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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1016403 times)
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« Reply #9660 on: Oct 30, 2013, 08:16 AM »

Surfers in Portugal ride towering waves whipped up by storm

Britain's Andrew Cotton and Brazil's Carlos Burle wait to hear if they've broken world record riding waves of around 80ft

Paul Hamilos in Madrid
The Guardian, Tuesday 29 October 2013 14.45 GMT      

Link to video: Brazilian surfer rides 'world's biggest' wave in Portugal

While many Europeans were battening down the hatches and heading indoors until the storm known as Saint Jude had passed, a group of surfers in Portugal made their way out into the ocean to catch what may be some of the biggest waves ever ridden.

But it was also a day of high drama as a legendary Brazilian surfer nearly died, only to be rescued by a friend, who then went on to ride one of the biggest waves ever seen – possibly even topping the mythical 100 feet.

The coastline of Praia do Norte, near the fishing village of Nazaré, is known as a surfing paradise, but during the swell whipped up by Monday's storm it seems the British surfer Andrew Cotton and the Brazilian Carlos Burle surfed waves that may yet break the all-time record, which currently stands at 78ft (23.8m).

The pictures and video emerging from Monday show that surfing is not all about golden Hawaiian sand. The astonishing waves in Portugal rose up from a storm-tossed sea driven in from the Atlantic, as crowds watched wrapped up against the rain.

Saint Jude killed at least 11 people across Europe and the waves were so dangerous in Portugal on Monday that Brazilian star Maya Gabeira was nearly drowned. She was being knocked unconscious and broke her ankle but was rescued by her compatriot Burle.

Cotton, from Devon, and Burle are now waiting to see if one of them will be crowned champion, as experts measure the height of their respective waves. The first images, seen on the Surfer Today website, suggest either one of them may have gone over the current record, set in the same spot in November 2011 by American Garrett McNamara.

The record will be announced in May next year, at the Billabong XXL awards.

Cotton said: "They were absolutely giant waves, I don't know how you would even begin to measure them. It was really exciting, a big day."

It was also something of a payback for Cotton. He had towed McNamara out on a jetski to ride the wave that set the record two years ago and it was now the turn of his friend to repay the favour. "I got him the Guinness world record, at the same place, and now he towed me into this one. I've been here in Portugal for a month now and we were lucky to be here, in the right spot," he said.

But big-wave surfing is incredibly hazardous, as the dramatic rescue of Gabeira revealed. "It's really dangerous out there. It's frightening, there's massive amounts of water surging through. It's deadly," said Cotton.

"Maya was out on the waves when she came off her board, and was knocked unconscious. She is one of the best surfers in the world, a very experienced big-wave surfer, has surfed everywhere around the world, won numerous awards.".

Talking to the surfing website Stab shortly after rescuing his friend, Burle spoke about the dramatic moment when he thought she had died. "She got caught inside by a giant wave and she disappeared. Man, she was gone for about five minutes. I couldn't find her anywhere. I was so scared. I didn't want to lose my friend, you know? Then I saw her and raced towards her."

Having found her, Burle then lost her again among the waves and feared that she had drowned, before seeing her floating face down.

"She was heading for the rocks. It was terrible. The worst situation I have ever faced. I raced up to her, jumped off the ski and grabbed her. I couldn't let her go," he said.

"We got lucky. I got lucky. We got to the beach. I don't know how, but we made it to the beach. They started administering CPR immediately and she coughed up a bucket load of water and she started breathing. Then they took her away in the ambulance. I was shaking. I'm not the best guy in these situations. I know the ocean, but I wasn't expecting this. I was in shock and so totally scared," he said.

After rescuing Gabeira, he headed back out to sea, but despite having possibly just broken the world record, Burle was far more concerned about his friend. "I tell you what made me happy was talking and laughing with Maya in the hospital," he told Stab.

"She told me that she knew that she was dying and that she felt happy. That she was dying happy. I told her that she might have been happy, but I was way more happy that she didn't die."

One of the things that makes Nazaré such a special place for surfers, but also so risky, is its unpredictability, explained Cotton. "It's a beach, not a point break or a headland, so when the waves break, they could break anywhere. If someone goes down, you don't know where they will go. It's really scary. That's what makes it hard.". But the risks won't make him stop. "It's like anything though, like horse riding … it's all dangerous. You can't stop just because someone got hurt."

Cotton, who is married with two children, has been surfing since he was nine and runs through safety procedures with his team before going out to sea. "We have a safety crew, everyone has radios. It's not just like nipping down to your local beach; there's years of training and practice. It's calculated risk."

When the big storms such as Saint Jude begin to brew, he has no other thought in his mind than to find the best surf. "That's what we do. We look at the storm and work out where will be best to get the biggest waves. We've been planning for this," said Cotton, who works as a lifeguard in the summer months. "Britain isn't famous for its legendary surf. England has a big surfing community, but you have to travel for the big waves. It's a niche I've found myself in."

But Cotton's parents reminded him he had more prosaic duties to return to at home. They sent him a message after his morning's surfing. "Darling, Just read journal of your monster wave this morning. Thrilled to bits and very proud. Well done. Keep safe as we have a new washing machine that needs plumbing in! Loads of Love, Mum & Dad."
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« Reply #9661 on: Oct 30, 2013, 08:39 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

Glenn Greenwald rips apart the ‘most radical and criminal conduct’ of Dick Cheney

By Eric W. Dolan
Wednesday, October 30, 2013 9:20 EDT

Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald blasted Dick Cheney on Tuesday night, after the former vice president described Edward Snowden as a “traitor” for leaking NSA secrets.

“Remember, Dick Cheney is a politician who engaged in some of the worst, most radical and criminal conduct in the last century in the United States and did it all in secret — from lying about the war in Iraq to torturing people, to putting people in cages with no lawyers, to eavesdropping on the American people without the warrants required by law,” he told CNN host Anderson Cooper. “So of course political people like Dick Cheney, people in political power always want to do what they do behind a wall of secrecy because that’s how they abuse power.”

“And they always consider those who bring transparency to what they do to be evil, treasonous people,” he continued. “Edward Snowden is considered a hero to people around the world and the United States and received a whistle blowing award because he did what people have conscience do, which is tell that world about things that they should know.”

“That the world’s most powerful people are trying to keep concealed,” Greenwald said. “It’s created a worldwide debate over internet freedom and the value of privacy and dangers of surveillance. It’s created movements for reform and all kinds of legislators around the world including in the United States and the world is much better off that the Dick Cheneys of the world aren’t able to abuse their power in secret.”

There was no evidence that Snowden harmed U.S. national security by leaking information about the NSA’s surveillance practices, the outspoken columnist added. Terrorists already knew they were being spied on.

“What we told the world what they didn’t know is this spying system is directed at innocent people, people that have nothing to do with terrorism,” Greenwald said.

Watch video, uploaded to YouTube, below:


October 30, 2013 06:00 AM

Dick Cheney: Iraq War Worth It 'Cause Saddam Might Get WMDs

By John Amato

Dick Cheney will never admit that he screwed the pooch with his push for war with Iraq. He now says that since we blew the shit out of Iraq, as well as eliminated Saddam as a WMD threat, spending a trillion dollars with 100,000 civilians killed and almost 4500 US soldiers dead made it worth the cost in blood and treasure to America. Huh? 'Potential' is his new benchmark for invading and destroying anybody he sees fit.

    O’REILLY: But what — right now, what do we — what do we get of Iraq for all of that blood and treasure? What do we get out of it?

    CHENEY: What we gain and my concern was then and it remains today is that the biggest threat we face is the possibility of terrorist groups like al Qaeda equipped with weapons of mass destruction, with nukes, bugs or gas. That was the threat after 9/11 and when we took down Saddam Hussein we eliminated Iraq as a potential source of that.

After O'Reilly tells him that Al-Qaeda is back, he blames Obama administration for not following his policies. What an evil man. He also cites Moammar Gadhafi giving up his nuke capabilities and catching AQ Khan as the other great achievements for invading Iraq. He's an evil man because he knows this was the real reason for his call to invade Iraq.

    A senior official from former President George W. Bush's administration is quoted in “Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House” saying American troops went into Iraq because the U.S. was looking for a fight.

    "The only reason we went into Iraq, I tell people now, is we were looking for somebody’s ass to kick. Afghanistan was too easy," the anonymous official said,according to Politico.

There's not a punishment severe enough that could be levied on Bush and Cheney for the horrors they caused in the Middle East as well as in America. All those lives lost and wounded and for what? They lied and lied to start a war, they should burn in hell.

Digby adds:

    Since Iraq didn't have any weapons of mass destruction maybe we could have saved ourselves some money and eliminated a cheaper "potential source of WMD" that didn't have any. Like "invading" Trinidad or something.

    I'm frankly shocked that Cheney hasn't been able to develop a better line about this by now. But then, really, what can he say? There is no good reason. We went crazy. And everyone knows it.

Yes, there is no good reason to justify the Iraq invasion.


October 29, 2013

Cancellation of Health Care Plans Replaces Website Problems as Prime Target


WASHINGTON — After focusing for weeks on the technical failures of President Obama’s health insurance website, Republicans on Tuesday broadened their criticism of the health care law, pointing to Americans whose health plans have been terminated because they do not meet the law’s new coverage requirements.

The rising concern about canceled health coverage has provided Republicans a more tangible line of attack on the law and its most appealing promise for the vast majority of Americans who have insurance: that it would lower their costs, or at least hold them harmless. Baffled consumers are producing real letters from insurance companies that directly contradict Mr. Obama’s oft-repeated reassurances that if people like the insurance they have, they will be able to keep it.

“My constituents are frightened,” Representative Kevin Brady, Republican of Texas, told Marilyn Tavenner, the official whose department oversaw the creation of Mr. Obama’s health insurance marketplace, at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing Tuesday. “They are being forced out of health care plans they like. The clock is ticking. The federal website is broken. Their health care isn’t a glitch.”

In the weeks since the health marketplaces opened, insurance companies have begun sending notices to hundreds of thousands of Americans in the individual insurance market informing them that their existing plans will soon be canceled. In many of those cases, the insured have been offered new plans, often with better coverage but also at higher prices.

The cancellation notices are proving to be a political gift to Republicans, who were increasingly concerned that their narrowly focused criticism of the problem-plagued could lead to a dead end, once the website’s issues are addressed. Already they found themselves being pressed to join a Democratic push to fix the problems, not gut the law.

“There’s a little bit of a danger that if we’re just focused on the obvious ineptitude of the web designers and of the system breakdown — I wouldn’t call it a glitch, I’d call it a breakdown — we’re forgetting the bigger picture here,” said Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio. “Once people do get on they’ll find out they’ll be paying more, not less, and won’t be able to keep what they have.”

Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, called the website criticism “overblown.”

“They’ll fix the problems with the website. I think they won’t fix the problems with the bill,” he said.

Democrats pushed back on the Republican attacks, pointing to problems in the early days of the prescription drug plan Republicans passed in 2003, known as Medicare Part D. Most Democrats opposed that law strenuously, but, they said, once it went into effect, they helped constituents enroll and worked for its success.

“Despite Democrats’ opposition to Part D 10 years ago, we committed to making the best of the program,” said Representative Bill Pascrell Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, rising from his seat at the Ways and Means hearing to excoriate Republicans.

In contrast, with the president’s health care law, Republicans “want this to fail. They want chaos,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate. “Their credibility is not that strong.”

The cancellation notices appear to open a new front in the Republican war on the health care law. The affected population, those who bought insurance on their own, is a small fraction of an insurance market dominated by employer-sponsored health plans. But many of those individual policy holders are surprised and angry.

Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader, pointed to Bruno Gora, a constituent who was informed this month by Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield that “to meet the requirements of the new law, your current plan can no longer be offered.” Mr. Gora, 61, was offered alternatives, including one that would lock in his existing benefits. But, said Mr. Gora, a self-employed printing distributor, his premiums could rise by as much as $3,400 a year.

In an interview, Mr. Gora said he had not been able to determine if he would qualify for federal subsidies because he could not get on to the website.

“What did he say? I can keep my plan, and I can save,” Mr. Gora said of the president. “That’s not occurring.”

At the hearing Tuesday, Ms. Tavenner said that in compliance with the health care law, the new policies would provide more benefits and more consumer protections than many existing policies.

The chairman of the committee, Representative Dave Camp, Republican of Michigan, said that at least 146,000 Michigan residents had recently received notices that their current insurance policies would be canceled because the coverage did not meet standards of the new law.

“In fact,” Mr. Camp said, “based on what little information the administration has disclosed, it turns out that more people have received cancellation notices for their health care plans this month than have enrolled in the exchanges.”

Ms. Tavenner said that “nearly 700,000 applications have been submitted to the federal and state marketplaces” in the past four weeks. But she would not say how many of those people had actually enrolled in health insurance plans since the federal and state marketplaces, or exchanges, opened on Oct. 1.

“That number will not be available until mid-November,” Ms. Tavenner said. “We expect the initial number to be small.”

But Democrats facing tough election campaigns next year are growing increasingly nervous. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat up for re-election, began pressing the Obama administration last week to delay the penalties on individuals who remain uninsured, arguing that consumers should not be held accountable for failing to buy health plans on a website they cannot access. The cancellation letters only added to the pressure she faces.

“We knew that they would have to sign up again,” she said of constituents on the individual insurance market who might face changes under the health care law. “But obviously I don’t think anyone thought people would be kicked off their health insurance plan.”

Representative Allyson Y. Schwartz, Democrat of Pennsylvania, who was an enthusiastic supporter of the 2010 health care law and is now running for governor of Pennsylvania, told Ms. Tavenner that the chaotic debut of the federal insurance marketplace “has done some damage to Americans’ confidence in this website, in the marketplace and even potentially in the options that they would have available to get health coverage.”

Republican leaders faced their own conundrum. As they pick apart the carrying out of the health care law, top Republicans have found themselves at once calling for fixes to the law and insisting on its repeal. Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio said Tuesday: “It’s time to delay this. It’s time to fix this before it gets any worse.”

“We need to fix this problem,” Mr. Cantor added, a far cry from the Republican mantra of “repeal and replace.”

When pressed, Mr. Boehner backtracked: “There is no way to fix this monstrosity.”


Ed Schultz blames scared media and ‘crappy insurance’ for backlash to Obamacare

By Arturo Garcia
Tuesday, October 29, 2013 20:31 EDT

MSNBC host Ed Schultz mounted a spirited defense of the Affordable Care Act on Tuesday, blaming media outlets for playing into conservatives’ hands by spreading “misinformation” about the new law in an effort to protect their own reputations.

“I think that network reporters throughout the entire industry may be caught in a dilemma: that Obamacare is so positive and gonna have such a tremendous impact on American life and American society in setting the foundation for better changes in the future,” Schultz speculated. “I think that network reporters and people on TV are having a hard time saying something nice about it or positive about it because they might be viewed as ‘journalistically compromised.’”

According to Schultz, reports saying the White House knew that 2 million of the country’s 14 million individual health insurance buyers could be kicked out of their current policies were too quick to point the blame at the Obama administration and not at the insurance industry.

“Some of them are gonna get these [cancellation] notices because they have — I can’t use the S-word — they have crappy insurance,” Schultz said. “Raising the standards of health care in America, and making sure that insurance companies live up and actually deliver what they’re supposed to is what Obamacare is all about.”

The point of the law, Schultz argued, was that it would do away with “junk plans” that fall short when patients are most in need.

“Why doesn’t that get reported by all the people who think that ’40 to 60 percent of the people are gonna be losing their insurance,’?” Schultz grumbled, before taking a shot at CBS News anchor Charlie Rose. “Two million people in this country, Charlie, have got lousy insurance, and Obama’s trying to do something about it. That’s your headline on CBS, dude.”


Rash of Lazy, Sensational Reporting is Freaking People Out About Obamacare

By Joshua Holland, Moyers & Company
Tuesday, October 29, 2013 23:56 EDT

A rash of sensational, context-free reporting is needlessly alarming the public about what’s happening in America’s health insurance markets as a result of Obamacare. Making matters worse, it’s set against a backdrop of relentless, intentional misinformation from the law’s opponents. It should come as no surprise that many Americans are anxious about a law most know little about other than what they catch on short TV news segments.

Erik Wemple, media critic for the Washington Post, noted that a Florida woman named Wanda Barrette, who claimed that her insurance premiums were increasing ten-fold – from $54 per month to $591 — was interviewed by CBS and three different Fox TV shows (many conservative outlets like The Weekly Standard also picked up the CBS report). Wemple interviewed the woman himself and found that the story didn’t convey that she was losing “a pray-that-you-don’t-really-get-sick ‘plan.’”

    Her current health insurance plan, she says, doesn’t cover “extended hospital stays; it’s not designed for that,” says Barrette. Well, does it cover any hospitalization? “Outpatient only,” responds Barrette. Nor does it cover ambulance service and some prenatal care. On the other hand, says Barrette, it does cover “most of my generic drugs that I need” and there’s a $50 co-pay for doctors’ appointments. “It’s all I could afford right now,” says Barrette.

    When asked if she ever required hospitalization, Barrette says she did. It happened when she was employed by Raytheon, which provided “excellent benefits.” Ever since she left the company and started working as an independent contractor, “I haven’t been hospitalized since then, thank God.”

It was good reporting. But even Wemple only mentioned in passing that the woman “may be eligible for subsidies.” In doing so, he buried the lede — according to Kaiser’s subsidy calculator, and presuming Barrette doesn’t smoke, she would be eligible for a bronze plan, which guarantees free preventive care and coverage for hospitalizations, for only $97 per month — one-sixth of that headline number that’s making the rounds (a silver plan, with more extensive coverage, would cost her $209 after subsidies).

That story was far from alone in hyping a “trainwreck” narrative without giving equal time to the law’s benefits. Front-and-center today is an NBC “investigation” that’s been getting an enormous amount of attention, especially in conservative circles. It supposedly reveals that the Obama administration knew in advance that millions of insurance plans would be cancelled even as the president repeatedly promised Americans, “if you like your healthcare plan, you will be able to keep your healthcare plan.”

But this purported ‘smoking gun’ only tells us the obvious: that the administration, like every health care expert in the world, knew that within the individual market there were insurance plans that don’t meet minimal standards of coverage – plans that would likely leave their purchasers bankrupt should an accident or serious illness befall them. (Perhaps Obama should have said, “if you have a plan that isn’t a ripoff and doesn’t leave you entirely exposed to risk, you can keep it.”)

And it should come as no surprise that some people will have to pay more for better coverage, but that, too, is a story that requires considerable context that’s been lacking in a lot of recent reporting.

Here’s an excerpt from NBC’s report:

    Four sources deeply involved in the Affordable Care Act tell NBC NEWS that 50 to 75 percent of the 14 million consumers who buy their insurance individually can expect to receive a “cancellation” letter or the equivalent over the next year because their existing policies don’t meet the standards mandated by the new health care law. One expert predicts that number could reach as high as 80 percent. And all say that many of those forced to buy pricier new policies will experience “sticker shock.”

And here’s some of what’s missing from this report and many others like it…

Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic points out that there will, indeed, be some people who lose coverage, and some will have to pay higher rates, but many others are going to experience “rate joy” – a story that’s been getting far less attention…

    Obamacare is transforming one part of the existing health insurance market, in ways that will force some people to pay more than they do now. But that’s only part of the story. Many other people, quite possibly the majority of people in that market, will pay less than they do now. And even those paying more will be getting more comprehensive, more secure insurance.

Read the whole piece – it’s a good primer on everything that’s happening to our insurance markets as a result of Obamacare.

Kevin Drum at Mother Jones argues that the universe of people who will be adversely affected by cancellations is probably pretty small…

    [These stories don't] describe a huge demographic—people who are just barely above the subsidy threshold and currently have individual coverage and are young enough to see premium increases—but there’s no question they exist…

    It’s not clear how many people are genuinely going to get hit by sticker shock. In most of the stories I’ve read… people are simply taking the word of their insurance company about how much a new policy will cost. They may find out that things are better once they actually shop around and check out the subsidies they qualify for. Others may find that the higher premiums pay for themselves in lower out-of-pocket expenses throughout the year…

    Right now, even in places like California that have working exchange sites, a lot of people are still guessing about how Obamacare will actually affect them…. Better benefits and federal subsidies are going to have a big impact, and that impact probably won’t be clear until Obamacare has actually been up and running for a while.

As for the “rate shock” some will experience, Josh Barro offered some much-needed perspective at Business Insider…

    Once Obamacare is implemented, America’s health insurance system will be a thicket of subsidies and transfers that benefit some people and harm others….

    But here’s the thing: Before Obamacare, our health insurance system was already a thicket of subsidies and transfers. The law doesn’t simplify the system, but it does make the thicket of subsidies and transfers more sensible: directed more at people who have low incomes or high health needs, and greatly shrinking the share of the population that doesn’t have health coverage at all. Making the thicket more sensible will mean that some people’s costs go up, producing “rate shock”…

    The Los Angeles Times looked at how many Californians who currently get health insurance through the individual market are facing higher premiums. But here’s the most important part of the article:

    A number of factors are driving up rates. In a report this year, consultants hired by the state said the influx of sicker patients as a result of guaranteed coverage was the biggest single reason for higher premiums. Bob Cosway, a principal and consulting actuary at Milliman Inc. in San Diego, estimated that the average individual premium in 2014 will rise 27% because of that difference alone.

    It’s a lot cheaper to provide health insurance coverage if you exclude a lot of the people who need it most. Making insurance available to people with pre-existing health conditions costs money. Obamacare funds this transfer to the chronically ill in part by raising premiums on healthy people.

And Igor Volsky, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, notes that people in the individual insurance market were seeing their plans changed frequently prior to the existence of Obamacare…

    The cancellations are a result of so-called grandfather rules promulgated by President Obama’s Health and Human Services. The rule exempts health insurance plans in existence before March 23, 2010 — the day the Affordable Care Act became law — from many of the new regulations, benefits standards and consumer protections that new plans now have to abide by, but says that policies could lose their designation if they make major changes…

    The naturally high turnover rate associated with the individual market means that it’s highly unlikely that individuals would still be enrolled in plans from 2010 in 2014. In fact, the Obama administration publicly admitted this when it issued the regulations in 2010, leading Republicans like Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) to seize on the story in order to push for repeal of the grandfather regulations.

In the end, lazy stories of “sticker shock” and cancellations by reporters uninterested in the details of public policy only offer the sensational half of a complicated story, and that’s providing a big assist to opponents of the law. As Greg Sargent noted in The Washington Post after the government shutdown proved disastrous for their cause, Republicans “are now hoping to put that behind them by launching a series of coordinated, seemingly serious House investigations into what has gone wrong with Obamacare.” In the House, they’re introducing the ‘Keep Your Health Plan Act,’ which would guarantee that insurers could continue to rip off consumers.

And CBS, after breathlessly offering the meaningless factoid that three times as many people are receiving cancellation notices than have signed up for Obamacare so far (never mind that a grand total of 123 people signed up for “Romneycare” during its first month in Massachusetts), tells us that “the White House is on the defensive trying to explain it.” They could use a little help from a responsible Fourth Estate.


Jon Stewart skewers CNN and Wolf Blitzer for ‘dumbing down’ the news

By Arturo Garcia
Wednesday, October 30, 2013 0:13 EDT

Rather than pick on CNN for its coverage of a specific issue, Daily Show host Jon Stewart ripped Wolf Blitzer and his colleagues on Tuesday for reducing more of their reporting to choosing between “good things” and “bad things.”

“It’s like the word went out from CNN HQ: ‘Nobody watches this network unless they’re in the airport or going somewhere,’” Stewart guessed. “‘Eighty-six the professor talk and just let the people know, does this story go in my happy bag or my sad bag? Emoticon me, chop chop.’”

To prove his point, Stewart showed the network’s coverage of stories like the Jodi Arias murder trial and the JPMorgan Chase financial case, before featuring Blitzer’s Sept. 27 interview with Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) where he used the tactic while discussing provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

“Just want to make this clear,” an incredulous Stewart told his audience. “That’s Michele ‘I think vaccines give you brain damage’ Bachmann being told by Wolf Blitzer to dumb it down.”

CNN’s shift to a “simplistic-ier” viewpoint, Stewart said, stood in contrast to competitors MSNBC and Fox News, which stick to the right-left divide; while Fox always thinks it knows the answer, and MSNBC always asks sarcastically, “CNN, they genuinely seem not to know.


October 29, 2013 04:00 PM

Wolf Blitzer Isn't President, But He Plays One On TV

By karoli

CNN's Wolf Blitzer seems to think he should be President, because clearly he has all the answers and none of the pressure. Today's episode of "What President Obama Should Have Done" suggested that President Obama is incompetent or surrounded by incompetents, using news of the NSA bugging world leaders' personal cell phones and the HealthcareDotGov website launch as object lessons.

Ideally, news people should have a memory that stretches back farther than a month or so, but evidently Blitzer's hard drive is out of memory, because he begins with Kathleen Sebelius' "admission" that Obama wasn't told about the website problems when launched Oct. 1.

Blitzer forgets there were a few other things happening that day, like Republicans shutting down the government and sending the nation careening toward debt default, restive officials in the Middle East, and decisions about whether to cancel his trip to Southeast Asia to work on trade agreements.

When Gloria Borger jumps into the conversation with Blitzer, things really heat up, particularly over news that the NSA did not inform the President that they were tapping into the personal cell phones of world leaders. One might actually have inferred that from the fact that they didn't get anything worth using, because, was a personal phone. One might also assume that if they had informed the President, it would have immediately been brought to an end as it was when the news came out.

For Wolf Blitzer, this is all Obama's fault. For Gloria Borger, it's just another example of how government doesn't work.

Both of those are false frames. Borger says, "I have a hard time believing the President didn't ask 'How's my rollout going?'" and Blitzer righteously exclaims "This is his signature issue...You'd think before the October rollout he'd call in Sebelius, he'd call in others, and say 'Everything ready to go'?"

Because of course, these two would do that.

For the capstone, Wolf channels his inner President, and wonders whether President Obama isn't asking himself whether he should have been more assertive or aggressive in getting answers.

This is a ridiculous segment from start to end and does nothing to illuminate a reasonable discussion about very real issues around procurement, contractors and oversight - both with the website and NSA spying. Clearly, the NSA is operating without appropriate constraints. Similarly, the rollout of the health care website involved many moving parts which are not working well together and which might have been better accomplished by in-house engineers rather than several different private contractors. Those are real issues, and an intelligent discussion would actually inform viewers.

By making this into a What-did-Obama-know-and-when-did-he-know-it moment, they're just playing the Fox News game of turning everything into a controversy, rather than trying to inform viewers or raise legitimate questions that could lead to a constructive discussion of how government works and where oversight should be strengthened.

Once again, we are treated like stupid little sponges with no actual vested interest in the success of a government by, for, and of the people. Because Obama.

By the way, you know who else had a disastrous website launch back in the day? CNN. That's right. Their initial debut on the web was an unmitigated disaster. I was there. I lived through the six-month process of getting it stabilized. And throughout that time, there wasn't a peep from Wolf about it.


Why Republicans Have No Business Being Upset About Obamacare

By Joshua Holland, Moyers & Company
Tuesday, October 29, 2013 23:56 EDT

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor says Republicans will seek to delay a requirement of the 2010 Affordable Care Act that all Americans obtain health insurance or face a tax penalty. “With so many unanswered questions and the problems arising around this rollout, it doesn’t make any sense to impose this one percent mandate tax on the American people,” Cantor said last week.

While Republicans plot new ways to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, it’s easy to forget that for years they’ve been arguing that any comprehensive health insurance system be designed exactly like the one that officially began October 1st, glitches and all.

For as many years Democrats tried to graft healthcare onto Social Security and Medicare and pay for it through the payroll tax. But Republicans countered that any system must be based on private insurance and paid for with a combination of subsidies for low-income purchasers and a requirement that the younger and healthier sign up.

Not surprisingly, private health insurers cheered on the Republicans while doing whatever they could to block Democrats from creating a public insurance system.

In February 1974, Republican President Richard Nixon proposed, in essence, today’s Affordable Care Act. Under Nixon’s plan all but the smallest employers would provide insurance to their workers or pay a penalty, an expanded Medicaid-type program would insure the poor and subsidies would be provided to low-income individuals and small employers. Sound familiar?

Private insurers were delighted with the Nixon plan but Democrats preferred a system based on Social Security and Medicare and the two sides failed to agree.

Thirty years later a Republican governor, Mitt Romney, made Nixon’s plan the law in Massachusetts. Private insurers couldn’t have been happier although many Democrats in the state had hoped for a public system.

When today’s Republicans rage against the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, it’s useful to recall this was their idea as well.

In 1989, Stuart M. Butler of the conservative Heritage Foundation came up with a plan that would “mandate all households to obtain adequate insurance.”

Insurance companies loved Butler’s plan so much it found its way into several bills introduced by Republican lawmakers in 1993. Among the supporters were Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Charles Grassley (R-IA). Both now oppose the mandate under the Affordable Care Act. Newt Gingrich, who became Speaker of the House in 1995, was also a big proponent.

Romney’s heathcare plan in Massachusetts included the same mandate to purchase private insurance. “We got the idea of an individual mandate from [Newt Gingrich] and [Newt] got it from the Heritage Foundation,” said Romney, who thought the mandate “essential for bringing the health care costs down for everyone and getting everyone the health insurance they need.”

Now that the essential Republican plan for healthcare is being implemented nationally, health insurance companies are jubilant.

Last week, after the giant insurer Wellpoint raised its earnings estimates, CEO Joseph Swedish pointed to “the long-term membership growth opportunity through exchanges.” Other major health plans are equally bullish. “The emergence of public exchanges, private exchanges, Medicaid expansions … have the potential to create new opportunities for us to grow and serve in new ways,” UnitedHealth Group CEO Stephen J. Hemsley effused.

So why are today’s Republicans so upset with an Act they designed and their patrons adore? Because it’s the signature achievement of the Obama administration.

There’s a deep irony to all this. Had Democrats stuck to the original Democratic vision and built comprehensive health insurance on Social Security and Medicare, it would have been cheaper, simpler and more widely accepted by the public. And Republicans would be hollering anyway.


The Poverty Line

Will a Safety Net for Seniors Win Bipartisan Support?

By Joshua Holland, Moyers & Company
Tuesday, October 29, 2013 23:56 EDT

We’re proud to collaborate with The Nation in sharing insightful journalism related to income inequality in America. The following is an excerpt from Nation contributor Greg Kaufmann’s “This Week in Poverty” column.

The Older Americans Act (OAA) is one of the most important pieces of legislation that you probably never heard of or at least know very little about. You know Meals on Wheels? The OAA funds it, and also essential services for seniors like job training, caregiver support, transportation, preventive health services, and protection from abuse and financial exploitation.

This Wednesday, Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, along with Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and Democratic Senator Tom Harkin, will offer a 5-year reauthorization of the legislation to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. If the legislation is to pass the Senate and the House, it will need strong bipartisan support from the Committee.

OAA programs aren’t means tested, so they serve as a safety net for many seniors living just above the poverty line, and prevent other seniors from falling deeper into poverty. The programs also save money over the long-term. One clear example of cost-savings is the Meals on Wheels program. A study by the Center for Effective Government found that for every $1 in federal spending on Meals on Wheels, there is as much as a $50 return in Medicaid savings alone. However, the program currently reaches less than 10 percent of low-income seniors who need access to meals programs.

“During this terrible recession, there has been a growing demand for meals for seniors at a time when budgets are being slashed,” Senator Sanders told me. “There is clear evidence that some of our poorest seniors are simply not getting the food they need.”

Fall prevention programs funded by the OAA also protect seniors from needing to go to the hospital or into nursing homes — where too often they spend every last dime and are then forced to turn to Medicaid. One in three seniors falls every year, and falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries for people ages 65 and older. The resulting injuries are projected to cost the nation $60 billion in 2020. Research has shown that several OAA-supported programs have reduced falls by 30 to 55 percent — which saves both money and lives.

The OAA’s Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) allows very low-income seniors to get job skills while also providing community service for non-profits. Nearly 90 percent of participants live in poverty (on less than about $11,000 annually), and one-third are homeless or at risk of homelessness. While the job training helps these seniors return to the labor force and in some cases prevents homelessness, participants also perform millions of hours of community service for local organizations struggling with their own budget cuts. Howard Bedlin, vice president of public policy at the National Council of Aging, said SCSEP has “a value to states and communities estimated at over $1 billion.” But due to a lack of resources, the number of seniors served by the program has declined by 34 percent since FY 2010, and the program now has waiting lists in many cities.

All of the OAA programs have been severely underfunded, failing to keep pace with inflation and population growth for decades. Senator Sanders and eighteen cosponsors previously attempted to reauthorize the OAA with a funding increase of 12 percent over FY2010 levels, but in this political climate that proved to be a non-starter, despite the fact that the programs save money. This bill is a scaled back version of the previous legislation. It does not set a cap on current funding levels, and it leaves appropriators with the flexibility to increase funding in future years.

Other important aspects of the legislation prevent and address elder abuse. Elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation are all too common in the US and have long been overlooked. The bill directs the Administration on Aging to include training for state and local agencies on elder abuse prevention and screening, and it promotes data collection at the state level to help assess the scope of this problem. It also strengthens the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, which provides ombudsmen to serve all residents of long-term care facilities, regardless of age. These advocates address issues ranging from complaints over a scheduled wake-up time, to concerns about quality of care, or abuse. Significantly, the bill specifies that all residents must have private, unimpeded access to ombudsmen, so there are no other parties that are interfering, intimidating, or somehow preventing candid communication.

In contrast to the National Council on Aging, which has been a steady supporter of a strong OAA, one powerful advocacy voice that was missing during earlier attempts at reauthorization was AARP. Although it is late to the party, AARP is endorsing the legislation now, and its support is critical to passing a strong bipartisan bill.

If you are represented by senators on the HELP Committee, now would be a good time to let them know that you expect strong support for the OAA — from the Committee markup on Wednesday through passage on the Senate floor — and that the legislation needs more funding.

If we truly think it’s important to respect our elders, here’s a simple way to prove it.


In PracticeTracking the Affordable Care Act


    As Washington and much of the rest of the nation debate whether President Obama misled Americans when he said that people who like their health plans may keep them, tens of millions of people are finding that their insurance is largely unchanged by the new health care law.

    They are the estimated 149 million people who receive health insurance through an employer, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. While the law has required adjustments to those plans and some prices could rise, generally people who keep their jobs may keep the same coverage. Some exceptions exist.

    The story is different for the 10 million to 12 million people who buy insurance on their own. Rules for those policies have changed substantially for 2014.

    Insurers are informing many of those people that their old plans have been discontinued and that they must choose new plans at new prices.

    About half of those people may qualify for federal subsidies or Medicaid, according to a recent analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation. But those who do not are often facing much higher premiums.

    The coverage required under the federal health care law is much more generous than many of the plans that had been sold to individuals, and insurers are now pricing these policies to account for many of the older and sicker people they once could turn away but must now cover. Under the new rules, people with pre-existing conditions may not be denied coverage and there are limits on how much prices may vary for people of differing ages.

    Some people may find a new policy less expensive than their previous one. That could be because the insurer charged a high premium based on their age or medical condition. That is no longer permitted. And others may have plans that are “grandfathered,” meaning they were in place in 2010 and can be renewed without significant changes.

    At Florida Blue, for example, 300,000 people will be notified this year that their coverage is up for renewal, and they will have to select a new plan, either through the new state marketplace or directly with the insurer. Only about 60,000 will be allowed to renew their current policies because they are grandfathered. The rest must choose among the new plans offered by Florida Blue or another insurer.

    “There’s always been a lot of churn in the individual market,” said Jon Urbanek, a senior executive at Florida Blue. As a result, most people will be told that they need to change policies when they would typically be asked to renew, he said. “We’re not terminating their coverage,” he said, but people will be asked to change their policies and pay whatever premiums are being charged for that particular plan. “They’re renewing into these qualified health plans.”

    About 40,000 people have received letters informing them that their policies end in January, he said, but the bulk of people tend to renew later in the year.

    As part of the law, certain benefits must be included in the new policies. For example, coverage must include maternal care.

    While many people may find coverage in the current open enrollment period, which ends March 31, they can still get coverage when their current policy ends.
« Last Edit: Oct 30, 2013, 08:56 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #9662 on: Oct 30, 2013, 10:21 AM »

In the USA continued ...

Neptune in Pisces anyone ?

The Left Must Accept that Ted Cruz is the Dominionist Messiah

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Wednesday, October, 30th, 2013, 7:58 am      

It was only to be expected, I suppose, that conservatism would come up with its own messianic figure to oppose the alleged liberal messiah, Barack Obama. Conservatives loved to taunt liberals and progressives about “their” messiah. But now they have one of their own. Well, a new one of their own.

Remember when Newt Gingrich was messiah of sorts? And Michele Bachmann actually asked God to anoint her campaign? Of course, Sarah Palin was an Mama Grizzly almost-hunter-grrl-messiah on her show, Sarah Palin’s Alaska, and Rick Santorum gets honorable messiah mention.

When Ted Cruz heads down to join other Religious Right leaders at David Lane’s Renewal Project conference in South Carolina, he will do so as conservatism’s newly anointed messiah. At that point he will have replaced Sarah Palin, who, you might remember, was anointed as Esther before going off to do battle with Barack Obama for the soul of America.

The problem for America is that Cruz is both slicker and smarter than Sarah Palin. And like Sarah Palin, his messianic bona fides are in good order. It was in the news recently that Ted Cruz’s father, Rafael, anointed his son on August 26, 2012 at New Beginnings megachurch in Irving, Texas:

As Huffington Post reported earlier this month, “It turns out that Ted’s father, Rafael Cruz, is a pastor with Texas charismatic ministry Purifying Fire International who has been campaigning against Obamacare the last several months.”

According to New Beginnings’ dominionist pastor, Larry Huch, Ted Cruz got elected to the senate because God is about to begin his “rule and reign” and there will be a big “end-time transfer of wealth.” Somehow, transfering wealth is a good thing when the money is being taken from non-believers and awarded the church but bad if rich folks and corporations are expected to pay their way.

It is no coincidence that those rich folks and corporations are big supporters of people like Ted Cruz.

God chose Ted Cruz and he is now apparently selecting his bankers. As HuffPo explains the results, they seem to have very little to do with anything Jesus preached about wealth, even though a weaponized Jesus figures prominently in dominionist plans:

    So to pull all this logic together, God anoints priests to work in the church directly and kings to go out into the marketplace to conquer, plunder, and bring back the spoils to the church. The reason governmental regulation has to disappear from the marketplace is to make it completely available to the plunder of Christian “kings” who will accomplish the “end time transfer of wealth.” Then “God’s bankers” will usher in the “coming of the messiah.” The government is being shut down so that God’s bankers can bring Jesus back.

Talk to Action reported a few days later that Ted Cruz had actually been anointed as messiah (in Iowa, of course) on June 19, 2013 “by pastors who claim the Constitution is based on the Old Testament, appear to endorse biblical slavery, depict gay marriage as a socialist plot against the traditional family, and call for a Christian war on secular society.”

One of those pastors was David Lane, whose conference in South Carolina Cruz will now attend, who, Talk to Action reminds us, is in turn is a creature of the American Family Association. The New Civil Rights Movement reports that Lane wrote a column at World Net Daily calling for a “war to restore a Christian America” (it has since been removed).

At the anointing this prayer was offered over Cruz:

    Father, we believe that, indeed, no weapon formed against him will prosper, and every tongue that rises up against him in judgment will be condemned – for this is the heritage of the servant of the Lord. And his righteousness is of you, Lord. Fahter, you have said that, and we believe that today. Father, we ask today that you would give him the tongue of the learned to speak that word. Father, we ask that your blessing would come upon our nation. Father, those like our senator, father, that they would receive these words.

Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody calls Cruz’s political career “a thing of God” when he interviewed Rafael in America’s Galilee, Iowa, and what Rafael had to say in answer reveals to America why Cruz acts like he does:

    Rafael Cruz: Yes, but you know something, it is not something that started a couple of years ago. Let me just go back to when he was maybe four. When he was four I used to read Bible stories to him all the time. And I would declare and proclaim the word of God over him. And I would just say, ‘You know Ted, you have been gifted above any man that I know and God has destined you for greatness’. And I started making declarations about the Word of God to him every day. When he was eight years old I was very active in an organization called the Religious Roundtable.

Ian Reifowitz at Daily Kos writes that Ted Cruz always thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room and GQ’s Jason Zengerle wrote that Cruz “has come to the reluctant but unavoidable conclusion that he is simply more intelligent, more principled, more right—in both senses of the word—than pretty much everyone else in our nation’s capital.”

But it is more than that. Cruz didn’t get his arrogance simply by being a Harvard man. In all likelihood, Cruz actually thinks he is the anointed messiah. The Religious Right leaders who are not simply using him to further their own agenda think he is the anointed messiah. The base sure acts like they think he is the messiah just as they once thought Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann and others have been anointed messiahs.

The Religious Right needs a messiah because their weaponized Jesus is just a name for them. Jesus, who is every other Christian’s messiah, can’t be their messiah because Jesus reviled the wrong people: the rich, not the poor. Jesus’ transfer of wealth therefore came at the problem of wealth from the wrong direction, from rich to poor.

That is not at all what Cruz & Co. have in mind. Liberals and progressives might laugh at what they see as a bunch of mystical mumbo jumbo, but they would do well to realize that Ted Cruz and his fellow heretics who pack those megachurches every Sunday are deadly serious.

Come February, realize that the government shut down is just a small part of the overall end-times picture. Worried about that $24 billion Ted Cruz owes us? Don’t be. It’s just the tip of the ice berg because when the time comes, Cruz & Co. expect not only to be sitting on top, but to get rich as a result.

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NSA spied on the Vatican as cardinals elected Pope Francis

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 30, 2013 11:20 EDT

US secret services allegedly eavesdropped on cardinals before the conclave in March to elect a new pope, Italian weekly magazine Panorama claimed Wednesday.

“The National Security Agency wiretapped the pope,” the magazine said, accusing the United States of listening in to telephone calls to and from the Vatican, including the accommodation housing cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio before he was elected Pope Francis.

The allegations follow a report on surveillance website Cryptome which said the United States intercepted 46 million telephone calls in Italy in December 2012 and early January 2013.

Among those, “there are apparently also calls from and to the Vatican,” Panorama said.

“It is feared that the great American ear continued to tap prelates’ conversations up to the eve of the conclave,” it said, adding that there were “suspicions that the conversations of the future pope may have been monitored”.

Bergoglio “had been a person of interest to the American secret services since 2005, according to Wikileaks,” it said.

The bugged conversations were divided into four categories: “leadership intentions”, “threats to financial systems”, “foreign policy objectives” and “human rights,” it claimed.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said “we have heard nothing of this and are not worried about it.”

If true, the US spying would be an embarrassing blow to an institution famous for its secrecy.

The goings-on of the conclave are particularly clock-and-dagger, with a system installed in the Sistine chapel where the cardinals meet in order to scramble any mobile phone communications and excommunication for those who spill the beans.


Yahoo and Google furious over reports NSA secretly intercepts data links

Leaked files suggest NSA can collect information 'at will' by intercepting cables that connect Google and Yahoo's data hubs

Dominic Rushe, Spencer Ackerman and James Ball   
The Guardian, Thursday 31 October 2013  

Google and Yahoo, two of the world's biggest tech companies, reacted angrily to a report on Wednesday that the National Security Agency has secretly intercepted the main communication links that carry their users' data around the world.

Citing documents obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and interviews with officials, the Washington Post claimed the agency could collect information "at will" from among hundreds of millions of user accounts.

The documents suggest that the NSA, in partnership with its British counterpart GCHQ, is copying large amounts of data as it flows across fiber-optic cables that carry information between the worldwide data centers of the Silicon Valley giants. The intelligence activities of the NSA outside the US are subject to fewer legal constraints than its domestic actions.

The story is likely to put further strain on the already difficult relations between the tech firms and Washington. The internet giants are furious about the damage done to their reputation in the wake of Snowden's revelations.

In a statement, Google's chief legal officer, David Drummond, said the company was "outraged" by the latest revelations.

"We have long been concerned about the possibility of this kind of snooping, which is why we have continued to extend encryption across more and more Google services and links, especially the links in the slide," he said.

"We do not provide any government, including the US government, with access to our systems. We are outraged at the lengths to which the government seems to have gone to intercept data from our private fiber networks, and it underscores the need for urgent reform."

Yahoo said: "We have strict controls in place to protect the security of our data centers, and we have not given access to our data centers to the NSA or to any other government agency."

According to a top-secret document cited by the Post dated 9 January 2013, millions of records a day are sent from Yahoo and Google internal networks to NSA data warehouses at the agency's headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. The types of information sent ranged from "metadata", indicating who sent or received emails, the subject line and where and when, to content such as text, audio and video.

The Post's documents state that in the preceding 30 days, field collectors had processed and sent on 181,280,466 new records.

Internet firms go to great lengths to protect their data. But the NSA documents published by the Post appear to boast about their ability to circumvent those protections. In one presentation slide on "Google Cloud Exploitation," published by the Post, an artist has added a smiley face, in apparent celebration of the NSA's victory over Google security systems.

The Post said that the interception took place on the cables that connect the internet giants' data centers. The New York Times reported on Wednesday evening that one of the companies that provides such cables for Google was Level 3. It said in a statement provided to the Times: "We comply with the laws in each country where we operate. In general, governments that seek assistance in law enforcement or security investigations prohibit disclosure of the assistance provided."

In its report, the Post suggested the intercept project was codenamed Muscular, but the Guardian understands from other documents provided by Snowden that the term instead refers to the system that enables the initial processing of information gathered from NSA or GCHQ cable taps.

The data outputted from Muscular is then forwarded to NSA or GCHQ databases, or systems such as the XKeyscore search tool, previously reported by the Guardian.

The Post said that by collecting the data overseas, the NSA was able to circumvent the legal restrictions that prevent it from accessing the communications of people who live in the United States, and that it fell instead under an executive order, signed by the president, that authorised foreign intelligence operations.

In response, the NSA specifically denied that it used the presidential order to circumvent the restrictions on domestic spying, though the agency said nothing about the rest of the story.

The NSA statement said, in full: "NSA has multiple authorities that it uses to accomplish its mission, which is centered on defending the nation. The Washington Post's assertion that we use Executive Order 12333 collection to get around the limitations imposed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and FAA 702 is not true.

"The assertion that we collect vast quantities of US persons' data from this type of collection is also not true. NSA applies attorney general-approved processes to protect the privacy of US persons – minimizing the likelihood of their information in our targeting, collection, processing, exploitation, retention and dissemination.

"NSA is a foreign intelligence agency. And we're focused on discovering and developing intelligence about valid foreign intelligence targets only."

A GCHQ spokesman said: "We are aware of the story but we don't have any comment."

The NSA statement was much more narrowly drawn than the initial response by the agency's director, General Keith Alexander. At a Washington conference on Wednesday as the Post story broke, Alexander issued an immediate denial, but was not specifically asked to address allegations that the NSA intercepted data transiting between the companies' data centers.

The latest disclosures may shed new light on a reference in a GCHQ document, first reported in September by the Guardian, the New York Times and ProPublica. As part of its efforts with the NSA to defeat internet encryption, GCHQ, the 2012 document said, was working on developing ways into the major webmail providers, including Google and Yahoo. It added that "work has predominantly been focused this quarter on Google due to new access opportunities being developed".

Other documents provided to the Guardian by Snowden suggest that GCHQ's work on Muscular, and a related tool called Incensor, is regarded as particularly valuable by the NSA, providing intelligence unavailable from other sources.

"Muscular/Incensor has significantly enhanced the amount of benefit that the NSA derives from our special source access," one 2010 GCHQ document notes. It adds that this highlights "the unique contribution we are now making to NSA, providing insights into some of their highest priority targets".

Relations between the tech companies and the government are already strained over the Snowden revelations. Speaking at a tech conference in September, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg said the government had done a "bad job" of balancing people's privacy. "Frankly, I think the government blew it," he said.

Google will have its first turn before a legislative panel to confront surveillance questions next month. Senators Al Franken and Dean Heller, who are backing a bill to compel the government to provide more transparency about bulk surveillance, announced Wednesday that the Internet giant will send a representative to a Senate hearing they will hold on 13 November.


Boris Johnson defends Guardian over NSA revelations

Mayor of London says it is right that 'salient and interesting facts' about espionage are brought into public domain

Matthew Taylor, Wednesday 30 October 2013 17.07 GMT     

Link to video: Boris Johnson defends Guardian over NSA revelations

Boris Johnson has issued a staunch defence of the Guardian's "salient and interesting" revelations showing the extent of mass surveillance by US and UK intelligence agencies.

The mayor of London told an audience at the World Islamic Economic Forum on Wednesday that it was important that governments and their spies were held to account by a "beady-eyed" media.

"I think the public deserves to know," said Johnson. "The world is better for government being kept under the beady-eyed scrutiny of the media and for salient and interesting facts about public espionage being brought into the public domain."

Johnson's intervention puts him at odds with David Cameron, who has said the leaks based on files from the whistleblower Edward Snowden have made the UK less safe. This week the prime minister issued a veiled threat to take "tougher measures" against the Guardian and other newspapers unless they showed a more socially responsible attitude.

"I don't want to have to use injunctions or D notices or the other tougher measures," Cameron said. "I think it's much better to appeal to newspapers' sense of social responsibility. But if they don't demonstrate some social responsibility it would be very difficult for government to stand back and not to act."

Johnson highlighted the news that the German chancellor Angela Merkel's phone had been bugged by the US National Security Agency for a decade, a story originally reported in the German news weekly Der Spiegel.

"I personally defend the Guardian's right to publish interesting information such as that Angela Merkel's phone was bugged by Barack Obama. I think that is an interesting fact," he said. "I don't believe that the fact that Angela Merkel's phone was bugged by the NSA does anything to jeopardise anybody's security, it's merely colossally embarrassing and it should come out."

On Thursday the House of Commons will debate the oversight of the UK's intelligence agencies. The Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert, who is leading the debate along with Labour's Tom Watson and the Tory Dominic Raab, said the scale of the US and UK surveillance operation should act as a wake-up call to MPs.

"There is no doubt in my mind that we benefit from the intelligence and security agencies," Huppert wrote in an article for the Guardian. "Their work does help keep us safe. However, we must ensure that as parliamentarians and lawmakers we give them a clear framework to operate in and proper oversight, scrutiny and evaluation to keep them on track. They should welcome this as well."

Huppert said that under the current legal framework spies had an "almost completely free rein", and questioned whether the intelligence and security committee, which is supposed to scrutinise the agencies, was fit for purpose. "[It consists] of a small number of parliamentarians, handpicked by the prime minister, and includes ex-ministers who effectively scrutinise the decisions they themselves made. It is not clear to me they all understand the technical capabilities they are supposed to comment on."

Raab added his voice to the growing debate on Wednesday, saying he had seen no evidence that the Snowden revelations had damaged national security.

"Newspapers and politicians and members of the public have to make sure we don't impair this country's national security. But I have to say I haven't seen or heard or read anything which isn't really about political embarrassment for either the agencies or the government," Raab said. "I think we have to be very careful we don't let national security be a fig leaf to shout down proper debate about the oversight and accountability of the security services."


Finally, the review of the NSA's powers we should have had already

So, the Obama administration cares more about Angela Merkel's privacy than US citizens'. Never mind – if the NSA is reined in

Jeff Jarvis, Wednesday 30 October 2013 13.16 GMT          

What are we, we citizens of the United States and nations of the world: chopped liver? 

As Edward Snowden's leaks revealed that millions of Americans and their metadata were ensnared in the National Security Agency's collect-it-all dragnet, the White House and most of Congress – Senator Dianne Feinstein leading the defense – would brook no reconsideration. Citizens of other nations were treated as if they simply had no rights to avoid the NSA's widening glare.

But when German Chancellor Angela Merkel complained about reports that her mobile phone had been targeted for more than a decade … well, that is the moment when President Obama considers hitting the brakes on the NSA and stopping them from snooping on heads of state. That was the moment when Merkel herself stopped defending a policy of aiding the NSA and started questioning it. And that is the moment when Feinstein finally concedes that:"

    A total review of all intelligence programs is necessary.

Can't they see what this says to the rest of us? That when members of their own club, foreign or domestic, find themselves spied upon, that is worth outrage, apology, and change. But the rest of us? Chopped chicken liver. Everybody else? They're nobodies. Or to paraphrase the good pastor Niemöller:

    First they came for everyone and I didn't speak out because I'm not one of them.

No matter how it is inflicted, I'll take the chink in the NSA's armour. At long last, by whatever definition, someone in power is finally recognizing that the NSA has gone too far. So now can the debate begin? 

President Obama told ABC News:

    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.

At last, we stare down at the line between could and should.

If Merkel is right to feel violated by American spying – and she is – then why aren't we all right to share her anger? If Americans are angry, then why can't German and French and Spanish and Brazilian and British citizens be? If none of us is supposed to be surprised that governments spy on each other, can we at least be surprised now that so many of us fell under the net?

Senator Feinstein defended the collection of dots. But I wonder whether ever more dots makes it easier – or indeed, harder – to connect them. We and our communications and actions and connections and lives are merely dots in a database to them. Those dots are moments in our lives – and now theirs. 

But moving past understandable emotions of surprise, violation, and anger, can we now get to the heart of the matter: what does the NSA accomplish? What is the price of its curiosity? What are its limits? What are the principles we uphold even in the face of threats? What are our rights as citizens to know what our government is doing to us and to others on our behalf?

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Germany wants the Robin Hood tax – and Europe's voters do too

No argument against a financial transaction tax has stood up to scrutiny, so politicians must resist lobbying and see sense

Stephany Griffith-Jones, Wednesday 30 October 2013 14.10 GMT   

The path to implementing a tax on financial transactions (known as the FTT) was never going to be smooth. This week's announcement that the expected coalition between Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats in Germany will prioritise the tax's implementation, is a sign that the proposal remains on track. But any measure that taxes or regulates financial markets and banks will always meet concerted opposition.

In recent weeks, this has been growing from some quarters. The latest criticism, from France's central bank governor Christian Noyer, was splashed on the front page of Monday's Financial Times: "France central bank chief says Robin Hood tax is 'enormous risk'" ran the headline. As this extremely small tax is to be implemented by 11 European countries, it is appropriate to ask: an enormous risk for whom?

Certainly it will impact on trades with short time horizons – high-frequency traders, whose computer algorithms fire off thousands of trades in microseconds, will undoubtedly have their business dramatically curtailed. Yet this will significantly reduce rather than create risk. Many regulators are concerned about the risk of this high-frequency trading, which now accounts for over half of trades on the London Stock Exchange. As demonstrated by the infamous flash crash of May 2010, when liquidity drained from the market and the Dow Jones index dropped 9% in a matter of minutes, it poses a threat to wider economic stability.

By contrast, the impact on a typical long-term investor is likely to be negligible. There are already many transaction costs such as trading commissions, spreads, clearing, settlement, exchange fees and administration costs. Prof Avinash Persaud, a former JP Morgan executive, has estimated that the FTT of 0.1% on stocks and bonds, and 0.01% for derivatives will comprise of only 5% of annual transaction costs for long-term equity holders, taking levels back to those experienced 10 years ago. Compared to management fees – typically about 1% charged by many financial institutions which are now lining up to oppose the FTT – it is hard to conclude the tax will have more than a marginal impact on costs for long-term investors, like corporates and pension funds.

The net result is that an FTT would slow short-term trades, which are mainly unproductive, helping to reduce the risk of crises that are so detrimental to growth. Furthermore, the potential €30bn in revenue the European FTT could raise, could be invested productively, for example in infrastructure and innovation, encouraging much needed future growth and employment and making European countries more competitive.

Noyer and others worry unnecessarily that the tax will lead to an exodus of bankers from participating countries. But the issuer principle embedded in the EU proposal means that attempts by banks and their subsidiaries to duck the tax by migrating to other jurisdictions will not work, since the FTT would be paid by all those transacting the eleven countries' bonds and shares, wherever they are based. Thus the tax, from a transaction in say a French bond taking place between parties in New York and Singapore, will still be collected by French authorities.

But this need not be a debate about hypotheticals. Major financial sectors such as the United States, Hong Kong and South Korea already have FTTs which together raise tens of billions in revenue annually without causing economic damage. In the UK we have the very successful stamp duty, an FTT on share transactions that raises more than £3bn a year, of which 40% is paid by foreign-based investors and banks. It too rightly taxes all those trading UK shares, wherever they are based. This is the same principle on which the European FTT will be based.

Fortunately, the European commission is clearly supportive of the proposal, as is the European parliament. Eleven European countries, representing 66% of European GDP, remain committed to implementing the tax.

It is encouraging that in coalition talks between the German SPD and CDU, they achieved clear consensus on the FTT. This is not surprising, as in Germany 82% of citizens, according to Euro-barometer, support a European FTT. In France this figure reaches 72%, and the EU average is 64%. Let's hope politicians elsewhere will listen to their voters and fully implement the tax soon.

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« Reply #9665 on: Oct 31, 2013, 03:55 AM »

Maria case: Bulgarian authorities to take seven of her siblings into care

Sasha Ruseva, who says she gave Maria to another Roma family due to poverty, has nine children aged 2 to 20

Reuters in Sofia, Wednesday 30 October 2013 15.49 GMT   

Bulgarian authorities said on Wednesday they would take into care seven brothers and sisters of Maria, the four-year-old whose discovery in neighbouring Greece captured global attention.

DNA tests confirmed that Sasha Ruseva, 35, is Maria's biological mother. The child's blue eyes and blonde hair aroused the suspicions of Greek police when they raided a Roma camp this month.

Ruseva and her husband, both Bulgarian Roma, have nine other children aged between 2 and 20 and live in poverty, occupying one room in a crumbling house in the town of Nikolaevo, 170 miles (270km) east of Sofia.

TV footage, which showed the children in shabby clothes sleeping on a mud floor and speaking little Bulgarian, sparked public outrage.

"We decided to accommodate four of the kids with foster families," Diana Kaneva, head of the agency for social assistance in the area, told Reuters on Wednesday.

"Two children will be sent to a state institution and one will be placed with relatives of the family," she said, adding that the measures were temporary and contacts between children and their parents would be encouraged by social workers.

Two of the couple's children are over 18 and not subject to state protection.

Maria (above), dubbed the blonde angel by Greek media, is now in the care of the Athens-based charity Smile of the Child.

On Tuesday Bulgarian authorities said they would take steps to bring her back to the Balkan country.

Ruseva, who said she left Maria as a seven-month-old baby with a couple in the Roma community in Greece because she was too poor to care for her, has also said she would like to take her back.

Both parents are unemployed and live on welfare payments. Ruseva is under investigation over whether she was paid for handing over her child – a claim she denies. The couple in Greece have been charged with abducting a minor and detained.

The case has illustrated the plight of Roma gypsies in Bulgaria, the EU's poorest member state.

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« Reply #9666 on: Oct 31, 2013, 04:00 AM »

10/30/2013 06:14 PM

Tymoshenko Release: Ukraine's Geopolitical Future Hangs on Deal

By Christopher Alessi

EU negotiators have arrived in Ukraine to try to secure the release of imprisoned former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. A successful agreement will pave the way for a free trade deal and unprecedented cooperation between the EU and Ukraine -- as well as a new rift with Russia.

European Union mediators returned to Ukraine Tuesday to negotiate the release of imprisoned former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in a last-ditch effort to salvage a pending EU-Ukraine association agreement.

The treaty, set to be signed at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius on Nov. 28, includes a sweeping free trade deal between the EU and Ukraine. The pact is expected to deepen Ukrainian engagement with the country's western neighbors, while exacerbating tensions with Russia. Moscow has vehemently opposed Ukraine's economic integration with the EU, and has pressured it to join a trade bloc known as the Customs Union with other former Soviet countries.

Experts say the EU association agreement could pay dividends for Ukraine over the long term -- both economically and politically -- but warn that Kiev may lack the political resolve to implement the reforms that would make such a partnership fruitful.

'More Rule of Law'

The deal, which requires Ukraine to adopt a number of EU governance and trade standards, could encourage "more rule of law and move Ukraine slowly but steadily into the European fold," says Georg Zachmann, a research fellow at the Bruegel think tank. Or, Zachmann says, once the deal is attained, Ukraine could ultimately "lose its motivation" to implement painful political and economic adjustments.

Ukraine may simply see the agreement as a "card" it can play in a complex geopolitical game with its powerful eastern neighbor, says Susan Stewart, deputy head of research at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. "The Ukrainian political elite think in a very short-term way," she adds. Stewart suggests the EU has overestimated Ukraine's "level of political will and administrative capacity."

Still, it remains unclear whether the two sides will even make it to the table in Vilnius next month. The sticking point for the EU remains Ukraine's so-called "selective justice," driven by a highly politicized judiciary system.

A Full Pardon

The EU mediation team -- led by former European Parliament President Pat Cox and former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski for over a year -- has called on Ukrainian President Viktor Yankukovich to grant a full pardon to Tymoshenko. The opposition leader was jailed in 2011 for seven years following a trial that the EU deemed politically motivated. Yankukovich has resisted granting Tymoschenko amnesty, but indicated she could be released to Germany on medical grounds. The mediators are focusing on a compromise under which Tymoshenko, 52, can travel to Germany to receive medical treatment for spinal problems.

"All logic dictates that she will be released, but the ability of the Ukrainian government to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory is quite high," says Ian Bond, the director of foreign policy at the Center for European Reform. Bond adds that he remains "cautiously optimistic."

If a deal is brokered and the association agreement proceeds, Russia is likely to increase economic pressure on Ukraine by imposing new tariffs and forbidding certain exports, explains Stewart. If the agreement stalls, she adds, Russia could see an opportunity to force Ukraine to join the Customs Union.

The Kremlin has adopted a position by which "anything that takes Ukraine further away from Moscow's orbit is bad for Russia," says Bond.

Just as Cox and Kwasniewski arrived in Kiev, Russia's state-backed gas company, Gazprom, accused Ukraine of failing to pay an $882 million (€641 million) bill dating to August. Russia, Ukraine's largest energy provider, cut off shipments to Ukraine in the winters of 2006 and 2009 over similar payment disputes, with freezing incidental effects for Western Europe.

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« Reply #9667 on: Oct 31, 2013, 04:26 AM »


Pig Putin's anointment by Forbes as the world's No 1 hombre is jaw-dropping

The Russian leader is top of Forbes magazine's power-list, but that power is merely illusory

Simon Tisdall   
The Guardian, Thursday 31 October 2013   

For a self-styled man's man in a mean man's world, Forbes magazine's decision to anoint Pig Putin as the planet's most powerful hombre risks raising his notoriously volatile machismo to bursting point.

The pint-sized Russian leader does not deserve this ego-inflating boost. Russia's prime minister, ex-president and much-muscled main man is already basking in the spurious role of peacemaker after he (and others) persuaded the Syrian regime to surrender its chemical weapons, indirectly heading off a US military strike.

This double-edged diplomatic coup is presumably one of the reasons why Forbes's editors accorded him the No 1 slot in this year's 72-strong power list, ahead of Barack Obama, China's Xi Jinping, and Pope Francis, in that order. They seem to forget the Syrian civil war is still raging unchecked, fuelled by Russian arms.

Pig Putin's penchant for having himself filmed bare-chested, riding feisty mustangs or facing down bemused Siberian wildlife with large guns plays to the male power image. So, too, does his not-forgotten intimidation of German chancellor Angela Merkel (No 5 on the power list) with a large dog in one of their first meetings.

But the Forbes power-pickers seem happy to swallow all that. They also appear overly impressed by Pig Putin's decision to give safe haven to Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower. "Anyone watching this year's chess match over Syria and NSA leaks has a clear idea of the shifting individual power dynamic [between the Pig and Obama]," said Forbes's Caroline Howard.

Her logic is difficult to follow. Snowden acted on a matter of conscience and point of principle – not the way the Pig does things. People who follow their consciences in Pig Putin's Russia have a way of ending up in jail, as many political opponents and the Greenpeace Arctic 30 can testify.

Pig Putin's rise comes as Obama's stock has fallen. His perceived dithering over Syria cost him support in Congress and abroad while the recent US government shutdown, when the president appeared a hostage to events, angered the American public and worried the international markets. Fairly or not, Obama was seen as weak and vacillating.

But the praise for Pig Putin from Forbes, a magazine that supposedly champions individual free enterprise, as a man who "has solidified his control over Russia", is jaw-dropping. If power is to be measured by the successful imposition of authoritarian governance, then surely Kim Jong-un, North Korea's dictator, should be Forbes' No 1? On this basis, Saddam Hussein and Joseph Stalin would qualify for emeritus awards.

In point of fact, Pig Putin's power is largely illusory – a false idol erected and nurtured by a phalanx of Kremlin cronies, and maintained through control of Russia's fast-depleting oil and gas revenues and an ever more repressive grip on civil society and the media.

As a former British ambassador to Moscow pointed out in a recent Guardian interview, Russia's economic power is faltering amid entrenched structural problems, under-investment, capital flight, a brain drain and adverse demographic trends that the Pig's policies have only exacerbated.

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

Russian cold war era influence in the Middle East has largely been eclipsed by the US, hence Moscow's last-ditch stand in defence of the Assad regime. In Asia, China and Indonesia are the big new players, and likewise China in Africa.

Even in eastern and southern Europe, Russia's attempts to maintain leverage over former allies and satellites is failing. Poland, former East Germany and Czechoslovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia (plus the rest of former Yugoslavia), and Georgia have already gone west, while Ukraine and Moldova are set to move into the EU's orbit at (Nov)November's Vilnius summit.

Forbes's concept of power looks strangely warped in respect of other individuals. Women such as Merkel (5), Brazil's Dilma Rousseff (20), and India's Sonia Gandhi (21) are rightly chosen. But there is no place on the list for Hillary Clinton, the former first lady and US secretary of state who may well become the next US president.

The idea that David Cameron (11) or Mario Draghi (who he?) (9) or King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (Cool have more global pull and influence than the internationally high profile Clinton is plain daft.


'They've got all they want,' says not-so-rich Alexander Lebedev

Russian businessman says campaign to destroy businesses has left him with 'some potato and cereal production'

Shaun Walker in Moscow, Wednesday 30 October 2013 20.19 GMT       

There was a time when Alexander Lebedev's fortune ran into billions, but these days his claims are rather more modest. "We are now the biggest exporter in the whole of Russia of the flakes used to make mashed potato," said the former KGB operative, now a businessman and newspaper owner.

Last year Forbes estimated his wealth and assets at $1.1bn, but Lebedev says that a concerted campaign to destroy his businesses by angry victims of his anti-corruption investigations has left him with "some potato and cereal production" in the Russian regions, and little else.

"They have got everything they want," he said, during an interview at his mansion in central Moscow. "They have destroyed my bank and rescinded the licence for my airline, but I still have my potato production, which is going extremely well. There will be a $2m profit this year, but that's not even enough to fund the papers."

Lebedev declined to answer further questions on the potential repercussions for the Independent and Evening Standard, the two British newspapers he owns jointly with his son Evgeny.

Lebedev will soon begin several weeks of community service for punching fellow tycoon Sergei Polonsky during a 2011 television show. At the last minute the prosecutors dropped charges of hooliganism motivated by political hatred, which could have seen him jailed for several years.

The sentence delivered by a Moscow court earlier this year will be served in the village of Popovka, a drive of several hours from the Russian capital, where the headquarters of his potato farming operation are based. He says the work will most probably involve helping out in a kindergarten, although it will be up to local authorities to select the punishment. He has to work 150 hours over the course of several weeks, during which time his passport will be confiscated and he will be banned from travelling.

Lebedev changed his official place of residence from Moscow to Popovka earlier this month, to ensure that the punishment would be doled out there and not in the capital.

"In Moscow, all the Russian media would be following me around with a broom, whereas this will be a good chance to throw some light on provincial life in this country," says Lebedev.

The businessman previously said he believed the case was brought against him due to anger among Russian officials at his quasi-opposition stance and the personal hatred of Russia's chief investigator Alexander Bastrykin towards the Russian newspaper he part-owns, Novaya Gazeta. Now, however, he insists this is "maybe one percent" of the reason, and is sure that "the Kremlin has nothing to do with it".

Instead, he blames a cabal of Russian businessmen scared by his investigations into their ill-gotten gains.

He says the court case was "a tiny part" of a well-financed conspiracy against him.

"Some of my investigations have come to the point where they could have very serious consequences for people," he said. "If you've stolen a couple of billion then you can afford to spend a few million on this stuff."

Lebedev says he wants to renew his focus on global anti-corruption initiatives as well as his potato farming, and has written a letter and repeated Twitter messages to the US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, asking US authorities to set up an international body to fight corruption.

Lebedev says he wants to set up "a kind of Interpol" that would stop fraudsters and corrupt businessmen from laundering their money in offshore havens and western countries.


Pig Putin's USB spy sticks and other dodgy espionage tricks

Did Russian secret agents hope to bug G20 delegates with USB sticks? If so, they wouldn't be the only spooks to go to absurd lengths to find out what their enemies were up to

Press Association, Wednesday 30 October 2013 21.20 GMT   

Claims that the Russian government spied on G20 delegates earlier this year by dishing out phone chargers and USB sticks loaded with information-grabbing software are simultaneously terrifying and hilarious, not least because they suggest that people actually use the useless bumf that gets flung at them at conferences. However, it's by no means history's first cartoonishly audacious spy tactic. Here are some others:

• During the Vietnam war, the US government opted to track the Viet Cong using seismometers to detect enemy movement in the jungle. In a flash of genius, the instruments were designed to look like tiger poo. They blended in with the surroundings, and were never spotted because nobody wants to go rifling though piles of dung looking for spy equipment.

• It has never been proved, but this year a BBC documentary claimed that Uri Geller may have harnessed his psychic abilities for the CIA. He apparently wiped floppy discs with the power of his mind, located Syrian weapon factories with the power of his mind and beamed a message about CIA funding directly into Jimmy Carter's brain, with the power of his mind. There's a chance that we live in a world where Uri Geller is James Bond. This is frightening.

• In 2006, Russia claimed that Britain had been trying to spy on it via a listening device hidden inside a fake plastic rock. Which would be a terrible accusation had it not been completely true. The rock was so wildly unrealistic that a local TV report showed people slowing down as they passed it, picking it up to inspect it and kicking it around like a football. "They had us bang to rights," said former UK chief of staff Jonathan Powell last year.

• Immediately after Estonia declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, locals discovered what had long been rumoured but never proved – the KGB had comprehensively bugged Tallinn's biggest hotel, the Viru. A secret top floor was found to be jammed with listening equipment, there were listening devices in doors and fixtures and dinner plates, and old ladies stationed at each lift to note the passing of all the guests.

• But you can't blame spies for everything. When five tourists in the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh were attacked by sharks in a six-day period in 2010, there were any number of explanations. Perhaps the sharks' natural prey had been overfished. Perhaps they were attracted to the area because dead animals had been thrown overboard by a passing ship. Yet South Sinai governor Mohamed Abdul Fadil Shousha couldn't help but suspect Mossad. He refused to rule out the possibility of Israel's secret serviceindoctrinating sharks (or bunging agents in shark costumes and ordering them to eat people) in a ploy to sabotage the tourism industry in Egypt. Israel said the accusation was "ludicrous".


Sofia Gubaidulina: unchained melodies

Even being denounced by the Soviet authorities didn't stop Sofia Gubaidulina from writing some of the 20th century's most sublime religious music. Over tea at her remote home, she shares stories of censorship, Shostakovich and survival with Stuart Jeffries

Stuart Jeffries   
The Guardian, Thursday 31 October 2013   
One day in 1973, Sofia Gubaidulina was attacked in the lift of her Moscow apartment building. The man started to strangle her. The composer thought grimly that this was the end and, if so, her chief regret was that she would never complete the bassoon concerto on which she'd been working. "I'm not afraid of death but of violence," she told her biographer later. She got exasperated with her attacker. "Why so slow?" she asked. Amazingly, the words scared him off.

Who was he? "Friends have said it must have been a KGB agent, but it could have just been a crazy person," she says, over black tea and biscuits at the house in Appen, a village north of Hamburg, where she now lives. Perhaps: but more likely her friends were right – the KGB had already turned over her apartment searching for dissident writers' microfilms and samizdats.

In any case, Gubaidulina was often trouble to the Soviet authorities. She consorted with dissidents(notably her second husband Nikolai Bokov, dared to attend unauthorised western music festivals, wrote music that expressed religious convictions and was ultimately blacklisted at the Sixth Congress of the Composers of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – denounced, along with six other composers, for producing "noisy mud instead of real musical innovation". She thus became one of the Khrennikov Seven, most of whom then went into exile – including her close friend Viktor Suslin, with whom she had played in an improv folk ensemble.

But not Gubaidulina. "Being blacklisted and so unperformed gave me artistic freedom, even if I couldn't earn much money," she says. "I could write what I wanted without compromise."

On the mantelpiece behind the 82-year-old composer is the Golden Lion she won at the Venice festival earlier this summer. Half a lifetime after that attempted strangling, Venice honoured her for a musical career "permeated by a spirituality that is both delicate and incandescent, and that has brought her fame and admiration around the world". She completed not just the bassoon concerto, but went on to write many other extraordinary works, a handful of which can be heard at London's Southbank Centre this weekend.

Two in particular give a sense of her oeuvre, notably Offertorium (the violin concerto she wrote for compatriot Gidon Kremer) and her third string quartet, which includes two prerecorded tapes: one with instruments tuned a quarter tone higher than the live instruments and the other an extended ricochet produced by a ball bouncing across the strings.

Over tea, Gubaidulina had been trying to explain the differences between what she suffered during the Brezhnev years and what previous generations of composers endured. "Shostakovich withdrew works rather than face jail under Stalin," she recalls. "He had to compromise, and write music in response to what he was obliged to call 'just criticism'." Andrei Zhdanov, the Soviet politician whose doctrine was known as zhdanovshchina, notoriously attempted to define permissible revolutionary art and labelled what he called "incorrect art" as counter-revolutionary. What would she have done in Shostakovich's shoes? "Withdrawn the music! Who wants to go to jail? I was freer than him or Prokofiev. They suffered so much from politics. We didn't. It wasn't life or death for us."

Really? But what about the stranglings and state denunciations? She looks up through her fringe as she sits hunched and thoughtful on the edge of her green leather sofa. "Artists almost never have easy lives."

Her life was steeled against such adversities when, in 1959, she met Shostakovich and played for him on the piano the symphony she had written for her final examination as a student of composition. He praised it and said: "My wish for you is that you should continue on your own incorrect path." That "incorrect" was resonant, certainly for anyone who'd suffered under zhdanovshchina: the greatest Soviet composer was encouraging the twentysomething student to go her own way.

"I am grateful the whole of my life for those wonderful words," she says. "They fortified me and were exactly what a young composer needed to hear from an older one. It gave me the courage to follow my own path."

That path is a complicated one that takes us through the thickets of 12-tone serialism, post-serial microtonal Russian music, outré folk music improvisations using Georgian hunting horns, mysticism and exile. But one bright thread led through this: she has always insisted that her music must aim at reuniting mankind with God.

Gubaidulina was born in poverty in the Tatarstan capital of Kazan in the early 1930s. The granddaughter of an imam whose father was a Soviet engineer, the five-year-old Sofia would dance entranced down the street as she followed one Shurka Durak (which translates as Shurka the Knucklehead), an itinerant accordionist. It was her first musical love: "I loved then, as now, the instrument's ability to breathe – no other orchestral instrument has this." You can hear the fruits of that obsession in mature works for classical accordion such as the sonata Et Exspecto, in which, apart from tremolandi, quiet chorale sounds and toccata moments, one hears the uncanny breathing of the instrument as the soloist squeezes the bellows.

It was the piano, however, that would become the musical centre of her life. Her parents bought an "awful" baby grand on which her sister Vera would play the keys while Sofia fiddled with the strings. Just like John Cage, I suggest. "Yes! You can really say that we were given riches by our very poverty," she says. "I wanted to become a composer from very early because I was convinced there was too little music in the world. We needed more." She smiles: "Maybe I was wrong in believing that."

Gubaidulina's development as a composer, which took her to conservatories in Kazan and Moscow, was crucially influenced by her relationship with her third husband, musicologist and conductor Pyotr Meshchaninov. He taught that the 12 tones were not enough: the octave could be divided into 72 units. He also suggested that music evolved through eras – that there was linear period, followed by harmonic and sonoristic periods. "I realised that as a composer of a sonoristic age I must focus on rhythm, and that was what led me to increasingly use the Fibonacci system in dividing up rhythm and time in my music. The Fibonacci system is always about approaching the divine."

No doubt, I suggest, all this divine numerology exasperated Soviet socialist realists. But is it fair to characterise the spiritual nature of her music simply as a counterblast to the atheism and materialism of Soviet society? That, after all, is how her work is characterised in the programme notes for The Rest Is Noise festival's Politics and Spirituality chapter, where her music is programmed with works by fellow eastern European Christians, including the Estonian Arvo Pärt andthe Pole Henryk Górecki.

But wouldn't her music have been equally spiritual even if she hadn't been born and raised in the anti-religious Soviet Union? "True art for me is always religious, it will always involve collaborating with God."

In this she is a true follower of Nikolai Berdyaev, the Russian philosopher exiled from his homeland by Bolsheviks in 1922. Berdyaev proposed that creative humans continue the process that God initiated in creating the world from the void. God, as it were, needs us to continue his work. And yet every creative act involves a "traitorous compromise with time" since inspiration is always mangled in realisation. "It is this compromise," wrote Berdyaev in The Meaning of the Creative Act, "That fills the whole realm of culture with a great sadness and leaves an insurmountable bitterness at the heart of every creative being."

"All this means a great deal to me," says Gubaidulina. "That is the sadness at the heart of my music." Perhaps that sadness is just a Russian thing: at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music festival in 1986 she said: "Russian music is always about pain." Or perhaps it's not just Russian. Indeed, she says she found a kindred spirit in TS Eliot when she read the Four Quartets. "His thinking about time – that past, present and future contain each other – very much struck my mystical thoughts about eternity." It led her to write Hommage à TS Eliot (1987) for octet and soprano in which she set some of Eliot's verses.

More pertinently, though, she felt a close affinity with Eliot for what he wrote in Four Quartets, that every attempt to create verse "is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure". "My music is like that," she says. "All my work is just attempts. I know that when I write that it will never fulfil my intuitive hopes for it – that is why it is sad."

One of the intriguing things about Gubaidulina is that, for all she suffered under the Soviet system, it was only after it collapsed that she left her homeland. "It was hard to live – there were shortages and life was easier in Germany. I have never considered myself an exile – I go back to Russia a lot." Then why not live there? "Until I came here I always lived in cities but that is increasingly impossible. I need silence to write. Here I have the woods around me, in which I can walk without interruption. I live in a village with only two roads." She chuckles. "It turns out that's not remote enough: Günter Grass says he lives in a village with only one road."

She has been creatively fruitful in Appen, not least writing Sonnengesang (1997) for the great exiled Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, and her St John Passion (2000), a homage to her beloved JS Bach. But the fecundity came to an abrupt halt last year. "It was a crisis year. I thought I would never write again." No wonder perhaps: her third husband and her daughter died, and, that summer, her friend Viktor Suslin, who had settled in this same village years previously. Today she lives a solitary life – except for Suslin's widow, a few doors down, and musical admirers from around the world.

Earlier this year, though, she returned to writing, composing a chamber piece called So Sei Es (So Be It), dedicated to Suslin. The title becomes the refrain of the last few minutes of our meeting. Will you write more? "I am old, and it is harder to write than ever."

It's nearly dusk as I kiss Sofia Gubaidulina goodbye. "But so be it," she says. "Whatever I write is just an attempt. For us human beings nothing is ever realised as we imagine. What we do is just attempts. That's our lot. So be it."

• Sofia Gubaidulina is talking at The Rest Is Noise festival on 2 November. Details:


October 30, 2013

Activists Feel Powerful Wrath as Russia Guards Its Arctic Claims


MOSCOW — Gizem Akhan, 24, was about to begin her final year studying the culinary arts at Yeditepe University in Istanbul. Tomasz Dziemianczuk, 36, took a vacation from his job as a cultural adviser at the University of Gdansk in Poland that has now unexpectedly turned into an unpaid leave of absence.

Dmitri Litvinov, 51, is a veteran activist who as a child spent four years in Siberian exile after his father, Pavel, took part in the Red Square protest against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

“I didn’t expect my son to get in their clutch,” the elder Mr. Litvinov said in a telephone interview from Irvington, N.Y., where he settled to teach physics in nearby Tarrytown after being expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974.

Dmitri Litvinov and the others are just three of the 30 people aboard a Greenpeace International ship, the Arctic Sunrise, who are now confined in separate cells in the far northern city of Murmansk after staging a high-seas protest last month against oil exploration in the Arctic. All face criminal charges that could result in years in prison as a result of having grossly underestimated Russia’s readiness to assert — and even expand — its sovereignty in a region potentially rich with natural resources.

The vigorous legal response by the authorities, including the seizure of the ship itself, appears to have caught Greenpeace off guard and left the crew’s families and friends worried that the consequences of what the activists considered a peaceful protest could prove much graver than any expected when they set out.

“Naturally, every time Gizem sets out on a protest I feel anxious,” Ms. Akhan’s mother, Tulay, said in written responses delivered through Greenpeace. “I’m a mother, and most of the time she doesn’t even tell us she is participating. I’ve known the risks but couldn’t have foreseen that we would come face to face with such injustice.”

Critics of the government of President Pig Putin have added the crew of the Arctic Sunrise to a catalog of prisoners here who have faced politically motivated or disproportionate punishment for challenging the state. Among them are the former oil tycoon Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, the punk performers of Pussy Riot and the protesters awaiting trial more than a year after violence broke out on the day of Mr. Putin’s inauguration last year.

But there is one crucial difference: Most of those who were aboard the Arctic Sunrise are foreigners.

They hail from 18 nations. Two of them, Denis Sinyakov of Russia and Kieron Bryan of Britain, are freelance journalists who joined the crew to chronicle the ship’s voyage, which began in Amsterdam and ended on Sept. 19 when Russian border guards borne by helicopters descended on the ship in the Pechora Sea.

Alexandra Harris of Britain, 27, was on her first trip to the Arctic. Camila Speziale, 21, of Argentina, was on her first trip at sea. Others were veteran Greenpeace activists, including the American captain, Peter Willcox, who was skipper of the Rainbow Warrior in 1985 when French secret service agents bombed it at dockside in Auckland, New Zealand, leading to the drowning of a photographer, Fernando Pereira.

The activists knew the protest was risky. Two of them, Sini Saarela of Finland and Marco Weber of Switzerland, tried to scale the offshore oil platform in the Pechora Sea owned by Russia’s state energy giant, Gazprom.

They plunged into the icy waters after guards sprayed water from fire hoses and fired warning shots, and they were plucked from the sea by a Russian coast guard ship and held as “guests.” The next day, Sept. 19, however, the Arctic Sunrise was seized by border guards in international waters.

Greenpeace staged a similar but more successful protest in the summer of 2012. In that instance, activists, including Greenpeace’s executive director, Kumi Naidoo, scaled the same platform and unfurled a banner. After several hours, they departed, and the Russian authorities did not pursue any charges.

The authorities have shown little sign of leniency since the ship’s seizure, despite an international campaign by Greenpeace to draw attention to the prosecutions and even an appeal from Italy’s oil giant Eni, a partner of Gazprom, to show clemency for the crew, which includes an Italian, Cristian D’Alessandro.

The prosecution of the Arctic Sunrise crew has punctuated Pig Putin's warnings that he would not tolerate any infringement on Russia’s development in the Arctic. The region has become a focus of political and economic strategy for the Kremlin as its natural resources have become more accessible because of the warming climate.

When the government of the Netherlands, where Greenpeace International is based, filed an appeal to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea to have the ship and crew released, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it would not recognize the tribunal’s jurisdiction, citing the country’s sovereignty. The tribunal has scheduled a hearing on the Dutch claim anyway, but unless Russia seeks a compromise that would free the prisoners, the crew could be detained for months awaiting trial.

Greenpeace’s activists and their cause have not found much sympathy in Russia, their fate shaped in part by hostile coverage on state-owned or state-controlled television. The main state network, Channel One, recently broadcast an analysis that suggested that Greenpeace’s protest had been orchestrated by powerful backers with economic incentives to undermine Gazprom.

After their formal arrest on Sept. 24, the crew members appeared one by one in court and were charged with piracy and ordered held at least until Nov. 24. One by one their appeals for bail were denied. Last week, the regional investigative committee reduced the charges to hooliganism, a crime that nonetheless carries a penalty of up to seven years in prison.

The committee raised the possibility of new charges against some crew members that could result in longer sentences upon conviction.

According to Greenpeace and relatives, the prisoners have not been mistreated in the detention center where they are now held, next to Murmansk’s morgue. They have had access to lawyers and diplomats from their respective countries. They are allowed care packages delivered by Greenpeace, occasional phone calls and sporadic visits from those relatives who can make it to Murmansk. The captain and chief engineer were taken to visit and inspect the Arctic Sunrise, now moored in Murmansk’s port.

Conditions, though, are grim.

In letters or phone calls to their families, they have described small, unheated cells, unappetizing meals and Russian cellmates who smoke relentlessly. They spend 23 hours a day in their cells, with only an hour of exercise a day in an enclosed courtyard and the periodic visits with lawyers or trips to court for a hearing. “It’s very cold now,” Ms. Harris, the activist from Britain on her first Greenpeace operation in the Arctic, wrote in a letter to her parents and brother that was widely cited in the British press: “It snowed last night. The blizzard blew my very poorly insulated window open and I had to sleep wearing my hat.”

She went on to express a measure of resolve, saying she practiced yoga in her cell and tapped on the wall to the music piped in, but she also wrote of uncertainty in a confinement that she compared to slowly dying.

“I heard that from December Murmansk is dark for six weeks,” she wrote. “God, I hope I’m out by then.”

Reporting was contributed by Andrew Roth and Patrick Reevell from Moscow, Ceylan Yeginsu from Istanbul, and Joanna Berendt from Warsaw.


IOC president says gays will be welcomed equally at Sochi Games

• Thomas Bach has received assurances from the Pig
• Russian president in talks after anti-gay law controversy

Press Association, Wednesday 30 October 2013 21.20 GMT   

Thomas Bach is confident there will be no discrimination against gay athletes and visitors at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The International Olympic Committee president said he had received assurances from Vladimir Putin that everyone travelling to the February event would be welcomed equally "regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation".

The German met with the Russian president on Monday to seek assurances over Russia's controversial anti-gay law, which has overshadowed the build-up to the Games.

Bach said in a statement from the IOC: "All visitors travelling to Sochi for the Games regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation will be welcomed here equally – this has been made very clear by the Russian authorities.

"The Games themselves are open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media, and, of course, athletes. This is a principal pillar of the Olympic movement that will be upheld in Sochi."

The law, which was enacted in June and prohibits "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors", has been widely condemned. It hit the headlines during August's World Athletics Championships in Moscow and led to calls to boycott the Games amid fears that gay athletes and visitors could be discriminated against.


Siberian education officials: Halloween is ‘propaganda of the cult of death’

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 30, 2013 12:37 EDT

Officials in a Siberian region on Wednesday banned Halloween parties from school classrooms, warning that they foster extremism and encourage children to dabble in a “cult of death”.

The education ministry of the Omsk region in Siberia sent out a letter telling schools that “holidays that are propaganda for extremist moods will not be celebrated,” its website said Wednesday.

Halloween, a pagan holiday celebrated widely worldwide on October 31, has become increasingly popular with young Russians who hold fancy-dress parties and go to themed club nights.

The Omsk education authority said it reacted after a warning from the regional Parents’ Assembly, a conservative lobby group.

Celebrating Halloween has “negative consequences” because of its “mystical content and propaganda of the cult of death,” the regional ministry said.

The Russian Orthodox Church’s head of public affairs, Vsevolod Chaplin, has also warned against getting drawn into the occult through Hallowe’en customs.

“People only think it’s a laugh – harmless and fun. The evil spirits think otherwise,” he told the RIA Novosti news agency.

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« Last Edit: Oct 31, 2013, 04:39 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #9668 on: Oct 31, 2013, 04:28 AM »

Poland: Farewell to ‘a man of dialogue’

Gazeta Wyborcza,
29 October 2013

The entire Polish press speaks with one voice in bidding farewell to Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the country’s first prime minister after the fall of communism in 1989, who died on October 28.

Adam Michnik, current editor-in-chief at Gazeta Wyborcza and a former leader of the anti-communist opposition movement between 1968-1989, pens a tribute to his former colleague in a startling black-and-white front page, writing that Mazowiecki “knew Polish misery and glory” like no other and “for a long time was a symbol of the democratic opposition and the Solidarity trade union”.

Michnik stresses that Mazowiecki

    was a man of dialogue – who could engage with people from opposite camps [...] He was an example of a patriot free of national egotism and ethnic nationalism. He was a democrat who respected pluralism and the ability to compromise.

Mazowiecki was often criticised for the so called “Thick Line” policy, in which he aimed to draw a line under the country’s past and focus on the future but which was often misinterpreted as a reluctance to settle scores with members of the communist regime.

However, now even former opponents such as Bogusław Chrabota, editor-in-chief of the conservative Rzeczpospolita salute Mazowiecki’s courage

    In 1989, he embarked on a mission that he knew was nearly hopeless. Did he make mistakes? At that time, I thought there were plenty of them: inconsistent vetting [...], languid decommunisation, lack of bold reprivatisation. Today, I have doubts as to whether this could really have been done any differently and faster.

Tadeusz Mazowiecki will be buried on November 3 with highest honours, while President Bronisław Komorowski is also considering declaring a period of national mourning.

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« Reply #9669 on: Oct 31, 2013, 04:30 AM »

Portugal: ‘10,000 people leave Portugal every month’

Diário de Notícias,
30 October 2013

The number of Portuguese workers leaving the country hit a new annual high last year, with the departure of 121,418 – ahead of the previous record set in 1966 when just over 120,000 left, according to National Statistics Institute data.

Every month an average of 10,118 people depart – mainly to France, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the UK and former Portuguese colony Angola – and this trend looks set to continue, writes Diário de Notícias.

The newspaper adds that "today’s exodus is different from the 1966 one,” in which –

    the people who emigrated were mainly workers without higher education, who sent most of the money they earned to Portugal. Today’s emigrants are characteristically youngsters with higher education who are leaving to work in other European countries after being educated at Portuguese expense.

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« Reply #9670 on: Oct 31, 2013, 04:31 AM »

Czech Republic: ‘Putschists back down’

Lidové noviny ,
30 October 2013

Three days after the leadership of the Social Democratic Party (ČSSD) excluded party chairman Bohuslav Sobotka from negotiations to form a coalition government, and instead entrusted this task to deputy chairman Michal Hašek, support for the “putschists” has declined to the point where they have now declared that they are ready to accept a compromise, reports Lidové noviny.

What the daily describes as a partisan “coup d'état” was prompted by the party’s worse than expected results in elections on October 25 and 26. Its failure “will not only come as a blow to the ambitious Michal Hašek, but more importantly for President Zeman, who has now experienced his second defeat in just a few hours,” remarks Lidové noviny, alluding to the poor performance of Zemen’s Party of Civic Rights (SPOZ), which only polled 1.5 per cent of the vote. Miloš Zeman was hoping to avenge Sobotka’s failure to support him in 2003 presidential elections.

Sobotka is now preparing for negotiations with the ANO movement led by billionaire Andrej Babiš and the Christian democrats with a view to forming a centre-left government.

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« Reply #9671 on: Oct 31, 2013, 04:33 AM »

France: Openness or revolt, Hollande must choose

30 October 2013 Paris   

Sagging in the polls, battered from both left and right and up against a surging wave of social protest, the French president has his back to the wall. His only way out is finally to “de-Marxify" the left, writes a columnist. Excerpts.

Eric Le Boucher

So, here we are. This is the key moment in the strategic manoeuvre that François Hollande started, and he is caught in the crossfire from his own camp and the right. Can he emerge from it still standing?

I believe that François Hollande’s task is to finally convert French socialism into social democracy: that he must de-Marxify the left. He has inherited a party that – and this is the fault of all socialist leaders including himself – has come up with a topsy-turvy analysis of the crisis, calling for a return of class struggle! The struggle “against” capital!

The Socialist Party (PS) has not entered the 21st century. Instead, seeking refuge, it has crawled back into the 19th. For it, the central question is inequality: the rich must be taxed. Following his election Hollande has been hobbled by advisers and ministers who believe this. He presides over a parliament filled with politicians who believe this.

As a candidate, Hollande understood that the crisis was undoubtedly more complex than this lazy reasoning would have it. He didn’t promise a lot. He dared to say that the start of the five-year term would be hard, and that the fruits would not ripen until the second half. He is prudent – some would say a ditherer.
Lack of intellectual clout
The problem with François Hollande is that he is not an intellectual, and it is his fundamental weakness. He lacks a vision

The problem with François Hollande is that he is not an intellectual, and it is his fundamental weakness. He lacks a vision. Realistic and pragmatic, he was quick to grasp that the socialist software had become obsolete, but he has nothing to put in its place, except trial-and-error and a taste for compromise. He makes guess-timates on the balance of power. A man of small cobbled-together compromises, he has no grand compromise to offer between socialism and modernity.

It is this absence that explains why, despite his cautious programme, he has headed off in two wrong directions. Surrounded by a Socialist machinery that rails against inequalities, the banks and the CAC 40 [a benchmark stock market index in France], he did not at first grasp that France’s main problem has been its low competitiveness. It’s not that companies earn too much money in France, it’s that they don’t earn enough.

Hollande quickly set things right from the summer of 2013, with the Gallois Report [written by the former boss of EADS, Louis Gallois, on the competitiveness of French industry]. The PS was severely rocked [by the report's tax cutting recommendations]. Many PS members still view this “supply-side policy” as a gift to the bosses, and cannot get over that; their vocabulary harks back to the 19th century.

The other error was with the budget. The same Socialist thinking has pushed for a hike in taxes on the rich to cut the deficit: tax the rich, hand it out all round, and everything will be fine. What’s more, when it comes to slashing expenditure – the other option austerity policy can turn to – the president is putting on the brakes. As a socialist, he is little inclined to hit his civil-service constituency.

Then the economists advised him to tread more softly. With growth at zero in 2012, Keynesian considerations justifiably demand that public spending not be cut. France, like Italy, risks plunging into recession. The request to Brussels for a little breathing space to get back on track with the conditions set out in the Maastricht Treaty was legitimate, and it has also been accepted.
In 2013, one third of the effort went on cutting expenditures, but two-thirds went on taxes

This policy – a blend of the simmering and perpetual bias against the rich, Keynesian ideology and electioneering tactics – led to the “fiscal shock” of 2012: €30bn in taxes. But in a country of record-breaking taxes and levies, the fuse of a tax revolt had been lit. In 2013, one third of the effort went on cutting expenditures, but two-thirds went on taxes – which, this time, were imposed not just on the rich but on everybody, including the middle class.
Cross-your-fingers economics

The government hopes that in 2014 the recovery will have started, Keynesian considerations will be less severe, and 80 percent of the effort will be covered by cost-savings and 20 percent by taxes. In 2015, Hollande has promised, 100 percent of the budgetary austerity will clamp down on spending.

The shift will be completed in three years. That’s too long. François Hollande will eventually get around to a sound economic policy line: urging competitiveness and structural spending cuts. The “ambivalence”, however, will have stretched out for too long, and the “educational methods” will have been absent. We have on one side a majority that snorts and fumes morning and night on TV against a social-democratic president, and on the other a mood of fiscal discontent that verges on taking to the barricades.

What can François Hollande do? Even if it means delivering an unpleasant surprise to the PS and its majority, he should speed up in the direction he has recently struck out on. French competitiveness has not been restored; far from it, it must go further. The cuts in expenditure should be an occasion to make efficiency savings in public services.

Does he want to become a social democrat? Frankly, he should be one. The nerves of the body politic and the taxpayer have been rubbed raw.

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« Reply #9672 on: Oct 31, 2013, 04:35 AM »

Istanbul's new rail service under the Bosphorus disrupted by overcrowding

Station forced to close and trains delayed as curious Turks flock to travel on Marmaray tunnel linking Europe and Asia

Reuters, Wednesday 30 October 2013 18.23 GMT   

Turks intrigued by Istanbul's new underwater rail line linking Europe and Asia have been overcrowding trains by riding to and fro under the Bosphorus, forcing the closure of one station and causing delays by pressing emergency stop buttons.

The service was also hit by a brief power cut in the morning rush hour, prompting television footage of passengers walking through the tunnel next to a stationary train.

Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan opened the multibillion dollar Marmaray, an eight-mile long tunnel, to great fanfare on Tuesday. It is expected eventually to carry some 1.5 million passengers a day under one of the world's busiest waterways.

State rail company TCDD said the service was facing strong demand. It had closed one of its stations to alleviate overcrowding. Some passengers riding the trains for the first time and unfamiliar with the systems had pressed emergency stop buttons, causing delays.

"We expect our passengers to take into account the crowds and to avoid constantly going back and forward if possible to make space for other passengers," TCDD said.

The two bridges and ferry services crossing the Bosphorus are heavily crowded with commuters. Government critics say the opening of the tunnel, one of Erdogan's "mega projects" designed to change the face of Turkey, was rushed to coincide with Tuesday's 90th anniversary of the founding of the modern Turkish republic.

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« Reply #9673 on: Oct 31, 2013, 04:36 AM »

10/30/2013 03:01 PM

Sex Workers Unite: Germany Gets First Prostitution Lobby

Interview Conducted By Jan Guldner

Johanna Weber has founded Germany's first professional association for sex workers. She tells SPIEGEL ONLINE how she plans to fight for their rights -- and change the notion that all prostitutes are oppressed.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Two weeks ago you founded the Professional Association of Erotic and Sexual Services. Which professional groups does your organization represent?

Weber: Our members work in all sectors of the sex industry, as, for instance, prostitutes in brothels, Tantra masseuses or dominatrixes. Anyone working in the sex industry can become a member. Brothel owners are also allowed to join as long as they themselves are working or have worked as a prostitute.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why has there been no professional organization for sex workers before now?

Weber: We are not the first to attempt to found such an association. There have always been dedicated advocates who have tried to build something, and we still benefit from some of their work today. We want to establish a permanent organization for sex workers. This is very important right now.


Weber: There is currently the public perception that thousands of women in Germany are being forced into prostitution. You read reports that these brothels are like Sodom and Gomorrah and that the police can't do anything about it. I am stunned by this, because it's simply not true. There are many good, clean brothels, and most of the women do these jobs independently and voluntarily.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: This week the magazine Emma published a large signature campaign in which 90 celebrities called for a tightening of Germany's prostitution laws. You want to prevent this. Why?

Weber: The draft law that is currently being discussed and that the Emma campaign promotes lumps prostitution together with human trafficking and deals with fully unrealistic beliefs. That angers us, because it has nothing to do with reality. We are not fundamentally opposed to certain regulations of brothels, but the provisions of the draft law are much too wobbly, and will ensure that our jobs aren't improved, but rather eradicated. The same rules that apply to small residential brothels are supposed to now apply to larger ones. That would mean the closure of half the brothels. We don't want the successes of the prostitution law to be destroyed.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How has that law, passed in 2001 by a governing coalition of the center-left Social Democrats and the Greens, changed the industry?

Weber: Since the law passed, we can do our jobs legally, sue to get paid and receive social insurance. Moreover, our working climate has improved dramatically. Before, creating good working conditions was seen as encouraging prostitution, which was illegal. Now that's much better.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: And yet many prostitutes still don't register their job with the financial authorities, even though that was one of the biggest goals of the law.

Weber: But many register as, for example, masseuses. That's ok by me, as long as they pay taxes. A large number of these women only want to do this for a short period of time. They are afraid they'll never get rid of the stigma. I can understand that this is difficult for many people. If you've got children, you don't want other kids calling them "child of a whore" in the schoolyard. It's a great burden if you can't tell your children what you do for a living, because the society in which we live won't accept your profession.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Many prostitutes in Germany come from other countries, like Bulgaria or Romania. Are these men and women also represented by your association?

Weber: The level of organization among the foreign prostitutes is understandably very low. But we have a working group that works with immigrants and that is led by a Bulgarian colleague. We want to be a point of contact, because foreign prostitutes, especially, often don't have anyone they can confide in. The police aren't much help. I have experienced two police raids myself and I wouldn't like to confide in police officers standing there with their machine guns.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you want your association to fight for better pay and working conditions for sex workers, like a labor union?

Weber: I see myself more as a lobbyist and only marginally as a unionist. But we are in close contact with the Ver.di service sector union, of which I am also a member. Their special services department is very helpful. For example, they provided us with space for our founding meeting and helped us with information sheets. But Ver.di can't do much more than that for us right now. Most prostitutes work for themselves, because they want to be flexible and, for example, stay home if their kids are sick. And many negotiate their rates directly with their clients, so there are seldom wage disputes in the field.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What are your first duties as a lobbyist for sex workers?

Weber: The first and most important step was that we stand up in the first place and make ourselves noticed. In our industry, that is not a matter of course. And now we want to make politicians aware of our interests. That won't be easy, since we have no money and don't know anyone. First, I need to learn how lobbying works, but I think we're headed in the right direction.

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« Reply #9674 on: Oct 31, 2013, 04:42 AM »

10/30/2013 03:45 PM

Kunduz Trial: New Scrutiny for Deadly Afghanistan Attack

By Jörg Diehl and Matthias Gebauer

Four years ago, a German military officer ordered an attack in Afghanistan that killed at least 91 people, many of them civilians. Now that criminal charges against him have been dropped, a civil lawsuit is seeking more compensation for the families of some victims.

"Confirm that one last time, these pax are an imminent threat," American fighter pilot "Dude 15" radioed to the German forward air controller. For a half an hour on the night of Sept. 4, 2009, two F-15 fighter jets had been circling above a sandbank in the Kunduz River in Afghanistan. Then Staff Sergeant W. spoke the crucial words: "Yeah, those pax are an imminent threat."

Two minutes later, the weapon systems operators aboard the two jets each released a 500-pound (230-kilogram) GBU-38 guided bomb. The two bombs detonated on the ground at 1:50 a.m. local time, striking two tanker trucks Colonel Georg Klein had feared might attack his base.

The blast killed a large number of people -- exactly how many remains unclear to this day. The Bundeswehr, Germany's armed forces, says 91 people were killed. A NATO report arrived at the figure of at least 142 dead or injured. According to research conducted by lawyers representing the victims, it was 137 people. What is clear beyond a doubt is that this was the most devastating German-ordered attack since World War II.

Deadly Attacks

Since March, the first civil chamber of Bonn's District Court has been hearing a case concerning the deadly military strike. Bremen-based lawyers Karim Popal and Peter Derleder sued the German state, asking for a total of around €90,000 ($124,000) in compensation for damages and suffering to the surviving family members of the airstrike's victims. The Bundeswehr has so far paid about €500,000 in voluntary compensation efforts.

The lawsuit states that Popal's clients lost family members in the attack. Farmer Abdul Hannan's two sons, eight and 12 years old, died in the bombing. So did Guldin Rauf, a laborer from the village of Omar Khel who left behind his wife, Qureisha, and six children, ages 15, 13, 10, eight, five and three. The court must now address the fate of these survivors, as well as the question of what exactly happened in Kunduz that night.

As part of that process, the court is to view videos from the two F-15 jets on Wednesday, and hear radio communications conducted between the American pilots and the Bundeswehr soldier W. SPIEGEL ONLINE has been granted access to these materials as well.

'I Do Want to Drop It'

One thing likely to become evident to the court is how greatly Dude 15, a pilot from California, struggled with dropping the bomb. Having already discussed the matter for some time with the German forward air controller, code name Red Baron 20, Dude 15 radioed his fellow pilot in the other jet, "I really want to drop on them, but just something doesn't... something doesn't feel right."

Dude 15 then attempted to involve a superior officer in the matter, but the German soldier refused, saying clearance would come from the commander of the German base, who was "right next to me." For the fifth time now, the American pilot requested permission to perform a low-altitude flyover of the sandbank, which would warn civilians and allow them the chance to seek cover. Red Baron denied permission for such a "show of force," replying, "Negative. I want you to strike directly."

When Colonel Klein learned on the evening of September 3, 2009, that insurgents had hijacked two tanker trucks very nearby, he made the assumption that these could be used as mobile bombs to attack German forces. So he called in American fighter jets and had his forward air controller claim there were "troops in contact" -- that is, German soldiers positioned near the trucks' location. With troops in contact, NATO rules of engagement would permit an attack.

Charges Dropped against Klein

The civil court in Bonn, presided over by Judge Heinz Sonnenberger, now seeks to determine whether Klein was in culpable violation of his duty to protect civilians. It is not yet known whether the officer himself will be called as a witness. The prosecutor, who carries the burden of proof in the case, so far has not named him as a witness.

The German Federal Prosecutor's Office dropped its own criminal proceedings against Klein. In a final report, classified as secret, the officer was cleared of the charge of murder of civilians, on the grounds that "based on the circumstances as they were known to him" and on an informant's intelligence, "the presence of civilians was considered unlikely," and thus Klein was not obligated to provide warning to the people on the ground around the tanker trucks.

When questioned by NATO investigators, pilot Dude 15 stated that he and the others in the two fighter jets were unaware that the hijacked truck drivers, themselves civilians, were still present on the ground. If they had known, the pilot stated, they "would not have fired" their weapons.


October 30, 2013

Afghan Officials to Meet Freed Taliban Official in Pakistan


KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan officials said Wednesday that a delegation would travel to Pakistan soon to meet a senior Taliban leader whom the Pakistani authorities said they were releasing from prison last month but whose whereabouts since has become a point of contention.

The Afghan announcement was a potential breakthrough after a day of talks in London between the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan. Mr. Karzai has repeatedly pushed for the release of the Taliban figure, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a founding member of the insurgent group who was arrested in 2010 in the Arabian Sea port of Karachi.

At the time, Afghan officials said Pakistan had imprisoned Mr. Baradar for secretly trying to open peace talks between the Taliban and Mr. Karzai’s government. But Pakistani and American officials disputed the Afghan claim about Mr. Baradar, whose arrest came in a raid jointly conducted by operatives from the Central Intelligence Agency and Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate.

Still, Pakistani officials said when they announced his release last month that they were doing so as a gesture of good will to help peace negotiations. But questions soon surfaced, with the Taliban saying he was still being held in Pakistan and officials there insisting that he had been freed. Afghan officials stayed out of the fray, though privately they said they believed that he was under some sort of house arrest and that he was being monitored by Pakistani intelligence.

If that is the case, Mr. Karzai and Mr. Sharif appear to have reached some sort of agreement on Tuesday to grant Afghan officials access to Mr. Baradar. The meeting was organized by the British government with the goal of inching forward the stalled efforts to open peace talks with the Taliban.

“The leaders of the three countries spoke about Pakistan’s role in the peace process, and it was agreed that the High Peace Council delegation would travel to Pakistan in the near future to meet Mullah Baradar,” Mr. Karzai’s representatives said in a statement from London. The High Peace Council is an Afghan committee created by Mr. Karzai to explore peace options.

There was no immediate comment from Pakistan or the Taliban, nor was it clear where the meeting announced on Tuesday would take place.

There are also questions about the potential effect that Mr. Baradar, who the Taliban have said is in poor health, could have on peace efforts. There were no public indications that he was trying to open talks before his 2010 arrest. And he has been out of the ranks of the Taliban since then — a fact that is likely to limit his credibility with the group’s current leadership, in the estimation of American and European officials.

But Afghan and American officials said that Mr. Karzai and his inner circle remained steadfast in their belief that Mr. Baradar can serve as a conduit between the Afghan government and Mullah Muhammad Omar, the reclusive leader of the Taliban, who is said to live in Pakistan.

Haris Kakar contributed reporting.

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