MafiaLeaks promises whistleblowers safety from the Family
Using secure browser Tor, site puts tipsters in touch with anti-mafia journalists in an attempt to break the code of omertà
theguardian.com, Friday 8 November 2013 16.56 GMT
A group of Italian volunteers have launched a site to encourage victims of the mafia, as well as whistleblowers within the organisations, to come forward with incriminating information.
MafiaLeaks uses the encrypted anonymising browser Tor to enable informants to securely share their secrets with the site. Currently, the recipients are limited by MafiaLeaks to the Fatto Quotidiano newspaper, the Sicilian TV station Telejato and Antonella Beccaria, an independent investigative journalist. All are known for their anti-mafia activities.
"We are not asking you to trust MafiaLeaks," the site's founders, who have remained anonymous to prevent reprisals, wrote. "Indeed, please do not trust MafiaLeaks! Send your information anonymously, do not leave your name, do not leave anything in the data that can be traced back to your person."
Despite the inevitable comparisons to WikiLeaks, the framework of the site is based on the open source project GlobaLeaks, and bears similarity to the New Yorker's Strongbox project, as well as the late Aaron Swartz's SecureDrop. All three emphasise the anonymity of the whistleblower: not even the recipients of the information know their identity, nor can they ever find it out.
Once submitted to MafiaLeaks, the data remains on their server for 20 days, encrypted with a key which is only visible to the whistleblower and their chosen confidant. During that period, the whistleblower can return to the dropbox to add more information, with the intention of allowing a dialogue to begin.
The time, more than two weeks and less than a month, was chosen because repeat visits to an internet café could become suspicious.
To make a report, users are instructed to download the Tor browser bundle and then direct their browser to the project's secure website. Currently, the site only accepts documents, and is looking for financial information and records of membership.
It's more difficult to use a dropbox like this to attack the mafia than it is to bring down corrupt businesses or politicians for the simple reason that the mafia doesn't tend to invoice for assassinations, or provide receipts for protection money. And MafiaLeaks has an additional problem: the founders' anonymity means that the police are loath to co-operate.
But there remains hope. The site's manifesto proclaims that "the goal … is to break down the wall of omertà and silence that protects the mafia … We call on all citizens: 'if you know something, say something'".
Is Poland’s coal and climate summit outrageous or irrelevant?
World Coal meeting is set to discuss the fuel's future, but science and policymakers may have sealed the polluting fuel’s fate already, says Ed King for RTCC
Ed King for RTCC, part of the Guardian Environment Network
theguardian.com, Friday 8 November 2013 17.02 GMT
On a scale of diplomatic blunders, organising an international coal conference at the same time as a UN climate summit appears to be fairly substantial.
Coal is the most polluting of fossil fuels, which makes the Polish Ministry of Economy’s decision to host the International Coal and Climate conference from November 18-19 appear curious.
Without expensive technologies fixed to power stations, its noxious fumes can choke cities, raise mortality rates, cause acid rain and are heavily linked to climate change.
In 2010 it was responsible for 43% of carbon dioxide emissions from fuel combustion – that’s around 13.1 gigatonnes of the 51 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GTCO2e) released that year.
In short, coal seems to be an enemy to what UN envoys call ‘climate ambition’. But the Polish hosts of the 19th Conference of the Parties to the UN, which starts on Monday 11 November, disagree.
The country’s environment minister Marcin Korolec says opponents of the coal summit are “very strange, if not worrying”.
He argues there is “no place for confrontation, isolation and selection” at the COP19 talks, pointing out that the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts global demand for coal is set to rise until 2035.
Local climate campaigners remain unconvinced. Julia Michalak, a policy officer at Climate Action Network accuses the government of “grossly misusing its position as COP President”.
“By endorsing and co-hosting a coal summit in the shadows of the UN’s climate change negotiations Poland has proven it prefers to push its own selfish interests, and those of the coal industry, rather than working collectively to achieve a global climate deal by 2015,” she told RTCC.
On a practical level it makes sense for Poland to maintain good links with the coal industry. In 2011 it consumed 77 million tonnes, generating 92% of electricity and 89% of heat.
For historical reasons Warsaw is reluctant to rely on Russian gas, although Korolec wants to explore for shale. In March the EU took Poland to court for ignoring its renewables directives.
Official documents indicate coal will play a major role in the country’s energy strategy until 2030, and this year the government announced plans for two new coal plants with a capacity of 900MW.
It’s still unclear if these will be fitted with carbon capture technology (CCS). If not, between them they could emit 1.5 gigatonnes of CO2 over the next 55 years.
Politically it’s a tough line for Polish politicians to tread. Coal is popular, climate targets are not.
In an email to RTCC, Pawel Mikusek, a spokesman for the Environment Ministry argued it is important “economies based on coal should not be excluded” from developing a global climate deal.
“If participants of the Coal Summit would discuss energy efficiency, would you find it inappropriate? As I understand, COP is about mitigation and reductions,” he said.
The Coal and Climate Summit’s organiser is the London-based lobby group World Coal, which says there are “many misconceptions” over the environmental impacts of coal.
Its six-page and three-point Warsaw Communique urges increased investment in more efficient coal plants by 2020. A copy signed by supporters will be presented to Korolec at the conclusion of the summit.
No-one from World Coal was available for interview, but its PR agency Bell-Pottinger said the event is “part of the WCA’s commitment to engaging and working with stakeholders to develop pragmatic actions to address the global debate around climate change.”
It added: “improving the average coal plant efficiencies globally from the current 33% to a standard 45% would result in CO2 emission reduction of 2.4 Gt annually.”
According to the IEA, only 50% of new coal plants are being constructed using high-efficiency, low-emissions (HELE) technologies.
That means that only around 600 of the 1,199 power stations the World Resources Institute (WRI) says were planned at the end of 2012 will meet the ‘clean coal’ criteria World Coal believes is necessary.
Industry insiders also sound sceptical. Malcolm Keay is a Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies. He’s also the former Chief Executive of the World Coal Institute.
In an interview with RTCC he admitted there are serious questions over just how ‘clean’ coal can really be.
“You can reduce emissions through higher efficiencies and ultimately through CCS, but there’s still a question depending on which country you are talking about whether that’s enough,” he said.
For many advocates of coal CCS is the holy grail, a technology that would allow greenhouse gases to be captured and stored safely underground.
The IEA says it is “almost certain” that CCS will have to be fitted on all coal plants after 2020 to meet CO2 targets.
It’s a view shared by World Coal, which says: “Failure to widely deploy CCS will seriously hamper international efforts to address climate change.”
But despite a number of test facilities dotted around the world, and heavy investment from the EU, USA and China, no-one appears to have developed an efficient way of capturing CO2 from coal-fired power stations.
Keay says it is “not proven or economic”, pointing out that current CCS technology reduces the efficiency of power plants, adding: “there are some technical uncertainties. No-one has built a big end-to-end system yet.”
In a sign of how tough it is to get CCS working, at the end of September Norway announced it was pulling out of a full-scale facility at an oil-refinery and gas plant in the town of Mongstad.
Other test sites continue to operate. Shell has a project running in Canada, while the Global CCS Institute lists 75 other schemes running around the world.
The $2.4 billion Kemper County carbon capture project in Mississippi, backed by the US Department of Energy, is perhaps one of the most high-profile coal CCS initiatives.
But Chris Littlecott from the London-based environmental consultancy E3G says the coal industry now faces a “credibility gap”, because it has failed to invest in the technology over the past decade.
“The coal sector needs CCS more than CCS needs coal,” he said. “CO2 storage is limited, so we should focus on the highest value added applications – on industrial plants, biomass and gas power”.
“If it wants CCS it must pay for it.”
Given doubts over CCS and the limited number of high-efficiency coal power plants, coal’s role on a climate-aware planet appears precarious.
Recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the UN Environment Programme have emphasised the limits to how much carbon dioxide the planet can safely accommodate.
This week UNEP said annual emissions need to be cut 12% on 2010 levels to 44 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e) by 2020, warning that based on current pledges they will be around 15% higher.
Meanwhile a PwC study based on the IPCC report said the amount of emissions countries can release is likely to be blown by 2034.
Those 13.1 gigatonnes of climate-warming gases generated by the burning of coal could be the difference between avoiding or blowing the 2C warming limit countries agreed on in 2009.
Moves by the USA under President Obama, the World Bank and European Investment Bank to cut funding for new coal plants suggest the world’s leading economies agree.
New emission standards in the US look set to wipe out older polluting coal plants, while Ben Caldecott from Bloomberg New Energy Finance points out Europe’s climate laws mean its 205 most polluting power stations will have to close in 2015.
But what’s also clear is that few believe coal is going to disappear.
While the EU turns to nuclear, renewables and gas, Caldecott points out China is set to open three large coal plants every month up to 2022, while India is on course to become the world’s second biggest coal importer.
Speaking from Beijing, the Climate Group’s Changhua Wu told RTCC that “coal will continue to be part of the mix”, hinting that this may change when the government publishes its next five year plan in 2015.
Hopes for any ambitious agreement at the Warsaw UN summit are low, but negotiators do expect a timeline for national emission pledges to be agreed ahead of a scheduled global emission agreement in 2015.
Respected analysts like the IEA’s gas, coal and power chief Laszlo Varr believe it will take ambitious climate policies and a high carbon price to keep coal in the ground, which is what many countries want a UN deal to deliver.
What may worry delegates at the Coal and Climate summit is that the industry’s future is no longer in their hands, making the World Coal event something of an irrelevance.
Without effective technologies to cut carbon emissions to the levels required by science, it may have to increasingly exist in a market where polluters pay a premium.
Femen leader Inna Shevchenko: 'I'm for any form of feminism'
Four years ago, Inna Shevchenko had never even heard of feminism – today she is leader of the infamous topless protest group, Femen. Despite death threats, arrests and attacks, she defends 'the feminist al-Qaida'
The Guardian, Friday 8 November 2013 18.30 GMT
Before meeting Inna Shevchenko I would have said it was impossible for an educated 19-year-old woman studying journalism at a prestigious university in a European capital, while working as the city mayor's press officer, to know nothing about feminism. But Shevchenko is adamant. She had literally never even heard of it, until one evening she received a message on Russia's version of Facebook that would change her life, and may well be about to change Britain.
"It said: 'Hello, we are women's group and we want to start our activity in Kiev and we are against sex tourism and prostitution. Do you share our point of view, let's meet?' I was very active, I was head of student parliament, so I say: 'Yes, hello, I'm also against prostitution.' But I realised afterwards that I'd never even thought about prostitution – am I against or for it? It was such a new idea – someone was against prostitution, so I'm suddenly asking myself, am I against prostitution? I don't know. I'd just never thought about it before."
Since she started to think – and do – something about it, Shevchenko has been sacked, abducted by Belarussian secret police, beaten, tortured, threatened with death and forced to flee Ukraine for asylum in Paris, where she has been spat on in the street and left homeless by an arson attack that destroyed the few belongings she had left. You wouldn't guess any of that from her demeanour, though: she comes across as a calm, cheerful and unusually intelligent young professional. "Now I don't have any fear," she grins, before correcting herself. "I have only one fear – to be imbecilic. To be passive. That is the only fear I have."
The organisation Shevchenko joined four years ago, and now effectively leads, was a tiny group of Ukranian women who called themselves Femen. For the first two years they protested against prostitution and sex tourism, and nobody paid much notice – until they stumbled upon a tactic that has made headlines across the world and turned them into a global movement. Femen activists – "sextremists" – now protest topless, with slogans painted across their bare breasts – "Fuck Your Morals", "This Is Not a Sex Toy", "Poor Because of You" – and run screaming and shouting at public figures who have so far included Silvio Berlusconi, Vladimir Putin and the supermodel host of a TV modelling contest. The group now have branches in nine countries, with plans to open in London soon.
At first Shevchenko hated the idea of protesting topless. "I was using this argument like, 'you can't be against prostitution and then take your clothes off', but really it was just that I could not imagine doing it. I had only one idea of being naked – in the bed of men, or promoting yoghurt in an advert like this," and she adopts a baby doll pose with a finger in her mouth. "I had only this imagination, I couldn't put it in my head that it could have a different meaning."
When I first heard about Femen, I thought gorgeous, young, topless blondes could be no more feminist than those women who spend hours putting on makeup and say things like, "It's my right to have a boob job because feminism says I'm worth it." I could not have been more wrong. Asked how she can justify exploiting the very sexual objectification she's protesting against, she says, "I'm not against my body. I'm against their point of view on my body. We are giving you meaning to women's body. We're showing it in a completely different context, with completely different emotion – not with this," and she poses like a glamour model.
"We're showing it as powerful women running and facing them. We are not making sexy sounds, we are screaming as much as we can with our political demands, we're not showing a passive smiling body, we're showing an aggressive, screaming body. My body is always saying something. I use it as a small poster to write my political demand."
It was only meant to be a tactic at first, but soon they realised it was the perfect dramatisation of their ideology. "We are showing the clash between patriarchal society and women – you can see it in action every time we protest," she says. In footage the viciousness of police violence towards the half-naked woman is indeed shocking. "This reaction," she points out, "is the perfect answer to people who say there's no need for us."
But there is something also suspect about the preponderance of beautiful blondes among Femen's sextremist activists. "It's an old critique now," she smiles, "because now we have branches all over the world, and women are very different. In Ukraine I will not deny that we were nearly all looking the same. And again, it couldn't happen any other way, because the society demands it when you are growing up. You are searching for men, so you have to look good. Ukrainian women, we all follow this beauty standard, and I'm not proud of that, of course, but it's a cultural thing.
"But I will not deny that this is also within the ideology of Femen. What we are doing is showing the victim of patriarchy. But now she's rebelling and she's fighting – we're showing this Barbie fighting against everything that is making her be plastic and fantastic. We're showing the way they made us and now we're fighting back. It's an instrument of patriarchy and now we're using it against it. So I cannot deny that sometimes we do this on purpose."
Still, some western feminists have taken a dim view, but Shevchenko is too sophisticated to be drawn into a fight. "We are not fighting with other feminists; we are not here for that. I'm for feminism in any form. I can have my opinion on the way other movements do their feminism, but I will never criticise them, for I would go against myself – I am feminist. Feminism is not only one form, when we write amazing theory with a great explanation that is so clear and so fair. Feminists are not only that. We can do everything, and so Femen are kind of feminist al-Qaida, if you want. We are feminist terrorists coming and showing how it is."
Western feminists' reservations might be revised if they lived in Ukraine. "Being a woman in Ukraine, what kind of possibilities do you have? To become housewife, or to become prostitute. In my town there were women who were searching for any man, just to get a man. All my female school friends got married after they finished school, they were 17, 18. For 17 years growing up in that town I had only one idea in my head: how to get out of this shit." But at university she soon realised all the other female students were only there to find a better class of husband from a rich family. Her older sister did try to use her education to get a good job, "and in nearly every application she got back an email asking for her to send a picture of herself in a bikini, and to send her measurements, and as part of your office they say you have to have sex with your boss. This is the reality for young Ukrainian woman."
Shevchenko couldn't even go out at night in Kiev. "You're a piece of meat, and men think they can do whatever to you, touch you – it is a hell there. So when people say what about results for Femen, I'm proud to say we brought the idea of feminism and women's rights to a politically ignorant part of the world like Ukraine, Russia, Belarus. And I'm proud to say I think we brought feminism back on to the streets of Europe as well."
When Shevkencho was forced to seek asylum in France after chainsawing down a crucifix in Kiev last year, she wondered what Femen could offer to progressive, liberal, secular Paris. But by then Femen's mission had broadened from protests against patriarchy and the sex industry to include dictatorships and, most controversially, religion – which presents plenty of opportunities in Paris. Femen's HQ lies in a scruffy immigrant neighbourhood of north and west Africans, a deeply traditional and religious community, and when I observe that she cuts a fairly incongruous figure in the street, Shevchenko grins. "I love this area, it's very Femen style. I like to be inside the problem, you know?"
The French Muslim community is unsurprisingly outraged by Femen, and Shevchenko has been accused of disrespecting Muslim feminists, but she rejects the very concept. "I will never have a discussion about Muslim feminism because it doesn't exist. It cannot exist. It's oxymoronic. It's Islam, clearly, saying women must be covered for their dignity. I mean come on. Once any monotheistic religion is starting, feminism is finished. You can forget about women's rights or human rights in general. So for me, Muslim feminist, Christian feminist, Jewish feminist, it's all oxymoronic.
"People say I am offending religious feelings – well, I know I am doing it! And every time I start to talk about such things I will do it, but I don't do it for provocation, I'm simply worried about what is going on. Why do we have to think about a choice between religion and political ideals – what the fuck is religion doing on the same level as a political idea? I think it is the most stupid thing society did to let religion on the same level in political discussion."
A young Muslim member in Tunisia was jailed for posting a topless image of herself online, and there were calls for her to be stoned to death. Is it irresponsible to encourage women in Muslim countries to take such a risk? "I'm not going to defend myself by saying, 'Oh I'm not encouraging them.' I am encouraging women, of course. I'm thankful that I got this little message on Russian Facebook that encouraged me to start, so of course I'm encouraging women, because I know what kind of shit we live in. And now for many women in Tunisia she is an example."
Shevchenko has not yet been able to visit London due to her asylum status, but about a dozen British women have already been in touch, and she is clear about Femen's targets here. "We will take care of prostitution, FGM, niqab discussion, Muslim extremism, and be in opposition to British conservatism and extra political correctness wherever it will appear. And we will find the way to come in Al-Madinah school or Buckingham palace."
But first she has a minor PR problem to deal with. A documentary about Femen, Ukraine Is Not a Brothel, premiered at a film festival in September, and revealed the involvement of a man behind some of the ideas for the groups protests. He's seen in the film telling the women they are "weak", "spineless" and "bitches", and journalists quickly began casting him as the Malcolm McLaren to their Sex Pistols, claiming Femen was actually his organisation.
"I wish everyone who wrote about the film would actually see it," Shevchenko groans. "But it proves how deep this patriarchal culture is in our minds that even intellectual people were so happy to say, 'Ah, there is a man!' And immediately they made him founder of the movement. He was never the founder of the movement! Femen founded by a man – what the fuck? This was very brutal for me, because they started to say Femen are not authentic feminists."
In fact, he was a friend of one of the original founders, and would occasionally come along to meetings to offer ideas. "He was giving good advice sometimes, I cannot deny it, but then his demands started to grow and he started to just demand what he wants, and treat us like shit. Of course everyone is saying, how could you have let him? But of course we didn't open the door and say: 'Please come in dictator, please come in patriarchy and kick our ass.'"
He no longer has anything to do with Femen. But if even Femen could allow themselves to be bullied by a man for a while, Shevchenko says, "Who can say there is no need for feminism?"
India’s spacecraft on track to head to Mars
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, November 8, 2013 8:53 EST
India’s Mars spacecraft has completed the first of a series of engine firings designed to free it from Earth’s gravitational pull and propel it towards the Red Planet, scientists said Friday.
The first “orbit-raising manoeuvre”, which involves the firing of a liquid fuel thruster, was performed Thursday followed by the second firing on Friday, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said.
“The second orbit raising manoeuvre of Mars Orbiter Spacecraft, starting at 02:18:51 hours (IST) on November 8, with a burn time of 570.6 seconds has been successfully completed,” the Bangalore-headquartered ISRO said in a statement.
India began the quest to become the first Asian country to reach Mars on Tuesday with the successful launch from its southern space station of a 1.35 tonne unmanned probe, which is strapped to a rocket.
As it lacks the power to fly directly to Mars, the probe will orbit Earth for nearly a month and the thruster firings are designed to build up the necessary velocity to break free from our planet’s gravitational pull.
Only once all six of the engine firing manoeuvres have been successfully completed will it begin the second stage of its nine-month journey to Mars.
The main aim of the mission is to detect methane in the Martian atmosphere, which could provide evidence of some sort of life form on the fourth planet from the sun.
India has never before attempted inter-planetary travel, and more than half of all missions to Mars have ended in failure, including China’s in 2011 and Japan’s in 2003.
The cost of the project, at 4.5 billion rupees ($73 million), is less than a sixth of the $455 million earmarked for a Mars probe by NASA which will launch later this month.
ISRO chairman K. Radhakrishnan has called the mission a “turning point” for India’s space ambitions and one which would go on to prove the country’s capabilities in rocket technology.
Keep calm and wait for the 1-ton satellite to crash to Earth
By Stuart Clark The Guardian
Thursday, November 7, 2013 22:35 EST
The European GOCE satellite is falling uncontrollably to Earth but no one need worry too much
A one-tonne satellite is falling uncontrollably towards the Earth. It is expected to hit sometime late this weekend or early next week. No one knows exactly when or where it will smash down but it is likely to fragment into 25-45 pieces en route.
Written in those terms it sounds like pretty scary stuff, and indeed the news is making headlines across the web. Many seem to have been triggered by a piece in the New York Times, titled Satellite Will Fall to Earth, But No One Is Sure Where.
Perhaps a more sensible headline would have been Satellite Will Fall to Earth, But No One Need Worry Too Much.
The spacecraft in question is the European Space Agency’s Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) mission. Since 2009, GOCE has been measuring the Earth’s gravitational field with exquisite sensitivity.
To do this it has maintained an extremely low orbit of about 280 kilometres. Now that the fuel is gone, there is no way for it to fight the gravitational field it has been mapping. Mission controllers knew that an uncontrollable fall would be the inevitable end of the mission. So, why would they take such a risk?
The answer is simple. It is because there are so many natural meteorites falling to Earth that this satellite presents almost no danger.
According to Cornell University’s Ask and Astronomer webpage, between 18,000 and 84,000 meteorites bigger than 10 grams hit the Earth every year. Not all of these survive to strike the ground.
The total amount of mass contained in a year’s worth of meteorites is about 37,000-78,000 tonnes, or 101–214 tonnes per day. So, another tonne from GOCE represents an increase of just 0.5-1% on the day.
To put the numbers into clear context, the Chelyabinsk meteor that struck Russia on 15 February 2013, injuring people and causing wide-spread damage, is estimated to have been 12,000–13,000 times more massive than GOCE.
Although GOCE is metaphorically (and hopefully literally) a drop in the ocean, such a cavalier ending to a space mission is now frowned upon by international agreement. Future satellites are being designed to include engines that will allow them to be aimed towards the ocean if they are going to re-enter.
GOCE is currently less than 190km in altitude and dropping by more than 4km a day. As it encounters denser layers of the atmosphere, the fall will quicken. Currently, ESA estimate that the satellite will hit the ground on Sunday or Monday.
An international campaign to monitor the descent is taking place through ESA’s Space Debris Office and the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee.
Stuart Clark is the author of The Day Without Yesterday (Polygon). Find him on Twitter as @DrStuClark.
© Guardian News and Media 2013
In the USA...United Surveillance America
11/08/2013 04:54 PM
Paradise Lost: Paranoia Has Undermined US Democracy
By Dirk Kurbjuweit
While far from a dictatorship, the United States has employed a number of paranoid tactics that delegitimize its democracy. This phenomenon is on display in the fictional TV series "Homeland," which depicts hysterical CIA agents in a hysterical country.
Agent Carrie Mathison is a topical figure. The main character in the American TV series "Homeland," played by the wonderful Claire Danes, shows her true relevance in the first few episodes, in which Mathison is nervously sitting at home, observing and listening in on the life of a terror suspect on a large screen. His apartment is bugged and Mathison is determined to find out as much as she can about him. She is hysterical, bipolar, paranoid and sick -- all advantageous traits for her job.
The real-life intelligence services of the United States take things much further than agent Carrie Mathison. They spy on just about anyone, even German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who, so far, has not been suspected of maintaining ties to Islamist terrorism, and yet whose cellphone was tapped.
It is often assumed that intelligence agencies are worlds of their own, and that they sometimes act on their own authority. However, they are also an expression of the societies in which they exist, especially of their fears. In other words, it is quite possible that there are not just paranoid agents, but also paranoid democracies that act in hysterical ways out of fear. They are characterized by a strong freedom myth, which leads to paranoia. It, in turn, poses a threat to freedom. The United States is currently in a late phase of this cycle.
Freedom means that there is an endless range of possibilities, and that anything can happen, including both good and bad things. That's why freedom engenders fear. The greater the freedom, the greater the fear. Where does America's fear come from?
To answer this question, it's worth taking a look at scenes from a typical Hollywood Western, in which covered wagons pass through a harsh, unwelcoming landscape, and where the silence feels ominous and the settlers are constantly casting anxious looks at the hills to the left and right. Is anyone there? Of course there is. A group of Indians has congregated and will soon attack the wagon train. There will be deaths, and a few crosses will be left behind in the wilderness.
Paradise of Freedom?
The United States is a relatively young country that began as a society of settlers. They came to America to escape oppression at the hands of European monarchies, and they developed a strong desire for freedom in the process -- a freedom they could find in the continent's vast expanses. As political individuals, they refused to accept that even though they lived on the other side of the Atlantic, they were still controlled by the British colonial power, and they fought for their independence and democracy.
Because the settlers made such great sacrifices to seize their magnificent country -- from British troops, from the Indians and from the wilderness -- their achievements became imbued with a religious exaggeration. The country was essentially declared a paradise, or, in the words of the national anthem, "the land of the free and the home of the brave."
But the nation's genetic code has also retained the fear that many settlers had to endure, both on their treks and in wars. A covered wagon with a man, a woman and a horde of children -- it's the perfect symbol of the land of unlimited opportunity, a land where total freedom and maximum vulnerability go hand-in-hand.
To understand the United States, it's worth taking a look at other paranoid democracies. In southern Africa, Boer settlers battled the local population for land. To this day, the Boers still have a glorified view of their history, as suggested by Boer expressions like "Eie land, vrye volk," or "One land, free people." A strict apartheid system was implemented in South Africa starting in 1948. The system enabled the Boers to isolate themselves from the black majority and create a democracy, but only for whites, making it entirely undemocratic. Fear was the basis of that state. It built nuclear bombs, even though it had no enemies.
Politics Shaped by Fear
Israel is the promised land of the Jews. It was created primarily to give Holocaust survivors a place where they could feel free and safe. That freedom and safety was fought for and preserved in wars against the Palestinians and neighboring powers, wars that claimed many casualties. To this day, Israel retains elements of a settler society, as the country continues to expand into the West Bank.
In Israel, too, politics are shaped by fear -- and a justified one. The country is surrounded by enemies, some of which have made the renewed extermination of the Jews their objective. But does that mean that the Israelis have to have their presumed enemies murdered abroad? One of today's symbols of political paranoia is the giant wall that seals off Palestinian areas from Israeli territory. "Homeland" is actually based on an Israeli TV series.
The United States differs in many respects from South Africa during apartheid and Israel today. But the three countries are similar in terms of the triad of freedom myth, paradise and fear. This has led to the development of a tremendous ability to put up a fight, but also a heightened sensitivity.
Political paranoia requires an enemy, or at least the concept of an enemy. For a long time after the society of white settlers had destroyed or banished the Indian tribes, there was no enemy to threaten the Americans in their paradise. It was only the Soviet Union's bombers armed with nuclear missiles that made the United States vulnerable again and fanned new fears. At the same time, the rival in the East served as the alternative model to the freedom myth, because it was a society of compulsion and limited opportunity. It also offered an austere alternative model to the American paradise, which by then had become primarily a paradise of consumerism.
America felt threatened to its very core. A defeat against the Soviet Union would have turned the United States into either a nuclear desert or a Socialist satellite with cheap goods and no more than two available car models -- two nightmares for Americans that generated considerable fear.
Soon a paranoia developed that was reflected in one of its early excesses, the McCarthyism of the 1950s. Those suspected of harboring sympathy for communism were persecuted. Throughout the Cold War, anti-communism remained a hysterical and fundamental element of American policy.
Need for Enemies, at Home and Abroad
After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the United States experienced a relatively relaxed decade, until hijacked jetliners crashed into the World Trade Center and destroyed parts of the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. The men at the controls were belligerent Islamists, whose ideas also formed an antithesis to American society.
They were foes of a liberal and individualistic way of life, and they yearned for a paradise where credit cards would be worthless. They were also the first to severely wound the United States in its own "homeland." They were the ideal enemy for the next wave of paranoia. The hour of the Carrie Mathisons of the intelligence world had arrived.
While far from all democracies are paranoid, virtually all dictatorships are. For dictators, paranoia helps shape and preserve their autocratic systems. Autocrats need an enemy -- always an internal enemy and sometimes an external one, too -- to legitimize violence and coercion, and to generate allegiance.
The Nazis are unparalleled in this art of hysterical governance. Their declared internal enemies were Jews, Communists, Social Democrats, the Sinti and the Roma, homosexuals and anyone who told jokes about Adolf Hitler. The external enemies were all the countries that Germany attacked, which was a large number, as well as the overseas democracies, especially the United States. For the Chinese party dictatorship, dissidents are the internal enemies, often people who express their criticism with a paintbrush, pen or laptop. Although China lacks an external enemy, it does have an aversion to Japan.
The United States cannot be compared with Nazi Germany or with China. Unfortunately, however, a paranoid democracy tends to use tools that are beneath a democracy, the tools of a dictatorship, and they include as much surveillance as possible.
US No Longer a Model of Democracy
Information is the most valuable thing in a paranoid world. Those who feel threatened want to know as much as possible about potential threats, so as to be able to control their fears and prepare preventive attacks. Even in the days of covered wagons, alertness was an important protection against attack. Before Sept. 11, the intelligence agencies were asleep at the wheel and overlooked many of the clues the attackers left behind during their preparations. One of the reasons agent Carrie Mathison is traumatized is that she let her guard down once, and she is determined not to let it happen again, even if it means breaking the law.
Now the intelligence services have developed a giant information procurement machine, which is also useful in industrial espionage. To ensure that nothing escapes their notice, they violate the privacy of millions and millions of people and alienate allied nations and their politicians.
Another form of paranoid information procurement is torture, used by American intelligence agencies to gain information about terrorists. Torture is the negation of democracy, freedom and human rights. If a democratic country allows itself to sink to the level of torture, it must already be extremely hysterical and anxious.
It isn't as if nuclear bombs were at issue. The aim of some of today's intelligence methods is to prevent attacks that could be very painful for America, but in truth do not threaten the American founding myths and are not capable of extinguishing the American paradise. Only the Americans themselves can do that. The fear aspect of freedom is destructive to freedom, because it allows the need for security to get out of hand.
While paranoia legitimizes a dictatorship, it can achieve the opposite effect in a democracy. The United States is no longer a model of liberal democracy. That much has been made clear in light of mass surveillance, torture, the extralegal detention camp at Guantanamo and an isolationist ideology that leads to author Ilija Trojanow being denied entry to the country, presumably because of his criticism of American policy.
Other nations also have their fears, but they lack the power to turn the world upside down. Power and paranoia are a dangerous mix.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
Geneva talks end without deal on Iran's nuclear programme
Diplomats said to be furious after France objected to a stopgap deal being presented as a fait accompli
Julian Borger and Saeed Kamali Dehghan in Geneva
The Observer, Sunday 10 November 2013
Three gruelling days of high-level and high-stakes diplomacy came to an end in Geneva with no agreement on Iran's nuclear programme, after France blocked a stopgap deal aimed at defusing tensions and buying more time for negotiations.
A six-nation group of major powers and Iran agreed only to meet again on 20 November, but on a lower level – senior diplomats rather than foreign ministers. The EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said: "A lot of concrete progress has been achieved, but differences remain." Asked about the part France had played, Ashton said that all parties to the talks had played an important role.
The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, also sought to play down the disagreements that had surfaced with France, and the divisions between the six-nation group, known as the P5+1. "It was natural when we started dealing the details there could be differences of views," Zarif said. "But we are working together and hopeful we will be able to reach agreement when we meet again. What we were looking for was political will and determination, in order to end this phase and move to an end game. I think we are all on the same wavelength."
Privately, however, other diplomats at the talks were furious with the role of the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, whom they accused of breaking ranks by revealing details of the negotiations as soon as he arrived in Geneva on Saturday morning, and then breaking protocol again by declaring the results to the press before Ashton and Zarif had arrived at the final press conference.
Iran's president Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday that its "rights to enrichment" of uranium were "red lines" that would not be crossed and that the Islamic Republic had acted rationally and tactfully during the negotiations, according to Iranian media reports quoted by Reuters.
"We have said to the negotating sides that we will not answer to any threat, sanction, humiliation or discrimination. The Islamic Republic has not and will not bow its head to threats from any authority," he said during a speech at the National Assembly, Iran's student news agency said.
French opposition was focused on a draft text agreement that laid out a short-term deal to slow down or stop elements of the Iranian nuclear programme in return for limited sanctions relief. The French complained that the text, which they said was mostly drafted by Iran and the US, had been presented as a fait accompli and they did not want to be stampeded into agreement.
Fabius told France Inter radio yesterday morning that Paris would not accept a "fools' game". "As I speak to you, I cannot say there is any certainty that we can conclude," he said.
Iranian officials insisted that the draft had been written in close collaboration with western officials, and said France was single-handedly holding up progress by dividing the "P5+1" negotiating group, comprising the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China.
Zarif would not comment on the French role directly but said: "Although the questions of the P5+1 should be addressed, a great deal of time is being spent on negotiations within the P5+1 group. This is normal because they are six nations with different views and their own national interests and they need to agree." He said that when the P5+1 was ready to agree, "we are ready to find a solution".
Fabius said one of the key issues was Iran's heavy water reactor at Arak, which is due to reach completion next year after many delays. The west and Israel have called for construction work to stop as part of an interim deal aimed at buying time for negotiations on a more comprehensive long-term deal.
Iran says the reactor's purpose is to produce nuclear isotopes that are useful for medical and agricultural purposes. But when operating it would produce plutonium as a by-product in its spent fuel, and that plutonium would represent a serious proliferation risk, giving an alternative route to making a bomb that would not depend on uranium enrichment. Israel has threatened to bomb the reactor before it starts operations, pointing out that once it is fuelled, bombing becomes impossible as it would scatter radioactive fallout around a large region.
On the sidelines of the talks, which shifted from Geneva's Palais des Nations to the five-star Intercontinental Hotel after the foreign ministers arrived yesterday, some western officials accused France of sabotaging the hopes of a deal to curry favour with Israel and the Gulf Arab states.
There was little doubt that the talks had reached a climactic moment of a sort not witnessed in a decade of on-off negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme.
Six foreign ministers and one deputy minister converged on Switzerland in a bid to break the deadlock. Russia's senior diplomat, Sergey Lavrov, arrived yesterday morning to join Fabius, Zarif, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague, and the German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle. China sent its vice foreign minister, Li Baodong.
"These negotiations have made good progress and continue to make good progress," Hague said. "But there are still important issues to resolve."
November 9, 2013
Elderly Woman’s Killing Lays Bare Myanmar’s Religious Divisions
By THOMAS FULLER
THABYU CHAING, Myanmar — Paralyzed from the waist down, Daw Aye Kyi was too heavy for her daughter and granddaughter to carry into the surrounding jungle when a Buddhist mob stormed through this rice-farming village hunting for Muslims.
Three men brandishing machetes and knives ignored pleas for mercy and lunged at Ms. Aye Kyi. Her daughter and her granddaughter fled. Several hours later, Ms. Aye Kyi’s body was discovered, slumped next to the smoking cinders of her wooden house. The police say she was stabbed six times. She was 94 years old.
Ms. Aye Kyi was one of five Muslims killed in the attack on Thabyu Chaing last month, a rampage that also destroyed more than a dozen homes. So far, in a year and a half of sporadic Buddhist-Muslim violence, more than 200 people, mostly Muslims, have died.
But the killing of a helpless elderly woman — and what followed — is one of the starkest symbols of the breadth of anti-Muslim feelings in this Buddhist-majority country, the lack of sympathy for the victims and the failure of security forces to stop the killings.
The state-run news media obliquely reported the killings as “casualties” without offering any details. And although the president of the fledgling democracy ordered his office to directly investigate the deaths, there has been no national outcry.
“For a culture that has such great respect for the elderly, the killing of this old lady should have been a turning point, a moment of national soul searching,” said Richard Horsey, a former United Nations official in the country. “The fact that this has not happened is almost as disturbing as the killing itself.”
The violence that swept through this village took with it the final vestiges of what had until very recently been a peaceful place, where Muslims and Buddhists had coexisted amicably for generations before the loosening of the hard hand of the old junta freed some of Myanmar’s demons. The match that lit the violence here in Thabyu Chaing, in the western state of Rakhine, as elsewhere, appeared to be the teachings of a radical Buddhist group, 969, that the government continues to allow to preach hatred and extend its influence throughout the countryside.
Hatred for Muslims — partly because of colonial-era grievances — and the fear of appearing sympathetic to them run so deep in Myanmar that officials seem afraid even to console the victims’ families.
When the local police chief, U Tin Maung Lwin, inspected the body of Ms. Aye Kyi, her daughter and granddaughter remember his saying, “How cruel.” But in a telephone interview, Mr. Tin Maung Lwin, who, like the vast majority of government employees, is Buddhist, denied using “cruel” to describe the murder.
“I did not use words that favor one side or the other,” he said.
After five decades of military rule, Myanmar remains a heavily militarized country, where the army alone numbers around half a million men and where plainclothes intelligence officers are ubiquitous. Yet security forces were unwilling or unable to stop the Buddhist mob here.
Muslim villagers say the authorities were well aware of the danger because they received a telephone call from the local police station on Sept. 30, the day before the violence, warning them of looming danger and instructing them to erect a gate at the entrance to the village.
In the early hours of Oct. 1, when villagers received reports that a mob of several dozen men was approaching, they made urgent phone calls to the police and military units a few miles away.
U Myint Aung, a Muslim farmer, says the security forces responded with skepticism. “They asked us, ‘Are you sure? Are you sure?’ ” he said.
“We told them, ‘Yes, we are sure. Come quickly!’ ”
A single police vehicle arrived and dispersed a first wave of attackers before dawn. But the mob that killed Ms. Aye Kyi returned midmorning, and the police fled after firing into the air, villagers say.
Lt. Col. Kyaw Tint, a senior police officer in Rakhine State, said “security forces did their best.”
Tomás Ojea Quintana, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, has criticized the government for the failure of security forces to intervene in the repeated bouts of violence against Muslims. He had a taste of police inaction in August when he was investigating the site of a massacre of Muslims in the central city of Meiktila. As he toured the city, “police stood by while his car was punched and kicked by a violent mob,” according to a United Nations report.
The failure to stop the violence of Oct. 1 was awkward for Myanmar’s president, U Thein Sein, who was on a scheduled visit to the area at the time. Mr. Thein Sein said he “urged the social, religious and community leaders to work with each other in finding solutions.”
Under his office’s direction, the investigation of the violence appears to have yielded swifter results than after previous killings; more than 70 people, including about 50 Buddhists, have been arrested, according to the police.
The bodies of two Buddhists were discovered several days later in another village, but the circumstances of their deaths are unclear.
When the first bouts of religious violence in Myanmar broke out in June 2012, the fighting was in a relatively circumscribed area near the border with Bangladesh and involved tensions between Buddhists and a stateless Muslim group known as the Rohingya, who are widely reviled by Myanmar’s Buddhists. But the violence here, several hundred miles away, underlines how the strife has metastasized into a nationwide anti-Muslim movement.
By the accounts of Buddhists and Muslims, Ms. Aye Kyi’s village was a portrait of religious harmony. The citizenship of her ethnic group, the Kaman, has never been in dispute.
Families from both communities in the village have been intertwined: Ms. Aye Kyi was born Buddhist and married a Muslim man, and three of her four children chose to become Buddhist. Buddhists and Muslims planted rice together and attended one another’s weddings and funerals. Even when violence broke out elsewhere last year, the village remained calm.
Muslims say the spiraling hatred is largely due to influences from outside the village.
They say Buddhist neighbors became more distant after the spiritual leader of the radical 969 movement, who preaches on the threat of Islam in the country, gave a sermon in a neighboring village in April. Buddhist families shared his hate-filled videos. In August, heeding a call by a private Buddhist organization called the Preservation and Protection of National Races and Religion, Buddhist families hoisted Buddhist flags in front of their homes, the first time in living memory that villagers had done so, according to the abbot of the local monastery.
To Muslims, the flags represented an “us-and-them” separation that allowed the mob to know which houses to spare.
“They hate Islam, and they want it to disappear from the country,” said Daw Than Than Nwe, a Muslim woman from the village.
The spiritual leader of 969, a monk named Ashin Wirathu, says Buddhism is under siege by Muslims, who are having more children than Buddhists. He says his group is not behind any of the killings, but many say his preachings incite the violence. Mr. Thein Sein, the president, once called Mr. Wirathu a “noble person.”
The immediate trigger for the Oct. 1 violence, Buddhists say, was an episode in which a Muslim merchant insulted a Buddhist man for flying a Buddhist flag on his three-wheeled taxi.
U Einda Sara, the abbot of a large Buddhist temple in Myanmar’s most famous beach resort, Ngapali, is typical of extremist Buddhist monks who have great influence in Burmese society and are rarely publicly contradicted.
In an interview in his monastery, the abbot offered a version of the killing of the 94-year-old woman that stands in stark contradiction to police accounts. The abbot asserted that Ms. Aye Kyi “ran away and died from lack of oxygen.” Her body was probably mutilated by fellow Muslims to make Buddhists look bad, he said.
The abbot justified the killing of Muslims on the grounds that it was self-defense.
“If you encounter a tiger, you run away if possible,” he said. “But if you cannot run, you have to fight back.”
Wai Moe contributed reporting from Yangon, Myanmar.
November 9, 2013
Bangladesh Arrests Opposition Figures
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
DHAKA, Bangladesh — Bangladeshi authorities have arrested three senior leaders of the main opposition party as tensions increase ahead of elections early next year, an official said Saturday.
The police arrested the three — Moudud Ahmed, M. K. Anwar and Rafiqul Islam Mia — late Friday, hours after an alliance led by the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party announced its latest nationwide strike. The three-day strike, set to begin on Sunday, was organized to press Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to quit and appoint a caretaker to oversee the elections in January.
The police on Saturday also arrested Abdul Awal Mintoo, a prominent businessman with ties to the main opposition party, and an aide of the opposition leader Khaleda Zia.
Information Minister Hasanul Huq Inu said the opposition figures were accused of instigating attacks on people and property. But the arrests also highlight the resolve of Ms. Hasina’s government to crack down on the opposition and forge ahead with the elections by January.
November 9, 2013
Maldives Court Orders Another Delay After Presidential Vote Sets Up Runoff
By ELLEN BARRY
NEW DELHI — A third attempt to hold a presidential election in the tiny Indian Ocean nation of Maldives was thrown off course early Sunday, after an order from the Supreme Court delayed a runoff scheduled for that day.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed won the most votes in the presidential election on Saturday, around 47 percent — a commanding lead over his closest rival, but not enough to avoid a runoff. However, after receiving petitions requesting a delay, the Supreme Court ordered the Sunday vote suspended, recommending that it be held next weekend, said Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, an official in Mr. Nasheed’s party.
It was the third time an election had been delayed by a court order, and was evidence of continuing turmoil in this fragile democracy, which elected its first president five years ago after 30 years of autocratic rule. Among Mr. Nasheed’s rivals are candidates tied to the country’s longtime leader, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and important factions in the government remain loyal to the former government.
Mr. Ghafoor described the atmosphere on Sunday as one of “eerie calm,” and said the vote would probably not take place.
“The people are confused,” he said in a telephone interview. “Nobody knows what is going on, except that there are these benchmarks we can see for ourselves. Now we are in limbo. Some people think voting should go on at 11 a.m., as scheduled.”
The court’s order said that “all relevant state authorities are informed that today’s election cannot take place,” and that a runoff just one day after an election could undermine people’s constitutional rights, reported The Press Trust of India, a news service. The order recommended delaying the runoff until next Saturday,
Mr. Nasheed’s supporters, and many international players, protested the delay. Earlier Saturday, a State Department spokeswoman in Washington said it was “now imperative that the second round take place immediately and in line with elections commission directions in order to ensure the Maldivian people are led by an elected president of their choice.”
The spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said it was “unreasonable and unacceptable for parties to continue to demand changes to an agreed election date” and warned that it would lead to instability. “Changing the goal posts is unfair to Maldivian voters,” she said.
In second place in Saturday’s election, with 30 percent of the vote, was Yaamin Abdul Gayoom, the brother of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the country’s longtime autocratic leader.
Mr. Nasheed’s party, the Maldivian Democratic Party, reported that the vote had proceeded “smoothly, without major incident,” and urged that “the will of the people” be respected.
Mr. Nasheed resigned last year in what he described as a coup. In the first presidential election in September, Mr. Nasheed received by far the largest share of votes, 45 percent, but the Supreme Court annulled those results after one of the losing candidates said there were electoral violations. A second election, last month, was halted when police officers surrounded the election commission’s offices in Male, saying they had received a court order not allow it to proceed because some candidates had not approved voter rolls.
Various countries — among them, Britain, India and the United States — issued strong statements before the latest election, saying they expected a transparent and free process. Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, said the country’s Supreme Court was “interfering excessively, and in doing so is subverting the right of Maldivians to freely elect their representatives.”
R. K. Radhakrishnan, a journalist who has covered Maldives extensively, said none of the outside actors appeared ready to take an active role in the conflict — something that may be necessary to break the deadlock between the two main factions in Male. Elites, he said, are resisting a transfer of power because Mr. Nasheed has threatened to jail them. He said further rounds of voting were pointless unless the two factions negotiated.
“They are not willing to talk to each other, because no one in the international community is taking the time to make them talk,” said Mr. Radhakrishnan, a senior editor at The Hindu.
November 9, 2013
New China Cities: Shoddy Homes, Broken Hope
By IAN JOHNSON
HUAMING, China — Three years ago, the Shanghai World Expo featured this newly built town as a model for how China would move from being a land of farms to a land of cities. In a dazzling pavilion visited by more than a million people, visitors learned how farmers were being given a new life through a fair-and-square deal that did not cost them anything.
Today, Huaming may be an example of another transformation: the ghettoization of China’s new towns.
Signs of social dysfunction abound. Young people, who while away their days in Internet cafes or pool halls, say that only a small fraction of them have jobs. The elderly are forced to take menial work to make ends meet. Neighborhood and family structures have been damaged.
Most worrying are the suicides, which local residents say have become an all-too-familiar sign of despair.
As China pushes ahead with government-led urbanization, a program expected to be endorsed at a Communist Party Central Committee meeting that began Saturday, many worry that the scores of new housing developments here may face the same plight as postwar housing projects in Western countries. Meant to solve one problem, they may be creating a new set of troubles that could plague Chinese cities for generations.
“We’re talking hundreds of millions of people who are moving into these places, but the standard of living for these relocatees has actually dropped,” said Lynette Ong, a University of Toronto political scientist who has studied the resettlement areas. “On top of that is the quality of the buildings — there was a lot of corruption, and they skimped on materials.”
Huaming is far from being a dangerous slum. It has no gangs, drug use or street violence. Nearly half the town is given over to green space. Trees line the streets that lead to elementary, middle and high schools.
But the new homes have cracked walls, leaking windows and elevators with rusted out floors. For farmers who were asked to surrender their ancestral lands for an apartment, the deterioration adds to a sense of having been cheated.
“That was their land,” said Wei Ying, a 35-year-old unemployed woman whose parents live in a poorly built unit. “You have to understand how they feel in their heart.”
The sense of despair and alienation surfaces in the suicides, a late-night leap from a balcony, drinking of pesticide or lying down on railroad tracks.
“I have anxiety attacks because we have no income, no job, nothing,” said Feng Aiju, 40, a former farmer who moved to Huaming in 2008 against her will. She said she had spent a small fortune by local standards, $1,500, on antidepressants. “We never had a chance to speak; we were never asked anything. I want to go home.”
The situation in these new towns contrasts with the makeshift housing where other migrants live. Many of those are created by farmers who chose to leave their land for jobs in the city. Although cramped and messy, they are full of vitality and upward mobility, said Biao Xiang, a social anthropologist at Oxford University who has studied migrant communities.
“These migrant neighborhoods in big cities are often called slums, but it’s the new resettlement communities that will be harder to revive, partly because they are not related to any productive economic activity,” Professor Xiang said. “And the population tend to be homogeneous, disadvantaged communities.”
The idea behind Huaming was radically different. In 2005, Huaming Township was chosen to be a demonstration for successful, planned urbanization. A township is an administrative unit in China above a village but below a county, and Huaming had 41,000 people living in 12 small villages dotted across 60 square miles, most of which was farmland.
For northern China it was unusually fertile because water was plentiful. On the outskirts of one of China’s largest cities, the port of Tianjin, it was well known for its local handicrafts, such as decorative paper-cutting, and, especially, its vegetables that were easily sold in the big city.
City planners, however, saw it as a major problem.
“The naturally formed villages had undergone disorderly developments resulting in low building density, in disarrayed industrial space and layout,” according to a publication explaining the need for change. (Officials refused requests for interviews, but have published copiously on the project, allowing insights into their thinking.) The villages had no sewage treatment, and were “dirty, messy and substandard.”
The idea was to consolidate the villages into one new town called Huaming that would take up less than one square mile, versus the three square miles that the dozen villages had occupied. A portion of the remaining 59 square miles could be sold to developers to pay for construction costs, meaning the new buildings would cost farmers and the government nothing.
The rest of the land would stay agricultural, but worked by a few remaining farmers using modern methods. This would achieve another aim: not reducing the amount of arable land — a crucial goal for a country with a huge population and historic worries about being able to feed itself.
Construction started in March 2006, and was finished just 16 months later. The town is made up of six- to nine-story buildings divided into gated compounds of a dozen or so buildings each. Commercial space is officially limited to two streets, making the rest of town a quiet residential area centered on the new public schools. An attractive park and lake are given over at night to dancing and socializing.
The biggest selling point in official literature is how space was to be allocated. Farmers would able to trade the living space in their farmhouse for the same-size apartment in the new town. Even the yard around the farmhouse figured into the equation.
What happened was more complicated. Most families got 322 square feet per member. That is 22 square feet more than the average per capita living space in the city of Tianjin, but most of the new units were just 800 square feet, so a typical family of three would not get their full allotment. In theory, they could use the remaining allotment and spend their own money to purchase another unit, but most ended up with less floor space than they had on the farm.
Some were still happy to take up the offer. In interviews, those most happy about the new plan already had nonfarming jobs and saw this as a way to get a modern apartment.
“It’s survival of the fittest,” said Yang Huashuai, a 25-year-old electrician and gypsy-cab driver who said his family got three apartments. “If you don’t work hard, you don’t deserve to make it.”
But many others did not want to leave their land. By 2008, the government’s offer had met limited success, with only half the population choosing to move. Already, though, government propaganda was extolling Huaming as a success, and officials planned to feature it at the world’s fair in two years’ time.
“They said if we didn’t move, it would affect the World Expo,” said Jia Qiufu, 69, a former resident of Guanzhuang Village. “They said it had to happen by 2009 because the Expo was the next year.”
The local government used intense pressure to force farmers out of their villages. It tore up roads and cut electricity and water. Even so, thousands stayed on. As a final measure, the schoolhouses — one in each village — were demolished. With no utilities and no way to educate their children, most farmers capitulated and moved to town.
Losing the Jobs Competition
Besides dissatisfaction over the amount of space they would receive, farmers were most concerned about jobs, a common worry in other resettlement projects. In the official literature, Huaming had that taken care of. Compared with relocation projects in remote rural areas, such as southern Shaanxi Province, Huaming is next to a major transportation corridor, the Beijing-Tianjin Expressway. It is also adjacent to Tianjin’s massive airport logistics center, which is expanding and adding thousands of jobs.
Many farmers said, however, that they were not qualified for these jobs.
“We know how to farm, but not how to work in an office,” said Wei Dushen, a former resident of Guanzhuang Village now living in town. “Those are for educated people.”
Almost uniformly, Huaming residents say the only jobs open to them are in dead-end menial positions, such as street sweepers or low-level security guards. These jobs pay the equivalent of $150 a month.
Even so, competition for them is fierce. Poor migrants from other parts of China are willing to work for even less, often because they have lower living costs. Almost all the gardening in public spaces in Huaming, for example, is done by workers from the inland province of Henan who come for a short time and leave. Workers pruning bushes in the town’s beautifully manicured park, for example, said they were paid $100 a month and were happy for it.
“Compared to Henan it’s good work,” said Zhuang Wei, 58, who said he lived in a room with five other men and ate simple canteen food offered by the company that had brought him to Huaming. “I’ll stick around here for a few months and then head back.”
Other migrants, mostly from Shandong Province, dominate Huaming’s taxi industry because they have teams of experienced mechanics, drivers and dispatchers.
“You can’t really compete with them,” said one local driver, Wei Zhen. “They’re professionals who have been doing this for years.”
Retraining was supposed to have allowed Huaming villagers a chance to get skills to compete. According to official literature, $1,500 was allotted for each resident. However, it was impossible to find any who had received retraining or had heard of anyone who had.
For young people, the problems are especially acute.
Even when they can get the well-paying menial jobs of $150 a month, residents overwhelmingly said this barely allowed them to make ends meet. Day care costs $100 per month per child, which would take a third of an average couple’s salary. Unlike in the villages, many families do not live near one another, making it hard to leave children with their grandparents.
Costs are also high. Inflation has nearly doubled the price of rice, something the residents find especially galling because in the past they grew it themselves.
Many young people seem to have given up trying to find work. Internet cafes are packed with them playing games. Although the cafes are supposed to be limited to the commercial streets, they are found in converted apartments in many housing blocks.
In one, 28-year-old Zhang Wei said he had invested $4,300 to renovate an apartment and install computers. The unit’s former living room was packed with young people hunched over screens, many of them playing games like World of Warcraft for money.
“They’re all unemployed local people, but without qualifications, what can they do?” Mr. Zhang said.
In a nearby unit, Liu Baohua, an unemployed 62-year-old farmer, said the buildings were almost uninhabitable during the winter. “These buildings look modern outside, but they’re not,” Mr. Liu said. “It’s the worst quality.”
Mr. Liu’s apartment leaks water from the ceiling, which he said maintenance crews told him they could not fix. Windows were double-glazed but the quality was bad and seals broken, causing them to mist up with condensation. Radiators, he said, had almost no hot water. He also showed work bills from maintenance visits in January confirming that his north-facing bedroom was 55 degrees.
“We need to buy space heaters to survive here,” Mr. Liu said. His wife works as a street sweeper and the couple get the equivalent of welfare for an additional $60 a month.
For many, the disappointment leads to suicides. Recently, residents said, a 19-year-old man ill with cancer flung himself off the family’s third-floor balcony at 5:30 a.m. and landed on the parking lot next to two vans serving breakfast. His father dead and his mother living on welfare, the family was too poor to afford further cancer treatment. The story could not be verified with the authorities but was repeated independently by residents.
The Good Earth
More common are stories of old people who cannot get used to the new lives and quickly die of illnesses. One term that residents repeatedly use is “biesi” — “stifled to death” in the new towers.
“I’m tired, I’m so tired,” said an elderly woman who would give only her surname, Wei. In the past, Chinese farmers wanted sons because they lived at home, whereas daughters married into other families. Now, this is reversed because of the burden of having to help a son find a home or job.
Mrs. Wei said her son had bought a car with the family savings but was losing money driving it. The family’s savings now almost exhausted, she said she did not know what to do.
“It’s tough having a son,” she said, quietly weeping. “I wish I had a daughter.”
Some residents wonder why they went through these travails when so little development is visible. Outside the town, most of the former township lies empty. Some hotels and office blocks have been built next to the airport logistics center. But mostly, one is confronted by mile after mile of empty lots — once farmland, now lying fallow, sometimes blocked from view by endless sheet-metal fences painted with propaganda about prosperity and development.
“Look at the empty fields,” said Wei Naiju, formerly of Guanzhuang Village. “That’s good earth; you could really plant something on it.”
Driving through the demolished villages with former residents is especially poignant. Some of the streets are still serviceable but mostly one is surrounded by a gutted, bombed-out landscape of foundations overgrown with scrub and small trees.
Given all the fallow land, claims that agricultural production would not suffer do not seem possible. Official propaganda material shows greenhouses that produce vegetables. Many greenhouses have indeed been built, but dozens were empty during a visit in June. Doors swung wildly in the wind and the clear plastic used to let the sun in was torn and flapping. Two greenhouses seemed to be functioning; local residents said they were used to make gifts of produce to visiting leaders as Potemkin-like proof of the still-vibrant agricultural sector.
Back in town, the life that once existed in the township has been memorialized in a museum. It is rarely open to the public, but its front door was ajar one day this past summer. Filled with full-scale dioramas of village homes and human figures, it was a re-creation of the old village life, accurate down to the dried corn hanging from the eaves. An introductory plaque explained: “Time goes by, and things change.”
Sue-Lin Wong contributed reporting.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: November 10, 2013
An earlier version of this article misstated the name of the Oxford University professor Biao Xiang on second reference. It is Mr. Xiang, not Mr. Biao.
Bo Xilai supporter launches political party
Disgraced Chinese politician sentenced to life in prison on corruption charges named chairman of Zhi Xian party
theguardian.com, Sunday 10 November 2013 10.07 GMT
A supporter of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai says she has set up a new political party and named the imprisoned former official its chairman.
Wang Zheng said in a phone interview that the Zhi Xian party was established last Wednesday in Beijing with the objective of bringing "common prosperity" – a fairer distribution of wealth – to China.
Wang, a Beijing-based lecturer, said she wrote letters to Bo about her plan to start the party – whose name roughly translates as "supreme authority of the constitution" – but named him chairman without his express consent. She also refused to provide further details about the party's membership except saying indirectly that there were at least a dozen members.
"I can only tell you that we have more members than the number of people who attended the Communist party's first congress after it was established," Wang said. Twelve deputies attended the Communist party's first congress in Shanghai in 1921.
China allows a small number of officially recognised alternative parties, although they serve as advisers rather than competitors to the ruling Communist party. People have been jailed for setting up and participating in other political parties, mostly on charges of subverting state power.
The appeal of Wang's party appears limited, with several prominent Maoist commentators saying in interviews that they were not members and had not even heard about it. Discussions about the party on leftist websites that have been supportive of Bo ranged from expressing scepticism about its prospects to questioning whether Wang had the right to appoint Bo as chair of the party without his permission.
Wang provided the contact for one of the party's members, Xu Hua, from the south-eastern city of Wuxi, who said party members had not met in person but had held discussions via email.
Wang represents the type of residual support that Bo still has among those who have been angered by economic reforms over the past three decades that have entrenched a new elite while leaving out others. Wang said the party seeks to protect the state's ownership of key sectors and share wealth with the poor.
Bo, a former party boss in Chongqing, was convicted in September of embezzlement, bribery and abuse of power and sentenced to life in prison.
November 9, 2013
Reporter for Reuters Won’t Receive China Visa
By ANDREW JACOBS
BEIJING — The Chinese government has rejected the visa application of a veteran American journalist who had been waiting eight months to begin a new reporting job in China for Thomson Reuters, the company said.
The reporter, Paul Mooney, said the Chinese Foreign Ministry told Reuters on Friday that it would not grant him a resident journalist visa but declined to provide a reason. Mr. Mooney returned to the United States last year after the expiration of his previous visa, which was sponsored by The South China Morning Post, a newspaper based in Hong Kong.
The rejection comes at a time of rising tensions between foreign news organizations and the government, which has been using its economic clout, the issuance of visas and Internet controls to express displeasure with coverage it deems unflattering.
“China has been my career,” Mr. Mooney, who has spent three decades covering Asia, the last 18 years based in Beijing, said Saturday in a phone interview. “I never thought it was going to end this way. I’m sad and disappointed.”
The websites for Bloomberg News and The New York Times have been blocked in China for more than a year following the publication of investigative articles by both news organizations that detailed the wealth accumulated by relatives of top Chinese leaders. Since then, employees for both Bloomberg and The Times have been awaiting residency visas that would allow them to report from China.
Such tactics appear to have had an impact. On Saturday, The Times detailed a decision late last month by Bloomberg to withhold publication of an investigative report, more than a year in the works, that explored hidden financial ties between one of China’s wealthiest men and the families of senior Chinese leaders. Company employees said the editor in chief, Matthew Winkler, defended the decision by comparing it to the self-censorship by foreign news bureaus that sought to remain working inside Nazi Germany.
Mr. Winkler and a senior editor denied that the articles had been killed and said they would eventually be published.
The Chinese government’s rejection of Mr. Mooney’s visa request will certainly add to the anxieties of foreign reporters in China, many of whom complain of cyberattacks, police interference and intimidation, especially during the annual visa renewal process, currently underway, which sometimes involves interviews with Foreign Ministry officials or public security personnel.
In a statement, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China said, “Such delays and lack of transparency merely add to the impression that the visa process is being used by the authorities to intimidate journalists and media organizations.”
Last year, Al Jazeera English shut its Beijing bureau after the authorities refused to renew press credentials and the visa of its China correspondent, Melissa Chan. Although they did not explain the reasons behind Ms. Chan’s expulsion, the first from China in 14 years, it was widely seen as retaliation for her hard-hitting coverage of Chinese society.
An American currently based in San Francisco, Ms. Chan said the Chinese government’s recent efforts to bully some of the largest foreign news organizations would have an insidious trickle-down effect on smaller media outlets, especially those from Southeast Asia and Africa that cannot afford to lose what may be their sole correspondent in China. “It’s got to have a chilling effect that leads to some level of self-censorship,” she said in a phone interview on Saturday.
Mr. Mooney said he suspected that the government’s decision to deny him a visa was punishment for his persistent coverage of human rights abuses in China. In April, after submitting his visa application to the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco, he was summoned for an interview, where he was questioned about previous articles and asked to explain his position on delicate issues like Tibet. The interview ended with a barely veiled threat. “They said, ‘If we give you a visa, we hope you’ll be more balanced with your coverage,’ ” he said he was told.
Mr. Mooney, 63, now living in Berkeley, Calif., said Reuters told him that it would not continue pressing China over the issue.
Barb Burg, a spokeswoman for Reuters in New York, said, “We are in the process of considering other posts for Paul within Reuters.” Calls to the Foreign Ministry in Beijing went unanswered.
Typhoon Haiyan: at least 10,000 reported dead in Philippine province
Estimated death toll soars as path of destruction leaves many parts of Philippines inaccessible to government and aid officials
Kate Hodal in Manila, and agencies
The Observer, Sunday 10 November 2013
Link to video: Philippines typhoon Haiyan: scale of devastation emergeshttp://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/nov/09/philippines-typhoon-haiyan-devastation-emerges-video
At least 10,000 people are thought to have died in the central Philippine province of Leyte after Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms ever to make landfall, lashed the area, swallowing coastal towns, a senior police official said early on Sunday morning.
About 70-80% of the buildings in the area in the path of Haiyan in Leyte province was destroyed, said chief superintendent Elmer Soria. "We had a meeting last night with the governor and the other officials. The governor said based on their estimate, 10,000 died," he said.
Tacloban city administrator Tecson Lim said that the death toll in that city alone "could go up to 10,000". Tacloban is the provincial capital of Leyte, with a population of more than 200,000. The Philippine Red Cross said in Tacloban bodies had been found "piled up around the roads" and in churches. Between 300 and 400 bodies had been recovered, Lim said.
On Samar island, which faces Tacloban, Leo Dacaynos of the provincial disaster office told Associated Press on Sunday 300 people were confirmed dead in Basey town and another 2,000 were missing.
He said the storm surge caused sea waters to rise 20 feet when the typhoon hit. There were still towns on Samar that had not been reached, he said, and appealed for food and water. Power was knocked out and there was no mobile signal, making communication possible only by radio.
Many corpses hung on tree branches, buildings and sidewalks, Associated Press reported.
"On the way to the airport we saw many bodies along the street," said Philippine-born Australian Mila Ward, 53, who was waiting at the Tacloban airport to catch a military flight back to Manila.
"They were covered with just anything tarpaulin, roofing sheets, cardboards," she said. Asked how many, she said, "Well over 100 where we passed."
The super-typhoon made landfall on Samar and Leyte islands in the eastern Visayas at about 4.40am on Friday local time, with winds up to 315km/h (195mph) tearing roofs off buildings, turning roads into rivers full of debris and knocking out electricity pylons.
With many provinces left without power or telecommunications, and airports in the hardest-hit areas, such as Tacloban, in tatters, experts say it is impossible to know the extent of the storm's damage – or deliver badly needed aid.
Roughly 12 hours after the 600km (370-mile)-wide Haiyan blew west towards Vietnam, where it is expected to make landfall early on Sunday, officials and aid workers are only now beginning to piece together details on the number of dead and injured.
Government figures showed that more than 4 million had been directly affected. The World Food Programme has mobilised some $2m (£1.25m) in aid and aims to deliver 40 tonnes of fortified biscuits to victims within the next few days.
Satellite images show normally green patches of vegetation ripped up into brown squares of debris in Tacloban, where local TV channel GMA broadcast images of huge storm surges, flattened buildings and families traipsing through flooded streets with their possessions held high above the water.
The head of the UN Disaster Assessment Co-ordination Team, Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, described "destruction on a massive scale" in the city of 220,000 and said: "The last time I saw something of this scale was in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami. There are cars thrown like tumbleweed and the streets are strewn with debris."
Al-Jazeera correspondent Jamela Alindogan was trapped in her hotel as the eye of the storm passed overhead and ripped the roof off the building. Evoking scenes of chaos as badly hurt victims wandered the streets without medicine, food or water, and doctors at the local hospital attended to the wounded in the dark without electricity or candlelight, she said: "There is no food, not even in the hotels, and there's no water. The situation is really very desperate."
Other sources told of victims trying to climb out from under rubble to find assistance, and mobs rampaging through the streets looking for food, water or medicine, and looting electrical goods and groceries from malls. "Almost all the houses were destroyed," said Major Rey Balido of the Philippines national disaster agency. "Only a few are left standing."
Relatives of those living in the typhoon's path have had no news from their loved ones and are nervously waiting until power is restored to the area. "I spoke to my mother just a few hours before the typhoon made landfall in my city, Tacloban," said taxi driver Sherwin Martinata, 32, in the capital, Manila. "She was saying she was all right but now I have no idea if my family is safe. There is no power, no phones. I can't get through at all. I'm worried, but I'm powerless."
Those living in the hardest-hit areas, such as the eastern Visayas, are among the poorest in the Philippines, say aid agencies, who warn that there will be little or no savings for many of the victims to fall back on – putting an already vulnerable population at even greater risk of future food and job insecurity.
On Bohol island – where a 7.3-magnitude earthquake toppled colonial-era churches and killed some 200 people last month – residents were successfully evacuated ahead of the storm and as a result many lives were probably saved, said Mathias Eick of the European commission's humanitarian aid department (Echo). However, because the island's main power supply comes from neighbouring Leyte, residents are still without electricity or water.
In Tacloban, where many residents live along the coast, the sheer force of the storm was just too much for the buildings to withstand, with evacuation centres such as stadiums and churches later collapsing. "The sheer magnitude and scale of the disaster sort of overpowered all the contingency measures, and we're fearing that we'll be finding more dead bodies in those evacuation centres themselves," said Alwynn Javier of Christian Aid.
Without information on the ground or access to hard-hit areas, aid agencies have been stuck, not knowing how much aid is needed or which areas need it most.
"The only information we have been able to get so far is from the UN and some from the news," said Javier. "We should have good ground reach, but are really impeded by this lack of access because even our partners on the ground have been hit themselves."
Officials and rescue workers hoped that Sunday would see concerted efforts by authorities to set up command centres and rescue groups, which will in turn help bring supplies to those who need them most. But gaining access to those areas will prove hard, said Richard Gordon of the Philippine Red Cross, who added that without bulldozers or tractors to clear paths, volunteers will have to bring cutting equipment to clear uprooted trees and debris.
The Philippines sees roughly 20 typhoons every year, with some more devastating than others. Last year's Typhoon Bopha killed more than 1,100 people and caused over $1bn in damage.
Haiyan – the 25th typhoon to hit the Philippines this year – is expected to make landfall in several provinces in central Vietnam with winds around 220km/h (137mph). More than 450,000 troops have been deployed, as well as 12 planes, 356 ships and thousands of vehicles, in order to mobilise supplies, with more than 300,000 people evacuated in Da Nang and Quang Ngai provinces.
"It may be the strongest storm to hit Vietnam in history," said Vietnam's director of the Central Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting Centre in Bui Minh Tang. Coastal areas should expect to see waves as high as 5-8 meters (16-26ft) and a wind radius up to 500km wide, officials warned.
*********************Philippines calls for help as huge rescue operation begins after typhoon Haiyan
Hundreds of thousands of desperate residents left without power or communications as tales of horror emerge
Associated Press in Tacloban, Philippines
theguardian.com, Sunday 10 November 2013 06.18 GMT
A huge rescue operation is under way in the Philippines to help the victims of typhoon Haiyan, which may have killed more than 10,000 people in the city of Tacloban alone.
President Benigno Aquino, who landed in Tacloban on Sunday to get a firsthand look at the disaster, said the casualties "will be substantially more" than the official count of 151, but gave no figure or estimate. He said the government's priority was to restore power and communications in isolated areas to allow for the delivery of relief and medical assistance to victims.
The Philippines does not have sufficient resources on its own to deal with a disaster of this magnitude, and the US and other governments and agencies were mounting a major relief effort, said Philippine Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon.
At the request of the Philippine government, the US defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, directed US Pacific Command to deploy ships and aircraft to support search-and-rescue operations and airlift emergency supplies, according to a statement released by the department.
The president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, said in a message to Aquino that the EC had sent a team to assist the Philippine authorities and that "we stand ready to contribute with urgent relief and assistance if so required in this hour of need".
If the typhoon death toll is confirmed, it would be the deadliest natural catastrophe on record in the Philippines.
The airport in Tacloban, about 360 miles south-east of Manila, looked like a muddy wasteland of debris, with crumpled tin roofs and upturned cars. The airport tower's glass windows were shattered, and air force helicopters were busy flying in and out at the start of relief operations. Residential homes that had lined a four-mile stretch of road leading to Tacloban city were all blown or washed away.
The winds were so strong that Tacloban residents who sought shelter at a local school tied down the roof of the building, but it was still ripped off and the school collapsed, Lim said. It wasn't clear how many died there.
"The devastation is, I don't have the words for it," interior secretary Mar Roxas said. "It's really horrific. It's a great human tragedy."
Defence secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Aquino was "speechless" when he told him of the devastation the typhoon had wrought in Tacloban.
"I told him all systems are down," Gazmin said. "There is no power, no water, nothing. People are desperate. They're looting."
The city's two largest malls and groceries were looted and the gasoline stations destroyed by the typhoon. Police were deployed to guard a fuel depot to prevent looting of fuel.
On Sunday, the city's overwhelmed services were reinforced by 100 special police force units sent in from elsewhere to help restore peace and order.
One Tacloban resident said he and others took refuge inside a parked Jeep to protect themselves from the storm, but the vehicle was swept away by a surging wall of water.
"The water was as high as a coconut tree," said 44-year-old Sandy Torotoro, a bicycle taxi driver who lives near the airport with his wife and eight-year-old daughter. "I got out of the Jeep and I was swept away by the rampaging water with logs, trees and our house, which was ripped off from its mooring.
"When we were being swept by the water, many people were floating and raising their hands and yelling for help. But what can we do? We also needed to be helped," Torotoro said.
In Torotoro's village, bodies could be seen lying along the muddy main road, as residents who had lost their homes huddled, holding on to the few things they had managed to save. The road was lined with trees that had fallen to the ground.
In the aftermath of the typhoon, people were seen weeping while retrieving bodies of loved ones inside buildings and on a street that was littered with fallen trees, roofing material and other building parts torn off in the storm's fury. All that was left of one large building whose walls were smashed in were the skeletal remains of its rafters.
Tim Ticar, a local tourism officer, said 6,000 foreign and local tourists were stranded on the popular resort island of Boracay, one of the tourist spots in the typhoon's path.
The United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, offered his condolences and said UN humanitarian agencies were working closely with the Philippine government to respond rapidly with emergency assistance.
UNICEF estimated that about 1.7m children live in areas affected by the typhoon, according to the agency's representative in the Philippines Tomoo Hozumi. UNICEF's supply division in Copenhagen was loading 60 metric tons of relief supplies for an emergency airlift expected to arrive in the Philippines on Tuesday.
In Vietnam, preparations for the typhoon were under way. About 600,000 people from the central region who had been evacuated returned home because the storm changed course and was instead heading for the northern coast, where authorities began evacuating nearly 100,000 in three northern provinces.
November 9, 2013
Storied Party of Mandela Faces South Africa Unrest
By LYDIA POLGREEN
MARIKANA, South Africa — When Alton Dalasile got his first job as a miner in the late 1980s, he immediately joined the National Union of Mineworkers, a powerful organization that not only fought for workers’ rights but also battled the brutal system of racial segregation known as apartheid. When his union’s political ally, the African National Congress, was on the ballot in 1994 in South Africa’s first fully democratic election, Mr. Dalasile enthusiastically cast his ballot for Nelson Mandela, the country’s first black president.
Last year, Mr. Dalasile gave up on his union amid a violent season of wildcat strikes that ended with 34 miners being gunned down by the police here in August and joined a radical upstart union that accused the old guard of selling out to mine bosses. Now Mr. Dalasile is contemplating what was once unthinkable: voting against the African National Congress in elections next year.
“They have abandoned and betrayed us,” Mr. Dalasile said. “The A.N.C. is no longer the party of the poor man, the working man. They care only about enriching themselves.”
Next year South Africa will hold elections for its National Assembly, which elects the country’s president. Twenty years after the end of apartheid, when the African National Congress swept to power on a wave of international good will, Mr. Mandela’s party is facing perhaps its fiercest electoral challenge yet.
The elections will take place in the shadow of the killings here in Marikana, a flash point many have likened to apartheid-era massacres that spurred the fight against white rule. Only this time, the police officers and the politicians who led them were almost entirely black. The A.N.C. government, accused of slaughtering unarmed protesters, responded by charging the striking miners with the murder of their colleagues.
The party’s handling of the strike and its aftermath, along with allegations of cronyism and corruption at the highest levels of leadership, have led to widespread frustration with the A.N.C., and a crop of new political players is trying to ride the wave of discontent.
Julius Malema, the firebrand who led the party’s youth league until he was expelled this year for sowing disunity, has started his own political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters.
He began the party at a giant rally here last month to cheers of adulation, striking a hard-line pose in a red beret like his self-proclaimed hero, the former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, as he called for the nationalization of mines and the seizing of white-owned property.
“We must restore the dignity of the black majority,” he declared to a crowd of thousands. “Now is the time to deliver on the promises of 1994.”
Despite his popularity, Mr. Malema may not be the best-placed candidate to challenge the A.N.C. on issues of corruption and cronyism. As a prominent leader in the A.N.C., he became notorious for his lavish lifestyle, wearing Breitling watches and Louis Vuitton loafers, driving a top-of-the-line Range Rover and building a house in one of Johannesburg’s most luxurious suburbs.
He has been accused of bankrolling his luxury by steering millions of dollars in state contracts to himself and his allies, and he is currently facing a charge of money laundering in connection with contracts with an engineering company linked to him in his home province, Limpopo.
Mr. Malema has denied those accusations and, in an interview, said that his expulsion from the A.N.C. was a sign that “the movement has become a pig and is eating its own children.” He said that President Jacob Zuma had forced him out of the party because he felt threatened and wanted to appease white business leaders.
“He removed me because people said to him, ‘Remove Malema and white people will be happy,’ ” Mr. Malema said.
He has pitched himself as the man to finish South Africa’s incomplete revolution by transferring wealth from white men, who control the vast majority of industry and much of the arable land, to the black majority. He has excoriated the A.N.C.’s black empowerment programs as a get-rich scheme for a chosen few and accuses the party of abandoning the poor.
He says that he can speak with new authority about poverty now. As a result of the corruption investigation, his assets were seized and sold to pay off back taxes, stripping him of his fortune. His current address, he said, is the tiny house where he grew up with his grandmother.
“We don’t theorize about poverty,” Mr. Malema said. “We grew up under poverty.”
Mr. Malema is not the only politician trying to dislodge the A.N.C. from its vast electoral majority. Another prominent figure, Mamphela Ramphele, a business executive and the former partner of the slain black consciousness leader Steve Biko, has started a centrist political party that she hopes will pull in middle-class voters of all races, though analysts say she is more likely to take votes from the main opposition party, the largely white and mixed-race Democratic Alliance.
That party has made steady inroads into the A.N.C.’s urban strongholds, harnessing anger among many black residents over bad schools, insufficient housing and poor government services.
“There is no question that people are unhappy with the performance of the A.N.C.,” said Aubrey Matshiqi, a veteran political analyst.
No matter how dissatisfied voters are, the A.N.C. is almost certain to remain in power. Its majorities have narrowed in the years since Mr. Mandela’s election but remain robust. Analysts say that if the A.N.C.’s share of the vote falls below 60 percent, it will be a symbolic blow.
Here in Marikana, people who live in tin shacks in squatter camps are questioning their allegiance to the party that brought freedom to South Africa’s black majority.
Andile Mahlangeni, a 29-year-old locomotive operator at a platinum mine in Marikana, said that members of his family had been waiting years for the houses, jobs, schools and medical care that the A.N.C. had promised.
“They haven’t delivered for us,” he said, sitting on a rough-hewed bench outside the lean-to he shares with his wife and children. “It is nothing but empty promises from politicians. We need some change.”
Whether this frustration adds up to votes is another question.
“Young people who are unemployed are angry, and that anger seems to be directed at the A.N.C.,” Mr. Matshiqi said. “Whether they can succeed in transforming that anger into votes for the E.F.F. remains to be seen.”
Yemen air strikes kill al-Qaida militants
Five suspected al-Qaida fighters die in southern stronghold of Abyan during US drone strikes, local officials claim
Reuters in Sana'a
theguardian.com, Sunday 10 November 2013 11.20 GMT
Five suspected al-Qaida fighters have been killed in two air strikes in Yemen's southern province of Abyan, according to the interior ministry.
A statement said the militants were killed on Thursday but did not say whether the strikes were launched by Yemen or the US.
But local officials in Abyan, a stronghold for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap) and other militant groups during an uprising that ousted the veteran president Ali Abdullah Saleh last year, told Reuters the strikes were carried out by American drones.
Aqap is regarded by the US as one of the most active wings of the militant network, posing a serious threat to western interests including oil tanker traffic in the Gulf.
Last year, the Yemeni army, with American backing, drove al-Qaida militants and their allies out from some of their southern strongholds. But the jihadists have since regrouped and mounted attacks on government officials and installations.
The US regularly unleashes drone strikes against Aqap in a campaign that has been criticised by rights groups as executing suspects without trial, while civilians have often been hit.
Israelis agonise over plan to teach children as young as five about the Holocaust
Educationists support 'controlled and sensitive' lessons, but parents fear 'trauma' for young pupils
Harriet Sherwood Jerusalem
The Observer, Sunday 10 November 2013
A proposal to teach Israeli children about the Holocaust from the age of five has stirred anxious debate among parents and educators, with critics saying it is inappropriate to expose such young minds to the traumatic history of the Jewish people.
Supporters of the plan, details of which will soon be unveiled by Israel's education ministry, say Jewish children are aware of past events from an early age, from family accounts and the annual Holocaust remembrance day. It is preferable for these children to be introduced to the facts in a controlled and sensitive environment and have their questions answered correctly, they argue.
Israeli schools teach the history of the Holocaust as a module in year 11, around the age of 16, shortly before many pupils visit the Auschwitz death camp memorial in Poland. Shai Piron, the education minister, announced last month that he wants to introduce Holocaust teaching to first-year children. His spokesman told the Observer this could be extended to five-year-olds in state kindergartens.
Teaching materials will be prepared in conjunction with Yad Vashem, the state's Holocaust memorial and educational centre on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Shulamit Imber, pedagogical director of its International School for Holocaust Studies, said the subject would not be taught intensively to young children but for a few hours in the runup to remembrance day.
Israeli children, she said, had early exposure to the Holocaust because "it's a strong part of our identity. It can cause fear in young children, so education can help to introduce the subject according to the cognitive and emotional age of the child." For young children, there would be careful selection of material, she added. "You don't tell them everything about everything. What you teach, and how you teach it, is important. If you don't teach them, they bring it to their imagination and it creates fear."
Erik Cohen, professor of education at Bar-Ilan university, agreed: "Children have small but very efficient radars. When they hear the siren [for two minutes' silence on Holocaust day], they know something is happening and are both afraid and curious. You have to provide answers. The question is how you do it in an appropriate way. You don't begin with telling them the Nazis organised a genocide; you take it little by little."
A study conducted by Cohen in 2010 found that almost three-quarters of teachers in years seven to 12 wanted to devote more time to studying the Holocaust. "The students also want to learn about it earlier," he said.
But parents of young children have expressed concern. "There is enough tension and tragedy that life presents without teaching our children about trauma before they are ready," said Lynne Weinstein, the mother of children aged 10, eight and five. "I understand and respect the reasons, but I don't know how much they can or should absorb at such a young age."
Karen Kaufman, whose daughters are six and four, said: "The Jewish calendar is filled with days of remembrance as a result of our history. But hatred, wars, death and destruction are not appropriate subjects at such a young age."
The issue has been widely debated in the Israeli media. Nili Keren, a Holocaust researcher, wrote in a letter to the daily paper Haaretz: "We are unwilling to raise a generation imbued with the anxiety of victimhood. We want to raise a generation that loves humanity and loves its country. That won't be found in teaching the Holocaust in the first year."
Some Israeli politicians have been accused of over-reliance on the darkest period of Jewish history to bolster their policy positions. Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu frequently cites the Holocaust in reference to the intentions of the Iranian regime in pursuing its nuclear programme.
Critics say that focusing too heavily on the past can create a sense of eternal persecution, nationalism and xenophobia. Others say that studying the Holocaust and visiting the Nazi death camps fosters a a crucial sense of Jewish identity as well as paying tribute to the millions who were exterminated.
There are now fewer than 200,000 Holocaust survivors alive in Israel and the numbers are falling rapidly. Some fear that the passing of those with first-hand experience of the death camps could mean coming generations will view the Holocaust as remote history rather than events with which they can identify through the memories of parents and grandparents. Shulamit Imber of Yad Vashem believes this concern is groundless. "Because the Holocaust happened in the core of civilisation in modern times, I don't think it will become just part of history. I think for many more years we will be teaching the human story of the Holocaust. It won't end when the survivors are no longer with us."