the very least a misguided leftie who wants to take the country back to the nightmare 1970s, the decade when the gap between rich and poor in Britain reached its lowest level in history.
However, in another European country, a political leader has been getting far tougher with profiteering energy companies than Miliband has suggested. In this country, the government has imposed a cut of over 20% in energy bills – a 10% reduction came into force in January, a further 11.1% cut will be implemented in November. It is also drafting a bill that would ban utility companies from paying dividends to shareholders. The aim of the government is to return natural monopolies to the public sector, to operate on a non-profit basis. "We must once and for all bring an end to the era where energy providers can ride roughshod over people," the country's leader declared.
So where is this bastion of socialism in Europe, and who is the wild-eyed leftist who is leading it? Step forward Viktor Orbán, the prime minister of Hungary. The man who has declared war on profiteering energy companies is none other than the fiercely anti-communist leader of the centre-right Fidesz party.
In a recent interview with the Daily Telegraph, Orbán talked of his admiration for Margaret Thatcher. "Her role was very important: she was always in favour of freedom, always anti-communist," he declared. Yet ironically, it's this member of the Iron Lady fan club who is carrying out policies in Hungary that would be denounced as "communist" if anyone on the left in Britain was brave enough to suggest them.
With elections due next spring, we can, of course, question Orbán's motives in moving against the energy companies. However, the very fact that his government is prepared to act highlights sharply the contrast with the inertia of the UK's Conservative-led coalition.
Fidesz contends that there were 15 price increases in gas bills during the period 2002-10, when they were in opposition, and that urgent action was essential to ensure cheaper energy bills for households and businesses. Hungarian politicians have sneered at Orbán's populist stance on energy, but the government's policies have brought relief to ordinary people and made everyday life more bearable in a country where around 20% of the household budget was going on gas bills. It's the government's interventionist approach on energy prices that helps explain its commanding lead in the opinion polls – a recent poll showed that the governing coalition was 15% ahead of its nearest rivals and it's likely that Orbán will be returned to power in next year's general election.
Conservatives in Britain could, if they were smart, learn a lesson from Fidesz's brand of economic Gaullism, yet their commitment to market forces and the financial backing the Conservative party received from the City, means that they're likely to stay wedded to the current unpopular and discredited model. That's even when Thatcherite figures from the 80s and 90s such as Sir John Major and Peter Lilley are calling for changes.
The hysterical reaction to Miliband's extremely modest plans for a price freeze demonstrates just how out on a limb the UK is. In the genuinely democratic postwar era it would have been unthinkable that our utilities would one day be privately owned (and for a large part owned by foreign companies), and would then hit households and businesses with above-inflation rises year after year, and that the UK government would simply sit back and do nothing. But that's where we've got to.
Italy: gesture of hope for immigrants as Treviso makes them honorary citizens
Town once known for racist mayor now joins 200 others seeking to calm atmosphere as parliament fails to reform outdated law
Lizzy Davies in Treviso
theguardian.com, Tuesday 29 October 2013 16.04 GMT
Seven-year-old Yasmina Nombo was born in the north-eastern Italian town of Treviso and has lived there all her life. At school, her favourite subject is Italian. When she and her little brother went on holiday to Burkina Faso recently, "they started asking me: 'When are we going home?'," recalls her father, Abdoulaye Nombo, who first arrived in Italy 11 years ago. "They meant 'to Treviso'."
Yasmina, though, travelled to Africa under a Burkinabe passport and is not, despite her birthplace and the stable situation of her parents, eligible for Italian citizenship. What's more, under the strict laws currently in place, she will not be until she is 18.
"On the one hand they are accepted but on the other they are not," says Nombo, who works in a local computer shop. It is a legal quirk that seems to him to be a denial of reality. "Everything they have is from Treviso: their language, their friends," he says. "They tell you they're Italian."
Italy's citizenship laws have long been criticised as outdated and unfair by those who compare them unfavourably with other western countries, including Britain, the US and France, where immigration has a longer and more established history.
Now, in the absence of consensus in Italy's deeply divided national parliament, an increasing number of towns and cities are taking it upon themselves to act – albeit symbolically. According to Unicef, which has co-ordinated a nationwide scheme, more than 200 councils have granted honorary citizenship to the children of foreigners born in Italy. The latest – and arguably most striking – of these is Treviso.
"To us it seemed a good thing to do because when children are small the differences are very, very minor [and] if you are able to make people feel the same – them and their families – then the mechanism of integration is easier," says Giovanni Manildo, the town's new centre-left mayor, who hopes to get the measure passed this autumn.
"The idea of a multi-ethnic community is now real, real and inevitable, so everyone has to make their own contribution to improve the situation. I think this step the administration is taking will … help create a better and more open society".
Even though it changes nothing from a legal standpoint, he says, the honorary citizenship will send a message of respect to the local immigrant population – and show them that "there is no longer a fear of difference".
His words may seem unremarkable, but in the comfortable surrounds of this spacious room in the town hall they are little short of groundbreaking. The previous occupant of Manildo's office was Giancarlo Gentilini, an outspoken favourite of the right-wing Northern League who, as the self-declared "sheriff" of Treviso, was twice elected mayor and twice deputy mayor and dominated local politics for two decades.
Aged 84, Gentilini is still making his voice heard, reportedly declaring in reaction to Manildo's honorary citizenship plans: "The crazies aren't only in the madhouse." In the past, his xenophobic rhetoric came to represent a particularly reactionary element of a political party not known for its temperate discussion of immigration and integration.
"We should dress them [immigrants] up as rabbits and go 'bang, bang, bang' with a rifle," he was once quoted as saying. On another occasion, he reportedly told a festival: "I would have all the immigrants put on file, one by one. Unfortunately, this is not allowed by the law. Mistake: they are the carriers of all sorts of diseases, tuberculosis, Aids, scabies, hepatitis."
In his office, Gentilini used to display a framed copy of his identity card for Mussolini's youth league. "I opened the windows," laughs Manildo, who beat him in a run-off in June.
About 82,000 people live in Treviso, of whom 11,000 are immigrants. Located in one of the most prosperous and productive parts of Italy, the town – home to the international fashion giant Benetton – has plenty to recommend itself to foreigners looking for work.
Known by some as the "little Venice", its canals and archways make for a picturesque backdrop. Its streets are clean. Death notices, usually slapped indiscriminately on to the walls of Italian towns, are displayed behind glass in a cabinet by the church.
Nombo says the atmosphere in Treviso is changing, albeit slowly. Racism exists, he says, but so does a vibrant civil society that over the years has succeeded in welcoming immigrants despite the hostile tone of local politicians. "I understand that some people are scared but, slowly but surely, we are getting to know one another and people are realising that they don't have to be scared," he says. "You can see things are changing – slowly, but they are changing."
Anna Caterina Cabino, the council member responsible for the honorary citizenship proposal, says: "The governing class managed to shore itself up for such a long time because it campaigned on fear, on xenophobia, on the defence of presumed local interests, on law and order, on the identification of an enemy … but this does not reflect social reality."
Manildo hopes that Cécile Kyenge, the integration minister who is trying to overhaul the citizenship law in the face of vitriolic personal and political insults, will come to Treviso to take part in a ceremony to welcome the town's unofficial new citizens. The town is expected to grant the status to children from the age of six. Italy's first black minister has been the target of racist abuse ever since she took office this year – much of it from the League, and much of it due to her attempts to change the law.
Before February's general election, the centre-left Democratic party – of which the prime minister, Enrico Letta, and Kyenge are members – identified the reform as a priority. But the result produced a left-right grand coalition racked with tension and contradictory policy desires. Few believe the citizenship laws are going to be changed any time soon.
In the meantime, communities all over the country will continue to award honorary citizenship in a spirit of solidarity with their neighbours and frustration with rules that refuse to acknowledge modern Italy's multi-ethnic social fabric. In Treviso, Xiao Jin Xiang, the Chinese father of two Italian-born children, Qian and Chen, says the gesture will help to make his family "feel more a part of society", even if it isn't the true legal change that would simplify his children's life.
Nombo, meanwhile, is optimistic. "This is a big step ahead," he says. "A year ago nothing like this was being discussed. Things are changing. Soon, we hope, it will be real citizenship."
Istanbul's underwater Bosphorus rail tunnel opens to delight and foreboding
Turkish PM hails sub-sea structure linking European and Asian sides of city but engineers raise earthquake safety concerns
Constanze Letsch in Istanbul
theguardian.com, Tuesday 29 October 2013 17.30 GMT
Alternately described as the long-lost link between Europe and Asia or the end of the city of Istanbul as we know it, the world's deepest underwater railway tunnel was opened on Tuesday under the Bosphorus, connecting two continents by rail for the first time.
Almost a mile of the 8.5-mile (13.6km) tunnel between the European and Asian sides of Turkey's largest city is immersed under 56 metres (184ft) of water.
A railway tunnel under the Bosphorus straits, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, was first suggested by the Ottoman sultan Abdülmejid in 1860.
Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a former mayor of Istanbul determined to leave his mark on city, opened the Marmaray tunnel more than four years after it was due to be completed. It is yet to be fully operational.
The project was beset by long delays owing to archaeological excavations: the remains of a Byzantine shipping fleet, the largest discovered, were found at the main metro terminus in Yenikapi, prompting Erdogan to voice contempt that construction was held up because of "clay pots" and "other stuff".
Japan invested $1bn of the $4bn (£3.4bn) cost of the project. The Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, attended Tuesday's opening ceremony.
Istanbul rail tunnel Almost a mile of the 8.5-mile (13.6km) Marmaray rail tunnel is immersed under 56 metres (184ft) of water.
Dubbed the "iron silk road" by the Turkish government, Erdogan said the Marmaray rail line would connect "London to Beijing", reviving the ancient trade routes across Asia to Europe.
Engineers and urban planners, however, have voiced concern about the safety of the underwater section, some describing it as a death trap. Quoting a report by Rıza Behçet, an engineer who has worked on the project for eight years, the Istanbul Chamber of Architects warned the tunnel lacked an electronic warning system and that the flexibly linked parts of the immersed section would be prone to rupture and water leakage in the case of earthquakes.
Istanbul is above a seismic hotspot. Tectonic plates meet under the Sea of Marmara, putting the city at risk of a major earthquake within a generation.
According to Turkish media, Behçet warned "he would not get on the Marmaray metro line, and nobody else should either".
The country's transport minister, Binali Yildirim, countered such claims, saying the Marmaray tunnel was "the safest place in Istanbul" and that the structure would withstand up to 9-magnitude quakes. On Monday, the city's mayor, Kadir Topbas, on Monday said all test drives had been completed successfully and "all possibilities have been taken into consideration in all seriousness."
Other experts have criticised the government's rush to open the project on Tuesday to coincide with the 90th anniversary of the modern Turkish republic.
"Serious answers need to be given to these serious allegations," said Tayfun Kahraman, a board member of the Chamber of Urban Planners in Istanbul. "There needs to be an independent assessment of the risks and security gaps in the Marmaray project, and the findings have to be made public. This cannot be brushed aside with a mere promise by the government."
He conceded that the project – once its safety was guaranteed – was an important step towards easing the notorious congestion in a city of 15 million people. "We have always underlined that public transport needs to be taken off the road. In this sense, Marmaray supports this development in the right direction."
The rail service will be capable of carrying 75,000 people a hour in either direction. According to government estimates, 1.5 million people will cross the strait every day on the Marmaray line.
The subway crossing will take four minutes, much faster than the ferries which criss-cross the Bosphorus.
Prof Murat Güvenç, head of the Urban Studies Institute at Sehir University, Istanbul, worries that no research had been conducted into the socioeconomic impact of the new rail line.
"Marmaray is uniquely a technical project. We have no idea how it will affect the city, and the people in it, if it will change life in the city for better or worse," he said. "But we can be sure that the vulnerable residents of Istanbul will feel the impact more than the others. A mega project like this will cause major rent increases and profiteering by some."
Citing the lack of government control mechanisms in the real estate market, Güvenç said poorer residents and small businesses were likely to be priced out of neighbourhoods adjacent to the new metro line.
"Increased overall accessibility – access to transport, shopping, culture etc – will cause rents in formerly cheaper areas to rise quickly. It will substantially change the social strata of the city. With the opening of the Marmaray line, the Bosphorus Strait will cease to be an obstacle. It means the end of Istanbul as we know it."
PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIA ...
Russia denies spying on G20 leaders at St Petersburg summit
President Pig Putin's spokesman says allegations are aimed at diverting attention away from controversy over NSA surveillance
Lizzy Davies in Rome
The Guardian, Tuesday 29 October 2013 17.49 GMT
Russia has denied reports it attempted to spy on foreign powers meeting at the G20 summit in St Petersburg earlier this year, denouncing the allegations as a "clear attempt to divert attention" from revelations concerning the United States' National Security Agency.
Two Italian newspapers claimed on Tuesday that USB flash drives and cables to charge mobile phones that were given to delegates – including heads of state – at the September meeting were equipped with technology to retrieve data from computers and telephones.
The St Petersburg summit on 5 and 6 September came at a particularly delicate point in relations between the Kremlin and the White House. Tensions were high over the possibility of military strikes on Syria, as well as over Russia's decision in August to grant asylum to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The revelations from his dossier of leaked material continue to shake Washington DC and inflame parts of Europe.
According to La Stampa and Corriere della Sera , the first person to raise the alarm over the Russian devices was Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European council, who allegedly went to intelligence services in Brussels and Germany for advice on whether they were what they seemed.
Initial tests carried out by the German secret services reportedly revealed the devices to be equipped with "Trojan horse" programmes "capable of illicitly picking up computer and mobile phone data", according to a warning allegedly sent subsequently to guest countries represented at the G20 summit.
Delegates were urged "to take every possible precaution in the event of these objects having been used and, if they have not been, to hand them over to the security services for further tests", according to Corriere. It said further tests were ongoing.
It was unclear how many delegates and leaders had received the gifts and even less clear whether any of them had actually used the flash drives and chargers, the newspapers wrote.
Dmitri Peskov, spokesman for the Russian president, Pig Putin, denied the allegations, saying they were "a clear attempt to divert attention from a problem that really exists: the US's spying, which is now a subject of discussion among European capitals and Washington". He told the Ansa news agency that Russia does not know the sources of the reports, adding that in any case they were baseless.
But the eyebrow-raising claims of what La Stampa termed "Putin's poisoned gift" appeared to have prompted the Italian government to take action on the growing number of allegations regarding covert spying operations. In a statement on Tuesday, it said the country's prime minister, Enrico Letta, had called for the inter-ministerial security committee to meet on Thursday to discuss "questions pertaining to the security of telecommunications in the light of the Datagate [NSA] affair and the revelations on the last G20".
The Italian reports are not the first to have accused a G20 host nation of spying on its guests. In June, the Guardian disclosed that foreign politicians and officials who took part in two such meetings in London in 2009 had their computers monitored and phone calls intercepted on the instructions of their British government hosts.
Norway's mission reposition: state says date nights key to good marriage
Oslo government channels Cupid and Barry White and says parents must make time to be lovers too, as divorce rate rises
The Guardian, Tuesday 29 October 2013 19.47 GMT
The secret to a long-lasting marriage is not humour, patience, shared interests or an equal division of household chores. It's government intervention.
That, at least, is the hope of Norway's ruling Populist party, which is promoting date nights as a cure for flagging marriages in an attempt to reduce the country's divorce rate.
The new minister for children, equality and social inclusion, Solveig Horne, said the government needed to cut divorce rates – and that encouraging couples to try date nights was a good place to start: "It is important to find small pockets of time where parents can be lovers," she said.
Divorce rates are at 40% in Norway, with those aged 40 to 44 most likely to split from their partners.
Since taking up her post earlier this month, Horne has announced her intention to campaign for increased funding for family counselling to help prevent divorces. "With state-run counselling offices, couples can learn more about how to be together before they have problems and talk things through when problems do arise," she said.
There are no plans to implement mandatory date nights for Norwegian couples. Horne said: "It's not something the government can tell you to do; it's something that couples need to do on their own." However, she is an advocate for couples taking time out together.
"In a busy life of work and family, the week can feel too short to attend to your relationship with your partner, so each couple needs to decide what sort of a date night they should have, whether it's a night at the movies or a walk together without the kids for a couple of hours," she said.
Having been through a divorce herself, Horne is convinced that allocating time to a partner can have a huge impact on a relationship: "Maybe I didn't have success [in marriage] because we didn't have any date nights!" she said.
Horne's proposal has been cited by country's media as further proof of the new government's centre-right bias, with many seeing parallels to a date night campaign started up by US conservative groups such as the National Marriage Project. It claims that married men and women who have "couple time" at least weekly were 3.5 times more likely to report being very happy in their marriages than those who struggled to spend time together.
Horne said she was more inspired by a 2010 romantic comedy starring Tina Fey and Steve Carell. "I saw the movie Date Night where an American couple try to go out to keep their relationship alive," said Horne. "In the film, everything goes wrong – but I thought it was a good idea.
"My sister lives in the US and she told me that she and her husband have a weekly date night and it really works. Date night isn't really something that's done in Norway, but I think it could be a good way to keep marriages together."
Horne's initiative is the latest headline-grabbing moment for the minister since her appointment earlier this month, with the Norwegian press revisiting two controversial gaffes.
Horne has been criticised for comments about rape made in 2011 on Norwegian public television when she was recorded as saying: "Girls are responsible for the situation they put themselves in, but boys also have a responsibility to respect a 'no'. I think both boys and girls have equal responsibility."
Horne also offended Norway's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community after the re-emergence of a tweet that she sent in 2010 about a children's book that included gay characters: "I wonder if it's okay that kindergartens are reading gay adventures for young children?"
She denied accusations of homophobia, saying: "I will be the minister for gays, lesbians, transgender and heterosexual people. People should be allowed to judge me when they have got to know me."
October 30, 2013
Legal Battles Open Over British Press Curbs
By ALAN COWELL
LONDON — In a protracted battle over press regulation, British newspaper and magazine publishers went to court on Wednesday to challenge politicians’ plans for new curbs as prosecutors in a separate high-profile trial were scheduled to lay out an array of charges against former top editors.
The legal wrestling came hours before an advisory panel of senior politicians, known as the Privy Council, was to seek the formal assent of Queen Elizabeth II to an instrument known as a royal charter governing future press regulations.
In the complex arguments that have arisen since a judicial inquiry into the behavior of the rambunctious press ended almost one year ago with a call for tighter rules, both the press and a cross-party alliance of politicians have formulated conflicting proposals for new rules governed by royal charter. Newspapers are also planning to set up a separate regulator of their own.
In court on Wednesday, lawyers acting for publishers argued that politicians did not give adequate consideration to their proposals, and were expected to seek permission from senior judges to mount a formal legal challenge against the politicians’ charter. Richard Gordon, a lawyer acting for the press, said the charter proposed by publishers “has simply not been considered fairly.”
“We would add to that it has not been considered rationally and we would add to that it has not been considered lawfully,” he said. Lawyers for the government say that the publishers should be denied a chance to challenge the politicians’ charter and that there has been no unfairness or abuse of power, the Press Association news agency reported.
The main difference between the proposals lies in provisions for future modification of the rules, which the politicians want to be the prerogative of Parliament.
“The politicians claim the charter will protect the press, though the ineluctable fact is Parliament could change it for the worst at any time in the future,” the conservative Daily Mail tabloid said in an editorial. “Journalists would live in constant knowledge that if they angered M.P.s – by exposing another expenses scandal, for example – politicians who already scorn the media could take revenge by making the charter even more draconian.”
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said the politicians’ charter “will protect press freedom while offering real redress when mistakes are made.”
Royal charters are constitutional instruments used to incorporate bodies that, by their definition, “work in the public interest,” such as the BBC. Newspapers would not be obliged to sign the charter, but would have incentives to do so, including better protection from libel damages.
The push for new regulation came in the 2,000-page report of the Leveson inquiry into the telephone-hacking scandal that centered largely on parts of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.
Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson — former editors of the now-defunct Sunday tabloid The News of the World, which Mr. Murdoch closed as the scandal mushroomed in July 2011 — went on trial with other defendants on Monday charged with several offenses related to the scandal, all of which they deny.
The prosecution planned to open its case against them later on Wednesday, British news reports said.
Britain told social inequality has created 'public health timebomb'
UK is failing its children, women and young people on a grand scale, says Marmot report on links between inequality and health
Sarah Boseley, health editor
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 October 2013 10.00 GMT
Women and children in the UK would have longer and healthier lives if they lived in Cyprus, Italy or Spain, and Britain is facing "a public health timebomb", according to a study by an expert on inequality and health.
Sir Michael Marmot, who is known worldwide for his work on the social determinants of health, says much of the rest of Europe takes better care of its families. Life expectancy for women and death rates among the under-fives are worse in the UK, where there is also more child poverty.
The public health time bomb Marmot describes is caused by the large number of so-called Neets – young adults who are not in education, employment or training.
Women in the UK can expect to live to 83, but those born in a number of other European countries will live to a riper old age: in Germany and Cyprus, their life expectancy is 84, while in Italy, France and Spain it is 85.
And while child mortality rates in global terms are low in the UK, at 5.4 deaths per 1,000 among the under-fives, many countries do better. Some of those are in eastern Europe, such as the Czech Republic, with 3.4 deaths per 1,000 births, and Slovenia with three. Most countries in western Europe do better than the UK. Greece has four deaths per 1,000 births and Luxembourg has three. Iceland has the lowest child mortality, at 2.2 deaths per 1,000 live births, and Finland is next best, with 2.9.
The report points out that there is a recognised relationship between poverty and under-five child mortality. In the UK, the report says, one in four children live in poverty – more than in many other European countries. Iceland has the fewest in poverty – one in 10 – closely followed by Norway, Denmark, Slovenia, Cyprus, Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic.
Only half the children living in poverty reach what the report defines as "a good level of development" by the time they are five, compared with two-thirds of the others.
"Good quality early-years provision can help improve outcomes, especially for the most disadvantaged," the report says. "However, childcare is expensive in the UK, and many people cannot afford to utilise it or go back to work after having children.
"All children aged three and above are eligible for 15 free hours of early-years education per week. In addition, from September 2013, the most disadvantaged two-year-olds will be also be eligible. Local authorities will be responsible for funding these places, and there are concerns regarding the effect that this will have on other services available to families."
The report, by a team of international experts led by Marmot, is published by the UCL Institute of Health Equity, which he leads, and the World Health Organisation. It looks at the disparities in health and social, educational and economic circumstances of the 53 countries of the European Union and recommends policy changes to their governments.
Marmot is particularly concerned by the plight of the Neets. "Unemployment may be falling in the UK, but persistent high levels of the number of young people over 18 not in employment, education or training is storing up a public health timebomb waiting to explode," he says. "We are failing too many of our children, women and young people on a grand scale.
"I would say to any government that cares about the health of its population: look at the impact of their policies on the lives people are able to lead and, more importantly, at the impact on inequality. Health inequality, arising from social and economic inequalities, is socially unjust, unnecessary and avoidable, and it offends against the human right to health."
The UK is an unequal society in many respects, but it is an exemplar in its provision of healthcare. In the NHS, it has universal healthcare, offered through one of the most equitable systems in the world, says the report.
But Marmot says action needs to be taken to reduce inequalities in UK society so that people are less likely to become ill.
"In the UK, as in other European countries, health follows a social gradient: the lower the position on the social ladder, the worse the health," he says.
"Action to improve everyone's health and reduce the social gradient in health needs to start at the earliest age, before people become unwell. Good quality early- years provision must be a priority for all children.
"There needs to be a broad range of social policies, including improvements in every child's start to life, [and] adequate social protection that can act as a buffer against low income over the life-course and provide a minimum standard for healthy living."