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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1017850 times)
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« Reply #9990 on: Nov 14, 2013, 07:45 AM »

November 13, 2013

Guerrillas Step Up Campaign in Paraguay


TACUATÍ, Paraguay — The guerrillas appeared at dusk.

Wielding assault rifles, they arrived at the remote cattle ranch clad in “para’i,” or camouflage, according to survivor accounts in Guaraní, the indigenous language that prevails here in Paraguay’s northern frontier. They abducted security guards at the Brazilian-owned ranch, freed a supervisor, who then rushed to inform the authorities, and ambushed the police officers who arrived at the scene.

By the time the well-orchestrated raid in August had ended, five people were shot dead, including a police officer. The attack was the deadliest yet by the Paraguayan People’s Army, or E.P.P., a shadowy Marxist rebel group exerting influence across vast stretches of this California-size nation of 6.6 million people.

“This is already a declared war against the republic,” said Francisco de Vargas, the interior minister.

Insurgencies by groups like the Paraguayan People’s Army, which has been meticulously picking off security forces in remote frontier settlements, planting bombs under police vehicles, and kidnapping and killing wealthy Paraguayans, find a lot less maneuvering room in Latin America these days.

Around the region, many such groups have been hunted down or incorporated into leftist political parties as military dictatorships gave way to democracies and dissent began emerging in different forms. Even where guerrillas persist, they are significantly winnowed down, like the Shining Path in Peru, or pursuing peace talks with the government, like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Then there is Paraguay, one of Latin America’s poorest and most unequal nations. Even as the economy booms, the Paraguayan People’s Army is evolving from a ghostlike irritant for the authorities in Asunción, the capital, into a broader security threat in a backcountry that is already a hub for traffickers of marijuana, defiantly cultivated here on sprawling plantations, and Andean cocaine smuggled into Brazil and Argentina.

Nearly everything about the Paraguayan People’s Army is in dispute, from its size to its ideology, with an important exception: The group’s operations are intensifying this year, building on a slow-burning insurgency in areas where the guerrillas are thought to draw support from impoverished farmers chafing at the expansion of large-scale soybean farms and cattle ranches.

The group is carrying out attack after attack on isolated police and army posts, while pursuing targeted killings of peasants accused of collaborating with security services. Bivouacking in the dense remnants of the Atlantic Forest that once blanketed much of Paraguay, it has eluded every military campaign aimed at eradicating it.

While the official estimates of victims killed by the group remains relatively low, numbering in the low dozens, pockets of northern Paraguay have nevertheless taken on the semblance of a war zone as the central government ramps up military patrols and deploys special operations units to find the guerrillas.

In Tacuatí, a town of 11,000 people that is thought to be a Paraguayan People’s Army bastion, police officers barely out of their teens nervously grasp rifles, squinting at visitors behind a makeshift barrier of sandbags. Tanks roll down nearby country roads. Personnel trucks carry elite army forces, their faces covered in bandannas.

“The soldiers think they’ll find the E.P.P.,” said Elizabete Schneider, 32, the owner of a small food store on the lonely road into the town. “But the guerrillas are like phantoms,” she said. “No one sees them; no one talks about them.”

Army units chasing a mysterious rebel group credited with a baffling elusiveness: it sounds retro enough to evoke old tales like Graham Greene’s 1973 novel, “The Honorary Consul,” about hapless guerrillas from, of all places, Paraguay, led by a renegade priest who kidnap the wrong man, a whiskey-soaked Briton.

The Paraguayan People’s Army is believed to have been created by trainee priests, similar to the rebels in Mr. Greene’s book, in 1992 who abandoned a seminary. The group originally functioned as a cell of a leftist political party and was implicated in the 2004 abduction of Cecilia Cubas, the 32-year-old daughter of Raúl Cubas, Paraguay’s former president. Her corpse was found in a shallow grave near Asunción in 2005 after her family had paid a ransom for her release.

“The E.P.P. are Marxists who want to take over Paraguay,” said Bernardo Cristaldo Mieres, 35, a Roman Catholic priest in the town of Choré whose younger brother, Manuel Cristaldo Mieres, a leader of the group, is thought to have masterminded Ms. Cubas’s kidnapping. The priest said he had not spoken with his brother for nine years. “I don’t support his violence,” he said.

Estimates of the Paraguayan People’s Army’s size now range from a little more than a dozen hardened combatants to as many as 150, in addition to a broader support network in poor villages. The group’s most prominent published document, a manifesto by Alcides Oviedo Brítez, an imprisoned leader, is “surprisingly shallow and unimpressive,” said Andrew Nickson, an expert on Paraguay at the University of Birmingham in Britain.

In the manifesto, the group, which adopted its current name in 2008, proposes the destruction of “imperial-bourgeois democracy” and lauds José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia, the despot who tried to seal off Paraguay from the outside world in the 19th century, establishing a bizarre police state while declaring himself head of the landlocked nation’s Roman Catholic Church.

Beyond its nationalistic underpinnings, the Paraguayan People’s Army opposes industrialized agriculture, feeding off resentment in rural areas over the growth of large soybean farms (many of which are Brazilian-owned), drawing and sometimes coercing support from poor farmers in areas where the public services are minimal.

In the group’s heartland, the challenges facing the rebels are clear. On recently deforested lands, marked by the brick ovens where peasants convert felled trees into charcoal, soybean farms are expanding. The deforestation presents an existential threat to the guerrillas, limiting the terrain where they can hide from security forces.

The guerrillas were blamed for the killing in May of Luis Lindstron, 63, the former mayor of Tacuatí and the owner of a logging operation who was shot dead in an ambush. The group had kidnapped him in 2008, releasing him after more than 40 days of captivity.

Seeking to stop such killings, various political leaders have tried to eliminate the Paraguayan People’s Army. In 2010, Fernando Lugo, then the president, declared a state of emergency and sent nearly 200 elite troops, some trained by the United States military, to find the rebels. In 2011, the central government tried yet again, sending about 3,000 troops and police officers into the group’s territory.

While some arrests were made, the group itself remains elusive. It appears to have recently shifted strategy, focusing less on kidnappings and more on attacking large ranches in an effort to extract payments from landowners. The raid here in August, coming soon after President Horacio Cartes was inaugurated, followed this pattern.

Since then, the Paraguayan People’s Army seems to have renewed attacks on security forces, including an ambush in October in which the guerrillas are suspected of shooting dead a police officer in a convoy of official vehicles. From the Paraguayan Army’s new military outpost in Tacuatí, a collection of tents and barracks put up about two months ago, soldiers fan out each day on patrols aimed at finding the rebels.

The mood one recent morning was decidedly relaxed for a counterinsurgency outpost. Officers sipped tereré, Paraguay’s ubiquitous infused drink, while a villager rolled up a cart, selling Kentucky cigarettes. Soldiers in a tent watched “S.W.A.T.,” a 2003 movie starring Samuel L. Jackson, on a laptop computer.

“It’s calmer here than in Horqueta,” said Maj. Pedro Argüello, 40, referring to the town where a senior police official was killed just hours earlier in an attack attributed to the Paraguayan People’s Army.

“We know the guerrillas are out there,” he said. “We just don’t know where.”

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« Reply #9991 on: Nov 14, 2013, 07:46 AM »

Ex-Brazilian president exhumed amid claims he was poisoned

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, November 13, 2013 23:10 EST

The remains of Joao Goulart, ousted as Brazilian president ahead of the 1964-85 military dictatorship, were Wednesday exhumed to determine if he was poisoned.

Goulart’s remains were exhumed under police guard at a cemetery at Sao Borja, near the Argentinian border some 600 kilometres (400 miles) from the southern city of Porto Alegre, an AFP photographer reported.

Goulart, in office from 1961 to 1964, is suspected of having been poisoned under the Condor plan, a program of repression Latin American military regimes put in place to quash opposition in the 1970s and 1980s.

Given the local summer heat, the exhuming of the former leader took place just after dawn in the presence of Argentine and Uruguayan experts.

Two were chosen by relatives who had demanded the remains be assessed and two more by the Rio Grande do Sul state prosecutor.

A Red Cross expert was also on hand as an observer.

Goulart, nicknamed Jango, was ousted in a 1964 coup and officially died of a heart attack in Argentina in 1976, when Brazil’s neighbor likewise saw a military regime seize power.

“This is an historic moment. Every democratic nation must preserve the truth,” said Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo, who noted the known existence of documents suggesting Goulart may have been murdered.

“He was under surveillance and secret service agents entered his house. If they entered to steal a letter or documents they could poison some medicine or his food,” a national truth commission investigating the military years recently told AFP.

The investigation that will now follow will seek to establish if Goulart died following a change in medication he took for a heart ailment — suggested by former Uruguayan intelligence agent Mario Barreiro Neira, now in Brazilian detention.

On Thursday, Goulart’s remains will be taken to the capital Brasilia to receive full posthumous state honors.

Current Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is expected to attend.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #9992 on: Nov 14, 2013, 07:49 AM »

Prosecutor asks for scuttling of Argentina-Iran deal on bombing investigation

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, November 13, 2013 17:45 EST

An Argentine prosecutor Wednesday asked a judge to declare unconstitutional an agreement with Iran to probe the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish center after charges Tehran ordered the attack.

The attorney general in the case, Alberto Nisman, said the agreement constitutes an “undue interference of the executive branch in the exclusive sphere of the judiciary.”

The van bombing of the building of the Argentine Jewish Charities Federation, or AMIA, left 85 people dead and 300 others injured in the worst attack of its kind in the South American country.

Argentina charges that Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite movement, carried out the attack under orders from Iran. Tehran’s clerical regime denies the charges.

Since 2006, Argentine courts have demanded the extradition of eight Iranians, including former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, former defense minister Ahmad Vahidi and Mohsen Rabbani, Iran’s former cultural attache in Buenos Aires.

In February, Argentina’s congress approved, at the request of the executive branch, an agreement with Tehran to form a truth commission to investigate the bombing, consisting of five members who don’t come from either Argentina or Iran.

It also authorized an Argentine judge to travel to Iran to question the former officials accused of involvement.

Iran finally confirmed in September it had approved the deal, after several demands from Argentina.

But the two sides have still not named the members of the investigative commission, and there has been no agreement on a date for Argentine investigators to travel to Iran to interview suspects.

Leaders of Argentina’s Jewish community, which at 300,000 people is the largest in Latin America, have criticized the accord.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #9993 on: Nov 14, 2013, 07:53 AM »

Drug combination kills antibiotic-resistant germs

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, November 13, 2013 13:49 EST

Scientists Wednesday unveiled a drug combination that destroys antibiotic-resistant germs in mice, potentially opening a new front against chronic and relapsing infections in humans.

Big Pharma had been closely interested in a compound dubbed acyldepsipeptide (ADEP), only to drop it when some germs became resistant to it.

But scientists in the United States reported that, when used alongside conventional antibiotics, ADEP proved to be a relentless killer.

“We decided to pair it to conventional antibiotics…. to stem the propagation of (drug) resistant cells,” said study co-author Kim Lewis of Northeastern University in Boston.

The combination “completely sterilised” bacteria in a Petri dish and in mice whose thighs had been severely infected, said Lewis.

“Efficacy in an animal model is actually a pretty good predictor of efficacy in humans, so I think it is entirely realistic” that a drug may result, he added.

Humans rely on antibiotics to fight off a vast array of bacterial diseases, from tonsillitis to tuberculosis.

But antibiotics do not work for all types of bacteria, and in some types where they are effective, germs are evolving worryingly into forms that are resistant to the drug.

Some infections are caused by biofilms — slimy collections of bacterial cells that coat infected areas and block out the immune system, according to a podcast by Nature, accompanying the study in the British journal.

While antibiotics can penetrate those biofilms, they fail to clear up the infection because of so-called “persister cells”.

These are hibernating cells within the biofilm that stop dividing or growing and shut down their metabolism.

The dormant cells are the main cause of chronic and relapsing bacterial infections, since conventional antibiotics can target only actively growing bacterial cells.

“We had to look for something that in a persister will activate a function, will corrupt it, force it to kill the cell,” said Lewis.

Drug combo triggers cell death

The team tested ADEP in the lab and found it activates a protease in cells — protease is a protein that breaks up other proteins, eventually causing cell death.

In the experiments, the protease degraded proteins in the bacterial cells, causing these molecules to “self-digest”, said Lewis.

“It doesn’t matter whether that cell was growing, dormant, persister. So that compound has the ability to sterilise an infection,” he said.

The reason that pharmaceutical companies had abandoned ADEP as a drug option was because resistance to it developed “pretty readily”, according to the study author.

And mutant bacterial cells that do not produce protease are completely resistant to ADEP when the drug is used on its own.

In their experiments, the team used ADEP in conjunction with conventional antibiotics such as rifampicin to wipe out Staphylococcus aureus germs.

“What we found is these mutants that do not have the protease… become susceptible to killing by any antibiotic essentially,” said Lewis.

“That is why we get sterilisation when we combine ADEP with virtually any other antibiotic and that of course solves the problem of resistance.”

Lewis said his team was working with a biotech company to take these results further.

In a comment also carried by Nature, bacteriologists Kenn Gerdes of Britain’s Newcastle University and Hanne Ingmer of the University of Copenhagen rated the chances of a new antibiotic as “probable”.

They also noted that Lewis and the team were testing a second class of antibiotic that also activates protease.

“This growing body of results generates hope that antibiotics for the treatment of persistent infections will be available in the future,” they said.

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« Reply #9994 on: Nov 14, 2013, 07:55 AM »

New study shows black holes recycle matter and energy back into space

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, November 13, 2013 13:39 EST

Black holes spit out mighty high-speed jets of matter that include heavy atoms, a study published in Nature said on Wednesday.

Astronomers have been intrigued for decades by narrow beams of matter spewed out from black holes, the most powerful phenomena in the Universe.

The jets are known to contain electrons, which are a negatively-charged particle.

But the enigma is that the jets are not negatively-charged overall, which implies there should be something positively-charged in there to balance things out.

That “something” appears to be atoms of iron and nickel, according to astronomers using Europe’s XMM-Newton space telescope and the Compact Array facility in eastern Australia.

Lines of atoms were seen in emissions streaming out of a small black hole called 4U1630-47 at two-thirds the speed of light.

The jets’ source appears to be the accretion disk, a belt of hot gas that swirls around the hole’s maw.

The finding is important because black holes, in addition to being destroyers, are creators, too.

They recycle matter and energy back into space, and the jets help to shape when and where a galaxy forms stars.

“Jets from supermassive black holes help determine a galaxy’s fate,” said Tasso Tzioumis of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in a press release.

“So we want to understand better the impact jets have on their environment.”

An iron atom is about 100,000 times more massive than an electron, which means it carries a far more energy relative to a lighter particle travelling at the same speed.

Collisions with matter in interstellar space could generate gamma rays and electrons, the authors suggested.

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« Reply #9995 on: Nov 14, 2013, 08:18 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

Occupy Wall Street’s debt buying strikes at the heart of capitalism

By Alex Andreou, The Guardian
Wednesday, November 13, 2013 15:55 EST

Across the United States, 2,693 people have received a letter in the last few months, which identified a debt and read: “You are no longer under any obligation to settle this account with the original creditor, the bill collector, or anyone else.” This is the work of the Rolling Jubilee project – a non-profit initiative which buys personal debt for pennies on the dollar in the secondary market (where debt is sold to companies who then resell it to collection agencies) but then simply cancels it.

When the Occupy movement came into being in the summer of 2011, its critics said that a lack of identifiable objectives and strategy for achieving them meant it was doomed to fail. This was a monumental underestimation of its potential impact. Two years on, the debate about the ethics of corporate capitalism in its current form, the fairness of the remuneration of those at the top, the widening wealth gap and the morality of tax avoidance is alive and well. The concept of the “99%” is now part of the collective consciousness. All this is, in no small part, down to the fuse lit by the Occupy movement.

However, another significant aspect of the movement – dismissed as being woolly – was that it brought like-minded people together and allowed a dialogue which identified common strands. This appears to have evolved into several focused and practical initiatives. One of the most significant, and perhaps the most threatening to the status quo, is the Strike Debt group, of which the Rolling Jubilee project forms part.

The idea is that, those freed from debt and those sympathetic to the movement, then donate into the fund to keep it “rolling” forward; hence the name. The fund has already raised $600,000 and has used $400,000 of this to purchase and cancel an astonishing $14.7m of debt, primarily focusing on medical bills. This strikes at the very heart of the system, not only by using its own perverse rules against it, but critically by revealing the illusory and circular nature of debt.

Capitalism requires a layer of cheap, flexible labour to operate optimally. It is not a coincidence that the most successful global economy, by any traditional capitalist measure, is an authoritarian quasi-communist state. Many, myself included, have been arguing that our current predicament is not crisis-consequent austerity, but a permanent adjustment. David Cameron on Monday confirmed as much. The great lie, peddled by Thatcher and Reagan, was the idea that we could all be middle class, white-collar professionals within a neoliberal economy. It was simply not true.

David Graeber, one of the original members of Occupy Wall Street writes: “Almost immediately we noticed a pattern. The overwhelming majority of Occupiers were, in one way or another, refugees of the American debt system … The rise of OWS allowed us to start seeing the system for what it is: an enormous engine of debt extraction. Debt is how the rich extract wealth from the rest of us, at home and abroad.” Western capitalism is running out of serfs, slaves, colonies, immigrants, child labour and women as chattels. A new underclass must be created. Debt is the weapon of choice. Medical bills underlie more than 60% of bankruptcies in the US. The level of student debt has reached an eye-watering $1.2tn.

This is why the debate on the back-door privatisation of medical and education services in this country matters so much. The extraction of profit from these two key areas changes the social contract in a fundamental way. The idea is no longer that the state will educate you and keep you healthy, so that you may continue to contribute with both your work and your taxes. It has mutated instead into “you will borrow money from the state’s private partners in order to become educated and stay healthy, so that you may continue to contribute to their bottom line”. All of the 99%, in a very real way, work in part for an assortment of financial institutions, largely invisible and certainly unaccountable.

Iceland’s – strangely unreported – decision to write down mortgage debt for its citizens, undermines that notion. A rejection of traditional systems of credit and money as a response to austerity, such as in the barter markets of Volos in Greece and Turin in Italy undermines that notion. The Rolling Jubilee project undermines that notion in a significant way, by asking the sizzling question: “If a corporation is prepared to accept five cents on the dollar in exchange for our debts, if that is our debt’s open market value, how much do we really owe?”

And if your instinct is to point out that $15m is so small a drop in the ocean as to be insignificant, my response would be: not to the 2,693 people who received that letter. The sparkle of a lit fuse is, by its nature, humble. © Guardian News and Media 2013


JP Morgan gave $1.8m contract to Chinese ex-premier's daughter – report

Relationship with Wen Jaibao's daughter is part of wider US probe into Wall Street bank's hiring practices in China

Reuters, Thursday 14 November 2013 09.59 GMT   

JP Morgan paid $1.8m (£1.1m) over two years to a small consulting firm run by the daughter of former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, according to a New York Times report, a relationship that is part of a wider US probe into the Wall Street bank's hiring practices in the region.

Citing documents, public filings and interviews, the newspaper said JP Morgan had a $75,000-a-month contract with a consultancy run by Lily Chang, which appeared to have only one other employee. The paper said Chang is the alias of Wen Ruchun, the only daughter of Wen Jiabao, who as premier had oversight of financial institutions at the time of the contract.

US authorities are investigating JP Morgan's hiring practices in China as part of a wider bribery probe into whether the bank traded contracts and jobs in order to win business. Investment banks globally have a long history of hiring people with key connections who can help win advisory roles on important and lucrative deals.

The practice was widespread in China from the early-2000s, when investment banks engaged in so-called 'elephant hunting' – chasing mandates to manage the multibillion dollar stock offerings of the country's big state-owned enterprises.

The distinction between hiring a relative of a foreign official who may be well connected, and employing such a person with the express hope of winning specific business, is key to proving violations of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The US Securities and Exchange Commission's anti-bribery unit is leading the JP Morgan probe, a person familiar with the matter previously told Reuters.

On 7 August, JP Morgan disclosed in a regulatory filing that it had a request from US regulators regarding employees in Hong Kong, but did not elaborate. The New York Times followed with a report detailing the nature of the probe, later confirmed by Reuters.

In its August report, the New York Times said two of JP Morgan's hires under investigation were of the son of the head of a Chinese state-run financial conglomerate, and the daughter of a former railway official.

Citing people with knowledge of the matter, Bloomberg News reported in late-August that JP Morgan had an internal spreadsheet that linked appointments to specific deals pursued by the bank. It said JP Morgan, in response to the SEC probe, started an internal investigation in Hong Kong, which was later expanded across Asia, covering interns as well as full-time staff.

In the New York Times report on Thursday, the paper said Wen Ruchun's firm, Fullmark Consultants, was paid a total of $1.8m by JP Morgan in 2006-08.

A spokeswoman for JP Morgan in Hong Kong said the bank was "co-operating fully with regulators". She declined to comment further and referred to the bank's 1 November quarterly filing in which it gave further information about the probe, disclosing that, in addition to the SEC, the US Department of Justice and agencies from other jurisdictions were investigating hiring practices in Hong Kong.

Reuters could not immediately reach Wen Ruchun for comment.

A visit to the Beijing office cited by the New York Times as Fullmark's headquarters revealed no company of that name, suggesting the business has either closed or moved.

JP Morgan at one point hired Tang Xiaoning, the son of Tang Shuangning, chairman of state-controlled financial conglomerate China Everbright Group, and a former banking regulator, the New York Times reported in August.

After the younger Tang joined JP Morgan, the bank won several important assignments from Everbright, including advising a subsidiary on a stock offering, the newspaper reported.

The SEC is also probing JP Morgan's hiring of Zhang Xixi, the daughter of a now-disgraced Chinese railway official. The bank went on to help advise the official's company, which builds railways for the government, on its plans to go public, the New York Times reported in its August article.

According to the newspaper's latest article, there is no indication from documents seen by the New York Times that Wen brokered any deals or investments between JP Morgan and companies affiliated with her family.


Wikileaks: U.S. backing pharmaceuticals in Trans-Pacific Partnership draft

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, November 13, 2013 20:35 EST

The United States is seeking broader protections for its pharmaceutical and other companies in negotiations on an ambitious Pacific trade deal, according to a document released Wednesday by WikiLeaks.

Julian Assange’s anti-secrecy activist website published what it said was the draft text as of late August for a chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is being negotiated among 12 countries that comprise more than 40 percent of the world economy.

The text shows widespread disagreements among negotiators, despite calls from President Barack Obama to seal the agreement by the end of the year. Talks are scheduled to resume Tuesday in Salt Lake City, Utah.

In multiple passages in the documents, the United States is seen as pressing for greater leeway for companies to seek patents in the medical field, a move that could potentially restrict cheaper generic drugs in the vast area.

In the notes, most nations part ways with the United States and support two-decade-old exemptions under the World Trade Organization for patents in certain areas related to public health.

The text also shows that the United States and Japan are seeking to restrict nations from denying patents on the argument that products do not result in “enhanced efficacy.”

Generic drug leader India, which is not part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, has cited that reason to deny patent protections, enraging major pharmaceutical companies.

Public Citizen, a Washington advocacy group critical of globalization, charged that the Trans-Pacific Partnership marked a step backward and would lock consumers into high prices for medication.

“The Obama administration’s shameful bullying on behalf of the giant drug companies would lead to preventable suffering and death in Asia-Pacific countries,” Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s global access to medicines program, said in a statement.

Pharmaceutical companies have traditionally argued that they need revenue from their inventions to fund further research into potentially life-saving drugs.

In a separate section, the United States and Australia are marked as opposing moves to limit liability of Internet service providers for copyright infringement that takes place over their networks.

Obama has argued that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will create US jobs by enhancing exports while ensuring top-notch labor and environmental standards.

A spokeswoman for the US Trade Representative’s office declined comment on the content or authenticity of the document released by WikiLeaks, saying that negotiations were ongoing.

But the leak renewed concerns among Obama’s political base, which has complained it has not been consulted on negotiations.

In a letter Wednesday, 151 House of Representative members from his Democratic Party opposed granting so-called “fast-track” authority that would give the Obama administration greater authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, with Congress still voting up-or-down but unable to revise the text.

“We are deeply committed to transforming US trade policy into a tool for creating and retaining family-wage jobs in America, safeguarding the environment, maintaining consumer protection and improving the quality of life throughout the country,” the lawmakers wrote to Obama.

The text released by WikiLeaks did not cover agriculture, an area which the trade pact has concerned groups ranging from US Midwestern dairy farmers to Japanese rice farmers.

Many officials view the Trans-Pacific Partnership not only as an economic but as a geopolitical tool. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in deciding to enter talks, spoke of ensuring Tokyo’s role in shaping the future of a region marked by China’s rise.

China, Asia’s second largest economy, is not part of the talks, which include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]


The more you know about the odious Trans-Pacific Partnership, the less you’ll like it

By Dan Gillmor, The Guardian
Thursday, November 14, 2013 7:35 EST

Among the many betrayals of the Obama administration is its overall treatment of what many people refer to as “intellectual property” – the idea that ideas themselves and digital goods and services are exactly like physical property, and that therefore the law should treat them the same way. This corporatist stance defies both reality and the American Constitution, which expressly called for creators to have rights for limited periods, the goal of which was to promote inventive progress and the arts.

In the years 2007 and 2008, candidate Obama indicated that he’d take a more nuanced view than the absolutist one from Hollywood and other interests that work relentlessly for total control over this increasingly vital part of our economy and lives. But no clearer demonstration of the real White House view is offered than a just-leaked draft of an international treaty that would, as many had feared, create draconian new rights for corporate “owners” and mean vastly fewer rights for the rest of us.

I’m talking about the appalling Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, a partial draft of which WikiLeaks has just released. This treaty has been negotiated in secret meetings dominated by governments and corporations. You and I have been systematically excluded, and once you learn what they’re doing, you can see why.

The outsiders who understand TPP best aren’t surprised. That is, the draft “confirms fears that the negotiating parties are prepared to expand the reach of intellectual property rights, and shrink consumer rights and safeguards,” writes James Love a longtime watcher of this process.

Needless to say, copyright is a key part of this draft. And the negotiators would further stiffen copyright holders’ control while upping the ante on civil and criminal penalties for infringers. The Electronic Frontier Foundation says TPP has “extensive negative ramifications for users’ freedom of speech, right to privacy and due process, and hinder peoples’ abilities to innovate”. It’s Hollywood’s wish list.

Canadian intellectual property expert Michael Geist examined the latest draft of the intellectual property chapter. He writes that the document, which includes various nations’ proposals, shows the US government, in particular, taking a vastly different stance than the other nations. Geist notes:

Other nations have argued for balance, promotion of the public domain, protection of public health, and measures to ensure that IP rights themselves do not become barriers to trade. The opposition to these objectives by the US and Japan (Australia has not taken a position) speaks volumes about their goals for the TPP.

The medical industry has a stake in the outcome, too, with credible critics saying it would raise drug prices and, according to Love’s analysis, give surgeons patent protection for their procedures.

Congress has shown little appetite for restraining the overweening power of the corporate interests promoting this expansion. With few exceptions, lawmakers have repeatedly given copyright, patent and trademark interests more control over the years. So we shouldn’t be too optimistic about the mini-flurry of Capitol Hill opposition to the treaty that emerged this week. It’s based much more on Congress protecting its prerogatives – worries about the treaty’s so-called “fast track” authorities, giving the president power to act without congressional approval – than on substantive objections to the document’s contents.

That said, some members of Congress have become more aware of the deeper issues. The public revolt against the odious “Stop Online Piracy Act” two years ago was a taste of what happens when people become more widely aware of what they can lose when governments and corporate interests collude.

If they become aware – that’s the key. One of TPP’s most odious elements has been the secrecy under which it’s been negotiated. The Obama administration’s fondness for secret laws, policies and methods has a lot to do with a basic reality: the public would say no to much of which is done in our names and with our money if we knew what was going on. As Senator Elizabeth Warren pointed out, in a letter to the White House:

I have heard the argument that transparency would undermine the administration’s policy to complete the trade agreement because public opposition would be significant. If transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States. I believe in transparency and democracy and I think the US Trade Representative should too.

Thanks to WikiLeaks, we have at least partial transparency today. The more you know about the odious TPP, the less you’ll like it – and that’s why the administration and its corporate allies don’t want you to know. © Guardian News and Media 2013


November 13, 2013

Only 106,000 Pick Health Insurance Plans in First Month


WASHINGTON — Just over 106,000 people picked health plans in the first month of open enrollment through the state and federal insurance marketplaces established by the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s health secretary said Wednesday, a fraction of the administration’s initial estimate for enrollment during that period.

Only about a fourth of the new enrollees — 26,794 — signed up through, the problem-plagued federal exchange, according to figures released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. A much larger number, 76,319, signed up through the 14 state-run marketplaces.

The long-awaited figures, released by Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, became instant fodder for the political battle over Mr. Obama’s signature legislative initiative. As nervous Democrats on Capitol Hill threatened to introduce legislation altering the law, Republicans called the new numbers dismal and embarrassing, citing them as further proof that the program was a “train wreck.”

The White House has spent weeks trying to lower expectations about the numbers — even as questions emerged about the way it counts who is enrolled. On Wednesday, Ms. Sebelius and congressional Democrats were upbeat, saying people were clearly shopping for coverage.

“The marketplace is working,” Ms. Sebelius said. “People are enrolling.”

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has predicted seven million people will enroll by the time the initial six-month sign-up window closes, and administration officials insist they can meet that goal. But the numbers released Wednesday fall far short of the administration’s early projections, contained in an internal memo in September, which said 464,920 would sign up in the first month.

In a method that Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, called “Enron-like accounting,” the administration defines enrollees as those who have “selected a marketplace plan.”

They are people like Hung Trang, 60, a nail salon owner in Tampa, Fla., who has been trying for weeks to sign up. With help from a counselor, called a “navigator,” he has picked a plan for himself and family, but has not yet committed to buy it.

The industry, though, says people like Mr. Trang do not count until they have agreed to pay.

“Paying the first month’s premium is what needs to happen before coverage actually begins,” said Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry trade association. “Until a consumer makes their first-month premium, they can make a different coverage decision — including whether they want to buy coverage or not.”

A total of  106,185 consumers went through the enrollment process and picked plans, the administration said. Many more people — 846,184 — applied in the state and federal marketplaces without adding plans to their shopping carts for purchase. Those applications would cover a total of 1,509,883 Americans.

A peek into state data reveals vast disparities. Florida, the state with the third-highest number of uninsured (behind California and Texas), had the most enrollees in the federal-run exchange, 3,571. Texas was second, with 2,991. There were just 42 in North Dakota.

In explaining the relatively low figures, administration officials cite problems with the federal website that have prevented people from signing up. But they also say experience shows people wait until the last minute.

When Massachusetts expanded health coverage in 2007, only 123 of the 36,167 people who ultimately signed up did so during the first month of enrollment. But more than 7,000 signed up in the final month. (Massachusetts counted only people who had already paid their premiums as enrollees, according to Jon Kingsdale, who ran that state’s health insurance exchange for the first four years.)

There is still one month to go until the Dec. 15 deadline for signing up for coverage that begins Jan. 1; the initial enrollment period does not close until March 31. So administration officials, and some outside experts, say these early figures do not reveal much.

“These numbers are interesting,” David Simas, a top White House adviser on health care, said in an interview, “but in terms of any kind of insight into the success of the program, they’re not the central indicator.”

In political terms, though, the numbers are yet another problem for the White House, which is one reason Ms. Sebelius — and not the president — announced them. Republicans insist that, at this rate, there is no way the administration can reach its goal.

“By the time we reach the critical month of December, actual enrollment could lag projections by over one million people,” Representative Dave Camp, Republican of Michigan and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, wrote in a letter this month, accompanying a subpoena for detailed enrollment data.

In an interview, he said enrollment figures were only a part of the story. “It’s not just about the top-line number,” he said. “What I want to know is the mix of these people. What kind of insurance are they getting? What age are they?”

Ms. Sebelius said Wednesday that her agency would release that kind of data at some point; she did not say when. But experts on all sides of the debate agree that the “mix” may be far more important than the actual enrollment numbers. If not enough young, healthy people enroll, premiums will skyrocket, and the law’s promise of “affordable care” will not be realized.

“The mix is valuable for insurers, because it will result in more stable premiums; if all the people who enroll are very sick, they will have to raise premiums next year, and that is a problem,” said Dan Mendelson, who was a health policy adviser to President Bill Clinton and is now chief executive of Avalere Health, a consulting firm.

“But,” Mr. Mendelson said, “the numbers are important; enrollment is important. I do think this administration is going to be benchmarked on how much enrollment materializes.”

Mr. Mendelson’s firm recently looked at 12 of the 14 state exchanges and found a far lower rate of enrollment than for other programs, including the expansion of prescription drug coverage under Medicare under President George W. Bush. He said problems with the federal website had created a “negative communications climate” that was depressing enrollment.

“Their problem is more than technology,” he said, referring to the administration. “It’s that because of technology, they can’t be beating the drum, and they can’t be sending the president out to advocate for enrollment.”

If Massachusetts is any guide, signing up people is difficult even under the best of circumstances, Mr. Kingsdale said. In the first three months of operation, he said, the state found that for each 100 hits on its website, 44 were “unique hits” from Massachusetts residents. Of those, 18 shopped for plans, and one bought coverage.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg reported from Washington, and Susanne Craig from New York.


November 13, 2013

With Enrollment Slow, Some Democrats Back Change in Health Law


WASHINGTON — Anxious congressional Democrats are threatening to abandon President Obama on a central element of his signature health care law, voicing increasing support for proposals that would allow Americans who are losing their health insurance coverage because of the Affordable Care Act to retain it.

The dissent comes as the Obama administration released enrollment figures on Wednesday that fell far short of expectations, and as House Republicans continued their sharp criticism of administration officials at congressional hearings examining the performance of the health care website and possible security risks of the online insurance exchanges.

In addition, a vote is scheduled Friday in the Republican-controlled House on a bill that would allow Americans to keep their existing health coverage through 2014 without penalties. The measure, drafted by Representative Fred Upton, the Michigan Republican who is the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, is opposed by the White House, which argues that it would severely undermine the Affordable Care Act by allowing insurance companies to continue to sell health coverage that does not meet the higher standard of Mr. Obama’s health care law.

But a growing number of House Democrats, reflecting a strong political backlash to the rollout of the law, are warning the White House that they may support the measure if the administration does not provide a strong alternative argument. The approaching House vote is shaping up as an important test for both the health measure and the unity that Democratic leaders have so far been able to maintain around it despite a fierce Republican attack.

In a closed-door meeting Wednesday of House Democrats and White House officials, tensions flared as several lawmakers upbraided the administration, saying that the president had put Democrats in a tough political position by wrongly promising consumers that they could keep their existing health care plans. In fact, hundreds of thousands of Americans have received cancellation notices from their insurers because their health care coverage does not meet the minimum standards dictated by the new law.

“I’m frustrated in how it rolled out, and I let them know in no uncertain terms,” said Representative Mike Doyle, Democrat of Pennsylvania. “The point I was making in caucus to the administration is don’t give us this techno-babble that you’re going to do some administrative fix down the road. There’s a bill being put on the floor on Friday.”

The overall message of the meeting, said several attendees, was that the White House and the House Democratic leadership have until Friday to come up with a satisfactory alternative, or House Democrats may be forced to support Mr. Upton’s bill, which already has two Democratic co-sponsors: Representatives John Barrow of Georgia and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, who represent more conservative districts.

“I think the Upton bill is terrible, but we need something else to vote for in order to keep our word to the American people,” Mr. Doyle added. “We told people in those plans that they were grandfathered in, and if they wanted to stay in them, they could, and we need to honor that.”

A similar proposal, which would allow people to keep their current health insurance permanently, is also drawing support in the Senate under an effort led by Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana. Ms. Landrieu said she remained committed to her bill, despite White House expressions of reluctance to embrace a legislative fix. Still, the White House spokesman, Jay Carney, said Wednesday that the Landrieu proposal “shares a similar goal to what the president has asked his team to explore.”

“We are happy to work with her and any member of Congress who has ideas on how to make the Affordable Care Act better,” he said.

Ms. Landrieu drew a distinction between her plan — which she said would maintain the key provisions of the Affordable Care Act — and those offered by Republicans that would dismantle the law, like the one introduced by Mr. Upton.

“That bill guts the Affordable Care Act. It does not fix it,” she said. “It guts it, and I don’t support it and would urge the Democrats in the House not to support it. My bill is not meant to undermine the Affordable Care Act; it’s meant to strengthen it.”

She expressed confidence that more Democrats would sign on to her plan, which is designed to encourage people to move eventually to better insurance on the federal exchange. “Every day I think we’ll pick up co-sponsors,” she said, pointing to Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, who said Tuesday that she was on board. On Wednesday, Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, also signed on to her plan as a co-sponsor.

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said Wednesday that he had had “quite a long conversation” with the president on Tuesday evening about the health care law, as well as other issues, and would be holding a special Democratic caucus meeting on Thursday with White House officials to discuss the next steps.

Administration officials conceded that the bungled health care rollout had produced a turbulent political situation in Washington. But they said they were confident that fixing the website,, would help Democrats in next year’s elections.

Mr. Carney said the president’s top aides were working to come up with an administrative fix to the problem of the cancellation of health insurance plans. But he declined to say when that would be announced or whether it would come before Democrats are asked to vote on Friday.

“Sooner rather than later,” Mr. Carney said several times.

White House officials said they recognized the need for Democrats to vent their frustration about the health care problems. Mr. Carney said that the dissatisfaction felt by Democrats on Capitol Hill “is similar to the frustration that the president feels.”

But they continued to oppose Mr. Upton’s bill, saying it would create more problems than it would solve.

“Intentionally or not, the bill would not just address the problem,” Mr. Carney said, adding that it would “essentially allow insurers to sell new plans that are substandard and potentially undermine the central promise of the Affordable Care Act.”

Insurance companies, already deeply worried about the low enrollment in the plans they are offering on the insurance exchanges, say congressional proposals to force them to allow canceled policies to be reissued could be disastrous. Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s lobby, said insurers “have significant concerns on how it would work operationally.”

But with no alternative proposal from the White House as of Wednesday, Democrats were increasingly critical.

“This has been a complete embarrassment,” Representative Patrick Murphy, Democrat of Florida, said. “It doesn’t matter what party you are. The focus needs to be how do we get this right.”

Jonathan Weisman and Jeremy W. Peters contributed reporting.


November 13, 2013

Health Website Official Tells of White House Briefings


WASHINGTON — The chief digital architect for the federal health insurance marketplace said Wednesday that he met periodically with White House aides to discuss the status of the website over the last three years, but he said the meetings focused narrowly on specific technical issues and therefore gave the president no clear warning of the disaster that ensued on Oct. 1.

The official, Henry Chao, said he had provided “status briefings” to the White House on the development of certain features of the website, envisioned as the main vehicle for people to compare and buy insurance plans under the new health care law.

Jeanne M. Lambrew, the president’s health policy coordinator, generally attended and often led the meetings, Mr. Chao said at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The committee, investigating the rollout of the new health care law, has requested testimony from Ms. Lambrew and from Nancy-Ann DeParle, who was director of the White House Office of Health Reform from 2009 to 2011 and then deputy chief of staff for Mr. Obama until early this year.

Kathryn H. Ruemmler, the president’s chief lawyer, rebuffed the panel’s request. In a letter to the committee on Tuesday, she said the testimony of Ms. Lambrew and Ms. DeParle was not needed “in light of the extraordinary information that has been provided to the Congress to date.” Moreover, Ms. Ruemmler complained that Republicans on the committee were seeking testimony on a “broad and amorphous range of issues” not tied to any “legitimate oversight interest.”

The panel is trying to find out how much the White House knew about defects in the website,, and whether politics contributed to some of the underlying problems.

Committee Republicans said they still wanted to hear from Mr. Lambrew and Ms. DeParle. “They are the people we need” because they were “the political people in charge,” said Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio.

At the hearing on Wednesday, federal officials working on the project were unable to tell committee members how much it would cost to fix the site, on which the government has already spent more than $600 million.

Neither Mr. Chao nor Todd Park, the chief technology officer at the White House, nor Steven VanRoekel, the chief information officer for the federal government, could answer questions about the cost of repairing the site, which has been plagued with software and hardware problems since it went live on Oct. 1.

Even while testimony was underway before the oversight committee, a separate House panel questioned other administration officials about the security of the website and the protection of personal information that consumers provide when applying for health insurance and federal subsidies.

Roberta Stempfley, an acting assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, said there had been at least 16 reported attempts to infiltrate the system. In addition, she said, there has been at least one effort to delay or shut down the site, by an outside party trying to orchestrate a “denial of service” attack involving repeated queries meant to overload the system.

Ms. Stempfley, testifying before the House Committee on Homeland Security, did not provide details of the incidents, which she said were being investigated. After the hearing, a Homeland Security Department official said none of the attempts appeared to have been successful or to have resulted in the unauthorized release of personal information. On an average day, the official said, 620 similar reports come in to the department.

The security of the health care website had not been fully tested when it opened to the public last month, according to federal officials and documents from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Many questions at the oversight committee hearing focused on website procedures that required consumers to create password-protected accounts before they could see the exact cost of health plans for which they were eligible.

Mr. Chao rejected Republican suggestions that the administration had blocked an “anonymous shopping” feature because it feared that consumers would be shocked if they saw the full unsubsidized prices of insurance policies.

In fact, Mr. Chao said, federal officials excluded the feature because it had failed to perform properly during testing. “It failed so miserably that we could not conscionably let people use it,” he said.

However, the chairman of the oversight committee, Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California, pointed to a government document indicating that the anonymous shopper feature had been tested successfully in September and was to be “turned off” for unspecified reasons.

Mr. Issa tried repeatedly to determine who in the administration had decided to go forward with the website on Oct. 1 despite indications that it was not ready.

“This was a monumental mistake to go live and effectively explode on the launch pad,” Mr. Issa said.

He added, “We have discovered and will undoubtedly continue to discover that efforts were taken to cut corners to meet political deadlines at the end.”

David A. Powner, director of information technology issues at the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, said, “Clearly, knowing what we know now, a delay in the rollout would have made sense.”


November 13, 2013

Boehner Rules Out Negotiations on Immigration


WASHINGTON — Signaling an end to the push for major immigration legislation this year, Speaker John A. Boehner on Wednesday ruled out negotiations between the House and the Senate on an expansive immigration overhaul similar to one approved by the Senate with bipartisan support in June.

Speaking to reporters, Mr. Boehner said that while House Republicans were working on a “common-sense, step-by-step approach in terms of how we deal with immigration,” they were unwilling to enter into talks with the Senate on a broad bill that would include a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants already in the country illegally.

“The idea that we’re going to take up a 1,300-page bill that no one had ever read, which is what the Senate did, is not going to happen in the House,” he said. “And frankly, I’ll make clear we have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill.”

With few legislative days left in 2013 and nearly all the focus on the health care law and House-Senate budget talks, Mr. Boehner said House Republicans had little interest in detouring on to immigration legislation that divides their party. His stance means the immigration fight would be pushed into 2014. If there was to be movement, it would probably have to come earlier in the year before the midterm elections get too close.

But the speaker, in an encounter earlier Wednesday with two young immigrants without legal status, did indicate he continued to see immigration legislation as a priority. The pair, brought to the United States as children by their parents, approached him at Pete’s Diner, his dawn breakfast haunt, to urge him to support a broad immigration overhaul.

“How would you feel if you had to tell your kids at the age of 10 that you were never coming home?” said Carmen Lima, a 17-year-old who explained that she had a similar conversation with her father, who was here illegally, at that age.

“I’m trying to find some way to get this thing done,” Mr. Boehner told her. “It’s, uh, as you know, not easy, not going to be an easy path forward. But I’ve made it clear since the day after the election it’s time to get this done.”

The Republican-controlled House had already been working on a piecemeal approach to immigration legislation, in which it would take up individual — and more narrow — bills, like a measure to improve border security or to overhaul the guest worker program. An aide to Mr. Boehner said that he was not ruling out negotiations with the Senate on any immigration bill, but simply throwing water on the idea that the House would pass one or two smaller bills and then merge them in a conference committee with the Senate’s larger plan.

The speaker’s comments also were intended to quell the concerns of some hard-line members who feared that supporting even a narrow border security bill could be used as a “Trojan horse” that would lead to the House’s being forced to consider a larger, Senate-influenced bill that endorses what they consider “amnesty.” Mr. Boehner’s remarks came less than a week after another member of his leadership team, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the No. 3 Republican, said that the House would not have time before the end of the year to vote on any immigration legislation.

Representative Steve Israel of New York, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said all he cared about was the final product. “The process is irrelevant,” he said. “How John Boehner gets to a vote, and when he gets to a vote, is immaterial to us. We will help him with the vote, but he has to get something to the floor.”

As the immediate prospects for a bill dimmed, one of the leading Republican senators behind the effort criticized the administration’s handling of border security. John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said at a confirmation hearing for Jeh C. Johnson, the nominee for secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, that the administration had refused to provide information on how it was policing the border.

After Mr. Johnson stopped short of committing to provide the border data without consulting with homeland security officials, Mr. McCain said that he would not vote to confirm him until Mr. Johnson gave a “yes answer” to sharing the information.

“How can we carry out our functions of oversight if we don’t get the kind of information we need to make the decisions that this committee to make?” Mr. McCain said.


November 13, 2013 04:00 PM

Watch John Boehner Lie About Immigration Bill

By karoli

Props to these kids for catching John Boehner at his favorite diner pretending like he's not a tool of his corporate masters and telling their stories.

The Hill has the whole story:

    A pair of immigrant teenagers confronted Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) at a Capitol Hill diner on Wednesday morning, telling him their parents were in danger of deportation because of the House’s inaction on immigration reform.

    Boehner was eating breakfast at Pete’s Diner — his regular morning pit stop — when Carmen Lima, 13, and Jennifer Martinez, 16, approached him with a video camera in tow.

    After Lima shared her story and asked the Speaker to commit to immigration reform, Boehner told her, “I’m trying to find a way to get this thing done. It’s, as you know, not easy. It’s not going to be an easy path forward, but I’ve made it clear since the day after the election that it’s time to get this done.”

    Boehner made no specific commitments to the children, and at a press conference hours later, he ruled out passing legislation that could be reconciled with the Senate bill in a conference committee. That was a new marker for the Speaker, and it cuts off what many advocates saw as the only remaining path for the kind of broad immigration overhaul they are seeking.

    “We’ve made it clear we’re going to move on a common-sense, step-by-step approach in terms of how we deal with immigration,” Boehner said after a closed-door House Republican conference meeting. “The idea that we’re going to take up a 1,300-page bill that no one had ever read, which is what the Senate did, is not going to happen in the House. And frankly, I’ll make clear we have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill.”

Can we please stop saying Boehner is one of the reasonable ones who would make a deal if the tea party would let him? He's not reasonable. He's a true believer and he just lied to those kids, right to their face.

Here's why he won't bring it to the floor.

    Actually it is easy, @SpeakerBoehner. With 190 cosponsors on H.R.15 and 28 Rs vowing support, we have the votes to pass #immigration reform.

    — Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) November 13, 2013

Speaker Boehner just lied to two kids, one of whom will be a voter before 2016 rolls around, maybe even in time for 2014. You think they won't work like dogs to elect a more honest representative?

Watch:  <iframe width="440" height="284" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>


Ted Cruz: Attacks on me are really ‘directed at the American people’

By David Edwards
Wednesday, November 13, 2013 15:45 EST

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said recently that opponents who criticized him were really attacking all of the American people.

Ann Marie Murrell and Dr. Gina Loudon of the conservative website Politichicks caught up with Cruz at what they described as a “top-secret dinner” following his Friday appearance on NBC’s Tonight Show.

“We all asked, we begged for someone to stand up for us and then you stood up for us,” Murrell told the senator. “But then you were denigrated by both the left and the right. Does this make you want to chunk it in or does this make you want to fight harder for us?”

“I’m encouraged,” Cruz insisted. “I’m encouraged because I think all across the country, I think people are getting energized, they’re getting engaged, they’re speaking up. And we shouldn’t be surprised. Changing the country isn’t easy. And the establishment is going to fight back. In both parties, they don’t want to change.”

“And so, the reason — the nastier the attacks get — I mean, they’re directed at all of us, they are directed at the American people,” he continued. “Because a lot of the folks in Washington don’t want to be held accountable.”

Regarding the possibility of a 2016 presidential run, Cruz warned that “we don’t have a long time to turn this country around.”

“I think we need leadership to pull us back, to get back to economic growth,” he said. “There’s a reason why people from all over the world have come to the United States seeking the American Dream. Because there’s never been a country in the history of the world where you could come with nothing and achieve anything based not on who your daddy is, not on who your family is, but based on your talent and perseverance and on the content of your character.”

“Politichicks is awesome,” Cruz said in conclusion. “Y’all are doing an awesome job. Thank you for speaking up for freedom.”    

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Questions about ‘60 Minutes’ Benghazi story go beyond Dylan Davies interview; CBS conducting ‘journalistic review’

By Nancy A. Youssef

McClatchy Foreign StaffNovember 13, 2013
CHRIS PIZZELLO — Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP   

CAIRO — When “60 Minutes” apologized for featuring in its report on Benghazi a security contractor whose story turned out to be a lie, it said it had been “misled.” But a close examination of the controversial piece by McClatchy shows that there are other problems with the report, whose broadcast renewed debate about one of the most contentious events in recent U.S. diplomatic history.

In an email Wednesday, CBS declined to respond to questions about the accuracy and origin of some of the other aspects of the report. But it said that it was undertaking “a journalistic review that is ongoing” – the network’s first acknowledgement that concerns about the report may go deeper than just the discredited interview with security supervisor Dylan Davies.

“60 Minutes” spokesman Kevin Tedesco said CBS had begun the review “the moment we confirmed there was an issue in our story.” But he declined to elaborate on the investigation and did not respond to specific issues McClatchy raised about the segment, including unsourced assertions that al Qaida was behind the Benghazi attacks and claims about the investigation that the FBI and other experts question or deny outright.

The “60 Minutes” report, which was narrated by longtime CBS correspondent Lara Logan, was controversial almost from the moment it was broadcast Oct. 27, as could be expected for another rendition of what took place Sept. 11, 2012, when gunmen stormed a U.S. diplomatic compound and set its main building on fire. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and State Department computer expert Sean Smith, trapped inside, died of smoke inhalation. Hours later, attackers assaulted a CIA compound nearby, killing two security contractors.

Shortly after the segment aired, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has been a critic of the Obama administration’s response to the Benghazi attacks, announced that he would block all administration appointments until the FBI surrendered to Congress notes of the interviews it had done with survivors.

But the credibility of the report soon came into question. CBS was taken to task for not revealing that Davies, on whose recollections the report was largely based, was the author of a soon-to-be released book published by a CBS-owned publishing company that features the work of politically conservative authors. On Oct. 31, The Washington Post revealed that Davies had filed a report with his employer, Blue Mountain Security, that contradicted his “60 Minutes” account, and The New York Times revealed Nov. 7 that Davies also gave an account to the FBI at odds with the “60 Minutes” version.

After The New York Times story was posted online, CBS quickly purged its websites of any mention of the piece and even demanded that a copy of the segment be removed from YouTube. On Sunday, Logan, in a brief appearance at the end of the regular “60 Minutes” broadcast, acknowledged that Davies had misled her and her crew and that “it was a mistake to include him in our report.”

But Logan’s mea culpa said nothing about other weaknesses in the report that a line-by-line review of the broadcast’s transcript reveals. McClatchy turned to LexisNexis, a legal research service, for a transcript of the broadcast because the segment no longer appeared on CBS sites.

The report repeatedly referred to al Qaida as solely responsible for the attack on the compound and made no mention of Ansar al Shariah, the Islamic extremist group that controls and provides much of the security in restive Benghazi and that has long been suspected in the attack. While the two organizations have worked together in Libya, experts said they have different aims – al Qaida has global objectives while Ansar al Shariah is focused on turning Libya into an Islamic state.

It is an important distinction, experts on those groups said. Additionally, al Qaida’s role, if any, in the attack has not been determined, and Logan’s narration offered no source for her repeated assertion that it had been.

“I think there are definitely connections, but I am not sure there is command and control” between al Qaida and Ansar al Shariah, said Aaron Y. Zelin of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who studies insurgent activity in North Africa.

Logan claimed that “it’s now well established that the Americans were attacked by al Qaida in a well-planned assault.” But al Qaida has never claimed responsibility for the attack, and the FBI, which is leading the U.S. investigation, has never named al Qaida as the sole perpetrator. Rather, it is believed a number of groups were part of the assault, including members and supporters of al Qaida and Ansar al Shariah, as well as attackers angered by a video made by an American that insulted Prophet Muhammad. The video spurred angry protests outside the U.S. embassy in Cairo hours beforehand.

In a Sept. 12, 2012, statement about the attack, Ansar al Shariah suggested its members had participated, though the group said it did not order the assault.

Moreover, questions remain over how far in advance the attack on the U.S. compound had been planned. Rather than a long-planned attack, investigators have told McClatchy it was likely planned hours, rather than days, in advance.

Another questionable assertion in the “60 Minutes” report was Logan’s unsourced reference to the Benghazi Medical Center as being “under the control of al Qaida terrorists,” an assertion that McClatchy correspondents on the ground at the time and subsequent reporting in Benghazi indicates is untrue.

Around midnight, after the attack on the diplomatic compound, looters who descended on the site discovered Stevens in a safe room and took him to the medical center, where a doctor tried to revive him for 45 minutes before pronouncing him dead.

In the “60 Minutes” report, Davies, the discredited security contractor, claimed to have snuck into the hospital, where he saw Stevens, even though the hospital was “under the control of al Qaida terrorists.”

On the night of the attack, the medical center, whose compound includes several buildings in addition to the relatively modern, multi-story hospital itself, was being guarded by Ansar al Shariah. Libyan residents McClatchy spoke with said the group’s guards never stopped patients from entering but were there primarily to protect the nurses and doctors inside.

The Libyan Herald, an English-language news outlet, reported just three days before the diplomatic compound was attacked that the Libyan health minister and the French ambassador to Libya, Antoine Sivan, had visited the facility to break ground on an expansion. Had the hospital been under al Qaida control, it is unlikely doctors could have spent nearly an hour trying save Stevens’ life or that the health minister of the government it seeks to oust would have been allowed to enter the hospital.

The piece also named three known insurgent operators as top suspects in the attack but did not explain the source of that assertion.

The three are long suspected of having been involved, Zelin said, but there is no evidence of their specific roles in the attack.

Two months ago, al Qaida operative Abu Anas al-Libi was captured in Tripoli by U.S. commandoes and brought to New York to stand trial for his alleged role in the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. The “60 Minutes” piece attempted to link al-Libi to the events in Benghazi, with Logan reporting that “Abu Anas al-Libi was captured for his role in the Africa bombings and the U.S. is still investigating what part he may have played in Benghazi.”

But a U.S. law enforcement source involved in the Benghazi probe, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss a case that’s still under investigation, told McClatchy this week that al-Libi is not under investigation for the Benghazi attacks. Logan did not detail the source for her assertion that he was.

Another man, Sufain bin Qumu, which the piece describes as an “al Qaida operative,” was a known member of Ansar al Shariah, heading up its operation in the eastern Libyan city of Darna. The piece said he was a “lead partner” in the attack.

But while Qumu, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, is believed to have worked with al Qaida at times, Zelin said, no evidence has emerged of his role in Benghazi other than a Fox News report last month that he was on the ground in Benghazi the night of the attack. The Fox News piece noted “it is not clear whether Qumu was directing the assault.” Logan offered no source for her claim that he led the attack.

The third man named in the piece is Faraj al-Chalabi. The piece described al-Chalabi as someone “whose ties to Osama bin Laden go back more than 15 years. He’s believed to have carried documents from the compound to the head of al Qaida in Pakistan.”

Libyan authorities detained al-Chalabi in March as a potential witness to the attack but released him in June. U.S. officials at the time said there was not enough evidence to hold him for the Benghazi attack, though questions arose about whether that was because U.S. officials had failed to provide the evidence to Libyan authorities.

If there is new evidence that any of the men were involved, the segment did not detail what it was or how Logan knew about it.

The piece closed with a picture of a document outlining Stevens’ schedule for Sept. 12, “a day (Stevens) did not live to see.” According to the piece, “When a member of our team went to the U.S. compound earlier this month, he found remnants of the Americans’ final frantic moments still scattered on the ground.”

But the compound owner, Jamal el Bishari, told McClatchy on Wednesday that he began clearing debris in April from the compound’s four buildings and is still renovating the site. McClatchy visited the site in June and saw a pile of debris sitting outside the compound walls, but no documents were discernible among the broken concrete, clothing, furniture and soot.

Bishari said it is unlikely such a document could have been discovered recently.

“It is impossible to find a document now,” he told McClatchy.

In “60 Minutes Overtime,” an addendum to the piece that was available online and outlined how CBS spent a year reporting the story, the piece’s producer, Max McClellan, explained how the program obtained the schedule.

“The person who shot this footage has a lot of experience in Libya and through his network of contacts on the ground in Benghazi, he was able to access the compound. It was closed, guarded, but through relatives of people he had gotten to know over the years, he was able to get in and take these pictures for us,” McClellan said. “We did not expect that we would find the U.S. compound in the state that we found it. There was still debris and ammunition boxes and a whiteboard that had the day’s assignment for the security personnel at the compound as of September 11, 2012.”

El Bishari said that he could not remember when he removed the remnants of the attack as part of the renovation, but what McClatchy’s June visit showed was that little debris remained inside the compound then. A local journalist who visited the site in September on assignment for Fox News told McClatchy Tuesday that any documents that remained at the site then would have been inconsequential. He returned to the site Tuesday at McClatchy’s request and took photos, which showed that the debris piles evident in June had been removed.

CBS spokesman Tedesco declined to respond to a specific question of “whether it was a CBS News employee or someone else who went to the site” or “when and how exactly he/she found the document.”

Davies had claimed in the “60 Minutes” piece that he had gone to the diplomatic compound site during the attack, climbed a 12-foot-high wall and struck one of the attackers in the head with his rifle butt before discovering Stevens’ body at the hospital. All of the claims contradicted multiple reports that have emerged in the year since the attacks.

Since “60 Minutes” acknowledgement that Davies had lied in his interviews, CBS also has not explained how Davies came to play such a major role in the segment and what role if any his connection to CBS-owned Threshold Editions had in his prominence. Threshold, which also has published books by former Vice President Dick Cheney, Republican strategist Karl Rove and conservative commentator Glenn Beck, withdrew Davies’ book from circulation last week.


November 12, 2013 12:00 PM

Lara Logan's Spouse Was Psyops Contractor in Iraq. Hmm

By Diane Sweet

While we've heard a good deal about Lara Logan's life in the media over the years, there has been nothing but crickets when it comes to her husband, Joseph Burkett. J.K. Trotter of Gawker seems to have stumbled on the reason for that...


    Many people know that in 2008 Logan married Joseph W. Burkett, a defense contractor she met while stationed in Baghdad to cover the Iraq War for CBS News. Logan and Burkett were both married to other people when they became involved, and the story of their war-zone love affair—complete with reports of a brawl between Burkett and CNN's Michael Ware, another rival for Logan's affections—lit up the tabloids at the time.

    "What most people don’t know, however, is the nature of Burkett’s work in Iraq. He was an employee of the Lincoln Group, a now-shuttered “strategic communications and public relations firm” hired by the Department of Defense in 2005 to plant positive stories written by American soldiers in Baghdad newspapers during the Iraq War.

    “He did information operations,” one former colleague of Burkett's told Gawker. “It was really spooky stuff. We worked with one of those special spooky IO outfits that didn’t even have a unit patch.” It's the kind of work for which a close relationship with an American network correspondent might come in handy.

    And it paid handsomely. Under an “indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract,” the Pentagon promised the Lincoln Group up to $100,000,000 to assist the military’s Joint Psychological Operations with controlling local media coverage of the American occupation. The Lincoln Group later became the target of congressional and Defense Department investigators over its handling of U.S. cash and its propaganda tactics."

Why didn't CBS News ever disclose "...that one of its star war correspondents became romantically involved with a man who was paid by the U.S. government to manipulate civilian public opinion about the disastrous war in Iraq"?

Why won't Logan or Burkett respond to requests to comment? Why won't CBS respond publicly?

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11/14/2013 04:40 PM

Viral Vigilantism: Russian Neo-Nazis Take Gay Bashing Online

By Benjamin Bidder

A Russian neo-Nazi who films attacks on gay men and posts the clips on social networks has a growing following and encourages others to imitate his methods. Although he is known to the authorities, they have long turned a blind eye to his activities.

Maksim Martsinkevich, known as "Tesak" or "flick knife" by his comrades, does his best to look respectable with hip, frameless glasses on his profile on the Russian social network He calls his campaign "Occupy Pedophilia" in the style of the "Occupy" protests against Wall Street and the banking industry by anticapitalist protesters.

In fact, Martsinkevich has little time for Occupy's left-wing ideals. Tesak is a notorious skinhead. For months now he has been posting video clips online that show him and his accomplices harassing gay men.

"Greetings, my young friends of extremism," Martsinkevich begins his videos, in which he lures gay men to apartments on dates and then abuses them. Among his favored routines is forcing victims to kneel before him naked as he shaves off their hair and paints a rainbow flag on their scalps. The rainbow flag is the symbol of the international gay rights movement.

In other videos, he has forced his victims to imitate oral sex with sex toys, or to call their acquaintances, university professors or employers to embarrass them. On occasion he has poured what looks to be urine over victims' heads. In one clip, two young men are forced to dance together half naked as one of them weeps.

"I Want to Kill, But I'm Not Allowed"

When Martsinkevich hits his victims the image is blurred and a cynical inscription reads "No to violence." But the audio track continues and their cries can be heard as he hits them with his fists or a rubber baton. He says, "I want to kill, but I'm not allowed."

Online Martsinkevich portrays himself as a pedophile hunter and asserts that the young men who make contact with his victims on dating websites are only 15 years old. Not only are Tesak's victims humiliated in front of their acquaintances and colleagues, they are also publicly pilloried as sex offenders.

But it's clear that the gang's activities are directed against gay men rather than pedophiles. If his victims are carrying ID, he shows it to the camera and scrawls the word "homo" on it. In the opening credits to his clips an eagle swoops on a pigeon with colorful feathers, a pun on a slang term for gay men.

"Pedik" is a common homophobic slur in Russia and is the short form of "pederast," and the equation of gay men with pedophiles is not limited to the extreme right in Russia. After decriminalizing homosexuality under President Boris Yeltsin, in 2012 Russian lawmakers forbade "propaganda of homosexuality among minors," adding further to the stigmatization of the country's LGBT community. A majority of Russians still considers homosexuality an illness and supports calls for government intervention to remedy the problem. But so far, the law has scarcely been applied and has not affected the lively gay scenes in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

But even REN-TV, a channel popular with Moscow opposition politicians and western observers as a bastion of free speech, has joined in Martsinkevich's witch hunt. A correspondent accompanied Tesak on one of his raids and continued filming even after he had started attacking his victim. Later the channel showed un-pixelated pictures of the alleged "pederast."

A History of Xenophobic Attacks

Neo-Nazi Tesak is well known to the authorities. In 2005, he headed up a neo-Nazi gang called Format 18, the number standing for AH, Hitler's initials. The gang beat up the homeless and immigrants from Central Asia and posted the videos online. On one occasion Format 18 posted images that seemed to show a Tajik man being hanged and his body being cut into pieces, though the execution clip turned out to be a fake. In 2007, Martsinkevich attacked an event organized by Alexei Navalny, now the informal leader of the Russian opposition, shouting that Russia needed to "kill all democrats."

Tesak's Format 18 was the model for director Pavel Bardin's documentary drama "Russia 88" on skinheads. Format 18 leader Martsinkevich received three years in prison for the attack on the Navalny event and for "incitement to hatred." He was released in late 2010, an unreformed character.

Martsinkevich actively encourages viewers to imitate his methods, advising against using knives "to avoid damaging the catch." His online fan base is growing daily, something he exploits financially by selling advertising for body building products on his website.

Russian authorities have long turned a blind eye to his activities. But early this month, members of an anti-extremism unit of the Russian police searched Martsinkevich's apartment. He wasn't there, having long since left the country. Apparently wholly unconcerned by the police investigation, he sent his 190,000 followers on a video message.


My life as an out gay in Russia

Since Russia imposed draconian new laws banning 'homosexual propaganda', hostility and homophobic attacks have increased. So what is life like for a writer who lives with her girlfriend and their three children?

Masha Gessen   
The Guardian, Friday 15 November 2013 11.00 GMT   

We tell our stories to know who we are and to tell each other that we are not alone. Our stories bear the traces of other stories we heard about ourselves. I remember my first ones. As a pre-teen, I read the Penal Code of the USSR, which said that the crime of "man lying with man" was punishable by up to five years in prison. I was not a man, but I had been having fantasies about being one and kissing a woman, a friend of my mother's. Somehow, my 12-year-old brain made the connection and I knew two things: I was not alone, and I was a criminal. A year or so later, this was confirmed when I heard that a famous theatre director was facing prosecution for having sex with a young man. A friend from Leningrad recalls reading, at the age of 16, a textbook on sexual pathology. It suggested treating the female homosexual with thorazine, an early anti-psychotic medication with long-lasting, debilitating side-effects.

That friend left Leningrad and made a new, thorazine-free story for herself in the United States. I also emigrated, with my parents, as a teenager in 1981, and I did not return to the Soviet Union until 10 years later. In 1993, the sodomy law was quietly repealed, thorazine was, as far as I could tell, retired around the same time, and Russian queers got to the slow work of building identities and communities. For years I was the only publicly out gay person who was not a full-time gay activist: my position as a quasi-foreigner gave me a privileged perch, and my ability to earn money by writing for western publications made me almost impervious to discrimination. Other Russians were not in a hurry to come out.

By the mid-noughties, I found that I was no longer the only openly gay person in every setting. At one point, a couple of Moscow magazine publishers even got the idea that they should actively headhunt gay and lesbian staff. Our stories didn't make it on to the pages of mainstream magazines or newspapers, but at least they were quietly being told. A famous singer and a well-known actress, both women, fell in love and began working and living together; their relationship was an open secret, the talk of Moscow's largely approving high society. They would not acknowledge it publicly, though.

Russia, at the start of the 21st century, at least in its larger cities, very much resembled the United States of the early 1990s: being gay was no longer criminal or shameful, but it was  still not a topic for polite conversation or public discussion. Issues such as same-sex marriage or protection from discrimination were not on the table, but then again, Russia was rebuilding itself as a dictatorship, so the political table had been hijacked.

The Kremlin, meanwhile, was telling itself and the world a very different story about Russia. Very few of us realised just how different it was; I certainly did not. Russia was stumbling on its way to becoming the "family values" capital of the world. The country, it felt, was being besieged by enemies who aimed to destroy its traditions and social institutions. LGBT people were the country's biggest threat: the quintessential "foreign agent", the ultimate other. In 2006, legislation banning "homosexual propaganda" – enshrining in law second-class citizenship for non-heterosexuals, making it an offence to claim equality – started winding its way from the smallest Russian cities to the largest. In June of this year, it became federal law.

The Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church has called the international trend toward legalising same-sex marriage "a sign of the coming apocalypse". A popular conservative pundit recorded a series of commentaries for state-owned Channel 1, portraying LGBT people as the antichrist. The Kremlin's Nashi youth movement spread the news that I personally was out to destroy the Orthodox family. An online community calling for my murder appeared.

What scared me a lot more, however, was the promise, made by several prominent politicians, to start removing children from same-sex families. My partner and I and our three children are now leaving Russia. Thousands, possibly tens or hundreds of thousands of other LGBT people, are also looking for a way out of the country. The time when we felt our story was just a decade or two behind that of gays and lesbians in western Europe or the US seems impossibly distant now.

What has happened in Russia has captured the world's, which is to say the western media's, imagination. This is surely attributable, at least in part, to the fact that Russians are white. The TV commentator who has been preaching that LGBT people are "creatures who have declared open war on [Russian society] and want to enslave us" would, in his well-cut suits and with his hipster beard, hardly stand out in a London or New York crowd. The politician who drove the anti-gay campaign in St Petersburg and who told a leading Russian daily that "Americans just want to adopt our orphans and bring them up in perverted families like Masha Gessen's", can say all of this in fluent, articulate English.

But there is something else, too, that has driven the international reaction of unprecedented solidarity and support for Russia's besieged queers: it is the spectacle of history shifting abruptly into reverse. The current generation of Russians, though few of them are publicly out, had constructed comfortable lives in which they were open to their social circles. When your doctor and neighbours and child's schoolteachers know you are gay, there is no closet for you to hide in. That makes the tragedy of Russian LGBT people easy for western gays to identify with. This could be their story, too.

Look at the world map on the website of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. Same-sex relationships, both male and female, are still against the law in most of Africa and much of Asia. There are more countries in the world that send people to jail for loving someone of the same sex than there are countries that recognise same-sex marriage. In many countries, male same-sex relationships are punishable by 10 years behind bars; in at least two, the penalty is death.

The interviews in the interactive with people from across the world are their stories, too. I hope that they read Israeli activist Yoav Arad Pinkas's words of warning about the way that Israel is growing increasingly conservative and, in his opinion, potentially dangerous for LGBT people, and realise that history can turn back even in a country perceived as a gay haven. But more than that, I also hope that a young person from Egypt, or Afghanistan, or South Africa knows that these stories – some of which are also of love, happiness, and security – are his stories, too. He is not a criminal, and he is not alone.


The Christian Science Monitor

Paul McCartney: Hey Vlad, don't make it bad for Greenpeace

Paul McCartney: In an open letter to Pig Putin, Paul McCartney called for the Greenpeace activists charged with hooliganism in Russia to be freed by Christmas.

By Fred Weir, Correspondent / November 14, 2013 at 1:06 pm EST

Pig Putin enjoys rubbing shoulders with celebrities, and his associations with movie stars like Gerard Depardieu, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Steven Seagal have helped to burnish his image as an easy-going kind of guy who mingles easily with global high society.

Except when it's a political pain-in-the-neck for him.

That happened today when former Beatle superstar Paul McCartney – whom the Pig personally squired around the Kremlin before attending a packed, still fondly remembered Red Square concert ten years ago – publicly called upon the Kremlin leader to intervene in the case of 30 international Greenpeace activists who were arrested in September for protesting against Russian oil drilling in the Arctic and now face up to 7 years in prison on charges of "hooliganism."

Mr. McCartney posted an open letter on his official website Thursday urging Pig Putin to step in and end the prisoners' ordeal. "It would be great if this misunderstanding could be resolved and the protesters can be home with their families in time for Christmas. We live in hope," McCartney wrote.

"I hear from my Russian friends that the protesters are being portrayed in some quarters as being anti-Russian, that they were doing the bidding of western governments, and that they threatened the safety of the people working on that Arctic oil platform.  I am writing to assure you that the Greenpeace I know is most certainly not an anti-Russian organisation. In my experience they tend to annoy every government! And they never take money from any government or corporation anywhere in the world," he added.

"And above all else they are peaceful. In my experience, non-violence is an essential part of who they are."

There has been no response from the Kremlin so far.

The 28 Greenpeace activists and two journalists were arrested on Sept. 19, and their Dutch-flagged ship Arctic Sunrise impounded, after protesters in rubber rafts tried to hang an environmental banner on the giant Prirazlomnaya platform, a Barents Sea deep-sea drilling platform owned by the Russian state firm Gazprom-Neft.

They were first charged with "piracy," which carries a maximum 15-year prison sentence, but that was reduced to "hooliganism" last month.

The entire group is presently being held in a St. Petersburg prison awaiting the next court hearing, which is slated for Nov. 24.

Over 1.5 million people have responded to a Greenpeace campaign encouraging people to send protest emails to Russian authorities, and several of the 18 world governments whose citizens are among the Greenpeace prisoners have urged Russia to free them.

Experts say the Pig is unlikely to respond favorably to McCartney's appeal.

"Pig Putin takes a favorable attitude toward celebrities who do not try to give him political advice, who do not vex him with political requests but rather express admiration for Russia, its vast territory, and its president," says Alexei Makarkin, director of the independent Center for Political Technologies in Moscow.

Mr. Depardieu, for example, was granted Russian citizenship by Putin personally after he requested it as a means to dodge taxes in his native France. Depardieu subsequently toured Russia, praising Putin and all things Russian, and receiving many local honors and at least two free apartments along the way.

"On the other hand, there are some celebrities who take part in political campaigns, who are not competent in politics or are just ill-intentioned. Putin doesn't like such celebrities," Mr. Makarkin adds, tongue-in-cheek.

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11/15/2013 11:27 AM

Euro Crisis Reprieve: End to Bailout Programs Signals Recovery

By Stefan Kaiser

Some four years after the euro crisis began, Ireland and Spain are set to graduate from their bailout programs, with Dublin planning to begin financing itself again early next year. It's a positive sign, but economists warn against premature optimism.

The summer of 2012 was horrific for Europe. The euro zone seemed on the verge of collapse, investors were reluctant to lend money to debt-burdened countries and interest on Spanish and Italian bonds breached the psychologically critical 7-percent mark. A €100-billion ($135-billion) emergency loan package to Spanish banks hardly calmed the tension. And things looked even worse for Greece, which seemed incapable of fulfilling the demands of its creditors. German Economy Minister Philipp Rösler voiced the idea throwing Greece out of the euro zone, but not even Germany was immune to the chaos after Moody's threatened to downgrade the country's top credit rating because of a potential spill-over effect.

That was all about 16 months ago, and the euro zone now appears to be in much better health. Finance ministers from the 17 countries that use the common currency met in Brussels on Thursday to discuss releasing Ireland and Spain from their respective bailouts.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny had announced before the meeting that his country would begin raising its own money and financing itself again by late January or early February. It even passed on a just-in-case emergency credit line offered by European partners. In 2010 Ireland had accepted a €67.5-billion line of emergency credit from the European Union and International Monetary Fund after interest rates on the open market became unsustainable.

Spain, too, is expecting an end to its bailout program, which was given straight to struggling banks rather than the government. Ultimately the country's banking sector needed only €40 billion of the €100 billion offered.

Progress Being Made

Economic experts like Lars Feld say the former problem children of the euro zone are on the right path. "In Ireland there have been steps forward from the beginning," says Feld, who runs the Walter Eucken Institute in Freiburg. "Meanwhile states like Spain and Portugal are also developing happily." All three countries have made it through their recessions and registered slight economic growth -- something even the euro-zone heavyweight France has not managed as of late.

A glance at financial markets, generally considered a barometer of confidence in a country's economy, also shows things have improved for ailing member states. Investors were demanding up to 7.5-percent interest on Spanish bonds in July 2012 to compensate for the perceived risk of default. That interest rate has now fallen to just below 4 percent -- which is perfectly tolerable. Portugal has also seen its interest rates plummet, falling from more than 10 percent in the summer of last year down to their current 6 percent.

Still, experts are far from declaring the euro crisis over. "We won't be out of the crisis for a while," says Clemens Fuest, president of the Center for European Economic Research (ZEW). "The optimism that is circulating in many places right now is overstated."

Fuest argues that the relative calm on financial markets is only thanks to the European Central Bank, and more speciifcally to the bank's president, Mario Draghi. He stated that the ECB would do everything in its power to save the euro, and started a program to buy unlimited amounts of euro-zone government bonds.

Markets have been quiet since then -- suspiciously quiet, according to critics. "The ECB has put up its protective umbrella, that's the only reason why the risk premiums on government bonds are sinking," says Fuest. "It has nothing to do with the markets' assessment." Enormous problems like billions in bad debt and high unemployment still plague Spain, he added.

Problematic Banking System

Even optimists see troubled banks in many euro-zone countries as the biggest blockade on the road out of the crisis. "There is still an immense need for recapitalization of the banks," says Freiburg economist Feld. In comparison to the United States, Europe never completely cleaned up its banking system after the financial crisis in 2008.

For all the bickering that goes on in the euro zone, all countries can agree that banks burdened by bad debt are unable to finance economic growth. A first step toward fixing that problem is giving the ECB the authority to inspect the books of the 124 biggest financial institutions in the euro zone, and unifying the bloc's national banking regulators into one big "banking union."

Of course, how that union will look and what its responsibilities will include are still highly controversial, and were on the agenda at the finance ministers' meeting in Brussels. The ministers hope to come up with a plan by the end of the year. "What will then be decisive is whether the taxpayers in the north of the euro zone will be ready to take on responsibility for the the banks in southern Europe -- only then can the banking union succeed," says ZEW president Fuest.

He says he doubts European governments will come to such an agreement. "The crisis can be overcome," he says. "But first politicians have to make some immense movements. I don't know if they'll manage that."

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11/14/2013 03:48 PM

Integration Debate: Parties Close in on Dual Citizenship Deal

By Charly Wilder

For the first time in Germany, politicians seem close to a deal that would extend the right to dual citizenship to children of immigrants and naturalized Germans. The national identity of thousands of young people hangs in the balance.

The subject of dual citizenship has long been a political flashpoint in Germany. In recent years, calls have mounted from the left for the country to overturn its prohibitive approach and make it easier for people to hold two passports. Yet heavy opposition, including from Chancellor Angela Merkel, kept it from becoming a reality.

But now, as the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) and Merkel's conservatives draw nearer to an official coalition agreement, new dual citizenship legislation is looking increasingly possible.

As things currently stand, a child born in Germany to immigrant parents is allowed to hold both nationalities only until the age of 23. At that point, he or she is forced to choose between German citizenship or that of the parents' country of origin. Anyone who misses the deadline has the German citizenship revoked by default. Other immigrants to Germany can be naturalized after eight years of residence, but only if they give up their original nationality.

The Social Democrats want to repeal that rule, and they've made the right to dual citizenship one of their "non-negotiable demands" in official talks toward a so-called grand coalition government, which is expected to be in place by Christmas. If they are successful, it would affect not only the millions of Germans born to foreign parents, but also any resident of Germany who qualifies for naturalization.

The negotiation working group assigned to immigration has been unable to come up with a compromise, so the topic has now moved up to the big round of negotiations. An SPD spokesman told SPIEGEL ONLINE on Thursday that dual citizenship remains a "very important issue" for the party and that he is hopeful a deal will be pushed through.

Time for Change

The topic became increasingly pressing as of January 2013. Children of immigrants turning 23 this year will be the first batch of German-born citizens forced to make the choice. "As of this year, thousands of young people could lose their German citizenship," says Mehmet Tanriverdi, head of the National Federation of Immigrant Associations in Germany.

Critics of the current system, known as the "option model" complain that it marginalizes those of foreign descent and sends a message that integration is a zero-sum game -- and that it imposes a heavy administrative burden. If the system is upheld, roughly 40,000 young people per year will eventually be forced to choose between nationalities. And giving up one's foreign nationality can create unforeseen difficulties, as well. Children of Russian immigrants who have been naturalized in Germany, for instance, have to apply for expensive visas to visit their grandparents.

The option model was introduced in 2000, when it was seen as a compromise between the center-left coalition government of Social Democrats and Greens and the opposition conservatives. Already many exceptions apply: Moroccans, Syrians, Iranians, Algerians, as well as all EU citizens, are exempt from the need to choose between their nationalities. But to Germany's three million people of Turkish descent, a third of whom were born in Germany, reforming the current law would be a very welcome development.

"In the scientific community, we speak of hybrid identity," says Christine Langenfeld, head of the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration (SVR). "Young people from migrant families identify with both Germany and their parents' culture. For them it's the best of both worlds. The option model forces the second generation to renounce their parent's nationality. This is counterproductive for integration."

Conservatives Turn Corner

On no other issue have the conservatives reversed course more than on that of dual citizenship. During the campaign leading up to national elections in September, the conservative parties' tagline on the topic was "Yes to our country."

"My personal conviction is that we want to stick to the option model, whereby a decision on citizenship is necessary at age 23," Merkel said at an integration summit in May. Experience shows, she added, "that the overwhelming majority choose German citizenship."

But the tide began to turn this year, as many Germans reassessed immigration as a way to combat its aging population and shortage of skilled workers. In May, a Bertelsmann Stiftung study showed that more than 40 percent of newcomers have graduated from a university, technical school or graduate program, a higher share than among the German population at large.

Now even Horst Seehofer of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has questioned the logic of forcing 23-year-olds to go through the "ordeal" of choosing between citizenships.

The conservatives have suggested several compromises, including raising the age in which the option obligation kicks in to 30 and introducing the concept of "dormant citizenship," whereby a person can hold dual citizenship, but his or her country of residence would determine which of the two nationalities is active. But an SPD spokesman told SPIEGEL ONLINE on Thursday that the party will accept nothing less than a full revocation of the option model and that the "dormant citizenship" proposal is unworkable and now "completely off the table."

Resistance from the Right

Despite these proposed compromises, there remains trenchant resistance from the conservative ranks. Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, a CSU member who is a notorious hardliner on immigration issues, said the Social Democrats' proposal threatens Germany's very integrity. If a "permanent Turkish minority" were permitted to establish itself in the country, he told the daily Münchener Merkur last week, it would mean a "long-term change in the identity of German society."

Ayse Demir, deputy chairman of the Turkish Community in Germany (TGD), called Friedrich's statements "extremely discriminatory." Such a statement sends a signal to Germany's largest migrant group that they are not welcome here, Demir told SPIEGEL ONLINE. He also pointed out that the many exceptions made to the current rule make Friedrich's statement seem even more off-base, "because we've actually had dual citizenship in Germany for years."

Some observers worry that dual citizenship could be sacrificed at the negotiation table for an even higher-priority SPD demand, such as a national minimum wage. Nevertheless, consensus is building that the current system doesn't work.

"The option model is alienating young people instead of making them feel a part of our society," says Dr. Christine Langenfeld of the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration, which has proposed a system that would grant dual citizenship to second-generation immigrants but not automatically to their successive offspring. "The option model is the result of a dysfunctional political compromise more than ten years ago, and it is high time to repeal it."

With reporting by Alexander Demling


11/14/2013 02:51 PM

Taboo No More?: SPD Flirts with Left-Wing Coalition

By Andrew Bowen

The far-left Left Party has long been a pariah in federal German politics. But the latest elections have confirmed it is not going away, and leaders of the Social Democrats now openly regard it as a potential coalition partner in the future.

Leaders of Germany's center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) and center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) are all but certain to agree on forming a "grand coalition" government before year's end. Yet frustration over a number of outstanding issues between the two parties has led the SPD to openly flirt with an idea that was long categorically rejected: a three-way coalition with the Greens and the far-left Left Party.

The SPD began a party conference in Leipzig on Thursday, and delegates are set to vote on a document outlining the party's future platforms. SPD General Secretary Andrea Nahles said the document states the party will "no longer rule out any coalition, except (one) with right-wing extremist parties."

The document, and accompanying statements from other SPD leaders, have generated significant buzz among German politicos, not least among Left Party leaders themselves. Sahra Wagenknecht, the deputy head of the Left Party's parliamentary group, called on the SPD to "immediately break off" official coalition talks with the CDU and shift its focus to the Greens and Left Party.

The three-way coalition, commonly called "red-red-green" for the parties' official colors, is already mathematically possible. Elections in September gave them a slim collective majority in Germany's parliament, the Bundestag. But Wagenknecht's calls were clearly premature. The language in the SPD document is as much a gesture of openness toward the Left Party as a challenge to its leaders to moderate their positions and embrace a more pragmatic approach to governance.

'Willingness to Compromise'

The Social Democrats' new stance toward the Left Party comes as leaders have expressed frustration with the ongoing coalition talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU. Nahles said Wednesday in an interview with the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper that she expected "tough debates" between the parties in the coming weeks, and that the new position toward the Left Party was simply a willingness to talk in the future.

The move has even found surprising acceptance among more conservative quarters of the SPD. Johannes Kahrs, spokesman for the party's internal centrist group the Seeheimer Circle, called it a "sensible step."

"We're saying to the Left Party: Become capable of forming a coalition, then you're in the game," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

Anton Hofreiter, parliamentary chair of the Green Party, also welcomed the SPD's shift and said it was now up to the Left Party to prove its members are ready to give up unreasonable demands.

"They have to show in the next for years that their supposed readiness to govern is also reflected in a willingness to compromise on the difficult questions of financial, European and foreign policy," he told daily newspaper Die Welt.

Here to Stay

The Left Party was created in 2007 out of a merger of the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), the successor to the former East German Communist Party, and WASG, a group of trade unionists and disgruntled former SPD members based in western Germany. The association with East Germany and all the terrors of its dictatorship have kept the Left Party shut out from coalition governments at the federal level.

Yet the party has become decidedly more mainstream in recent years. While it lost a dozen seats in parliament after the most recent elections, the Left -- and its PDS predecessor -- still outperformed the far more mainstream Green Party in 2005, 2009 and 2013. It also served as junior coalition partner with the SPD in the city-state government of Berlin until 2011, and currently governs alongside the SPD in Brandenburg.

Some in the Left Party have been content to remain a protest party with little decision-making power in national politics. But more moderate factions in the party recognize their potential as kingmakers, and representatives have been quietly meeting with members of the SPD and Greens to prepare for a red-red-green coalition.

All three parties largely agree in principle on domestic issues like a national mandatory minimum wage, marriage rights for same-sex couples and asylum policy reform. However, foreign policy remains a mine field. The Left is far more blunt in its criticism of Israel, and it adamently opposes all foreign deployments of the German military, mostly notably in Afghanistan. But with the last of German troops scheduled to leave the country next year, the sticking point may be moot by the next federal elections in 2017.


11/14/2013 06:23 PM

Exit Clause: Merkel's Partners Want Broke Countries Out of Euro

By Peter Müller

Chancellor Angela Merkel wants the next government to be unified on its EU policy, but her sister party is resorting to populism. Bavaria's Christian Social Union wants tougher provisions against deficit offenders and the ability to drive them out of the euro zone.

As the three general secretaries of the parties planning to form the next goverment in Berlin -- the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Christian Social Union (CSU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) -- offered a progress report on coalition talks, they had a singular goal. After all the news reports about bickering between the conservative CDU/CSU bloc and the center-left SPD, they had hoped to demonstrate a bit of harmony between the parties, which are traditionally archrivals despite having governed together twice over the years.

When it comes to the most important issues, there's a high degree of unity, CDU General Secretary Hermann Gröhe told reporters -- particularly when it comes to policies on the European Union. SPD General Secretary Andrea Nahles agreed.

What they didn't reveal is the fact that the 12-page paper they negotiated in a working group covering European issues also includes a short note that has been appended to the minutes. In the text, which has been seen by SPIEGEL ONLINE, the CSU, the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's CDU, calls for repeat deficit offenders to exit the euro zone.

"The CSU wants member states who will not be in a position in the foreseeable future to fulfill the stability criteria of the Maastricht Treaty to be given the possibility of temporarily leaving the euro zone," the text states. The CDU and the SPD take a different view from the CSU and no compromise is in sight.

Compared to a number of statements made in the past about the euro crisis by the Bavarian party, this one was actually pretty reserved. Still, the message is clear -- the party wants bankrupt nations to leave the common currency. That's precisely the position the CSU unanimously agreed to at a party conference last year. And it's certainly not good news for Merkel, who would prefer to do without such potentially burdensome political outbursts on European policy. It's also a sign that Merkel's sister party won't simply go along with policies from the chancellor that tend to be friendly towards the EU.

That applies to a number of other issues, too. In the minutes, the CSU adds another one of its pet demands -- namely for national referendums on "European decisions of particular importance." The CSU is also calling for more powers to be transferred from Brussels back to the EU member states as well as procedures for the restructuring of countries' debts.

Battling Germany's New Anti-Euro Party

In addition to indicating that the CSU and the CDU aren't speaking with one voice during coalition talks, they also show that CSU party boss Horst Seehofer is already preparing for European Parliament elections that are scheduled in May. The CSU is hoping to take the wind out of the sails of the anti-euro Alternative for Germany (AFD) party, which has decent prospects of gaining seats in the EU's only elected body. With that in mind, it's unlikely the CSU is just going to sit back and allow the CDU and the SPD to negotiate gently for the sake of Merkel's party.

In the note, the CSU also pleads for a smaller European Commission, the EU's executive. "There has to be a reduction of the departments," said the CSU's Thomas Silberhorn, who is negotiating EU policy issues on behalf of his party. "The only places where cabinets are this big is Africa, where all tribes have to be taken into consideration when building governments."

With that kind of mood, it's little surprise that a statement by CSU General Secretary Alexander Dobrindt slightly disrupted the harmonious atmosphere between the CDU and SPD on Wednesday.

"We will not allow our culture of discussion to be disrupted by harmony," he said smugly. In terms of Germany's EU policies, he appears to be sticking to his word.


11/14/2013 01:28 PM

Unprecedented: Trial of Former German President Begins

By Annett Meiritz

For the first time in German history, a former head of state is being put in the dock. Christian Wulff, who resigned in 2012, is seeking to be fully acquitted of charges he accepted favors.

The court case that opened in Hanover, Germany, on Thursday is unprecedented in Germany. For the first time in history, a former president of the country has been forced to answer to charges in the dock. The Hanover public prosecutor's office investigated for longer than a year and has compiled over 1,000 pages of documents. And now a court is hearing the case against ex-President Christian Wulff in a trial that is expected to run well into 2014.

Scores of witnesses are expected, as well as a media circus. And some have criticized the fact that Wulff is even being taken to trial. After all, the case revolves around a paltry sum of €753.90 ($1,013). Some might be scratching their heads over the amount, asking if this isn't something for a small claims court. But this is about a former German president -- an office considered to be the country's moral compass.

Wulff resigned as Germany's head of state in February 2012 after it was revealed in December 2011 that he had taken a loan to purchase a house in his home state of Lower Saxony from a millionaire friend under favorable conditions not available to normal consumers. It was also alleged that he left the editor in chief of Germany's largest circulation newspaper harassing voicemails when it moved to publish a story about the deal. Although the position of president is technically the highest office in the land, it is a largely symbolic position in Germany, with most power being allocated to the chancellor.

The trial being rolled out in Hanover on Thursday focuses on events that took place before he became president. The court is examining relations between Wulff and film financier David Groenewold, who is alleged to have sponsored a trip to Munich by the then-state governor of Lower Saxony by paying €753.90 of their bill. The costs stem from a hotel room upgrade and a night of celebrations in a beer tent at Octoberfest.

Did Wulff Take Favors?

Prosecutors want to determine the reason Groenewald would have been so generous with the Wulffs. They believe that Groenewald invited the former governor to Munich to extract business favors out of him. Two months after the Oktoberfest trip, Wulff wrote a letter on behalf of Groenewald to Siemens, seeking the firm's support for his new film "John Rabe". The German multinational engineering company plays a prominent role in the World War II film. The film producer now stands accused of granting undue benefits -- and Wulff of accepting them. Both could face fines if prosecuted. And both defendants also deny the charges against them. Indeed, prosecutors had sought to settle the case out of court, but the men decided it would be better to clear their names rather than to cut a deal.

Nevertheless, prosecutors intend to ask some very serious questions in the case. Did Wulff allow himself to be bought during his time as governor? How far does friendship go, and at what point does corruption begin? Is it possible that Groenewold won Wulff's support through systematic and generous invitations to events? And was Wulff conscious of these intentions when he accepted them?

The charges were read on Thursday, but the Octoberfest events will only comprise the first phase of the trial. Afterwards, the court plans to scrutinize other vacations the Wulffs took together with the Groenewalds to Capri and Germany's version of the Hamptons, the North Sea island of Sylt, where the film producer also appears to have picked up some of the former president's tabs. Neither is facing any charges relating to those trips, but prosecutors are hoping details about the stays can shed more light on the relationship between the businessman and the politician.

No Turning Back

If convicted, Wulff could face a fine or a suspended sentence. He would also be forced to pay the court costs. For his part, Wulff doesn't appear to be concerned about any potential sentence. The fact that a former German president, a governor and a one-time possible candidate for chancellor would be forced to leave office is unprecedented. Wulff wants to prove his innocence. An acquittal would at least give Wulff the chance to restore at least part of his reputation.

When he rejected a deal with prosecutors earlier this year, Wulff had hoped the judges would reject the case. His reaction to recent developments in the case also shows that Wulff likely just wants to get things rolling and the whole trial behind him. One of the lawyers defending Groenewald recently fell ill and the trial could have been delayed, but neither the film producer nor the ex-president wanted that.

Despite the relatively low sum in question, the stakes could still be high for Wulff's reputation. Much light is likely to be shed in the coming months as details emerge in the courtroom on matters such as who gave or bought things for Wulff, be it a meal, a fancy pen or passage on a ferry during vacation. Former colleagues of Wulff, including former employees and bodyguards from the governor's office in Lower Saxony, are expected to testify. The tabloids are also likely to turn out in force on days when more prominent witnesses testify, like actress Maria Furtwängler, who plays a leading role in the popular German TV series "Tatort". Testimony by Bettina Wulff, who is currently separated from her husband, on Dec. 12 is also likely to draw new attention to the private life of Christian Wulff, who is 54.

In a news documentary aired on Tuesday on German public broadcaster ARD, Wulff's attorney Michael Nagel said Wulff had "wrestled with himself for some time" about whether to go to trial or not. As of today, there's no turning back.

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« Reply #10000 on: Nov 15, 2013, 05:27 AM »

Athens to finally begin construction of first mosque after years of delay

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, November 14, 2013 13:07 EST

Work is finally set to begin on Athens’ first mosque, 13 years after plans were first announced, the Greek government announced on Thursday.

A Greek consortium has been chosen, the infrastructure ministry said, after five previous attempts to find a business group to lead the project failed.

Athens is one of the few European capitals without a mosque.

The building will have a budget of 946,000 euros ($1.3 million) and will be 600 square metres. It is being built on land formerly used by the military but it will not have a minaret.

The project will have to be completed within six months of contracts being signed, said the ministry.

The scheme has been beset by various delays. It was first announced in 2000, ahead of the Olympics in Athens in 2004.

However, it has long been opposed by the powerful Greek Orthodox Church. Some 90 percent of Greeks consider themselves Christian.

Although this is the first official mosque, several non-official places of worship have appeared in the Greek capital, thanks to an increasing number of immigrants from countries such as Pakistan.

In 2011, the Greek government was forced to adopt a law ensuring the construction of the mosque, with the first contract tender to be launched in the summer of 2013.

However, it took five attempts to award a contract because of concerns over where to place the mosque and protests from those on the extreme right, such as supporters of Golden Dawn.

The only official mosques to be found in Greece are situated in the north east region of Thrace, where a minority group of Muslim Turks live.

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« Reply #10001 on: Nov 15, 2013, 05:31 AM »

New York Times backs The Guardian over Snowden leaks

Roy Greenslade   
Friday 15 November 2013 10.31 GMT     

The New York Times has offered solid support to The Guardian over the paper's publication of leaks by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

In a trenchant editorial, the NY Times contrasts the freedom of American newspapers to publish the material about mass surveillance with the difficulties faced by British newspapers.

It accuses the David Cameron's government of challenging Britain's "long tradition of a free, inquisitive press." The NY Times says:

    Unlike the United States, Britain has no constitutional guarantee of press freedom. Parliamentary committees and the police are now exploiting that lack of protection to harass, intimidate and possibly prosecute The Guardian newspaper for its publication of information based on National Security Agency documents that were leaked by Edward Snowden.

    The New York Times has published similar material, believing that the public has a clear interest in learning about and debating the NSA’s out-of-control spying on private communications. That interest is shared by the British public as well.

    In the United States, some members of Congress have begun pushing for stronger privacy protections against unwarranted snooping. British parliamentarians have largely ducked their duty to ask tough questions of British intelligence agencies, which closely collaborate with the NSA, and have gone after The Guardian instead.

The editorial points out that The Guardian's editor, Alan Rusbridger, has been summoned to appear before a parliamentary committee. It continues:

    Members of parliament have also demanded information on the newspaper’s decision to make some of the leaked information available to other journalists, including those at The NYTimes. That should be none of parliament’s business.

    Meanwhile, Scotland Yard detectives are pursuing a criminal investigation into The Guardian’s actions surrounding the Snowden leaks.

    These alarming developments threaten the ability of British journalists to do their jobs effectively. Britain’s press has long lacked the freedoms enjoyed by American newspapers.

    Now it appears they are less free from government interference than journalists in Germany, where Der Spiegel has published material from the Snowden leaks without incurring government bullying.

The editorial concludes:

    The global debate now taking place about intelligence agencies collecting information on the phone calls, emails and Internet use of private citizens owes much to The Guardian’s intrepid journalism.

    In a free society, the price for printing uncomfortable truths should not be parliamentary and criminal inquisition.


November 14, 2013

British Press Freedom Under Threat


Britain has a long tradition of a free, inquisitive press. That freedom, so essential to democratic accountability, is being challenged by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government of Prime Minister David Cameron.

Unlike the United States, Britain has no constitutional guarantee of press freedom. Parliamentary committees and the police are now exploiting that lack of protection to harass, intimidate and possibly prosecute The Guardian newspaper for its publication of information based on National Security Agency documents that were leaked by Edward Snowden. The New York Times has published similar material, believing that the public has a clear interest in learning about and debating the N.S.A.’s out-of-control spying on private communications. That interest is shared by the British public as well.

In the United States, some members of Congress have begun pushing for stronger privacy protections against unwarranted snooping. British parliamentarians have largely ducked their duty to ask tough questions of British intelligence agencies, which closely collaborate with the N.S.A., and have gone after The Guardian instead.

Alan Rusbridger, the newspaper’s editor, has been summoned to appear before a parliamentary committee next month to testify about The Guardian’s internal editorial decision-making regarding the Snowden information. Members of Parliament have also demanded information on the newspaper’s decision to make some of the leaked information available to other journalists, including those at The Times. That should be none of Parliament’s business. Meanwhile, Scotland Yard detectives are pursuing a criminal investigation into The Guardian’s actions surrounding the Snowden leaks.

These alarming developments threaten the ability of British journalists to do their jobs effectively. Britain’s press has long lacked the freedoms enjoyed by American newspapers. Now it appears they are less free from government interference than journalists in Germany, where Der Spiegel has published material from the Snowden leaks without incurring government bullying.

The global debate now taking place about intelligence agencies collecting information on the phone calls, emails and Internet use of private citizens owes much to The Guardian’s intrepid journalism. In a free society, the price for printing uncomfortable truths should not be parliamentary and criminal inquisition.

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« Reply #10002 on: Nov 15, 2013, 05:33 AM »

Ireland quits IMF bailout: Kenny reaps political reward but is the wager risky?

Escape from clutches of EU-IMF aid programme remains a gamble with 'permanent peace' yet to break out in the eurozone

Heather Stewart, Thursday 14 November 2013 17.19 GMT   

After more than five years of austerity and painful reform, Ireland's prime minister, Enda Kenny, rightly painted the country's graduation on Thursday from the IMF/EU bailout as a triumph.

But it is also a leap in the dark. Despite Ireland's status as star pupil among the rescued victims of the euro-crisis, the country was widely expected to cling to the comfort of a financial backstop, a "precautionary credit line", from the IMF, once the stringent troika programme had come to an end.

Instead Kenny has opted to make a clean break. The government, said Kenny, had decided that Ireland would exit the EU-IMF assistance programme on 15 December.

Dublin had believed it would need to remain on the IMF's books to qualify for the European Central Bank's emergency rescue mechanism, the OMT (or outright monetary transactions), which would involve the bank buying massive quantities of a country's bonds.

Although no country has yet applied for the OMT, the rules suggest any country in receipt of aid would have to have some form of IMF programme in place. A "precautionary credit line", under which the IMF stands ready to help in exchange for a country signing up to a kind of bailout programme-lite, would very likely qualify.

However, Kenny and his colleagues have clearly decided that the political capital to be won from declaring themselves free of the IMF's clutches outweighs the risk that Ireland will suddenly find itself high and dry once it fully returns to the markets to fund its debts.

Apart from the political dividend of being a bailout graduate, several other factors have probably driven Dublin's decision. The country's economy looks healthier, the property market is more stable, and eurozone financial markets are calmer than they were a year ago.

And the UK, still a big market for Ireland, finally appears to be in recovery. Perhaps Dublin has also been tipped the wink by its eurozone partners that they would look kindly on any future request for aid.

But Ireland is taking a gamble. Bond yields across the developed world, and hence borrowing costs for governments, are likely to head higher over the next 12 months as the US withdraws its massive quantitative easing programme.

Meanwhile, the ECB is about to start combing through the books of the eurozone's banks – before any clear answer will emerge about who will fill any holes. And that is at the same time as the region's economies slide towards deflation, which is toxic for heavily indebted countries. It is too soon to declare that permanent peace has broken out in eurozone financial markets.

Ireland may have a very creditable €20bn (£16.7bn) in the bank, but that's the kind of sum that could quickly evaporate in the event of a renewed market crisis, which need not be of Ireland's making for the country to still be hit by the fallout.

The decision on Thursday may come to be remembered as the beginning of the end of the crisis – but the Irish will need plenty of luck still.

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« Reply #10003 on: Nov 15, 2013, 05:36 AM »

Swiss divided as 1:12 executive pay referendum nears

Big business accused of scaremongering just days before vote on capping bosses' pay at 12 times that of their worst-paid staff

John Hooper, southern Europe editor
The Guardian, Thursday 14 November 2013 15.52 GMT

To see just how far the revolt against fat cat pay has spread, you could do worse than visit a grey building a stone's throw from the open-air market and pavement cafes of the Bärenplatz in the medieval centre of Bern.

There, in the headquarters of Switzerland's Young Socialists (Juso), party workers are preparing for a referendum on 24 November that could see the Swiss vote to stop bosses earning more in a month than their worst-paid employees receive in a year.

The so-called 1:12 campaign is part of a broader drive for wealth redistribution by the Swiss left that has won wide popular support.

Long-standing rumblings about executive excess were fuelled by the banking crisis and the precarious position of the Swiss bank UBS. But the debate was supercharged this year when the Swiss drug group Novartis agreed to pay its outgoing chairman, Daniel Vasella, SFr72m (£49m). The payment, to persuade Vasella not to use his knowledge to help rival pharmaceuticals, was described as a "golden gag".

There followed a huge public and political backlash, with the Swiss justice minister, Simonetta Sommaruga, saying the payoff was "a huge blow to the social cohesion in our country" and that payouts on such a scale "undermined public trust in the entire economy".

Novartis was forced to cancel the payout. But serious damage was done, and in a referendum the following month more than two-thirds of Swiss voters backed a new rule to ban golden hellos and goodbyes

Last month, the authorities paved the way for another vote, which could introduce a minimum wage for the employed and unemployed alike. Further referendums are planned on inheritance tax and the taxation of wealthy foreigners.

"In recent years, we've seen high salaries get higher while other salaries have stayed at much the same level, especially in terms of ordinary people's disposable income," said David Roth, the organiser of the 1:12 campaign. "It has become obvious that something is wrong."

But his arguments are contested by others. The free market thinktank Avenir Suisse concluded in a recent study that the crucial difference was not between the salaries of individuals, but between the incomes of households – and that since more women had joined the workforce, that gap was narrowing.

What no one disputes is that top executives' salaries have skyrocketed. One of Juso's most striking posters shows the change in the ratio of the average salary among Swiss CEOs to the average wage. In 1984, it was six to one. By 2011, it had reached 43 to one.

What is more, said Roth: "The biggest salaries are in the same places as the biggest problems. Take UBS. The state has had to pour money into UBS because of problems caused by the very people who earned the highest salaries. Last year, the bank lost SFr2.5bn – and paid out SFr2.5bn in bonuses."

His opponents see the pay campaign as a potentially catastrophic assault on the underpinnings of one of the world's freest economies.

"Deciding on wage levels is not a matter for the state," said Rudolf Minsch of Economiesuisse, an umbrella organisation of Swiss firms. "It is one of the key competences of every enterprise. And the freedom of enterprises to determine wages is a key reason for Switzerland's success."

The country is blessed with a jobless rate of 3%; the average in EU-member states its 11%. And, says Minsch, "A flexible labour market is the main driving force behind low unemployment in this country."

He argues that one of the most important reasons for Switzerland's success has been the freedom its companies enjoy to negotiate pay locally, adapting to significant differences in the living standards of its 26 cantons. Adopting the 1:12 rule would mean imposing a restriction at national level for the first time, setting what Minsch believes would be a hazardous precedent.

Opponents say the move could also prompt Swiss firms to outsource their lowest-paid jobs in order to bring their CEOs' salaries under the new ceiling. But, said Roth: "You would need to outsource – outside of Switzerland – every single low-paid job in the firm concerned. And you just can't do that. You can't outsource the work of a bank teller or a shop assistant to India."

Another fear is that curbs on executive pay would drive out foreign companies. One of the best-known is in the FTSE 100: the mining and trading firm Glencore Xstrata.

Switzerland might be better off without multinationals like that, said Beat Ringger of the thinktank Denknetz. "They are in countries where the conditions for workers are poor and the governments are often corrupt. I am sure that sooner or later the international community is going to want to regulate these things and that Switzerland will come under international pressure as a result of having these companies on its territory."

Glencore Xstrata has its headquarters in the canton of Zug where corporate tax is limited to 15.4%. For Ringger, "Switzerland is like a 5-star hotel giving away its best suites for nothing. The biggest companies and the richest individuals get to stay here without paying much tax and without being much regulated."

Those campaigning for a no vote believe that, on the contrary, Switzerland's business-friendly environment is essential to its prosperity. "In the long term, economic growth is more important for the welfare of the lowest earners than how income is distributed," says the Avenir Suisse study. "On a per-capita basis, real income has risen by 17.7% since 1998. Everyone has benefited from this growth, but the poorest households have done so disproportionately."

Last month polls were suggesting the vote on 1:12 rule could be close, but in recent days the no campaign – backed by the government and parliament – appears to have turned the tide. A survey for Swiss television released on Wednesday pointed to a 54% to 36% defeat for the proposal, with 10% so far undecided.

Roth complains that "our adversaries have mounted a campaign, in which some of the media have become involved, aiming to stir up fear".

But for Ringger, big business is blackmailing the rest of the population. "They are saying: 'If you do anything to harm our interests we will harm you.'"

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« Reply #10004 on: Nov 15, 2013, 05:38 AM »

Kosovo PM urges Serbs to vote in make-or-break elections

Hashim Thaçi says participation vital to peace deal with Serbia after violence led to aborted poll in ethnically divided Mitrovica

Peter Geoghegan in Pristina, Thursday 14 November 2013 14.30 GMT   
Kosovo's prime minister has issued a last-ditch appeal to Kosovan Serbs to vote in critical elections this weekend that are widely seen as a make-or-break moment for the republic.

In an interview with the Guardian, Hashim Thaçi said that the abandonment of polling after attacks in northern Kosovo earlier this month was a result of "pressure, threats and other methods", and added that he would hold Serbia responsible if there was a repeat performance in the re-run vote in North Mitrovica on Sunday.

Thaçi said that a successful vote was vital to a peace deal between Kosovo and Serbia and encouraged ethnic Serbs in the republic to vote. He said the only ones who would lose by participation in the elections were extremists and radical groups in north Kosovo.

Voting was suspended in North Mitrovica on 3 November after masked men burst into three polling stations in the town, which is predominantly ethnically Serbian, firing teargas and destroying ballot boxes. "We know what happened, who did it and why they did it," Thaçi said.

The local elections followed a peace deal brokered in April by the European Union between Serbia and its former province. Under the terms of the agreement, Belgrade will dismantle the parallel systems that deliver a range of services from healthcare to education in north Kosovo in return for greater autonomy for ethnic Serbs across Kosovo.

Many in the north refuse to recognise the Kosovan state, which declared independence in 2008. The highest turnout in the other three Serb municipalities in north Kosovo was just 22%, but Kosovo's electoral commission decided to accept these results and to limit the re-run to the divided town of North Mitrovica.

"If the people were allowed to vote the participation would have been over 25%," Thaçi said. "What we need now is political stability in north [Kosovo] to create legitimate local institutions and investments, and then things will change.

"Kosovo is not endangered by Serb integration. Kosovo is endangered if they do not integrate," he said of Kosovo's 120,000 Serbs.

The Brussels agreement has proved controversial in both Serbia and Kosovo, but Thaçi rejected criticism of it. "How should we handle the situation with Serbia? Should we start the war again? Kill each other? This is the best possible deal for both countries," he said.

Successful implementation is widely seen as essential to Serbia's and Kosovo's EU ambitions. "It is the best solution for Kosovo and Serbia to become EU members, and also the best solution for the region," Thaçi said. "We didn't fight against Serbs: we fought to remove Serbia and its oppression mechanisms in 1999."

The future of the Brussels deal hinges on who comes out to vote on Sunday, said Ilir Deda of the Pristina-based thinktank Kipred. "It all depends on what the northern Serbs want to do. Do they want to kill it by boycotting or do they want to legitimise it by electing a Serb mayor?"

Thaçi's counterpart in Belgrade, Ivica Dačić, warned ethnic Serbs in North Mitrovica to vote "unless they want the city to be led by an Albanian".

Dačić told Serbian TV that the system of largely autonomous Serb municipalities, agreed with Pristina in Brussels, would break down if Serbs did not participate in the re-run. "If the mayor is Albanian, it will mean that we are not be able to set up the administration, and we will not be in the position to create the community of Serb municipalities, which could lead to conflicts and perhaps even to armed conflicts," he said.

Scars remain from the last war. On Friday, an EU prosecutor indicted 15 former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) fighters on charges of torturing and killing civilians during the 1998-99 conflict with Serbia. Among the accused are Kosovo's ambassador to Albania, Sulejman Selimi, and leading members of Thaçi's governing PDK party, including Sami Lushtaku. Despite being in prison, Lushtaku won the mayoral contest in Skenderaj earlier this month with more than 88% of the vote. "He won because people trust him," Thaçi said.

But Thaçi said that any former KLA members convicted of criminal charges would be expelled from the party. "We had previous examples where people were in judicial proceedings and they were elected as members of parliament. But from the moment when someone is found guilty by a court they will not remain in politics after that."

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