Mexico launches investigation into sportswriter’s shooting death
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 5, 2013 19:27 EST
Gunmen killed a Mexican sports journalist who was driving in a car in the northern state of Sinaloa, officials said Tuesday.
Three carloads of gunmen chased Alberto Angulo Gerardo’s car and fired when he refused to stop in the small town of Angostura, a police official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“The car rolled over when its driver, the journalist, lost control during the chase,” the official said.
Angulo Gerardo was the presenter of a sports show on a local radio station in Hermosillo, a city in the neighboring state of Sonora.
He was traveling with three women who were taken to a hospital. His relationship with one of the women is unclear, but two of them were apparently his sisters. One of them had bullet wounds.
Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission launched an investigation into the killing, which took place in a state dominated by the Sinaloa drug cartel.
But the Sinaloa state police director, Jesus Antonio Aguilar, said the gunmen were apparently trying to steal the journalist’s car.
Mexico has become one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, with at least 84 media workers killed there since 2000, according to the nation’s ombudsman.
Another 20 journalists are missing amid drug violence that has killed more than 77,000 people across Mexico since 2006.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Skydivers leap to safety after planes collide in midair
Nine skydivers survive, as one pilot ejects and the other manages to land damaged plane after crash over Wisconsin
theguardian.com, Monday 4 November 2013 02.09 GMT
Nine skydivers and two pilots survived with only minor injuries after their planes collided in midair over Wisconsin.
Skydiving instructor Mike Robinson was at 12,000 feet (3,600 meters), just seconds away from his fourth and final jump of the day, when a second plane carrying other skydivers struck the aircraft he was in, sending them all tumbling toward the ground.
Officials with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) were investigating the cause of Saturday's crash near Lake Superior, FAA spokesman Roland Herwig said on Sunday.
Robinson, an instructor and safety adviser for Skydive Superior, said the skydivers had gone up for their last jump of the day and the two planes were flying in formation.
All the skydivers were instructors or coaches and had hundreds, if not thousands, of jumps under their belts. It was Robinson's 937th jump.
"We do this all the time," Robinson said. "We just don't know what happened for sure that caused this."
He and three other skydivers were in the lead plane. All four had climbed out onto the step at the side of the Cessna 182 and were poised to jump. The plane behind theirs had five skydivers on board, three in position to jump and two more inside the plane.
"We were just a few seconds away from having a normal skydive when the trail plane came over the top of the lead aircraft and came down on top of it," he said. "It turned into a big flash fireball, and the wing separated.
"All of us knew we had a crash ... The wing over our head was gone, so we just left," he said.
The three skydivers on the step of the second plane were knocked off by the impact, Robinson said, and the two inside were able to jump. The pilot of Robinson's plane ejected himself, and the pilot of the second plane landed his damaged aircraft safely at Richard I. Bong Airport, where it had taken off from.
Robinson, 64, watched as the plane he'd been in spiralled downwards and broke into pieces.
"Looking around, we're seeing the wing that came off. We're seeing it's on fire, and there are just parts of the airplane floating in the air with us," he said. "We were falling faster than those parts ... So the concern was we get away from the crash area."
Robinson said the skydivers had parachutes that allowed them to steer themselves away from the falling debris and towards the planned landing spot. They opened their parachutes between 3,000 and 5,000 feet and landed safely.
The pilot of the plane that broke apart used an emergency parachute that cannot be steered, Robinson said. He suffered minor injuries on landing.
Robinson said his group was lucky.
"It might have been a lot worse," he said. "Everybody, to a person, responded just as they should, including the pilots."
He said that as he was diving he grew concerned when he saw only one emergency parachute, meaning only one pilot had ejected. He was relieved to learn the pilot of the second plane had been able to stay with the aircraft and land it.
The National Transportation Safety Board did not return a message from the Associated Press seeking comment.
Click to watch:http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/nov/05/skydivers-survive-mid-air-plane-collision-wisconsin-video
Colombian police seize and destroy rebels’ drug submarine
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 5, 2013 21:15 EST
A semi-submersible boat of the type used by leftist FARC rebels to transport cocaine has been seized and destroyed in southwest Colombia, police said Tuesday.
The amphibious vessel, estimated to cost about $1.5 million, was discovered stowed on dry land in a forested area in the country’s southwestern Narino province.
Officials said in a statement that they discovered it thanks to a tip from an informant. It measured 12 meters (39 feet) by 3.5 meters (11.5 feet).
Colombian authorities received assistance from agents with the US Drug Enforcement Administration.
Officials said they destroyed eight such boats last year in Colombia, one of the world’s top producers of cocaine.
Such submersible vessels have the ability of cruising below the surface of the water, often evading detection by drug enforcement authorities.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
In the USA...United Surveillance America
November 06, 2013 12:12 AM
Election 2013 Roundup
2013's election night results are a mixed bag of surprises and predictable outcomes.
Governor's Races - Chris Christie sailed to a predictable win (60% - 35.5%) over Barbara Buono in New Jersey, thanks to Democrats' abandonment of Buono. In Virginia, Terry McAuliffe edged out Ken Cuccinelli by a much smaller margin than had been predicted -- 48%-45.5%. In the Virginia Lieutenant Governor's race, Democrat Ralph Northam trounced E.W. Jackson with an 11 point margin.
Virginia Legislature - Democrats picked up two Senate seats in Virginia and the majority along with it, though the House of Delegates remains firmly in the hands of a Republican supermajority.
Virginia Attorney General - This one will head for a recount, overseen by none other than losing gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli. As of 2:30 AM EST, Democrat Mark Herring leads by about 600 votes with all but four precincts reporting. Out of those four precincts, two are deep red and two are deep blue.
Tea Party vs. US Chamber Machine, Alabama edition - US Chamber-backed candidate Bradley Byrne sent tea party choice Dean Young packing, leaving Byrne as the GOP choice for AL-1 special election next month to fill Alison Bonner's seat. It's Alabama, so the actual election will just be a formality. The real race was to see whether the hardcore 'never say die' conservative would win over the more mainstream but no less conservative candidate.
Mayoral Races - Bill DeBlasio is the new mayor of New York City, winning his race by a landslide -- 73% to 24%. His populist message obviously resonated with New Yorkers enough for them to elect their first Democratic mayor in 20 years. In Houston, Annise Parker was re-elected, and in Seattle, Democrat Ed Murray was elected. Both candidates are openly gay. In Boston, Democrat Marty Walsh defeated John Connolly to become Boston's new mayor, and once again, the city voted for the populist progressive candidate over the corporate Democrat.
Minimum Wage - It was a good night for minimum wage laws. New Jersey voters approved an increase in the minimum wage to $8.25 per hour with scheduled cost of living increases going forward. In Washington State, a ballot proposition to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour for workers at Sea-Tac airport had an early lead, but final results might not be known until Friday due to the mail-in rules for voting in that state.
Marijuana - Portland, Maine and three cities in Michigan all voted to legalize pot and Colorado voted to tax it.
Education - In Bridgeport, CT, the school board majority now belongs to the Working Families Party, which is a heavy blow to the school deformers who have been working so hard to bust unions and privatize schools there. In Colorado, voters rejected a ballot measure which would have raised taxes on the wealthy in order to fund schools.
GMO Food Labeling - Washington state took a run at a similar measure to the one on California's ballot in 2012, with the same result. It went down in defeat by a wide margin after millions were spent to buy that defeat.
Complaint Filed Urging the IRS to Investigate the Koch Brothers for Violating Tax Laws
By: Jason Easley
Tuesday, November, 5th, 2013, 6:23 pm
CREW has filed a complaint that urges the IRS to investigate the Koch Brothers for violating numerous tax laws, while trying to anonymously funnel money to Republican candidates.
CREW detailed their complaint to the IRS,
CREW also filed a complaint with the IRS asking for an investigation into the activities of Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, Inc., a 501(c)(6) organization linked to the Koch Brothers. In its application to the IRS, Freedom Partners claimed it would be “promot[ing] the common business interests and conditions of its members, in order to improve their competitive standing and innovation in various lines of business, industries, etc. in which they are engaged.” In reality, Freedom Partners has done nothing except funnel anonymous money into other tax-exempt organizations.
During the 2011 reporting period, Freedom Partners’ activities consisted exclusively of providing more than $235 million in grants to 30 different tax-exempt groups — including politically active organizations like the Center to Protect Patient Rights, Americans for Prosperity, and the National Rifle Association. Because the grants were provided for “general support,” there is no guarantee the money was spent furthering the common business interests of Freedom Partners and its members, as the law requires.
What the Koch brothers are doing is common practice on the right. These common business organizations actually have nothing to do with business. Their purpose is to move millions of dollars to the network of right wing anonymous organizations. Since the Supreme Court opened the floodgates with the Citizens United decision, the Koch brothers have set up a vast dark money network with the goal in mind of complete ownership of the government.
CREW’s complaint is important because it brings the Koch brothers unwanted attention. The Kocks don’t want the people to figure out that their democracy is under threat from a handful of conservative billionaires. It is clear that what the Kochs and other right wing billionaires are doing is a violation of the tax code.
The Koch brothers aren’t content with breaking the law. They want to be the law. They are breaking the law, and they need to be stopped.
Republicans Have Grown To Hate America As Much As They Hate President Obama
Monday, November, 4th, 2013, 9:06 pm
Hatred is a profound emotional dislike directed against individuals, entities, or ideas, and is often concomitant with feelings of anger and outright hostility that is contrary to commonly held moral rules opposed to universal hatred towards others. It is disconcerting for any human being to know for sure that another person holds intense feelings of hostility towards them, and for millions of Americans it must be distressing to learn that a segment of the population and their leaders harbor and direct such intense loathing toward them that their very survival is in jeopardy. Over the course of the past five years, Republicans and their conservative cohort have incrementally singled out every demographic in America for their special brand of abject hatred to the point that it is safe to say they truly hate every single American who is not a member of the wealthy elite.
During President Obama’s tenure in office, some journalists and pundits have correctly cited the obvious Republican war against women and minorities, and it is true Republicans are waging war against those individual groups. However, a more accurate portrayal of Republicans in 2013 is that they are in a killing frenzy and targeting more Americans than just women and minorities. The very latest war “revelation” was Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman’s contention that Republicans are waging a war on the poor, and although he was not exposing anything the rest of America did not already know, his assertion, though accurate, fails to include the middle class, seniors, women, minorities, gays, children, and even the federal government as targets of the Republican war against all Americans.
A noted moral psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, recently remarked that “For the first time in our history, political parties are agglomerations of personality styles and lifestyles,” and that in conservative’s minds it is now “You people on the other side, you’re really different from me, you live in a different way, you pray in a different way, so it’s much easier to hate those people. And that’s where we are.” Haidt was referring to Republican hatred toward Democrats and how it drives their intransigence and willingness to decimate the nation due to their intense hatred, but he misses the point. Republicans, teabaggers, and their conservative Christian base hate any American that does not submit to their way of thinking and their representatives are accommodating their hatred by lashing out at all Americans; including their rabid supporters.
If Americans took stock of the various Republican assaults in the states and Congress, they would discover that except for the rich, Republicans hate all Americans equally and assault their base with the same viciousness as they do their opposition. Indeed, just the assault on food stamps and healthcare should be a wake-up call to Southern conservatives most dependent on government assistance that the representatives they think are defending their interests are their mortal enemies. It is Republican-controlled southern states that suffer most from Republican hatred and it informs why their residents, liberals and conservatives, are losing their right to vote, decent jobs, healthcare, and access to domestic programs like food stamps, Medicaid, and soon; Social Security and Medicare.
Republicans have even openly lashed out at their most dependable voting bloc; senior citizens. The assault on food stamps, housing assistance, Meals on Wheels, Medicare, Social Security, and pensions is not borne of fiscal responsibility, but of the drive to take everything from all the people and transfer it to the wealthy. In fact, even so-called evangelical “Christians” adhere to a belief contrary to their religion’s namesake that as a prelude to the second coming of Christ, there is going to be a “transfer of wealth” where god seizes the wealth of the wicked and redistributes it to believers that in conservative parlance is the wealthy. It is important to remember that conservatives openly regard the poor, women, middle class, and people of color as “the wicked” that gives them moral cover to rob the people of everything they have in a blatant show of open hostility toward any American who is not ultra-wealthy.
Republicans have left no demographic untouched by their hatred and despite their declining approval ratings, they are going forward with their holy war on the American people. The GOP has always hated the poor, but they expanded their war after an African American was elected President to include the rapidly declining middle class with an assault on the public sector workforce, unions, private sector workers, wages, overtime pay, sick leave, pensions, and particularly jobs. The people should have understood their predicament when John Boehner said “so be it” when told Republican spending cuts would kill over a million jobs early in 2011. In fact, one of the primary assets in their war on Americans is their enthusiasm to kill jobs to increase poverty under the guise of fiscal responsibility, and their refusal to take any steps to create jobs they promised to sweep into power during the 2010 midterms was a calculated maneuver they executed with machine-like precision. Americans are still waiting for their laser focus on creating jobs and they will be waiting indefinitely because creating jobs is counter-intuitive to their plans to decimate the people.
America has become a killing field for Republicans and they will not be content until the entire population is clinging to life in dire poverty. No American is safe whether they are Republican seniors, minorities, women, public sector workers, private sector workers, children, Veterans, and those steeped in evangelical fundamentalism. If you are an American who is not in the richest one percent, Republicans are in a blind rage to decimate the economic life out of you, and your RNC or NRA membership card does not make you immune from their attack. Extreme conservatism is a religion, and although the teabaggers are easy targets for blame, mainstream Republicans have sought every way under the Sun to take from the people to enrich the wealthy. It is Republicans as god taking the wealth of the wicked (Americans who are not wealthy) and transferring it to the righteous that in conservative jargon is corporate America and the uber-wealthy.
There is a popular saying that Republicans hate President Obama more than they love America, and although Republicans hate the President with extreme prejudice, they hate Americans with the same intensity as they do the President. If any American does not believe it, let them cite one demographic that has not been adversely affected by Republicans, or one thing they have done to help the people. It is time for Americans to face a sad truth and that is if they are people of color, women, senior citizens, middle class, children, Christian, Veterans, or poor they are under assault in the Republican war on Americans.
30 Senate Republicans Vote For Legalized Workplace Discrimination Against Gays
By: Jason Easley
Monday, November, 4th, 2013, 6:46 pm
On a day when the Senate took a historic step on civil rights by moving ENDA forward, 30 Republicans voted in favor of legal discrimination workplace against gays.
The final vote to move forward was 61-30.
The entire Democratic caucus was joined by Republican Senators Collins, Hatch, Heller, Kirk, Ayotte, Portman, and Toomey in moving the bill forward.
Republicans who voted in favor of legalized workplace discrimination included, Sens. Barrasso, Bozeman, Cotts, Crapo, Enzi, Flake,Graham, Inhoffe, Isakson, McConnell Paul, Risch, Shelby, Thune, Wicker, Corker, Fischer. (It was a group of Senate Republicans who were driven to vote no based on reelection concerns, future political ambitions, and tea party far right ideology.
Conservative groups broke out some strange arguments against ENDA. Heritage Action warned that, “The legislation would severely undermine civil liberties, increase government interference in the labor market, and trample on religious liberty. It is flawed public policy based in part on the tenuously defined term “gender identity,” which is commonly understood to be subjective, self-disclosed, and self-defined. The Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson explains the policies in ENDA would be “backed up by coercive enforcement. If ENDA were to be enacted, business owners’ civil liberties would be trampled upon; business owners would be restricted from forming associations and contracts according to their own beliefs. Instead, they would be required by law to adopt the government’s values which are based on a vague, subjective definition of “gender identity.”
The conservative outfit The Public Advocate said that Republicans were stabbing family values in the back by voting for ENDA.
Even though this was a procedural vote to move the bill forward, 30 Republicans put themselves on record as support legalized workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians. The bill wasn’t filibustered thanks to the courage of few Senate Republicans, but it is astounding that in the year 2013 any elected member of the Senate would take a stand against a basic civil right.
The Republican senators who voted no deserve more credit than their House colleagues. At least they attached their names to their prejudice. Speaker of the House John Boehner is refusing to bring the bill to the House floor for a vote, so that House Republicans can continue to pander to their radical right wing fringe without having to worry about being held accountable for championing workplace discrimination.
It was great for the country that this bill cleared the procedural hurdle, so that it can move on for a final vote. but it is still disgusting that so many Republicans are willing to vote against civil rights and for discrimination.
What The Media Won’t Talk About: 17 Million Uninsured are Eligible for ACA Tax Credits
By: Sarah Jones
Tuesday, November, 5th, 2013, 12:46 pm
Thanks to ObamaCare, an estimated 17 million Americans who are now uninsured or who buy their own insurance will be eligible for tax credits in 2014.
The Kaiser Foundation does actual healthcare policy, and they have a new report out today in which you will find more information than you will get all day from any mainstream media outlet.
“We estimate that about 17 million people who are now uninsured or who buy insurance on their own (“nongroup purchasers”) will be eligible for premium tax credits in 2014.”
Instead of focusing on 17 million people being eligible for tax credits, the media is busy running with the GOP narrative that Obama lied, the website sucks and affordable healthcare for everyone is a scam (see a and b). Allow me to translate for you: Help real people or report on things from a self-referential, egotistical basis in which the pundit’s political calls about this President’s exact choice of words are much more important than actual policy impacts? Gee…
So: Obama lied in 2009! He said you can keep your plan and lots of people are not being allowed to keep their crappy plans that don’t really cover anything. Republicans are very upset that people are stuck with actual insurance instead.
As the media falls over itself once again chasing a GOP narrative, try to ignore that there is no mention that back in 2009, it was Republicans who won Lie of the Year award for Sarah Palin’s totally fictional “Death Panels” that meant Obama was going to kill her baby. Yeah, that was so rational and policy based and the media loved it.
Obama’s statement that you could keep your insurance if you liked it underestimated that many of your insurance plans were so crappy that they would no longer be offered under the new healthcare law because they do not qualify as actual insurance. So, yes, he did not realize just how badly you were getting screwed. Very sorry. That is just like Sarah Palin trying to keep you from having access to affordable health insurance by lying to her base and getting them riled up enough to threaten lawmakers in order to intimidate them into voting against affordable, regulated healthcare insurance.
Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) was not impressed with this latest narrative and today she pointed out that many people aren’t being told that there are cheaper options in exchanges. They just get the cancellation notice and the media scoops them up for “journalism” sans information and veracity. It seems rather obvious that it is just this sort of corporate behavior that created the need for ObamaCare, but apparently millions of Americans being routinely screwed over when it comes to their health is no big deal. Nowhere near as important as the exact wording Obama used in 2009.
Dylan Scott at TPM did a special report on the real scandal of how insurers are hiding ObamaCare benefits from customers:
Across the country, insurance companies have sent misleading letters to consumers, trying to lock them into the companies’ own, sometimes more expensive health insurance plans rather than let them shop for insurance and tax credits on the Obamacare marketplaces — which could lead to people like Donna spending thousands more for insurance than the law intended. In some cases, mentions of the marketplace in those letters are relegated to a mere footnote, which can be easily overlooked.
The extreme lengths to which some insurance companies are going to hold on to existing customers at higher price, as the Affordable Care Act fundamentally re-orders the individual insurance market, has caught the attention of state insurance regulators.
But we hear nothing about the actual scandal.
Republicans who are so concerned with Obama’s “broken healthcare promise” are, at the same time, completely unconcerned when a corporate insurance company denies coverage to a person who paid in for years, or a corporate insurance company’s website doesn’t work, or a corporate insurance company takes advantage of consumers with the help of the GOP by not informing them that they can get much cheaper insurance through the ACA exchange.
Darrell Issa Should Investigate CBS’ Benghazi Witness Over His Admitted Lies
By: Sarah Jones
Monday, November, 4th, 2013, 7:45 pm
We all just want the truth, right? If so, then Darrell Issa should immediately commence investigating CBS’ Benghazi witness after his admission that he lied in documents supplied to Congress about where he was on the night of the attack.
Dylan Davies made quite a splash in an October 27 60 Minutes report, in which he detailed his own heroics while managing to smear others. It turns out, he lied about where he was that night. He told his superiors and our Congress that he couldn’t get near the compound that night due to roadblocks, but he was actually busy saving the world, according to his book and his CBS show.
Of course, Dylan Davies isn’t the name he used in his story. He plays Morgan Jones, security officer for Blue Mountain, the Britain-based contractor hired by the State Department, and also, terrorist bester, wall jumper, and general fearless Benghazi fighter extraordinaire. Where others failed, he jumped in.
Karen DeYoung at the Washington Post broke it down:
The man whom CBS called Morgan Jones, a pseudonym, described racing to the Benghazi compound while the attack was underway, scaling a 12-foot wall and downing an extremist with the butt end of a rifle as he tried in vain to rescue the besieged Americans.
Ah, yes. Almost like a movie or a Republican gun fetish fantasy where the hero is naturally played by the guy who wrote the book. The problem is that this guy, under his real name, told quite a different story in an incident report. This different story was also provided to Congressional committees investigating the Benghazi attacks, so we might expect Darrell Issa to call Davies in to testify ASAP—after all, Issa excuses his epic spending on witch hunts by saying he just wants the truth.
Did Davies lie? Yes, and he apparently lied to Congress unless his book and CBS interview were lies. It’s one or the other.
In his incident report, Davies claims he was at a beach villa that night and his superior ordered him to stay away from the attack. If that’s true someone might want to ask Blue Mountain for their definition of perimeter “security”. Who knows, maybe this is all we could afford after Republicans cut the budget for embassy and consulate security. So, at any rate, he was nowhere near the compound to be scaling walls and “downing” terrorists per his book and CBS show.
Unsurprisingly, the GOP is impressed and satisfied by fiction. Karen DeYoung at the Washington Post broke the problems with Davies’ story. She further reported, “Republican aides said discrepancies in Davies’s accounts do not undermine wider points made by him”.
But then, all it takes to impress them these days is a con artist and deep contempt for this president and anyone who voted for him.
In an interview with the Daily Beast, Davies claimed he did not write the incident report. Instead he complained about mudslinging, as if writing his uncorroborated and now deeply suspicious account was not mudslinging – but someone providing an account with his name on it is mudslinging.
Josh Rogin for Daily Beast:
The four-page indicent (sic) report, obtained by The Daily Beast, has not been previously published. A State Department official confirmed it matches the version sent to the U.S. government by Davies’s then-employer Blue Mountain Group, the private security company based in Britain, on Sept. 14, 2012, and subsequently provided to Congressional committees investigating the Benghazi attacks.
The incident report can be read in full here, via Daily Beast.
If you’re waiting for the part where CBS does what it did to Dan Rather, you can forget it. That’s not happening. CBS is following ABC’s Benghazi emails lies path — defend, deny, ignore and never explain. A spokesman for the the CBS “documentary”, Kevin Tedesco, told the Washington Post he stands by the story. The very talented Lara Logan is behind this story. So either the story isn’t true or Davies or his employer lied in documents supplied to Congress as a part of a Congressional inquiry. If Issa is so concerned about security, isn’t this a screaming alarm?
Questions remain as to whether or not CBS knew of the incident report prior to airing the interview, or if they have some reason for ignoring it, but the discrepancies loom large. Possibly compounding the issues surrounding Davies’ story, Fox News correspondent Adam Housley claimed that Davies demanded money to talk. If Fox News won’t touch a story that helps them hate on Obama or Clinton, that story is possibly lower than dirt.
Darrell Issa is apparently not concerned about being lied to by someone whose inaccuracies help Darrell Issa try to impeach Obama over a fake scandal while never addressing the Republicans defunding security. So, co-opting real heroes’ stories with what appears to be a fake one, and dragging the families of the four slain through the agony of this all again is all okay with CBS and the GOP, or this guy didn’t lie in his stories, in which case he lied to Congress. (One of our writers was colleagues with one of the slain, and this small connection always makes my heart constrict for his family and friends every time the GOP tries to politicize the Benghazi attack again. It’s just so ugly.)
When WaPo tried to get to the bottom of Davies’ two stories, “Damien Lewis, co-author of the book, said in a telephone interview that Davies was ‘not well’ and is hospitalized.” Davies told the Daily Beast that he underwent medical procedures last week because his doctors believe he has testicular cancer.
11/07/2013 12:04 PM
Asylum Debate: Germany Wants to Question Snowden in Moscow
By Severin Weiland
The German government refuses to grant Edward Snowden political asylum, with authorities instead seeking to establish contact with him in Moscow. The strategy is unlikely to benefit either side.
Since revelations emerged two weeks ago that America's National Security Agency had long spied on Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone communications, calls have been growing for whistleblower Edward Snowden to be offered political asylum in Germany.
The calls are being met with rejection at top levels of the government. On Wednesday, German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said Snowden doesn't have the right to asylum in Germany because he is not the subject of political persecution. Instead legal options are being explored for Snowden's possible questioning in Moscow.
The parliamentary group of Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats also oppose demands for asylum, and even leaders of Merkel's future government coalition partner, the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) -- which over the summer was one of the loudest critics of NSA spying -- now recognize the potential problems associated with any offer of asylum. Indeed, it is highly unlikely Germany will offer the former NSA contractor asylum.
"At the moment, a questioning (of Snowden) in Germany is not up for discussion," said Thomas Oppermann, the chairman of the parliamentary committee responsible for intelligence issues. The politician, a member of the SPD, said officials in Berlin instead wanted "to see if a questioning in Moscow is possible."
Even if the government were to question Snowden in Moscow, though, it is unlikely the endeavor would bear much fruit. Hans-Christian Ströbele, the Green Party member who last week traveled to Moscow to meet with Snowden, told the same parliamentary committee after his meeting that the whistleblower probably wouldn't say much. He also repeated to journalists what the American told him in Moscow -- namely that Snowden doesn't want to be questioned in Moscow. Instead he wants to be offered asylum or the right to stay in Germany. If he were given either of those, then he would be prepared to testify before an investigative committee or even justice officials.
Snowden Wouldn't Have Full Control over Disclosures
Without offering more specific details, Ströbele said there were "serious reasons" that would make it difficult for Snowden to testify in Moscow. They would also complicate efforts by the Federal Prosecutor's Office to question Snowden in the Russian capital as a potential witness in any case against American government spying on Germany. The Green Party politician said that if the Russian side were even to permit such questioning, it might also impose conditions on any of the issues to be discussed.
In other words, Snowden wouldn't have full control over his disclosures. Members of the Parliamentary Control Panel are nevertheless calling for German authorities to establish contact with Snowden.
By seeking to question Snowden, the German government is also buying time for itself in the asylum debate because bringing the whistleblower to Germany to testify would be a horror scenario for the current government as well as the future one. Already tense relations with Washington have fallen to a low point in the wake of revelations the NSA spied on Merkel. And government sources have warned that those calling for asylum for Snowden are opening up a hornet's nest for German foreign policy.
There are also prickly domestic considerations. The United States issued an arrest warrant in early July against Snowden that could ultimately result in his extradition from Germany. The situation could quickly grow far more complicated if Snowden were to enter the country.
How Much Insight Can Testimony Provide?
So now the intention is for Snowden to be questioned in Moscow, but how that will take place is still unclear. There is still no formal NSA investigative committee in the German parliament and it is possible one won't even be established. Only two other options remain: Either representatives of the German Embassy can attempt to make contact with Snowden in Moscow, or the Federal Public Prosecutor's office could request to question him as a witness.
In order for that to happen, though, there must first be a basis for the questioning. The Federal Prosecutor's office in Karlsruhe has launched a preliminary investigation in connection with the NSA scandal in Germany, but it is still an open question whether this will lead to a formal investigation. Questioning of Snowden as a witness in Moscow could only happen once that is cleared up, and then only if Russian authorities permit it.
Green Party politician Ströbele is skeptical about how much insight Snowden's testimony, if it takes place in the Russian capital, might provide. He believes it would only be possible for Snowden to deliver further details about the NSA's work in Germany -- before an investigative committee in parliament, for example.
But the situation is likely to be viewed differently by Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). In addition to Interior Minister Friedrich, the deputy chairs of the conservatives' joint parliamentary group, Günter Krings and Michael Kretschmer, both oppose offering asylum to Snowden. In a position paper released on Wednesday, they outline some changes they are calling for as a result of the NSA affair, such as better equipping German counterintelligence after a "No-Spy Agreement" is reached between the US and the European Union.
They don't expect much new information from Snowden, who was not mentioned by name in their position paper. Kretschmer has doubts about what new details a questioning of the US citizen would bring. "The knowledge gained would be limited," he said. "We already have the crucial information."
11/06/2013 01:31 PM
No Training, No Work: Unemployment Rising Despite More Jobs
By Markus Dettmer and Kristiana Ludwig
Although there are more jobs than ever before, unemployment continues to rise in Germany. Many long-term unemployed are looking for work again, but their lack of qualifications means they hardly stand a chance in a highly specialized industrial society.
A trunk. A suitcase. Another trunk. A trunk, and then another suitcase. The conveyor belt rattles along. As she stares at a monitor, Monika Lenzner, 58, pushes the pieces of luggage across the conveyor bars.
She found her job at the X-ray machine in the departures area at Berlin's Tegel Airport on her own, without the help of a job center. After being unemployed for 12 years, and after many unsuccessful training programs and rejected job applications, she now works as an aviation safety assistant.
Lenzner was lucky. Her case is more of an exception than the rule. Even though the German labor market is booming and there are more jobs than ever before, unemployment is on the rise.
A look at current labor market statistics reveals a strange dissonance. In August, the number of jobs subject to social insurance contributions increased by 353,000 over the previous year, with about half being full-time positions. At the same time, 240,000 people went into retirement. Normally, the jobless figure should have declined, but in fact it grew by 48,000 in October compared with the previous year.
The Return of the 'Silent Reserve'
As paradoxical as it sounds, this is easy to explain. What is known in Germany as the "silent reserve," or the inactive unemployed -- people who have given up looking for work and women who have not worked in the past -- is increasingly seeking employment. At the same time, older workers are delaying retirement. They all have one thing in common: They were not reflected in unemployment statistics in the past. At the same time, 270,000 predominantly qualified immigrants are entering the market this year.
There are currently 42 million jobs in Germany, an all-time high. "The risk of becoming unemployed if you have a job has declined in recent years. It is now at 0.84 percent a month," says Thomas Bauer, vice-president of the Rhenish-Westphalian Institute for Economic Research (RWI) in the western city of Essen.
The flipside is that those with poor qualifications and the long-term unemployed, especially older workers, have fewer prospects of finding a job. Bauer expects "an additional increase in long-term unemployment, which currently affects a little more than a million people."
The labor market is not a statistical entity. Some 20,000 jobs are terminated and just as many are started in Germany every day. People with good qualifications don't remain unemployed for long. But things are more difficult for the more than 1.2 million people without vocational training. The longer they remain without a new job, the greater their risk becomes. In a highly specialized industrial society, unskilled work has become rare.
Focusing on the Long-Term
After he was trained as a heating engineer 10 years ago, Jörg Schäfer failed to find a solid job. To support himself, he worked odd jobs in a recycling plant, and as a mason's assistant and janitor. He was often unemployed in the winter, and the road to failure seemed predestined.
Now he is an apprentice once again, working at the Kielburger cabinet-making business in the Rhineland town of Winterbach. He has always liked carpentry. The craftsman who shows him how to operate machines is 25, five years younger than Schäfer, the apprentice.
Schäfer owes his second chance to a pilot project sponsored by the Bad Kreuznach employment agency, which, in late summer 2012, began encouraging the unemployed between 25 and 35 to attend training programs. Now his unemployment benefits and the €400 ($552) remaining from his training stipend are enough to pay for his rent and car.
The Bad Kreuznach experiment has since turned into the national "Late Starter" initiative. By 2015, the Federal Employment Agency (BA) plans to motivate 100,000 young people without qualifications to enter vocational training programs. "Instead of emphasizing short-term measures, we have to focus more heavily on long-term qualification," says BA executive board member Heinrich Alt.
'We Need More Options'
But not everyone looking for a job can be turned into a fully competitive employee. Many come with several obstacles to job placement, and they form the hard core of unemployment. Since the introduction of basic security benefits for job seekers in 2005, about 300,000 people haven't worked a day in a job subject to social insurance contributions.
"For people who did not manage to complete a classic training program the first time around, we need more options, through the use of training modules and partial qualifications, to help them gain a foothold in the job market once again," says Holger Bonin, an economist with the Center for European Economic Research in the southwestern city of Mannheim. Flexible solutions are also needed to further elevate the job market's "silent reserve," including people like Katharina Dries, a 40-year-old paralegal who studied law for five years.
Dries didn't work for almost 12 years. While her husband supported the family as an opera singer, she raised their three children in the Bavarian town of Simbach am Inn. She did the things women in the town normally did. She ran the children's choir, organized mother-and-child groups and helped run the parents' council at the local elementary school. The family moved to Hanover in northern Germany in July, and now she is looking for a job.
Because she received her training so long ago, the employment agency treats Dries as an unskilled worker. What's more, to be able to enter the job market once again, she needs someone to watch her school-age children, as well as a training program she can complete while performing her family duties, such as a part-time program or evening courses.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
11/06/2013 06:34 PM
Kristallnacht: Germany Remembers a Grim Anniversary
By Thomas Rogers
Nov. 9 marks the 75th anniversary of the Nazi regime's "Kristallnacht" pogrom. To memorialize the event, organizers are experimenting with new and sometimes odd methods -- including broken window decals and Twitter dispatches.
On Nov. 9, 1938 -- 75 years ago this weekend -- one of the most notorious events in the history of the Third Reich began across Germany and Austria. Using the assassination of the German diplomat Ernst von Rath in Paris as an excuse, hundreds of Nazis destroyed Jewish-owned businesses, burned down synagogues and savagely attacked Jews and other minorities. The so-called "Kristallnacht" pogrom -- more commonly referred to in Germany as the "November pogroms" -- took place in towns and cities as far apart as Munich, Berlin and Vienna, and resulted in the detention and abuse of thousands in concentration camps. Today the death toll of the pogrom, which lasted several days, is presumed to have been as high as 1,500.
Every year, the solemn event is commemorated in various forms across the country, often with speeches by politicians and historians, and special exhibitions. In the run-up to the anniversary, Chancellor Angela Merkel described it in her weekly podcast as "one of the darkest moments in German history." There was a brief online uproar earlier this week, when a spa in the eastern German state of Thuringia advertised an offer for customers to spend a "long romantic Kristallnacht" at the spa on Nov. 9 (the spa has since said it was a mistake and apologized).
Given the conspicuousness of the anniversary, groups this year are planning some more ambitious and unconventional initiatives in an effort to reach out to young people or others who aren't as aware of this grim moment in German history as they perhaps should be.
The November pogrom is especially significant because "it was the turning point when local persecution became systematic persecution" under Hitler, explains Christoph Kreutzmüller, the author of a German-language book, "Ausverkauf," about Jewish businesses between 1930 and 1945. The violence directed at Jewish businesses and people, as well as at synagogues, in 1938 wasn't only meant to harm the Jewish community, but to impress to an audience of bystanders that things had changed in Germany, that people were now divided between Jews and non-Jews. The anniversary of the pogrom "is a chance to think about categories like perpetrator, bystander and victim -- and to think about the public aspect of this event," says Kreutzmüller, a historian who works at the House of the Wannsee Conference in Berlin.
Broken Windows Project
One of the most conspicuous projects tied to the anniversary is taking place in Berlin. In a joint effort by the Berlin Business Association and the partly government-funded Kultur Projekte Berlin, approximately 100 stores across the Berlin-Brandenburg area will be posting decals on their windows to make it look like they have been broken. "Shop owners of today are remembering the shop owners of that time," says Nils Busch-Petersen from the Berlin-Brandenberg Trade Association. Although less than 1 percent of the German population was Jewish in 1938, he explains, more than 25 percent of all shop owners were.
He had come up with the idea of commemorating the event with simulated broken shop windows several years ago, but it wasn't until the Kultur Projekte signed on that he had the resources to make it happen. The two groups reached out to businesses around Berlin: Some of the participants include KaDeWe, Germany's most famous department store, which was largely Jewish-owned before the war, as well as Galeria Kaufhof, a prominent Berlin department store. Busch-Peterson also points to smaller establishments, like a group of stores on one street in Weissensee, an area in eastern Berlin, he says, that are located next to a shop that sells neo-Nazi apparel. "By putting this in their windows, they want to show that they do not support the Nazis."
But conflating modern-day, non-Jewish-owned businesses with those that were destroyed in the pogrom could also come across as problematic to observers. "The stores aren't saying 'we are victims,'" explains Busch-Peterson. "The German retail industry was deeply influenced by Jewish people, and so we have many reasons to remind people of their role."
Meanwhile, another Berlin government-led initiative is encouraging people to spend Nov. 9 polishing the Stolpersteine, or stumbling blocks, that mark the sidewalks outside the homes of people murdered during the Nazi period. Specially made "stumbling block polishing rags" were inserted into Berlin magazines by Destroyed Diversity, an initiative of the Kultur Projekte marking the 80th anniversary of Hitler's rise to power, with instructions to wet them with water to clean off grime and, if desired, lay a white rose next to the stones as part of a "call to city-wide action."
Each of the stumbling blocks, which are part of a project that began in Cologne in 1995, bears the name of a victim of the Nazi regime, along with the location and date of their death. "It is an entry point into history for young people," says Sören Schneider, from the Stolpersteine Coordination Center in Berlin, "because it locates events in a social environment." On Nov. 9, guides will also give tours of neighborhoods in which stumbling blocks are located and describe local conditions during the Third Reich.
For Kreutzmüller, however, the Destroyed Diversity's polishing initiative is well-intentioned, but flawed. For one, the cloths sent out by the project, which are printed with the words "Berlin cleans stumbling blocks" are too flimsy to do much polishing. "In my experience, you need a special cleaner for the stones," he says. "It's also a pity, because it's commercializing memorial culture." Usually local community members would get together and polish the stones themselves, he says, and "I think that grassroots aspect is important for all memorial culture."
Live-Tweeting a Pogrom
Meanwhile, in the online sphere, a group of German history students and recent graduates have begun dramatizing the pogrom using Twitter. They are live-tweeting the events of the pogroms as if it were 1938, using the handle @9Nov38.
Since Oct. 28, the group, led by recent university graduate Moritz Hoffmann, has been posting dispatches like, "2,000 Polish Jews in Frankfurt are called in for 'passport'-control and locked into a truck" (Oct. 29) and "The Jewish-owned Gelsenkirchen textile business Rode&Co is put 'into Aryan hands'" (Nov. 5). The project, Hoffmann says, was inspired by a similar Twitter experiment carried out last year by the Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk, a German broadcaster that live-tweeted the events preceding and following the fall of the Berlin Wall (which coincidentally also happened on Nov. 9).
"The advantage of Twitter is that we can reach more people," says Hoffmann, who lives in Heidelberg, in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, "and that we can briefly inject these facts into people's everyday lives." The difficulty, he says, is fitting the information into short bursts of texts. In the week since the project began, they have already amassed over 1,400 followers. "You often hear that people don't want to learn about history, but I think this is a nice confirmation that people are still interested."
For Kreutzmüller, these kinds of initiatives, despite their drawbacks, are important because they allow people to think concretely about history. As the witnesses to the 1938 pogrom continue to pass away, the event threatens to disappear into what Kreutzmüller calls "normal history." "Yet, we need to translate history all the time and ask new questions," he says. "It's important it's happening," he added, "but sometimes it's a little awkward."
11/06/2013 06:16 PM
Contentment Ranking: Northern Germans Are the Happiest
According to a new report, the divide in happiness between people in the former East and West Germany is growing. Though experts don't know why, residents of the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein are the most content, while the saddest live in economically depressed Brandenburg.
According to the 2013 "Happiness Atlas" -- a report on the contentment levels of Germans based on data from the German Institute for Economic Research -- the happiest people in Germany live in the northern state of Schleswig Holstein, situated between Hamburg and the Danish border. On a scale of 1 to 10, Schleswig-Holsteiners rate their satisfaction with life at 7.31, significantly above the German average of 7. Overall, Germany comes in at a respectable eighth place among 30 European nations.
At the other end of the scale is Brandenburg, a predominantly rural state in eastern Germany which surrounds Berlin. With unemployment running at 50 percent above the national average and disposable income 14 percent below it, the result is hardly surprising.
But prosperity alone is no reliable predictor of happiness. Schleswig-Holstein is comparatively poor by West German standards, while affluent Bavaria trails in the bottom third of the rating. As Professor Bernd Raffelhüschen from the University of Freiburg, who steered the compilation of the Atlas, put it at a press conference about the report, "This high level of satisfaction is basically inexplicable." It could be related to the state's proximity to Denmark, which, according to the United Nations' World Happiness Report, is the world's happiest country.
Low Contentment in Former East
Over two decades since German reunification the clearest divide in happiness remains between the former East and West, the latter of which has long had been more content. Following years of convergence, the gap actually widened in 2013. This year's study was also the first to specifically examine life satisfaction among the country's immigrant communities. It revealed that immigrant communities' experiences are actually far closer to the national average than the overall experience of people living in the former East Germany.
The study upon which the report is based has followed 11,000 households nationwide for the past 25 years, collecting hard data along with subjective assessments on family life, work, health, income, leisure and housing.
But overall, Germans may be more resigned to their circumstances than their foreign peers. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's 2013 Better Life Index -- a measure of the economic and social well-being of countries around the world -- gives Germany mediocre scores for civic engagement and public health, while praising education and work-life balance.
PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIA ...
11/06/2013 01:35 PMSemicolon Strife: Russia Rejects Court Hearing Over Punctuation
By Thomas Darnstädt
Greenpeace activists have languished in a Russian jail for weeks after attempting to board a Gazprom oil rig. The Netherlands, where the activists' ship was registered, has called on the Hamburg-based international marine tribunal to intervene.
Punctuation can change the world. In the chaos of the Russian Revolution of 1905, typesetters in Moscow went on strike because commas weren't included when their work was calculated.
Now punctuation is once more of extreme importance for Russia, this time in the form of a semicolon. Such a punctuation mark, as used in a 16-year-old diplomatic note, could once again be cause for an argument with geopolitical ramifications.
On Wednesday, the Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea must deal with the case of 30 Greenpeace activists arrested in the Russian port of Murmansk six weeks ago. From their ship Arctic Sunrise, they had attempted to board an oil drilling platform owned by Russian company Gazprom in the Arctic Ocean. The Netherlands, the country under whose flag the Arctic Sunrise was sailing, has long demanded that the icebreaker and its crew be freed. The ruthless actions of the Russian security forces in the Arctic had interfered with the right to freedom of navigation, the Dutch say.
It is a matter of prestige for Russian Pig Vladimir Putin and his diplomats. The Foreign Ministry in Moscow has said it will not take part in Wednesday's proceedings because it argues that the maritime tribunal has no jurisdiction on the matter.
And that is where the punctuation comes in. Whether case number 22 of the seldom-used international court finds for the environmentalists depends very much on whether a Russian legal caveat from 1997 is in effect. In its note of ratification for the UN's Convention on the Law of the Sea, Moscow held that -- among other things -- there should be no judicial interference in "disputes concerning law enforcement activities in the exercise of sovereign rights;".
Reducing an International Dispute to a Semicolon
In maritime agreements such reservations are allowed -- but in terms of "disputes concerning law enforcement activities in the exercise of sovereign rights" only when they relate to fishing or marine research, neither of which was the case on the Arctic Sunrise. In their note, Russian diplomats simply fudged this important limitation away. Where a comma should have been, a semicolon instead appears, separating the exception from the fishing and research caveats.
It is a legal art to reduce international relations during a dispute to a punctuation mark. What is not in dispute is that a caveat, which removes an important subordinate clause, is not allowed under international law. Doris König, professor of maritime law and president of the Bucerius Law School in Hamburg, thus believes that "Russia is unlikely to get away with its caveat at the maritime tribunal."
But that means stoking a row. If the court finds for Greenpeace in case number 22, that will set the stage for further escalation: The verdict will have been decided with no representation from the Kremlin present. In all likelihood, that would not stop the Netherlands from claiming at least a partial victory -- with Russia being told to release some or all of the activists on bail.
That is because any verdict emanating from Hamburg will initially be only a provisional decision. Later arbitration will determine whether the law of the see covers everything that happened on Sept. 18 and 19 in the Arctic Ocean.
A Russian Federal Security Service task force had already been awaiting the Arctic Sunrise on the Prirazlomnaya oil rig. As rubber dinghies were launched from the ship and two activists began to board the platform, the secret service agents intervened. They pursued the Greenpeace vessel with helicopters and boarded it from the air.
A Cold Winter Beckons
A dispute over whether Pig Putin's henchmen were allowed to carry out their actions could become complicated. That the Russian authorities are themselves not completely sure is illustrated by the fact that the initial -- and legally absurd -- charges of piracy laid against the Greenpeace activists were downgraded to "hooliganism," a catch-all term widely used by the former East Germany.
Whatever the exchange of accusations during the preliminary proceedings of the tribunal, one thing is clear: It is completely unreasonable to detain 30 people for weeks in appalling conditions just because they tried to reach an oil rig with small boats. But just as likely as an order from the court for their release is for Russia to react by ignoring that order. This, in turn, could not be tolerated by the Dutch -- and Amsterdam would then ask the European Union for political support, perhaps in the form of sanctions against Russia.
Nothing would be more inconvenient for Brussels than that. At the heart of the problem is Gazprom, the Russian energy giant which provides much of Europe's gas supplies, and with which Europe is so happy to have finally established an orderly business relationship. Sanctions against Gazprom? No one knows how cold the winter will be.
International law experts, meanwhile, still hope that Russia will submit to the Hamburg court, among whose 21 judges is one Russian. Vladimir Vladimirovich Golitsyn has served on the bench there for so long that it would be his turn when his colleagues next elect a new president.
And that election will happen in the coming year.
****************Letters from the Arctic 30 reveal life behind bars - video
Narrated letters from Greenpeace activists and journalists explain daily life in their Murmansk prison. The 'Arctic 30' are being detained by Russian investigators on piracy and hooliganism charges, which carry sentences of up to 15 years. Russia seized the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise and detained its multinational crew in September, after activists attempted to storm an oil rig in the Pechora Sea
Click here: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/video/2013/nov/07/arctic-30-letters-russian-prison-greenpeace
******************I forgive nobody, Bolshoi acid attack victim tells dancer's trial
Sergei Filin speaks in detail for first time about night of attack and is questioned directly by accused Pavel Dmitrichenko
Shaun Walker in Moscow
theguardian.com, Wednesday 6 November 2013 18.07 GMT
The Bolshoi Ballet's artistic director came face to face with the dancer accused of organising the acid attack on him, in an emotionally charged court session on Wednesday that laid bare the vicious rivalries inside the theatre.
Sergei Filin, who has had 23 operations on his eyes since the incident in January, arrived at court in Moscow wearing a suit and dark glasses, and gave an hour of testimony before he was questioned directly from the defendants' cage by Pavel Dmitrichenko, the Bolshoi soloist accused of organising the assault.
Filin became increasingly agitated and emotional during the questioning, and at one point broke down in tears. He said he forgave nobody for the attack, and painted a picture of Dmitrichenko as an unpleasant and vindictive employee who was obsessed with imagined injustices against him and his partner, Anzhelina Vorontsova, also a dancer at the theatre until she left during the summer.
Dmitrichenko, who has said he was unhappy with Filin's artistic direction but did not order the acid attack, in turn pursued an aggressive line of questioning, accusing Filin of extramarital affairs with ballerinas and personal conflicts with many at the theatre.
At the end of the questioning, however, Dmitrichenko said he accepted a certain degree of responsibility for the attack, despite not ordering it. "Sergei, I take moral responsibility for what happened to you, but I didn't ask anyone to do any of this," he said. Filin did not respond.
Dmitrichenko is standing trial along with Yuri Zarutsky, who is accused of throwing the acid, and Andrei Lipatov, who is the alleged getaway driver. Zarutksy has admitted partial guilt. All three face up to 12 years in jail if convicted.
Filin spoke in detail about the circumstances of the attack for the first time. He explained how he returned home from a theatre performance on the evening of 17 January. "I didn't notice anyone following me, and I was thinking how beautiful Moscow is with the silence and the untouched white snow," he said.
He twice entered the code on the gate to get into the courtyard of his apartment complex, but it did not work. He turned around to see a bulky man, whose face was covered with a scarf, approach him and throw liquid in his face. "I have never felt any pain like it in my life," Filin said.
He said that in the weeks leading up to the attack there were a number of unusual occurrences: his email was hacked and distorted versions of the messages were posted on Facebook; and for the first week of the new year his two mobile phones kept ringing, but when he answered there was nobody on the other end.
He described Dmitrichenko as a talented dancer but said it was more difficult to judge his personal qualities. Dmitrichenko was unhappy with his role as a leading soloist and wanted to be a premier dancer, according to Filin. He frequently came to Filin demanding that Vorontsova be allowed to dance in Swan Lake. When Filin refused, Dmitrichenko threatened to expose supposed corruption involving Filin.
"Pavel did everything he could to find compromising material on me," said Filin. "People came to me and said I should be careful, because he is looking for anything he could use against me."
Filin described a number of strange encounters, including with a woman who tried to bribe him with €40,000 in cash to accept a Japanese dancer to the Bolshoi's ballet school, which he believes was an attempt to ensnare him in a corruption scandal.
Filin suggested that the violent attack came about after Dmitrichenko could not find any corrupt activities or other dirt to pin on him. He said the emotional burden on Dmitrichenko of playing villains on stage could also have played a role.
"Ivan the Terrible is a very difficult psychological role, maybe it was hard for him to survive it psychologically," said Filin, referring to one of Dmitrichenko's signature roles on stage, that of the bloodthirsty and crazed 16th-century tsar.
Filin described Dmitrichenko's allegations that he slept with several ballerinas as an "absolute lie", and said the idea that "roles were handed out through my bedsheets" was nonsense. "I never had any intimate relations with any of these women. I want to repeat that I find it an insult to me and to these women because nothing of the sort ever happened."
The court had to break several times for Filin's doctor to administer eye drops, and when it was Dmitrichenko's turn to ask questions Filin asked to sit down and sat staring straight at the judge, without turning to look at the accused.
As Dmitrichenko continued to ask questions about supposed conflicts between Filin and other employees at the theatre, Filin became flustered and irate, at one point breaking into falsetto to impersonate Veronika Sanadze, the head of the ballet office at the theatre, with whom Dmitrichenko alleged he had a dispute. Filin said the conflict had been manipulated by Dmitrichenko, who had seized on it "like Batman" to organise other dancers into a plot against him.
Filin's lawyers said he also wanted to bring a civil case against the defendants, demanding 508,000 roubles (£9,700) in physical damages and 3m roubles in moral compensation. When asked to explain how the attack had affected him, Filin began to cry.
"I've lost an eye. I can't see my children any more," he said, as his lawyer handed him a tissue. Filin later left the courtroom visibly distressed and sighing heavily, while Dmitrichenko and his co-defendants were led out in handcuffs.
The judge granted Filin leave not to appear at further hearings, due to his need to return to Germany for a further operation on his eyes.
The trial continues on Thursday.
November 6, 2013On Holding Hands and Fake Marriage: Stories of Being Gay in Russia
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
MOSCOW — Yegor grew up in a Siberian town called Lyobov, which means “love” in Russian, but he has never told his parents that when he falls in love, it is with other men.
“I don’t want them to feel ashamed,” Yegor, 34, wrote in response to an invitation to readers of The New York Times to share their experiences of what it is like to be gay in Russia. “This has nothing to do with legislation,” he said.
He was referring to a federal law signed by President Pig Putin in June banning “propaganda on nontraditional sexual relationships.” Officials say the law will protect children, but it is widely recognized as an effort to suppress homosexuality.
In the West, the law provoked a loud outcry, including some calls for a boycott of the Olympic Games in February in Sochi. Within Russia, the law has drawn unprecedented attention to the issue of gay rights. It has also apparently contributed to a rise in anti-gay violence, including an attack on Sunday at the office of a charitable group in St. Petersburg that works to prevent the spread of AIDS. One victim lost an eye when two masked men stormed the office and began firing guns that shoot high-velocity rubber bullets.
To better understand what it is like to identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in a country that officially discourages openness, The Times asked readers to share their stories. More than 400 responded, in Russian and English, from across this vast land, from the cosmopolitan metropolises of St. Petersburg and Moscow, to Vladivostok on the Pacific, from the predominantly Muslim Caucasus in the south, to sparsely populated towns in Siberia.
There have been few prosecutions under the new law, and none of the readers said they knew of anyone arrested. Still, nearly all the readers who wrote in said they had felt the psychological sting of the law, and many said they were afraid. Many asked to be identified only by their first names.
“Though my hair is short and I don’t look gay, I am always scared,” wrote Mikhail, 30, from Novosibirsk.
Some expressed self-loathing; others a fierce desire to leave the country.
Visiting Sochi on Oct. 28 with the new president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, Mr. Putin insisted that there would be no discrimination during the Winter Games.
“We will do everything, and our athletes and fans will do everything, to ensure that participants and guests feel comfortable at the Olympics in Sochi, irrespective of nationality, race or sexual orientation,” Mr. Putin said. Russian rights groups complained that Mr. Bach did not respond to a request for a meeting.
The disquiet among Russian gays and lesbians is pervasive.
“Our country is afraid of those who are different,” wrote Anastasia Nikolaeva, 18, a lesbian who lives in St. Petersburg.
A number of teenagers in smaller cities said that they had never met anyone who is openly gay, at least not in person. Readers of all ages cited the Internet as the best way to meet others who identify as L.G.B.T., meaning lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, though some said they were now nervous to go online because of reports of the Web’s being used by “hunters” to find targets for violence.
“I pretty much always knew I’d die alone unless I got out of the country somehow,” wrote Eugene, 28, of Orenburg, near the border of Kazakhstan. “There are about 100-150 people from my town registered at one of the few dating sites for abominations like myself and I’m pretty sure at least a tenth of those are hunters.”
Following are a selection of fuller reader responses, lightly edited and translated if necessary.
1. A Confession to a Professor
I grew up in Siberia, in a tiny gold-mining town called Lyubov, meaning love in Russian. The complications for me started in high school, especially in terms of becoming aware of my sexuality. The topic simply wasn’t discussed, except in rude anecdotes and jokes. So the only way to live as a gay teenager in such a place out was to be completely closeted. I just waited to get out of there.
Although it was easier for me when I went off to the university — I was in a city and the culture was more accepting — that topic was still never discussed. From 1996-2001, there were no open gays in our university. Not a single teacher or a student.
My professor was one of the first people I felt I simply must tell. I would meet with her and she would give me advice. But when a person can’t be himself, it’s such a huge psychological burden. Eventually I mustered the bravery and I decided to make a confession.
I went to her house, prepared to tell her everything, but she wasn’t home. At first I just went away. But then I reminded myself that I had to do this so I returned and left a note: “I must tell you something. I am gay. Take it as you want. I’m sorry.” It was the most emotional moment in my life. On the one hand it was a huge relief, but on the other hand I didn’t know what would come of it. I was in shock.
The next day my knees were shaking as I walked to the university. After class when almost everyone had left, she said, “Yegorchik, come over here for a second.”
“I got your note,” she said. “I need to talk to you seriously later of course, but this is what I want to tell you now. I want you to know that no matter what happens, you will always remain a closest and dearest person to me.” This was a great comfort to me, but I couldn’t say anything. I ran away.
As time went on, I was waiting for that next conversation, because I wanted to talk about it more. But she didn’t bring it up. And then one day, some time later, when we were driving in the car and she was talking about my future family, I said, “Well you know, I’m not planning to get married.” And she said, “You just don’t know yourself.” That was incredibly sad for me.
My parents in Siberia are still unaware of my preferences and I don’t feel like telling them. This has nothing to do with legislation, but simply because I don’t want them to feel ashamed. —Yegor, 34, Moscow
2. A Fake Marriage
My boyfriend and I are Muslims from the Caucasus. It’s impossible to live there peacefully as a gay person, and the more people found out about our relationship, the more worried we became. Finally we decided that I’d enter into a fake marriage with a lesbian girl, and that would be an excuse to move to St. Petersburg (my fake wife was originally from there). We thought life would be more relaxed once we were in St. Petersburg, but then Vitaly Milonov announced his initiative to pass an anti-gay law. It was as if society had lit a fuse; everywhere we went people were talking about gays, about how they should be burned and killed. My boyfriend and I have been together for more than two years. We live together, as a stable family unit. It would be nice to make friends in our new city, but we generally avoid getting to know other people, especially since it’s often a trap. It’s safer to live secretly. And if being gay wasn’t enough, they have a thing against Muslims and people from the Caucasus in this city. — Rustam, 28, St. Petersburg
3. Lessons in Love
The whole thing started when I fell in love with my Russian teacher. I was 12 and she was a kind of goddess for me. When all the girls started being interested in boys, I started writing poems about my teacher. I never thought that something was wrong with my feelings. I was just a kid who fell in love for the first time, and it felt like a kind of magic.
I thought that she was the only one I could love, but later in a new class I fell for another girl. I never said anything, but maybe there was.
Anastasia Nikolaeva, who has been riding horses for almost ten years, came out to her family and friends through social media.
something in the way I looked at her that made the whole thing clear. She told everyone in our class that I was different. Kids started calling me “Shrek” and wrote “You’re not welcome here” on my desk. They even chased me out a window. (I landed, unhurt.) I felt like an animal being hunted, but no teacher paid attention. What hurt most was that the girl I fell in love with was the first one to bully me.
All through this, I started to wonder, what will happen if I tell my old friends, the ones that have always loved me, that I am gay. When I did, they were kind of shocked, but nobody turned away from me. Later on I had my first girlfriend, then second, then third. Girls were joking with me, “It seems that it’s easier for you to find a girlfriend, than for any of us to find a boyfriend.”
Things were going much better until I got involved with this girl whose mother was a judge at an arbitration court. The Federal Security Service did a check on the phone records and social network profiles of everyone in her family. They showed her all our messages and told her to “solve this problem” if she wanted to keep on climbing the ladder.
Suddenly, I had an adult woman calling me from different phone numbers, telling me to never even say a word to her daughter again. She called me “dirty dyke” and threatened to tell everything my parents if I didn’t stay away. The only thing I could think the whole time was — how is this woman a judge, making official decisions about who is guilty and who is not? She even sent her daughter to private school in Switzerland to separate us.
Still my parents did not know. One day my mother told me her brother was going to have dinner with us and that he was bringing his special “friend.” That’s how I found out that my uncle has a boyfriend. He was the first person in my family I truly opened up to, but even he told me to be cautious about telling my parents, so I waited.
Two years later — just a few months ago now — I took part in a project, “Kids/Teens-404,” focused on getting Russian L.G.B.T. teens to share their stories. In essence, I came out on my social network profile page for everyone to see — my mother’s friends, acquaintances I’ve overheard making homophobic remarks. But all the feedback that started streaming in was positive: People told me they were proud of me; that I was doing the right thing telling the truth about myself. Not one person said anything negative. And in that moment I understood: People in Russia are more tolerant than I had thought.
My uncle told me that my parents also saw my story on [the social media site] VKontakte. "Be good. They will always love you, no matter who you are,” he told me. Maybe they couldn’t tell me themselves, but still these were the best words in the world for me.
What people have to understand is that our country is afraid of those who are different, because for years if you were friends with somebody in the forbidden categories in the U.S.S.R., you would be automatically considered an enemy of the state. Most parents don’t hate their gay children, they are just afraid of what other people will think and say. It’s not only hate that speaks out loud in our people, but also the fear of being misunderstood. —Anastasia Nikolaeva, 18, St. Petersburg
4. As a Foreigner, I Am Already an Alien
Russia is an easy place to be gay insofar as the lack of exposure to openly gay people makes the Russian public almost comically unaware of the (stereo)typical behavior that homosexuals actually exhibit. Unless your public statements and actions explicitly reveal your homosexuality to someone on the street here, then no one will ever assume you are gay. Remember: this is a country where the straight men sport their thong underwear loud and proud. As an expatriate in Russia, I face relatively few restrictions when compared to the locals. Western gays are allowed to be fairly open because Russians tend to view all Westerners with the same degree of bemused curiosity. Our behavior (just as that of heterosexual Westerners) is often seen by the locals as neither gay nor straight, but merely Martian.
Gay men almost exclusively meet on sites like GayRomeo or the ubiquitous hookup apps Grindr and Scruff. [There were more than 50,000 Russia-based Grindr accounts in June, at the time the federal gay propaganda ban was signed, according to Grindr.] In a society that is not, on the whole, “affluent,” almost every person of every social standing has an iPhone. There are actually lots of people here whom we would describe in the West as “gay.” Willing sex partners are never in short supply, but the challenge lies in finding the rare gay Russian who doesn’t live with his wife or parents. In terms of relationships, it’s extremely difficult to find a gay Russian who will openly acknowledge his homosexuality. Beyond this, the chief challenge for me in Moscow lies in maintaining interest in a gay scene that remains, for a city of 12 million people, completely hidden, spectacularly one-dimensional and mind-numbingly provincial. — Patrick, 31, Moscow
5. A Difficult Parenting Decision
If it wasn’t for this vile, nasty law, I think I’d already be a mother. My partner and I have lived together for many years, and the idea to have kids first came up probably about four years ago. Eventually we decided that we wanted to have kids by artificial insemination. I believe in being openly L.G.B.T. When the doctor at the clinic asked why I haven’t had kids yet, I didn’t try to make something up, I simply said that I’m part of a homosexual family. And it didn’t cause any sort of problems. The clinic is private and expensive, so I think they just didn’t care.
All of this was about a year and a half ago, right when this law was starting to be discussed. There were also some political events that weren’t comforting. How will our child grow up, I wondered. I was still fairly optimistic though. I have gay friends who are raising an adopted child. And it seemed to me that all problems can basically be resolved on a personal level.
But when the time came to go through with it all, we started hearing all of this stuff about how the law would affect children. If there’s a ban on gay people’s being portrayed positively in the media, then the child might get a poor image of his own family.There were frightened conversations happening in the L.G.B.T. community. We decided to delay the decision for two or three months.
I thought about the alternatives. I realized that if we did have a child, I’d have to give up being open and live quietly with the baby. If I continued on as an activist, it would be a huge risk for the child. It was a difficult decision but I realized I couldn’t silently live a lie, so we decided not to have the baby. — Natalia Kruglova, 35, Moscow
6. Harassed at the Market
I work as a lawyer in an L.G.B.T. organization. Since the law passed, it’s become more difficult to simply walk into court because nationalists come and harass us. There’s a trial going on now, a man is accused of attacking L.G.B.T. activists after a rally. His friends keep showing up at court to support him. At first it was just a couple standing outside and yelling insults at us when we arrived. Then on July 4, a group of 10 or so showed up, holding flags, blocking the door and shouting, “The court is for people, not for fags.” They threw eggs at us. The police didn’t come when they were called.
Maria Kozlovskaya, left, with her partner.
Courtesy Maria Kozlovskaya
Maria Kozlovskaya, left, with her partner.
At the most recent session in October, they attacked us again. We came out of the court and there were reporters there, asking for commentary. I started to answer their questions and a guy appeared and started throwing eggs at me, at my back, my head. Then he crossed the street and ran away. I tried to report it to the police, but they didn’t listen. The guy’s friend recorded the whole thing and posted it to social networks, calling me a “faggot” and joking that they should have thrown stones and not eggs.
All over St. Petersburg, people have become less tolerant. After the passage of the law, people began to insult us outside grocery stores and next to our homes. A man followed me and my partner into a store once and yelled, “They’re perverts, they must be thrown out of this store where normal people buy things.” He tried to call the director of the store over. He was sober, young – probably around 30 years old. He yelled that he had a pregnant wife at home and didn’t want his kids to grow up around people like us. No one answered him, so after some time he left.
After that incident, I try to keep track of my behavior in public, to check if there are potentially dangerous people nearby. If there’s ever a suspicious person around, we don’t hold hands or show our feelings, even in the most minimal ways. —Maria Kozlovskaya, 28, St. Petersburg
7. Stuck in a Skirt
I teach history at a university. Right now I’m teaching a master’s course called Gender History.
I try to explain the concepts of non-normative sexuality very clearly, to show what we get from studying the gay subculture in St. Petersburg at the turn of the 20th century. Because I teach master’s students, I haven’t encountered any problems with the law (they are not considered “under age” like undergrads), but I notice that the students react as if what I’m teaching them is very strange.
I always show up to teach in a skirt. I feel more confident that way. If I came in my normal outfits, I feel I might seem less legitimate in their eyes. It’s already clear that my behavior and mannerisms don’t fit within the traditional woman-in-academia box. Even in my skirt, my students tease me about my hair sometimes.
I’m planning to continue my research into the gay subculture in Russia. I found some incredibly rich materials in the archives on sexuality and subcultures in the early Soviet Union and Stalinist periods, but I can’t discuss it with my colleagues, even other professors the history department. I want to go to Canada to finish my Ph.D. I understand that here, my work won’t be interesting to anyone. And there’s hardly a chance I’d ever get a grant for that kind of research. — Ira Roldugina, 30, Moscow
8. The Shock of Leaving Russia
I grew up in Vladivostok, a port city in Russia’s Far East that most Americans have never heard of. As a teen I did not stop to consider my sexuality, but I did dream of travel. My first trip to America was in 2007, when I was 19. I was accepted to a student exchange program and assigned to spend the summer serving popcorn in a movie theater in San Francisco. There was this guy at work and someone told me he was gay, and it was like I had been told, “He just got out of prison.” I remember my first feeling was that I had to avoid him because I’d been warned about these sorts of people when I was young. He was about 30 years old, this Mexican guy, and one day he offered me something to drink. And I thought, “I am not going to take anything from him!”
That same trip in San Francisco, I stopped a lady to ask for directions and then when I heard a male voice I realized it was a guy. Oh my God! I didn’t show it in my face, but I was in shock. Back in Vladivostok, a transsexual person was something that existed only in the movies. I remember my first thought was, “Well, he’s walking around the city and he’s not afraid. And it’s O.K. Really? Is it possible?”
As I became a dancer and took jobs and studied in other countries, I did not grasp what I was escaping. But little by little I began to understand. I was walking along the street in Barcelona with my first real boyfriend. Suddenly he took my hand. Oh my God. I freaked out so strongly. I was looking around to see if someone was watching us or judging us. I thought someone would punch us in the face or spit at us. I still had that old Russian mentality. But nothing happened.
Now I’m studying and working in New York. Just 35 minutes ago I kissed my boyfriend in a coffee shop. I would still never do that in Vladivostok. I talk to my gay friends back home and many of them don’t see it as bad because they have gotten used to living under certain kinds of rules. But under these rules, nothing ever changes. In small cities and rural villages, gay people just go on, seeming like something from a fairy tale. — Sasha Korbut, 26, New York
Produced by Hanna Ingber, Heather Murphy, Andrew Roth, Noah Sneider and Sandra Stevenson.
11/06/2013 05:01 PM
Nuclear Arsenal: US To Turn Old Bombs Into All-Purpose Weapons
By Markus Becker and Otfried Nassauer
The US wants to modernize nuclear bombs stationed in Europe in a way many experts call the equivalent of creating a new weapon. Critics believe the move violates pledges by President Obama he would not develop new nukes.
The idea of fighter jets taking off from Western Europe, thundering their way eastwards and dropping nuclear bombs on Soviet troops is a scenario taken straight out of the Cold War playbook. But while that playbook has long been outdated, American nuclear bombs are still stationed in Europe. In Germany alone, up to 20 B-61 weapons are stored on a German airbase in the village of Büchel in Rhineland-Palatinate.
The German government has said on numerous occasions it would like to see those weapons removed, but there is no great chance of that happening anytime soon. Instead, the weapons are expected to be upgraded with enhanced military capabilities.
Last week, representatives of the US military, the Pentagon and the Department of Energy announced new details about the B-61 program in a hearing in the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Strategic Forces. The new variant of the nuclear bomb, called the B61-12, is now expected to replace the older types 3, 4, 7 and 10 as well as the bunker-busting B-61-11 and B-83 strategic nuclear bombs. The latter has an explosive power of up to 1.2 megatons of TNT, making it more than 90 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
The first B-61-12 is expected to be completed by 2020. By 2024, all the old bombs are expected to be replaced. Then, according to the plan, the new weapons will be deployable using fighter jets like the F-16, the new F-35 and with strategic bombers like the B-2 "Spirit" or the planned new LRS-B bomber.
The German Tornado fighter bombers stationed at Büchel will also be equipped to be able to use the new B-61-12 weapons, but only as analog ballistic glide bombs ("System 1"). The "System 2" weapons will be modern, digital nuclear precision bombs designed for modern digital fighter-bombers like the F-35, the "Joint Strike Fighter". This will be made possible by adding a state of the art new guided bomb Tail Kit Assembly that is being developed simultaneously with the B-61-12 by Boeing. Some 800 of these new tail kits are to be purchased at an expected cost of $1.6 billion.
The US military has high expectations for "System 2". Because of its greater precision, the weapon will require significantly reduced explosive power compared to most of its predecessors. The smallest of the existing B-61s, the B-61-4, has a destructive power of 50 kilotons of TNT, or roughly four times the size of the Hiroshima bomb. Reused and reworked nuclear components will be used for the B-61-12, but the explosive power of the new bomb is expected to cover and securely destroy the same targets that previously weapons with 300, 400 or even more kilotons of TNT might have coped with.
Warnings of a Weapon with New Capabilities
Indeed, experts view the B-61-12 as far more than a pure life-extension program or slightly upgraded version of the old bombs. Instead, they consider it to be, de facto, a weapon with new military capabilities -- a development that would seem to violate the spirit of US President Barack Obama's stated pledge of not creating any new nuclear weapons or ones with new military capabilities.
So far, no bombs with the military capabilities of the B-61-7, B-61-11 or B-82 have been deployed in Europe, Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists wrote in a blog posting on Oct. 31. The B-61-12 is intended to consolidate the potential of all these weapons. "Not bad for a simple life-extension," Kristensen wrote. That would make the B-61-12 an "all-in-one nuclear bomb on steroids," he added.
Stephen Young of the Union of Concerned Scientists expressed similar thoughts. The responsible agency, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), itself admits that 15 of the 16 planned upgrades are not aimed at improving security and avoiding obsolescence, but rather an increase in performance. According to Young, that shows that performance has been the "driving factor" behind the modernization program.
But this is not even the crucial question, argues Oliver Meier from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, because "the new capabilities will come about at any rate." That has already been stressed not only by external experts but also by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO). And "one must deal with" this reality, Meier said.
A Threat to Disarmament Negotiations
The NNSA is trying to placate its critics: The B-61-12 uses revised versions of nuclear components taken from an existing bomb and brings with it no new military capabilities, officials claim. All targets for which the B-61-12 was conceived have already been covered previously -- with weapons that carry a much greater explosive power. And with the help of the B-61-12, the US' total stockpile of airborne nuclear bombs could be reduced by around half its current amount.
But observers warn of a potential threat to the future disarmament negotiations between NATO and Russia, intended to discuss the issue of non-strategic nuclear weapons. That the B-61-12 is now set to replace the B-61-11 bunker buster and the strategic B-83 is "indeed alarming," Meier said. "The Russians are modernizing their arsenal also, and will surely, therefore, gratefully use the B-61 program to question NATO's seriousness." In the disarmament efforts, the B-61 modernization program is thus "definitely not helpful."
Götz Neuneck of the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy in Hamburg sees the onus being put onto the incoming German government. "They should make it clear to Washington that Europe does not need the new bombs and will not make any delivery systems available for it." In addition, NATO must urgently make concrete offers to Russia with regards to the controversial US missile defense system, which is seen by Moscow as a threat. "If all this fails," said Neuneck, "new tactical nuclear weapons will be stationed in Europe, and nuclear disarmament will be impossible for decades."
'We Still Need to Complete' the Program
The NNSA, meanwhile, is pressing ahead with the B-61 modernization program, despite the criticism from pro-disarmament politicians and an enormous explosion in costs -- because the B-61 project is only the first step on the path to a more modern, much more efficient nuclear weapons posture for the US. In November 2012, the Nuclear Weapons Council, a joint decision-making body of the departments of defense and energy, enacted the so-called 3-plus-2 strategy, whereby American nuclear weapons are to be kept ready for use until well into the second half of this century.
In the future, Washington plans to have three types of nuclear warheads for sea- and land-based long-range missiles. Two further types will remain in service on aircraft: One bomb, the B-61-12, and one warhead yet to be chosen for future air-launched cruise missiles, which is set to be based on a derivative of the B-61.
From the viewpoint of the NNSA, the B-61 program cannot be dumped, because it would have a domino effect on subsequent projects complementing the 3-plus-2 strategy. Even the prospect of the planned new disarmament agreement with Russia, in which non-strategic nuclear weapons are set to be included for the first time, is not a valid reason from their perspective. "Make no mistake," said assistant secretary of defense for global strategic affairs Madelyn Creedon, "even if the NATO alliance struck an agreement with Russia to mutually reduce tactical nuclear weapons, we would still need to complete the B-61-12 LEP (life extension program) on the current timeline."
The other four warhead types are also set to be thoroughly modernized. Whether additional new weapons would be developed in doing so is still open. In a plan describing the NNSA's future programs that was recently put before Congress, it said: "NNSA will not develop new nuclear warheads or provide new military capability, except to improve safety, security and reliability."
UK spy chiefs to face MPs over mass surveillance
Heads of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ expected to use committee hearing to condemn NSA leaks and justify scale of operations
Patrick Wintour, political editor
theguardian.com, Thursday 7 November 2013 09.26 GMT
The three heads of the British intelligence agencies are to make an unprecedented public televised appearance in front of the intelligence and security committee of MPs where they will seek to justify the scale of their surveillance activities.
Before the 90-minute hearing on Thursday afternoon, the former head of GCHQ Sir David Omand claimed the effectiveness of the committee itself was as much on show as the spy chiefs themselves.
The session, subject to a two-minute TV delay to avoid secrets inadvertently being broadcast, was agreed before news of mass surveillance by the UK and US was leaked by Edward Snowden, the former US National Security Agency contractor. It will feature the head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, his MI5 counterpart, Andrew Parker, and Sir Iain Lobban, head of the secretive GCHQ.
Apart from a test of the system of parliamentary accountability, the session is likely to be a forum for the heads of the agencies to condemn the leaks, and justify the scale of their intelligence operations in the digital age.
Lobban has mounted a strong defence of his staff, saying they "spend their lives protecting the security of Britain and the safety of British citizens".
Omand accused the former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald and other reporters of "dodging around the issue of damage to public security".
He asserted: "As a result of the revelations we know less about the people who are trying to harm us and we are therefore less safe."
He urged journalists to to be honest about the damage. If there was such an admission, it would be possible to have a debate, he said.
"I have argued for a long time that the government should have been more open about the purpose of intelligence and the general ways in an internet age you have to go about accessing intelligence. That debate is perfectly reasonable."
He rejected as nonsense claims in the Guardian that one reason why the intelligence agencies had argued against the use of intercept evidence in court trials was because it wished to keep secret the scale of its intelligence gathering.
Omand said he was proud of the British collaboration with American intelligence agencies, saying: "We have the brains, they have the money." He added that it was an open matter of debate about how GCHQ was funded by the US.
He was sure, he said, that the committee would have had detailed briefings on the scale of GCHQ's activity, but in private.
"The ISC has now been reconstituted. It is now a proper committee of parliament. They have got new powers. They are on show this afternoon every bit as much as the three heads of agencies. They have to demonstrate they can satisfy the need for oversight and satisfy parliament that they are doing a job that in other areas of government can be done by much more open means."
Greenwald challenged the performance of the ISC, saying: "I think the system has failed to exercise meaningful accountability up to this point because there was a huge suspicionless system of mass spying that the British and American people had no idea had been built in their name. But I think that system can bring about real accountability if there is the political will."
He challenged claims that the Guardian's journalism had damaged national security, saying no evidence had yet been produced to justify these assertions.
In a speech to the defence industry, reported by the Sun, Lobban said his agents had "definitively saved the lives" of British troops abroad.
"I'm fiercely proud of GCHQ's people, past and present," he said.
In a sign of the nervous attitude, Richard Barrett, the former head of counter-terrorism at MI6, insisted the ISC session would not lead to fireworks. "This session will be one that is collaborative rather than confrontational. I don't think that the parliament in the UK thinks that the intelligence agencies have been up to no good. I think that quite rightly they believe that they've been properly regulated and following the law as it applies to them.
"I don't think we'll get a whole load of questions that are aggressively put and seeking to trip up the heads of the agencies."
The ISC has said the session will cover "the terrorist threat, regional instability and weapons proliferation, cyber security and espionage" but not ongoing operations or cases. The committee will question the chiefs on the work of the agencies, their current priorities and the threats to the UK.
Tim Berners-Lee: encryption cracking by spy agencies 'appalling and foolish'
Inventor of world wide web condemns 'dysfunctional and unaccountable' oversight as intelligence chiefs face MPs
The Guardian, Thursday 7 November 2013
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the computer scientist who created the world wide web, has called for a "full and frank public debate" over internet surveillance by the National Security Agency and its British counterpart, GCHQ, warning that the system of checks and balances to oversee the agencies has failed.
As the inventor of the global system of inter-connectivity known as the web, with its now ubiquitous www and http, Berners-Lee is uniquely qualified to comment on the internet spying revealed by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
In an interview with the Guardian, he expressed particular outrage that GCHQ and the NSA had weakened online security by cracking much of the online encryption on which hundreds of millions of users rely to guard data privacy.
He said the agencies' decision to break the encryption software was appalling and foolish, as it directly contradicted efforts of the US and UK governments to fight cybercrime and cyberwarfare, which they have identified as a national security priority. Berners-Lee also said it was a betrayal of the technology industry.
In contrast to several senior British politicians – including the prime minister, David Cameron – who have called for the Guardian to be investigated over reporting of the Snowden leaks, Berners-Lee sees the news organisation and Snowden as having acted in the public interest.
"Whistleblowers, and responsible media outlets that work with them, play an important role in society. We need powerful agencies to combat criminal activity online – but any powerful agency needs checks and balances and, based on recent revelations, it seems the current system of checks and balances has failed," he said.
The damning assessment was given as the heads of GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 prepared to face questioning by MPs in the Commons on Thursday. In an unprecedented hearing in Westminster, questions over the conduct of Britain's spy agencies will be raised when the heads of the three secret services go before parliament's intelligence and security committee.
The 90-minute session will give the nine-strong committee, led by Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a chance to question the agencies about the reach of the mass surveillance programmes that have provoked a global debate about privacy in the internet age. While critics have often despaired of the ISC's lack of clout, Rifkind has promised to use new powers to provide robust scrutiny of the agencies and restore public confidence in what they have been doing.
As the director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that seeks to forward global standards for the web, Berners-Lee is a leading authority on the power and the vulnerabilities of the internet.
He said the Guardian's coverage of the Snowden leaks had to be seen within the context of the failure of oversight of GCHQ's and the NSA's surveillance activities. "Here is where whistleblowing and responsible reporting can step in to protect society's interests.
"It seems clear that the Guardian's reporting around the scale and scope of state surveillance has been in the public interest and has uncovered many important issues which now need a full and frank public debate."
Talking in his office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Berners-Lee said that though he had anticipated many of the surveillance activities exposed by Snowden, including taps on the internet through the Prism program, he had not been prepared for the scale of the NSA/GCHQ operations. "I didn't realise it would be so big," he said.
At worst, such spying could damage the public's confidence in the intimate privacy of the internet as a free and safe place to interact. "When you take away the safe space, you take away a lot of the power of human problem solving," he warned.
Berners-Lee will mark the 25th anniversary of his invention of the web next year by campaigning for greater public awareness of threats to the internet and by pushing for a charter that would codify the rights of all its users. As head of the World Wide Web Foundation, on 22 November he will release the 2013 Web Index, which measures the web's growth, utility and impact across about 80 countries – including indicators on censorship and surveillance.
The scientist, who was honoured in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, reserved his harshest words for GCHQ and the NSA's undermining of the protection afforded by encryption, which he said would benefit organised criminal hacker gangs and hostile states.
"In a totalitarian state where it reckoned it was the only strong state in the world, I can imagine that being a reasonable plan. But in this situation, internet security is hard. It's naïve to imagine that if you introduce a weakness into a system you will be the only one to use it."
He also criticised the cracking of encryption on ethical grounds: "Any democratic country has to take the high road; it has to live by its principles. I'm very sympathetic to attempts to increase security against organised crime, but you have to distinguish yourself from the criminal."
Berners-Lee said that the series of Snowden disclosures revealed a failure at the heart of oversight in both the US and UK governments, which he called "dysfunctional and unaccountable". The leaked documents raised the question: who guards the guards themselves?
In practice, he said, the only practical answer to that question was the whistleblowers. He called for the introduction of an international system of protection for whistleblowers such as Snowden, who has taken a year's temporary refuge in Russia.
The Obama administration has pursued official leakers heavily, launching eight prosecutions under the 1917 Espionage Act including that of Snowden himself – more than twice the total number under all previous presidents.
"Civilisation has to a certain extent depended on whistleblowers, and therefore you have to protect them," Berners-Lee said.
Sarah Harrison joins other Edward Snowden files 'exiles' in Berlin
UK journalist's lawyers advise against returning home after working with NSA whistleblower, says statement on WikiLeaks
Philip Oltermann in Berlin
The Guardian, Wednesday 6 November 2013 19.45 GMT
Sarah Harrison, the British journalist and WikiLeaks staffer who has been working with Edward Snowden since his arrival in Moscow, has left Russia and joined the growing band of net activists stranded in Berlin.
A statement released on the WikiLeaks website, attributed to Harrison, states that she arrived in Germany on Saturday and has been advised by her lawyers that it is "not safe to return home" to the UK.
Harrison joins a growing group of journalists and activists who were involved in the publication of Snowden's files and are now living in the German capital "in effective exile", including Laura Poitras and Jacob Applebaum.
The statement, which is also quoted on Spiegel website, accused the US and UK governments of using "aggressive tactics" against journalists who have reported on unethical surveillance practices.
"It should be fanciful to suggest that national security journalism which has the purpose of producing honest government or enforcing basic privacy rights should be called 'terrorism', but that is how the UK is choosing to interpret this law."
Harrison has appeared in many of the photographs of Snowden that have emerged from Russia. Last Thursday, she was present at the meeting between the NSA whistleblower and the German Green politician Hans-Christian Ströbele in Moscow.
The statement does not clarify why Harrison, 31, left Moscow, but says: "Edward Snowden is safe and protected until his asylum visa is due to be renewed in nine months time", and that "there is still much work to be done".
Harrison, a graduate of City University's journalism programme, first started working with WikiLeaks before the Afghan war documents leak and played a key role during the publication of the embassy cables and in Julian Assange's fight against extradition to Sweden. She accompanied Snowden on the flight from Hong Kong to Moscow on 23 June.
• This article was amended on 6 November 2013. The original picture showed Edward Snowden with Jesselyn Raddack, not Sarah Harrison. This has been corrected
US spooks play into the hands of Russia, China and others who want control over global digital citizens
In Beijing I've seen at first hand how authoritarian regimes aim to exploit the NSA's destruction of a utopian internet vision
The Guardian, Thursday 7 November 2013
No wonder Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping are smiling: they are closer than they have ever been to mastering who is saying and doing what online. They and other authoritarian leaders are watching with glee as US intelligence agencies destroy what is left of the original utopian vision of a cyberspace free of government control.
The process was under way long before Edward Snowden revealed the extent of surveillance by the US National Security Agency. But the allegations of mass monitoring of hitherto friendly political leaders, businesses and ordinary internet users around the world have stoked a backlash with worrying consequences.
Slowly but surely governance of the internet is moving from the existing mishmash of institutions and into the hands of national governments. The Chinese call this "cyber autonomy".
Authoritarian regimes are showing ever-greater confidence in restricting information, filtering, blocking, monitoring and punishing anyone who steps over the mark. During a recent visit to Beijing – attending a seminar on new media at the Central Party School – I was given a remarkable insight into official thinking.
The issue is one of the most sensitive in China, going to the heart of the party's hold on power. With up to 600 million netizens – spending hours every day on the micro-blogging site Weibo and the messaging service WeChat – is it still possible to control the message? The party believes it can. The exhortations were colourful: I was told that China needed to help people "show responsibility and reasonableness" and to "harmonise the public and private persona, to minimise public confusion".
After President Xi's call to "seize the ground of new media", a law was introduced in September to punish "wrongful rumours" online. Content that is re-posted more than 500 times or viewed more than 5,000 times could land the author in jail for up to three years. A number of well-known bloggers have since been arrested.
Reports say that China has an estimated 2 million "internet opinion analysts" tracking content. The boundaries for acceptable and unacceptable information are subjective. It may be patriotic to report on the corruption of certain officials; to cast aspersions on others could be a crime. Chillingly, I was told that the party is looking at an "explicit protocol to provide for future discipline requirements".
Given the penalties, harassment and deliberate vagueness of the boundary lines, it is remarkable that so many ordinary Chinese are as outspoken as they are. They have more to fear now than ever before.
In Russia, alongside the violence meted out to journalists – making it one of the most dangerous places for investigative reporters to operate – new laws instigated under the guise of child protection allow the authorities to close down sites immediately and force the big service providers to block access.
Other countries have imposed their own rules to promote "responsibility" and "stability". In Singapore new licensing regulations require news websites with more than 50,000 unique visitors a month to pay a deposit then comply with takedown orders within 24 hours.
The credibility of the US to proselytise about individual rights online is pretty much shot. Its attempts to preserve the existing system of internet governance have been similarly undermined.
Until now, a number of organisations have shared responsibility: groups with an alphabet soup of acronyms, from Icann (Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers, a US-based not-for-profit organisation that assigns domains) to IGF (Internet Governance Forum, which brings together companies, civil society groups, governments and techies for an annual week of discussions on the future of the net).
At the recent IGF in Indonesia the Chinese were, for the first time, out in force. One "expert" offered to explain to a US state department official why US human rights standards are not up to scratch and how China could help.
Gatherings such as these are often cumbersome, but they have the benefit of being open to all voices – multi-stakeholder in geek jargon. All this could change. Moves are afoot to give a long- established but previously low-profile UN organisation – the International Telecommunications Union – jurisdiction over the web. The ITU is the preserve of governments alone.
It is not just the Chinese and Russians who are keen on this change. India, Brazil and South Africa are among a number of emerging powers that want to prise control away from groups considered friendly to the US and towards the ITU. The most recent move, in Dubai last December, narrowly failed. Thanks to the NSA furore, it will be easier next time.
Matters are likely to come to a head next April when Brazil holds a special conference focusing on securing user privacy from the prying eyes of US and other intelligence services. One idea being mooted is to require internet service providers to host data country by country, and thereby be answerable to local laws. On the one hand, this could be seen as an understandable and laudable fightback. But the Balkanisation of the net could also reinforce the control of nation states over global digital citizens.
American dominance of the internet is being challenged on several fronts. The Obama administration and its spooks only have themselves to blame. It is just possible that recent events could usher in a new era of transparency and data protection.
But don't bet on it. The direction of travel is more likely moving towards the authoritarians. As one Chinese interlocutor put it to me: "We should cleanse negative information, which jeopardises good order."
Why I'm asking for a review of the supervision of Britain's security services
The Edward Snowden revelations highlight the need for a system of oversight that keeps pace with technological change
theguardian.com, Thursday 7 November 2013 09.00 GMT
There should be no doubt about the importance of our security services in times of serious terrorist threats, but just as we should be clear about who and what we are against, we should also be clear about what we are defending.
That is the cause of freedom – and freedom requires the vigilance of the political and legal processes that we have put in place to supervise and control those who carry out surveillance on our behalf. It also depends on good investigative journalism. That is why I think the Guardian was right to report an edited version of Edward Snowden's revelations. I suspect a jury in the UK would not convict Snowden in the face of a public interest defence, and that alone is reason enough to review the control of the security services.
The Snowden revelations challenge parliament to examine the accountability of these services, and I believe two areas of that supervision need particular attention. The first concern is that acts of parliament set up to define the limits of surveillance are overtaken by technological innovation, almost before the acts are on the statute book. I hope the debate that I initiate in parliament today will give us an opportunity to look at how legislation can be updated on a regular basis, in a way that ensures government and parliament are able to maintain effective oversight.
Combining a select committee process that scrutinises the implications of technological change for the security services with legislative follow-up may be part of the answer. One of the gaps in our current parliamentary system is that we do not have a select committee looking specifically at the advances in technology and their immediate impact on current legislation – and this does not just apply to the security services. A serious review of the way our legislative system can address the impact on our laws of significant technological change could be beneficial.
There is a related issue about the future of the world wide web. It would be a tragedy if excessive intrusion by the US and UK gave more excuses to those governments seeking to restrict access to the internet, claiming self-defence with all that implies for the dissemination of news, views and social media.
My second area of concern is the ministerial and parliamentary system of oversight. It would be churlish not to recognise the changes to supervision that have taken place in recent years. Opening an email or tapping a phone requires a warrant in the UK. But what of citizens in another democracy? And what about an ally such as Germany's Angela Merkel?
Would a British prime minister know if we had been given access to information gained by one of our key allies, like the US? The "five eyes" (US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) have been sharing information for decades, and all data gathered by GCHQ's Tempora system will be available to these countries. What oversight does our parliament have of this shared system?
The sharing of secret intercepts is an important part of the protection of Britain and our allies, but little is known about the way such systems are accountable. The supervisory systems of these five allies are all different and we also share information with Nato allies. One of the gaps in our accountability system concerns the sharing of data.
There are a number of human rights principles that should govern communication data. Some of them are obvious, like legality, but necessity and proportionality are also important and difficult to assess. It is proportionality that appears to have been seriously lost in the activities of the NSA in the US.
Finally, the willingness of MI5 and MI6 chiefs to speak in public ought to be more readily followed by GCHQ. Visits to these establishments ought to be high on the agenda of members of both houses of parliament.
Balancing freedom and security is never easy but it is the essential task for any parliament.
Greek riot police evict last ERT staff
Employees had occupied premises of state broadcaster since it was shut down by government five months ago
Helena Smith in Athens
theguardian.com, Thursday 7 November 2013 11.06 GMT
Greek riot police have stormed the premises of the country's erstwhile state broadcaster, ERT, evicting former employees who had occupied the building since June in protest at the government's abrupt decision to close down the channel.
In a carefully calibrated pre-dawn raid on Thursday, 13 vans of riot police surrounded the complex in northern Athens before blocking its entrance and removing the workers. Scuffles broke out and teargas was fired as the police moved in.
"The building has been liberated," the government spokesman Simos Kedigoglou told Mega TV. "There were several reasons why normality had to be imposed," he said, adding that Greece's assumption of the rotating EU presidency in January was among them.
The raid, described as an invasion by the political opposition, sparked shock and anger with hundreds of supporters gathering outside the complex in a show of solidarity.
The protesters were among 2,700 employees cut off from the public payroll when, in a surprise move, the prime minister, Antonis Samaras, ordered the station to be shut down overnight, blaming the debt-stricken country's economic crisis.
Greece, which has been kept afloat with rescue funds from the EU, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund since May 2010, is under immense pressure to slash its bloated public sector. The former broadcaster, a breeding ground for party political patronage, was among the state's most profligate bodies with successive governments adding to its ever-expanding payroll by placing personnel in senior positions.
But the abrupt move, in a nation already labouring under record levels of unemployment, triggered widespread opposition and spawned a political crisis that ultimately led to the small leftwing Dimar party defecting from the government in disgust. Samaras's unilateral decision to pull the plug on the broadcaster, mid-air, was seen as arrogant and high-handed.
It was in this climate that hundreds of fired employees, defying management orders, held out, occupying the premises with the support of opposition parties and broadcasting a bootleg news channel over the internet. "We call on all citizens to come to the TV complex … We call on all to defend the voice of democracy!" they said in a message relayed in a blog. "A short while ago a strong turnout of police forces raided the building."
The radical left main opposition Syriza party denounced the raid as a "coup d'etat against information and democracy". "Once again, the dilemma of democracy or [imposing] the memorandum has made its mark," it said, referring to the onerous loan agreement Athens has signed with foreign lenders. "A black page in the history of public television and democracy has been written in our country."
Greece is the only EU country to have ever closed its own broadcaster. A streamlined version, called Public Television, or DT, with less than half the staff, has since taken its place.
The timing of the operation was not lost on Greeks. Inspectors representing the country's "troika" of creditors returned to Athens to resume negotiations this week amid criticism that the government has not done enough implementing reforms in return for rescue funds.
Relations between Greece and its lenders have been badly strained by differences over how to fill a looming budget black hole that, once again, threatens to throw the nation's economic recovery off-track. The troika says the gap can only be resolved if fresh austerity measures are applied – a prospect fiercely resisted by the ruling alliance.
Analysts said Thursday's raid was aimed clearly at sending a message that the government was determined to put the public sector in order.
Berlusconi sparks outrage by likening pressures of legal woes to Holocaust
Italian former prime minister says he and his children 'feel like Jewish families must have felt in Germany during Hitler's regime'
Tom Kington in Florence
theguardian.com, Wednesday 6 November 2013 16.41 GMT
The former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has caused outrage after likening the pressure he and his family face from legal investigations to the persecution of Jewish people in Nazi Germany.
"My children say they feel like Jewish families must have felt in Germany during Hitler's regime," he said in an interview. "We truly have everyone against us."
Berlusconi is facing a year of social work following his conviction for tax fraud and is appealing against a sentence for paying an underage prostitute while fighting to keep his party from splitting amid internal disputes.
But the gaffe-prone politician, who delights in whipping up controversy with politically incorrect remarks, had gone too far with his Holocaust parallel, said Renzo Gattegna, the president of the Italian Union of Jewish Communities.
"Under Nazism, the Jews of Europe were caught in a black vortex of violence, persecution and death," he said. "Any parallel with the affairs of the Berlusconi family is therefore not only inappropriate and incomprehensible but also offensive to the memory of those who were deprived of all rights and, after atrocious and unspeakable suffering, deprived of their lives."
Berlusconi is no stranger to making light of the Holocaust. In 2010, he wooed a youth rally with a joke about Hitler promising his supporters he would make a comeback, "but on one condition ... next time I'm going to be evil".
The same year he was attacked by the Vatican's daily newspaper after he cracked a joke based on the assumption that Jewish people are parsimonious.
In 2003, Berlusconi caused uproar in the European parliament when he compared a hostile German MEP to a Nazi concentration camp guard. Earlier this year, the three-time Italian prime minister was described as a "disgrace" after choosing a Holocaust memorial event to praise the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.
Reacting to his latest comments, Danilo Leva, a member of the centre-left Democratic party, said: "Berlusconi has completely lost grip of the scale of things. He has been regaling us for 20 years with the myth of his persecution and today, instead of asking forgiveness from Italians for his tax fraud conviction, he risks this shocking parallel with a tragedy like the Holocaust."
Europe isn't lurching to the far right. That's escapist fantasy
Britain's view of European politics is coloured by Germany's terrible interwar years. But that period is no model for today
The Guardian, Wednesday 6 November 2013 20.31 GMT
Until recently – the watershed came somewhere around the millennium – British perceptions of modern German politics focused not on Germany's government or its main political parties, which were boringly democratic and law-abiding, but on the increasingly distant Nazi past and on extreme parties of the right, which appeared to some eyes to threaten the return to street violence, domestic authoritarianism and foreign aggression.
This perception said much more about the British than the Germans. In the end, given a helpful push by the seriousness of the financial crisis and by the pragmatic leadership of Angela Merkel, the pfennig has finally dropped. Today, better late than never, British perceptions of Germany now focus where they should have been all along – on the resilience of Germany's postwar institutions and on the general good balance of its society and economy in dealing with the problems it faces. It is part of what gives me cautious hope about the outcome of any UK referendum on Europe.
But the conclusion to that is this: one down, 27 to go. That is because, reading some of what is being written and said about the current state of Europe, it feels as if we have been here before. What used to be said about Germany's imminent lurch to the right is now often being said about Europe more generally. Well, it was wrong then and, with certain provisos, it is also wrong now.
The current focus for fashionable doom-mongering about the politics of Europe is the European parliament elections of May 2014. These elections, it is said, are likely to see a far-right backlash across many EU countries. Faced with such a possibility, some observers predict the collapse of the EU itself, and even a new dark age of renewed competing European nationalisms.
It would be foolish to dismiss all these possibilities in every respect, not least because a lot can happen between now and the elections. And foolish, too, to deny that across Europe these elections will be a major opportunity for single-issue and extremist parties – not always the same thing –to make a play for the support of insecure, disillusioned and plain angry voters in the 28 member states. Foolish, finally, because Europe has manifestly not dealt with its banking and fiscal crises in either an even-handed or a sure-handed way.
Nevertheless, these warnings about an impending or a continuing lurch to the right simply do not match the facts. For one thing, they assume that Euroscepticism elides into far-right extremism, when sometimes it does and sometimes it does not. For another, far-right politics is far from homogeneous. Some parties passionately defend the welfare state, while others see it as unworthy of a strong, manly nation. All in all, though, the warnings about the far right amount to little more than scaremongering.
Take the claim that the far right is prospering because of the economic crisis and the relative failure to resolve it. The electoral evidence for this does not exist. Yes, the National Front took 18% in the 2012 presidential election in France and Golden Dawn twice polled 7% in Greece's two legislative elections last year too. Both results were undoubtedly disturbing and newsworthy, and parties of government in those two countries need to take them extremely seriously. Yet they can hardly be portrayed either as triumphs or, in the case of the National Front, as a high-water mark. They represent a challenge to the system, not a threat to it. Thus far, moreover, they have been contained.
And look at the main elections in Europe this year, not last. In Cyprus the nationalist anti-immigrant presidential candidate got 1%. In Germany, the Eurosceptic AFD (by no means a party of the far right) got 4.7%, while the far-right NPD scored 1% (its vote went down, not up). In Lombardy, the Northern League's vote declined by 13%. True, the Freedom party took 21% in September's Austrian general election and put its vote up, while the newly created Action for Dissatisfied Citizens polled 19% in the Czech general election two weeks ago. But the Freedom party has been higher in the past and Austria has survived, and the Czech ADC is a party of the centre-right that was formed to protest against indigenous Czech political corruption, rather than the crisis in the eurozone (of which the Czech Republic is not part).
None of this is to say that the European elections will not provide an opportunity for the right to do better. Something of the sort is almost certain in an election which few voters take seriously, which favours protest votes and which tends to have low turnouts. Even so, according to Cas Mudde, an academic specialist on the subject, the far right is on course to gain 34 to 50 seats in the European parliament, which is roughly 4% to 7% of the total. That's hardly a landslide, even if you elide Euroscepticism and the far right together, which I do not.
Focusing on the real far right has an honourable history. But it is deeply rooted in the terrible experience of interwar Germany. That is not a good historical model for today. The reality is that no country in modern Europe is like the Weimar Republic – and it is time we recognised that the political responses to today's financial crisis are unfolding very differently to those of the Great Depression.
Contrary to what is said by those who focus on the far right, the most striking aspect of the modern crisis is the adaptability and resilience of existing institutions, including the EU, in the face of huge pressures. That's not to say the crisis has not had an effect. In some ways it has given an extra push to trends that were already in evidence when the economy was booming. Nevertheless in most countries, including Britain, most voters continue to vote for traditional political parties, not new ones. And in most countries, also including Britain, most people seem to prefer to give the existing system the benefit of the doubt, albeit often with understandably bad grace. They are wise to do so.
The real choice facing politics is not a grand global showdown between good and evil, the old left and the old right. That's an escapist fantasy. The issue is whether the existing centre left or the existing centre right is better and more creative at building a coalition of interest around a confidence-inspiring and practicable programme – and then keeping enough support get re-elected. Right now in Europe, the centre right is proving a bit better at this than the centre left. The hard graft for centre-left parties across Europe is to turn this around – not to be a 21st-century Don Quixote forever tilting at 19th- or 20th-century windmills.
France’s most prominent black politician disturbed by upswing in overt racism
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, November 6, 2013 12:48 EST
France’s most prominent black politician has spoken out for the first time to voice her dismay at being subjected to monkey taunts and other racist abuse.
Justice Minister Christiane Taubira fears the treatment she has received reflects a threat to the country’s social cohesion and on Wednesday she voiced alarm over what she sees as collapse of taboos surrounding public displays of racism.
“It is not about careless little slips of the tongue, it is much more serious than that,” Taubira said in an interview with left-wing daily Liberation. “Inhibitions are disappearing, dykes have been breached.”
In the last month alone, Taubira has twice been publicly compared to a monkey, once by a group of children whose parents had taken them on a protest against gay marriage and once by an electoral candidate of the far right National Front (FN), who wrote on her Facebook page that she would prefer to see the minister “swinging from the branches rather than in government”.
Taubira said those incidents were the tip of the iceberg in terms of the hostility she has encountered since being named to one of the top four posts in the Socialist government that took office last year.
“I’ve been getting monkey and banana insults for a long time but there is also something more subtle going on that nobody has highlighted,” she said.
By way of example, the minister noted how the opponents of gay marriage had targeted her personally rather than the government as a whole and had emphasised the “Frenchness” of the protest movement.
She also pointed to the outspoken reactions that her initial appointment had provoked. These included Jean-Francois Cope, one of the leaders of the main opposition party, warning centre-right voters that: “If you vote for the FN, you get the Left and you get Taubira.”
Concern over rising racism shared by others
Taubira’s concern over a perceived increase in racism — or the acceptability of racism — in French society, echoes recent warnings by various rights groups and social commentators.
They fear a section of society is backing away from the vision of a multicultural France most famously embodied in the jubilant celebrations of the black-Arab-white make-up of the 1998 World Cup winning side.
“There is something unprecedented about a government minister being attacked purely because of the colour of her skin,” said Aline Le Bail-Kremer, a spokeswoman for the watchdog group SOS Racisme.
“The whole country should have stood up against it, but in reality the reaction has been lukewarm.”
Responding to Taubira’s comments, President Francois Hollande said everyone had to be more vigilant about the threat of racism, but Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault played down suggestions of a sea change in public attitudes.
“I’m convinced the vast majority of the French do not accept racism,” Ayrault said.
Figures compiled by the Interior Ministry point to a sharp rise over the last year in the number of acts or threats deemed to be of a racist, anti-semitic or anti-Muslim nature.
As always with such figures, it is not clear to what extent they represent an actual increase in racist incidents or an increased willingness of members of ethnic minorities to report them.
But both anecdotal and survey evidence point to a hardening of attitudes in the wake of this year’s bitter battle over gay marriage, which divided France and introduced a new, virulent tone to the country’s political debate.
A poll published last month to mark the 30th anniversary of a landmark march for the rights of second-generation Arabs found that 59 percent of the French believed racism had become more common in the intervening three decades.
The front page of Wednesday’s edition of Le Parisien asked bluntly: “Is France becoming racist?”
Yes, the tabloid replied in an editorial. “A rancid odour is floating over France,” it said. “Words, phrases and gestures that we thought belonged to another age are making a comeback.”
Harry Roselmack, a black tv news presenter, agrees. “What pains me is how racism has been able to resist both time and the best of intentions, not just in the FN, but at the deepest levels of French society,” Roselmack wrote in Le Monde this week.
Dutch government faces lawsuit for collaboration with NSA
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, November 6, 2013 13:35 EST
A group of lawyers, journalists and privacy advocates in the Netherlands is taking the government to court to prevent Dutch intelligence using phone data illegally acquired by the US National Security Agency.
Five individuals, among them a prominent investigative journalist and a well-known hacker, and four organisations filed the case before The Hague district court on Wednesday, according to their lawyer Christiaan Alberdingk Thijm.
The case comes after recent revelations that the NSA monitored 1.8 million phonecalls in a month in the Netherlands and then passed some of the data to Dutch intelligence services.
The NSA has been at the centre of a global furore set off by a series of bombshell leaks from former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who lifted the lid on the US government’s far-reaching digital dragnet.
Dutch Home Affairs Minister Ronald Plasterk, whose ministry is the defendant in the case, last week confirmed the NSA’s phone intercepts, telling national television that “whether it’s about politicians or ordinary citizens it’s not acceptable”.
He said the Dutch secret service (AIVD) did exchange information with the NSA but was not necessarily aware where the information came from.
Those bringing the lawsuit include investigative journalist Brenno de Winter and hacker Rop Gonggrijp — who is under investigation by US authorities for his involvement with Wikileaks — and they say they want the NSA to stop eavesdropping and handing over information to Dutch intelligence.
The plaintiffs want judges to “declare that the Dutch state was acting illegally by receiving information from foreign intelligence services, which had been collected through spy programmes like (the NSA’s) PRISM, contrary to Dutch law.”
The Dutch government should tell the plaintiffs “in writing” within three months what type of information was gathered about them and what the information was used for.
The document asked for the case to be heard on November 27.
Last week Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported that British and Dutch intelligence services closely cooperated in exchanging intelligence including providing legal advice on “Dutch legislative issues.”
Britain rules the world of tax havens, Queen is warned
Tax Justice Network says 2 billion Commonwealth citizens are among victims of 'web of secrecy jurisdictions'
theguardian.com, Thursday 7 November 2013 00.01 GMT
Britain, in partnership with Her Majesty's overseas territories and crown dependencies, remains "by far the most important part of the global offshore system of tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions", the Queen will be told tomorrow in a letter from tax experts and campaigners.
The monarch, who acts as head of state for UK-linked jurisdictions as far away as the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Jersey and the Isle of Man, will receive a copy of the Tax Justice Network's (TJN) two-yearly index of financial secrecy, which paints an unflattering picture of Britain and its close ties to many leading tax havens.
The index is the most comprehensive attempt to rank the world's secrecy jurisdictions. Past editions have been adopted as an analytical tool by offshore asset tracing specialists. They have been referred to in parliamentary reports in Paris and Brussels and published in academic journals after peer review.
Other studies have estimated that up to $32tr has gravitated in secrecy into offshore jurisdictions, much of it linked to tax evasion and avoidance activities.
In a letter to the Queen John Christensen, director of TJN, calls on her to "exert all possible influence" to tackle "harmful faultlines in the global economy" created by UK-linked tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions.
The TJN secrecy index makes for disappointing reading for David Cameron, who has sought to portray himself as being at the vanguard of international efforts to tackle tax-haven abuses, using Britain's presidency of the G8 to "rewrite the rules on tax and transparency for the benefit of countries right across the world".
The prime minister won praise last week after announcing at the Open Government Partnership summit in London that the UK intended to require companies registered here to reveal the identity of their real owners in public filings at Companies House.
Transparency campaigners point out that such an initiative from the UK becomes little more than a token gesture if it fails to extend to vehicles such as trusts and foundations as well as to well-known secrecy jurisdictions within the UK's orbit.
"None of the overseas territories or crown dependencies operate a properly transparent public register of offshore companies, trusts and foundations," writes Christensen, who in his early career worked in the trust industry on Jersey, later being appointed economic adviser to the island's government before quitting to become a tax and transparency campaigner.
"None obtain information on beneficial ownership and make this publicly available. Not one requires that all company financial accounts are made publicly available."
TJN's appeal to the Queen seeks to draw a link between the contrasting prospects of those Commonwealth nations battling against poverty andthose UK-linked tax havens that have attracted capital oversea because of the low tax and secrecy on offer.
"The victims of this secrecy include, among others, 2 billion Commonwealth citizens," Christensen tells the Queen. "A recent study of 33 African countries found that they lost over $1tr in capital flight since the 1970s, of which $640bn came from 16 Commonwealth countries. These losses dwarf the external debts of 'just' $190bn for the 33 countries."
The Queen is known to take a particular interest in her crown dependencies and overseas territories, which operate as largely self-governing jurisdictions. UK ministers have long been aware of the reputational risks of association with pariah tax havens but have frequently looked the other way, claiming their constitutional powers to intervene are negligible.
However, campaigners suggest there is plenty of precedence for intervention. The UK used so-called orders in councilto outlaw the death penalty, and decriminalised homosexual acts in its overseas territories in 1991 and 2000. Similarly, in 1967 an anti-pirate radio act was imposed on the Isle of Man despite local opposition. And in 2009, direct rule was imposed on the Turks and Caicos Islands for three years after a corruption scandal.
The 1973 Kilbrandon report is widely recognised as the UK's official interpretation of the complex constitutional relationship between Britain and its overseas territories and dependencies. In it, Lord Kilbrandon concluded: "We think the UK ought to be very slow to seek to impose their will on the islands merely on the grounds that they know better than the islands what is good for them.
"It is nevertheless highly desirable that the institutions and the practices of the islands should not differ beyond recognition from those of the UK."
Several tax havens point out that there are economic reasons the UK should resist disturbing the status quo, particularly for those crown dependencies that do a busy trade servicing the offshore financial needs of the non-domiciled super-rich, permitted by the UK government to live in Britain without paying income or capital gains tax on overseas earnings.
Moreover, over $330bn in deposits is held by UK banks via extensive branch networks in the crown dependencies, making these deposits a vital contributor to the capital strength of Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds, HSBC and other large financial firms in the City of London.
Top of the TJN secrecy index is Switzerland, despite many of its banks bowing in recent years to penalties and disclosure demands from US tax evasion investigators after a series of scandals. Last year, the Swiss Bankers' Association said £2.8tr of assets remained under management in the country.
Switzerland has recently signed a multilateral tax convention, in a move that could improve its secrecy score in the future.
While the UK is ranked in 21st place on the index, compilers from TJN insisted that it "supports and partly controls" a web of secrecy jurisdictions, marking it out as a leading offender. They say: "The UK is the most important player in the financial secrecy world.
It's David Cameron who's rolling over for big corporations in the EU-US trade deal
The investor-state dispute settlement included in the proposed deal is a scandal – and it shouldn't be blamed on 'Brussels'
theguardian.com, Wednesday 6 November 2013 17.12 GMT
Before negotiations have even started, the proposed trade deal between the EU and United States has been heralded as a game-changer: an unprecedented stimulus package for the European economy, a shot across the bow for British Eurosceptics and a chance for Europe and the US to set the standard for global trade before China beats us to it. It is a significant opportunity for transatlantic trade, no doubt. Critics, meanwhile, are blaming the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership for the failures of rightwing European governments and the powers they are willing to cede to multinational corporations. The anger is right but the target is wrong: we need to look far more closely at the UK coalition government's priorities before laying the blame at the door of "Brussels".
It is expected (as George Monbiot has pointed out) that the European commission will seek to include in the deal a mechanism known as the investor-state dispute settlement. This clause is intended to protect foreign investors from discrimination by governments. In practice it means that companies will have the right to sue foreign governments if they don't like the local legislation. The cases are heard in private. Governments often lose. Millions of pounds, dollars and euros have been paid to private companies when a secret panel of arbitrators decides the government has overstepped the mark by legislating, say, to make generic drugs more widely available or to stop tobacco companies aggressively marketing to children.
The mechanism is a scandal. The European commission has a lot to answer for, and those of us shouting the loudest in Brussels against it will keep shouting. But the buck does not stop with the commission, and it is not an invention of the US trade deal.
Investor-state mechanisms have existed in investment agreements for years. We already have them in UK agreements with non-EU countries. They have been pencilled into EU trade agreements with Canada and Singapore.
The EU now has legal powers in the area of investment policy, and member governments are in the process of establishing one clear set of rules to replace the existing spaghetti bowl of criss-crossing agreements. It is the perfect opportunity to abandon the investor-state mechanism.
Alas, governments, including the UK, issued the European commission with a negotiating mandate that includes the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism. The commission is pursuing their request with vigour.
And now, don't the missing pieces of the UK coalition's debacle over plain cigarette packaging fall into place? The Australian government was sued by Philip Morris when it attempted to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes and has since decided to scrap the investor-state dispute mechanism because of its effect on the government's ability to legislate on health and environment. Meanwhile, in the UK David Cameron's enthusiasm for plain packaging stopped dead in its tracks and the legislation was put on hold because of "considerable legal uncertainty".
The fact that the government was willing to sacrifice a key health proposal because of fears that big tobacco would sue is bad enough. The fact that Cameron failed to scrap the investor-state provision in UK investment agreements is worse, and the fact that his government demanded the European commission actually include it in new EU agreements with Canada, Singapore and the US is shameful. But no doubt the Tories would be happy to sit back and let "Brussels" take the blame for this one.
Labour MEPs and our sister parties in the Socialist and Democrat group in the European parliament continue to vote to scrap this mechanism, but we face an uphill battle in a parliament dominated by conservatives and a minority of MEPs who do not even turn up to vote.
Alongside the investment agreements themselves the parliament and council are currently negotiating legislation for the practical implementation of the investor-state dispute settlement. As the lead MEP for the Socialists and Democrats on this legislation I am drafting clauses to ensure that, if investor-state cannot be stopped, there will at least be legal requirements for transparency. As a minimum it should be made public if foreign companies are suing the EU. We should know what the companies are suing for and how much taxpayers' money is at stake. We must also be able to ringfence legislation for public health, the environment and workers' rights to ensure companies cannot challenge them.
Meanwhile, no EU investment agreements have been concluded, but time is rapidly running out. The answer is not to derail the US trade agreement but look to the almost-concluded agreements with Singapore and Canada and urge the UK government and MEPs to pressure the commission to change tactics. The Tories give us a lot of hot air about "standing up to Brussels", but on standing up to corporate power? Radio silence.
This transatlantic trade deal is a full-frontal assault on democracy
Brussels has kept quiet about a treaty that would let rapacious companies subvert our laws, rights and national sovereignty
The Guardian, Monday 4 November 2013 20.31 GMT
Remember that referendum about whether we should create a single market with the United States? You know, the one that asked whether corporations should have the power to strike down our laws? No, I don't either. Mind you, I spent 10 minutes looking for my watch the other day before I realised I was wearing it. Forgetting about the referendum is another sign of ageing. Because there must have been one, mustn't there? After all that agonising over whether or not we should stay in the European Union, the government wouldn't cede our sovereignty to some shadowy, undemocratic body without consulting us. Would it?
The purpose of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is to remove the regulatory differences between the US and European nations. I mentioned it a couple of weeks ago. But I left out the most important issue: the remarkable ability it would grant big business to sue the living daylights out of governments which try to defend their citizens. It would allow a secretive panel of corporate lawyers to overrule the will of parliament and destroy our legal protections. Yet the defenders of our sovereignty say nothing.
The mechanism through which this is achieved is known as investor-state dispute settlement. It's already being used in many parts of the world to kill regulations protecting people and the living planet.
The Australian government, after massive debates in and out of parliament, decided that cigarettes should be sold in plain packets, marked only with shocking health warnings. The decision was validated by the Australian supreme court. But, using a trade agreement Australia struck with Hong Kong, the tobacco company Philip Morris has asked an offshore tribunal to award it a vast sum in compensation for the loss of what it calls its intellectual property.
During its financial crisis, and in response to public anger over rocketing charges, Argentina imposed a freeze on people's energy and water bills (does this sound familiar?). It was sued by the international utility companies whose vast bills had prompted the government to act. For this and other such crimes, it has been forced to pay out over a billion dollars in compensation. In El Salvador, local communities managed at great cost (three campaigners were murdered) to persuade the government to refuse permission for a vast gold mine which threatened to contaminate their water supplies. A victory for democracy? Not for long, perhaps. The Canadian company which sought to dig the mine is now suing El Salvador for $315m – for the loss of its anticipated future profits.
In Canada, the courts revoked two patents owned by the American drugs firm Eli Lilly, on the grounds that the company had not produced enough evidence that they had the beneficial effects it claimed. Eli Lilly is now suing the Canadian government for $500m, and demanding that Canada's patent laws are changed.
These companies (along with hundreds of others) are using the investor-state dispute rules embedded in trade treaties signed by the countries they are suing. The rules are enforced by panels which have none of the safeguards we expect in our own courts. The hearings are held in secret. The judges are corporate lawyers, many of whom work for companies of the kind whose cases they hear. Citizens and communities affected by their decisions have no legal standing. There is no right of appeal on the merits of the case. Yet they can overthrow the sovereignty of parliaments and the rulings of supreme courts.
You don't believe it? Here's what one of the judges on these tribunals says about his work. "When I wake up at night and think about arbitration, it never ceases to amaze me that sovereign states have agreed to investment arbitration at all ... Three private individuals are entrusted with the power to review, without any restriction or appeal procedure, all actions of the government, all decisions of the courts, and all laws and regulations emanating from parliament."
There are no corresponding rights for citizens. We can't use these tribunals to demand better protections from corporate greed. As the Democracy Centre says, this is "a privatised justice system for global corporations".
Even if these suits don't succeed, they can exert a powerful chilling effect on legislation. One Canadian government official, speaking about the rules introduced by the North American Free Trade Agreement, remarked: "I've seen the letters from the New York and DC law firms coming up to the Canadian government on virtually every new environmental regulation and proposition in the last five years. They involved dry-cleaning chemicals, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, patent law. Virtually all of the new initiatives were targeted and most of them never saw the light of day." Democracy, as a meaningful proposition, is impossible under these circumstances.
This is the system to which we will be subject if the transatlantic treaty goes ahead. The US and the European commission, both of which have been captured by the corporations they are supposed to regulate, are pressing for investor-state dispute resolution to be included in the agreement.
The commission justifies this policy by claiming that domestic courts don't offer corporations sufficient protection because they "might be biased or lack independence". Which courts is it talking about? Those of the US? Its own member states? It doesn't say. In fact it fails to produce a single concrete example demonstrating the need for a new, extrajudicial system. It is precisely because our courts are generally not biased or lacking independence that the corporations want to bypass them. The EC seeks to replace open, accountable, sovereign courts with a closed, corrupt system riddled with conflicts of interest and arbitrary powers.
Investor-state rules could be used to smash any attempt to save the NHS from corporate control, to re-regulate the banks, to curb the greed of the energy companies, to renationalise the railways, to leave fossil fuels in the ground. These rules shut down democratic alternatives. They outlaw leftwing politics.
This is why there has been no attempt by the UK government to inform us about this monstrous assault on democracy, let alone consult us. This is why the Conservatives who huff and puff about sovereignty are silent. Wake up, people we're being shafted.
Iran foreign minister optimistic as nuclear talks resume
As negotiations begin in Geneva, Mohammad Javad Zarif says 'only a few more steps' are needed to reach agreement
Julian Borger and Saeed Kamali Dehghan, in Geneva
theguardian.com, Thursday 7 November 2013 08.17 GMT
Iranian negotiators are entering a new round of nuclear talks with major powers in Geneva, insisting they are optimistic that a deal is possible in the course of the two-day meeting.
Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said the negotiators only needed to make "a few more steps" to reach agreement, but it would "not be a disaster" if a final accord had to be left to a subsequent round.
Speaking to France 24 in Paris on his way to Thursday's talks, Zarif said: "I believe it is possible to reach an agreement during this meeting, but I can only talk for our side, I cannot talk for the other side."
"I believe we've come very far in the last three rounds, so we [only] need to make a few more steps," said the foreign minister. "We are prepared to make them in Geneva. But if we can't take them in Geneva, we'll take them in the next round."
An unnamed senior US official, talking to journalists on the eve of talks, agreed that an interim deal was within reach.
"I do see the potential outlines of a first step," the official said. "I do think it can be written on a piece of paper, probably more than one. I hope sooner rather than later. I would like to stop Iran's programme from advancing further."
The official said the aim of a first deal would be to "put some time on the clock", freezing Iran's nuclear progress and buying time for negotiations on a more comprehensive and enduring agreement.
Zarif will be meeting the EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and senior diplomats from the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China. Ashton's spokesman, Michael Mann, said: "The nuclear talks are complex and have entered a serious phase."
"The E3+3 [France, Germany and the United Kingdom, plus Russia, China and the United States] and Iran have agreed to keep the talks confidential in order to focus on the substance."
At the previous round of talks three weeks ago – the first since the election of PresidentHassan Rouhani – all sides hailed what they described as a new, positive atmosphere.
Sources involved in the October talks in Geneva have said that Iranians were pursuing a short-term deal, involving a trade-off between curbs on the level of its uranium enrichment and sanctions relief, at the same time as negotiating for reassurance that a long-term settlement would guarantee the country's right to carry out enrichment in principle and a complete lifting of sanctions, while Iran would agree to undergo stringent inspections.
Iran would stop producing 20%, medium-enriched, uranium – the immediate proliferation concern as it can relatively easily be converted into weapons-grade material – but would not send its existing stockpile out of the country. That could be converted into reactor fuel, which is more difficult to enrich further.
"Clearly the Iranians want to make progress quickly. They want to see tangible results and compensation. This has been a clear theme. They are not prepared to give things away in return for nothing," said Suzanne Maloney, an Iran expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "There is a limit to the patience of the Iranian establishment and Rouhani needs to deliver. He needs to be seen as having achieved something for his own people in return for the concessions he might appear to be making at the bargaining table. And that is the real pressure on him and it has to be delivered soon."
Negotiators at all sides in Geneva are concerned that the US Congress could sabotage hopes of a deal by approving new sanctions in the midst of talks, and the administration has appealed to senators, currently studying a sanctions bill, to show restraint while the negotiations are under way.
Rouhani's negotiating team has meanwhile come under fire from hardliners in Iran, who have criticised the secrecy surrounding Iran's negotiating position. Iran's parliament, the Majlis, has held meetings with Zarif and other members of the country's nuclear negotiating team but details of the session have not been made public.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, threw his weight behind Rouhani's negotiating team on Sunday.
"No one should consider our negotiators as compromisers," he said before the anniversary of the 1979 US hostage crisis. "They have a difficult mission and no one must weaken an official who is busy with work."
Many Iranians are not getting a full account of the international controversy over the country's nuclear programme because of severe restrictions on press coverage of the issue, according to the press freedom advocacy group Reporters Without Borders.
The group said: "Ever since the revelations about Iran's nuclear activities at the start of the past decade, any coverage of this issue has been banned by the many government bodies responsible for monitoring and regulating the media.
"Journalists are constantly censored, not only by the ministry of culture and Islamic orientation and its censorship wing, the press authorisation and surveillance commission, but also by the ministry of intelligence, the Revolutionary Guards, the public prosecutor and the high council for national security.
"They are forbidden to cover all nuclear matters such as the signing of an International Atomic Energy Agency protocol, the negotiations about Iran's nuclear programme with the "5+1" group [China, France, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom and United States], representing the international community, and even nuclear energy's environmental impact and the cost of building nuclear power plants."
In October 2003, the newspaper Entekhab was closed down due to the publication of an article revealing the extent of the internal feud among Iran's many political institutions over the question of whether Iran should sign the IAEA additional protocol. The newspaper's editor, Mohammad Mehdi Faghihi, and its political editor, Mohsen Mandegari, were subsequently summoned to the court, Reporters Without Borders said. Other Iranian media organisations have also been chastised for expressing views other than the official line about the country's nuclear programme, including the conservative news website Tabnak.
"Many journalists in different cities have been threatened or arrested on spying charges over the years for referring to nuclear energy issues," Reporters Without Borders said. "This censorship of nuclear coverage violates journalists' freedom to inform and Iranians' right to be informed.
"Journalists have a fundamental role to play as regards informing the public on such sensitive matters, but the Iranian authorities try to suppress all independent coverage of nuclear issues so that only the official version is available."
Earlier this week, Iran's Nobel peace prize laureate Shirin Ebadi launched an appeal, signed by about 100 Iranian activists and campaigners, calling for a national dialogue on nuclear energy.
"The issue of nuclear energy in Iran has always been left to the government of the day, both before and after the revolution, and for this reason is regarded as a political matter," a statement launching the appeal said. "But it is not just a political issue. It also concerns the economy, society and the environment and therefore affects all Iranian citizens.
It adds: "Iranians do not have enough information about the advantages and disadvantages of nuclear energy for their country, although it is a subject of national concern that directly influences people's daily lives. It is why we are subjected to unprecedented sanctions and why our country has been threatened with war."
Pervez Musharraf freed after seven months of house arrest in Pakistan
Former military ruler is released after being granted bail in case involving murder of radical cleric
Jon Boone in Islamabad
theguardian.com, Thursday 7 November 2013 13.28 GMT
The legal woes of Pervez Musharraf lessened somewhat on Thursday when Pakistan's former military ruler was finally freed from seven months of house arrest.
Musharraf, who ruled the country for nine years before being forced out in 2008, had been held in his luxury mansion in the outskirts of Islamabad since April while his lawyers battled on several fronts.
On Monday he was granted bail in a case where he is accused of being involved in the death of a radical cleric during an assault on an extremist mosque in the heart of Islamabad in 2007.
The formalities required for his release from the "sub jail", which included the payment of a bond worth $2,000, were finally completed on Thursday.
It was a rare bit of good news for a man who once wielded immense power but who has suffered multiple humiliations since returning from self-exile to Pakistan in March. Not only did few people turn out to welcome him home on his return to a country he had vowed to "save" but he was also banned from standing in the country's general election.
Musharraf's problems are far from over, however.
A ban on the former army chief travelling outside the country remains in place. There has been persistent speculation that the government or the judiciary, which are both said to be under pressure from Pakistan's powerful military, will find a way to allow the 70-year-old to slip back into comfortable exile in his homes in London and Dubai.
In recent weeks Musharraf has won bail in three other cases, including one where he is accused of being complicit in the killing of the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007 and another where he is blamed for the death during a military operation of an important tribal leader from the restive province of Baluchistan in 2006.
It is believed Musharraf can expect to successfully defend himself against charges many lawyers regard as weak or hard to prove.
A far more significant problem is the government's promise to set up a special court to charge him for treason over his decision to suspend the constitution in 2007.
Treason is a capital offence and lawyers say Musharraf will struggle to defend himself against the charge.
The prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, whose second term in office was cut short by Musharraf's military coup in 1999, told parliament in June that Musharraf had to "answer for all his deeds in court".
Despite the bad blood between the two men – and the annoyance of many generals over the way Musharraf ignored warnings not to return from to Pakistan – it is expected a way will be found to avoid a treason trial.
Analysts say the army will not want to see precedents set for trials of retired generals.
The retirement in December of Pakistan's activist chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, may also help as Chaudhry led calls for the government to take action against Musharraf.
The bail decision on Thursday prompted his jailers to leave Musharraf's "farmhouse" in the upmarket area of Chak Shahzad, where he had been confined in just a couple of rooms.
Although the decision will free him to use all the house's amenities, including a swimming pool and jogging track, he is unlikely to rove far outside given the security threats against him.
The Pakistani Taliban has vowed to kill him and a car bomb was found parked outside his house in April.
Controversy sure to surround agreement between Iran and British Petroleum
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, November 6, 2013 17:05 EST
Iraq said Wednesday it would proceed with work alongside British energy giant BP on a controversial northern oilfield, in a move likely to spark anger in the country’s Kurdish region.
The development of the Kirkuk oilfield, which lies amid a swathe of disputed territory in north Iraq, is at the heart of a row over land, oil revenues and the powers of the central government that has been raging for years between Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdistan region.
Iraqi Oil Minister Abdelkarim al-Luaybi, Kirkuk provincial Governor Najm al-Din Omar Karim and BP chief executive Bob Dudley visited the field after holding talks in the province’s eponymous capital.
“The contract with the British company will be executed by treating the decline in oil production at Kirkuk oilfield, which has reached 230,000 barrels (per day), and the company will work on surveying the fields and sites of Kirkuk oilfield throughout the contract period,” Luaybi told AFP.
Current output represents a significant drop off from the field’s peak, and Iraqi officials hope to increase production to 500,000 barrels per day in three years.
The visit was the first since the British energy giant and Iraq signed a deal in September which calls for BP to carry out surveys at the oilfield, but which could eventually lead to the company working to increase the field’s output.
Developing the field is part of Iraqi efforts to boost oil output in order to fund much-needed reconstruction.
At the time the contract was announced, the Kurdistan region condemned the deal. A spokesman for the region’s natural resources ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The dispute over oil is one of several between the central government and Kurdish authorities, who want to incorporate a swathe of land into their autonomous region over the central government’s objections.
The federal and regional governments also disagree over the apportioning of oil revenues, and Baghdad has been angered by the Kurdish region signing contracts with foreign energy firms without its approval.
Diplomats and officials say the dispute over territory in particular is one of the main long-term threats to Iraq’s stability.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]